Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Patriots: Case 1

In lieu of the upcoming Patriots-Colts game this Sunday, we've decided to do a little case study on the Patriots season. So far, it has been one of the most impressive seasons in the history of the league. Will it continue? Can they go undefeated? These and many other questions will likely get much closer to being answered this Sunday. Of course, the same questions may surface in a much larger capacity if the Colts win. There was no way we could resist buying into the hype perpetrated by everyone in the media, especially ESPN, whose analysts, commentators, etc. have begun referring to the game as Super Bowl XLI 1/2. I am, without a doubt, more excited than I've ever been for a regular season football game.

In the next two entries, each of us will look at the Patriots from our views. I have been absolutely amazed by the Patriots season and, more generally, by their recent string of success. Twin #2, however, has viewed the Patriots with contempt since the Tuck Play ruling against Oakland en route to their first Super Bowl because: 1) he disagreed with the call and 2) they eliminated Jerry Rice's chance at another title. So, this will be a sort of debate on what this season means and its place in history. Today will be my side of the story; I'll title it....

Step Aside '72 Dolphins

The New England Patriots 2007 season will go down in the annals of football as the best single season performance by any team in NFL history. This is a bold claim, I know, especially when they've played only half of their regular season games. But take a look at these gaudy numbers: 331 points (41.4 per game), 439.5 yards per game, and 303.8 passing yards per game, all first in the league by large margins. Their pace for points is unprecedented, and not just because they have already outscored 17 teams from the 2006 season; at the current rate, it would break the previous record for points in a season by over 100 (556 by the Vikings in 1998), while also eclipsing any other points per game averages in a season (to compensate for the fourteen game schedule of yesteryear). While the yards per game averages aren't quite as prolific, the current pace for passing yards would be 4th all-time and overall yardage would be 2nd, breaking the 7000 yard mark for only the second time.

Those numbers are astounding. But then combine them with the defensive numbers they have racked up and it just gets better. They are not on a record-setting pace on defense, but have been limiting teams to just 15.9 points per game, 4th in the league, and 268.5 yards per game, 3rd in the league. That means the Patriots are beating their opponents by 25.5 points per game, more points than all but two other teams (the Colts and Cowboys) are scoring per game! And, just when most defenses are being hit with injuries and getting worse, the Patriots get better as Richard Seymour, arguably their best defensive player, comes off the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Now, to have a season this good, obviously individuals have to be having great seasons. To say Tom Brady is having a great season would be an understatement; he has been as close to perfect thus far as any quaterback has ever come. A quaterback rating of 136.2, a completion percentage of 74.2 %, 30 touchdowns: each of these statistics are primed to smash the previous records for a season. Throw in the fact that he has thrown just two picks, passed for 2431 yards (which puts him on pace to be 2nd all-time), and has a 9.1 yards per pass average, and you might have the greatest season of all time for any player. Also, a quick note on someone else: Randy Moss is on pace to tie Jerry Rice's record of 22 receiving touchdowns in a season. As a huge Jerry Rice fan, I hope this one does not go down.

Yes, the Patriots play in a terrible division and quite possibly may have more wins than the rest of their division combined when all is said and done. And yes, they have played mostly bad teams, including three of the four worst defenses as measured by yardage allowed per game. But, at least in part, that is because they played the Patriots. The Redskins, for instance, would be 9th in the league in passing defense if they had given up a similar amount of yardage to what they had averaged in their first six games; but instead, since they were up against New England, they gave up 334 and dropped to 17th in the league. Speaking of which, they are still 12th overall in defense, even after playing New England, so their defense is not a joke. And, in case you forgot, the Patriots scored 52 points against them.

To build off this (and go slightly 0ff-topic), I do not think there is anything wrong with the Patriots running up the score. To be fair, I do understand how people coud view it as unprofessional and as an insult to the opposing team. At the same time, however, it is not often football is played this well and I think the more we get to see, the better. And, as I've heard some people suggest, arguing that this sort of bad sportsmanship is not a good example for kids, while mildly correct, is ridiculous. There are so many worse things that go on that set bad examples, when this one is only debatably unsportsmanlike, the focus does not need to be on it.

If I've correctly persuaded you, you're thinking, "What can stop them? How is this not going to end up being the best team in NFL history?" Well, it's pretty simple as far as I can see. I've heard the talk about various teams that will give them trouble, but it seems to me as if it's the Patriots, the Colts, and the Rest. That's not to say that either the Colts or Pats can't lose to a worse team, just that it's unlikely. If the Patriots beat the Colts, I think the only thing that can stop them from finishing undefeated is themselves, either deliberately by resting players in the final weeks or unintentionally. Neither of them is very likely, although the former has a better chance of happening. They are so focused and want to be perfect at every snap, as evidenced by Brady's visible disgust at a false start in the 4th quarter when leading by 45, that the likelihood of a lapse in play for an entire game, or any significant portion of one, is slim. Also, if the ends of these first eight games are any indication, the possibility of injury will not induce the Patriots to sit any of their starters in the final games.

And that is why this game is so important, why it is one of the most important games in NFL history. It will show us just how good New England is and if they are the best of all time. I've heard plenty of pundits remind us that it's just a regular season game, but if you consider that this may decide who goes undefeated this season, isn't it very important? If, in addition, it decides who gets home field advantage in the playoffs, isn't it very important? For these reasons, I can't help but disagree with the TV personalities who claim it all to be hype. After all, the game has a solid chance to determine whether the Patriots are the best team in NFL history, which, at the end of the season, I think they will be.

Unless the Colts win on Sunday.

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