New England Patriots Are NFL's Most Dominant Team, but the Real Test Lies Ahead

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 22, 2019

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) points to Benjamin Watson (84) after a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Adam Hunger/Associated Press

The New England Patriots have comfortably and definitively done everything asked of them in the 2019 NFL season.

You can't fault New England for its cupcake early-season schedule, and the Patriots have overcome injuries and negated missteps by annihilating their weak competition.

On the road Monday night against a New York Jets team coming off a win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Pats again dominated in a 33-0 victory. It was their sixth 16-plus-point triumph in seven games, and they became the first team in modern NFL history to outscore their first seven opponents by more than 160 points.

The defense is operating at a historic pace—that unit has surrendered just 4.3 points per game if you account for three defensive touchdowns by New England opponentsand the offense has scored 30 or more points every week except one.

And the Patriots humiliated a division rival Monday night, which they deserve credit for considering New York's recent performance against Dallas. Few expected the Jets to pull off another upset, but quarterback Sam Darnold posted the fifth-lowest single-game passer rating this decade as the Pats registered six takeaways and controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes.

It was the 12th-most-lopsided road victory in the NFL this century.

But the six opponents New England has crushed (including the Jets twice) are a combined 6-26. The only team they didn't beat handily—the Buffalo Bills—is 5-1. And they benefited from an injury to Bills quarterback Josh Allen as well as a special teams touchdown in that six-point victory.

If New England's early success has more to do with the quality of its opponents outside of Buffalo, the Pats could be in for a rude awakening in the weeks to come.

Adam Hunger/Associated Press

Week 8, vs. Cleveland Browns: The Browns are only 2-4, but there's no denying they have talent. They'll be desperate, and they'll be coming off their bye week. That could make life difficult on the Patriots, who might be tempted to think about an impending trip to Baltimore.

Week 9, at Baltimore Ravens: Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has emerged as an MVP candidate and one of the league's toughest players to defend. If he's on his game at home in prime time, a team that will also be coming off its bye could give New England trouble. The Ravens have quietly won three in a row, and the defense looked rejuvenated in Marcus Peters' debut Sunday in Seattle.

Week 11, at Philadelphia Eagles: An experienced, talented and well-coached team could also be desperate at this point. It could also be healthier, and it'll also be coming off its bye. At least in this case, so will the Pats.

Week 12, vs. Dallas Cowboys: The defending NFC East champions again lead that division following a big win over Philadelphia. This could be a tough spot for Dallas following a game in Detroit, but nobody would be surprised if it hung with New England.

Week 13, at Houston Texans: The Texans played the Patriots tough in Foxborough last September, and quarterback Deshaun Watson has made progress since then. Houston is up and down, but when the Texans are in a groove, they're one of the toughest outs in the league. They're one week removed from a road win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Week 14, vs. Chiefs: ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday that reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes could return from his knee injury "in three weeks, if not sooner." That means the superstar quarterback should be fully healthy for a return to Foxborough. Last time he and the Chiefs were there, they put up 40 points in a three-point loss in Week 6 of the 2018 campaign.

Uncredited/Associated Press

It's far from ideal that the Patriots' next three opponents will be coming off bye weeks, and the juxtaposition between the quarterbacks New England has played (Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick/Josh Rosen, Luke Falk, Allen/Matt Barkley, Colt McCoy, Daniel Jones, Darnold) and the quarterbacks it's slated to play (Baker Mayfield, Jackson, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Watson, Mahomes) is almost comical.

A team that has been favored by more than a touchdown five times already this season won't likely lay that many points again until it visits the Cincinnati Bengals in mid-December before finishing up the regular season at home against the Bills and Dolphins.

Will the Pats still be perfect at that point? Will the AFC East already be theirs? Buffalo's schedule is a little more forgiving, but a team that has been limited to 17 or fewer points in three of six games could have trouble sustaining things.

So, the Patriots are on track to easily secure another first-round bye. That's the luxury of playing in a bad division within the weaker of the two conferences.

Still, how they perform in these next six games against teams that are a combined 23-18 will reveal if this is a contender that was enjoying a cakewalk start or an utterly dominant powerhouse that should be heavily favored to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion in 15 years.

The table has been set, and New England couldn't have done a better job setting it. But now it's go time.

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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