NE Patriots: How Likely is 16-0 Again?

Tom Brady and Randy Moss

Tom Brady and Randy Moss

Two years ago, the New England Patriots had a historic regular season, the first team in NFL history to go 16-0. In that season, they also set the record for most points scored in a regular season. They were only seconds away from finishing the season with an undefeated Super Bowl championship, which would have made them the second team to ever accomplish the feat. With Tom Brady returning from a torn ACL, are the Patriots poised to pursue perfection again?

Based on 2008 records, they will face a tougher overall schedule this year than last. The combined winning percentage of 2008 opponents was 0.480. Coming into 2009, the Patriots’ Strength of Schedule is ranked 3rd with a 0.590 winning percentage (also based on 2008 records). Since teams change from year to year, this schedule may not be as bad as first indicated, but at this point, it appears that the Pats face a significantly tougher schedule than in 2008. In fact, looking back to 2007, their SOS in 2007 was 0.469, based on their 2007 records. So, they faced a tougher schedule in 2008 than 2007, and 2009 looks to be harder than both. At first glance, it would appear that they face a tall task in repeating the glory of 2007.

In this post, I wanted to break down the Patriots’ 2007, 2008 and 2009 schedules a little further to get a better understanding of what they are up against this season (much the same way I had in this post on the Falcons and this post on the Cowboys). Taking my raw data from Pro-Football-Reference.com, I have compiled the Offensive and Defensive rankings of the Patriots’ opponents from 2007, 2008 and 2009, broken out in the following 4 categories:  

  • Pts Rk – Total Points Rank
  • Yds Rk – Total Yards Rank
  • Pass Rk – Passing Yards Rank
  • Rush Rk – Rushing Yards Rank

The rankings for 2008 and 2009 are based on how the teams finished the 2008 season, since, of course, the 2009 final rankings are yet to be determined. Rankings from 2007 are based on how they finished in 2007. In my other posts like this, I only looked at 2008 and 2009. But, in this case, it made sense to also include 2007, because of Brady’s injury last year.

Before we get into opponents’ rankings, let’s review the Patriots’ rankings from the last two seasons.


Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Patriots’ 2008 Off Rks 8 5 12 6
Patriots’ 2008 Def Rks 8 10 11 15
Patriots’ 2007 Off Rks 1 1 1 13
Patriots’ 2007 Def Rks 4 4 6 10

These numbers definitely show a dropoff in productivity for New England from 2007 to 2008. The only ranking that is higher in 2008 is rushing offense. That makes sense because with Brady out you want to run the ball more to protect the inexperienced Cassel. As most pundits seem to be predicting, I would expect a rebound with Brady’s return. With these numbers in mind, let’s take a look at the Patriots’ opponents for the last two years and this year. In the tables below, we see the Patriots’ opponents’ offensive and defensive ranks for 2007, 2008 and 2009. First, the offensive ranks for 2007:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Patriots’ 2007 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
New York Jets 25 26 25 19
San Diego Chargers 5 20 26 7
Buffalo Bills 30 30 30 15
Cincinnati Bengals 11 10 7 24
Cleveland Browns 8 8 12 10
Dallas Cowboys 2 3 4 17
Miami Dolphins 26 28 24 23
Washington Redskins 19 15 14 12
Indianapolis Colts 3 5 6 18
Buffalo Bills 30 30 30 15
Philadelphia Eagles 17 6 10 8
Baltimore Ravens 24 22 23 16
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 17 22 3
New York Jets 25 26 25 19
Miami Dolphins 26 28 24 23
New York Giants 14 16 21 4
Average Ranks 17.19 18.13 18.94 14.56

And 2008:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Patriots’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
New York Jets 9 16 16 9
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
San Francisco 49ers 22 23 13 27
San Diego Chargers 2 11 7 20
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
St. Louis Rams 30 27 26 25
Indianapolis Colts 13 15 5 31
Buffalo Bills 23 25 22 14
New York Jets 9 16 16 9
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 22 17 23
Seattle Seahawks 25 28 29 19
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
Arizona Cardinals 4 4 2 32
Buffalo Bills 23 25 22 14
Average Ranks 18.31 18.19 15.63 17.69

And 2009:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Patriots’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Buffalo Bills 23 25 22 14
New York Jets 9 16 16 9
Atlanta Falcons 10 6 14 2
Baltimore Ravens 11 18 28 4
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
Tennessee Titans 14 21 27 7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
Indianapolis Colts 13 15 5 31
New York Jets 9 16 16 9
New Orleans Saints 1 1 1 28
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
Carolina Panthers 7 10 19 3
Buffalo Bills 23 25 22 14
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 20 15 18
Houston Texans 17 3 4 13
Average Ranks 14.88 13.5 13.94 12.56

Next, we have the opponents’ defensive ranks for 2007:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Patriots’ 2007 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
New York Jets 19 18 9 29
San Diego Chargers 5 14 14 16
Buffalo Bills 18 31 29 25
Cincinnati Bengals 24 27 26 21
Cleveland Browns 21 30 24 27
Dallas Cowboys 13 9 13 6
Miami Dolphins 30 23 4 32
Washington Redskins 11 8 16 4
Indianapolis Colts 1 3 2 15
Buffalo Bills 18 31 29 25
Philadelphia Eagles 9 10 18 7
Baltimore Ravens 22 6 20 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 1 3 3
New York Jets 19 18 9 29
Miami Dolphins 30 23 4 32
New York Giants 17 7 11 8
Average Ranks 16.19 16.19 14.44 17.56

And 2008:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Patriots’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
New York Jets 18 16 29 7
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
San Francisco 49ers 23 13 20 13
San Diego Chargers 15 25 31 11
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
St. Louis Rams 31 28 19 29
Indianapolis Colts 7 11 6 24
Buffalo Bills 14 14 13 22
New York Jets 18 16 29 7
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
Pittsburgh Steelers 1 1 1 2
Seattle Seahawks 25 30 32 18
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
Arizona Cardinals 28 19 22 16
Buffalo Bills 14 14 13 22
Average Ranks 18.44 19 20.56 17.44

And 2009:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Patriots’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Buffalo Bills 14 14 13 22
New York Jets 18 16 29 7
Atlanta Falcons 11 24 21 25
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 2 3
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
Tennessee Titans 2 7 9 6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
Indianapolis Colts 7 11 6 24
New York Jets 18 16 29 7
New Orleans Saints 26 23 23 17
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
Carolina Panthers 12 18 16 20
Buffalo Bills 14 14 13 22
Jacksonville Jaguars 21 17 24 14
Houston Texans 27 22 17 23
Average Ranks 14.44 15.75 17.63 16

Below I have added consolidated tables to make it easier to compare between the three years. First the Offensive rankings:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks

Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
2007 Average Ranks 17.19 18.13 18.94 14.56
2008 Average Ranks 18.31 18.19 15.63 17.69
2009 Average Ranks 14.88 13.5 13.94 12.56

And the Defensive Rankings:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks

Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
2007 Average Ranks 16.19 16.19 14.44 17.56
2008 Average Ranks 18.44 19 20.56 17.44
2009 Average Ranks 14.44 15.75 17.63 16

Just a glance at these tables shows that the Patriots can expect to face an overall tougher schedule in 2009 than either of the last two years. This would agree with the strength of schedule numbers that we looked at above.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, here are a few items of the note from this data:

  • The opponents’ average offensive rank increases 19% in points scored from 2008 to 2009 and 13% from 2007 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average offensive rank increases 26% in yards gained from 2008 to 2009 (11% in pass yards, 29% in rush yards).
  • The opponents’ average offensive rank increases 26% in yards gained from 2007 to 2009 (26% in pass yards, 14% in rush yards).
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank increases 22% in points allowed from 2008 to 2009 and 11% from 2007 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank increases 17% in yards allowed from 2008 to 2009 (14% in pass yards, 8% in rush yards).
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank increases 3% in yards allowed from 2007 to 2009 (decreases 22% in pass yards, increases 9% in rush yards).
  • In 2007, the Patriots faced the following number of top 10 offenses: 5 in points, 5 in yards, 4 passing, and 5 rushing.
  • In 2008, the Patriots faced the following number of top 10 offenses: 4 in points, 2 in yards, 6 passing, and 3 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Patriots will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 5 in points, 5 in yards, 6 passing, and 6 rushing.
  • In 2007, the Patriots faced the following number of top 10 defenses: 4 in points, 7 in yards, 6 passing, and 6 rushing.
  • In 2008, the Patriots faced the following number of top 10 defenses: 4 in points, 1 in yards, 3 passing, and 5 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Patriots will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 6 in points, 3 in yards, 4 passing, and 6 rushing.

There are several things to be gleaned from these numbers. First, as we already looked at with the strength of schedule numbers, the Patriots will be facing a tougher schedule in 2009 than either of the last two years. The only drop in average opponents’ ranking is in opponents’ passing defense from 2007 to 2009. Every other average opponents’ ranking increases in 2009 over both years. You could argue that since they are facing lower average rankings in pass defense than 2007, that should play into the strengths of Brady and Randy Moss, though.

Second, if I see one area of real concern for the Patriots in these numbers, it is on the defensive side of the ball. Looking back at Patriots’ defensive rankings in 2007 and 2008, rankings in all categories dropped. Then, when we see that the average offensive opponents’ ranking in 2008 were about the same or slightly lower in most categories (somewhat higher in passing offense), that adds to the appearance that the defense has been in decline. Even the offensive numbers may be somewhat of a concern. Certainly, one would expect the Pats offense to struggle with the loss Brady, so the lower offensive rankings in 2008 are not unexpected. But, the defensive opponents’ rankings were lower in 2008 as well, which may have hidden some of the struggles that would otherwise have shown up. The question is whether the decline in offensive output was entirely due to Brady’s loss or was it also caused by the rest of the offense declining as well? Given Cassel’s unexpectedly good numbers, it’s probably the former.

Having reviewed these numbers, I would conclude that the Patriots will still have a better record in 2009 than they did in 2008. Brady’s return is expected to give the team a great lift, and so far in the preseason, he’s looked pretty sharp. Even if the offense is slightly less proficient in 2009 than in 2007, and the defense is slightly less effective than 2007, the Pats should finish with at least 12 to 14 wins. The only thing from the preseason that I saw that could reduce the win total is the hit that Haynesworth put on Brady. Matt Cassel was, IIRC, the most sacked QB in the league last year. So, the main question is whether that is because the offensive line has declined since 2007, or did he hold the ball too long? As long it’s the latter and not the former, this years Patriots team should be very productive again.

At this point, I will point out that this analysis didn’t get into individual opponents and what changes each opponent went through in the offseason. For example, the Colts will be without Tony Dungy at the helm. Will they keep right on humming with Manning at QB, or will they struggle with the changes that Caldwell has made? Or, how will the Jets look with a new head coach and QB? We don’t know, but, as I said in the other analyses, I think this analysis gives a good big picture view of the Patriots’ upcoming schedule.

Pats fans, let me know your thoughts!

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8 Responses to “NE Patriots: How Likely is 16-0 Again?”

  1. Robert Mastromarino Says:

    All your figures are fine information, but you still have to play the games.

    Indy had the number one defense in 2007 and lost. Going into 2007 Indy had the number three offense, Dallas had the number two they lost too.

    When push comes to shove, it comes down to coaching. We’ve got Bill, the best coach in NFL history.

    The Patriots may not win 16 games this year in the regular season, but I predict they will have home field advantage through out the playoffs and go to another Super Bowl.

    Remember the last time the Patriots did not make the playoffs was 2002. They then won two Super Bowls in a row. The rest of the NFL has been put on notice.

  2. shawn10ski Says:

    I have already reserved my 19and0 lisence plate!

  3. mike Says:

    When comparing the 2007 opponent ranks to 2008/09, I don’t think you can do it straight up. Some of those lopsided scores in 07 might have pushed some of their opponents down a spot or two, especially in the def rankings. Ideally, you’d recalculate the opponents pts, yds, etc., after taking out the head to head numbers, express them on a per game basis, and then see where they rank. But honestly, that’s probably not worth the work, since we’ll see for ourselves in a few days, so I can’t complain.

    I do agree with your conclusion, though. This will be a tougher schedule than in the last two years, and our defense is much less experienced now. I’m guessing 11 or 12 wins, 3 seed (behind SD and PIT), with a decent shot at going all the way in Jan/Feb.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      There may be merit to that, but in general, I think the NFL is a good size to have a pretty good ranking of teams relative to each other, as opposed to say, college football. Because their is so little overlap in college between BSC conferences, it’s hard to know how the best teams truly stack up against each other, particularly with only 12 games in season. In the NFL, there is a fair amount of overlap between common opponents, especially when you begin to look at multiple year scenarios.

      But, I guess I’d have to think it over more. Also, as you say, the season starts in a few days, so . . . . 🙂

      • mike Says:

        As a general practice, yeah, I’d agree that’s a safe approach. I only brought it up because some of NEs ’07 numbers were such statistical outliers to the NFL norm.

        BTW, love the site, keep it up.

  4. kevin c Says:

    your website was cool thanks for something to read hope you are right life long fan

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