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In the last 10 years the New England Patriots have developed into a perennial contender. It is expected that they make the playoffs, and the only way a season can be deemed a success is with a super bowl title.
By this high standard, the last two years have been great disappointments, with the Patriots losing in their first playoff game both years. It is because of this that a 13-3 2011 season has been downplayed to some extent this year. People have focused more of the weaknesses of this team than the strengths.
But with the way this particular season has gone and the particular teams representing the AFC in the playoffs, this could be the year the Patriots make a run.
There are several reasons that people feel the Patriots will make an early exit in this year’s playoffs, and they are all fair reasons.
Obviously the main reason people think the Pats will lose their first game of the playoffs is because of the precedent set by the last two years. Both years they were playing at home, and last year they were in a very similar situation, holding the number one seed in the AFC.
Also this year the Patriots have not faired well against elite competition, losing their only two games played against teams with winning records, the Giants and Steelers.
The final reason is the defense. The Patriot defense has been atrocious this year, ranking 31st in the NFL for total defense, and ranking third worst in NFL history in that category.
And considering relatively weak competition, and the quarterbacks they have been torched by (Dan Orlovsky and Chad Henne come to mind), this does not bode well for the Patriots heading into the playoffs.
However, despite these negative aspects, I believe Patriots have what it takes to win this year based on several factors.
Simply put, the game is evolving, heading more and more in the direction of offense. This season, more than any other in recent history, has been a shining example of this, with passing records being shattered left and right.
After holding the passing yardage record for 27, Dan Marino’s record was crushed by Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers took the record for passer rating and Cam Newton broke the rookie record for passing yards.
The season began with the record for combined passing yards in game during the Patriots-Dolphins game, and ended with that record being topped in the Green Bay-Detroit game.
Another interesting stat, is that the record for most passing yards allowed was broken by the two teams (the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots) with the number one seed in their respective conferences.
This is because both of these teams have been able to contain the opposing team on the scoreboard just enough for the offense to come away with a win. The Packers are ranked 19th in points allowed, and the Patriots are ranked 15th.
No longer is the mantra “Defense wins Championships” true for the NFL. The rules of the game, the locations of the game, and the players of the game have led to a pass friendly league.
If you look at a super bowl winner like New Orleans two years ago, they did not have a dominant defense. What they did have was defenses that didn’t give up a lot of points and that forced turnovers. This coupled with a dominant offense seems to be the ticket to a championship in today’s NFL.
What is more important than ever to win a Super Bowl, is having a great quarterback. If you look at the quarterbacks who have represented the AFC in the super bowl the last 8 years, there are surprisingly few names: Brady, Manning, and Roethlisberger.
With Roethlisberger eliminated, which quarterback remains worthy of being added to that list? TJ Yates? Please. Tebow? He’ll have to have a lot more performances like his last one to enter elite status. Flacco? He’s the best of the bunch, but this year has a regression for him, and his playoff stats are miserable.
The fact is the Patriots have by far the best quarterback in the AFC playoffs, and as porous as their defense has been, they haven’t given up more than 27 points since week 2. And in a year dominated by the quarterback, it only seems fitting that the team with it’s league’s best would make it to the big dance.