New England Patriots: Why Tom Brady and Co. Won't Be Stopped This Postseason
Coming off the most convincing win of Tom Brady's playoff career, the New England Patriots offense looks unstoppable. The Pats won't put up 45 points every week, but no defense will be able shut them down.
The Baltimore Ravens are now set as the next visitor to Foxborough, but even a defense that held to under 17 points per game during the regular season doesn't stand much of a chance of slowing down these Patriots.
Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez give the Patriots two weapons that no other team can match. Even as just second year players, both have established themselves among the best receivers in the NFL.
Gronkowski finished the regular season with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. He ranked sixth overall in receiving yardage and led the league in receiving touchdowns.
Hernandez grabbed 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns, finishing fourth in receiving yardage among tight ends and 31st overall.
Though both are excellent at stretching the defense down the seam, the Pats tight ends do most of their damage running after the catch. Both rank in the top 10 in the NFL in yards after the catch. Combined, the two tight ends have rumbled for a total of 1,175 additional yards.
It's no surprise that defensive backs aren't in a hurry to bring either player down. Hernandez and Gronkowski weigh in at 245 and 265 pounds, respectively.
Yet, for all of their game-breaking abilities, Gronkowski and Hernandez still have the reliability you'd expect from tight ends. Both catch at least 70 percent of the balls thrown their way.
There's no quarterback remaining in this playoffs with a more impressive record of playoff success than Tom Brady.
He has struggled in his last two playoff games prior to Saturday's beatdown of the Denver Broncos, but after a regular season in which Brady set career highs in attempts, completions, yards, and yards per attempt, I'll side with recent history over the past.
Since the halfway point of the regular season, Brady has thrown 25 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He's thrown for over 300 yards in seven his last nine games and completed at least 55 percent of his passes in each of those outings.
Coming off of a career-best playoff performance, it's hard to bet against him.
New England has one of the best passing offenses in the game, but when the weather gets cold, don't discount the Patriots running attack. January has been the best month for the Pats ground game, they average nearly five yards per carry as a team.
Aside from the occasional gadget play to Aaron Hernandez, there aren't going to be many explosive plays coming from the New England's rushers, but that's just fine for an offense that gets plenty of big plays from its passing game.
When it comes to keeping the chains moving, however, few teams are better than the Patriots.
Of the teams remaining in the playoffs, nobody has converted a higher percentage of first downs on the ground. Nearly 25 percent of all of New England's rushing attempts delivered a new set of downs.
Home Field Advantage
Though you'd expect an air-it-out offense to be more comfortable in a climate-controlled setting, yet somehow, the blistering cold of Gillette Stadium doesn't seem to have much of any impact on the New England offense.
Tom Brady has posted a home quarterback rating over 100 in each of the last three seasons. Over that time period, Brady has thrown 51 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions at home.
This season, the Patriots run game has also been markedly better at home. As a team, the Patriots average 118 rushing yards per game in Gillette Stadium, 15 more per game than on the road. Even with cold conditions making it difficult to squeeze the football, Patriot runners have fumbled only once in 228 combined carries at home.
In some of the coldest conditions they've faced all year, the Patriots scored a total of 94 points in their last two home games.
True, New England lost home playoff games in 2009 and 2010, but I'm still very comfortable backing a team that's gone 16-2 in its last 18 games in Foxborough.
Matchups Won't Matter
The Patriots are scheduled to face off with the Baltimore Ravens' vaunted defense, which returns with many of the same parts from a team that beat New England at Foxboro during the 2009 AFC playoffs. It seems like a troubling matchup, but based on their performance against top defenses this season, the Pats have little reason for worry.
During the regular season, the Patriots played nine games against defenses that ranked in the top 15 in total yards allowed. New England averaged 30.5 points per game against those defenses, scoring at least 34 points five times.
Sure, 30.5 is slightly below their season average of 32.1, but even that slightly reduced level of production would have ranked third in the NFL, behind only the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.