The New England Patriots are 1-3 through four games. They sit last in the AFC East for just the second time since 2000. They'd have the sixth overall draft pick if the season ended today.
But fortunately for the Patriots, the season doesn't end today. And while things look pretty bleak in New England at the moment, there's plenty of time for the Patriots to reverse their fortunes -- and that reversal could be imminent.
Bill Belichick's team is about to play six consecutive games against teams at .500 or worse, beginning with the 1-3 Detroit Lions at home on Sunday. Even if starting quarterback Mac Jones can't suit up due to an ankle injury, the fact that the Patriots took the Green Bay Packers to overtime last Sunday with third-stringer Bailey Zappe bodes well for their ability to bounce back against Detroit.
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Another reason for optimism? The Patriots on several occasions have struggled early in the season before discovering their identity and ripping off a mid- or late-season winning streak. Belichick said prior to the season that we may not know this team's identity until October, and if you believe him, the time is now for New England to get rolling.
Our Tom E. Curran laid out the path ahead for the Patriots Tuesday night on NBC Sports Boston's Quick Slants.
New England Patriots
"Ryan Holiday wrote a book called, 'The Obstacle is the Way,' and Bill Belichick is a big Ryan Holiday fan," Curran said. "He has spoken to the team and he talks about stoicism: finding a way to accept the adversity and do something good with it. Well, now the Patriots are four games in, and the table-setting portion of the season is done. It's time for them to eat.
"It doesn't matter that there's no Mac Jones. There are 52 other active players with a stake and a chance to not look like every other middling team that's given to indiscipline, brain cramps and beating themselves. This is a time, over these next five games going into the bye, for the Patriots to get back to their roots of being the biggest, most potent brains on the field.
"It should start Sunday against the Lions. If the Patriots are who they were, they are going to be clean as a mommy-scratcher going forward. It might not return them to the elite, but it will get them out of the basket of 'meh' they've been living in for the past couple years where they've been their own worst enemy and looked nothing like the crisp and clean Patriots we remember."
It's unrealistic to expect the Patriots to be serious playoff contenders at the end of the season, as the AFC is loaded with several more talented teams. But New England went 10-7 last season and has a more talented roster than its 1-3 record implies. The team can prove that over the next six weeks.