Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New England Patriots: Quarter Mark Report and Looking Forward

It's been four weeks since the NFL regular season officially began, so it's time to take a look at the New England Patriots performance over their first four games and project how they'll do the rest of the year.

In two of the first three games this season, New England struggled to put together a true team performance where offense, defense, and special teams all played well.  In Week 2, good defense kept the Pats in the game until the very end but the offense sputtered and couldn't reclaim the lead at the end of the game due to miscues by Rob Gronkowski and last-second field goal miss by Stephen Gostkowski.  

In Week 3, the opposite was true.  The offense did its part to win the game, but the defense failed to grasp opportunities that fell right into their hands.  The Pats' defensive backs missed three potential interceptions,  and a pass interference call on Devin McCourty at the end of the game sped up Joe Flacco's two-minute drive by putting Baltimore at the New England 7-yard line with 52 seconds to play.  

On the other hand, New England was pretty consistent across the board in Week 1 against Tennessee, and, though I wasn't able to watch the game this past Sunday, it seems like they finally put together a full team effort against the Bills in their 52-28 victory.  

But I still think the Patriots need to improve.  They've proven they can be consistent against weaker opponents, but can they move the ball and score against teams with good defenses (Arizona) or stop the teams that can go toe-to-toe with their offensive output (Baltimore)?

The key now will be whether the Patriots can have the kind of success they had this past Sunday in the coming weeks when they play more worthy opponents.    

Denver is led by quarterback Peyton Manning, whose football mind is always an asset.  

Then there's Seattle, which has the second-lowest points allowed per game with 14.5.  There's a reason this will be a big test for the Pats: Arizona, the team that shut down Josh McDaniels' offense and sacked Tom Brady four times, is ranked third in the NFL in points allowed per game with 15.2.  If New England wants to establish itself as an elite team this year, they have to not only defeat the Broncos, but prove themselves in all phases of the game against the teams that are tops in the NFL.  That includes being able to score against the Seattle Seahawks.  

So what else is there to expect in the other three-quarters of the season for the Patriots?

Their schedule includes the rest of the NFC West: Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis.  The Patriots should dispense of St. Louis, but could have some trouble with the Seahawks and 49ers.  They struggled against Arizona's potent defense, and Seattle and San Francisco also boast low points per game averages and could potentially halt the Patriots' O.  I'm predicting New England beats Seattle, but loses to San Fran.  

Then the Pats also face off against the rest of the AFC South.  I can't see either the Jaguars or Colts being too much of a problem. 

But the Houston Texans on the other hand could very well be trouble. The Texans are currently 4-0-0, and they could be every bit as good as their record suggests.  Their average margin of victory is 17.5 points per game, and they rank first in scoring defense (14 ppg) and second in scoring offense (31.5 ppg).  In a word, they're really, really good.  I think New England could end up having some trouble against them.  

The Pats also play the rest of their own division, which is relatively weak.  They'll go 4-1 against their AFC East rivals, losing to either Buffalo or the New York Jets.  Teams in the NFL see their divisional rivals so frequently that it's extremely difficult to beat everybody twice.

So based on what I've seen so far with New England, I think they'll end up 11-5-0 this year.  They've showed some prowess, but given their showings against Arizona and Baltimore, they have yet to prove they can put together a full team performance against a truly elite squad like Houston or San Francisco.  If they want to establish themselves as true title contenders, they have to start showing they can play well in every facet of the game of football.

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