Something just doesn't feel right.
Heading into New England's Week 10 first-place showdown with division rival New York, it's important to realize that these aren't the same teams we've come to know and love (or hate).
New York's "Ground 'n Pound" mentality that ranked them fourth in the NFL in 2010 with 2,374 yards rushing, has evaporated in 2011. The Jets currently sit 25th in the league with 773 yards rushing and a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry.
The Patriots boast their typical gaudy passing numbers; ranking first in the league in passing yards per game (325.6 YPG) and third in passing TDs (20). However, most of Tom Brady's impressive numbers came in the season's first three games against the pitiful secondaries of Miami, San Diego and Buffalo where he threw for 1,327 yards (442.3 YPG) and 11 TDs.
It is impossible for anyone to maintain that pace, and predictably Brady has cooled off in the five games since — throwing for 1,376 yards (275.2 YPG) and nine TDs to go along with five INTs. Still impressive, but not superhuman to the point where he can cover up for the Patriots' defensive deficiencies.
New England's defense currently ranks last in the league in pass defense; allowing a staggering 314 yards yards per game through the air.
This isn't shocking to Patriots' fans who saw nearly the same unit rank 30th last year against the pass.
So what's this team lacking that last year's team and championship caliber Patriots teams of the past had?
A pass rush.
There are only five teams in the league with fewer sacks than New England through the first half of the season, and they have a combined record of 18-27 (.400 winning percentage). The five teams in the NFL who have recorded the most sacks have a collective record of 27-14 (.658 winning percentage).
It isn't exactly a secret that giving the opposing QB less time to survey the field puts your defensive backs in a better position to succeed; after all, when they only have to cover for three seconds instead of six, it makes their job much easier.
You may think the Pats have been near the bottom of the league for years in sacks; but that is not the case.
Just last year New England was safely in the top half of the league in sacks; ranking 14th overall.
Not a spectacular number, but they generated enough of a pass rush that their defensive backs' job was made easier. The result: a league leading 25 INTs for Devin McCourty and company.
New England actually finished second in the league with 47 sacks during their last Super Bowl campaign in 2007. The only team in the league who had more? The New York Giants with 53.
The statistic itself is crude, but the significance of getting after the QB cannot be overstated.
The correlation between QB pressure and winning is undeniable, so unless the Patriots can find a way to pressure Mark Sanchez this weekend, they may find themselves mired in their first three-game losing streak since 2002.
This Pats team still feels like they are playoff-bound, but unless they get more production from their outside linebackers and defensive ends, the three-year drought without a postseason win may extend to four.