As I first reported yesterday afternoon on Twitter — @JumboHart if you want to follow – an interesting statistical tidbit fell into my lap this week.
New England's much maligned defense finished 2011 ranked 15th in the NFL in points allowed, but had the team allowed just 14 fewer points over the course of the 16-game schedule the team would have ranked tied for No. 10 in the league. That means had the unit not fallen apart in the fourth quarter against Indy's Pierre Garcon and Dan Orlovsky.
That bad finish would have been the difference between a team that's literally middle of the pack in defense and one that might be statistically better positioned to be considered a Super Bowl favorite.
It really would have given fuel to all the fans and media types that argue that the Patriots defense is much better than its 31st overall ranking based on yards allowed. That it really is a bend-but-don't-break unit.
It shows just how close the statistics and numbers can be in the NFL. How the difference between a team that looks good in the numbers and one that looks less impressive can be very slim, and swing on either a good or bad stretch of play in a single game.
Of course had the Patriots allowed say 14 more points – like maybe Santana Moss doesn't get called for offensive pass interference in Washington or Matt Moore doesn't underthrow a wide-open Brian Hartline for Miami – then New England would have ranked 18th in the league.
But, alas, the number are what they are at this point. The Patriots are 31st in yards allowed. They are 15th in points allowed. And they are the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
As bad as things have looked on defense for most of the year, the Patriots aren't all that far away from being considered a top-10 unit in points allowed like those in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore, Houston and Cincinnati.