Patriots always recover from 2-2 starts, but how much will they this season?


Patriots always recover from 2-2 starts, but how much will they this season?

The Brady era Patriots start 2-2 nearly as often as they win the Super Bowl. They’ve actually won the Super Bowl in two seasons that featured 2-2 starts. So yeah, boom. Super Bowl champions. 

The unexpected lackluster results through four games, including a loss to the still-undefeated Chiefs and a defeat at the hands of the now 3-1 Panthers, is not unprecedented. The aforementioned .500 starts came in 2003, 2005, 2012 and 2014. 

With fewer people labeling the 2017 Patriots as sure-fire Super Bowl champions as they were in the offseason (my Monopoly money is still on them winning it all), the more immediate hope for Pats fans is that the team will simply improve. It should come as no surprise that those other 2-2 starts suggest they will. 

The most recent 2-2 start, 2014, saw the Pats allow 90 points over the first four games, including 33 points to the Dolphins in a season-opening loss and 41 points in the infamous Monday night drubbing against the Chiefs. They straightened things out in short order, as they allowed more than 23 points just twice the rest of the season as they won 10 of their final 12 games. 

In 2003, the Pats were outscored by a 77-71 mark over the first four weeks. Though they allowed 30 points to the Titans in a Week 5 win, they went on to allow just 161 points the rest of the season, including three shutouts and five games with six or fewer points allowed. That team, of course, ran the table from Week 5 on and won the Super Bowl. 

Those are the stories of the 2-2 teams that got their acts together quickly. The other two -- 2005 and 2012 -- didn’t. The 2005 Pats continued to lose every other game en route to a 4-4 start. The 2012 team started 3-3. 

It’s not difficult to see what the 2003 and 2014 teams had in common and what traits were shared between the 2005 and 2012 teams. The 2003 and 2014 Pats both had strong talent on defense and were working in a star free agent in the secondary (Rodney Harrison in 2003, Darrelle Revis in 2014). The 2005 and 2012 Pats had questions on defense that ultimately weren’t answered. 

Case in point: Here’s where the 2003 and 2014 Pats finished defensively compared to the 2005 and 2012 teams: 

2003: first in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed (finished 14-2, won Super Bowl)
2014: eighth in points allowed, 13th in yards allowed (finished 12-4, won Super Bowl)

2005: 17th in points allowed, 26th in yards allowed (finished 10-6, lost in divisional round)
2012: ninth in points allowed, 25h in yards allowed (finished 12-4, lost AFC championship)

So the question is whether this defense will follow the route of the 2003 and 2014 teams or the 2005 and 2012 ones. Their talent in the secondary suggests a finish like the 2014 group isn’t out of the question, but then again the 128 points they’ve allowed through four games is far and away the most of these 2-2 teams (20 more than the 2005 team, which allowed 108 points through four games; the 2003 team allowed 77 and the 2014 squad allowed 90). 

The good news is that even in the case of those lesser defenses, they greatly improved after their slow starts. The 2012 and 2005 teams both allowed much fewer points per game over the final 12 than over the first four, with the 2005 team allowing over a touchdown less (27 points allowed per game over the first four games, 19.16 points allowed per game over the final 12). 

So the Patriots have been here before, and they’ve improved after. The question is how much they will this season, and how soon. 

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

File Photo

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

There's one gigantic hole to fill on the Patriots offensive line.

Replacing Nate Solder is no easy task and it's not exactly clear how the Pats will yet.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was first to report the Patriots would like to bring back Waddle or Fleming.

It now appears that one of the former backup tackle is taking a serious look elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport. 

It's not the best offensive line free agency market this season, so the Pats may prefer to bring back a guy they are familar with.

If Fleming is off the board, Waddle still remains as an option for New England.



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

AP Photo

How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.