How would you rank the 2017 New England Patriots against prior installments?
The passing attack is pretty similar to the 2010 and 2016 versions, but behind the 2007 unit. The rushing attack is similar to the 2011 and 2007 offense, but is nowhere near the best (I’d argue barely in the top 10 under head coach Bill Belichick).
The passing defense is arguably the worst under Belichick, ranking last in defensive passer rating and completion rate since 2000 and on pace to give up fewer yards than the 2011 defense and similar yards to the 2012 defense- but those secondaries forced a lot of turnovers. The rushing defense is also giving up the most yards per carry under Bill Belichick.
So where does this team stand? I’d have it behind the 2007, 2010, 2004, and 2012 teams, and on par with the 2014 and 2016 teams. But with five games to go there’s a chance they could keep climbing the rankings.
A reporter asked Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott how the 2017 Patriots compared to teams McDermott has faced in the past and, well, he has nothing but good things to say.
“I think they're better, honestly,” McDermott replied. “This is an outstanding football team, not that the other ones weren't. It just seems like now with the addition of some of other players that they've added to on the roster with the addition of [Brandin] Cooks and some of the other player's they've been able to add the last really ‘X’ amount of months I think this is a dynamite football team.”
He’s also faced the Patriots four times in his career: In week 2 of 2003 as the Eagles defensive quality control coach; In Super Bowl XXXIX as the Eagles assistant defensive backs coach (2004-05); In week 12 of 2007 as the Eagles secondary coach; and finally getting his first win* in week 11 of 2013 as the Panthers defensive coordinator, thanks to a picked up flag after an obvious defensive pass interference penalty.
So those are McDermott’s reference point when asked if the 2017 Patriots are different from Patriots teams in the past and he says this current version is “better, honestly.” That a serious claim.
And the Patriots really do have a dynamic team. Brandin Cooks is not Randy Moss, but he and Rob Gronkowski form one of the best receiver duos in the NFL. Dion Lewis is running well and role players like Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, James White, and Rex Burkhead are all contributing when their numbers are called.
While the defensive production is lagging from an individual play perspective, there’s been no team better at keeping points off the board since week 5 and that’s key to winning football games. They also rank 10th in defensive passer rating over that time (they’re still 31st in yards allowed per carry) so they’ve made definite strides.
Is this the best Patriots team? Probably not. I would argue it’s definitely not the best version that McDermott has faced.
Is this Patriots team good enough? Absolutely.