Tom Brady has kept New England winning, despite having a team offense that is ranked 20th in the league.
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.
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).
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.