Since the start of the 2011 season, the New England Patriots are 38-13, including the playoffs. In those 13 losses, their average margin of defeat is 4.85 points.
The Patriots don't often lose, and when they do, it's never by much.
But the Patriots keep on winning. The faces might have changed, but the unflappable competitive energy that has been part of this team for more than a decade has not.
At the center of it is Tom Brady, putting up double-digit wins once again despite having an almost entirely new set of receivers to whom to throw.
He might not throw 50 touchdowns this season, but it's been every bit impressive as any other in Brady's career. With their future Hall of Famer at quarterback, the Patriots never stop believing they can win a game, and those kinds of teams are dangerous in the playoffs.
Five straight games have come down to the final play, and seven of the Patriots' 15 games have been decided by three points or less. There's no reason to expect anything different in the playoffs.
But the close games are good news for the Patriots. Teams that are used to close battles all season long tend to do better in the playoffs. According to Christopher Price of WEEI.com:
Six of the last 10 Super Bowl winners had an average margin of victory of eight points or less, while on the other end of the spectrum, only two of the Super Bowl winners in that span had an average margin of victory of 10 points or better.
The Patriots average margin of victory this season? 4.1.
Where did the turnovers go?
Patriot losses are rare, but when they happen, it's pretty easy to see why.
The biggest factor is the turnover battle. The Patriots defense has given up a lot of yards over the past few years, and no one would call them one of the elite defenses of the NFL. But what always seemed to save them were turnovers.
The Patriots were ranked third in the NFL in turnovers in 2011 and second in 2012. This year they are 11th. Those are impressive totals, showing remarkable consistency at something in which it is hard to be consistent.
But of the Patriots' 13 losses since 2011, they've won the turnover battle just three times and they are 2-3 in the five games where they forced zero turnovers.
They've also lost the turnover battle in each of their last four playoff exits, including zero takeaways in the last three.
What's troubling about the 2013 Pats is that they've forced just six turnovers in the last five games, the reason they've dropped to 11th in the league.
The turnovers are drying up at the wrong time of year.
A 60-minute dogfight
It requires a near-perfect game to beat the Patriots and to bury the final dagger late in the game. They excel at letting their opponent beat themselves, which most NFL teams will do when forced to consistently execute.
They can also beat or lose to any team in the NFL on any given Sunday, and that should make for an unpredictable playoffs.
No longer can they simply win with superior talent; they'll have to win with superior heart and effort, and they have proven they have plenty of both. In many ways, this is a throwback to 2001, when a bunch of unknowns and fill-ins brought the first Lombardi Trophy back to Foxborough.
With Tom Brady at the helm and a team that never says die, no one will look forward to drawing the Patriots in the playoffs.
Mike Dussault is a Patriots Featured Columnist who also writes and edits PatsPropaganda.com.
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