Let me first acknowledge this: Bill Belichick is still a genius. Those people who questioned if he had "lost" his defensive prowess after giving up 30 points to the Bills have been proved wrong during this five-game win streak.
However, at times it looks like this team is playing with house money.
How many times can the "bend-but-not-break" defense bend without breaking? The Patriots' pass defense ranking has continued to slide and sits 31st in the league through Week Eight, yet they are 6-1. Belichick will probably be one of the first to say that defense wins championships. If he can take one of the worst defenses in the league to the Super Bowl, well, that'd be a shock even to him.
The Patriots' defense has counted on timely tackles and opportunistic turnovers during this stretch. The offense has not scored at will since the bye week but has had enough critical, time-consuming drives to knock opponents off and make up for a weak defense. It's not a surprise this team leads the league in scoring.
With injuries to safeties Patrick Chung and Jarrad Page, the secondary picture looks even bleaker. The bright spot in the secondary is Devin McCourty, who played great against the Vikings. But how much longer can the Patriots hold on to these victories?
We likely will not get an answer this Sunday when the Patriots play the Browns, but if they falter against Eric Mangini's club, that could be a big heads-up that maybe the Pats cannot continue to play with the house money.
Belichick will take the personnel he has and put schemes on the field to win football games — we have seen that when undrafted rookies Sergio Brown and Dane Fletcher have made impacts, as well as rookie starters Brandon Deaderick, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes and McCourty. But how much longer can this last? When will a team find a way to score 30, 40 points against this defense, and can Brady keep up?
For now, the Pats can enjoy having the best record in the league, and they probably will hold that after Sunday as well. Yet a huge game against the Steelers in Week 10 looms, as do meetings with the Colts, Packers and Jets. This young squad will get tested, and so far they have passed each one thrown at them, but not exactly with flying colors.