Let me start by saying that I am in no way complaining. I’d take a boring 2016 season over a thrilling 2013 or 2015 season any day. But it’s impossible to argue that this Pats season was an awesome one to witness.
Since Week 17 ended, I’ve been looking for Pats 2016 season highlights everywhere I can find them. And I’ve watched the NFL highlights of all 18 Pats games this year, which have gotten better since the NFL took out the narration of Rich Eisen and made more room for more plays in the highlight package. (No offense to Eisen, who’s a beast.)
What I’ve found is there really weren’t any awesome Pats wins this year. The best game of the year was the Seattle game, which loses a lot of luster as a Pats fan because of the final result.
Every other game that was supposed to be a huge game for the Patriots simply did not live up to the hype. The Week 15 game in Denver flat out sucked, and in November we were all looking ahead to that game as one of the most important of the season. Week 7 in Pittsburgh wasn’t great because of Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, and the previous week against the Bengals, Brady’s first home game of the season, didn’t deliver because the Bengals didn’t deliver all year. Week 3 against the Texans was supposed to be a close game to the point that the Texans were actually favored in Foxboro, but Jacoby Brisset and the Pats didn’t give a shit about your stupid Las Vegas lines. The Week 14 Monday Night game vs. the Ravens was a decent one, but only because the Pats almost threw the game away.
The Patriots had 5 regular season games against playoff teams this year, and 4 were against the Dolphins, Texans, or Roethlisberger-less Steelers. And they lost the 5th. Meanwhile, the Pats played 6 games against the Jets, Browns, Bengals, 49ers, and Rams.
Lastly, the Pats’ duo of playoff games have sucked in terms of entertainment. One of them was supposed to suck, and it did its job of sucking because Brock Osweiler is a joke. The AFC Championship game, however, wasn’t supposed to be a joke, but the 2nd half of the game was almost as lopsided as the 2nd half against the Colts in the AFCCG two years ago. If you don’t remember that game, it was the one when the Pats cheated their way with deflated footballs to a 17-7 halftime lead, and then won the 2nd half 28-0 with properly inflated balls. Roger Goodell can go fuck himself.
The most entertaining game of the season for the Pats, surprisingly, was the opening night game in the desert. The Pats beat the Cardinals on a missed field goal with under a minute to go, and it’s the only game where I feel my heart rate rise a beat or two when watching highlights. The fact that Al Michaels was calling that game only helps matters.
The Cardinals game featured lead changes, late-game drama, and all around good football. There are two problems, though. First, the Cardinals finished 7-8-1 and missed the playoffs, and it’s always more fun in hindsight to look back on games in which the Pats beat a playoff team. Oh, and the second problem is that there was no Tom Brady.
So there it is: The most entertaining game of the Pats season was in Week 1 against a non-playoff team without Tom Brady.
During the past 7 seasons in which the Pats have earned 1st round byes, 2016 was easily the most boring year. The 2009 season was infuriating, but it wasn’t boring. It still featured the awesome comeback win in Week 1 vs. the Bills and the 4th-and-2 game against the Colts, and people forget that, through the first 3 quarters of that game, the Pats were probably the best team in the NFL at 6-2 and on their way to 7-2.
The 2001, 2003, and 2007 seasons were not boring in the slightest, and 2004 had enough drama to beat out 2016. The 2002 and 2005 seasons weren’t boring at all, as the Pats were defending the first title in ’02 and defending back-to-back titles in ’05, neither of which we had ever happened before in Foxboro. The 2006 season may have been just as boring when it comes to the regular season, but the Chargers game in the playoffs and the subsequent loss to the Colts ensure that 2006 wasn’t as boring as this year.
That leaves 2008, which takes the cake only because Brady was out the whole year. Among normal years, though, 2016 was the least entertaining season the Pats have had since they started crushing the league. The good news, though, is that nobody in the 5.5 states of New England will care how boring it was if the Patriots make the Falcons their latest victim.
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.
According to Adam Schefter, Jimmy Garoppolo is unable to play today and Jacoby Brissett will get his 2nd NFL start.
Gotta say, I’m surprised that Jimmy G isn’t going. It seems like he’s able to throw the ball well enough on short passing plays, which is what the Pats offense does best. And even if he re-injured himself today and was unable to play for the next 4-6 weeks or so, who cares? TB12 is back after this, so I’m surprised that Garoppolo didn’t force his way into the lineup.
Actually, I’d bet that Garoppolo tried to do exactly that but was shut down by Belichick and the medical staff. Garoppolo knows that this would likely be his last time playing this year outside of garbage time. Alas, he’s sitting out. Belichick has seen 2 quarterbacks get dinged up in the first 3 weeks of the season, and he wants to make sure he has the best backup QB in the league available in case the same fate happens to Brady.
Also, I’d bet that Belichick has Garoppolo’s trade value somewhere in the back of his head when the Pats made their inactives decisions today. Garoppolo currently has 6 amazing quarters under his belt this season, and his value is at an all time high. If he struggled today, regardless of his injury, his value might drop. Bill always has that next level thinking.
When it comes to today’s game against the Bills, Belichick is probably signaling that the deep ball will be important to the Pats’ offense today. Garoppolo’s arm strength would have been a major question, and Rex Ryan would have taken advantage of that by tempting Jimmy G to throw the long ball.
The Bills are 22nd in the league in passing yards given up per game, and giving them the ability to forgo defending the long ball is an advantage that they need not have. Brissett may not have 2 perfect thumbs today, but at least there’s the chance of him throwing deep.
Regardless, it’s just 1 more week until we get the GOAT back. Happy Sunday.
2016 IS HERE! LET’S GO!!!!!
Ever since that damn 2 point conversion, we’ve been waiting for this day. The Pats are back, and that void in our lives has been filled.
Let’s be honest, though. We’re a little nervous about the 2016 season, at least compared to previous years. With the team that New England has this year, the Pats should have an automatic top 2 seed before the season even starts. They started out 10-0 last year, earned the #2 seed, and would have had homefield advantage throughout had it not been for injuries and a dumb decision to lay down in Week 17. Their only real loss from the team was Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, and co. should be able to serve as decent enough replacements for the synthetic pothead.
But this year doesn’t look too good out of the gate. Brady is out for 4 games, and Gronk is out at least tonight. My gut tells me that Gronk will miss at least 2 more games, because it wasn’t like it was a gametime decision for him not to play today, as we heard the news yesterday. That makes a Week 2 comeback unlikely, and week 3 is on a Thursday night after a short week.
As far as Brady’s B.S. suspension goes, I think there’s a higher potential for disaster in Garoppolo’s first 4 starts than most Pats fans do, especially without Gronk. Pats fans point to the fact that the team’s next 3 games after tonight’s are all at home, but they conveniently overlook the fact that the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills collectively make up a fearsome foursome of defensive lines. Both before and after the severity of Gronk’s hamstring injury came to light, I thought that a 2-2 record through the first 4 was most likely. Before Gronk’s injury, I thought that 3-1 was more probable than 1-3. Now, though, 1-3 feels more likely than 3-1.
A 1-3 start would be rough for the Patriots, but not because it would put their playoff chances in doubt. After all, I’m the guy who just wrote that it’s insane that the Pats are only -350 to make the postseason.
What should worry you, though, is the Pats’ seed in the playoffs. They’ve never made a Super Bowl without having a 1st round bye. They could easily make the Big Game from a 3 or 4 seed, but Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and especially Denver, as I wrote last year, represent very difficult places to play in January.
Still though, New England is the most likely AFC team to earn the top seed and make the Super Bowl. Denver’s defense simply can’t repeat itself from last year, as elite defense is more volative year to year. They also lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan.
Kansas City is going to be a tough, ballsy team this year, and I’m glad that the Pats don’t face them in the regular season. But I just can’t bet on an Alex Smith team to beat a Tom Brady team to the top seed. And let’s stop the “If Pittsburgh can get healthy” talk. Ben Roethlisberger is always prone to missing a few games, Maurkice Pouncey is always prone to missing the whole season, and Le’Veon Bell is out for at least 3 games and maybe more if the injury big hits him again.
The Pats may stumble out of the gate thanks to Roger Goodell’s sliminess and the NFLPA allowing the NFL to run their lives during the last CBA, but this season might wind up being the opposite of 2015: Start out slow, go on a run when Brady and Gronk are both back, and be healthy late in the year rather than early in the year. If the Pats can earn the top seed or even the 2 seed after missing Brady for 4 games and Gronk for a few to start the season, everyone will be talking about how they’re the best team heading into the playoffs.
What else is new?
Garoppolo goes 2-2, but the Pats have a point differential of -15 in those 4 games, leading everyone to worry if something is truly wrong with the Pats. Brady and Gronk come back and right the ship, and the Pats have decent injury luck throughout the rest of the year. They finish 12-4 and earn the top seed because the AFC doesn’t have many elite teams. They’ll make the Super Bowl and face the Packers in a Brady-Rodgers showdown, and ultimately Brady will come out on top.
It’s not biased if they truly are the best team. Can you honestly tell me anyone else is better? God, it’s good to live in New England.
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.
No, that headline was not meant to be clickbait or to give Patriots fans a distraction to the franchise’s best player getting suspended for a quarter of the season. It’s the truth. The NFL Players’ Association took a humongous hit today, and I hope that they have the backbone to admit how badly they screwed up.
Ever since a reporter for a huge sports media conglomerate and another from a newspaper based in the capital of Indiana, whose names and company names I refuse to write because it gives them the publicity that they so crave (it’s not like they are about journalistic integrity, after all), misreported facts about how the Patriots “cheated” during the AFC Championship Game, fans and media alike have overlooked the most far-reaching aspect of this case. The NFL Players’ Association gave Roger Goodell the power to be the judge and jury for these types of decisions, and they gave him so much power that an Appellate court in NYC decided that such power superceded actual science and fact. And while I’m upset with the Appellate Court, who apparently used the Wells Report in their decision despite the fact that every scientist who took a look at the report said it was BS, I’m far more upset with the NFLPA.
While Roger Goodell has significantly elevated his status of villain in the past 5 years, the players knew that he was an enemy before the 2011 lockout. It’s not breaking news that he’s an owner’s puppet who will gladly prioritize making the owners happy over morality and fairness. Therefore, why in the world would they agree to a CBA that allows Goodell to be the judge and jury? Actually, judge and jury isn’t a fair assessment. Goodell is essentially the police, prosecution, judge, and jury, and he was allowed to pay off the crime scene investigators (Wells) to prove exactly what he wanted to hear. That doesn’t seem like a fair system of justice, which makes it all the more baffling that the NFLPA would agree to such a statute.
The NFLPA just lost one of their best players for the first 4 games of the season, and what’s more, a United States Appellate Court just determined that they have to take each of Roger Goodell’s beatings on the chin, no matter how unfair they are. The NFLPA has to live with this statute for another 4 years until the CBA expires in 2020, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
I know this isn’t what you want to hear right now, but Tom Brady is to blame for this as well. It’s not just DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFLPA, who shoulders the blame for Brady’s suspension. Brady was a high ranking member of the NFLPA during the CBA negotiations in 2011, and while he wasn’t as high ranking as the name of the case, “Brady vs. NFL,” would suggest, he was certainly high enough that he deserves his fair share of blame for this. Players should never accept a statute like this. If a union is going to be in place, then a union should be able to have basic rights that allow its workers to operate as if they were living in, you know, America. When it comes to punishment, the NFLPA has no such rights, which is all the more evidence we need to know that the NFLPA is far more inferior than the players’ associations in other sports. One judge ruled that the commissioner’s ruling was unfair, and the higher court came along and said “Yeah, but they have the right to be that unfair, the NFLPA agreed to it.” That’s a problem, and it sucks for Patriots fans that Tom Brady is the one paying for it. Remember, though, Tom Brady shares the blame in this one, and I’ll bet you THAT’S what is going to cause him a sleepless night tonight — not footballs that were never actually underinflated.
Well, it happened. We knew this would be possible, but wishful thinking combined with fatigue from Deflategate prevented us from truly understanding the possibility that Tom Brady would actually sit out 4 games due to suspension.
I don’t have to tell you that the decision is total BS, given that the judges used the Wells Report in their decision, and every major scientist from every major university who ran their own tests on this scenario found that science was not on Ted Wells’ side. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to matter to judges, who didn’t feel that it was their job to care about the facts of the case, but only to determine whether or not Roger Goodell could be this unfair. Apparently, he can.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely devastated. This ruling could hurt the Pats’ playoff seeding, which, as we learned a few months ago, is a huge deal with a potential trip to Denver looming. Denver has a very advantageous schedule this season, which makes this ruling hurt a little bit more. Having said that, better men than I have doubted the Brady/Belichick Patriots, and they’ve all been proven to be morons. I’m not gonna be a moron, and I hope that you won’t either.
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.
First, let me say that the reason that this recap has taken til Monday afternoon is only because I was at the game and couldn’t get adequate internet on the flight back. But I hope that I can provide some great analysis from the perspective of someone who was there.
And second, let me say that Seattle Seahawks fans really do deserve the credit they get as great fans. They made a neutral stadium in the 4th quarter louder than Gillette Stadium often is. And hell of a season for the Seahawks, even though I’m about to laugh at a few of them for having their trash talking get blown up in their face.
I’m going to start by talking about the two pillars of the past 15 years, because where else would we start? There are not many QBs who could do what Tom Brady did last night, throwing 2 horrible picks and then leading his team on 2 perfect, beautiful, backbreaking drives with under 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter against one of the best defenses ever. That’s incredibly difficult even when your team has a legitimate running game, but the Pats had no such thing in the 2nd half last night, making Brady’s accomplishment nearly impossible.
What I’m struggling with is how much to factor those 2 interceptions into the overall evaluation of Brady’s performance last night. The 1st one was down right horrendous, and the 2nd one was merely bad. Those 2 picks more than anything else are the best example possible of why this is not the Tom Brady of old anymore. Remember his game ending pick in the 2006 AFC Championship Game? Remember how much of a shock that was, because Tom Brady wasn’t supposed to throw picks in big games at big times? And that was with a receiving corp of Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, old Troy Brown, and rookie Chad Jackson. Nowadays, Brady throws 4 picks in 3 playoff games, all of which are 100% his fault. When you think of it like that, I don’t think there’s any way we can’t hold it against him.
The 2007 vs. Jacksonville or 2011 vs. Denver Tom Brady are both gone, but 2014 Tom Brady vs. the best defense in the league is pretty damn good. Think about the 5 drives that went the length of the field, including the 4 TDs and the early one with the 1st quarter pick. As much of a cliche as it sounds like, I’m a believer in the feeling/atmosphere that a player can give the people in the stadium, and it was evident in University of Phoenix Stadium that we were watching a craftsman at work. The Seattle Seahawks usually play the same zone and just dare an offense to beat them, and the only way to beat it is to find the holes with a precise quarterback and a bunch of shifty receivers. The shifty receivers with the underneath routes are also the only way to open up passing plays down the field against the Hawks, a la the Rob Gronkowski touchdown. Brady is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who could do that, albeit with the 2 INTs.
And Belichick is the best coach of all time, but last night was an off night, at least by his relative terms. He made the right move by benching Kyle Arrington for Malcolm Butler (!!!!!!), but the fact that Chris “Hardball” Matthews got the better of the Pats defense up until Brandon Browner asked to be put on him doesn’t speak well for Belichick. With 2 weeks to prepare, you’d expect The Hooded One to be ready for that, but Pete Carroll is a damn good coach, too, and Carroll seemed to beat BB there.
The famous final minute of the Super Bowl saw both coaches make horrible mistakes, but Belichick got bailed out by his 5th string cornerback, while Carroll got let down by his 3rd string receiver (Locklear letting Butler beat him to the ball). The fact that Belichick didn’t call a time out is indefensible in my opinion, because there is no reason to hold the 2 timeouts until after 2nd and 3rd down, as BB suggested he was doing. I’d rather have a minute and 1 TO than 20 seconds and 2. Even if the Seahawks purposefully wasted a play to keep the clock running, burning another timeout there would be worth it. Forty second were worth way more than each timeout in that case, and it’s too bad that the best coach ever turned into Andy Reid during the final minute of the Super Bowl. Thank God that Belichick the GM bailed out Belichick the coach, as the former saved the latter by signing an undrafted rookie free agent named…
MALCOLM MOTHER@#$%^&* BUTLER
What a story. I know that we always talk too much about he heartwarming stories, which are a little overrated considering that NFL teams readily employ convicted wifebeaters and other kinds of scum left and right, but this one is legit. The dude was a Popeyes manager because he couldn’t make the grades to be a college athlete, and then decided that he wanted to do something better with his life, so he went to community college, transferred to Western Alabama, which I didn’t know existed until last night, and then wowed everyone in training camp when he got a shot. Butler told Sal Pal after the game that he felt that a loss would have been his fault, which shows you exactly how an undrafted rookie in the NFL thinks. He was only thrown into the game because another guy sucked even worse, and the biggest play of the game up until that point was one of the luckiest catches ever. It wouldn’t have been his fault, but I’m glad he thought that way. He said that he saw Wilson look his way right before the snap, so he knew what was coming, and he jumped the route for the biggest play of his career.
That right there is one of the biggest differences between the Patriots and everyone else for the past 14 years. When the Patriots target and pick on an overmatched guy like Tharold Simon, they succeed. Brady picked Simon apart, never throwing at Richard Sherman except for an opening 2 yard pass on the first play of the game. But when the Seahawks target the lowest CB on the depth chart, he reads Wilson’s eyes before the play and jumps the route. It’s good to be a Patriots fan.
I hope the O line gets the credit it deserves. By no means was it a brick wall, but the line held its own against the awesome combo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. While they also couldn’t block well for Blount in the final half, Brady had more time than many of us feared that he would have on Super Sunday. The O Line didn’t have a great game, but I hope they get at least some of the credit they deserve.
The secondary also didn’t have a great game, but they also won’t get the credit they deserve. Just like the Super Bowl in 2001, the Patriots didn’t blitz much, instead choosing to rely on their great secondary to handle the job. Darrelle Revis was Darrelle Revis, holding Dough Baldwin to just a 3 yard TD catch on a play where he was picked by the ref, and, frankly, the Seahawks were gonna score anyway. Devin McCourty and Pat Chung didn’t have any huge impact plays, but also didn’t have any gaffs, which is good enough for any DB. The only soft spot in the secondary was the Arringon/Butler spot, but I’m not gonna complain about that after the final interception.
Belichick didn’t have his guys blitz a ton, but they didn’t allow Russell Wilson to get too many rushing yards, which was a fear going into the game. Marshawn Lynch certainly had a day, but he also didn’t break the game wide open. I think that if you had told us beforehand that Lynch and Wilson would combine for 141 yards, we wouldn’t be happy with it, but we all knew that the Pats could still win the game with that total.
The front seven, and the secondary for that matter, get a TON of credit for holding the Seahawks on 2 drives when the Pats were down in the 2nd half. That was a key to the game that everyone will miss because it’s sexier to talk about Tom Brady. But the defense kept the team in the game, and the offense brought them back. And then the defense made the crucial final stop.
Vereen, LaFell, Gronkowski, Amendola
I’m putting these 4 together because that’s how the Patriots think of their receiving options: as a unit. This was vintage Brady and Patriots passing offense, when Brady ignored the name on the back of the jersey and just threw to whoever way open — or, more accurately, whoever Tharold Simon was covering. If it wasn’t for Demaryius Thomas’ unforgettable 13 catch performance last year, Vereen would have tied Deion Branch for the most reception in a Super Bowl with 11. Gronkowski was there exactly when and exactly however the Pats needed him whether it was a long play for a touchdown of a few important 3rd down conversions. LaFell stepped up when needed, especially on his touchdown catch, and Amendola came through in key moments as well. The Patriots receiving core was a unit, and that’s when it’s been at it’s best during the Brady-Belichick reign.
He gets his own section. Edelman was an absolute warrior last night, and he is the kind of guy that the Patriots would have during those 2001-2004 years that we remember fondly. It’s only appropriate that he would play such a key role and get the winning touchdown. He got absolutely rocked by Kam Chancellor on a play that absolutely should have been 15 yards for helmet to helmet, and I hope that people remember that play as a necessary one for Super Bowl number 4. On the play where Edelman got down to the 4 yard line, 2 plays before he connected with Brady for the go ahead score, you could see how hard it was for him to get to his feet. Didn’t matter — he came up when needed, and he will be remembered as the best receiver on the field in Super Bowl 49.
I’ll be writing more posts on Tom Brady, Malcolm Butler, Bill Belichick, Julian Edelman, Super Bowl 49 itself, and the Patriots Dynasty this week. After all, this one deserves multiple posts. But for now, that’s all, and it’s good to finally have the one we needed. So glad I was there.