By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
As the entire football world sings Bill Belichick’s praises following New England’s shockingly easy win over the sham Houston Texans on Thursday night, let’s just tap the brakes on the genuflecting.
Give full credit to Belichick for winning with a backup quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo and a third-string quarterback in Jacoby Brissett. Belichick designs a remarkable game plan, and he refuses to let his team feel sorry for itself even under the worst circumstances.
But even though the Pats are winning without Tom Brady, they are not necessarily going to run away with the division, the top seed in the AFC and the Super Bowl.
There is almost always an overreaction to early-season results, and the general thought from many observers is that if the Pats are rolling up victories without their star quarterback, just what will happen when they get him back?
The guess here is that Belichick will once again outsmart Rex Ryan in Week 4 at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots will indeed have a 4-0 record when Brady returns.
But the NFL is not a simple world, and the premise that since the Patriots won four games without Brady that, they will go 12-0 with him is folly.
New England is a team with weaknesses and can be beaten. The Pats have issues on the offensive line, and just because the Texans couldn’t exploit them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
The same thing is true of the defense, which got shredded in the second half by both the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins in the first two weeks of the season.
The schedule includes some significant tests, including back-to-back games against the Bengals and Steelers in weeks 6 and 7, and meetings with the Seahawks, Ravens and Broncos in the second half of the season.
Oh, yes, there’s also two games with the Jets in weeks 12 and 16, and those will be major tests for both teams.
The Jets may be as good as the Patriots this year, and they have the kind of offensive team that could battle down to the wire with New England for the AFC East crown.
Gang Green showed their mettle in their Week 2 win over the Bills, and they go to Kansas City this week with a strong opportunity to come up with back-to-back road wins.
The Jets are no longer a one-dimensional team that needs its defense to dominate. They made great strides last year with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and Todd Bowles at head coach, and they are even more dangerous this year.
That’s because they have the talented, versatile and motivated Matt Forte in the backfield. Treated like trash by the Bears, Forte saw his opportunity with the Jets, and he has already started to bring a return on the investment. Forte scored three rushing TDs against the Bills, and he could rip up Kansas City this Sunday.
Forte knew the Bears would let him go, and his talents had been downplayed for at least three seasons in Chicago.
The running back position has been downgraded for a decade as teams migrated to the explosive nature of the passing game. But that way of thinking has been changing in recent years, and running backs are coming back into vogue.
Even if that wasn’t the case, Forte is a different kind of back because he is such a good receiver. He had 102 receptions in 2014, and he has had six seasons in which he has caught 50 or more passes.
The receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker does not have to take a back seat to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Both of the Patriots receivers give everything they have on an every-play basis, and there is no doubt that Marshall’s concentration is not always what it should be. But when it comes to big-play potential, it’s hard not to side with Marshall and Decker.
And the Jets’ defense is going to be impactful as the season progresses. Once Sheldon Richardson gets back to full speed, the line, which also includes Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, will impose its will on an every-week basis.
While inside linebacker David Harris doesn’t receive the national attention he deserves, Bowles and Jets fans know how valuable he is and that he is an excellent tackler.
The Jets nearly made the playoffs last year, and they are a better team this season. They have a sharp coach in Bowles, a quarterback with a chip on his shoulder and a do-it-all running back.
They will be ready for the vaunted Patriots, and they just may get the best of them this season.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy