Are the New England Patriots the winning Super Bowl XLIX NFL pick? Find out as we weigh in on the strengths and weaknesses of the Patriots according to the relevant and popular NFL rankings and examine the possible scenarios that could emerge from the divisional round in order to determine their chances.
New England Patriots The Hot NFL Pick?
Tom Brady and Company are the top seed in the AFC going into the 2014-2015 Superbowl XLIX playoffs. Great form on the season and the formidable combination of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman have led the Patriots to a 12-4 SU season and established them as the team to beat in the AFC. Indeed, prior to the last week of the regular season, the Patriots were the top team in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings. A loss to the Buffalo Bills in week 17, however, cost them top spot in week 18's updated Power Rankings. Clearly, the powers that be at ESPN felt the loss warranted a decline in the rankings even though the game was essentially meaningless towards the playoff picture. After all, the Patriots had clinched top spot and home field advantage in week 16, with a win over the Jets and a Denver loss to the Bengals.
By the numbers, the prognosis is good for the Patriots despite their marginal fall in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings. They enter the playoff picture as the second favorites to win outright at +300 NFL odds and according to Football Outsiders' weighted DVOA rankings (form towards the end of the season), they come in second behind the Seattle Seahawks. They also emerge as co-second best on our SBR Adjusted Power Rankings. (See Table 1).
Table 1: The table includes ESPN NFL Power Rankings from week 18, along with NFL regular season-ending rankings for total offense and total defense, and QBR rankings. As well, relevant DVOA rankings (Source: Football Outsiders) have been used to broaden the picture. These statistical rankings have been totalled and averaged to give us a simple hierarchy of the eight teams in the divisional round from top overall ranked to lowest overall ranked team, as shown by the Adjusted SBR Power Rankings column.
SBR Adjusted Power Rankings Table 1: 2014-2015 RANKINGS AT A GLANCE
The Patriots have finished AFC runners up in the last two editions of the Super Bowl, losing to the Broncos (2013-14) and Ravens (2012-13). In the 2011-2012 edition, they lost to the NY Giants in the final 21-17. The last time they fell in the divisional round was the 2010-2011 playoffs when were stunned by the New York Jets 28-21. In all the aforementioned seasons, the New England Patriots ranked auspiciously across the various relevant rankings, typically in the thick of the mix. Yet they are conspicuously without a championship ring since the 2004-2005 season when they successfully defended the title of the previous season.
The closest they came to winning the title was in the 2011-2012 season when they finished runners-up. That year, they were fourth in ESPN NFL Power Rankings ahead of the playoffs and third according to Football Outsiders in both Total DVOA Rankings and Weighted DVOA Rankings, respectively. Yet, they were overcome by one of the so-called weakest of the last 8 teams in the playoffs, the NY Giants. (See Table 2).
SBR Adjusted Power Rankings Table 2: 2011-2012 RANKINGS AT A GLANCE
2011-2012 NY Giants def. New England Patriots 21-17
What these simplified tables clearly show is it's not always the best teams in the regular season that go on to win the ultimate prize. Indeed, the regular season and the playoffs are mutually exclusive, with all teams having a mathematical shot at the title. That overriding fact has many turning to their upcoming divisional round clash with the Baltimore Ravens with good reason to assume an upset could be on the horizon, underscored further by the fact that the Ravens pulled off the upset over the Patriots in the AFC title game, all while ranking at the bottom of all the aforementioned sources, including our Adjusted SBR Power Rankings, in the 2012-2013 playoffs. (See Table 3).
SBR Adjusted Power Rankings Table 3: 2012-2013 RANKINGS AT A GLANCE
2012-2013 Baltimore def. San Francisco 34-31
Why New England Patriots Can Win Super Bowl XLIX
The New England Patriots emerge as the second favourites at NFL odds of +300 to win the Super Bowl XLIX, for good reason. They have experience and home field advantage going for them, which are intangibles that can't be ignored. Belichick and Brady are a solid 18-8 in the playoffs since joining forced in 2002 and 12-3 when playing at Gillette Stadium. It's also worth noting that Tom Brady has a healthy Rob Gronkowski at his disposal, something that wasn't always the case in previous playoff bids.
Why New England Patriots Cannot Win Super Bowl XLIX
If the Patriots are going to rely solely on Tom Brady at quarterback and the tactical decisions of Belichick, they'll be found wanting. They simply can't win it on the effort of those two, great though they may be. Those that subscribe to the maxim: defense wins games and championships, will look towards the Patriots' middling defense as the source of the problem, which could be a problem right out of the gates against the Baltimore Ravens (See Table 1 rankings for 2014-2015).
This defensive concern could also become a problem if they face the Denver Broncos in the AFC title game. Last season, the Broncos stifled the Patriots 26-16 at Mile High on both sides of the ball (top offense and 19th ranked defense).
Should Tom Brady and Company somehow navigate the treacherous AFC path, the title match could serve up a date with the Seattle Seahawks. A matchup with the top-ranked defense that they'll be hard pressed to win. For that matter, even long shots Carolina Panthers (+4000 to win the title) present challenges on the defensive side of the ball. Purely, on paper, the better matchups may come in the form of Dallas or Green Bay. Then again, both those teams have formidable offenses that could keep pace with the Patriots on that score so even those matchups wouldn't necessarily tip the balance in favor of the Patriots wholeheartedly.
Super Bowl Betting Verdict: New England Patriots strike an attractive pose on the NFL odds board as the second favourites to win outright at +300. They are also our co-second favorites for the title with Seattle Seahawks, according to our adjusted SBR Power Rankings. However, should it come down to a matchup between them, it'll be hard to back them on our NFL picks at the expense of the Legion of Boom.