FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots have opened their season with a 6-0 start, but according to multiple reports, that record is not in fact real, given that the Patriots have not played “anybody.”
New England’s opponents have a combined record of 7-22 this season, and therefore do not qualify as actual opponents. Therefore, the Pats have played no one, and we have learned nothing about them. Are they good? Are they terrible? Is there even a professional football franchise located in Massachusetts? These are all questions that remain unanswered. Because, as an anyone who’s spent three-plus hours watching a Patriots game this season can tell you, the Patriots have not yet played a single game.
Granted, the 4-1 Buffalo Bills have beaten every team they played other than New England. Some might consider them to be a strong opponent, and if they are an actual football team, the Patriots would have played somebody and would be 1-0 on the season. But the Bills have been terrible in recent years, and their young quarterback is not particularly good. Therefore, they are no one, and the Patriots remain untested on the year. Their in-division road victory against the team that has allowed the third-fewest yards in the league is useless.
The only way these Patriots games could be perceived as actual games would be if New England had lost them. For example, in 2018, the Patriots lost games to the Jaguars, Lions, Titans and Dolphins – teams with a combined record of 27-37. For obvious reasons that do not need to be articulated, those four losses told us more about the Patriots than their six non-existent wins in 2019.
For one thing, those four losses to bad teams in 2018 rendered their four wins against playoff teams (Kansas City, Indianapolis, Houston and Chicago) irrelevant. By closely studying those four losses, we learned a lot. Losing those games by a margin of 125-73 made it clear that the 2018 Patriots could not possibly reach, let alone win, Super Bowl LIII. Sure, they had beaten the top-seeded Chiefs at home, but the information we had made it very clear they were not going to win an AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium if they could even get to one.
Losing to bad opponents by an average margin of two touchdowns tells us everything. Winning six games against bad opponents by an average margin of three touchdowns tells us nothing.
Yes, the Patriots have outscored opponents, 190-48. And sure, that margin of victory is ahead of the record pace set by the 2007 Pats, who went undefeated in the regular season. But the Patriots offense has struggled throughout. Amid a slew of injuries to the offensive line and a host of skill players, plus the loss of top receiver Antonio Brown, they are only ranked ninth in yards per game. That has caused them to rely on a defense that has played like one of the greatest of all time. It’s embarrassing.
A cynical person might conclude that regardless of what happens with the Patriots, critics will always zero in on the most team’s least-flattering characteristics and frame all conversation about the Pats on those terms, resulting in a dysmorphic portrayal of the team. But that’s nonsense in this case, because the criticism isn’t about the Patriots. It’s about the teams they’ve played. If the Pats had played worse, perhaps then the criticism would be abut them. But they haven’t. And whose fault is that?
No one’s. Because none of this happened. They Patriots haven’t played anyone.
(Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.)