To paraphrase former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora: “[Suspensions]?! Don’t talk about . . . [Suspensions]! You kidding me?! [Suspensions]?!?”1 Yes, Coach. We’re still talking about suspensions or at least one of ‘em: Tom Brady’s four game suspension to start the season. Don’t worry though Coach. The suspension had little to no impact on the Patriots’ season. The Patriots started 3-1 on their way to a 14-2 campaign, eighth straight AFC East title, and seventh straight first round bye.
The suspension did impact the Patriots in one way though: it significantly increased Jimmy Garoppolo’s trade value. Before you get upset Patriots haters, increased trade value in Garoppolo is a small consolation for the 2016 first round and 2017 second round draft picks the Patriots were forced to forfeit as a result of Deflategate. Whoever the Patriots drafted in 2016 would have contributed this season while any picks the Patriots receive for Garoppolo, if they even trade him, will pay off next year at the earliest.
And the suspension’s impact on Tom Brady’s season? He finished with a “pedestrian” line of 28 TDs, 2 Ints, 67.4 completion %, and a QB Rating of 112.2. That’s the best TD-to-Int ratio in NFL history and Brady’s second best season in both completion % and QB Rating, behind 2007 and just ahead of 2010 in both categories. Brady’s two league MVP seasons? You guessed it: 2007 and 2010. Having played only 12 games this year, the suspension likely cost Brady a legitimate shot at his third league MVP award. Another player is going to win but we already know the co-MVP is Lord Voldemort himself, Roger Goodell. I know what you’re thinking: I would have preferred a Game of Thrones reference here too but I’m not sure there is a head White Walker never mind what its name is and Alexa can’t make out what I’m asking over the sound of my dishwasher so you’re just going to have to let it slide.
Regardless, Brady’s suspension is now in the rear view mirror. Remember October 2016? Me neither. The playoffs, on the other hand, are about to start for the Patriots. When I last deflated this gate,2 I said “the key to the Patriots’ success hasn’t been how they’ve started but how they’ve finished.” This season, the Patriots finished the year 4-0 over their last four games, 7-1 over their last eight games, and 11-1 over their last 12 games. The Patriots went to the Super Bowl three of the last four seasons they went 4-0 over their last four games, five of the last seven seasons they went 7-1 or better over their last eight games, and both seasons they went 11-1 or better over their last 12 games. This is also the first time since the AFL merged with the NFL back in 1970 that the Patriots finished in the top three in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The closest they came before this season was back in 2007 when they rode the number one scoring offense and number four scoring defense to? Right again: the Super Bowl.
Before putting on your TB12 Athlete Recovery Sleepwear3 that I assume protects you from nightshades,4 whatever those are, and hibernate until the Super Bowl, you should probably read this: according to Pro Football Reference,5 this was by far the easiest Strength of Schedule the Patriots have ever played on their way to the Super Bowl and the third easiest in franchise history behind only their 1991 and 1973 schedules. Worse yet, the Patriots had the easiest schedule this season. No. Not of playoff teams. Of any team.6 Grateful to at least be able to count on home field advantage? Both Patriots losses this season were in Foxborough. My face is already starting to turn a little red. I’ve got a lot riding on this whole it’s not how they start it’s how they finish thing.
So who stands in the Patriots’ way? First up, the Texans. The Patriots started the week giving a Patriots record and near NFL record7 16 points to the Texans according to a well established, reputable site with a top notch mobile interface and the fastest payout processing times . . . that I would love to advertise for in these posts. C’mon online sports books, reach out to me! Remember our reader, I mean, readers? Those guys would really appreciate a research team here at BTT that isn’t thwarted by a kitchen appliance. Also, I’m a pretty loyal guy. Odds are (Like what I did there? There’s more where that came from.), I’ll spend more on your site than it costs you to advertise on ours. Just saying.
Anyway, back to the Texans. Just kidding. They’re terrible and nobody believes they’re beating the Patriots in Foxborough. Don’t worry Coach Belichick, readership in Texas is pretty low so this isn’t going to end up on a Texans’ bulletin board. Speaking of which, when was the last time you actually used a bulletin board? Do rookies in the NFL even know what they are? This is a way more interesting question to me than whether the Texans will beat the Patriots. Someone get us lunch with Texans rookie K.J. Dillon so we can get to the bottom of this. Also, I hear he’ll pick up the check.8
The Patriots real challenge will be the winner of Sunday’s game between the 11-5 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 12-4 Kansas City Chiefs who they would face next weekend in the AFC Championship game. These teams played in week four when the Steelers coasted to a 43-14 victory. So why are the Chiefs giving 1 1/2 points to the Steelers now? Here’s a look at both teams this season (NFL rank for the season9):
Team: Steelers Chiefs
Passing Yds: t5th 19th
Yds/Pass Attempt: 13th 17th
Rushing Yds: 14th 15th
Yds/Rush: 15th 16th
Red Zone Offense:* 12th 26th
Points: t10th 13th
Passing Yds Allowed: 16th 18th
Rushing Yds Allowed: 13th 26th
Red Zone Defense:* 4th 5th
Points/Game Allowed: 10th 7th
With the exception of passing yards per game, red zone offense, and rushing yards allowed per game, these teams look pretty similar statistically. Considering Pittsburgh is better in all three categories, that doesn’t explain the point spread. Let’s try to now. First, the Week 4 game was in Pittsburgh while Sunday’s game is in Kansas City. Not convinced despite all four home teams winning just last weekend? Thorough. I respect that.
Second, the Chiefs were tied for the league lead in turnover margin at +16 while the Steelers were tied for 9th at +5. The Chiefs overcame their mediocre passing game and inability to stop the run because their +16 turnover margin meant they generally didn’t have to go as far as their opponents to score. As for the Steelers, the majority of their turnovers were interceptions with 15 in the regular season, 13 by Ben Roethlisberger and two by Landry Jones. Taking a closer look: Roethlisberger has eight interceptions in his last five games, including two in last week’s playoff win against the Miami Dolphins, while the Chiefs’s defense tied for a league high by intercepting opponents 18 times in 16 games. Still think the line is a little off? I mean, the Steelers have a much better Red Zone offense than the Chiefs and are the “hot” team right now, right? Sounds like you’re relying on the “eye test.” Can’t say I’ve never done it myself but it usually doesn’t end well.
Third, the Steelers’ red zone offense is 12th in the NFL overall but was 2nd at home scoring TDs 72.4% of the time they were in the red zone and 27th on the road scoring TDs only 43.48% of the time they were in the red zone. In case you forgot my first point, I’ll summarize: Steelers = road team this weekend. As for being hot, the Steelers have scored TDs 80% of the time they were in the red zone in their last three games but all three games were played in Pittsburgh. The two games before that were both wins but were also both on the road. The Steelers’ red zone offense in those games? I feel like my questions are getting a little too predictable: Not great. The Steelers scored four touchdowns in ten trips into the red zone. Scoring TDs on 40% of your red zone drives may work against the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, who rank behind the Chiefs in red zone defense at 11th and 7th respectively. It’s going to be hard for the Steelers to win on the road though if they are only scoring field goals, especially if they turn the ball over. It looks like it’s going to be close, but the Chiefs giving 1 1/2 sounds about right despite what happened back in Week 4.
How does either team match up against the Patriots? Remember the Patriots? This is a post about the Patriots. Here’s a look at all three teams this season (NFL rank for the season9):
Team: Steelers Chiefs Patriots
Passing Yds: t5th 19th 4th
Yds/Pass Attempt: 13th 17th 3rd
Rushing Yds: 14th 15th 7th
Yds/Rush: 15th 16th 25th
Red Zone Offense:* 12th 26th 8th
Points: t10th 13th 3rd
Passing Yds Allowed: 16th 18th 12th
Rushing Yds Allowed: 13th 26th t3rd
Red Zone Defense:* 4th 5th 8th
Points/Game Allowed: 10th 7th 1st
Turnover Differential: t9th t1st 3rd
Neither the Chiefs nor the Steelers are as close to the Patriots statistically as they are to each other. Running through the criteria used above: First, the Patriots would be the home team. Second, the Patriots tied for the fewest turnovers in the NFL with 11 total, only two of which were interceptions. Third, the Patriots’ red zone offense at home is roughly 20% better than either the Steelers’ or Chiefs’ red zone offense on the road, 63.33% to 43.48% and 43.75% respectively, while their red zone defense at home is comparable to both teams’ red zone defense on the road at 47.83% to 42.86% and 52.00% respectively. The Patriots may not have played the toughest schedule this season, but they did beat the Steelers 27-16 in Pittsburgh just three weeks after the Steelers beat the Chiefs. Is Roethlisburger replacing Landry enough to overcome the stats above and a change of venue to Foxborough? I wouldn’t bet on it. Based on everything above, I also wouldn’t bet against the Patriots making the Super Bowl again this year.
And if the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl? What’s that Coach Mora? “[Suspensions]?! Don’t talk about . . . [Suspensions]! You kidding me?! [Suspensions]?!? I JUST HOPE WE CAN WIN A GAME.” Yes, Coach Mora; Tom Brady was suspended but if the Patriots make the Super Bowl then Patriots fans everywhere will just hope they can win a game!
9. Unless otherwise noted, statistics are from ESPN.com and include the regular season only. Statistics marked with * are from TeamRankings.com and include statistics from the Wild Card playoff games when applicable.