Football Outsiders releases an excellent preview of the upcoming season in their Almanac and the 2017 version is no different. Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard writes the section on the New England Patriots and Football Outsiders editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz answered a few of our questions about the upcoming year. You can buy the Football Outsiders Almanac 2017 here.
The New England Patriots are supposed to have the easiest schedule of 2017 according to Football Outsiders and it’s helpful to look at the team’s 2016 schedule to learn more about the rating.
In 2016, the Patriots faced a horrendous slate of quarterbacks so many argue that New England had an easy road to the playoffs. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders disputes this argument.
“Let’s talk about the 2016 schedule, which Patriots haters get very wrong,” Schatz writes. “They tend to say, ‘the Patriots had the easiest schedule in the league, so [Tom Brady] isn’t as good as people think.’ Uh, no. The Patriots’ schedule was ABSURDLY easy for the defense, one of the big reasons the Pats finished No. 1 in points allowed which was a really misleading stat. But Brady’s schedule of defenses was pretty close to NFL average, especially since he missed one game each against Miami and Buffalo.”
So right out of the gate, it’s important to remember that the quality of a schedule goes far beyond what quarterback takes the field. In fact, some say that 52 other players comprise the roster and hold varying levels of import to a team’s success.
While the 2016 Patriots faced the likes of Landry Jones, Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, Jared Goff, Matt Moore, and Trevor Siemian, their respective teams were better than the quarterback alone.
The 2017 Patriots face Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Pro Bowl quarterback after Pro Bowl quarterback, but Football Outsiders argues that their supporting casts are weaker than ever.
“We’re down on Denver because there’s just so little track record in recent NFL history for a defense to be THAT good for three straight years, and the offense is awful,” Schatz writes. “We’ve got the Chiefs declining a little bit and the Chargers moving up a little bit. The Raiders are a good team but that’s a neutral-site game.
“I think the biggest difference between FO projections and conventional wisdom is for Tampa Bay and Atlanta, for similar yet opposite reasons. There are strong indicators that we should expect regression from the Atlanta offense and the Tampa Bay defense. And while everyone is expecting huge improvement from the Atlanta defense and the Tampa Bay offense, our statistical indicators say that improvement is not likely. It’s certainly possible. Both units have built with a lot of talent and it’s easy to tell the story where the Atlanta defense and Tampa Bay offense both take big steps forward. But it’s not LIKELY.
“Don’t forget also that the Patriots’ schedule includes their horrible division, which looks even worse now than it did when we wrote the book, and Houston, which is a terribly overrated team unless Deshaun Watson has a fabulous rookie year.”
So in short, we can summarize the Patriots schedule as:
AFC East: Garbage, Garbage, and Jay Cutler-led Garbage.
Houston Texans: Garbage with a few defensive stars.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Actually good if the Bs (Ben, Bell, Brown, Bryant) can play.
Denver Broncos: Garbage offense with a historic defense that is bound to fall off.
Oakland Raiders: Actually good, but on a neutral field.
Kansas City Chiefs: Good team on the decline.
Los Angeles Chargers: Bad team on the incline.
Atlanta Falcons: Garbage defense with an offense that’s bound to regress.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Garbage offense with a defense that’s bound to regress.
So the Patriots get a few hard games with the Steelers and Raiders, but the other good teams like the Chiefs and Falcons are expected to decline in 2017.
We’ll have to wait and see how these predictions play out. I think the Falcons defense and the Texans offense will fare better than expected, while the Saints are always a threat to pull off an upset if Drew Brees eats his Wheaties.
I think when we look at this halfway through the year we’ll laugh since a team like the Chargers will be 7-1 and the Chiefs will be 2-6 and wondering if Andy Reid is on the hot seat. But until then, it’s always good to look at the reasoning behind the rankings.