Patriots' Defensive Numbers Misleading

By Bobby Fausett

Seven times the Brady-Belichick alliance has made it to the Super Bowl; a true dynasty. However, the question remains, can they win their 5th? Vegas believes so. The Patriots have been favored by 3 points the entire two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. With the Falcons’ offense clicking on all cylinders, the Falcons’ special teams having the upper hand, Vegas must be giving the unbreakable bond between head coach and quarterback far more credit for the Patriots than they do the synergy created by Matt Ryan and Dan Quinn…well, that and the defense.

By the numbers, when considering total yards given up, the Patriots ranked 8th during the regular season while Atlanta ranked 25th. Upper hand Patriots. When considering points scored against, the Patriots ranked 1st while the Falcons ranked a measly 27th. Upper hand Patriots. When taken with the fact that the Patriots ranked 3rd in points scored, to Atlanta’s number one, the defensive difference is hard to look past. After all, the two places that separate the teams in offensive ranking could never overtake a difference of 26 in defensive ranking, right? Especially when “defense wins championships.” While heavy credence is given to the Brady-Belichick tandem, it’s hard to believe that the main reason Vegas favors the Patriots is not in the stats. Other than defensive prowess, there are no stats that the Patriots hold over the Falcons that would overcome what we have seen this season to be an unstoppable Falcons’ offense. But, in looking at it, these defensive stats may also be overstated.

It turns out, the defensive juggernaut that is the Patriots may have had some help. No, I’m not claiming another Deflategate, and I’m certainly not suggesting any malfeasance on the part of the league. It just so happened to work out that the Patriots played the most abysmal offenses anyone could have possibly dreamt up for them this year.

What would you say to having your team play the worst team in the league when it comes to yards per game? I’d say that’d be pretty nice. How about you throw in the 2nd worst team as well? And the 3rd? Toss in the 4th too. In fact, the Patriots played the worst, 2nd worst, 3rd worst, 4th worst, 6th worst, 7th worst and 9th worst offenses in the league based on number of yards per game (similar numbers are found for points scored for these offenses). Oh, and then they played the 7th and 9th worst offenses again, one of those without the opposing starting quarterback (Tannehill was out for the season due to a sprained MCL and ACL). That is more than half of their games played against offenses in the bottom ten of the league.

This would make any defense look good, but then you attempt to justify that they had to have played some tough teams too, so you look at who they played from the top ten in offensive yards in the league and an even clearer picture is provided. Only two of their sixteen games came against teams in the top ten. Further still, the Patriots’ highest ranked offensive opponent by yards, the 7th ranked Steelers, had Ben Roethlisberger out after having surgery for a torn meniscus. The other team in the top ten was the first game of the season versus Arizona, who ranked 9th in the category.

The fact that the Patriots gave up the fewest points on the season is a testament to the fortitude of the defense. It is tough, however, to ignore how awful the level of competition the Patriots’ defense endured throughout the season.

The Falcons, on the other hand, faced only three opponents in the bottom ten of the league when it came to offensive yards per game, and played five games versus top ten teams; including the number one team twice (the New Orleans Saints). I wouldn’t count on this statistic alone completely closing the gap for Atlanta, but at least this should provide fans with the hope that we might see a Super Bowl we shall not soon forget.