Power Rankings: Preseason 9. This week 6.
Where they stand: The Patriots are 6-2, the same record as the New York Jets, but are listed second in the AFC East standings because they lost their head-to-head matchup. The Patriots were rated first in last week's ESPN.com Power Rankings, but an alarmingly bad loss to the Cleveland Browns has raised serious concerns. The Patriots rank 20th in total offense and 29th in total defense.
Falling: The Patriots have put together several strong defensive performances, but they've shown vulnerabilities against the pass and the run on occasion. Browns running back Peyton Hillis trampled them for 184 yards, a 6.3-yard average and two touchdowns. New England's secondary has gone through week-to-week transitions because of injuries and disappointing play. Right cornerback Darius Butler lost his job to Kyle Arrington. Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather was a backup briefly.
As the season moves along and the sampling of games gets larger, it's becoming more evident the Patriots miss Randy Moss. Recent columns by ESPN Stats & Information researcher Jeremy Lundblad and Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders deliver all sorts of statistical evidence that shows the Patriots aren't as potent without him.
Rising: Youth has been serving the Patriots all season. They've been getting significant contributions from rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez (team-high 436 receiving yards) and Rob Gronkowski (tied for team lead with three receiving touchdowns), rookie left cornerback Devin McCourty (two interceptions, team-high seven passes defensed) and rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes (second in tackles).
The Patriots have done a fabulous job with backfield overachievers BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Each has caused damage in his own way. Green-Ellis has rushed for six touchdowns. Woodhead has two rushing touchdowns and one receiving, giving the Jets castoff more end-zone appearances this year than Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Shonn Greene, Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller.
Midseason MVP: Tom Brady not only is the Patriots MVP so far, he's also among the top candidates for the league honor. The Patriots' offense isn't as good without Moss, but the fact they've kept winning despite that trade shows how important Brady's leadership is.
Outlook: The Patriots never seem unprepared for any situation and adapt on the fly like no other team in the league. After a decade of winning, one of the safest assumptions is Bill Belichick and Brady will figure out what's wrong and make the necessary corrections. What they have going for them most of all was the ability to bag victories through the first half of the season, particularly coming from behind to beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime and holding on to beat the San Diego Chargers. At 6-2, the Patriots have wiggle room to help them through any turbulence down the homestretch.