Football Outsiders, a football analytics website, produces an annual Football Outsiders Almanac that is really a must-read for fans of thorough analysis.
For instance, did you know that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick happened to be on the field for four of the five most-influential plays in Super Bowl history? While most will remember The Butler Did It, Belichick also coached against the infamous Wide Right, the Helmet Catch, and even Jermaine Kearse's miracle grab made the top five.
The book is offered on their website for $24.95 and we were able to ask the author some questions about their New England Patriots review.
PP: As Patriots supporters, we've been taught to look at the footnotes of documents to find some extra information. FOA projects 10.5 wins on average for the Patriots, but under the assumption that in 75% of scenarios, Jimmy Garoppolo plays the first four games of the season. Is there a reason for the 25:75 split? How do the projections change if Tom Brady starts the first four games in 75% of scenarios?
FOA: [The reason for the 25:75 split is that] the book came out in early August. At that time, Goodell had upheld the appeal and with the arbitrator generally having the solid legal ground, it looked more probable than not that Brady would serve the entire suspension. If that has changed with the favorable language coming from Judge Berman, then maybe it's now 50-50 or even in Brady's favor.
If it was 75-25 in Brady's favor, our projections peg this at about 0.3 [more] wins compared to 25-75. This is maybe a little bit less than how the betting market moved due to the suspension (there the move might have been bigger than 25-75 to 75-25). See Bill Barnwell's article from about a month ago on the odds moving a little more than half a win.
Translation: Brady is worth roughly half a win more over the first quarter of the season than Garoppolo.
PP: The Patriots ranked very poorly in power defense situations- is this a ranking that is able to be divided into left/middle/right? Or are most runs up the middle so it doesn't matter?
FOA: You have to be a little careful with breaking this stuff down too much because the sample gets awfully small. So take this with a grain of salt, but here are the Patriots' numbers on runs on third/fourth down runs and two or less yards to go:
Overall (22 plays): 26.4% DVOA (ranked 28th, higher numbers mean worse defense for DVOA)
Left (2 runs): 36.6% (ranked 23rd)
Middle (15 runs): 19.1% (ranked 27th)
Right (5 runs): 44.8% (ranked 32nd)
So those outside runs are too small a sample to say much, but basically the Patriots were pretty bad all around in those situations last year.
Translation: Not enough data to make a conclusion, but they weren't very good in their limited snaps. Also, yes, most power snaps are up the gut.
PP: Rob Gronkowski is the cornerstone of the Patriots offensive success, but Bovada doesn't even include the tight end as an MVP candidate. What does Gronk have to do in order to win MVP or Offensive Player of the Year?
FOA: Winning MVP seems almost impossible. If JJ Watt isn't going to win it as a non-quarterback (and I don't think he should have), I can't see how Gronk could either. I suppose if he scores 25 touchdowns and catches 115 balls for 1,700 yards for an offense that hits 600 points, it would be in play. It would help for some of that to come from Garoppolo to reduce Brady's chances.
Winning Offensive Player of the Year seems much more feasible. To be in contention for that, I think he just needs a monstrous TD number. Touchdowns can be pretty random, too. It's kind of amazing that this question is even in play a year after the big question was whether Gronk could even stay on the field.
Translation: Chances are slim-to-none, but he has a chance to win OPOY.
PP: You highlight the Patriots offensive line coalescing as a reason for the 2014 team's success. What is the history of teams starting with two rookie offensive guards, and does it bode well, or not?
FOA: In general, offensive line continuity tends to be pretty important. If you were going to bring in two rookie starters, guard would be the spot you'd want to do it at, however. The continuity at the tackles and center is more important and I'd think they're in better shape than last year just with [Bryan Stork] being established now. If [Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason] both start (not a given), it's a concern but not a huge one.
Translation: Two rookies on the starting line will likely lead to headaches for the offense, but guards are generally less important than tackles and centers.
PP: It looks like the Patriots defense ranked 21st on third down. Is there an area where they always came up short (passing right, power middle, etc)? Is that normal for a Belichick defense?
FOA: On third or fourth downs, the Patriots were a little worse against the run (ranked 25th) than the pass (19th). They were middle of the pack except in those short-yardage situations discussed above, too. They weren't just bad against third-and-short runs, either. They ranked 31st against the pass on third/fourth downs with less than three yards to go. This weakness is likely fluky. In 2013, with a worse defense overall, the Patriots were 11th overall in third/fourth and short.
Translation: The Patriots were pretty bad in short yardage situations in 2014, although a lot of this is down to luck as the 2013 Patriots, with a worse line-up, was better on third down than the 2014 Patriots. Perhaps they can improve in 2015.
Thanks again to Andrew Healy of Football Outsiders for sharing some insight with us.