The 2015 Patriots by Patriots Standards

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The New England Patriots again look like one of the best teams in the league. They are 4-0 after their first four games. Unlike some of their undefeated brethren, they are winning in dominant fashion. They have outscored their opponents by 73 points, most in the NFL, and have held a three-score lead in the third quarter of every game.

This is far from the first great-looking Patriots team we have seen in the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era. Just how does this team compare to those other great teams? How is it the same? How is it different? What do those teams suggest about how likely this team is to keep up its greatness?

Comparing Past Patriots Teams Through Four Games

This Patriots team is really good, even by the standards of past Patriots teams. Table 1 has the basic details, including comparisons to every New England squad over the past decade that has earned a first-round bye.

Table 1. Patriots Bye Teams Through Four Weeks, Conventional Statistics

Season Early Record Margin Record in Last 12 Games Final Record
2007 4-0 +100 12-0 16-0
2015 4-0 +73 ? ?
2013 4-0 +32 8-4 12-4
2011 3-1 +37 10-2 13-3
2010 3-1 +35 11-1 14-2
2012 2-2 +42 10-2 12-4
2014 2-2 -10 10-2 12-4

This is just the third unbeaten team through the first quarter of the season. The unbeaten 2013 Patriots were a normal unbeaten, like this year’s Carolina and Denver squads, with a number of close wins — 2007, though, was on a different level. This year’s Patriots has taken big leads in every game, but allowed Pittsburgh and Buffalo to narrow the gap for eventual one-score wins. In 2007, by contrast they won each of their first four games by at least 21 points.

Advanced stats concur with the basic details of the table above. Here are those same squads as of the same time in the season by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.

Table 2. Patriots Bye Teams Through Four Weeks, Advanced Statistics

Season DVOA Through 4 Games (rank) Final DVOA (rank)
2007 73.4% (1st) 52.9% (1st)
2015 55.9% (1st) ?
2013 13.4% (7th) 18.9% (5th)
2011 29.1% (2nd) 22.8% (3rd)
2010 32.5% (1st) 44.6% (1st)
2012 31.6% (3rd) 34.9% (3rd)
2014 -5.8% (23rd) 22.1% (4th)

The 2015 team comes out roughly equidistant from the ridiculous greatness of the early season 2007 Patriots and the more normal greatness of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 Patriots. These teams all had flaws (the 2012 Patriots were just 2-2), but each had pretty decisively defeated a couple opponents.

What Makes This Patriots Team Different

It probably comes as no surprise the 2015 Patriots have the best offense in the league through the first five weeks of the season. It should not have. This is actually the fifth time in the seven seasons we are considering they are the best through four games. But football is about more than having a great offense. What makes this Patriots team better than some of the editions from the recent past is their defense.

Table 3 shows the same Patriots teams and their DVOA through their first four games for each of the three phases of football.

Table 3. Patriots Bye Teams by Offense, Defense, and Special Teams DVOA Through Four Weeks

Season Offensive DVOA (rank) Defensive DVOA (rank) ST DVOA (rank)
2007 46.6% (1st) -20.9% (3rd) 5.9% (9th)
2015 38.1% (1st) -8.7%(9th) 9.1% (3rd)
2013 2.6% (15th) -5.0% (14th) 5.8% (4th)
2011 38.4% (1st) 11.3% (27th) 2.0% (11th)
2010 32.2% (1st) 13.4% (27th) 4.6% (4th)
2012 33.2% (1st) -1.7%(18th) -3.3% (24th)
2014 -17.0% (28th) -8.0% (10th) 3.2% (9th)

This year’s offense is good, no question, but it was just as good in 2011 and nearly as good in 2010 or 2012. The special teams unit is particularly good, but it has been good most years. What sets this Patriots team apart from most of the non-2007 squads is the defense, which is the best it has been.

Just how good the defense has been early has been a surprise, since it seemed reasonable to expect the Patriots’ defense to decline with the losses of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Kyle Arrington. One of the league’s best pass-rushes has helped cover up for the revamped secondary, and the pass defense on the whole has been outstanding. And, no, Brandon Weeden is not too big a factor; looking just at the other games, the Patriots still have a top ten pass defense.

What It Means for the Rest of the Season

Looking at Table 2, the good news is most Patriots teams have actually gotten better as the season goes on because Bill Belichick is one of the best coaches in the league and learns and adapts more to what that year’s personnel grouping does best.

The past 26 seasons of DVOA suggest, though, that it is difficult to be powered too much by one unit, and the best teams are outstanding in all three phases. The 2007 team is a great example of that. The offense was outstanding all year, but the defense declined. For that team to finish 16-0 required a number of close calls, and they faltered when the offense put up just 14 points in the Super Bowl.

The best team since 1989 by DVOA is actually 1991 Washington. Joe Gibbs’ last Super Bowl outfit was not incredibly dominant in any single phase, but instead had the league’s best offense and special teams and the third-best defense.

The key for just how good this year’s Patriots can be is whether the defense can hold up for all 16 games, like last year’s unit but unlike 2007’s. The early season offensive struggles in 2013 and 2014 suggest keeping Rob Gronkowski healthy is pretty important, too. Do both of those, and another 16-0 season is on the table.

Eagles fly to first Super Bowl win with memorable victory vs Patriots

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As their delirious fans sang their theme song and their owner lifted the Lombardi Trophy, the Philadelphia Eagles’ finally could breathe freely.

Yo, Philly, you really did beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a thrilling Super Bowl that rewrote the offensive record book.

Nick Foles guided the drive of a lifetime, Zach Ertz made a bobbling touchdown catch that had to survive replay review, and an exhausted defense came up with not one but two stands in the final moments Sunday for a 41-33 victory. For the first time since 1960, the Eagles are NFL champions.

“Fly Eagles Fly,” indeed.

“We’ve played this game since we were little kids, we dreamed about this moment,” game MVP Foles said. “There’s plenty of kids watching this game right now dreaming about this moment and someday will be here.”

In a record-setting shootout between backup QB Foles and five-time champ Brady of the favored Patriots, Foles led a pressure-packed 75-yard drive to the winning touchdown, 11 yards to Ertz with 2:21 to go .

Then Brandon Graham strip-sacked Brady and Derek Barnett recovered, setting up rookie Jake Elliot’s 46-yard field goal for an 8-point lead.

Brady got his team to midfield, but his desperation pass fell to the ground in the end zone.

“For us, it was all about one stop we had to make. We went out here and made that one stop,” Graham said.

The underdog Eagles (16-3), even injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz, came bolting off the sideline in ecstasy while Brady sat on the ground, disconsolate.

It was the first Super Bowl title for Philadelphia (16-3), which went from 7-9 last season.

“If there’s a word (it’s) called everything,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “That’s what it means to Eagles fans everywhere. And for Eagles fans everywhere, this is for them.”

Super Bowl MVP Foles orchestrated the victory with the kind of drive NFL MVP Brady, a five-time champion, is known for. The drive covered 14 plays, including a fourth-down conversion.

“I felt calm. I mean, we have such a great group of guys, such a great coaching staff,” Foles said. “We felt confident coming in, and we just went out there and played football.”

The Eagles had to survive a video replay because ball pop into the air as Ertz crossed the goal line.

The touchdown stood — and so did thousands of green-clad Eagles fans who weren’t going to mind the frigid conditions outside US Bank Stadium once they headed out to celebrate. But not before a rousing rendition of “Fly Eagles Fly” reverberated throughout the stands once the trophy was presented to Lurie. Later, fans danced along with the “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky,” the city’s best-known fictional underdog.

The Patriots (15-4) seemed ready to take their sixth championship with Brady and coach Bill Belichick in eight Super Bowls. Brady threw for a game-record 505 yards and three TDs, hitting Rob Gronkowski for 4 yards before Stephen Gostkowski’s extra point gave New England its first lead, 33-32.

Then Foles made them forget Wentz — and least for now — with the gutsiest drive of his life.

“We couldn’t make a play to give the ball back to the offense,” Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore said.

Foles has been something of a journeyman in his six pro seasons, but he has been spectacular in four career playoff games. He finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards and three TDs.

The combined 1,151 yards were the most in any modern NFL game, and Brady’s 505 were the most in any playoff contest. The 40-year-old master finished 28 of 48 and picked apart the Eagles until the final two series.

It was such a wild game that Foles caught a touchdown pass , and Brady was on the opposite end of a Danny Amendola throw that went off his fingertips.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson brought home the championship in his second year in charge. Belichick is 5-3 in Super Bowls and his teams have only a plus-4 overall margin in those games.

So this one was in keeping with that trend: breathtaking and even a bit bizarre.

Brady and the Patriots looked ready for another comeback by opening the second half with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Gronkowski was unstoppable, grabbing four passes for 69 yards, including the 5-yard score.

Philly didn’t flinch, answering with a precise 75-yard march and three more third-down conversions; the Eagles were 10 for 16. The last was on Foles’ perfect pass to Clement over double coverage. The rookie’s reception was upheld by review, and the Eagles were back on top by 10.

Brady shrugged and, getting steadfast protection, connected with Chris Hogan from the 26 for another touchdown.

When all the Eagles could manage was Elliott’s 42-yarder for a 32-26 lead, it seemed inevitable the Patriots would go in front, then become the first repeat Super Bowl winner since they did it in the 2004 and ’05 games.

Foles, Ertz, and — at last — a revitalized defense said otherwise.

The weird image of Brady ambling downfield on a pass pattern came three plays after New England lost receiver Brandin Cooks to a concussion on a vicious but clean hit by Malcolm Jenkins in the second quarter. Amendola’s pass required an over-the-shoulder grab and the ball fell off Brady’s outstretched hands.

Brady got back to passing after a wild interception. Alshon Jeffery nearly made a spectacular catch near the Patriots’ goal line, only to juggle the ball into the air. Duron Harmon picked it off at the 10. Moments later, Brady was connecting with Chris Hogan for 42 yards.

James White broke several tackles with a brilliant 26-yard run and it was 15-12. That gave White seven touchdowns in his past three postseason games, including the overtime winner in last year’s Super Bowl.

But the Eagles still had 2:04 left in the half — and some more magic in their bag.

A short third-down throw to rookie Corey Clement on a circle route turned into a 55-yard explosion down to the Patriots 8. Philly got to the 1 and on fourth down, it was Foles’ turn to morph into a receiver.

He did better than Brady. On fourth down, Clement took a direct snap, pitched to tight end Trey Burton, and the former Florida QB hit an uncovered Foles. The Eagles were up 22-12 at halftime, the most points New England has allowed in the opening half of a Super Bowl under Belichick.

Each team started with 67-yard drives to field goals — New England had never scored a first-quarter point with Brady in a Super Bowl.

Each kicker later faltered, with Elliott missing the extra point, his fifth failed PAT this season, after Jeffery’s 34-yard touchdown. Then Gostkowski hit the left upright with a 26-yard field goal after holder Ryan Allen mishandled the snap. Gostkowski also missed an extra point.

When LeGarrette Blount, who won the title last season with the Patriots, scored on a 21-yard burst, Pederson went for 2, but the pass failed, making it 15-3.

The Eagles and Pederson brushed it off and stayed with their usual aggressive approach. Breathtakingly, it eventually paid off.

Eagles’ rush could be key vs. Patriots’ Brady

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MINNEAPOLIS — Neither New England nor Philadelphia is a tropical paradise, so for the Patriots and Eagles, the Minnesota winter weather has been pretty normal for them. That’s a good thing as both teams head into their Super Bowl LII meeting on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium trying to treat it like just another 60-minute game.

After the media circus they endured Monday in St. Paul, the players for both the Patriots (15-3) and the Eagles (15-3) welcomed the opportunity to get back to some semblance of normal game week preparation and to focus on the football, even if it’s in a new place.

“We’ve got to go out and practice and kind of get away from the madness,” said Philadelphia defensive end Fletcher Cox on Wednesday after the Eagles practiced at the University of Minnesota. “I just treat it as a regular game week. Things I would do at the facility, I’m doing here.”

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

One thing the Eagles did successfully at home and on the road all season was pressure the opponent’s quarterback, and when the Patriots have faltered in two Super Bowl losses to the Giants in the past decade, a relentless pass rush has contributed. But the highly touted Eagles defense, which did not allow a point after the Vikings’ opening drive of the NFC title game, is wary about putting too much of their attention on Patriots star Tom Brady.

“It’s Tom plus 10 guys on the field. We can’t just focus on one guy, if we’re going to be real about it,” Cox said. “I think we have to focus on their whole offense, because they’ve got a lot of great players. We have to go out and be ourselves. We’ve got to go out and do the little things right and not beat ourselves in order to be victorious.”

New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the AFC title game win over Jacksonville due to a concussion, is slated to play.

“Rob’s a tough guy. Obviously, this isn’t something you can just fight through,” said Brady.

While the Patriots offense has revolved around Brady since their first Super Bowl win in 2002, the defense has been one of constant evolution, and the unit adopted yet another new look late in the regular season when linebacker James Harrison came on board after he was jettisoned by the Steelers.

“When you’re in a system for as long as he’s been, there are a lot of things that are habits that get ingrained, which they should be. Some of those things carry over. Some of them kind of don’t,” Belichick said of Harrison, who has played 178 of his 193 NFL regular-season games for Pittsburgh. “He’s done a great job of trying to separate them and do what we’ve asked him to do.”

While the Eagles will be looking for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title, having lost the big game after the 1980 and 2004 seasons, there may be more pressure on the Patriots, who will be seeking their sixth title and their second in a row, knowing that the coaching staff will look significantly different next season. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are both widely expected to be head coaches in Indianapolis and Detroit, respectively, next season.

“I realize and I understand and I appreciate the talent in the coaches in our building. I’m grateful for the opportunity to even be coached by them,” said Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, sounding very much like he was saying goodbye. “Whatever their opportunities are in the future, I’ll be excited for them.”

There’s one more opportunity for them on Sunday. And it sounds plenty exciting.