Last year’s New England Patriots defense was very highly thought of … until the Super Bowl. The Falcons averaged a whopping 7.5 yards per play, but famously gagged in the 2nd half and lost in overtime.
Part of the reason the New England defense was so impressive in 2016 was because it faced a historically bad collection of QBs. In order, the best QBs New England beat up on in the regular season: Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco. That’s it. They lost to Russell Wilson at home. The entire list is here.
This season? Yes, the Patriots offense somehow improved with the addition of Brandin Cooks and versatile Rex Burkhead, but they did take a huge hit with Julian Edelman’s preseason injury that will have him out all season. If you don’t think Edelman is a big loss, consider this: He had 55 receptions that went for a first down last year, 12th in the NFL. The Patriots were 2nd best in the NFL at 3rd down conversions, and Edelman out of the slot was a huge reason for that success.
So the offense should be able to overcome any defensive drop-offs. And those will happen because here’s the list of QBs they’ll face, in order:
Alex Smith (KC)
Drew Brees (New Orleans)
Tom Savage (Houston)
Cam Newton (Carolina)
Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay)
Josh McCown (NY Jets) x2
Matt Ryan (Atlanta)
Philip Rivers (LA Chargers)
Trevor Siemian (Denver)
Derek Carr (Oakland)
Jay Cutler (Miami) x2
Tyrod Taylor (Bufffalo) x2
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh)
So last year, the Patriots defense faced four QBs who have won playoff games (Palmer, Kaepernick*, Wilson, Flacco).
This year, they’ll face seven (Smith, Brees, Newton, Ryan, Rivers, Cutler**, Roethlisberger), plus Carr and Winston, two ascending QBs who have yet to appear in a playoff game.
Of course the Patriots will still be favored in all of those games.
It’s fun to talk about the potential of 16-0, but Tom Brady will try to do what few before him could – win at the age of 40 – and the schedule is considerably more difficult than last year.
Consider yourselves warned.
*Currently out of the NFL.
**Won his only playoff game in 2010.