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October surprise: Five reasons to be excited about the Patriots prospects
There certainly seems to be a strain of fatalism that surrounds the New England sports fan. Whether it's particular to New England or not is a source of great debate.
Regardless, this dark fatalism haunts our peculiar local culture, and has at least since days of the Salem witch trials, 320 years ago.
Case in point: your 2012 New England Patriots.
The Patriots are fresh off a big divisional win over their hated arch-rival that launched New England into sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
You wouldn't know it from the frightening faces and scary talk around town.
Certainly, there are problems with the Patriots. The Cold, Hard Football Facts have been the first and one of the loudest voices pointing out the issues with New England's pass defense. And the Patriots have a big challenge in London Sunday, against a St. Louis team that is 2-0 against the same NFC West opponents (Seattle, Arizona) who handed the Patriots two of their three losses.
But there are also plenty of reasons for optimism. Here, then, are five reasons to be excited about the Patriots prospects during the 2012 season.
There is plenty of talk that Brady is off his game this year. The Cold, Hard Football Facts tell quite a different story. The Patriots right now rank:
- No. 11 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt (6.72)
- No. 6 in Offensive Passer Rating (96.9)
- No. 4 in Real Quarterback Rating (93.2), our measure of ALL aspects of QB play, not just passing
Brady boasts a career passer rating of 96.4. That's third best in NFL history, for those of you keeping score at home. Only Aaron Rodgers (104.7) and Steve Young (96.8) boast better numbers.
And Brady has been a shade better than his career average here in 2012. There are exactly 32 teams in the NFL, and millions of fans from coast to coast, that would take an average Tom Brady as their quarterback.
2. The Patriots are a big fish in a small AFC pond – There are only three teams with winning records in the AFC right now. And the Patriots are one of those three, with the Texans and Ravens. Only one other AFC team has a legit shot at winning the conference crown. That would be the Denver Broncos, led by old friend Peyton Manning.
The Patriots easily dispatched of Manning and the Broncos earlier this month, leading 31-7 in the third quarter and holding on for a comfy 31-21 victory. The Patriots took it to the Ravens for much of the night back in September, before falling 31-30 on the road in Baltimore against a hostile crowd and tough team.
Houston right now is the class of the AFC, and maybe the NFL, with a 6-1 record and the No. 1 spot in the CHFF Quality Stats Power Rankings. The Patriots get their shot at them on Dec. 10, in a "Monday Night Football" game at Gillette Stadium.
So what you have coming down the pike is a southern dome team playing at night in chilly Foxborough in December. I'd take my chances on that game any day.
There's isn't a team or fan base in football that wouldn't be happy to know that theirs is one of four teams that can rightly expect a shot at reaching the Super Bowl.
3. Dante Scarnecchia delivers results – Credit Cold, Hard Football Facts analyst Tony Cocco for pointing this out: Scarnecchia, New England's offensive line coach, is one of the definitive Patriots. He's been a coach with the team for the better part of the past 30 years.
Scarnecchia, says Cocco, hasn't survived one coaching administration after another because he's the Johnny Pesky of the Patriots, a beloved figurehead who trots out in his team uniform each Sunday.
Scarnecchia has survived because he delivers results.
And the 2012 season is no exception: the Patriots are once again No. 1 on the Cold, Hard Football Facts Offensive Hog Index – that's right, the best offensive line in football.
Scarnecchia has helped this unit remain among the league's elite again this year despite a rash of injuries.
The Offensive Hog Index is comprised of three major components, ability to run the ball, ability to protect the passer, and ability to convert third downs.
The Patriots are No. 11 rushing the ball (4.21 YPA); they are No. 3 protecting the passer, suffering a Negative Pass Play on just 5.69 percent of dropbacks; and they are No. 3 on third down, converting 47.6 percent of attempts.
If you believe NFL games are won in the trenches, then you have to believe the best offensive line in football gives you a fighting chance each and every Sunday.
And, sure, there have been a few times when the offense could have aided its cause with a key conversion late in the game.
But the Cold, Hard Football Fact of the matter is that the Patriots still score more points than any team in football, with an average of 31.0 PPG. That puts the Patriots on pace to score 496 points this year.
For the record, only 17 teams in NFL history have scored 496 points or more in season – and three of those 17 were your New England Patriots (589 in 2007; 518 in 2010; 513 in 2011).
Put another way, the Patriots right now boast one of the greatest offenses in the history of football. If you're not happy with one of the great offenses in the history of football, there's not much we can do to help set your mind right.
5. It is a young defense with promising playmakers – The giant statistical elephant in the room is the state of the Patriots defense. The Cold, Hard Football Facts have been leading that charge for a long time, pointing out the flaws in New England's secondary for years now, long before it became trendy.
But at least there is a foundation in place to build upon. And that foundation begins up front.
The Patriots right now are No. 11 on our Defensive Hog Index. It's not an elite defensive front. But it's getting there, and certainly the unit is MUCH better than it was in 2011, when the Patriots finished the year No. 25 on our Defensive Hog Index.
New England stops the run as well as any team in football, surrendering a stingy 3.34 YPA. That's third best in the NFL.
The Patriots boast Vince Wilfork, the rock in the middle, and have surrounded him with a young collection of athletic defenders, including the young all-SEC linebacking corps of Brandon Spikes, who has lit up opponents with big hits this year, 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2010 Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo and rookie Dont'a Hightower.
Chandler Jones, meanwhile, was the NFL's defensive rookie of the month for September and already has 5.0 sacks this year.
The Patriots are not a perfect team, folks. But there are certainly plenty of reasons to think this team will be in the mix when it all gets real serious in January.