Taking the plunge.
The loss to the Panthers saw the supposed-to-be-undefeated Patriots taking the plunge down the experts’ Week 4 Power Rankings and landing with a just average 2-2 record. It wasn’t quite so big a drop as after the Kansas City debacle in 2014, but the tone was almost as dour. A rebound win in Tampa Bay last Thursday hasn’t done much to rally the rankers to the cause, but two wins in a row might. Even against the Jets.
This Saturday my oldest son is also taking the plunge, marrying his sweetheart of 10 years. True to form, the weekend festivities will conclude at our home on Sunday with family, friends and football: Patriots vs. Jets for sole possession of first place in the division. Wins all around.
Around the AFC East:
New England (3-2) at NY Jets (3-2)
Miami (2-2) at Atlanta (3-1)
Buffalo (3-2) - Bye
Kansas City (5-0) vs Pittsburgh (3-2)
Jacksonville (3-2) vs. LA Rams (3-2)
Denver (3-1) vs. NY Giants (0-5)
Baltimore (3-2) vs. Chicago (1-4)
Houston (2-3) vs. Cleveland (0-5)
Raiders (2-3) vs. LA Chargers (1-4)
Tennessee (2-3) vs. Indianapolis (2-3)
2nd (AFC) - Kenneth Arthur (Sports on Earth): Thursday's 19-14 win over the Bucs was only the second time they allowed fewer than 33 points this season, but the Pats did get the job done again and Tom Brady is on pace for some insane numbers, even by Brady's standards. The Patriots may be in a tie for first place with the Jets and Bills, but they have to be the clear favorites to win the division in spite of their defense.
4th - Staff (SI).
5th - Experts (ESPN): 91.9 percent chance. Even with a below-average defense and two early losses, the Patriots' offense has been so good that New England has the second-best overall chance of making the playoffs. The Bills and Jets also are 3-2, but the Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East.
6th - Kevin Dillon (MassLive): After allowing 444 yards to Carolina in Week 4, New England allowed another 400 yards to the Buccaneers on Thursday. However, most of that came at the end of the game, and the defense looked pretty good overall. If New England’s defense can at least be average this year, Tom Brady and the offense should be able to win against plenty of good teams.
6th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The defense was better, but still far from perfect in Thursday night’s win at Tampa. The offense struggled without TE Rob Gronkowski, managing only one TD. The Patriots prevailed only because of three missed FGs by now-former Bucs kicker Nick Folk and Jameis Winston’s last-second incompletion at the goal line. But there’s no sense worrying about lost style points, and now the Patriots have a chance to get a winning streak going when they visit the Meadowlands on Sunday to face the Jets.
6th - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): I still need visual evidence that New England's defense actually exists. The Hoodie can thank recently unemployed kicker Nick Folk for beating the Bucs last week. The Evil Empire doesn't look so scary, but they're somehow still tied atop the AFC East. A road test against the surprising Jets is on the horizon.
6th - Ian Glendon (Cover32): It was ugly at times, but a win is a win. The Patriots defense by far had its strongest outing of the season, something that will have to continue for them to regain their spot at the top.
6th - Staff (USA Today): Defense played well for three quarters in Tampa before issues resurfaced. New England would likely be 2-3 had it faced a decent kicker.
7th - Joshua Schrock (NESN): The preseason Super Bowl favorites got back on track with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Pats still have a long way to go to go on both sides of the ball.
7th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): You’ve probably heard the stat by now, but Tom Brady has already been sacked more times this season than he was all last season. It goes without saying that’s not good for a 40-year-old quarterback. Brady has always been great at getting rid of the ball quickly and avoiding sacks, so you have to wonder if his timing is off that way. That might be where Julian Edelman’s absence is felt most. Edelman could always get open quickly and be an easy outlet for Brady when he needed it.
7th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They face a big division game this week at the Jets. The defense took steps against the Bucs last week, which it needed to do.
7th - Chris Simms (Bleacher Report): We're finally starting to see some of what we expected from the New England defense. The Patriots simplified things, used simple coverages and made sure they wouldn't be beaten by long passes to Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. ... Tom Brady was a little off early against Tampa, but he played well overall. The problem is that he was again under consistent pressure. ... The Patriots will always have a chance to win with Brady under center, but that changes if he gets sidelined by injury.
7th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The real chase is for the No. 1 seed, and they have a 2.5-game deficit to erase over only 11 games.
7th - Mark Cannizzaro (NY Post): Only one team (the Colts with 159) have allowed more points than the Patriots’ 142. They’ve controlled only one of their five games (36-20 over the Saints). The other four games have been within a two-point margin in the fourth quarter. Work to be done.
7th - Staff (AP Pro32).
7th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): It wasn't pretty, but the offense grinded in Tampa Bay without Gronk, and the defense decided to come together and make key stops. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, you know Bill Belichick made the most of his mini bye to fix more things.
This week: at Jets, rivals who shockingly share the same record.
8th - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): So much for pushing the panic button (over and over again). I'm not sure if you noticed, but the Patriots played this little thing called "defense" last Thursday night in Tampa, shutting down the home team's offense for most of the game. What a relief for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who must've been embarrassed/stressed/pissed about his unit's showing thus far. Not Thursday. That's why he got the bro hug from the hoodie after the game. Good stuff.
8th - Luke Miller (Metro): No matter how badly the Patriots struggled on defense the first four weeks of the season, you never really expected the adjustment wouldn’t be coming, did you? And there it was on display Thursday night, on a short week, on the road against a team loaded with offensive weapons. The Patriots came out and refused to let the Buccaneers play their vertical game and frustrated them for four quarters Thursday. Despite Jameis Winston’s final gaudy stats this was a completely different performance than this defense has had this season.
10th - Joe Giglio (NJ.com): There's still reason to be concerned, but I'll bet on the Patriots working through the issues and arriving in January as a dangerous team.
10th - Adam Stites (SB Nation): I hope you’re having fun, Jets. But the Patriots are tied for the AFC East lead again thanks to a Bills loss, and New England just has to beat the Jets for the 11th time in the last 13 meetings to stay on track for another division title.
AVERAGE RANK: 6.9 (+2.4)