On Sunday, Oct. 21, the New England Patriots blew out the Miami Dolphins, bringing their record for the season to 7-0. Sports journalists around the country hailed the performance of the high-powered Patriots offense, with some declaring them the best team the NFL has ever seen. On television, sports analysts are already discussing the possibility of a perfect season for New England. An MSNBC journalist even suggested that if the Patriots went undefeated, Tom Brady would be considered the best quarterback in the history of the game.
These are all examples of the media blowing stories completely out of proportion. Each year a new team is anointed as the greatest team ever, only to eventually lose and spawn even more stories about the "shocking" upset. The Patriots are good, but by the end of the season they will not be undefeated. Even an "unbeatable" team has its flaws, and the Patriots have several.
The first knock against New England is the reality that they have only faced one team with a winning record all season. In fact, their opponents have a combined record of 17-28 thus far, giving them one of the easiest schedules in the league. Take away the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys and the Patriots' opponents have a winning percentage of just .289, an absolutely dreadful number. The remainder of their schedule figures to be much, much tougher, with five potential match-ups against teams with winning records: the Redskins, Colts, Ravens, Steelers and Giants. New England will lose at least one of those games, if not more.
Another flaw of the Patriots is their ebbing ability to run the ball and stop the run. Coach Bill Belichick has been content to put the game on Brady's shoulders so far, but eventually the Patriots will face a team capable of shutting down Brady and his electric receivers. When that happens, no one is sure how Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk will respond. Even more alarming is the state of the Patriots' run defense. The Patriots are allowing 4.4 yards per carry this year, 24th in the league. It's not getting better, either - in the past two weeks, Miami and Dallas each averaged over six yards per carry against the overlooked New England defense. If that trend continues, look for teams to run the ball much more often in order to keep Brady on the sidelines.
One statistic that should sway most newly-converted Brady fanatics is that each of the Patriots' first seven opponents ranks in the bottom half of the league in passing defense. Granted, Brady's 27 touchdowns are awe-inspiring, but they came against some of the worst defensive units the NFL has to offer. New England's vaunted air attack will face legitimate challenges against the likes of Washington, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Philadelphia, each of whom rank in the top 10 in passing defense.
The Patriots should be commended for their performance in the first seven weeks of the season: they beat the teams they were expected to beat, and they did so convincingly. Despite this, it is far too early to consider the scenario of an undefeated season, let alone include New England in the debate for the best team of all time. The Patriots' cupcake schedule thus far makes it much too difficult to judge their potential. The next nine weeks will be a litmus test for the franchise, finally pitting them against fellow playoff-worthy opponents. If New England can continue to dominate the way they already have, the hype induced by overreacting journalists will have merit. Until then, the Patriots are nothing more than a good team.