Rookie quarterback Mac Jones lead the Patriots back to the playoffs, while Alex Cora led the Red Sox back to the postseason in his first season back with the team. Associated Press

When Kiké Hernández hit a sacrifice fly into a mellow October night to knock in the game-winning run and secure a victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series, the Red Sox season was an instant success.

For the Patriots, the line is just as clear: when Brian Hoyer took the final knee on Sunday, securing a playoff berth for a team that entered the year with similarly low expectations, the season became a success.

At this point, it’s easy to make the call. No matter where the Pats go from here, the history books will reflect a year in which they surpassed expectations, developed a rookie quarterback and proved themselves to be a competitive team in a challenging conference.

The parallels between the 2021-22 Patriots and the 2021 Red Sox are uncanny.

Both entered the year coming off losing seasons, the Sox’ first in five years with their worst winning percentage (.400) since 1965, and the Pats’ first losing season in 20 years.

Both made significant changes in key leadership positions, with the Sox re-hiring manager Alex Cora and the Pats handing the keys of the offense to Mac Jones.

One key difference: the Sox barely spent in the offseason while the Patriots guaranteed about $160 million in a free-agent frenzy. Still, each team was a slight betting favorite to qualify for the postseason and a distant underdog to win their respective division and league/conference.

The Red Sox got off to a hot start that wildly changed expectations, but they were exposed in July and August, only to regain ground with a solid finish on their way to the postseason.

The Pats got off to an ugly start but by mid-season they were rolling, with a seven-game winning streak enough for many national pundits to start discussing them as a potential favorite in the AFC. The Pats, too, hit a roadblock about 3/4 of the way through the season, and it remains to be seen how they’ll finish.

For the Sox, making the playoffs wasn’t enough to call them a success. Because they had a commanding lead in their division for the better part of three months, to lose in the wild-card game would’ve been seen as a disappointment, despite low preseason expectations.

Expectations change throughout the year, and the Sox saw theirs grow leaps and bounds during the summer months. When they handled the Yankees down the stretch and then again to knock them out of the playoffs, the Sox proved themselves a successful team. By knocking out the Rays, they were more than that: the last team standing from their own division.

The Patriots are in a similar position.

With a potential wild-card matchup against the Buffalo Bills lingering two weeks from now, we could see a third game between division rivals that’ll determine just how far the Pats have come. A win in the wild-card game, no matter who the opponent, should be enough to appease even the most jaded Patriots fans around the globe.

Just like the Sox entering the postseason, the Pats will enter as likely underdogs no matter who they face.

They’re not better than the Chiefs, and it’d be crazy to argue otherwise. They beat the Titans earlier this season, but Tennessee could secure the No. 1 seed and then get Derrick Henry back, and there’s no way the Pats would be favored in that game.

Are they better than the Bills, Bengals or Colts? Probably not.

The only team one could comfortably say the Patriots are better than is whoever gets the final playoff spot between the Raiders and Chargers, who will face off on Sunday night.

The reason we’re calling the Patriots’ season a success right now is because to expect them to win a playoff game against the majority of the AFC is not reasonable. They should be competitive, though. If they show up to the wild-card game and put up a stinker like they did against the Colts three weeks ago or the Bills two weeks ago, when they would’ve been beaten to pieces if not for a few key drops by Buffalo receivers in the end zone, there will be disappointment.

But the Pats arguably had a less impressive regular season than the Red Sox did.

Their biggest achievement in the first half was playing close games against the Buccaneers and the Cowboys, though they lost both of those.

Wins over the Chargers and Titans in the middle of the year were impressive, and while the wind-bowl game in Buffalo was one of the stranger football games we’ll ever see, the defensive performance and carefully crafted game plan deserve some credit in a hard-fought victory.

Overall, the Pats have had an easy road. Of their 17 games, only six (or seven, if the Chargers sneak in) will have come against playoff teams, and they’re 2-4 in those matchups. They’ve had the 25th-most difficult schedule this year, according to PowerRankingsGuru.com.

Still, it’s a relief to see them competitive again. It was painful to watch them last year.

The same was said of the 2020 Red Sox.

Both teams reached the postseason a year before they were expected to.

It’s not an uncommon sentence to say over the last 20 years, but the Red Sox and Patriots are winners again.


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