The New England Patriots going to the Super Bowl? Psshh ... Yeah right! Next you'll tell me that Game of Thrones is non-fiction! (Oh how I wish that were true and I could play with Khaleesi and dragons all day).
What is true is that of course the Patriots are in Super Bowl contention and of course they have a good shot of winning it all for the first time since 2004. Imagine a team so good that we're actually saying, "But they haven't won a Super Bowl in eight years!" Yeah, I am a Seahawks fan, so don't complain to me about not winning a title in less than a decade. Oh, and don't forget the Red Sox and Celtics titles in this century. However, just like the Red Sox and Celtics, this team is getting older and will certainly be dealing with some rebuilding when Tom Brady hangs up the cleats and puts on the Uggz for good.
It's just not that time yet.
New England went 12-4, but they're probably even better than their record. The Pats have won nine of their last 10 games and their only loss came to the 49ers on the road, in which they scored 28-straight points against the San Francisco defense. Brady is still Brady. Belichick is still Belichick. Stevan Ridley leads a great rushing attack. Rob Gronkowski missed so much time that it felt like forever and still had 11 touchdowns. Wes Welker is still going to catch more passes than the entirety of the Chiefs roster.
There are plenty of reasons why the Patriots could win their fourth Super Bowl of the 21st century. Here are a few.
Why the Patriots Win the Super Bowl
Tom Brady gives you more than a feeling
Yeah, I am going there, so what. You're perfect?
When I did this piece on the Denver Broncos, I highlighted the playoff differences between Brady and Peyton Manning. The difference is... dramatic, to say the least. Brady is 16-6 in the postseason. He has been one-and-done only twice in nine trips to the playoffs. Even if he hasn't won the Super Bowl in any of his last six playoff appearances, guess what, he's still made the Super Bowl twice.
Very few players in NFL history have that kind of experience, and it's not like he's a washed up version of his former self. Brady just hit 63% passing on 4,827 yards, 34 TD, 8 INT, 7.6 yards per attempt and a 98.7 QB rating. Funny to say that those are below Brady standards but still way above almost any other quarterback's standards.
It's kind of weird, but Brady actually doesn't post excellent numbers in the playoffs. He has thrown 20 interceptions in those 22 games and only for 6.66 yards per attempt. However, one thing nobody can argue with is winning championships. I mean, you technically could argue it, but then Brady would just flash the rings and say "Face."
He's one of the league's best quarterbacks and he's not even in MVP talk because everyone just comes to expect it at this point. He has some of the best offensive minds in football coaching him and the weapons at his disposal would shame Duke Nukem. I still think if you had to pick a playoff QB today, you'd pick Brady.
He just needs to avoid those other kind of picks.
New England is just a higher power than most of the AFC
The AFC is the bad conference now. It is so terrible outside of a few teams, and really only two teams warrant a mention. The Patriots and the Broncos are the best the conference has to offer, and I have recently started to wonder about the Broncos. Denver had the second-easiest schedule in the NFL by DVOA and they lost to the three best teams that they played against.
One of those was, of course, the Patriots.
In order to get to the Super Bowl, they have to travel to Denver (probably). Aside from that, playing in the AFC makes it easy.
The offense gives you peace of mind
Brady and Belichick ran a conservative offense in their first three seasons (which still led to two Super Bowl titles). By season four though, they took the wheels off and won another Super Bowl when they finished 4th in scoring offense.
They have been a top-10 scoring offense in each of the last nine seasons, and one of those was with Matt Cassel. They finished first in scoring offense and first in total offense for the first time since they went 16-0 in 2007. If they are at full health, nobody presents a problem like the Pats do with Brady, Ridley, Danny Woodhead (seven touchdowns), Shane Vereen, Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Gronkowski.
Seriously, they have more fantasy players on one team than a four-person league.
They also did quite well in the turnovers department, finishing second in giveaways and also second in takeaways on defense. This team is careful with the football and takes advantage of every opportunity you give them. If they can avoid giving the ball away to a tough Texans defense, and then force Manning into a couple of mistakes, they'll be Bowling again.
But what if it doesn't break right? What if the Lombardi Trophy isn't returning to Boston?
Why the Patriots Won't Win the Super Bowl
Tell me how they're going to stop anyone from passing the ball
They seem to draft defensive backs from here to kingdom come and just what the heck has it done for them? I realize that the Pats are built to beat you in a shootout and they've remained elite with a bad pass defense, but they're also 12-4 and haven't won a Super Bowl in the last few years despite the best offense in the NFL.
They gave up three passing touchdowns to Joe Flacco. They lost to Kevin Kolb. They also lost to the early version of Russell Wilson that wasn't that great at the time. (Really, that game opened up my entire mind about Wilson). They got crushed by Colin Kaepernick. This team is a bad pass defense even though they faced Mark Sanchez twice, Ryan Tannehill twice, Ryan Fitzpatrick twice... they should be ranked #1 against the pass based on that alone, but they're 29th.
You'll still have to get through Matt Schaub, probably Manning, and then either Aaron Rodgers, Kaepernick, Wilson, or Matt Ryan. Will they be able to stop three playoff quarterbacks in a row to win it all?
What happens if you cool the engines on Brady?
New England is built to beat you in a shootout, so you better have a bigger gun or take away theirs. In the Seattle game, Brady was able to toy with the defense for three quarters, but only enough to score 23 points. That's when Wilson was able to take advantage of their terrible pass defense at the end, since the Pats didn't do enough to pull away and get off the final shot.
The Texans are fourth against the pass by DVOA. The Broncos are fifth. The Packers are seventh. The Seahawks are third. The 49ers are sixth. Honestly, their best shot would be to beat Houston, face the Ravens (13th) and then the Falcons (11th), but really there is no way around it.
For the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, they're going to have to do something they haven't done well this year -- beat teams with great pass defenses. Three of them.
The AFC said "I had a good time" but that time is passed
Between 1997 and 2008, the AFC won nine Super Bowls at a time when they were the dominant conference. Before that, the NFC had won 13-straight Super Bowls. These things are cyclical, and the cycle is back on the NFC as the power conference.
I'll say it again -- the AFC stinks. The Patriots (21st most-difficult schedule) and the Broncos (31st most-difficult) aren't as tested as whatever team comes out of the NFC. I think that the Pats have the best shot at making it out of the AFC, but I'll pick any team not named the Falcons to beat them.
The NFC has better defenses and a much better all-around stable of quarterbacks. It's going to get even uglier when Brady and Manning retire, and that ain't far off. The NFC has a bunch of players 30 or younger playing the position that look like they could be good for a long time. I believe that tougher schedules make you tougher, and the Patriots haven't had a tough schedule.
You get so used to playing Sanchez and Fitzpatrick that you forget what it's like to play against Rodgers, or the 49ers, or the Seahawks' defense, and then you slip into a coma only to wake up to a text message from Richard Sherman that says "U MAD BRO?"
New England can win the title this year because of course they can. It's a solid organization, the most successful organization since we partied like it's 1999, but there are going to be some major hurdles for them to climb this year. Can they do it, or will it be "Foreplay/Longtime"?