ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has compiled a list of teams that each Super Bowl contender wants to avoid in the playoffs. The New England Patriots want to stay far, far away from one particular team in the AFC North.
“The Patriots handed the Steelers a 27-16 defeat in Pittsburgh earlier this season, but that was with Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines and Landry Jones starting at quarterback,” Barnwell writes. “If Roethlisberger gets hurt again, the story changes, but I'd be worried about the Patriots' pass defense holding up against Antonio Brown & Co. The Pats are 25th in pass defense DVOA heading into Monday night's matchup with the Ravens, posting a below-average DVOA against receivers at every single position.
“It's always dangerous to bet against Tom Brady in the playoffs, but this would also be a bad matchup in some ways for the New England offense. The Steelers have the league's best red zone defense, allowing just 3.7 points per trip inside the 20. The Patriots were great inside the red zone in Week 7, scoring three times in three trips, but that was with the devastating matchup threat of Rob Gronkowski, who is done for the year. There's no way around it: His absence fundamentally changes what New England can do in the red zone, and it's an area where Pittsburgh already excels.
“It remains to be seen whether a clearly injured Martellus Bennett will be able to make up for Gronk's absence in the red zone, and kicking field goals in a game against Roethlisberger and this offense seems dangerous.”
If you remember back in week 7, the Patriots defense really struggled to stop the Steelers offense until the red zone. It’s unlikely they’ll have similar success against Roethlisberger, especially with how RB Le’Veon Bell is back to being the most dynamic player in the league.
The fact that the Patriots don’t have Rob Gronkowski is certainly worth monitoring, too, because that affects the playcalling in the highest leverage moments.
I’m a little surprised that the Patriots were the “team to avoid” for just one AFC team: the Kansas City Chiefs.
“The problem for Kansas City is that the Patriots don't give them the lifeblood the Chiefs feed on in turnovers,” Barnwell writes. “As a frequent product placement spokesperson, Brady's naturally shy toward giveaways, which extends to the field. The Pats have a league-low eight giveaways this year heading into Monday night's game against the Ravens, with just four turnovers over Brady's eight starts.
“The Chiefs also don't have the passing attack to give the Patriots problems in the secondary, although Tyreek Hill gives them a downfield weapon they haven't had against Belichick-led defenses in years past. Belichick's teams are also excellent on kickoff and punt coverage, ranking in the top five in each category according to Football Outsiders' numbers through Week 13, which limits Hill's likely impact as a return man.”
The Chiefs are certainly one of the top teams in the NFL, especially after their season sweep of the Oakland Raiders. I’m just a little surprised that the Patriots aren’t the projected bane of a few other franchises.