The New England Patriots have flaws despite being 5-0.
Their offensive line has been shaky, their running game has been inconsistent and one could argue the Patriots’ receiving depth is relatively thin, especially with Phillip Dorsett leaving Sunday’s 33-7 win over the Washington Redskins with a hamstring injury.
Still, New England remains the favorite to win Super Bowl LIV, thanks in large to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and a defense that’s been utterly dominant to this point.
The Patriots also have the benefit of an easy schedule — a product of playing against lackluster competition in the AFC East — which Max Kellerman pointed to Monday on ESPN’s “First Take” when taking stock of New England’s Super Bowl odds.
“I agree with Stephen A. (Smith), the line play has got to get better and if your blindside protection isn’t protecting, that can be an issue. Usually, Belichick will have that stuff sorted out as the season progresses — that includes with the receivers,” Kellerman said. “Look at the schedule, though. And this is why I agree with you, Saints in the NFC, but this is why you really have to pay attention to the Patriots still as the favorites. This is who the Saints have played so far: Texans, Rams, Seahawks, Cowboys and Bucs, but a resurgent Bucs, right? And this is who New England has played so far: Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Bills — that’s their one tough game — (and) Washington. Next week it’s the Giants. Then it’s the Jets.
“I mean, it’s just garbage. That schedule, playing in the AFC East — and I know the Bills have a very good defense this year; that’s all they have is a really good defense. Playing in the AFC East, you get all these games — half a dozen games a year — against just bad teams, or certainly teams without good quarterbacks. And this is year in and year out. Then you add to the schedule teams like Washington and the Giants. Until they play the Browns, they really will not have faced anybody all year. That makes a difference. The kind of schedule you play also makes a difference.”
Presumably, Kellerman is making the point that New England has an easy road to the Super Bowl. A soft schedule should limit the number of high-stress, hard-fought games — and perhaps keep the Patriots healthy — while helping the defending champions secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed. If that’s the case, we’ve seen how difficult it can be for opposing teams to win in Foxboro, especially come playoff time.
New England’s schedule isn’t a total cakewalk, though. While playing in the AFC East certainly works in their favor, the Patriots do have a difficult six-game stretch in which they’ll face the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.