Who the hell are the New England Patriots?
Here we are in Week 12 of the 2016 NFL season, eight weeks after quarterback Tom Brady finished his four-game suspension, and it’s still impossible to grasp any handle on exactly what the Patriots present in terms of championship caliber.
Matt Patricia’s defensive magic has never materialized, head coach Bill Belichick seemingly has had to deal with rotten apples in the locker room, and while other teams used November as a time to cement their status, New England has looked iffy, both in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and during a win against the San Francisco 49ers, a team it should have routed halfway through the second quarter.
With a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Brady, the should-be MVP of the NFL, the offense, as per usual, is a no-question constant. But the Patriots are such a defensive mess that even the consistent greatness of Brady will be tested against teams like the Seahawks, and certainly, potentially against the Oakland Raiders should they meet in January.
And could you imagine the Patriots’ defensive front going up against that offensive line juggernaut of the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl?
That does seem to be some unfounded criticism for a team that has gone 8-2 over its first 10 games, but it’s a team that has hardly been tested. The Patriots’ wins have come against teams that are a combined 30-49-1 this season, a mark somewhat slanted by the fact that New England has had to face 0-11 Cleveland and 1-9 San Francisco. With Brady in the lineup, the Patriots have beaten teams that are a combined 14-36.
So, here come the 3-7 New York Jets. Then, the 4-6 Los Angeles Rams. The 5-5 Baltimore Ravens, 7-3 Denver Broncos, and 6-4 Miami Dolphins finally emerge to give the Patriots stiffer competition in time for the postseason to begin.
Maybe we’ll figure out what to expect from the New England Patriots by then. Maybe the defense will gel in the chill of the Advent season, finally morphing into something, at the least, dependable.
Because right now, these Patriots sure feel like an enigma that doesn’t have an easy explanation laying around the bend.
This week’s picks
ESPN.com: All Pats.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 31, Jets 20. “This looked like it might be a big game when the season started. The Jets ruined that. The Patriots are playing consecutive road games, and this could be the Jets’ Super Bowl. But it won’t matter. The Jets aren’t good and Tom Brady is rolling.”
CBS Sports staff: Seven out of eight pick the Patriots (+7.5 Jets).
FiveThirtyEight: Patriots with a 69 percent chance of winning.
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk: Patriots 31, Jets 13. “The Jets stink. The Patriots don’t. #analysis.”
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk: Patriots 30, Jets 10. “New England shouldn’t have any trouble against a Jets team that has nothing to play for.”
MassLive staff: Everybody loves the Pats.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 31, Jets 24. “The Jets are trying to get a few more than their three wins by sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback, but this will be another defeat. Fitzpatrick is the best person to lead their passing offense for now, and with Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa, there’s enough to challenge a struggling New England pass defense. Unfortunately, most of that production will come in garbage time to make the final score more cosmetic once Tom Brady does his damage on the Jets’ pass defense.”
David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 36, Jets 21. “This had to look like such a headliner of a game when the schedule first came out: late November, rivalry game, Jets trying to move up against their traditional nemesis. The Jets’ season has sunk, though, and Todd Bowles is sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. The Patriots’ defense has vulnerabilities, but expecting Fitzpatrick to suddenly stop his pick fetish is asking a lot.”
Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Patriots 34, Jets 13. “Since the infamous Butt Fumble game in 2012, each of the past six meetings between the Patriots and Jets has been decided by seven or fewer points. This one, though, has blowout written all over it.”
Bryan Altman, CBS Sports: Patriots. “If you’re truly wondering what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s that the Jets can’t ruin my turkey day. I’m still haunted by the memory of walking into MetLife Stadium with my dad four years ago after a lovely Thanksgiving feast, thinking — delusionally of course — that the 4-6 Jets could actually beat the 7-3 Patriots and get their season back on track. So, thanks to my feet being planted firmly in reality this time around, I know that the Jets have no chance in this game. Their secondary will get torched. Bill Belichick will out-coach Todd Bowles in every way imaginable. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be — well, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the Jets will get blown out again at home.”
USA Today staff: All Pats.
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “The last six games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less, so 7.5 points is a little too rich for my blood. However, I would never advise betting on Ryan Fitzpatrick over Deflatey McGee, obviously.”
SB Nation staff: Unanimous, New England.
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 28, Jets 14. “The Jets always seem to play the Patriots tough. But what is Todd Bowles going to get from his offense? Do you believe in FitzMagic?? Probably not. Meanwhile, New England is coming back from a long West Coast trip that could cause them to come out flat — but flat enough to lose to a struggling team starting a quarterback with 13 picks in nine games? Well, Bowles’ group is coming out of a bye week. Hopefully that translates to fresh legs for Matt Forte.”
Globe staff: Three out of five pick New England (-7.5, Patriots).
It says here: Patriots 35, Jets 24. The Jets may stink, but so does the Patriots’ defense.