Patriots aren’t the only team with issues

Patriots aren’t the only team with issues
September 19, 2013, 1:30 pm
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(USA Today Sports)

Tonight in Philadelphia, Andy Reid rolls back into Lincoln Financial Field to kick off Week 3 of the NFL season, and to this point, it’s been anything but smooth for the New England Patriots.
 
Wait, what? They’re 2-0? Pleeeease. The Pats have problems! Rob Gronkowski’s back. Danny Amendola’s groin. Aaron Dobson’s hands. Kenbrell Thompkins’ head. Tom Brady’s temper. Bill Belichick’s ego. This is no time for celebration around New England. And if you think 2-0’s bad, just wait until you see 3-0! Panicsville, USA.
 
So what gives?
 
Well, to start, there obviously are a few things that the Pats need to iron out between now and January. No one’s denying that. But thankfully, thanks to the rest of the AFC East, they actually have until January to do so.
 
Instead, here’s the bigger issue —
 
As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are leading the charge here in New England, the Patriots biggest competition is their own history. Everything they do and everything they are is viewed through the prism of what they’ve done, and considering that includes three Super Bowl titles and an undefeated regular season, it’s a comparison that the modern day Pats will always lose.
 
They’ll never be as good as they were.
 
But in breaking down the Pats’ chances in 2013, the truth is that they don’t have to be the best team in New England Patriots history, they only have to be the best team in the AFC. And when you look around the league after two weeks . . .
 
 
The Broncos are obviously the best team in the conference right now. They destroyed the Super Bowl champs in the season opener. Then, 10 days later, they went out to MetLife Stadium and embarrassed the Giants in an emotional battle for parental love and affection. Over those first two games, the Broncos scored 90 points, when only two other teams in the conference have scored more than 60. Despite playing the first two weeks without Pro Bowler Champ Bailey, the Broncos lead the NFL in both interceptions (6) and pass deflections (25) season. They have three receivers who are better than the Patriots No. 1 receiver.
 
But last week, they also lost Peyton Manning’s blind side (All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady) for the season to a Lisfranc injury. In Clady’s place, Chris Clark (who’s started six games over three-plus seasons in Denver) will move over to left tackle. They signed former second round pick Winston Justice off the scrap heap to fill Clady’s void on the roster.
 
Not mention through two games, the Broncos most reliable running back has been the eternally unreliable Knowshon Moreno. What happens when Moreno eventually gets hurt? Rookie Monte Ball has potential but certainly hasn’t shown it yet on this level.
 
And as much as the sports media world will spend the next three months obsessing over the greatness of Peyton Manning (and make no mistake, he’s most definitely great), his postseason struggles are not a fluke. He’s still lost his last three playoff games, and hasn’t won one since 2009.
 
He’s still 9-11 in the playoffs for his career.
 
You want an ugly 2-0 start? It doesn’t get any uglier than the Houston Texans, who needed miraculous comebacks to beat a pair of very unmiraculous teams (Chargers and Titans). To this point, the highlight of the Texans season was last week’s halftime performance by Vanilla Ice.
 
Meanwhile, Houston’s biggest offseason acquisition, Ed Reed, still hasn’t played and it remains to be seen how much he has left. Their No. 1 receiver, Andre Johnson, got the Bernard Pollard treatment last week and is currently dealing with a concussion. In the big picture, they still don’t know what they have in quarterback Matt Schaub, who’s only won one playoff game in his career, and didn’t throw a touchdown in that win.
 
I don’t think the Trent Richardson trade is enough to put Indianapolis over the top this season, but it’s enough to make life a lot harder for the Texans in what initially looked like an easily winnable division.
 
The defending champs? After getting smoked by the Broncos on opening night, the Baltimore Ravens eked out a Week 2 victory at home over the hapless Browns. Their tight end Dennis Pitta is out for the season. Their No. 2 receiver (Jacoby Jones) is out now with a sprained MCL. They’re everything (Ray Rice) is already hobbled by a hip flexor.
 
With Reed, Ray Lewis and Pollard all gone from last year, and Reed’s replacement (Michael Huff) already in the doghouse, the Ravens defense has gone from being the identity and foundation of their success to a giant question mark. And it doesn’t help that they host the Texans this Sunday, and then play three of their next four on the road.
 
The Steelers are 0-2. They’re running back situation is so bleak that they started Felix Jones on Monday night.
 
With the departure of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown (who’s a great slot receiver) has become Pittsburgh’s No. 1 option and is already at odds with coordinator Todd Haley because everyone’s always at odds with Todd Haley. Speaking of the Steelers offense, they Steelers lost All Pro center Maurkice Pouncey for the season in Week 1 and replaced him with a guy who was cut by the Titans in training camp.
 
And the formerly vaunted Steelers pass rush? They have exactly one sack through two games.
 
Go through the rest of the AFC and ask yourself, as a Patriots fan, for this season and this season only, would you trade this New England team — roster, coach and all — straight up for the current situations in Miami?
 
Cincinnati?
 
Indianapolis?
 
Kansas City?
 
No way.
 
I think you look at the entire AFC, and right now, sure, the Broncos are in a category all their own. And as good as they are right now, you imagine the return of Bailey and (eventually) Von Miller will make them even better.
 
But it’s a long season. It’s Week 3. And either way, the Broncos aren’t the 2007 Patriots either. They’re definitely beatable.
 
Give Tom Brady his three best offensive players back. Give the rookies a few more weeks for their heads to stop spinning. Give this defense another 14 games to gel. And the Patriots are the team most likely to do it. And if the Broncos somehow fall before then, the Pats are the team most likely to take their place on top.
 
I say that with confidence.
 
Despite the New England’s disappointing 2-0 start.
 
 
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine