“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
The Week 9 Patriots at Ravens matchup can’t get here soon enough. The league has had quite enough of the cupcake schedule that handed an 8-0 record to New England quicker than a Baker Mayfield shovel pass. Message of the week: The Evil Empire must be defeated and the Ravens, with phenom running QB Lamar Jackson and a whole extra week to prepare, are the first team up who might be able to do it.
General Harbaugh. Years ago (2011, 2012) you beat the Patriots in the playoffs. Now we beg you to help us in our struggle against the Empire. Eight teams so far have fallen under attack, and we’re afraid our mission to take them out has failed. The Browns have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of the All-22 (Run all game long on the Patriots, it’s the sole weakness in their defense). Your coaching staff will know how to retrieve it. You must act out this offensive game plan in Baltimore. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-John Harbaugh. You, and Lamar Jackson, are our only hope.
The rankings experts and their calls for the Ravens to knock the Patriots off their perch, sounded just a tad close to Luke Skywalker’s intercepted plea for help from the original Star Wars movie. Bill Belichick’s Patriots have long been referred to as the Evil Empire and no one, outside of the fans, wants to see them continue to win. I expect this theme to keep popping up especially if the Patriots pull off what is sure to be a well-earned victory Sunday night.
A number of the experts appear to keep New England atop the rankings because they are the reigning Super Bowl champions and haven’t done anything to forfeit that spot. The first loss will give them permission to do what they’ve been itching to do — knock them down a few pegs and promote the teams they really like. All admit eight wins is pretty good regardless of the opponents, but as Belichick would say, “Eight games won’t win you anything in this league”. I agree. Patriots will make it nine wins Sunday night. They open as 3.5 point favorites, and I predict they’ll win by two scores. May the Force be with us all.
Around the AFC East:
New England Patriots (8-0) at Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Cleveland Browns (2-5) at Denver Broncos (2-6)
1st - Staff (AP Pro32).
1st - Lindsay Jones (The Athletic): How many more ways can we find to talk about just how good the New England defense has been through eight weeks? We think forcing turnovers on three consecutive plays Sunday against Cleveland is a pretty good place to start. New England is allowed fewer than eight points per game, a bonkers stat for any team to accomplish in a single game, let alone half a season, and you could make a legitimate argument for at least three Patriots players as the midseason defensive player of the year (Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty or Jamie Collins).
1st - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The New England Patriots defense was at it again Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
The NFL’s most opportunistic D once again piled up the big plays, sacking Baker Mayfield five times, forcing three turnovers and scoring yet another defensive touchdown. In a game during which the two teams recorded a nearly identical amount of yardage, those big plays were the difference for a Pats team that hits the halfway mark at 8-0.
However, while the Pats have a perfect record, most of the wins have come against less-than-stellar opposition. That leaves Gagnon nursing a measure of skepticism regarding New England’s top billing here.
”I don’t think this is a complete no-brainer,” he said. “You can’t take New England out of the No. 1 spot as an undefeated defending champion, especially considering seven of their eight wins have come by 14-plus points. But it might only take one Patriots slip-up for the Saints or 49ers to leapfrog the Pats. Both those teams look more powerful than ever right now, especially with Drew Brees back in New Orleans and Nick Bosa tearing it up for the San Francisco defense.”
For his part, Davenport is just looking forward to New England’s biggest test of the season against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9.
”Lamar Jackson on one side,” he said. “Bill Belichick’s defense on the other. I’ve already started popping popcorn for this one.”
1st - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They haven’t really been challenged as a defense. That will change this week against the Ravens and Lamar Jackson.
1st - NFL Nation (ESPN): Player who needs to step up: Isaiah Wynn, LT. Getting Wynn back from injured reserve (he is eligible to play Nov. 17 at Philadelphia) -- and keeping him healthy -- would go a long way toward solidifying an offensive line that has not been able to consistently create openings for the running game. Veteran Marshall Newhouse has filled in admirably, and the Patriots are in good shape at 8-0, but one could also argue they are living dangerously by not having the running game to help settle things down. Without it, there is too much pressure on Tom Brady and the passing attack.
1st - Mike Cole (NESN): Tom Brady has “only” a passer rating of 88.2 the last three weeks, and the Patriots have won those games by an average of 23 points. They’ll finally start being tested this week, though, when they go to Baltimore.
1st - Tom E. Curran (NBC Sports Boston): The trade deadline approacheth. So does the road game at the Ravens that’s circled as the date when the Patriots’ 2019 season begins. This is Baltimore’s in-season Super Bowl and the Ravens will come off a week of rest and preparation. I expect competitive football. But if it’s not and the Patriots put Lamar Jackson in a tiny box and store him on the top shelf of the closet? On the road in prime time? Is there any place other than “1” I could put this team?
1st - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): Career win No. 300 was another breeze for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, who are halfway home to regular-season perfection at 8-0. New England’s defense was once again too much for an inferior opponent to handle, as Stephon Gilmore erased Odell Beckham Jr., who finished the game with five catches on seven targets for 52 yards, while Baker Mayfield was harassed series after series. Sitting atop Mayfield’s enemy list was Jamie Collins, who finished Sunday with 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits. That’s the type of superstar production the Browns hoped for when they gave Collins a ton of money a few years back. Meanwhile, let’s use some numbers to add some perspective to just how dominant New England has been in the first half of 2019: The Patriots are scoring more points per game (31.3) and allowing fewer points per game (7.6) than any of the six Super Bowl-winning teams in franchise history. Halloween terror.
1st - Darryl Slater (NJ.com): Analysis: Can they go undefeated?
1st - Peter Botte (NY Post): This incredibly is shaping up to be Bill Belichick’s best defensive unit during his prolific time in New England, with a league-high 25 forced turnovers and just 61 points allowed through eight games. The Pats are 8-0 for the third time in team history, halfway to their perfect 16-0 regular season in 2007 (when they finished, ahem, 18-1 overall). Sunday night’s road contest against Lamar Jackson and Baltimore (2nd in the league in total offense) should represent their biggest test yet.
1st - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): Tommy vs. Jimmy G. is the Super Bowl matchup America needs.
1st - Jenny Vrentas (SI): The defense continues to defy logic as the offense searches for its identity, but the Browns offered little in the way of resistance during a rainy affair in Foxborough. A road game against Lamar Jackson in Baltimore will be their toughest test so far.
1st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots are ironing out some kinks on offense and in the kicking game, but with their dominant defense, Tom Brady can play careful caretaker for the most part and rev up as a playmaker in big moments. With their schedule getting tougher, it will be fun to see the Patriots truly tested, starting Sunday night in Baltimore.
1st - Nate Davis (USA Today): Next five opponents currently .500 or better. Not that New England isn’t legit, but Buffalo only semi-decent team on its first-half schedule.
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The Patriots are halfway to an unblemished regular season as the defense was dominant again against the Browns and the offense was good enough. But some cracks are evident heading into Sunday night’s game at Baltimore. The run defense was exploited by Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, and kicker Mike Nugent was less than reliable.
1st - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Browns running back Nick Chubb had 131 yards on 20 carries. That’s about the first negative thing to be said about the Patriots’ defense halfway into their season. Presumably they’ll have the run defense fixed before facing the Ravens.
2nd - Doug Farrar (TouchdownWire): At this point, New England’s defense is just getting ridiculous. After the Patriots’ 27-13 win over Cleveland, in which they caused turnovers on three consecutive offensive plays by the Browns, Bill Belichick’s team stands with a plus-189 point differential, tied with the 1942 Bears for the third-highest differential through the first eight games of a season in NFL history. New England’s plus-17 turnover differential through the first eight games of a season is similarly historic. The only thing that bounced the Pats from the top spot in our power rankings is an offense that is effective, but doesn’t quite match up to what Kyle Shanahan is putting together with the 49ers. Tom Brady completed 20 of 36 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions — perfectly efficient, but hardly explosive. Perhaps that will change when first-round receiver N’Keal Harry comes off injured reserve and recently acquired Mohamed Sanu gets the hang of the offense. But right now, it’s the defense that makes this team great in a special way.