Stephen A. Smith explains why he 'can't dismiss' Patriots in playoff race anymore

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Stephen A. Smith reveals why he 'can't dismiss' Patriots in playoff race anymore originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots have won three consecutive games, and as a result they are starting to convince some skeptics into believers.

The Pats beat the Carolina Panthers 24-6 in Sunday's Week 9 game at Bank of America Stadium. The victory lifted New England over .500 for the first time all season with a 5-4 record, while also vaulting the team into the third wild card spot as the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff picture.

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith wasn't too confident in the Patriots' chances of making the playoffs a few weeks ago.

"I don't think they're going to the playoffs," Smith said on Oct. 25 during ESPN show "First Take." "Just from a scheduling perspective and the fact that they're not the most talented group in the world."

Curran: Patriots emerging as a well-rounded contender

Fast forward to Monday and Smith has changed his perspective -- at least a little bit -- on the Patriots. Smith explained why he "can't dismiss New England anymore" on the latest edition of "First Take."

"I'm not going to go as far as to say they're for real, but I'm going to correct myself -- I'm now on the side of this team is going to make the playoffs," Smith said. "Because I'm looking at the rest of the AFC. I'm looking at the last two weeks at how Cincinnati has fallen off. I'm looking at the Raiders yesterday having fallen off. I'm thinking about the AFC West and how they're battling with one another and how no one is really standing out.

"I watch Buffalo lose to Jacksonville. I'm like, 'My God'. Now all of a sudden, New England looks to be right in the mix with everybody else. And if you're right in the mix with everybody else and Bill Belichick is your coach, I think it's fair to surmise that New England can end up doing some things and making it to the postseason. I looked at them yesterday and I'm impressed with what I've seen."

Check out the full segment from "First Take" in the video below:

The Patriots still have a couple tough games remaining on their schedule, including Sunday's Week 10 matchup versus the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium. They also have two games remaining against the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills (Week 13 in Buffalo, Week 16 in New England). 

Bill Belichick's team has a long way to go before securing a playoff spot, but you have to give the Patriots credit for their performances over the last three weeks. They've finally found their identity as a team winning with a power run game and an excellent defense.