New England Patriots 2018 Stats Review:
Pythagorean Wins: 10.8
ATS: 9-7; average line -7.4
Over/Under: 5-11; average total 49.5
Close Games Record: 3-2-1
Turnover Differential: +0.6
Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 78.6 (18th)
Offense: 6th in EPA per play (+0.110); 6.02 yards per play
Defense: 5th in EPA per play (-0.025); 5.76 yards per play
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The Smartest Team
The New England Patriots weren’t the best offensive team, but they got the job done. They weren’t the best defensive team on a play-by-play basis, but they once again were one of the smartest. Since 2010, this defense ranked in the top-7 of opponent yards per point. Bill Belichick never has the best personnel, but they have a unique ability to limit opponent’s scores. Offense, defense, and field position. The Patriots were an 11-5 team by all means. They gave up a few games but went 4-1 against playoff teams. They had a Pythagorean win expectation of 10.8 and were on the right side of the turnover margin (0.6) while playing the 8th-easiest win-loss schedule (0.482).
Rob Gronkowski has dealt with a back injury the whole season, Julian Edelman was suspended for the first four games, and the Pats lacked some receiving weapons on the outside early in the season. With a cheat code – offensive line coach Dante Scarneccia, the pickup of Josh Gordon and their running backs, the Pats built a slightly alternative way to attack opposing defenses throughout the year. Early in the season, some teams like the Jaguars, Titans, and Lions were able to capitalize on the Pats’ weaknesses. But that didn’t last long as soon as Josh Gordon got to speed up and Edelman was back to full strength.
Gronk is Gone
Rob Gronkowski has retired. And that’s inevitably going to be a problem for the New England Patriots. Gronk has been the best tight end over the past decade, and it’s not close. Since 2009, 459 players saw targets 100 times or more. Rob Gronkowski had 792 targets and ranked second in expected points added per target (0.60). Hunter Henry (115 targets) ranks first. Every time a Patriots quarterback targeted Gronk, the offense had 0.6 expected points more after the play than pre-snap. It is crazy. Also, Gronk was a special run-blocker at his position.
It’s impossible to replace such a player, and the Patriots understand that. Instead of trying to replace Gronk, they went a different route. They signed and drafted Demaryius Thomas (6’3″), Dontrelle Inman (6’3″), N’Keal Harry (6’4″) and Cameron Meredith (6’3″). Josh Gordon (6’3″) is appealing for reinstatement. The current front-runner for the TE-position, Matt LaCosse, is 6’6″ tall. The Patriots are going to spread out opposing defenses and create targets with higher catch radiuses for Tom Brady. That is why the Patriots are the most exceptional team of the past decade – they are always one step ahead. Where defenses are trying to build nickel and dime defenses with shifty cornerbacks and safeties in the box, the Pats create height advantages.
Imagine the Patriots audibling to five-wide with James White, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, N’Keal Harry and Demaryius Thomas in space. It’s hard to defend Edelman and White over the middle, but now Brady has alternatives with higher catch radiuses than he had last year with guys like Chris Hogan (6’1″), Phillip Dorsett (5’10”) or Cordarrelle Patterson (6’2″).
The Patriots have Tom Brady, OC Josh McDaniels, and Bill Belichick. They will continue to find ways to attack opposing defenses. Both tackle spots might be the weak links on this offense, but with coaching guru Dante Scarneccia, I wouldn’t be much concerned. Without Gronk and with a redshirt sophomore (Isaiah Wynn) coming off an injury at left tackle I am not expecting the Pats to blow away teams early in the year. They are usually ‘slow’ starters, too. But we should expect the Pats to be okay and to continue to be a top-10 offense. But they are not the 2018 Chiefs.
The Genius of Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick lost defensive end Trey Flowers, but instead of overpaying he replaced him with former Eagle and Seahawk Michael Bennett. He should be able to contribute about 80 to 90 percent of what Flowers did, and that’s enough. With rookie Chase Winovich and linebacker/edge rush hybrid Jamie Collins, Belichick will find enough ways to create pressure by scheme and concepts. When Collins spent his first four years with the Patriots, where he had defensive grades of 72.2, 85.3, 85.2 and 82.9 that ranked 20th, 5th, 7th, and 10th. In Cleveland, he didn’t rank higher than 58th. Bill Belichick knows how to use his players. With linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, Belichick has enough personnel
Stephon Gilmore had a fantastic 2018 season, but cornerback performance tends to be volatile. It’s not far-stretched to expect some regression. Jason McCourty, brother of safety Devin, was a tremendous low-cost pick-up last year. With an excellent safety group consisting of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duran Harmon, Bill Belichick can keep one of the best secondaries together from last year. The only weak spot might be at the slot-cornerback position, but it’s not a surprise that three safeties played at least 695 snaps last season. This defense is going to be good again, and they are going to benefit from one of the easier schedules still.
Same procedure as every year: by Pinnacle regular-season win totals, the New England Patriots are projected to play the most relaxed schedule in the league at .4616. And that includes four games against the Bills and Jets who are expected to make jumps. The markets are at 7.5 wins for the Jets and 7.1 wins for the Bills. By offensive EPA per play numbers from 2018, the Pats are projected to play the 2nd-easiest program at -0.0057.
The average offense the Pats will face this year averaged negative EPA per play last year which is bogus. But before people cry about the AFC East: Over the past ten years, the Patriots have the NFL-best record against non-divisional opponents. Only two of their opponents (KC, PIT) ranked top-10 offensively. But we might also expect improvements from teams like the Eagles, Browns, Ravens, and Jets whereas teams like the Dolphins, Giants, and Redskins don’t look to surpass their 2018 performances.
New England Patriots 2019: Same Procedure as Every Year
Same procedure as every year. If not for a substantial offensive improvement from the Jets or Bills, we shouldn’t expect the Patriots to be challenged for the division title. They will suffer from the loss of Gronkowski at least early in the year. But the Patriots will always evolve and find ways to win. It’s hard to believe the Pats are going to earn less than ten victories, but I don’t think they will cruise towards twelve wins comfortably either. The markets have cooled down a bit on them, pushing the win total from 11.4 to 11.1. That seems very fair, repeating their 11-5 record should be on the horizon.