The Patriots stand at 9-3 atop the AFC East and in position to secure yet another first-round bye as the team enters the home stretch. Despite those accomplishments, there have been times this season when things didn't always appear to running as smoothly as normal.
That has been the case on both sides of the ball. Early in the year the offense had trouble moving the ball and after a nice surge on October, lately there have been some struggles on third down and in the red zone. On defense, the pass rush hasn't been consistent and that had led to some periodic problems in the secondary.
Last week against Minnesota, none of that was present as New England put together arguably its most complete performance of the season.
With that in mind we felt this would be a good time for this week's Samsonite Make Your Case, which is: Which side of the ball has made the biggest improvement during the course of the season, offense or defense?
PFW's Andy Hart says …
Remember when every opposing quarterback was lighting up the Patriots secondary? Remember how Mitchell Trubisky ran all over the Patriots defense? Now think about the last two home games when Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins couldn't even reach the 20-point mark.
The defense is rounding into form nicely, just as it almost always seems to. The pass rush has gotten more creative and is generating some heat on quarterbacks. Stephon Gilmore has been outstanding after a shaky start, and he's keyed the resurgence in the secondary. Add in the strong play of Jason McCourty and even the addition of rookie J.C. Jackson and the secondary has become a strength.
Comparing that to what we watched earlier in the season is tough to do. The improvements made under the watch of Brian Flores and the rest of the coaching staff has been remarkable, and now the Patriots can win because of defense and not in spite of it.
PFW's Paul Perillo says …
If you think about the Patriots offense in terms of the past then you haven't been paying attention. Tom Brady hasn't been as sharp as he was last year and he's not working with the same players. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman haven't been as strong as they have in the past, and Josh Gordon has only been here for a couple of months.
Despite that, the offense is moving the ball exceptionally well and against the Vikings it showed the ability to convert on the third down and in the red zone – two areas in which it was struggling prior to that. The production of the running game has also given the offense a new dimension, one of a ball-control unit that is dominating time of possession.
Gone are the three-and-out struggles from earlier in the season. Now Brady is spreading the ball around effectively with short passes while mixing in the running game to help move the chains. It hasn't been flashy, but racking up nearly 500 yards of offense while controlling the game is just as effective as ever. The improvement has been impressive.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.