We all kind of take for granted that the Patriots have the best secondary in the league, or at least one of them.
I mean, that's what we all think. That's what we keep saying — and I've certainly said it.
Talent-wise, it's hard to argue. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year), Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty are all among the top 40 players at their position in the NFL, and they're advanced analytics darlings. At safety, Devin McCourty is one of the league's best, and Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Terrence Brooks at least are giving the Patriots what they received from Patrick Chung by the end of the season. Joejuan Williams has done a nice job matching up against tight ends.
And they're certainly paid well. According to SpoTrac.com, the Patriots' secondary is the highest-paid unit across the NFL.
But what has this group actually proven on the field?
Last season, they lost to the best quarterbacks they faced: Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. They did beat Ben Roethlisberger and Dak Prescott, but the Steelers were in Week 1 and the Cowboys were such a dumpster fire that they fired their offensive-minded coach at the end of the season. The other quarterbacks they defeated aren't making anyone's Hall of Fame shortlist anytime soon: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Carson Wentz, Colt McCoy, Baker Mayfield and Andy Dalton.
It's true, you can only beat who's on your schedule. That's fine for team victories. But you don't get to enhance your reputation without playing and beating the best — and the Patriots' defensive schedule ranked 32nd in the league last season.
Oh, and don't forget that with something very real on the line — a first-round bye — and while playing at home, the Dolphins and Fitzpatrick tore through the Patriots' vaunted secondary with 320 yards — including a 75-yard, 13-play touchdown drive to win the game in the closing seconds to set the stage for a first-round playoff exit.
How can you be the best without shutting down the best, or even taking care of business against a rebuilding team?