The Patriots power-rankings coaster through the first 7 weeks of the season sounds a bit like the Sound FX micd-up exchange between Julian Edelman and Tom Brady following the AFC Championship win against the Steelers.
Edelman: "Are you happy? I'm not happy." Brady: "I'm happy." Edelman: "I'll be happy next week when we get the other one." Brady: "I'm (expletive) happy." JE: "I know you're happy. I'm a little happy, too."
Experts all seem to be happy and not-quite happy at the same time. And while there’s still plenty to improve on, to my eyes the Pats are ranked right where they deserve to be, somewhere around 2nd and 3rd. This week’s average doesn’t include the outlier who stuck them in at an absurd 11th spot (although that guy did include an apology to Belichick and Brady for ever doubting them.) Well, okay then. It’s now on to the L.A. “Every game is a road game” Chargers, looking to test themselves against the World Champs. Get in line, Bubs. New England wins by 10.
Around the AFC East:
New England (5-2) vs. LA Chargers (3-4)
Buffalo (4-2) vs. Oakland (3-4)
Miami (4-2) at Baltimore (3-4)
NY Jets (3-4) vs. Atlanta (3-3)
Pittsburgh (5-2) at Detroit (3-3)
Kansas City (5-2) vs. Denver (3-3)
Houston (3-3) at Seattle (4-2)
Cincinnati (2-4) vs. Indianapolis (2-5)
Cleveland (0-7) vs. Minnesota (5-2)
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Remember those panicked claims in the season’s first few weeks that the Patriots wouldn’t be able to figure things out this time? As usual, those who doubt Bill Belichick and Tom Brady end up looking foolish. That’s not to say that the Patriots will win another Super Bowl title. But they certainly will be a factor in the postseason and they are back to playing like the league’s top team.
1st - Staff (SI).
1st - Experts (ESPN): 84.0 percent. The AFC East might look closer than ever in the standings, but FPI still indicates the Patriots are the clear favorites to win the division. It'll take some big efforts from the Bills, Dolphins or Jets to top the team that has won 14 of the past 16 division titles.
2nd - Adam Stites (SB Nation): All that handwringing and talk about the New England Patriots struggling, and here we are finishing up October with the Patriots tied for first in the AFC. The defense is still far from fixed, but it seems to be getting better every week. Nearly shutting out the Falcons on Sunday night provided more than enough reason to think New England is good enough on that side of the ball to be a tough team to beat, as always.
The Patriots are No. 1 in total offense, and Tom Brady already has 2,208 passing yards when nobody else has crossed 2,000. Sorry for ever doubting you, Bill Belichick and Brady.
2nd - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): It’s just a matter of time before we forget all about the time they were 2-2.
2nd - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): Tom Brady could have been like the late great Gary Carter as a top Expos catcher. We like him more with the current Pats than the future Nats.
This week: vs. Chargers, a tricky spot for their passing game.
2nd - Kevin Dillon (Mass Live): The Patriots finally held a passer to under 300 yards Sunday, and it was last year’s MVP Matt Ryan. New England has had its issues early in the season, but the Super Bowl champions are tied for the best record in the AFC and look as though they’re finding balance and rhythm on both sides of the ball. They’ll need to take care of business against the Chargers before reaching their bye week.
2nd - Staff (AP Pro32).
2nd - Mark Cannizzaro (NY Post): Suddenly, their porous defense doesn’t look so vulnerable anymore.
2nd - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): If the defense plays the way it did against the Falcons, they will be the AFC's best team. But can it stay that way?
3rd - Chris Simms (Bleacher Report): This is the New England Patriots team we've been waiting to see. The defense is getting better and better, and it was great against the Atlanta Falcons. ... This was a defensive struggle early, but as usual, Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels got a feel for how they were being defended and adjusted. ... It was a productive day for New England's ground game too. If the Patriots can continue running well, watch out because Brady is on fire. These last two years have been his best since 2007. The Patriots might have endured some early-season struggles, but they're turning it around. They're without question one of the best teams in football. Shocker.
3rd - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): The Patriots’ defense didn’t get off to a good start. But let’s look at where the Pats stand now: They’re 5-2, tied for the best record in the AFC, and the defense nearly shut out a Falcons team that last season scored the seventh-most points in NFL history. If they’ve figured out their issues, the Patriots could still have the same type of season everyone expected from them two months ago.
3rd - Joshua Schrock (NESN): The much-anticipated Super Bowl LI rematch with the Atlanta Falcons was all Patriots from the opening kickoff. New England looks like it’s beginning to become a complete team after the defense shut down Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ aerial attack.
3rd - Joe Giglio (NJ.com): It took Bill Belichick about a month to get the defense back on track. Now the Patriots can take off.
3rd - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): Do you have that same sickening feeling that I do? It sure seems like the Hoodie has solved some of defensive issues that plagued his team in the first month. The Patriots white-washing of the Falcons in the Super Bowl LI rematch revealed this unyielding truth: Bill Belichick is smarter than all of us. The San Diego Chargers (yes, I'm always going to call them that) come into town on a three-game winning streak. Spoiler: They won't win their fourth in a row.
4th - Staff (USA Today): The fog helped - and Atlanta isn't nearly as potent as it was eight months ago - but give New England's defense credit for its best showing of '17.
5th - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): The Patriots' leading man for the last couple of weeks has been the guy with the backwards baseball hat, Michael McDonald beard and laminated playsheet. Coordinator Matt Patricia has spearheaded a New England defensive renaissance. The Pats gave up 128 points in their first four games of 2017, a staggering clip of 32 per contest. Patricia drowned out all the criticism and made the necessary tweaks for his unit to allow 14, 17 and seven points in New England's last three games. In fairness, the Bucs' allergic reaction to field goals and a curious call on Austin Seferian-Jenkins slightly helped those totals, but no one was backing up Patricia when the breaks weren't going his team's way.
AVERAGE RANK: 2.4 (+1.7)