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Peter King Buries Patriots In Power Rankings, Putting New England Third In AFC East

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots are coming off a rare year where they did not win a playoff game. They also said farewell to Tom Brady. Things are clearly changing, and even though Bill Belichick remains the football boss in Foxboro, expectations for the team are all over the board.

This much was covered several weeks ago, when we took a look at NFL power rankings around the internet and found the Patriots to be placed anywhere from seventh to 20th. Clearly, expectations have fallen for the most successful franchise of the 21st century.

Even with that being understood, Peter King's power rankings managed to provide a bit of a shock.

The longtime NFL writer released his current NFL power rankings on Monday, and he listed the Patriots at No. 21. Not only does King see the Patriots as the 12th-worst team in the NFL, but he also sees them as the third-worst team in the AFC East.

King has Buffalo ranked 13th, and he has the Miami Dolphins ranked at No. 19.

That is ... strong to quite strong.

"This year reminds me of Belichick's first year or two in New England, when he and Scott Pioli got the cap right by making do with lesser players and the highest-paid player in football, Drew Bledsoe. By 2002, it was Brady's team, and he flourished," King wrote. " Now ... Belichick and Nick Caserio can clean out the cap and rebuild."

King admitted that rankings such as his tend to find a way to meeting rooms inside 1 Patriot Place.

"Whatever happens, America will be watching: Four of their final nine games will be in prime time," he wrote. "I think this season breaks the Patriots' 11-year stranglehold on the AFC East, but I'm pretty sure everyone in that building wants to rub our faces in such predictions, and that's a great motivator."

The ranking of the Bills ahead of the Patriots is hardly surprising, as the Bills are coming off a 10-win season where they lost twice to the Patriots -- first by six points in late September, then by seven points in late December. With Brady -- and Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and others -- departing via free agency, it's not difficult to envision the Bills building upon last year's success and leapfrogging the Patriots.

But the Dolphins? The 5-11 Dolphins? That one seems a bit ... odd.

King's reasoning for liking the Dolphins included head coach Brian Flores firing his two coordinators and the fact that Tua Tagovailoa ... might play? Or might not? Unclear. Read for yourself:

"As for who plays quarterback: Around the draft, I kept hearing Miami's the perfect place for Tua Tagovailoa, because he can take a redshirt year to get his ankles and surgically repaired hip absolutely perfect for 2021. So Tua behind Ryan Fitzpatrick was the perfect scenario. It could be, but not because the Dolphins drafted him to take a rehab season. If we learned one thing from watching Flores last year, when half his roster got traded to get in position to have the first pick in the draft, he's not coaching for next year. He could have played Josh Rosen and likely won less and been in the derby for Joe Burrow. But Flores showed last year he coaches for this week, this minute. If Tagovailoa's better in August (assuming there's a typical August in the NFL), he'll play over Fitzpatrick. If he's not better, he won't."

Doesn't sound like a reason to believe the 5-11 Dolphins are a better football team than the Patriots (who did still win 12 games last year with the league's best defense and who do still have arguably the greatest coach of all time who didn't fire his two coordinators from last season), but hey. It's the first of June. Nobody's in any practice facilities, minicamps may or may not be happening this month, and nobody knows what the season may look like. There's no time like the present to toss out some bold forecasts, just in case they might come true.

Even still. Miami at No. 19. New England at No. 21. That is some quite strong power ranking right there.

New Englanders might also be interested to know that King has Tom Brady and the Buccaneers ranked as the fifth-best team in the NFL.

"It stands to reason Brady will lift a franchise that hasn't won a playoff games since Brady's first season as a full-time starter, 2002. I do not believe he's fallen off some cliff at 43; it's a cliché. He's not going to be the deep-ball thrower coach Brice Arians would most want at the position—but he will be the kind of player/leader this franchise has lacked at the position for a long time," King wrote.

So, the addition of Brady lifts the 7-9 Bucs to fifth overall. The loss of Brady drops the 12-4 Patriots down to No. 21.

And the Dolphins are at 19 because Tua might not play but also might play.

In case it wasn't fully clear before, Power Ranking SZN has arrived in full force. And it's as spectacular as ever.

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