January 23, 2017


The Patriots Won With Less Talent Than Usual (Ty Schalter, 1/27/17, 538)

The New England Patriots team that takes the field for Super Bowl LI will have far less star power than that of the Patriots team that won Super Bowl XLIX two years ago. But star power can be deceiving: This season's AFC champions are very much in the same league as the last six Super Pats squads. Despite this season's injuries, suspensions and trades that prioritized the future at the cost of the present, the Patriots finished No. 1 in wins, No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 3 in scoring offense and No. 1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA. Head coach Bill Belichick had already built a resume worthy of the Hall of Fame, but the Patriots' emphatic 36-17 win over the Steelers on Sunday might make this season his most impressive achievement yet. [...]

Kyle Van Noy, a former second-round pick whom the Patriots traded for in October, is one of the scrap-heap guys who have played a vital role for this no-name Patriots defense. From the time he made his Patriots debut in Week 11 through the end of the regular season, Van Noy finished fifth on the Patriots in combined tackles and assists. Against the Steelers on Sunday, he registered four solo tackles and forced the second-half fumble that clinched the game.

Despite these fill-ins, the Patriots led the NFL in regular season DVOA for the first time since the 2010 season.

Before the Steelers saw their season ended -- emphatically -- by New England, they had won nine straight games. Pittsburgh also had five players named to the Pro Bowl; in the AFC, only the Raiders had more. If there was an AFC team with the talent and experience to go into Gillette Stadium and win a playoff game, Pittsburgh was it. Yet the Steelers were out-coached and out-executed.

Posted by at January 23, 2017 7:02 PM