Next Pats: Can Patriots’ offense keep up with AFC hopefuls?

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Can the Patriots’ offense keep up with AFC hopefuls? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The  New England Patriots' offense took a much-needed step forward against the Minnesota Vikings. Second-year quarterback Mac Jones had his best game of the season with a career-high 382 yards in the 33-26 defeat.

Despite the loss, the Patriots remain in the mix for a playoff spot with a 6-5 record. Holding on to that spot will be a challenge, however, as four of their final six games come against teams with winning records. That includes Thursday night's divisional matchup vs. the 8-3 Buffalo Bills.

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The AFC East showdown will give us an idea of whether the Patriots have what it takes to keep up with the powerhouses in the conference. Should Pats fans feel more confident after seeing how the offense performed on Thanksgiving Night?

SB Nation's Mark Schofield joined Phil Perry on a new episode of the Next Pats Podcast to discuss whether New England's offense can keep up with other AFC hopefuls.

Next Pats Podcast: Lacking identity...lacking details…can the Patriots’ offense possibly keep up with AFC hopefuls? | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube

"Absolutely. If you look at the Baltimore game, the first two-and-a-half quarters of that game was some of the best you've seen from Mac Jones. Explosive in the downfield passing game. Some of the throws he made to DeVante Parker in that game. ... Those moments stood out," Schofield said.

"You look at this game Thursday night, the first touchdown to (Nelson) Agholor. ... That's the kind of stuff we've been waiting to see from Mac Jones. That explosiveness in the downfield passing game. You saw the touchdown to (Hunter) Henry, that's the offensive identity we've been looking for. Some vertical stuff, some under-center play-action stuff. So it gives me this belief that, yeah, they're going to be able to score enough to hang with these teams. I think the question becomes, can they score enough to beat these teams? ...

"So do I believe they can score enough to keep these games close? Yeah. The question I have is with what they've learned over the first 12 weeks of this season, with what's worked for them with this offensive identity in the passing game. If they have figured that out, can they put it all together to outscore teams in some of these games down the stretch? Or is it going to have to be complementary football for them to put these wins together?"

Also in the new episode: Kurt Warner’s assessment of the Patriots’ offense. Compared to the rest of the NFL, how simple is the Patriots’ offense? Breaking down the Patriots' red zone problem. And what’s wrong with Bills QB Josh Allen?

Check out the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network, or watch it on YouTube below: