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5 in a row for the New England Patriots - what has changed?

I must be honest; this is a different New England Patriots team from 5 weeks ago. But, it’s a better one.

More recently than we all might think, the Pats seemed to be doomed. They went two straight losses coming up short on a defensive stop to save the game, their offensive line was nothing short of putrid, and Mac Jones appeared to be a few years out from being a reliable option at quarterback.

But all of a sudden, the Patriots went from 1-2 - with a 25% chance to make the playoffs - to a likely candidate for a spot in the NFL playoffs.

Courtesy of MassLive & ESPN’s Football Power Index, here’s where the Patriots stand:

  • 89.9% chance to make the playoffs (3rd-best in AFC)

  • 23.0% to win the AFC East division

  • 50.2% to make it past the Wild Card round

  • 25.4% to make the AFC Finals

  • 13.1% to make the Super Bowl

  • 5.9% to win Super Bowl

Not too shabby for a team that was bleeding in all ways, shapes, and forms just a couple of weeks ago.

Kyle Van Noy and Kyle Dugger share a moment after a big defensive stop against the Falcons on Thursday night. PIC: David Silverman

11 weeks into the season, Patriots fans should actually be feeling quite confident with the composition of their team. They seem to be firing on all cylinders as some of the much-needed questions have been ironed out; struggles in the defense, offensive line, and quarterback areas have been addressed & improving.

And even with a short window to prepare for the Atlanta Falcons, the Pats roared in a 25-0 rout on Thursday Night Football.

Let’s take a look at what’s changed since the Pats started 1-2, and what they were able to use to thump Atlanta (again) last night.

The defense has improved...drastically.

I’ve been very open about the struggles this defense has faced. From Jalen Mills blowing coverages, to Dont’a Hightower simply not playing like himself, this was a frustrating start to the year for the defense. But as Mike Reiss put it, they “banded together and dug themselves out of trouble.”

For one, the secondary has improved and rallied around JC Jackson, who has been nothing short of excellent over his time in Foxboro. His 4th interception this year and 23rd of his young career came last night, and with it, Jackson passed Mike Haynes - who ended up in the Hall of Fame - for the most interceptions through a player’s first four seasons in the history of the franchise. JC Jackson has quickly emerged as the team’s defensive leader, and it shows.

Opponents have also had an incredibly hard time in short-yard situations, and all credit goes to the Patriots’ front seven. Kyle Van Noy and Kyle Dugger are breaking out, each becoming essential to the success of the Pats D this year. Christian Barmore, the product of Alabama, is quietly putting together an excellent rookie campaign, and is now up to playing over 50% of the snaps in most games. He’s also terrorizing offensive linemen.

Run, baby, run! Short and sweet: this run game is refreshing. Damien Harris seems to be comfortable, and the team’s clear #1 option. But the options exist after him, too; I’m bullish on rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, who can function as not a power back but a reliable receiving back as well. Just weeks after I ripped apart Brandon Bolden for lack of production, he seems to be sticking around. The run game is an excellent complement to what New England is looking to do.

Not too late to buy stock in Mac Jones. While it certainly took a bit for Mac to get comfortable, he’s on a roll now. He’s thrown at least 1 touchdown in every game except two this year - 3 TD’s came against Cleveland - is making longer throws after initially favoring shorter checkdowns & slants, and seems to have emerged as a leader. Against Atlanta, he cracked 200 yards for the first time since Week 8. Mac is also a contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year, leading the pack at +100 of all betting favorites. There is quite honestly nobody in sight.

UP NEXT: The big, bad Tennessee Titans (8-2) come to Gillette. The crushing blow for Tennessee is the absence of Derrick Henry, and they’ve had trouble ramping it up with the trio of Jeremy McNichols, D’Onta Foreman, and - yes - Adrian Peterson. The question will most certainly be if the Pats can bring the firepower and shut down the run game, and if the corners can hold their own against a speedy receiving core. If the Pats can cause enough hardship in the secondary, Tennessee will logically try to revert to the run, which sounds like it’ll favor the Pats. Let’s buckle up for a fun one.

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