With the Steelers defeating the Chiefs along with the Packers and Falcons advancing to the NFC Championship Game, one this is now clear. The path for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl this year will be a lot different than their path up to this point. The Patriots are 15-2 and are viewed as the top team in the NFL. They’re widely expected to defeat the Steelers and the same will likely be true if they get to the big game in Houston. Interestingly, after a 34-16 victory over the Houston Texans on Saturday Night, there are still some big questions about this team. An eighteen point victory would typically get you a lot of positive publicity, but not when it’s the Houston Texans. The Texans are the perfect example of the brutal offensive competition that Patriots have had play this year. When you break it down, the lack of quality offensive opponents is simply amazing.
Here are the Team Regular Season Rankings in Points Per Game of the Patriots opponents this year.
Arizona Cardinals – 26.1 points; Rank #6
Miami Dolphins (2 games) – 22.7 points; Rank #17
Houston Texans (2 games) – 17.4 points; Rank #29
Buffalo Bills (2 games) – 24.9 points; Rank #10
Cleveland Browns – 16.5 points; Rank #31
Cincinnati Bengals – 20.3 points; Rank #24
Pittsburgh Steelers – 24.9 points; Ranked #11
Seattle Seahawks – 22.1 points ; Ranked #18
San Francisco 49ers – 19.3 points; Ranked #27
New York Jets (2 games) – 17.2 points; ranked #30
Los Angeles Rams – 14.0 points; ranked #32
Baltimore Ravens – 21.4 points; ranked #21
Denver Broncos – 20.8 points; ranked #22
Here’s a summary of these numbers.
– The Patriots defense has played six of seventeen games (35% of games) against the four worst offenses in the NFL statistically (Rams, Browns, Jets, and Texans).
– The Patriots defense has played ten of seventeen games (59% of games) against offenses not ranked in the top twenty in the NFL.
– The Patriots defense has played four of seventeen games (24% of games) against offenses ranked in the top half of the NFL (Cardinals, Bills twice, Steelers). Thirteen of the seventeen games have been against below average offenses statistically.
In addition to the numbers themselves, to break it down even further, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play in the game against the Patriots earlier this year. Other than Russell Wilson, who did very well against the Patriots defense, have the Patriots even played against a very good quarterback? Ryan Tannehill? Andy Dalton? Joe Flacco? Tyrod Taylor? We’re really searching here…
The Patriots defense was ranked the #1 defense in the league in points against this season. Even most Patriots fans would tell you that they don’t have the best defense in the league. These numbers just show how favorable this seasons schedule really was for the Patriots especially for their defense. This doesn’t mean that they can’t beat a great offense. It just means that they haven’t really had the opportunity to do it yet. There’s just no sample size that shows what to expect against a great offense with an elite quarterback because of the weak offensive opponents on the schedule.
Here’s the reality. With the Steelers beating the Chiefs, there will be no more bottom tier offenses in the Patriots path to the Super Bowl. They’re going to have to beat elite offenses. It starts this week against Pittsburgh. While Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t played great this postseason, he’s very capable of having a big playoff game. He’s won two Super Bowls. He’s the second best quarterback the Patriots have faced this year..and there isn’t a close third. He’s not going to feel the pressure of playing on the road in the AFC Championship Game. In other words, this is no Brock Osweiler who is going to throw the game away. Those days are behind us now. The Patriots have more to worry about than Big Ben. The Steelers have two of the Top Five offensive weapons in the NFL in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
The Patriots have a great opportunity this weekend to show that they are, indeed, a top defense. And, if they do it, they’re going to have their hands full with either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan in the Super Bowl.
The four months of practice is over. Now the Patriots have to play some game against legitimate offenses. One thing is for sure. If the Patriots do win the Super Bowl, they’re going to do it by beating elite offensive teams and they’re defense is likely going to be the deciding factor to their success just like it has been in many of their other championship runs.