The New England Patriots have been humming on all cylinders for the past three months. Is there any team out there that can stop us from auto-betting the Patriots with our postseason football picks?
Jason’s 2014-15 postseason record: 1-1 ATS, 0-1-1 Totals
The New England Patriots are the closest thing you get to a dynasty these days in the NFL. We’re in Year 14 of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Era, and while the Patriots haven’t won any Super Bowls over the past decade, they have won at least 10 regular-season games every single season during that span. The only time they missed the playoffs was in 2008, when Brady was injured and Matt Cassel took over at quarterback. That team went 11-5 (9-7 ATS).
Very nice. Still, each of the past nine seasons for the Patriots has ended with a loss. Even the best teams have to deal with the cold, hard reality of NFL football: It’s part skill, part luck. And the skill part of the equation has its limits. The league has a salary cap and other anti-competitive measures in place that prevent any one club from achieving total greatness. So what are New England’s weaknesses, and is there anyone out there who can exploit them fully enough to merit inclusion in our NFL picks?
Purple and Orange Morality
Let’s start this shindig by looking at which teams have eliminated the Patriots from the playoffs during the Belichick-Brady Era:
Denver Broncos (2005, 2013)
Indianapolis Colts (2006)
New York Giants (2007, 2011)
Baltimore Ravens (2009, 2012)
New York Jets (2010)
This is quite a grab-bag of teams. On one hand, you’ve got the guys that had Peyton Manning at quarterback: the 2006 Colts and the 2013 Broncos. Neither of those opponents had particularly strong defenses – especially the Colts – but they had the most efficient offenses in the league according to their regular-season DVOA stats at Football Outsiders. This year’s Broncos are No. 3 in offensive efficiency, so let’s go ahead and put them in the “Can Beat New England” bucket.
On the other hand, you’ve got the Baltimore Ravens, whom the Patriots will be playing this Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET, NBC) in the AFC Divisional Round. The Ravens are known for their defense and their running, plus the steady stewardship of head coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco. In this case, the disappointing DVOA numbers (No. 19 overall) for Baltimore’s 2012 team are deceptive because of injuries to linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, but they were both back in time for the playoffs. Baltimore, you’ve proven you can beat the Patriots – when healthy.
We can stretch things a bit and add both the 2005 Broncos and the 2010 Jets to the Baltimore template. Those teams were built on defense and running, with sufficiently competent QB performances by Jake Plummer (90.2 passer rating) and Mark Sanchez (75.3 passer rating), respectively. Okay, barely competent in Sanchez’ case. And stylistically, Eli Manning’s Giants fit the Ravens template, too, although they were mediocre on defense in 2007 and 2011, and their running game wasn’t very impressive three years ago.
As for the weaknesses in the 2014 Patriots lineup, they’ve got a good-but-not-great defense that’s thin at linebacker. Opposing tight ends are having a field day against the Pats; they rank No. 30 in defensive efficiency versus that position. New England’s defensive line is also not very good at run blocking, particularly in short-yardage situations, where the Patriots rank No. 28 in stuffing runners behind the line of scrimmage, and dead last in preventing conversions on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go.
If you’re a Denver Broncos fan, you’re probably smiling right now. Assuming these two teams end up meeting in the AFC title game, not only do the Broncos have Peyton Manning throwing to TE Julius Thomas (43 catches, 12 TDs), they’ve also got RB C.J. Anderson (4.7 yards per carry) and his thunderous rushing attack. But first, the Patriots have to survive Baltimore.