Every year the New England Patriots are early favorites to win the Super Bowl and rightfully so. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have redefined success in the modern age of football, collaborating for six rings over a 20-year span, but this year is different. Yes, the tandem still resides in Foxborough, but it’s the defense that has the league in awe. A 7-0 start is nothing new for the Patriots, but this defense is drawing top-tier comparisons.
Entering Week 8, the Patriots have a plus-175 point differential, good enough for a 25-point margin of victory on average. They have a pair of shutouts on the season and opposing offenses are averaging less than a touchdown per game. Still not impressed? Per Yahoo fantasy football, New England is the fifth-ranked player in the league. Not just the fifth ranked defense, the fifth best player in all of fantasy (152 points).
Even the defense alone has a positive point differential. They’ve given up just 18 points on three touchdowns, while scoring three touchdowns of their own plus a safety for an even 20 points. On top of that, the special teams unit has a pair of scores on blocked punts, bringing the total to 32.
Many will be quick to point out the lack-luster schedule they play and the fact that fantasy doesn’t really matter. In the grand scheme of things, fantasy does not really matter, but it isn’t New England’s fault for their schedule. They play whoever they’re supposed to and that’s that.
It’s true, the Patriots have not been challenged by the NFL’s premier talents. They’ve faced young, inexperienced quarterbacks, like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Daniel Jones, that have yet to prove themselves in the league as formidable offenses. Still, the Patriots are allowing 50.8% of passes to be completed for 1,209 yards. That’s good enough for 172.7 yards per game on five yards per attempt. They’ve allowed one score through the air and have picked off 18 throws.
These numbers, however, are bound to change in favor of the offenses. The Patriots still have Pat Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott ahead on the schedule in a league that favors the offensive side of the ball. But, Belichick & Co. have seemingly been able to undermine this idea thanks, in part, to free agency.
Stephon Gilmore had his struggles early-on in New England but has since played like the cornerback the Patriots paid for. While fellow free-agent signee Devin McCourtey leads the league with five interceptions, Gilmore is right behind him with three of his own. Even Jamie Collins, who the Pats dealt away before resigning him after he underperformed in Cleveland, has three picks and leads the defense in tackles (31) and sacks (4.5).
So what? It’s a bunch of good players beating up on some not-so-great teams. How does that make them the best?
Well, let’s compare them to some of the best defenses to ever take the field: The ‘85 Bears, ‘00 Ravens and ‘13 Seahawks.
In terms of points per game, only the Ravens’ 10.3 comes close to the Pats’ 6.9, while the Bears (12.4) and the Seahawks (14.4) fall a little lower. For yard per game totals, New England wins again (223.1) with the next best allowed nearly 24 yards behind (Ravens – 247.9). Both the Bear and the Seahawks allowed 4.4 yards per play, while the Ravens bested them by one-tenth of a yard, but the Pats’ 4.0 takes the cake. The only category they don’t lead in is turnovers per game at 3.1. That total matches the Ravens’ and bests the Seahawks’ 2.4, but the Bears averaged 3.4.
So do all those numbers mean the 2019 Patriots defense is the G.O.A.T of NFL defenses? Maybe. The numbers are slightly skewed, in part, because New England has only played seven games compared to 16 game season totals and we’re comparing across different eras of NFL football. But nevertheless, the numbers are impressive for a league so heavily dominated by offense and throwing the ball downfield.
While the wins have not come against impressive opponents, including the winless Dolphins, that’s not the Patriots’ fault. Belichick has proved once again why he’s the best coach ever by piecing together the best defense Foxborough has ever seen. The numbers have stacked up to the all-time great defenses thus far and as long as the trajectory stays on course, they very well could top the Monsters of the Midway as the gold standard of defenses. They’re for sure the best defense I have ever witnessed.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @karnold98.