The New England Patriots could really go undefeated this season, which would have really sounded like a ridiculous statement on September 2. Of course, the long national nightmare that was Deflategate ended the next day and Tom Brady was rightfully exonerated of any known wrongdoing in the matter. He would miss no games. The Patriots were set.
And by set, I mean…. they were on their way to continuing their complete reign of terror over the rest of the NFL.
It started with a seven point win over the Steelers on the Thursday night to commence the season (the Steelers only lost by a touchdown, but they also scored on the last play of the game to make the score this close; the only real consequence of the final play was suffered in Las Vegas, and we know how important that is).
What came next would be a 40-32 squeaker over the Bills, but the Patriots were leading 37-13 going into the 4th quarter. So they really dominated both games in the first two weeks of the season but only won each by one possession. If you think that this is a sign of the team “leaking oil” (they had two more one-possession wins against the Colts and Jets), well…. you’re probably right. But there is also the very present and real possibility that the team could go undefeated this season.
There are a couple of similarities that everyone knows between the 2007 Patriots, the last undefeated regular season team in the NFL, and this year’s team. There are three to be exact. Here they are, in no particular order.
- The team was going on a revenge tour (post-Spygate in 2007, post-Deflategate in 2015)
- Bill Belichick
- Tom Brady
Literally, that’s it. The obvious similarities end here, which is not a surprise considering that the undefeated run happened eight years ago. So much changes in the NFL from year to year, let alone week to week (See: Kaepernick, Colin) and the fact that there are even this many parallels between 2007 and 2015 is nothing short of a shock.
What are the differences? There are some (mostly personnel and not talent), but interestingly enough, defense is not one of them.
The 2007 New England Patriots defense allowed all of 17.1 points per game, which ranked fourth in the league that season. Last year’s Super Bowl winning Patriots squad gave up 19.6 points per game, but their defense helped them win two games that they probably should have lost in the first month of the season. This year’s defense, although with very different personnel, is actually putting up very similar numbers.
How similar? Actually, they aren’t just similar, they’re even slightly better. Last year’s team was 13th in the league in yards allowed, surrendering just over 344 per game. This year’s team is actually allowing more yards per contest (346) but somehow rank 12th; this is probably due to the constantly improving state of offense in the NFL…. and the league’s defense-deterring rules package.
In terms of points per game, the 2015 defense is again doing better than last year’s defense, amazingly. This year’s D is only allowing 19 per game, and they’re doing it without Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Browner.
About those losses. They really should be what would make this year’s defense a liability. The Patriots defense really should not be all that good this season. Losing Wilfork, Revis, and Browner is to the Patriots after last season what losing Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Brandon Mebane would have meant to the Seahawks a season ago. That team only lost Maxwell and while they’re still second in the league in yards allowed, their defense isn’t quite as dominant as it was at this time last year. The Patriots’ is somehow better.
And as for the offense, well, you know about the offense. I don’t need to tell you about how Tom Brady is probably the greatest quarterback ever, or how Rob Gronkowski might be the greatest tight end to ever play by the time he’s finished, or about how Julian Edelman has filled the role of Wes Welker (and then some). I don’t need to tell you about any of those things because you already know, and this incredible offense is still the main reason for New England’s success, and as long as Brady is at the helm, it always will be. And, take it from me, NFL: You have ten years left of this (or thereabouts).
The real reason the Patriots should have hope for an undefeated season is obvious: the schedule. They have, at this moment, exactly two games remaining against teams who are over .500, and while they have one more road game than home game from here on out, it’s easy to see how they could run the table. They still have two games left against the AFC South (against the Texans and Titans, who, at 3-5 and 1-6, respectively, could still win the division) and an additional three remaining over the NFC East, which really isn’t good either.
The schedule, combined with the talent on the roster, are the main ingredients for an opportunity at an undefeated season. The team faced only six playoff teams in 2007, and do you know, on their previously played and remaining 2015 schedule, how many current playoff teams are on it? Six. Serendipity, but really, just an easy schedule. But more than anything, this is an amazing team that, through all of the drama and craziness surrounding them over Deflategate, stayed the course and reached a new level of play that they had never attained previously.
And that’s the most astounding part of what the Patriots have done in 2015. With all of the losses, all of the insanity around the team over the summer, all of the challenges that come with trying to repeat as Super Bowl Champion. Through all of it, absolutely nothing seems to matter when it comes to their success. Nothing.
With the week-to-week nature of the NFL and the fact that this edition of the Patriots isn’t as dominant as the one from 2007, the team probably won’t go undefeated. But everything is in line for them to do so, and if they play the way they are capable of playing week in and week out, they’ll probably be able to pull it off.
Which means that it’s more than okay to start discussing the possibility of it now.