Some will read this as stating the obvious, while others may try to muster up the maniacal courage to emotionally disagree.
But the reality is that the 2020 Patriots are simply not a Super Bowl contender.
Nor, however, is New England the dregs of the National Football League. That’s called the Jets.
Rather, Bill Belichick’s team is mired in the middle of the mediocrity pack of the league, probably nearly equidistant from the NFL’s penthouse and its flooded, moldy basement.
If we were being honest this offseason, summer and COVID-19 controlled training camp, isn’t that what we pretty much expected in the first year of the post-Tom Brady era in Foxborough?
Because other than the late-signing of fall-in-their-lap-starting-QB Cam Newton and the player opt-outs, these Patriots are playing up to – or maybe down to – their somewhat obvious expectations and limitations. In many ways they are the team we knew they were in May with all its various warts. It’s all been very predictable.
It’s a team that has one of the worst wide receiver depth charts in the NFL, led by a 34-year-old slot receiver coming off an injury-plagued season and a raw, inexperienced former first-round pick with far more questions than answers.
It’s a team with the worst tight end position in the NFL, led by a third-year former seventh-round pick and backed up by two mid-round rookies who unsurprisingly have yet to make even a hint of an impact.
It’s a team with a newcomer at quarterback, an athletic former MVP who has a history of accuracy and decision-making issues in the passing game, yet an ability to run with the best of ‘em when healthy. Once great, he’s dealt with injuries and more losing than winning in recent years. Oh, and he’s had little more than a couple months to learn a new system and for his coaches to learn him.
It’s a team with a defense that was among the best in the game before it was ravaged by free agent losses and COVID-19 opt-outs. Now, it’s a shell of its former self, no longer able to conjure up ghosts to unravel overmatched opposing passers even as we hit the Halloween season.
It’s a team that has no depth on its defensive front, leaning far too heavily on defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and putting newly-minted inexperienced captain linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley into a massive role that he’s probably not capable of filling.
It’s a team that lacks elite speed and youthful game changers on both sides of the ball.
It’s a team that may hold its greatest strength in this weird pandemic season in its head coach and his staff’s ability to game plan and prepare. That’s why a coach who previously fixated on avoiding excuses at all costs has lamented endlessly in recent days about a lack of time on the practiced field with his flawed troops.
It’s also a team that opened the season with two of its first four games on the road against true would-be Super Bowl squads.
Moral victories aside, it’s a team that simply doesn’t measure up to either the game’s elite or its own past successes and reputation.
In the famous words of its GOAT coach, it is what it is.
Now that we’ve all accepted that, now what?
Are the Patriots at least a playoff team in the league’s expanded 14-team format, one of those last couple Wild Card seeds usually set up as fodder for true trophy contenders? Maybe. That will likely be decided over the next two Sundays in battles with other inconsistent middle class squads from San Francisco and Buffalo.
Pick up a pair of wins in those battles and that’s probably a precursor to at least one extra game in January, maybe even as a division winner.
Split with the 49ers and Bills and that’s an even greater indication of just how middle-of-the-road mediocre New England is in its current status.
Lose two? Ouch babe. That’ll be a kick to the cojones for both a team and a fan base not used to being a below-.500 squad in October, never mind November.
The Patriots are exactly who we thought they were. An average, blend-in-with-the-pack team that will likely lose about as often as it wins. There will be good weeks. There will be bad weeks. Ups and downs.
In the end it will all average out to mediocrity, something that’s unfamiliar in these parts.
Whether he was speaking for himself or channeling his inner Antonio Brown as he later claimed, Tedy Bruschi was correct in his analysis this week that the Patriots are a team that “isn’t very good anymore.”
They aren’t a very bad team, either.
“They are who we thought they were,” as the late former Cardinals coach Dennis Green once famously screamed.
So, now what?