Exactly what kind of 3-0 team can the Patriots claim to be? That is the question to be answered in the next few weeks, at least according to all the local sports-talk jocks and many national rankings analysts.
New England is one of seven remaining undefeated teams in the NFL and much has been made of their less-than-stellar competition so far. But what of the six other teams and their opponents?
Miami - @Cleveland, @Indianapolis, Atlanta
Denver - Baltimore, @NY Giants, Oakland
Kansas City - @Jacksonville, Dallas, @Philadelphia
New Orleans - Atlanta, @Tampa Bay, Arizona
Chicago - Cincinnati, Minnesota, @Pittsburgh
Seattle - @Carolina, San Francisco, Jacksonville
There is at least one so-called cupcake matchup for each of these teams, some have played two. I only bring this up to show that the Patriots do not need to apologize for being a perceived less-than 3-0 team. As Bill Parcells would surely attest, they are what their record says they are. The Patriots have every right to take the field in the Georgia Dome against 'their first real opponent', the 1-2 Falcons, who apparently are better than their record implies. It is still early in the season, and the Falcons may indeed prove to be the better team, but the Patriots wouldn't dream of pulling rank unless, and until, they pull out a win late Sunday night.
Until then in every interview they'll hammer the need for improvement in all phases and talk up their opponents' strengths. If asked about their top-of-the-league status, they'll likely plead the fifth. Pretty much the same as their average Power Rankings this week. I'm looking forward to a close, competitive game Sunday, and a 4-0 souvenir to bring back with them to New England.
Week 4 AFC Rundown:
Buffalo (1-2) vs. Baltimore (2-1)
NY Jets (2-1) at Tennessee (2-1)
Miami (3-0) at New Orleans (3-0)
Cincinnati (2-1) at Cleveland (1-2)
Houston (2-1) vs. Seattle (3-0)
Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (0-3)
Kansas City (3-0) vs. NY Giants (0-3)
Pittsburgh (0-3) at Minnesota (0-3)
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 3rd: They got the young receivers going, which they had to do. The defense had a nice game against the Bucs but gets a real challenge against the Falcons this week.
Ryan Van Bibber (SB Nation) ranks them 3rd: Leave it to the Bucs to give Tom Brady and Co. a much needed tune-up game. But let's save Greg Schiano's incompetence for another time. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson had a much better game. Rob Gronkowski comes back next week. The Patriots will be just fine.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 3rd: I really liked how the Patriots simplified their passing game on Sunday for Tom Brady and his targets to get back on the same page. Easy three-step routes … no thinking, just playing.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 3rd: It sure wasn't vintage Tom Brady (225 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception), but it was enough to get it done against a pretty strong Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. The 14-year vet seems to have found something -- or someone -- in Kenbrell Thompkins, an undrafted rookie who caught both scoring tosses from the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Sunday. On the flip side: What a quality performance from the Patriots' secondary. We didn't see 23-3 coming.
Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) ranks them 3rd: Why they're here: So funny how the Patriots found some answers in their running game and around Tom Brady in a hurry, isn't it? Forget the style points; they're just getting the job done. How they move up: Get hot against some strong competition (Falcons, Bengals, Saints) in the next three games. How they move down: If Brady can't come through when there will be more pressure on him to lead higher-scoring outputs.
Rick Drummond (Pro Football Focus) ranks them 4th: Back in the Top 5 to help fill vacancies, the pieces seem to be coming together for New England — at least everything outside of the passing game… and you can’t help but feel they’ll figure that out at some point. If that settles soon, the Patriots could find themselves up here for the duration.
Shutdown Corner (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 5th: I know, you want to tell me why New England is horrible. They're 3-0, and will get healthy soon. Just because you want the Patriots dynasty to end doesn't mean it will yet.
The AP Pro32 ranks them 5th.
USA Today ranks them 5th: Defense looks good vs. EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Josh Freeman. The next three QBs, however, are Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton and Drew Brees.
ESPN experts rank them 5th: The offense looked better Sunday, with Kenbrell Thompkins scoring twice and Aaron Dobson converting all three targets on third or fourth down. Just in time, as the Falcons are next.
Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk) ranks them 5th: Maybe if Tom Brady had better receivers, they’d be able to catch all those inaccurate passes he has been throwing.
Chris Burke (SI) ranks them 6th: In Bill Belichick's previous 13 seasons as the Patriots' head coach, his offense has finished outside the top 12 in points scored only once -- 2000, Belichick's first year. The Patriots' current rank in that statistical category? Twenty-two.
Hank Gola (NY Daily News) ranks them 6th: Always finding a way to get it done, aren't they?
WEEI ranks them 7th: It’s difficult to determine whether the drastic improvement on defense should be credited more to the Patriots or their opponents. We’ll finally see what type of team the Patriots really are as they begin a challenging three-game stretch against the Falcons, Bengals and Saints.
Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) ranks them 7th: Tom Brady may have bought enough time to develop his rookie receivers with a soft opening three games. When Gronk and Danny Amendola come back, the Pats can get back to the no-huddle.
Peter King (MMQB.SI) ranks them 7th: First time since the 16-0 regular-season of 2007 that New England has started 3-0. I mean, just saying.
AVERAGE RANK: 4.8 (+2.2)