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.

Broncos double-digit favorites on Sunday night vs. winless, depleted Giants

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The Denver Broncos head into Sunday night with the largest spread they have had at home after a bye week in at least 25 years. The Broncos are 11.5-point favorites against the winless New York Giants with a 38.5-point total for the Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Denver is 6-1 straight-up and against the spread in post-bye week games dating back to 2010. There’s a similar long-running trend of Denver being 7-2 SU and ATS in home games following a bye week since 2003. However, this is the first time since 1996 that Denver has been a double-digit favorite in that scenario.

The Giants, which are 0-5 SU and 2-3 ATS, had three wide receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr., sustain season-ending injuries last week. That has left QB Eli Manning with WR Roger Lewis (15 career catches) and WR Tavarres King as his main outside targets. Slot WR Sterling Shephard (sprained ankle) could be inactive.

While team performances tend to gravitate toward the mean with time, the Giants will need to show something new – with replacement-level personnel – in order to move the ball against a Denver pass defense which allows only 6.2 yards per pass, fifth-best in the NFL.

The Broncos’ top-ranked defense, led by OLB Von Miller, is also first in run defense and has every starter healthy. While NFC teams are a combined 1-10 SU on the road against Denver since 2012, the Giants are a solid 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games against the AFC.

Denver, 3-1 SU and 2-1-1 ATS, has been quietly efficient on offense. The Broncos, with QB Trevor Siemian, are in the middle of the NFL pack in yards per pass, but they are facing a Giants secondary that is minus CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (suspension) and has also had inconsistent play from CB Eli Apple.

Denver, 7-2 ATS over its last nine home games in October, has been good at opening holes for the tandem of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who are each capable of making things happen in the open field if the tackling gets sloppy. New York also won’t have DT Olivier Vernon drawing double teams up front and keeping blockers off MLB Damon Harrison.

Unless the Broncos stop themselves, they should be able to grind out a workmanlike win.

The total has gone over in three of the Giants’ last four games against the Broncos, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. The total has gone over in six of the Broncos’ last seven games as a favorite of 11.0 points or more.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Watch Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks live on NBC

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The Seattle Seahawks host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football as both teams look to get back to .500.

Russell Wilson will be the focal point of the Seahawks offense after throwing for a career-high 373 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort vs. the Titans in Week 3. Wilson’s ability to avoid the rush and use his legs will be on full display as Seattle’s offensive line continues to struggle.

On the defensive side, the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” will look to get back on track at home in a raucous environment against Colts QB Jacoby Brissett who is filling in for an injured Andrew Luck.

If the Colts have any chance to pull off the upset on the road, Brissett will have to use his legs and connect on some deep throws to T.Y. Hilton.

Football Night in America

Start time: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Colts vs. Seahawks

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app