The New England Patriots are 10-3. They currently hold the No. 2 seed in the A.F.C. In all likelihood — a 76 percent chance, according to The New York Times’s playoff simulator — they will earn a first-round bye for the 10th consecutive postseason.
And yet an uneasy feeling has settled across New England, where fans spoiled by the Patriots’ dynasty are coping with three losses in five games, all to division-leading A.F.C. teams powered by quarterbacks set to rule the conference when Tom Brady retires.
Or when he plays elsewhere, a possibility recently broached by his father before New England’s offense sputtered yet again in a loss to Kansas City, before boos cascaded from the Gillette Stadium stands, before the Patriots courted controversy by forgetting to inform the Bengals and the league that a video crew would be filming a scout instead of, say, Cincinnati’s sideline.
It was just another chaotic week in a chaotic season that, despite it all, still might result in the team basking amid falling confetti on Feb. 2 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Here are the whiplash-inducing highs and lows of the New England Patriots’ season so far:
Aug. 6: Three days after Brady’s 42nd birthday, and two days after he agreed to a new contract that makes him a free agent after the season, NBC Sports Boston reports that he and his wife, the supermodel Gisele Bündchen, have put their Brookline, Mass., mansion up for sale, fueling speculation that this will be his final year in New England.
Sept. 7: The Oakland Raiders are exasperated enough by Antonio Brown’s antics — missing two practices, refusing to wear a new helmet, threatening to punch General Manager Mike Mayock — that they cut him. Within hours, in swoop the Patriots, ever eager to add players whose conduct may discourage pursuit by other teams, and they agree to sign him to a one-year, $9 million deal.
Sept. 8: After unveiling their sixth championship banner, the Patriots open their title defense by destroying the Pittsburgh Steelers, 33-3, at Gillette Stadium.
Sept. 10: Brown, in a lawsuit filed in federal court, is accused of raping a woman whom he met while they were attending college together and who later worked as his trainer.
Sept. 15: The Patriots throttle the Miami Dolphins, 43-0, as Brown catches four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Sept. 20: Amid the N.F.L.’s investigation into the accusations against Brown, the Patriots release Brown, saying in a statement: “We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time.”
Sept. 22: Hours after Brown blasts the Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft in a series of tweets, New England overwhelms the Jets, 30-14.
Sept. 29: The Patriots overcome a meager performance from Brady, who completes 46.2 percent of his passes, his lowest rate in more than two seasons, in a 16-10 victory at Buffalo.
Oct. 2: Another critical injury befalls the Patriots a week after losing the fullback James Develin, an essential component of their running game, for the season: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots’ franchise leader in points and field goals, is placed on injured reserve with a hip injury.
Oct. 10: The Patriots allow their first touchdown pass of the season in a 35-14 victory against the Giants.
Oct. 21: Before New England’s 33-0 romp over the Jets — when the Patriots’ defensive pressure so confuses quarterback Sam Darnold, wearing a microphone for the Monday Night Football broadcast, that he says, “I’m seeing ghosts,” while sitting on the bench in the first half — Adam Schefter reports on ESPN’s pregame show that for Tom Brady, returning to New England next season is his “least likely” option.
Oct. 23: The Patriots place starting receiver Josh Gordon on injured reserve but with the designation that they must cut him once he’s healthy, a curious decision by a team lacking both quality and reliability at the position.
Oct. 27: The confluence of the Browns’ ineptitude and New England’s defensive sorcery creates Cleveland turnovers on three consecutive first-quarter plays in the Patriots’ 27-13 victory. Improving to 8-0 for the third time under Coach Bill Belichick, who wins his 300th game, New England increases its point differential to plus-189, tied with the 1942 Chicago Bears for the second-most through a team’s eight games since 1940, according to Pro Football Reference.
Nov. 3: The Patriots are halfway to a perfect regular season, but they have yet to face a quarterback the caliber of Lamar Jackson. Led by Jackson’s penetrative running and incisive passing, Baltimore scores as many touchdowns — four — as the Patriots’ defense had allowed since their Super Bowl victory against the Rams. In dealing New England its first loss since Dec. 16, 2018, with a 37-20 rout, the Ravens affirm their candidacy as a contender in the A.F.C. and puncture the Patriots’ aura of invincibility.
Dec. 1: Even with a full complement of receivers, the Patriots’ offense functions with the utility of an unlocked bank vault, failing to score a touchdown until the closing seconds of the third quarter of Houston’s 28-22 victory. A slew of mistakes — N’Keal Harry’s loafing on a slant leading to an interception, Jakobi Meyers’s miscommunication on a route — and general ineffectiveness enrage Brady, who is captured by NBC cameras reproaching receivers on the sideline.
Dec. 6: In an interview with the Boston Herald, Tom Brady Sr. says that it’s difficult imagining his son playing with another team but that Belichick will make that decision. “Nobody really knows,” Brady Sr. told the Herald. “Bill doesn’t tip his hand. There’s just been insinuations here and there. This is really kind of between those two. They got to decide what they want.”
Dec. 8: The unfathomable happens at Gillette Stadium: Fans boo the lackluster Patriots at halftime of an eventual 23-16 loss to Kansas City, a rematch of last year’s A.F.C. championship game. For the fifth time in six games, Brady connects on fewer than 56 percent of his passes.
Dec. 9: Whether it’s fire alarms being mysteriously pulled at visiting teams’ hotels or headset malfunctions that vex opposing coaching staffs — or even more serious rules scandals like the so-called Spygate and Deflategate — no team invites more speculation into the propriety of its comportment than New England. The latest instance surfaces publicly a day after a videographer records the field and the Bengals’ sideline while attending the Bengals-Browns game in Cleveland ostensibly to film a Patriots employee scouting Cincinnati in advance of Sunday’s game for a feature on the team’s website. In a statement, the Patriots acknowledge that their crew “unknowingly violated” league policy and stress that it is “independent of our football operation,” which had no “involvement whatsoever in the planning, filming or creative decisions made during the production of these features.”