First of all, how amazing is it that I can write this type of can column? Being able to compare your team’s 7 Super Bowl teams within the past 16 seasons is mind-blowing. Savor these moments.
Anyway, the 2016 Patriots were an interesting team. During the middle of the season, it looked like the defense just wouldn’t be able to hold up, and you’re lying if you pretend that you weren’t terrified of a playoff upset by Oakland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, or Denver when Gronk went down. Nonetheless, the Pats won their two playoff games by a combined 37 points, even though we all agree that they kind of sucked in the first one.
Compared to the 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2014 teams, the 2016 Patriots are far different from so many of them. There is one of those AFC Champion teams, however, that is a cousin of this year’s Pats team.
The 2001 Pats is clearly not the one. Tom Brady has an absurd 99.5 rating on ProFootballFocus this season. (The ratings are done out of 100, and 90 is considered “elite.”) He definitely was not elite during first season taking over for Drew Bledsoe. He wasn’t bad by any means, but that team’s defense and special teams were much better than anything about its offense. Very different from 2016.
The 2003 and 2004 teams achieved what may be the best two year period of a defense of all time, especially when you factor in the team achievements of a Super Bowl win in both years. I love Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, and Malcolm Butler. But they’re not Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, and Ty Law.
The 2007 Patriots are not the 2016 Patriots. They may both have awesome offenses led by incredible seasons from Tom Brady and better than average defenses, but these Pats just aren’t the 2007 ones. This year’s team didn’t stomp on the rest of the league during the regular season the same way the record setting Patriots did.
Next, we’re going to skip to the 2014 Patriots, which should tell you who my final answer is. It’s easy to say that the 2014 Pats were similar to this year’s team, and in many ways, they were. But that offense also relied much more on Gronk than this year’s team has (obviously due to Gronk’s injuries this season). We all lived in fear of a Gronk injury during the 2014 season that would have dismantled the year’s campaign. In the first four games when the Pats gave Gronk a reduced snapcount, Brady and the rest of the offense was lackluster. When they let him loose in Week 5, the offense was incredible.
This year, we all feared that Gronk injury as well, but with Chris Hogan, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis, and James White replacing Brandon LaFell, Shane Vereen, and Tim Wright, the offense could survive that Gronk injury a lot better. And it did. There’s no way that the Patriots win the 2014 Divisional game vs. Baltimore without Gronk’s 7 receptions for 108 yards and 1 TD.
Also, the 2014 defense was better. New England’s best part of the defense in both years was/is its secondary, but the 2016 team doesn’t have the same firepower. Malcolm Butler is a beast, but he’s not 2014 Darrellle Revis, and Patrick Chung has taken a step back this year. The Pats defense has improved massively over the course of the season, but consider this: The 2014 Pats secondary didn’t allow a pass completion to the Seahawks for the first 1.5 quarters in Super Bowl 49, but Russell Wilson lit them up in their matchup this year.
The answer, of course, is the 2011 Patriots that lost to the Giants in Super Bowl 46. Both the 2011 and 2016 Patriots teams featured a version of Tom Brady that was incredible that season, and the 2011 team was 3rd in league offense that season on Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, while this 2016 team was 2nd. While the 2011 Super Bowl did have Gronk the whole season, they were relying on a crippled version of Gronk in the Super Bowl, which mirrors the 2016 team not having Gronk at all more than it is to the 2014 team using him at full throttle.
The weakest part of the comparison lies with the defenses, as the 2016 defense is much better. The 2016 team is ranked at 16th on Football Outsiders, and I’d put them higher because of their performance ever since the Seattle game in early November. The 2011 Pats, meanwhile, look to be nothing similar, as they were ranked 30th. But I’ve never bought that ranking. As much as I love Football Outsiders, I’ve always felt that their ranking of the 2011 Pats defense was off. They gave up more than 27 points only once, and held the Ravens and Giants to 20 and 21 points in the AFCCG and Super Bowl, respectively. Those weren’t great offenses, and I’m in no means saying that the Pats defense that year was great, but they also weren’t the 3rd worst in the league. They were at least mediocre and at best decent, which isn’t too far off pace from this year’s team. Finally, the Pats’ special teams this year was 7th in the league, while in 2011 it was 5th. Pretty similar.
The biggest similarities may lie in the intangibles. In both 2011 and 2016, the Pats faced a ton of criticism (some of it legitimate) about getting easy schedules. Also, the NFL was searching for a truly great team all year, and there was none to be found. The NFC was better in 2011, especially when Matt Schaub went out for the year. The NFC was also better in 2016, if you haven’t been reminded enough by 500,000 Patriots haters that you know. Finally, the Pats got to beat up on horrendous quarterbacks in the Divisional Round of both years.
The biggest difference between the 2011 and 2016 teams will come down to their Super Bowl opponents. The Falcons are much better on offense and much worse on defense than the 2011 Giants. Luckily for us, the recipe for beating the Pats every postseason has been applying pressure to Brady, and the Falcons are nowhere near the 2007 Giants, 2011 Giants, or 2015 Broncos in that department. For that reason, let’s hope tha t2016 turns out differently than 2011.
We won’t know for sure whether or not the Patriots are resting their starters in Week 17 until the final whistle Sunday against the Dolphins. That’s the nature of rooting for a team coached by Bill Belichick. As of right now though, the internet/sports radio guessing machines seem to suggest that the Pats won’t rest their starters in the season’s final week. That’s the right call.
It’s logical to think, “The Pats lost out on homefield advantage last year, and they probably would’ve beaten the Broncos if the AFC Championship had been in Foxboro and not Denver, so they shouldn’t let history repeat itself.” That’s fair, but that’s actually not the reason that the Pats need to lock up the 1 seed. Let’s be real, the Pats should beat the Raiders by a touchdown or two even if the game is in Oakland. Derek Carr is a damn good quarterback, and Matt McGloin is definitely not a damn good quarterback. Oakland is currently ranked 8th in total DVOA according to Football Outsiders, but that’s only because their 7th ranked defense buoys their 22nd ranked defense (and 13th ranked special teams.) That #7 ranking is gonna drop juuuuust a little bit, and we shouldn’t be concerned about New England traveling to Oakland.
There is another opponent lurking, however, that should worry you. If the Pats fall to the 2 seed on Sunday, then they’ll most likely have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. While that game promises to be an incredible one, and while the NFL would be thrilled for the ratings it would bring, it’s a very scary game for the Patriots.
Remember, even when the Pats beat the Steel Curtain in October, the game was in doubt for a large portion of the contest. The Steelers had the ball down 14-10 in the 3rd quarter, and luckily they only got a field goal on that drive. The Pats then faced a 3rd and 7 from the outskirts of Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal range, and Brady connected with Gronk for a 36 yard TD pass. From that point on, New England was in control, and the Steelers were done.
Here’s the thing: Big Ben wasn’t playing in that game, and Rob Gronkowski was. Even though the Pats would be facing the Steelers in the playoffs in Foxborough, the Ben/Gronk swap makes a bigger difference than homefield advantage, as important as that is.
The Steelers can drop 40 points on any defense in the league, and their porous defense (which surprisingly ranks 9th on Football Outsiders) will look much less susceptible when they don’t have to prepare for Gronk. The Steelers are clearly the toughest matchup for the Patriots among the AFC teams in the postseason, and Pats fans should root hard for the Pats to not have to face them in the playoffs. That 2-3 game scares me, and it should scare you too. Root for the Pats to win on Sunday so that they don’t have to face the Steelers in the Divisional Round.
I can’t quite seem to understand this one…
If you’re unaware of how betting lines work, that’s fine. They’re kinda weird. Essentially, if a team is -7 points in a given game, they’re favored by 7 points (because they’d have to “subtract” 7 points for the teams to be equal). If they’re +7, they could lose by 6 points and cover the spread. If an outcome is listed as “-200,” then you have to bet $200 to win $100. If it’s +200, then you have to bet $100 to win $200.
The Patriots are -350 to make the playoffs. That’s insane. If you do the math, you’ll realize that Vegas is giving the Pats a 77.78% chance of making the playoffs.
The first time I did the math and read the stat, I thought that it was a 78% chance of winning the division, and I thought “Ok, that’s fair considering that Brady is missing the first 4 games.” But nope, this is just about making the playoffs. Even if the Jets, Bills, or Dolphins somehow has an awesome season and exceeds everyone’s expectations — which is the only way that the Pats wouldn’t win the division barring an insane number of critical injuries — the Pats could still get one of the Wild Cards and win you the bet.
Have they not been watching the Brady-Belichick Patriots for the past 15 years? Only in 2002 and 2008 did the Pats not make the playoffs. Brady wasn’t Brady in ’02, and he was obviously injured in ’08, an unusually deep year for the AFC. The Pats won it all in 2014, won their first 10 games in 2015 and had a playoff spot pretty much locked up from like Week 4 on. Oh yeah, and they’ve made 5 straight AFC Championships and earned 6 (!!!!) consecutive 1st round byes. That seems like a lot more than a 78% chance to make the playoffs to me.
This line shouldn’t be that surprising, though. Las Vegas is damn good at making lines that either screw you over or make it impossible for you to make a decision, but they constantly underrate New England. In 2014 and 2015, the Pats had under/overs of 10.5 wins. I could kinda see that in 2014, but that was certifiably stupid in 2015 after the Super Bowl 49 season. (That 10.5 wins line existed even after Brady’s suspension was originally overturned in early September of 2015.)
An even better example might be 2010, when Vegas pinned the Pats at 9.5 wins heading into the 2010 season after the shaky 2009 Pats season. That line was somewhat defensible at the time because it did seem like Belichick didn’t have the same command of the locker room as he did during the Super Bowl years, but 9.5 wins for a team getting Tom Brady back for the 2nd year after his ACL tear? C’mon. At the very least, you’d think that Vegas would have learned their lesson after that debacle of a line and the Pats’ subsequent 14-2 season.
We love sports as a whole because of the unpredictability, but we love the Patriots because of their consistency and reliability. Patriots -350 to make the playoffs is as close to free money as you’ll get in sports. Don’t miss out on the opportunity.
Wow. In an offseason that was quiet for the Patriots so far, Bill Belichick dropped a bombshell today. Chandler Jones, the supposed cornerstone of New England’s front seven for at least the next half decade, has been traded to the Arizona Cardinals for G Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 2nd round draft pick.
While my initial reaction was “What the hell?! Chandler Jones is an animal!,” it’s easy to see what Bill Belichick was thinking here. He realized that Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Jamie Collins, and Jabaal Sheard all have contracts that expire after the 2016 season. While it was expected that Jones and Hightower would sign extensions this spring that would decrease their 2016 cap hits, BB obviously felt that he wouldn’t be able to retain all of his young studs. Instead of risking losing Chandler for nothing except a compensatory pick at the end of the 3rd round in 2017, Belichick decided it would be best to gain an offensive guard with some upside, a late 2nd round pick, and $5.40 million in cap space (Jones’ cap hit minus Cooper’s).
I get it. In fact, if you don’t get why Belichick pulled the trigger, then you haven’t been following the Patriots very closely over the past 16 years. I have no complaints about the trade… but I do have a concern. The Patriots clearly take a step back for the 2016 season because of this trade, and that is admittedly a very hard pill to swallow. The Pats are the AFC favorites due to the fact that the Broncos have lost their QB and an awesome pass rusher. It hurts to see them lose a defensive end who had 12.5 sacks last year, just turned 26, and shares many of the same genes as this dude. It’s nearly impossible for the Pats to replace the value of Jones for the 2016 season with a rookie 2nd round pick and whoever they get with the extra $5.4M.
However, despite everything I just said, these are the kinds of trades that make the Patriots the best. Tom Brady and his avocado ice cream diet still have a few more years at an elite level, and this move should signal that Bill Belichick expects the Patriots to be a force long after the 2016 season. Also, Chris Long is visiting the Patriots today, and they can replace at least 80-90% of Jones this season on the defensive line through Sheard, Ninkovich, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, and someone like Long.
Let’s pretend that Bill Belichick gave a damn about the approval of anyone else when he makes a transaction. If he did, then I would give him my blessing on this trade, as much as it sucks to see Chandler Jones leave in a year when they’re probably the favorites to win it all.. If I didn’t approve this trade, it would mean that I wasn’t a full supporter of the dynasty that Bill Belichick has built over the past decade and a half. These are the kinds of trades that he makes, and it’s a move that few others would pull off. But that’s why he’s the best.
Right after I wrote that the Bruins’ biggest mistake over the years has been hedging their bets when making transactions, Bill Belichick proved why he’s the best by going 100% in one direction. It wouldn’t make much sense to release just LaFell or Chandler, a suggestion that I’ve seen recently among Boston sports fans and media. You either keep them both or release them both. Belichick decided on the latter.
I wouldn’t have minded if BB had kept both Chandler and Jojo, because they’re both capable wide receivers who wouldn’t have cost the Pats that much for the 2016 season. The difference between keeping and cutting LaFell was $2.6 million, although it’s really about $3.1 million for the 2016 season because the Pats can designate him as a post June 1 release, cutting in half his dead cap number and spreading it out over 2016 and 2017. For Chandler, that number was $2 million and $2.5M in 2016 with the post June 1 trick.
The Patriots just boosted their cap space number up to about $18 million, which is huge for the extensions that they want to offer to Hightower, Jones, Collins, Butler, and maybe Ryan. The extensions for Collins, Butler, and Ryan would increase their cap hits, and the Pats still need money left over for their draft picks and free agent signings, which is why BB decided to move on from 19 and 88.
If Belichick had decided that they were worth the extra money, then I’d be ok with it. LaFell could easily return to 2014 form, and I could see Chander being worth just $2 million if he made a few more catches, few more few blocks, and a few less drops. Since Belichick cut them, though, it’s clear that he decided that he could get 75% of the players for 25% of the cost. That’s the mentality that has made Belichick the greatest team builder of all time, and that’s the reason that they’re contending year after year with the youngest roster in the league despite having a soon to be 39 year old quarterback. I look forward to the sleeper tight end that Belichick drafts in the 4th round and the free agent wide receiver that he picks up in 2 weeks.
Trivia question: Over the past 5 seasons, how many regular season games has Marques Colston missed due to injury?
The answer: 18, more than a full season’s worth.
Just kidding. The real answer is 9, only half of the number I said. But while you might have been a little surprised with 18, you believed it, didn’t you? That’s my point about the Saints’ all time leading receiver, whom New Orleans officially released yesterday. Colston and his durability has gotten a horrible rap in recent years, and his stock is lower than it deserves to be.
Don’t get me wrong, Marques Colston has slipped in recent years. After putting up 1000 yards in 6 of his first 7 seasons, he has had 943, 902, and 520 in the past 3 campaigns. That’s a significant dropoff, but I’m not willing to say that he’s over the hill yet. He’ll turn 33 in June, and while 33 is old for an NFL player, it’s not too old for a wide receiver to be productive.
Part of Colston’s decline has juxtaposed the Saints’ and Drew Brees’ decline at the same time, as neither the Saints organization nor Brees are anything close to what they were a half decade ago. It seems to me that Colston’s waning stock among football fans and analysts has a lot to do with the Saints’ recession, as fans and media always overrate players on winning teams and underrate players on losing teams.
Looking ahead, what would be the best way for Marques Colston to boost his stock going forward? Well, if Colston has no faith left in his own abilities, then he should sign with whichever team gives him the most guaranteed money. I wouldn’t blame him one bit for doing so, especially since he signed a relatively light contract of 5 years $40 million in 2012 when he was a true number 1 receiver.
If Colston thinks that he still has a few quality years left in the tank, however, he would be smart to sign on with a team who gets a ton of media attention, work his butt off to play as many games as possible to undo his label of not being durable, and parlay a good season into a real payday next year.
The Patriots would be the best possible situation for Colston if he chooses the latter option for a variety of reasons. First, the Patriots get a ton of media attention, and his name will be said somewhere between 234995 and 2345836457854751234543543 times on ESPN and NFL Network over the next 6 months if he signs in New England. Second, he’ll play with Tom Brady, and rumor has it that receivers tend to look pretty good when they play with Tom Brady. Third, Sean Payton is probably the closest thing to Bill Belichick among the other coaches in the NFL, although I just disgusted myself by comparing a mortal human being to The Hooded One. And oh yeah, fourth, Colston could win a Super Bowl.
I’m not saying that Marques Colston is an idiot if he doesn’t sign with the Patriots. An athlete has every right to do what he wants with his living, and if Colston doesn’t want to sign in Foxboro, he doesn’t have to. Maybe there’s a system or a quarterback that he feels more comfortable with, maybe he wouldn’t want the media attention that would come with playing for the team that everyone hates, and maybe he simply wants to maximize his financial earnings. But if his priorities are to boost his stock as much as possible in order to strike gold in March of 2017, then I don’t see a situation that makes more sense than New England for a year.
A staple of the New England Patriots linebacking core since 2008, Jerod Mayo has decided to hang up his cleats. Mayo announced via Instragram that he and his wife had decided that it was time to move on in life, and Patriots fans should be just as thankful to Mayo for his 8 years of service as he said he was to Patriot Nation.
For the past couple seasons, Mayo has been much closer to a role player than the defensive star that he used to be. Given all the firepower on the Pats’ defense today, it may be difficult for you to remember that Mayo was one of the only good players on that side of the ball for the Pats for a few years. On the 2011 team that made a run to the Super Bowl despite the 30th ranked defense according to DVOA, Mayo and Vince Wilfork were the only great players on defense. Devin McCourty had an off year, and the only reason that Sterling Moore became an AFC Championship Game hero was that the Pats were starting Sterling freaking Moore on defense.
After he went down against Cincinnati in October 2013, Mayo turned into a shell of his former self. He missed the majority of the season again in 2014 after suffering yet another October injury, and it wasn’t a good sign that people were saying by the end of the Pats Super Bowl season, “The Patriots have only had Ridley and Mayo suffer season ending injuries among their significant players, and that’s not bad at all!”
In 2015, Mayo played every game up until the AFC Championship game, but he was the clear afterthought of a linebacking core that included Hightower, Collins, and Freeney. When even Freeney seemed to be a better option thatn Mayo, or at least 90% of the player for 10% of the cost, the writing was on the wall for Mayo. He wasn’t gonna return for the 2016 season unless he took a MASSIVE paycut. It seemed obvious that the Pats would cut Mayo and his $11.4 million cap hit, thereby only being stuck with a dead cap hit of $4.4 million that could be spread out over 2 years. Mayo would sign a higher contract with some dumb team who would overpay him for his twilight years. There would be no hard feelings with his departure, but Bill Belichick isn’t dumb enough to pay a guy based on name alone.
Instead, Mayo added to the reasons that Pats fans should love him. He decided to retire, which saves New England the $4.4M in dead cap money. The $4.4M sum may not seem like a lot because every important free agent will cost much more, but it means a ton to a team that will see Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Malcolm Butler hit free agency next March. Jones and Hightower will probably sign extensions that will lower their 2016 cap hits, but now Belichick can use some of that $4.4M to work in an extension for Butler, for instance, that would raise his 2016 cap hit but keep the 2017 cap hit lower than expected.
Mayo’s departure is a blessing for the Pats. He was going to leave anyway barring a giant and unexpected paycut, and now BB has more room to work with. Mayo’s tenure with the Patriots had many bright spots, and it’s only fitting that his retirement is yet another one for number 51.
The Patriots are the best team in the league, and we all know it. They’re my pick to win the Super Bowl this year, and I’m guessing that they’re your pick, too. But if 2005 through 2013 taught us anything, it’s that different teams can get hot for one game and knock off the Pats.
Since it’s impossible not to look ahead as a Pats fan given how they’re doing this season, let’s look ahead and try to determine which teams could give New England the most trouble, either AFC teams in the Divisional or Conference Round of the playoffs or NFC teams in the Super Bowl.
We have to understand the kinds of teams that beat the pats from 05 to 13, also known as the Drought Years. Here is a list of the teams that knocked off the Pats and their head coaches, as well as their DVOA rankings that season on offense and defense.
2005: Denver Broncos — Head Coach: Mike Shanahan — Offense DVOA Rank — 2. Defense DVOA Rank: 9 Overall: 2
2006: Indianapolis Colts — Tony Dungy — Offense: 1 — Defense: 25 — Overall: 7
2007 New York Giants — Tom Coughlin — Offense: 18 — Defense: 13 — Overall: 14
2008: Bernard Pollard. Screw Bernard Pollard.
2009: Baltimore Ravens — John Harbaugh — Offense: 9 — Defense: 4 — Overall: 1
2010: New York Jets — Rex Ryan — Offense: 16 — Defense: 5 — Overall: 6
2011: New York Giants — Tom Coughlin — Offense: 7 — Defense: 19: Overall: 12
2012: Baltimore Ravens — John Harbaugh — Offense: 13 — Defense: 19 — Overall 8
2013: Denver Broncos — John Fox — Offense: 1 — Defense: 15 — Overall: 2
What should stand out first is the two losses to the New York Giants that caused us all severe insomnia countless times right up until Malcolm Butler’s interception. In the 8 playoff losses that the Pats suffered between beating the Eagles and the Seahawks, there were only 2 teams that beat the Pats ranked in the double digits of overall DVOA. They were both of the Giants, which backs up the narrative that we’ve always had about those teams: They got hot for a total of 2 months — December and January — in each season, and they rode those hot streaks to 2 agonizing victories (and 2 impossible catches) over the Pats.
After that, though, there isn’t much of a pattern. The 06 Colts, 11 Giants, and 13 Broncos were all significantly better offensively than defensively, while the 10 Jets were the only ones significantly better on defense according to DVOA itself, but I think it’s fair to include the 2007 Giants in that category given how ferocious their defensive line was by the Super Bowl. Both the 05 Broncos and the pair of Ravens teams were pretty balanced, especially because they were ranked 8th in special teams DVOA in 2009 and 1st in 2012. (On another note, I completely forgot how good that 09 Ravens team was. That has to be one of the all worst 6 seeds for a 3rd seeded team to face.)
Since 2005, we’ve heard the idea that the Pats get shut down in the playoffs when they can’t score against a top quality defense. New England supposedly has lost in January and February since 2005 in part because their team has been better on offense than defense, while that was the opposite in 2001, 2003, and 2004. To some degree, that narrative is fair, because the Pats have scored less in their playoff losses than they normally do, and 2014 was the first time that the Pats had an awesome secondary since 2004, and look how that worked out.
But that’s not as true as we’ve heard. In 2006, they put up 34 when Jabar Gaffney was their number 1 receiver, and they lost because Peyton wore out the overmatched New England defense. In 2011, the offense did move the ball against the Giants for a good part of the game, with Brady even setting the record for most consecutive completions. But they only put up 17 in part because of the mediocre Brady throw/Welker drop late in the game and because of Gronk’s injury. Gronk’s injury, and the injuries to what seemed like half the team, was also a big part of the Pats only scoring 16 points on the Broncos in 2013. You could say that it’s unfair to include the Gronk injury as a reason that they didn’t score much, but this column is meant to be a sign of what could happen in the future, and we all know that the Pats’ offensive production and Super Bowl chances will take a humongous hit if Gronk suffers another season ending injury.
There is, however, an unequivocal theme that great defensive lines can beat the Pats in the playoffs, but the correlation only holds strong for the pass rushers specifically. The Giants’ 2 teams, Ravens’ 2 teams, and Jets all showed that getting pressure on Brady is the best way to knock New England out of the postseason. Whether it be Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Calvin Pace, or Shaun Ellis, great pass rushers are Brady’s kryptonite in the playoffs. But don’t confuse great pass rushers with great run stoppers or a great secondary. The Pats beat the Ravens last January with 8 — count them, EIGHT — rushing yards all game, and they beat the Seahawks when their lead running back had 40 yards on 14 carries. Antowain Smith was no threat to anybody in 2003, and neither was Laurence Maroney in the historical 2007 season. Except for when they’re playing the mental midget Colts and their swiss cheese run defense, the Pats have never won a playoff game by simply running all over the opposition. With regards to the secondary, remember that Tom Brady just torched one of the best secondaries of all time for 328 yards on 37-50 attempts and with 5 drives that made it to the red zone. And the MVP of the first 3 quarters of the game was not Brady, Gronk, Russell Wilson, Chris Matthews, or anyone in the Seattle secondary. It was Michael Bennett, who was having one of the best games that I’ve ever seen a pass rusher play until Brady and McDaniels finally wore him down with over 70 plays from scrimmage and almost 34 minutes of possession.
Beyond that, the teams that have beaten the Pats have been able to do what they were best at the whole year. The 06 Colts and 13 Broncos, Peyton’s 2 teams, were the best offensive teams in the league and put up 38 and 26 points, respectively, on the Pats. (The Broncos only went 2-4 on red zone trips and clearly should have done better, indicating that their offense was way more potent that day than 26 points suggests.) The 10 Jets were exactly the kind of defense that the organization wanted when they hired Rex. Outside of those teams, the 07 and 11 Giants got hot and had a great pass rush like I said before, and the other teams were just that damn good. The 05 Broncos and 09 Ravens were incredibly balanced and ranked 2 and 1 in DVOA, respectively. And the 2012 Ravens had the ability to play above themselves in January, and they had the one intangible that very few teams have when coming into Foxboro in the playoffs but every team needs: Balls. The Ravens weren’t afraid to come into the House that Brady Built and take on the Pats, and they proved it with an incredibly 2nd half.
So how does that relate to this year? Well, first, anyone who’s writing off the Broncos because of Peyton’s arm strength is a moron. They have maybe the best pass rushing combination in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, and Aqib Talib and Chris Harris will be there to collect any rushed throws that Brady makes because of the pass rush. With Nate Solder out for the season, we have to be very worried about another great pass rush taking the Brady Bunch down.
I’m not worried in the slightest about the Colts, because, as we’re gonna see this Sunday, they don’t have the balls that they’ll need to beat the Pats, and their front 7 can’t do anything against New England. The Ravens doesn’t worry me much anymore, because the Joe Flacco – Torrey Smith combination was awesome against the Pats and Terrell Suggs is out. (Then again, they won’t make the playoffs anyway after starting 1-4.) The Steelers worry me because Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown could easily repeat what the 06 Colts or 13 Broncos did with their amazing offenses. The Bengals also worry me with their 2nd ranked offense and 14th ranked defense. I was very worried about the Chiefs before Jamaal Charles went down and they fell to 1-4, because Justin Houson and Tamba Hali could eat Brady and his injured O-Line alive. Finally, the Jets definitely concern me, and any Pats fan who says they don’t is lying. Their defense is ranked 2nd right now, and their pass rushers are exactly what Brady doesn’t need, so let’s pray that they miss the playoffs like the good old Jets that they are. After that, nobody scares me in the AFC, so let’s hope that the 4 seed Colts knock off the 5 seed Steelers and the 6 seed Bills/Chargers defeat the 3 seed Bengals/Broncos.
In the NFC, obviously the Packers are scary because Aaron Rodgers could take advantage of the Pats’ weak cornerbacks, and people don’t realize that their defense is actually rated better than their offense, 4th on defense vs. 5th on offense. The Cardinals probably worry me the most, though, because both their offense and defense are ranked 3rd and they’re coached by a guy who can actually manage the clock and his challenge clafs in the same league as Belichick, unlike Mike McCarthy. The Seahawks could definitely beat the Pats, as their biggest weakness for the first quarter and a half of Super Bowl 49 was getting open against a Patriots secondary group that no longer exists. But they don’t scare me like the Cardinals or Packers, at least not until Marshawn Lynch or their O-Line looks anything remotely like what they looked like the past 2 years. The Panthers don’t scare me much, and I doubt they will make the Super Bowl. The Rams would scare me, but they also won’t make the Super Bowl. Finally, with the NFC East, the Eagles aren’t much of a threat, because Chip Kelly is trying to be the new Bill Belichick, but Bill Belichick is the real Bill Belichick. The Cowboys, if healthy, are actually pretty frightening, because of the Greg Hardy addition and their offensive potential. And the Giants don’t worry me like 2007 or 2011 because their pass rush is horrendous now, but Odell Beckham Jr. could go off. Belichick is a genius at taking away a team’s number 1 option, but they’re the Giants, so they’re the only team who could finish outside the top 10 in DVOA (excluding injuries) and still have a legitimate chance at beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl, because, ya know, they’re the Giants.
Devin McCourty will be in a Patriots uniform for the 2015 season, even though he called Bill Belichick to say good bye and thanks for the memories. At that point, the Pats decided to up the ante and at least come close to the offer that McCourty was about to accept with another team, and the Rutgers product knew what the right decision was: to stay in Foxboro.
Now, no matter what happens with Darrelle Revis, the Pats will have a secondary that we can still feel comfortable about. With Patrick Chung playing better this past year then he did in his first stint with the team, Brandon Browner being a better CB than the team has had in awhile other than Revis and Aqib Talib, McCourtey coming back, and Malcolm Butler on his way to being the best defensive back of all time, the Pats can roll with the punches.
McCourty’s contract is much higher than the Pats have ever paid for a safety. Even when the team had Rodney Harrison, they only paid him pennies because the Chargers had just released the guy who went on to have 2 of the best years a safety has ever had for the Pats. DMac will get $47.5 million, $28.5 million of it guaranteed, and roughly $9.5 million per year is no small sum for a safety in today’s market. Cornerbacks usually get the money, safeties don’t. This puts McCourty right up there with Earl Thomas’ $10 million per year value.
This story is so cool all the way around. McCourty was about to leave, but when Belichick matched the offer, he knew that he was going to stay. And Bill Belichick, one of the coldest businessman to run a sports franchise, was convinced by a phone call to say, “You know what? Screw it. This guy is so valuable to us.” Both sides knew they couldn’t leave each other, so they didn’t.
We also have yet another reason that the Super Bowl win in the desert was huge for the team, regardless of the incredibly obvious positive result of winning the freaking Super Bowl. Do you really think that DMac’s heartstrings would be pulled as much if the Pats hadn’t won? He thanked Belichick for his 5 years, and his 5 years would not have been as positive without that win. It also may be another reason that Revis hopefully decides to pass up more money with other teams and come back to the only organization that has rewarded his talent with a Super Bowl win.
Welcome back, Devin McCourty. Look forward to seeing more unbelievable plays like this one where he read Joe Flacco’s eyes like a book.
As I just wrote, we were wrong for doubting that Bill Belichick had a plan for not calling a timeout before the Malcolm Butler interception. And as Bill Simmons wrote, the play is probably Belichick’s signature moment. But I couldn’t stop thinking about one other time when BB made a decision that no one liked but he was proven to be right. It wasn’t a Super Bowl, and it wasn’t nearly as memorable, of course, but it was pretty close to as ballsy as this one.
It came during a very important Monday Night Football game right after Halloween in 2003, when the Pats were playing in Denver, a place that has not been that nice to them during the Belichick era.
The Pats were down 1, and they had a 4th and 10 on their own 1 yard line after an awesome punt from Denver and 3 straight incompletions. Belichick knew that punt would likely get blocked, resulting in a touchdown that would put Denver up by probably 8 points if they took the extra point. Instead, he decided to do what few coaches would have done in 2003, when football coaches were a lot more conservative than they are now.
He took a safety. He had long snapper Lonnie Paxton snap the ball way over Ken Walter’s head, meaning that the Broncos would get 2 points, and the Pats would get 30 crucial yards of field position when Walter punted. The Pats then got the ball back down 3, only needing a field goal to tie, as Belichick had perfectly calculated. It worked even more perfectly than that, with Brady driving the team down for the game winning touchdown in a thriller that would be part of the team’s 21 game win streak between 2003 and 2004.
What made the decision so great is that it was so obvious when Belichick did it, but no one saw it coming beforehand. That’s the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Bill Belichick, which might show just how great he is. We expect mind boggling decisions and think nothing of it.