It was a hot topic making the rounds on Twitter after NFL week four and a question no one expected to be pondering; here we are, four weeks in, and AFC East foes the New England Patriots and the New York Jets are both 2-2. Yes, the same Patriots you maybe heard rumored to be capable of going undefeated and the same Jets capable of pulling off the inverse. Neither fan base anticipated being here, but the question still needs to be answered, which team’s status is more surprising?
Matt: It’s the Patriots. It has to be. Did you hear the offseason hubbub this year? 18-0. Shoe-ins to win the AFC East for the millionth-straight year. Why even play the games? Even if you didn’t buy into all those narratives, which I didn’t, it still rubbed off on all Patriots fans. My international roommate who doesn’t know anything about the NFL asked me to compare the Patriots to the NBA, a context he understands. I said’ “They’re the Warriors,” and didn’t think twice about it. Now he’s coming at me saying the Warriors would never go .500 in their opening month while playing a key aspect of the game at the second-to-worst level in the league. He’s right; if that happens this year, people would be flabbergasted. Expectations were sky-high and reasonably so.
The Patriots had the league’s best-scoring defense last season. Now they’re 31st. Bill Belichick is a defensive head coach. Matt Patricia has put out a reliable product for several years now and turned himself into a future head coaching candidate. They opened the season with three out of the first four games at home. Sure, there were no cupcakes, but for a team where two losses total was probably worst case scenario, two in the first month is simply unfathomable. Quite frankly, as I write this, it still doesn’t compute, but I’m not worried about the season being a lost cause yet, not in the slightest. The organization has been too consistent for too long. But the comfort that comes from that consistency is what makes it all the more shocking, because the only thing the 2017 Patriots have been consistently is consistently underwhelming.
The Jets on the other hand, played the scrapheap Bills and will play the Bills again and will go on to play former NFL analyst Jay Cutler’s Dolphins, and perpetual bottom-feeders the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns−hardly a murderer's row. I don’t care who is at quarterback, you’re telling me you never thought the Jets could beat two of those teams and had a chance to be over .500 after week five?
Dylan: Sure, the Jaguars and Dolphins are very beatable teams, but let's not forget that these are the Jets. This is a team that did not win its second game until Week 7 last year, and lost to Miami not once, but twice. And that’s when they we’re supposed to compete. The Jets 2-2 start this season is much more of a stunner than the Patriots’.
The Jets front office made the team’s 2017 goal loud and clear this offseason: LOSE. They got rid of every name the average fan would recognize; Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, and David Harris all cut ties with the Jets. Basically, if you had them on the back of your jersey, then they were gone. This team rolled into the season with the expectation of failure. But not only that, they came in with the DESIRE to fail. They were going to tank, draft Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, and maybe start winning a few years from now.
Instead, this team is 2-2 and looks like it will not be competing for that first overall draft pick. The Jets’ start is so surprising that fans do not even know how to react. Do they applaud the improvement of young players to the extent that it has brought them victories, despite the desperate need for a franchise quarterback that they may only find with a top draft pick? Not a single fan expected to be in this situation. Being a Jets fan can be grueling year after year, but this year was supposed to be, in some ways, relaxing. Being the worst team in the NFL was already accepted, so floating towards a franchise-changing player was going to be a smooth ride. No disappointment. Just part of the plan. But the Jets are 2-2, and thus, there is chaos.
The Patriots are enduring a classic Super Bowl hangover, and facing the effects of being the defending champions. Every team is circling New England on their calendars. When teams go into Foxborough, they are going to bring their best game. Belichick's squad has been targeted for years, but the spotlight only gets brighter with each title. The Patriots are going to be favored against just about every opponent, but the Panthers and Chiefs are two strong teams that are striving for the playoffs this year. For New England to be stuck at 2-2 is surprising, but not shocking.
Matt: But the Patriots are always good. Belichick's arrogant style and their winning ways have long made them a focal point of opposing teams schedules.
The reason their average start isn’t shocking is because the Patriots were supposed to be good, it’s because this year's team was supposed to be transcendent.
The Patriots took an aggressive approach in the offseason and the inequality between them and the rest of the league was thought to have only grown. The Patriots had the premier offense in the league and they were regaining the presence of all-worldly tight end Rob Gronkowski. They traded their first round draft pick for Saints’ star Brandin Cooks and signed versatile running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead.
On defense, Patriots opened up their coffers, which are usually sealed tight, to resign linebacker Dont’a Hightower and sign ex-Bills’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore to exorbitant sums. Familiar names like Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard may have left, but the Patriots attempted to replace them with vets Kony Ealy and Lawrence Guy.
They even refrained from trading cornerback Malcolm Butler and back quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who could have yield impressive draft capital, instead, keeping them and their skills in Foxborough.
The organization was all in, more than most years. They accumulated a massive holding of talent, more than most years. So expectations were sky high, more so than most years. The Patriots aren’t supposed to be a 2-2 ever, but this year they weren’t even supposed to be a 14-2 team, depending on who you talked to.
Dylan: New England is loaded, but they always have plenty of talent up and down the roster. Even the best teams will run into a wall on occasion, they are still looking towards a winning season where they will finish at the top of the conference. Even if they are not going be 14-2 or better, they are still going to be one of the top teams in the league, barring anything drastic happening. Come February, they should be contending for yet another Super Bowl.
Where the Jets stand in the coming weeks may go completely awry from preseason expectations. A team can still win the division at 11-5 or 10-6 (especially in the AFC East), but they cannot get the top overall draft pick at 6-10, which could be where the Jets are headed.
While the Patriots weren’t even supposed to be 14-2, the Jets weren't even supposed to be 2-14. Who could have anticipated players like Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Kony Ealy and Josh McCown would perform as well as they have.
What really makes the Jets 2-2 record scratch your head is how quickly some of the team’s younger players have begun to gel and form an identity. They are learning how to win around strong defense and a decent running attack.
They say these things don't happen overnight, but for the Jets, it somewhat did. After an 0-2 start it seemed like everything was going exactly according to plan. They were coming off an embarrassing 45-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Then, suddenly, the team put everything together. I guess part of the element of surprise is doing something when everyone least expects it.