The New England Patriots are the best pick to win the Super Bowl, but they also have a glaring Achilles heal that could spell their demise in January. The Pats have been a bend-but-don’t-break defense in the past 5 seasons or so, but their 30th ranked red zone defense this season is a huge departure from the norm.
New England has given up touchdowns on 80% of opponents’ trips to the red zone. That’s flat out horrible — good for a tie with Atlanta for 2nd worst in the league. That’s exactly the type of weakness that could cost the Patriots a playoff win. Even if the pats means that they give up just one more red zone score than an average team in the playoff game, that’s a 4 point swing right there. In the 4 years that the Pats won the Super Bowl, they’ve won 7 games that were decided by 4 points or fewer. Their seasons also ended in playoff games decided by that same margin in 2006, 2007, 2011, and 2015. The importance of the Pats’ red zone defense cannot be underrated.
Malcolm Butler has shut down the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. before, but I’m still concerned about him facing a bigger receiver like A.J. Green. Green represents the perfect test for the Pats defense, as the Bengals are similarly ranked 30th in red zone offense. If New England is going to have a chance at being a good red zone defense, the Bengals are the type of offense that they have to contain in the field’s final 20 yards. We need to see Butler and the rest of the secondary handle A.J. Green, and we need to see Mike Nugent get as many field goal opportunities as he gets PAT chances. If that happens, then the Pats will be making an almost undeniable argument that they’re the best team in the league. We’re going to learn a lot about our team’s Super Bowl chances today.