On Sunday, the New England Patriots won their fourth straight game by absolutely dismantling the Cleveland Browns. This was a surprising result. The Patriots had an advantage coming into Sunday because the Browns were missing Nick Chubb due to a COVID diagnosis, but Cleveland looked like they were gaining big-time momentum when they beat down the Bengals last week and won by 30. The Browns were shorthanded, but the 45-7 loss to New England was as close as the final score suggests. Which is to say, not at all.
The Patriots have been quietly chugging along and rising to contender status as every other "good" team in the league has suffered brutal losses. Let's take a look around the league, shall we?
The in-division rival, the Bills, lost to the Jaguars last week. The Rams were walked over by the Derrick Henry-less Titans on national television in Los Angeles. One week later, Tennessee barely squeaked by the Saints led by Trevor Siemian and are clearly entirely reliant on Adrian Peterson and D'Onta Foreman to fill Henry's absence, which is a losing proposition. The Cardinals have been coping well with the loss of Kyler Murray but his injury is greatly concerning. The Packers get Aaron Rodgers back today but had some pretty significant issues exposed in their loss to the Chiefs last week. The Bucs lost to the Washington Football Team coming off a bye week and Tom Brady was tortured by the worst passing defense in the entire league all day long.
The Chiefs obviously have something seriously wrong with them. The Seahawks get Russell Wilson back today but have various issues on their roster that were apparent before his finger injury. The Ravens lost to a very bad Dolphins team on Thursday night. The Steelers are broken as long as Ben Roethlisberger is on the field. The Cowboys bounced back against Atlanta this week but that doesn't erase the stain of getting shut out for three quarters at home by an average Broncos defense last week. The Raiders lost to the Giants after their team collapsed off the field. The Patriots themselves handled the Chargers with ease, and did so again today with the Browns.
That's everyone, right? All the teams pegged as playoff contenders after the first month of the season have given us reasons why they are bad, actually, in the last two or three weeks. Except... the Patriots.
Seriously. Are the Patriots the best team in the NFL? Their defense isn't elite but the unit has shown they can absolutely be good enough after a rough start to the year. Mac Jones is getting better with each week and Josh McDaniels has really found his footing in his playcalling lately. After losing two of their first three games, the Patriots have won five of their last seven. The two losses in that timespan were nailbiters against the Bucs and Cowboys.
New England has found their formula to winning. They grind defenses into dust with their battering ram cadre of running backs and lean on Jones to make timely throws when needed. The defense is opportunistic and employs the time-honored "bend but don't break" strategy against great offenses while dominating bad ones. On any given Sunday, that's enough to keep them in the game, and if it's close at the end then anything can happen.
Do the Patriots have the most dangerous offense in the NFL? No. That is undoubtedly the Rams. Do they have the most dominant defense? Certainly not. It's unclear who that title belongs to at this point, but New England isn't quite there. What they do have is a capable defense on all three levels and an offense that has found a way to consistently score points.
This isn't a team that's going to walk to the Super Bowl or anything like that. But 2021 is a bizarre year. Why can't the Patriots be the best team in the league? Right now, there's a legitimate argument.
Something to consider, is all.