At this point a year ago, the Patriots were 8-2 and were in the midst of their usual late-season roll. After dusting the Falcons and then having a pre-bye dud (but win) against the Chargers, New England charged out of their Week 9 bye week by throttling the Broncos, Raiders and Bills on the road, and dominating the Dolphins at home.
These Patriots are 7-3 and coming road struggles at Chicago and Buffalo, a good home win over the Packers, and a road debacle against the Titans.
So, no, the Patriots — to this point — have not been better than their '17 version, as I predicted they would be before the season.
Now, to be fair, that prediction was based only on one criteria: Can the Patriots better their finish last season of a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles? Can they be a 60-minute team on the biggest stage, instead of the 50-minute version (they led 33-32 with 9:22 to play) that fell to Philly?
So this wasn't about the regular season or through Week 11. We all knew Julian Edelman wouldn't be there the first four weeks, so a 2-2 start was not entirely unexpected.
For the Patriots to look like they have to this point? That has been unexpected, at least to me. And it's largely historic in the Bill Belichick Era.
New England fell from sixth to 11th. This is the first time the Patriots have ranked outside the DVOA top ten during the second half of the season since the 2008 Matt Cassel team. It's the first time that a Tom Brady Patriots team has ranked outside the top ten in the second half of the season since the 2005 Patriots finished the year 12th overall.
The Patriots have 44 net points (the difference between points scored and points allowed) through 10 games. That’s ninth in the league (behind the Colts). New England, which has finished first in point differential three of the previous four seasons, has finished eighth or worse just four times under Belichick — 2013 (8th), ’05 (13th), ’02 (14th), ’00 (23rd). They didn’t advance to a Super Bowl in any of those seasons. The Patriots are on pace for 70.4 net points. They haven’t finished a season under 100 since ’05 (41).
So, from a personnel standpoint — and that's how I did my analysis, going position by position — things have not worked out with this group.
Where are the issues, and can they be mitigated? Let's revisit our analysis.
2017: Tom Brady, age 40
2018: Brady, age 41
2018 (revisited): Brady, with a lesser supporting cast
NEW Skinny: Brady has been worse to this point of the season, although I think most of it has to do with the personnel around him.
NEW Verdict: Minus. Not sure how much of a difference a great Brady would have made to this point, but they need him to be better down the stretch. I think he will. (Original verdict: Slight minus)
2017: Dion Lewis/Mike Gillislee
2018: Rex Burkhead/Jeremy Hill
2018 (revisited): Sony Michel/Cordarrelle Patterson/Burkhead (future)
NEW Skinny: Well, both projected starters were injured early on and the Patriots made no effort to replace them, leaving the position to a Michel with no training camp and ... Cordarrelle Patterson. Yikes.
NEW Verdict: Minus-plus. Michel was slowly improving every week, but a knee injury stopped that progress. (Original verdict: Minus)
2017: James White
2018 (revisited): White
NEW Skinny: He was very good before, but he's been even better this season and the team's offensive MVP. Little worried about his pitch count and the knee injury that has cropped up. He's indispensable.
NEW Verdict: Slight plus. White already produced at a high level, so we can't go crazy about the improvement. (Original verdict: Even)
2017: James Develin
2018 (revisited): Develin.
NEW Skinny: Michel and Patterson need him to lead the way at this point, but he's still a fullback.
NEW Verdict: Same. (Original verdict: Even)
2017: Brandin Cooks
2018: Chris Hogan (after first 4 games)
2018 (revisited): Josh Gordon
NEW Skinny: Well, a lot has changed here and it hasn't been for the better to this point. Gordon has been OK, but he hasn't been the dominating, physically gifted receiver he was in Cleveland. Can he be that guy again?
NEW Verdict: Minus-plus. Cooks wasn't the greatest threat ever, but he was better than what the Patriots have put out there to this point. Phillip Dorsett has actually been the best player to this point. But there's hope Gordon can hit is stride down the stretch. (Original verdict: Minus)