FOXBORO - Sean McDermott's in his first year as the coach of the Bills, but he's been around a while now.
His NFL career began in 1999, and over the course of 12 years, he rose from scouting administrative coordinator to defensive coordinator. After six more years running the defense in Carolina, he's circling the wagons in Buffalo.
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We lay all that out for you as context -- proof McDermott's seen some things -- before highlighting a statement he made Wednesday morning that was particularly suspect.
Asked on a conference call if this year's Patriots team is any different than the ones he's seen at previous stops, McDermott took an unexpected turn.
"Well, I think they're better, honestly," McDermott said. "This is an outstanding football team - not that the other ones weren't. It just seems like now with the addition of some of other players that they've added to on the roster, with the addition of [Brandin] Cooks and some of the other player's they've been able to add the last really X amount of months, I think this is a dynamite football team."
Better than any Patriots team he's seen. Really?
Even if we eliminate the championship Patriots teams McDermott never saw as a direct opponent -- 2001, 2014, 2016 -- he's still run into some damn good ones that most objective observers would say have this year's Patriots unit beat.
McDermott was a defensive assistant for the Eagles in 2003 when Philly lost a regular-season matchup with New England, 31-10. That group featured three first-team All-Pros (Rodney Harrison, Ty Law and Richard Seymour) and a Pro Bowler (Willie McGinest) on defense. Offensively, Tom Brady maintained the 2-to-1 interception ratio he established for himself the year prior throwing to Deion Branch, Troy Brown and Daniel Graham. That team, of course, won the franchise's second Super Bowl in three years.
McDermott was the assistant defensive backs coach when one of the most well-rounded teams of the Belichick-Brady Era beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Brady established himself as one of the game's best that year, making it to his second Pro Bowl. Corey Dillon was a star. Adam Vinatieri had one of his best seasons. The defense was second in the league in points allowed, and as a team, they were tops in point differential. There's an argument to be made that this was the best team in Patriots history. And McDermott studied them closely for two weeks with a Lombardi Trophy on the line.
McDermott coached the Eagles secondary in 2007 when one of the best teams in NFL history squeaked out a 31-28 win over Philly. Think he remembers that record-setting passing game?
In 2013, with Carolina, McDermott had to scheme up a plan to stop Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and LeGarrette Blount. That group was later decimated by injury, and it probably doesn't fall in the top 10 of Belichick-coached Patriots teams. But even they were just a game away from making the Super Bowl.
The 2017 iteration of the Patriots is a very good one, obviously. Before the season began -- back when Julian Edelman and Dont'a Hightower were healthy, back before the defensive end group was quickly dismantled -- we did an entire series on how this year's team might be better than the 2007 group. Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran surmised it was "likely" they would go 16-0.
Even now that we know they aren't perfect, they still look exceptional. Brady is having one of his best seasons, with a completion percentage, yards-per-game average and quarterback rating that would all rate in the top-three for his career if the season ended today. Gronkowski is playing like the game's best tight end. Cooks gives them a vertical threat they haven't had since Randy Moss. The defense has kept opponents in the teens for two months.
But is this a group that's better than any McDermott's seen? Offensively, maybe. Overall? No.
Here's how I'd line up the top-10 Patriots teams under Belichick.
1. 2007: One helmet catch away from perfection.
2. 2004: The definition of complementary football.
3. 2014: Star-studded roster saved by a no-name rookie.
4. 2016: No Gronkowski, but Brady at the height of his powers.
5. 2003: Suffocating defense, toughness in abundance.
6. 2001: Not "great," Belichick has admitted, but at its best in big spots.
7. 2011: One Wes Welker catch away from No. 4.
8. 2012: Weapons upon weapons before Gronkowski's broken wing.
9. 2010: Brady takes second MVP, Jets spoil things in Divisional Round.
10. 2015: Injured Solder, Edelman too much to overcome in Denver.
If 2017 goes as the Patriots hope it will, I think it could potentially fall in between 2016 and 2014 -- a tick below two of the teams you couldn't blame McDermott for wanting to forget.