The New England Patriots are off to one of their most dominant starts ever, and some are already wondering if they'll lose at all this season.
The Patriots famously went 16-0 in 2007, then lost in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. That roster changed the NFL and, despite coming up short, is considered one of the greatest teams of all-time. Their start to 2019 has been so strong, that some, like ESPN's Bill Barnwell, are already analyzing if they could go undefeated again.
Through two games, the Patriots are 2-0, with a point differential of +73. They have allowed just six points this season and haven't given up a touchdown in their last three games, dating back to the Super Bowl.
An offense that looked short-handed one month ago is suddenly loaded with weapons. The reinstatement of Josh Gordon and addition of Antonio Brown has given Tom Brady two explosive receivers to play alongside steady contributors like Julian Edelman, James White, and Sony Michel.
The defense, as mentioned, looks as stingy as ever. In the past three seasons, the Patriots defense ranked below league average, falling as low as 31st in defensive DVOA in 2017. Things have turned around, even with the losses of defensive coordinators in back-to-back seasons. Bill Belichick's group looks like one of the fiercest in the NFL this year. The return of linebacker Jamie Collins has given the defense a boost, as he already boasts two tackles for losses, plus a pick-six and has drawn praise from Belichick. The secondary seems to have developed better chemistry in their second season together.
It's early, but this group is off to a historic start.
If the Patriots don't allow the New York Jets to score a touchdown in Week 3 (and the Jets may be starting third-string quarterback Luke Falk), they'll be the first team since the 1937 Chicago Bears to not allow a touchdown in their first three games.
The schedule could help the Patriots pursuit of a perfect season. Over their next six games, they play the New York Jets (twice), Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and Cleveland Browns — hardly a murderer's row. The Bills and the Browns represent the toughest matchups on paper, but neither should scare the Patriots based on how they've looked in the first two weeks. According to Barnwell, the ESPN tool Football Power Index gives the Patriots a 30.1% chance of making it to the second half of the season undefeated.
Their schedule toughens up significantly over the second half of the season as they play the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, and Houston Texans.
At the moment, do any of those teams looks significantly better than the Patriots? Not necessarily. The Cowboys and Chiefs likely poise the biggest threats. The Patriots beat the Chiefs twice last season, and the Kansas City defense remains a concern. The Cowboys have the tools to beat the Patriots, but believing they could win (in Foxborough, nonetheless) may depend on one's faith in Jason Garrett out-scheming Bill Belichick and Dak Prescott beating Brady.
Former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel recently told a story during an NBC pregame segment about the Patriots' undefeated season in 2007. In Week 17, with their division title and playoff seed all locked up, the Patriots starters were hardly supposed to play. But according to Cassel, it was a competitive game, and Belichick left his starters in to secure the win and an undefeated season.
"If it was years past we probably would have not played all those guys, but that game had some meaning to (Belichick)," Cassel said. "Bill takes a lot of pride in history and he's a big history buff, and he's a historian of the game. At the end of the day though, I really do think it's all about winning the Super Bowl."
Would Belichick be similarly all-in this season if the Patriots begin 8-0?
There are plenty of factors working against the Patriots
While things look rosy for the Patriots right now, it's early in the season. Brady was asked about the prospect of going 16-0 during his weekly interview on WEEI and shot it down right away.
"To think about something that's going to happen two weeks from now or three weeks from now or five weeks from now is irrelevant," Brady said. "You'll have plenty of time to think about those when that's a real reality. I mean, that's so far from what our reality is, you're not going to live your life going through hypothetical situations. I think what you try to do is you just, you think about the process and the results are what they are."
He added: "Through two games we're playing well. But that's one-eighth of the season. So how are we going to do in the next eighth of the season? That's where our head's at."
Brady's message was essentially: things can change.
Health and availability may be the foremost challenge. The Patriots have already suffered a few injuries on the offensive line. Center David Andrews is sidelined with blood clots and second-year tackle Isaiah Wynn is dealing with a foot injury.
While Brown and Gordon are the two weapons that could make the Patriots offense pop, it's also unclear if they will remain available to the Patriots. Gordon has missed more games than he has played in the last four seasons because of suspensions. Brown has had a tumultuous start to the 2019 season and was accused of rape in a lawsuit last week.
It's also unclear if Brady can sustain his sharpness over a 16-game season. To many, Brady showed real signs of aging last season. While he has looked good to begin the 2019 season, he'll take hits over the coming weeks that could affect his game. At 42, Brady is still in uncharted territory, and his effectiveness may decline as the season goes on.
"Uncharted territory" goes for the Patriots as a whole. No dynasty has ever lasted this long, yet the Patriots look stronger than they have in recent years. The reigning champs appear to have gotten better.
Whether the Patriots go 16-0 or their usual 12-4, the rest of the NFL should be scared.