It only took the Patriots four weeks after Brady's return from suspension, but now they rank #1 in the Power Rankings spreadsheet. You'll be hard-pressed to find any Power Rankings system that has the Patriots other than #1 at this point, an exercise I don't recommend anyone doing. The Patriots #1 ranking shouldn't be any surprise considering they have the best record in the NFL through Week 8 at a 7-1 record. Since there is no upcoming opponent in Week 9 with the Patriots earning a well-deserved bye week, this week's edition will break down the individual components of each ranking.
Schedule 87 (1st): The Patriots have the best record in the NFL with a 7-1 start (.875). Strength of schedule and strength of victory have been right around league average. The second half features teams with winning records such as the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. The Patriots are projected to go 6-2 in the second half and finish with a 13-3 record and home field in the AFC. The Patriots need to win against Denver to make it happen though, but it's possible the team gets help from the AFC West with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders straddling along Denver with 2 losses. None of these three teams have played each other yet, so hopefully they beat each other up.
Offense 67 (3rd): The trend is better than the overall, as the Patriots offense has taken a drastic rise after Brady returned from suspension. The offense under Jimmy Garoppolo was rated around 60, Jacoby Brissett around 45, and Tom Brady well over 75. While the combination of Garoppolo/Brissett has the same number of games as Brady, the offensive totals weigh more towards the latter as the Patriots raised their PPD from 1.96 to 2.56 in 4 games. The Patriots have not turned the ball over once in the last four weeks, contributing to the second highest drive rating on the spreadsheet behind the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots are Top 5 on critical downs in the league, so they've been able to extend drives and score points off them. Red Zone offense should get better with each passing week and an offense that's getting healthier with each passing week.
Defense 53 (13th): Don't let the points statistics fool you, the Patriots defense is basically average despite being 6th in PPD. What lowers the points allowed is good complementary football, starting with the offense putting up points in a hurry. That forces the opponent to be one-dimensional and the Patriots have not been able to take advantage of it. The pass rushers haven't been able to win their matchups, which makes you wonder if there will be more significant changes to the defense moving forward. Overall, the defense is adequate enough for the Patriots to at least at the minimum survive if their offense is efficient all game. With Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, and Alan Branch the most consistent defenders this year, the rest of the unit needs to step up. Perhaps the looming FA situation has turned into a distraction and players are not putting their best efforts on the field, which is why the Patriots gave Jamie Collins the boot on Monday.
Special Teams 62 (7th): The Patriots special teams unit is still very inconsistent this year. One week they're good, another they're bad. This week had both, although more good than bad thanks to a big punt return by Danny Amendola to start the 2nd half. The Patriots rank above average on kickoff and punt coverage, although the former has started to leak a bit with the Steelers and Bills ripping off a couple big returns the last two weeks. The Special Teams units suffer from the same problem on defense, which is a lack of consistent effort. The Patriots rank above 50 in punt return, although it's trending up because of the breaking returns that Julian Edelman can give them now and then.
Overall 67 (1st): The Patriots have some separation between the top two teams in the NFC (Vikings and Cowboys). The Cowboys and Vikings though are trending in the opposite direction, as Dallas is climbing up and Minnesota in free-fall. In the postseason, it looks like the biggest challenge for the Patriots will come out of the AFC West. If I had to choose which team to take, it would be Kansas City would be Kansas City because they're all banged up on both sides of the ball and at relative full strength are the least potent of the three AFC West contenders. The Raiders offense can score points in a hurry and their QB, Derek Carr, is the best in the division, even though he has zero playoff experience in addition to Denver's Trevor Siemian.