Matthew Judon providing New England Patriots big bang for the buck

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Judon's hot start: With the Patriots preparing for what could be a defensive slugfest with the Carolina Panthers on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), it is time to put outside linebacker Matthew Judon's sizzling start to the season in further context.

He has eight sacks, and only two players in the history of the franchise have totaled more through the first eight games of a season -- Chandler Jones (9.5 in 2015) and Andre Tippett (9.5 in 1986).

Teammates have taken note of his performance, and how sharp he looks in the process.

"I battled with him in Baltimore and he was one of those guys we had up on the board, to always account for. He was making plays there. He's making plays now," tight end Jonnu Smith said. "I'm glad he's [with us], with those red sleeves. As long as he keeps wearing them, he'll get more sacks."

Judon has played 85% of the defensive snaps, is fifth on the team with 32 tackles and leads the club with 14 quarterback hits, according to the team's stats. He also has caught the attention of Panthers coach Matt Rhule for his work on the punt-rush unit -- nearly blocking one attempt in last Sunday's win against the Chargers -- which Rhule believes says a lot about the Patriots and Judon.

"I love watching the way he plays. A premier pass-rusher and premier run defender on special teams, it signifies an elite football culture. And also a guy that is a real competitor," Rhule said.

Judon's eight sacks are fourth in the NFL, behind the Browns' Myles Garrett (10.5), Steelers' T.J. Watt (8.5) and Titans' Harold Landry III (8.5). His career high for a season is 9.5, with the Ravens in 2019.

When asked about his production, Judon mentioned nine different teammates, among other things, in his answer.

"They put me in good spots so I can have success," he said, deflecting the credit. "I'm just blessed right now, and I give it all back to teammates and coaches."

The Patriots paid big bucks to bring Judon aboard in the offseason -- four years, $56 million, of which $32 million was guaranteed.

Nonetheless, they are currently getting bang for their buck ... and then some.

2. Barmore's pressure: For all the attention that Mac Jones has received as the Patriots' first-round pick and starting quarterback, not to be overlooked is how second-round pick Christian Barmore is coming on at defensive tackle. One statistic that reflects it: Barmore has provided first pressure on opposing quarterbacks 18 times, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He is second on the team behind Judon (31). The Patriots traded up to select Barmore at No. 38, giving up their second-round pick (46) and two fourth-rounders to do so. Similar to Judon, they are seeing some promising early returns for their conviction.

3. Eyes on Odell: With the Browns releasing Odell Beckham Jr., and the likelihood that no team claims him on waivers due to his $7.5 million salary, the Patriots wouldn't be true to their core beliefs if they didn't explore the possibility of bringing him aboard. The situation would have similarities, in part, to when the Patriots landed Randy Moss in 2007 because it's rare to have a chance to acquire a player with such rare traits, especially at what would likely be a cut-rate salary. It all had me going back to watch parts of the "Big Picture" podcast from 2020 when Beckham spoke glowingly of coach Bill Belichick and said he didn't buy into the public perception of Belichick. "All he wants to do is put you in position to succeed," Beckham had said.

4. Gilmore on Jakobi? Rhule said cornerback Stephon Gilmore will likely play only on third down, as he's not at a point physically to be on the field for every snap. Last week, Gilmore asked to cover promising Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts and did so with success in 17 snaps. This week? I'd think Jakobi Meyers would be the top candidate, considering he's the player Jones seems to have the greatest comfort going to in got-to-have-it situations.

5. Playoff pack: Patriots receiver N'Keal Harry referenced the playoffs this past week in noting how the team -- at 4-4 -- needs to keep winning games. And Smith compared the situation to a horse race, saying it's a big group but ultimately some will drop back, and the Patriots don't want to be one of those teams. Along those lines, how big is Sunday's game against the Panthers? According to ESPN's Football Power Index, the Patriots would improve their odds of qualifying for the playoffs to 62% with a win, and their odds would drop to 39% with a loss.

6. Dugger vs. Chinn: Sunday's game features two safeties selected in the second round of the 2020 draft -- New England's Kyle Dugger (No. 37) and Carolina's Jeremy Chinn (No. 64). An indication that both teams hit on the picks? They are both leading their respective defenses in tackles -- 54 for Dugger, 43 for Chinn. By the end of last season, some might have wondered if the Patriots were regretting their choice, after Chinn led all 2020 rookies with 117 tackles and Dugger had 64 in a part-time role. But as is often the case in New England, there's more of a breaking-in process for rookies and the biggest jump generally comes in Year 2.

7. Stidham decision due: How valuable is a third quarterback on the game-day roster? We'll find out how Belichick answers that question this week, as the deadline arrives to place Jarrett Stidham on either the 53-man roster or injured reserve. Stidham's three-week window after coming off the PUP list expires Wednesday (as does defensive tackle Byron Cowart's). In December of 2016, the team activated Jacoby Brissett in a similar situation, so perhaps that foreshadows what is to come.

8. Snow day: Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow told the story last week of how he was in his office early one morning at Arizona State in 1996 when there was a knock on the door at 6:15 a.m. It was Belichick, who was in town for the Sun Devils’ pro day. Snow, the team’s defensive coordinator, said he proceeded to talk to Belichick for three hours, which always left an impression on him. For his part, Belichick said that has long been one of the things he enjoys about attending pro days -- talking with the coaches who are familiar with the players he’s scouting.

9. Lombardi brothers: Family bragging rights among the Lombardi brothers are at stake Sunday, with Patriots receivers coach Mick Lombardi on one side and Panthers assistant quarterbacks coach Matt Lombardi on the other. Their father, former Patriots assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi, described it as a "hard day." The last time the Lombardis were on opposite sidelines was the 2019 season finale when the Dolphins upset the Patriots, costing New England home-field advantage in the playoffs.

10a. Did you know, part I? The Patriots are 3-4 all-time against the Panthers, one of just three teams they have a losing record against since 1995 (including playoffs). The others are the Packers (3-4) and Broncos (11-14).

10b. Did you know, part II? This week's schedule of games features five Super Bowl rematches, the most ever in a single week. That includes Patriots-Panthers -- a 32-29 New England win in XXXVIII, which still holds the Super Bowl record for most points scored in the fourth quarter (37). The others: Packers-Chiefs; Jets-Colts; Cowboys-Broncos; Rams-Titans.