Sunday, November 09, 2008


Throughout the season the Patriots have either been without for part, or have lost for all of the season their starting quarterback, guard, right tackle, running back, strong safety, second running back, third running back, nickel corner, special teams gunner (Kelley Washington missed a couple of games), their starting tight end, and have been down to three rookie corners, two rookie linebackers, two no-name O-line men, a quarterback who hasn't started a game since high school, and a running back who went undrafted. That's nine (including second year tight end Dave Thomas who missed much of last year with injuries) of 22 starters who have not had significant playing time in the NFL.

They're tied for first after nine games.

Certainly, with Tom Brady under center the team would very likely own a record closer to 8-1, or even be pushing 9-0 again, but, considering the injuries, 6-3 and a share of first place with six games to go isn't only respectable, it has them positioned for the a playoff run with seven games left. Three of those games are against division foes - the Jets next week, Miami, and a rematch with Buffalo, - and another two against bottom feeders Oakland and Seattle.

It's not unrealistic to believe that the Pats could actually take all three remaining games in the division (or that they would go at the very least 2-1, go 1-1 against Pittsburgh and Arizona, and take the two from the Seahawks and Raiders) and win 11 or 12 games and lock up the number two seed in the AFC. Nothing short of miraculous with, at times, almost half the starting line-up nothing more than glorified back-ups or players not projected to start, or even see significant time until next season at the earliest.

A lot of people will point to their strength of schedule as being one of the weakest in the NFL - 32nd in a 32 team league - but that's based on 2007 results. Their opponents, based on 2007 results had a combined winning percentage of .397. This included the then 1-15 Dolphins, the 4-12 Jets, and the 7-9 Bills. Currently, the teams that the Pats have already played have an aggregate winning percentage of .438, and the remaining games are against teams with an aggregate winning percentage of .484 (minus the games against Seattle and Oakland, the percentage of the other five teams is .591). The rest of the AFC East alone has a winning percentage of .593, a significant improvement over last year's .250 for the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins combined.

While on day one this looked like the easiest schedule in the league, it's nowhere near the bottom. People still talk about the Pats' easy schedule, but has anyone looked at who the Giants have played lately? The aggregate record of their opponents thus far has been .386, with only three games coming against teams with a winning record higher than .333 (I note this because a lot of people want to discount the Titans undefeated record based on the quality of their competition, and rank the Giants higher, but the Titans have played four of their games against teams with winning records, and another two of their opponents have at least four wins).

Other items to note about the Pats -

Matt Cassel has now gone two games during which the opponents have combined to sack him once. I attribute that to two things - one; the returns of Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur solidifying the play of the offensive line, and two; the continued development of Cassel as an NFL quarterback.

Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis, the hard-running human hyphen who went undrafted, averaged 4.01 yards per carry, running for 105 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. It was his best day as a pro, bringing him to 243 yards on 63 carries, upping his per carry average from 3.7 to 3.9, and (ties him for the team lead in touchdowns among running backs with) four touchdowns in five games.

The defense, in spite of injuries, has begun to look a little more consistent, and gotten more pressure on the quarterback in the last three games. The pressure has resulted in lower scoring affairs and more turnovers than what we were seeing early in the season.

These are all goods sign as the team prepares for its playoff push.

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