Through seven games this season, the Patriots are 3-4 with their wins coming against the Jets (twice) and Texans.
Both those teams have only one win and had rookie quarterbacks when the Patriots played them. New England has averaged 34.6 points per games in wins, but 18.8 points per game in losses. Obviously, scoring 54 points against the Jets this past week throws the average off, but the point is clear — through seven games the Patriots still lack a win over an average to good team.
So, are they a team that is putting things together midway through the season, or are they a team that’s only good enough to beat some of the worst teams in the league?
We’re leaning towards the former.
Offensively, things are starting to become trends and not just one-game blips occurring against the Jets.
The offensive line is starting to come together now that it’s getting back close to full strength and has moved Michael Onwenu back to right tackle. The group has been solid for three straight weeks now.
Damien Harris is showing he’s an above average NFL running back who can put up strong numbers on a weekly basis. Sunday against the Jets was the third time he’s gone over 100 yards this season and the second time in as many weeks. He’s showing he can be counted on to do that regularly if given the opportunity.
Mac Jones has obviously been very good and Hunter Henry has shown he can be counted on to be an impactful pass-catcher after a slow start to the season. Henry has recorded a touchdown reception in four straight games, which is the first time a Patriots tight end has done that since Rob Gronkowski in 2013.
While the Patriots are not going to be an offense to put up 30-plus points a game, signs are pointing towards being able to score in the mid-to-high 20s every week, which should be enough to get it done in most games.
After coming into the year looking like the unit that could be counted on the most, the defense still has questions, primarily as it relates to injuries.
The secondary is piecing things together with Stephon Gilmore now in Carolina, Jonathan Jones out for the year following shoulder surgery and now Devin McCourty suffering an abdomen injury against the Jets. The front-seven isn’t much better as there are a number of minor injuries to the defensive line and then Dont’a Hightower missed Sunday’s game with elbow and ankle ailments.
In addition to that, it still feels like this unit is figuring out what it is best at and which players should be used in certain situations. Going into the season it was expected that unit would dictate how opposing offenses played, but to this point it hasn’t been that dominant group on the field.
With that being said, there are still plenty of talented players on that unit to win games and still time to pull it together.
Following Week 7, the Patriots are currently in ninth place in the AFC, one game out of the seventh and final wild card spot. The Chargers and Browns are the two teams currently occupying the final two playoff spots and wouldn’t you know the Patriots play them over the next three weeks (at Los Angeles this week, hosting Cleveland in Week 10).
The AFC is wide open. Every team has at least two losses and no one seems ready to break away from the pack. Which is also why it’s worth pointing out that even though New England is one game away from being in the postseason, it also would have the No. 11 overall pick in the draft if the season ended today and are two games away from having the worst record in the conference.
From a Patriots perspective, a lot will be learned over the next three weeks and likely will answer the question — are they a playoff contender, or just a team that can only beat bad opponents?