The 2017 New England Patriots hope to follow a similar script that was laid out in 2014 and 2016. The offense does enough throughout the course of the entire season to allow the defense to settle down and emerge in the second half of the year, as the roster leverages its depth to ward off challengers in the post season en route to winning the Super Bowl.
The offense has done just enough through eight games in 2017, ranking first in DVOA, and defense looks primed for a turnaround, despite ranking last in DVOA. The Patriots haven’t been the world-beater many projected prior to the season, but they’re managing to stay afloat- and Football Outsiders believes there’s reason for optimism in the second half of the year.
“On one hand, what the Patriots are doing right now is extremely rare,” FO’s Aaron Schatz writes about the Patriots disparity on offense and defense. “On the other hand, what the Patriots are doing right now is something they've done over and over again. Before this season, Bill Belichick had been head coach of the New England Patriots for 17 years. In 12 of those 17 years, the Patriots had a higher DVOA at the end of the season than they had after Week 8. (The exceptions: 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009, and 2015.)”
In other words, the Patriots almost always improve over the second half of the year, except when they battle insurmountable injuries or regress from an unsustainably great start to the year.
Schatz also notes three other times where the Patriots were 6-2 with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and rated worse than the 2017 team (+8.4% DVOA), and it’s pretty good company.
The 2003 Patriots (+7.7% DVOA) received a boost from their defense and marginal improvements from their offense en route to winning the Super Bowl. The 2013 Patriots (+7.2%) were battling injuries and turnover on offense and eventually pulled it together in the second half of the season thanks to the return of LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola, and (temporarily) Rob Gronkowski from injury or Pittsburgh.
And then the 2014 Patriots (+7.0% DVOA) had a solid offense and bad defense through eight games. Schatz notes that the Patriots ugly 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs is the main reason the Patriots rated so poorly. That game served as a turning point as the Patriots won another Super Bowl.
So that brings us to the 2017 Patriots. They have the best offense, a top 10 special teams unit, and still the worst defense in football by DVOA. While the New England offense has proven it can go toe-to-toe with any defense in the NFL, the Patriots defense should have an easier slate.
While the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers rank 6th and 5th in offensive DVOA, respectively, the other six games come against teams that rank below average on offense. The Patriots defense will have a great opportunity to play at a high level and set the tone for the rest of the year.