Here’s a look at what the national experts are saying about the Patriots this week:
From Phil Simms on NFL.com:
Maybe people are just tired of the Patriots. I don’t want to go into one of my usual rants, but I just don’t understand why more people aren’t infatuated by them. They can’t wait to tear them down and criticize them for making some tough decisions — balancing money and loyalty on a football team. They find fault with what they are not doing, but don’t give them enough credit for what they are doing.
Players and coaches are always going to leave successful organizations. They have to. They can get more money by going elsewhere. When you win three Super Bowls in five years, it’s impossible to pay everybody for that success.
But what I see when I look at the 2006 Patriots is a big-time NFL playoff contender.
From Dr. Z’s Power Rankings on SI.com (Patriots are ranked 4th this week after being 14th last week):
New England Patriots (3-1)
You’d never know it from CBS’ No. 1 announcing crew because they don’t bother with trivial details such as this, but the Pats opened against the Bengals in a 4-2-nickel, with Hank Poteat as the starting nickelback and Junior Seau out. Poteat is a street free agent they picked up Wednesday before the game. He’s been on and off their roster for three years. And they got by with this, against one of the NFL’s flashiest passing offenses, with Carson Palmer, etc. … you know, the Bengals, who a few idiots had ranked No. 1 in the NFL. Yeah, the Patriots are resilient, almost spooky in a way.
Don Banks on SI.com
PERCEPTION: The talent drain on New England’s roster will finally catch up to the three-time Super Bowl champions, as the defections from the receiving depth chart will drop the Pats into middle-of-the-pack territory in the AFC.
REALITY: The Patriots’ passing game is 16th — definite middle-of-the-pack standing — with 213.8 yards per game and six touchdowns. And it has been ugly at times compared with Tom Brady & Co.’s usual level of execution and excellence. But in this case you can tell your statistics to shut up, because the bottom line is that no team in the NFL is more resilient or more adept at figuring out how to win with what it’s got than the Patriots.
These are not your 2003-04 era Patriots, to be sure. But there they are, standing 3-1 and in first place in the AFC East, a game ahead of both Buffalo and the Jets — whom they’ve already beaten — and two games up on the supposedly improved Dolphins. After watching the Patriots beat the daylights out of the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday, is anybody in the NFL willing to declare their championship era definitively over? I didn’t think so.
From Peter King’s Week 5 Picks on SI.com
Miami (1-3) at New England (3-1)
I don’t know why I think this will be so close, except that Nick Saban is royally embarrassed right now, and you do not want to embarrass Nick Saban.
New England 17, Miami 16
From the Inside Slant on FoxSports.com:
Before this April’s draft, everyone gave their two cents on who the Patriots should select with the 21st overall selection. Linebacker was the most popular choice. Some suggested New England should go after a blue-chip defensive back. And what about a receiver? Not too many “Draft Experts” had the Patriots selecting a running back in the first round but as usual, Bill Belichick not only surprised everyone, he’s also getting the last laugh.
After the first month of the season, Laurence Maroney is the leader to be this year’s NFL Rookie of the Year. Through four games, the explosive running back out of Minnesota leads all rookie rushers with 294 yards, 3 touchdowns and a 4.9 yards per carry average.
From Peter Schrager’s Power Rankings on FoxSports.com (Patriots are 7 after being 14 last week):
Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. Seven days after being thoroughly embarrassed on national television versus the Broncos, the Patriots blow out the Bengals on the road in CBS’s featured game. This team’s a lot like those “Digital Shorts” on “Saturday Night Live:” Great one week, a complete dud the next. You never quite know which one you’re going to get.
From Aaron Schatz’s DVOA ratings on FoxSports.com (Patriots are 11th after being 12th last week.)
New England fans may be ready to ditch rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski after yet another blown field goal this week. But Gostkowski excels at that other, equally important aspect of his job: kickoffs. Gostkowski is the only kicker to average more than 70 yards per kickoff this season, and according to our numbers, his kickoffs alone have given the Patriots 4.5 points worth of estimated field position compared to an average kicker. Cleveland’s Phil Dawson is the only other kicker more than 2.4 points above average. The better the field position for the Patriots defense, the less likely the team will need Gostkowski to win the game with a clutch field goal.
Adam Schein on FoxSports.com:
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the Patriots don’t lose back-to-back games.
Perhaps we all needed to pay attention to the latter a bit more.
I truly hated this matchup for New England, going into Cincinnati to face the undefeated Bengals at home. I wasn’t exactly sure how the banged-up Patriots’ defensive backfield was going to handle the Bengals’ offense.
I should’ve known.
It’s Bill Belichick, after all.
How many times have you thought the Patriots don’t match up (think Peyton Manning and the Colts), only to watch New England win a game and dominate an opponent.
There was a reason the brilliant coach was exchanging playful barbs with Chad Johnson. He was confident. And Belichick passed his confidence onto his team, which simply dismantled the Bengals in Cincinnati, 38-13.
Laurence Maroney, a gem of a draft pick by Patriots executive Scott Pioli, gashed the suddenly porous Bengals’ run defense for 125 yards and a couple of scores. He is the perfect complement, and eventual replacement, to the hard-running Corey Dillon. Dillon, a former Bengal, toppled the Cincinnati defense for 67 additional rushing yards.
It was also noteworthy that Tom Brady used Doug Gabriel a lot more and threw a touchdown to his new receiver. That’s a harbinger of things to come.
New England is still the team to beat in the AFC East…
Vic Carucci’s Power Poll on NFL.com:
4. New England (3-1; unranked): Who said the Patriots were dead?
From Pat Kirwan’s feature “Unsung Heros” on NFL.com:
1. Dante Scarnecchia, assist. head coach/offensive line for the Patriots: The Patriots were in a must-win situation on the road against the 2005 AFC North champion Bengals. Scarnecchia has been in the NFL for too long to remember, but this superb teacher has been taking average linemen and making them very effective blockers. The first thing that jumped out was the fact that the Bengals didn’t create one sack all day long. The next issue was the recent re-dedication to the running game by the Patriots and the end result was 236 yards rushing. The Patriots held the ball for eight more minutes than the Bengals, collected 424 yards of offense and converted 50 percent of their third downs. Scarnecchia has been with the Patriots for more years than head coaches than I prefer to count. And around the league he is considered an innovator and a terrific line coach.
From the ESPN Power Rankings on ESPN.com (Patriots are 5, were 11 last week):
Pretty amazing stat: The Patriots haven’t lost consecutive games since 2002, a stretch of 53 games. So much for all the talk about Tom Brady’s body language, huh?
From the Scouting Matchups on ESPN.com:
Dolphins at Patriots
This is a huge AFC East contest between a struggling Dolphins team and the new-look Patriots. The early optimism in Miami has been fading quickly due to the poor play of the offensive line and quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Every game has been ugly for the Dolphins this season. The Patriots were impressive last week in Cincinnati. If Miami doesn’t improve its offensive output, this could be a lopsided game.