Patriots

The Patriots are good. But why is the rest of the NFL so bad?

The Patriots are better than everybody else in an NFL that can't keep up.

Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore takes a selfie after defeating the still winless Miami Dolphins, 43-0. AP

COMMENTARY

The Patriots don’t play the Bengals until Dec. 15.

That might not seem like that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but it would have been fitting for New England to stay the course on its current schedule of competitive ineptitude. Cincinnati is, after all, the only remaining winless team that New England has yet to feast on through the first five weeks of the 2019 NFL season.

But hey, the Bengals are bad enough that they could be looking at an 0-13 mark heading into that mid-December showdown.

The fact that the Patriots are scheduled to host the two-win New York Giants Thursday night after playing teams a combined 0-13 three of the past four weeks is sort of akin to stepping out into the light after six days in a cave. Other than the Buffalo Bills (who one week after giving the Patriots offense fits perhaps cemented their veracity with a win over the Tennessee Titans), it’s been more like an extended preseason schedule for the defending Super Bowl champs.

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Case in point; including Buffalo, Patriots opponents this year are a combined 5-18. Take the 4-1 Bills out of the equation, they’re 1-17.

Yuck.

This is not an indictment of the Patriots and their 5-0 record. Yes, this is one of the most dominant defenses we’ve seen in Foxborough in recent memory. But can we really start whispering about the ’85 Bears comparisons when the terrible Dolphins, Jets, and Redskins are the ingredients in the recipe for the unit’s success thus far?

No, this is a citation on the rest of a NFL, a league that boasts more futility than it does compelling reason to watch. Or care.

But back to the Bengals, one of eight more teams (other than AFC East opponents) that the Patriots have on their remaining schedule. Those teams are a combined 20-19, hinting that a certain level of competitive balance may finally be on the horizon. Take the Bengals out of it, and those other seven teams are 20-14.

The Giants may still be a pushover, particularly giving Bill Belichick rookie quarterback Daniel Jones to have some defensive fun with. But the fact that they come into Foxborough on a short week and have at least displayed some sense of competence absent in Miami, Washington, and the other locker room in the Meadowlands, arguing that the spread should be fewer than two touchdowns is almost a conversation worth having. Almost.

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What to expect for much of the remainder of the way? Eagles. Cowboys. Browns. Ravens. They might be good opponents for the Patriots to test themselves. Then again, we thought the Steelers presented the same sort of challenge in Week 1.

The Kansas City Chiefs remain the one game circled in red on the regular season schedule. In terms of late-season bouts, this game figured to at least help decide which team has home-field advantage in January’s AFC Championship game. For their part, the Chiefs have already laid down the red carpet for Tom Brady and company, dropping a Sunday night decision to the so-so Colts. We can’t even anticipate that kind of drama in this NFL season.

The Patriots are leaps and bounds better than everybody else. Yay. Yippee. And Whoop-de-doo. What else is new?

The problem isn’t with them, but everybody else. The NFL right now is a bad product, littered with terrible quarterbacks and doofus coaches. Well, one fewer of the latter now that Washington finally parted ways with Jay Gruden after Colt McCoy did him no favors Sunday against the Patriots.

It isn’t the Patriots’ fault that they’ve had a schedule they could sleepwalk through to begin the year. No matter what the collection of competition is going to hold, it’s going to seem a joke compared to what the Patriots present. And maybe the next slate of opponents to come beginning Oct. 27 with the Cleveland Browns will provide something other than the entitled expectation to not only win, but embarrass the other team.

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Later this month begins a stretch where the Patriots face the Browns, Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys, Texans, and Chiefs. Those teams have so far displayed different senses of adequacy. The Chiefs could win the Super Bowl. The Texans will not. But at least in the often-dazzling Deshaun Watson, they present a quarterbacking challenge the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick simply can’t manage against New England. Same goes for Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and Dak Prescott.

At least, that’s the hope for those Patriot fans who want, at least, to be entertained by something other than watching the opposition fold in the mere presence of Tom Brady.

The NFL used to be a league where Any Given Sunday became a cliche referring to the parity that frequented all teams. But with the Patriots, it’s more like Once in a Blue Moon. The more football we watch in 2019, the more evident it becomes that the Patriots are going to waltz through this season. Everybody else has their own number of holes of which the Patriots have already proven they will be adept at taking advantage.

It’s been so awful that the rebuilding Giants are seen as turn in the road to help tilt the scale in competitive balance. All too easy.

If you’re the sort of Patriots fan that lives for blood alone, then the bungling Jets follow 11 days later. After that, you’re probably got to wait until the Bengals game in December to witness the sort of embarrassing, one-sided affair you expect from your team.

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That’s the hope, at least. The Patriots are just that much better than everybody else.

Wake me in February.