The New England Patriots have the #1 defense in the NFL in points allowed per game, allowing just 15.7 points per game. Unless the Patriots allow 34 more points than the #2 ranked Seattle Seahawks in week 17, New England is going to finish the regular season atop the league.
The Patriots also rank #1 in points allowed per drive (PAPD) with 1.40, which means that the Patriots have been ruthlessly efficient. The New York Giants rank #2 with 1.45 PAPD, ahead of the Denver Broncos (1.51) and Seahawks (1.55).
While detractors of the Patriots defense are getting harder to find, it’s not difficult to point to the opposing slate of quarterbacks and say, well, obviously the Patriots defense was going to do well.
The Patriots haven’t played a good quarterback all season. Eight of the Patriots games have come against quarterbacks that rank in the bottom 12 in the NFL by passer rating. None of the games have or will come against quarterbacks that rank in the top 10. The Patriots have been lucky enough to face back-up quarterbacks in six of their games this year.
When it comes to the AFC playoffs, Patriots QB Tom Brady has the best passer rating and five of the next six top quarterbacks in the AFC by passer ratintg probably won’t play in the playoffs: Colts QB Andrew Luck, Raiders QB Derek Carr, Titans QB Marcus Mariota, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, Bengals QB Andy Dalton. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is the only exception, although Tannehill has a shot of playing.
While injuries can always happen, the Patriots should face a more difficult stretch of quarterbacks in 2017. Based on the Patriots schedule, they will face Falcons QB Matt Ryan, Saints QB Drew Brees, Raiders QB Derek Carr, and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, all of whom rank in the top 12 of the NFL in passer rating. Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill should be healthy and he ranks 13th.
Add in Chiefs QB Alex Smith and maybe even Bills QB Tyrod Taylor, if he returns, and over half of the Patriots opposing quarterbacks in 2017 should feature a current passer rating over the league average of 88.6.
The Patriots defensive production in 2016 is clearly propped up by the horrible opposing rosters. The 2017 defense won’t have the same caveat if they thrive- although I feel like some will always find a reason to complain.