by Greg Doyle

Well, here we are for another week of the Roundtable and it comes before a game a lot of Patriots fans have had circled since the schedule came out. This should be a good test of where the Patriots are at. Although it appears both Buffalo and the New York Jets may have been underrated to a certain extent going into the season, neither is a legitimate threat for a championship. Now comes an opponent that many feel should be, even if they are off to a slow start, in Denver. So let’s see what is going on in Patriots-land headed into this big, prime time matchup.

There has been some talk Eugene Wilson is off to a disappointing start this season and is still not back to his 2003-2004 level. Is this true?

Greg: I don’t see it. He may not quite be playing at his 2003-2004 level, but neither is Rodney Harrison yet and that has to make a difference. I will concede he had a somewhat down year, for him, in 05. But not nearly as bad as sometimes portrayed. He is off to a much better start this year and a couple open field tackles he didn’t make (along with others) can exaggerate the volume of some who don’t know what else to say. But how anyone can say he played bad against Buffalo when the defense held them to 10 points and 240 yards is beyond me. And any talk he isn’t an above-average safety, albeit not quite yet at his best level, is pretty ridiculous in my opinion.

Bruce: Well, one of my friends was screaming WILSON!!! in his best Tom Hanks voice for much of the afternoon Sunday, so I don’t think that was a good sign. However, when a player in the secondary doesn’t finish a tackle, the play is usually magnified beyond the scope of where it actually belongs in his overall body of work. Wilson hasn’t made that “leap” to being the great player that many people expected, but he’s still a young guy who brings a lot to the secondary.

Scott: I just wish he could get back to his 03-04 form in terms of picks, being that he IS the centerfielder and all. He’s had just one interception since the start of 2005.

The Jets and Bills gave the Patriots two pretty competitive games, in the final analysis. Did we underrate these two teams? Are they playoff contenders? Should the Patriots be worried about the second time around against these teams?

Scott: I can’t say the Jets have impressed me as much as the Bills (I think we definitely overlooked them, and Dick Jauron, who has put together a good defense or two before), but I’ll say that I think the Patriots have to be worried whenever they play a divisional game. Unless they’re playing the Dolphins, who suck.

Bruce: It’s still too early to tell. Both games had elements which aren’t going to be seen again. With the Bills, it was the first time facing a new regime, and there wasn’t a lot of film that could used for preparation against this specific team. They were also fired up right out of the blocks, in their first game under the new staff. The next time around, there will be a lot more to look at and prepare for. It will be in Buffalo, so I expect another tight game. For the Jets, it was their home opener, and lest we all forgot, the Patriots ran out to a pretty easy 24-0 lead on this club. Whether they got a little complacent, or whether Eric Mangini and the Jets made some adjustments, I’m not sure, but the game was never really in doubt in my mind. I don’t see the Jets as playoff contenders.

Greg: I think we did underrate them to a degree, particularly Buffalo. Buffalo has a good defense and a smart coach who’ll play conservative and knows how to keep games close. I suppose they could make the playoffs with a few breaks. But I still consider them a long shot and with all their young players, they’ll have a down stretch. The Jets we may have underrated, but they’re still not good. They have a couple more players than maybe we first thought, Jerricho Cotchery impressed me the other day and Kerry Rhodes is a good young safety. But they still should be a bad team and if they win six games, I’d say Mangini did a decent job. I’d say the game up in Buffalo could be a tough matchup if Buffalo can sustain their current play, which is questionable, but I don’t see much chance of the Jets coming up to Gillette and even coming very close.

So, can the Patriots keep up this impressive ground game they’ve had through two games?

Greg: Yes, absolutely, as long as they’re in good health. They have a great set of backs. Maroney is a potential game-breaker, Dillon looks healthy and is dishing out serious physical punishment to the opposing defenses and Kevin Faulk is a good draw back and change of pace. The line will only get better and are all pretty young. It looks good and should be great by the second half of the season, again, assuming health.

Scott: I’m at my happiest when the Patriots run the ball they way they have. The chuckleheads that were crowing about Dillon getting old and slowing down should get the hell out there and try to tackle him in the 4th quarter sometime. I suppose they might break a manicured nail, or muss up their Supercuts TV hairstyle. So its probably safer for you to stay in the pressbox and continue being a Yellow Journalist, which is what you do best, ‘Felgy’. Maroney’s been good, too, as has Faulk, and don’t count out Bully Brother Heath Evans, who will make a play or two here and there. Barring unforseen injury (less likely with the way they’re spreading it out), they should keep rolling, and may end up with the best running game in the NFL. I have to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t just a dream.

Bruce: Yes, health is obviously the key here, both for the backs and for the offensive line. I think this is going to continue to be strength of the team all season. If they get the passing game up to speed, I see the running game being even more effective.

Tom Brady has not been on top of his game. What is the reason? Are we seeing a general decline in Brady or do you expect the same old Tom Brady to reappear soon?

Bruce: Well, as we know, two games is AB-SO-LUTELY enough time to pass swift and final judgment on players and teams. I say Brady’s cooked.

Right. Well, I don’t know if we’ll see the Brady of last year on a consistent basis immediately…it’s going to take some time to build up the rapport and trust with the new receivers. It’s been noted that he could just nod or make eye contact with Givens or Branch and then they would both know what the other was thinking. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s worth noting that in the final drive against the Jets, the guys Brady was throwing to in the key spots were Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk…two guys Brady has been throwing to for years. Brady will be fine. As long as he doesn’t take a blind side hit each week like he has the first two weeks.

Scott: I’m sure there’s been some sort of crisis in confidence here, what with the Branch situation blowing up just before (and after) the opening game. He’s just made some really lousy throws, which is unlike the accurate Brady. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Tom’s proven himself to be THE consummate pro, and given a little time, and repetition, he’ll even out. First step will be to play two good halves of football in one week.

Greg: Well, I think he’s been decent but not great so far. I am not worried. Probably a combination of some pretty good defense, new receivers and early season rustyness has had him a bit off. Look for him to break out soon and pull some of those vintage Tom Brady games we’ve all gotten used to.

Well, a much better week for me at 5-1. Phew, that was embarrassing. My record now stands at 5-7. Bruce also went 5-1 and is now 9-3 and Scott did as well, so his record also stands at 9-3. Lets look at the big Jacksonville at Indy matchup, the Jets visiting Buffalo, Miami trying to get untracked at home versus Tennessee, Baltimore visiting Cleveland a big AFC North matchup with the Bengals visiting the Steelers and we’ll step outside the AFC for one game and look at Monday night’s matchup of Atlanta traveling to New Orleans for the first game in the Superdome and in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in what should be an emotional game.

Greg: Some good games this week. I like Jacksonville to surprise Indy and knock them off. Jacksonville is playing well right now and always gives Indy tough games. I like Buffalo at home to take out the Jets. Miami got a blessing in Tennessee showing up on their schedule, that should get them untracked and they’ll be the Titans. I will call for Cleveland to upset Baltimore at home and the Bengals to take out the Steelers as well. Finally, lets go with New Orleans as the sentimental pick to win the return to New Orleans Monday night.

Scott: Jacksonville is a plucky bunch off to an impressive start, and everybody wants to go steady with them all of a sudden, which means Indy will win, and steal at least a few of their dates in the process. I’m all about the Buffalo Bills. I’m serious – they finish ahead of the Miami this season. I’m going with it – they’re clearly better anyway. I hope to God the Titans can stick a shiv in those frauds this week, but you know, I can’t pick ’em, so it’s Miami for me. After all, we are keeping track here, and I’m only four games ahead of Doyle. You know who else I hate? Baltimore. Screw them. One year they’re 10-6, the next year they’re 6-10, the next year they’re 9-7, the year after they’re 7-9. I don’t care if they’re due again, they’re nothing, from their mirror-loving head coach on down. Even if they get to the playoffs by some miracle, they’re one and done, son. Give me the Browns, just out of spite. I’ll take the Steelers at home against the Bengals, because you know what? I’m actually starting to like the Steelers. I can’t explain it. Shoot me. Step outside the AFC? Why would we do that? Since I have to pick, I’ll go strong with the Saints, finally arriving home. This also allows me to pick against Michael Vick, who I dislike so much he ought to be playing for Miami or Baltimore.

Bruce: These are much tougher games to pick than last week. I’m sticking with Indy at home, the Jaguars defense is tough (I have them in my fantasy league) but this is the regular season, and it’s Peyton’s time. If this were a playoff game I’d pick differently. I’m going to go with Buffalo finally getting a home game, and Miami will dispatch the Titans. Baltimore is going to send Romeo Crennel’s squad to 0-3 and I agree that the Bengals will take out the Steelers. I’m also going to take New Orleans.

What about the big Patriots-Denver game? Can the Patriots handle this team they traditionally struggle with? What will happen? All three of us got their game right last week and are 2-0 calling for the Patriots to win.

Greg: This is a tough game, but I’ll call for the Patriots to pull it out. Denver should get a little bit more untracked offensively, but the Pats defense is good. The ground game should help control the clock some. Lets go with Patriots to win 23-17.

Scott: The Broncos can’t score, apparently, but what is equally as apparent is that no one can score on them. One good thing is that the Broncos are towards the back of the pack in run defense so far (allowing averages of 31 attempts and 135 yards a game; the Patriots are almost half that), so, you know…..giddyup. I am going to be seriously pissed if Jake Plummer picks this week to get untracked. I’m going with the Pats (shocker), 13-9.

Bruce: I hate the Broncos. I don’t know if that has been mentioned on these pages at all. I hate them because they beat the Patriots. It’s what they do. Some of the most heartbreaking and ugliest losses in Patriots history have come at the hands of this franchise. Mike Shanahan seems to be able to match moves on the chessboard with Bill Belichick, and strange, never-seen-before things tend to happen when these clubs get together. Usually these things cause the Patriots to lose. (The intentional safety in Denver being the notable exception.) I’m going with the Patriots 27-10.

So who is the mediot of the week this week?

Greg: Lets go collective and go with all the media, local and national, who were fawning over Miami as the flavor of the off-season for months. They ignored that Daunte Culpepper was horrible last year before he got hurt in his first experience without Randy Moss. They ignored the loss of Ricky Williams. They ignore the weak offensive line. They ignored the defensive backfield changes. Miami probably will still get their act together and make something of a run. But they’re clearly not there yet at this very moment. And any thought they’d just open the season on a run because they were on one to end last year against bad and/or disinterested opponents was silly.

Bruce: Well, my first instinct was to go with Steve DeOssie. His sneering was at an all time high this past weekend and it was incredibly annoying. He was condescending, arrogant and patronizing in talking about who Tom Brady is going to throw to now. He did it on the radio and on television, and really bugged the hell out me. However, a couple of out-of-town columnists made a late charge this week. Jason Whitlock on ESPN Page2 named the Patriots as his most-fraudulent 2-0 club and predicted big losses to Denver and the Bengals the next two games. The Patriots could well lose these games, but according to Whitlock, it will be because of Bill Belichick’s arrogance. Then on Thursday Dave Krieger in the Rocky Mountain News ripped Belichick limb-to-limb, and the only explanation seems to be that Belichick actually makes lazy writers like Krieger work to do their jobs and doesn’t fill up their notebooks with great quotes that they can use to make up half their story.

Scott: How about every two-bit, second-rate sportswriter taking the occasion of the Belichick/Mangini matchup to write days worth of out and out fiction about Belichick? Remember when President Bush took over and the first big story was that Clinton staffers had trashed the West Wing and written profanties on the walls, probably with their own feces? Turned out none of it ever happened, which didn’t stop people from writing about it as if it did. I’m pretty sure the jackholes that wrote those stories were assigned to the Jets-Pats game last weekend. God, I hate them all. I cannot imagine a more corrupt, bottom feeding profession. Crack whores have more integrity. If a sportswriter was on fire, I wouldn’t put him out. I’d just wonder why there couldn’t be TEN sportswriters on fire.