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Mac Jones, Patriots Clinch 2022 NFL Playoff Berth After Dolphins' Loss to Titans

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 3, 2022

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have clinched a berth in the 2022 NFL playoffs following the Miami Dolphins' loss to the Tennessee Titans.

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Anybody hoping the Patriots were in for an extended rebuild (see: AFC East foes) following two decades of dominance under the guidance of Tom Brady didn't get their wish as Bill Belichick's group is right back on the postseason stage after just a one-year absence.

Their quick rise back up the standings was in large part thanks to the 2021 draft, as Alabama quarterback Mac Jones fell all the way to the Pats at No. 15 despite being the most NFL-ready signal-caller available.

Jones has put together a strong rookie season, including an 18-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio entering Sunday, and has been supported by an effective rushing attack led by Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.

It looked quite a bit like the Patriots offense in the first year under Tom Brady in 2001. Brady compiled 18 touchdowns and 12 picks as part of a balanced offense with Antowain Smith leading the ground game.

Brady, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be waiting in the Super Bowl if the Patriots make a run, soon proved himself as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, and New England started to utilize a more pass-heavy offense. The same may ring true for Jones over time, but for now, the Pats are showing a balanced offense and a top-tier defense can win games.

Linebacker Matthew Judon, an offseason free-agent signing who racked up 12.5 sacks ahead of Week 17, has sparked a unit that is tied for first in the NFL in scoring defense (17.3 points allowed per game).

The Patriots likely won't open the playoffs as the Super Bowl favorite, but they've showed enough potential in all three facets of the game to believe they have a realistic shot at a deep run, especially given the wide-open nature of the AFC for much of the year.

If Jones protects the football and the Pats' defense continues to force turnovers at a rate of nearly two per game, that's a recipe for New England being a real tough out.

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