Sixteen-point favorites? Analyzing Patriots' propensity for blowout wins in playoffs

Sixteen-point favorites? Analyzing Patriots' propensity for blowout wins in playoffs

Tom Brady thinks it’s “ridiculous” to assume the Patriots will just walk over the Texans on Sunday, but everyone else assumes they will. In fact, the Patriots are favored by 16 points in the fourth-largest spread in postseason history.

Sixteen? That’s bold, even with how much better the Patriots are than the Texans. Then again, it’s not like postseason ass-kickings haven’t been in Bill Belichick's bag of tricks over the years. 

Brady and Belichick have won 22 playoff games together. Six (27 percent) of those wins have been by at least 16 points, and the average margin of victory in the aforementioned six wins has been 25 points. Patriots been winning playoff games by 16 points.  Here they are: 

  • 2014 AFC Championship: Patriots 45, Colts 7 (32-point margin of victory)
  • 2013 divisional round: Patriots 43, Colts 22 (21-point margin of victory)
  • 2011 divisional round: Patriots 45, Broncos 10 (35-point margin of victory) 
  • 2006 divisional round: Patriots 37, Jets 16 (21-point margin of victory)
  • 2005 divisional round: Patriots 28, Jaguars 3 (25-point margin of victory)
  • 2004 divisional round: Patriots 20, Colts 3 (17-point margin of victory)

Some notes on those games: 

  • All of them were at Gillette Stadium. 
  • Five of the six were division playoff games. 
  • Only one came against a top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed; the Texans were first this season. 
  • Somehow, Tom Brady threw for under 230 yards in five of the six games. 
  • The Patriots have got 100-yard rushing performances in three of them: one from Corey Dillon, two from LeGarrette Blount. Aaron Hernandez (61 yards) was the leading rusher in one of them. 
  • Two games featured a defensive touchdown, both (2005 against the Jaguars, 2006 against the Jets) in the form of an Asante Samuel pick-6. 

The findings there are interesting given that when you think Patriots blowout, you think Tom freaking Brady. Yet it wasn’t like he was carving up those teams for 400 yards or anything like that. However, in the only one of these games in which Brady threw 230-plus yards, he threw 363. 

None of this helps give a definitive answer as to whether the Patriots will actually win by 16-plus, but the fact that they already beat Houston by 27 this season explains why the spread is what it is. We'll learn Saturday whether the highest playoff spread in Patriots' history was warranted, but these types of blowout wins have been fairly common during the Belichick era. 

Change to pass-interference rule is WAY overdue

AP Photo

Change to pass-interference rule is WAY overdue

Yes, please, on the proposed adjustment to defensive pass interference. No, thank you on the revised catch rule.

And I know I'm going to have my dreams crushed on both counts.

Despite all the arm-flapping and breath wasted that "NOBODY KNOWS WHAT A CATCH IS ANYMORE!!!!", long-distance pass interference has been a bigger bugaboo for the league for a much longer time.

In 2017, there were 129 pass interference calls longer than 15 yards. The proposed rule change that will be debated at next week's NFL Annual Meeting will make pass interference a 15-yard penalty unless it's egregious and intentional. In those cases, it will continue to be a spot foul

So overdue. For too long offenses have been rewarded by officials on 50-50 balls where DBs and receivers engage in subtle handfighting. It's absolutely illogical to expect middle-aged officials in okay (or worse) shape to keep pace with Gronk-sized receivers and whippet-quick defenders, then make calls on plays 40 yards downfield.

If you're going to throw a flag that gives the offense 40 yards, there should be an extreme degree of certainty accompanies that flag. And too often, the officials are forced to make educated guesses. Next thing you know, Joe Flacco and Rex Grossman are in the Super Bowl.

It's probably the most difficult penalty to call in football, yet it carries the greatest punishment for a defense? What sense does that make? 

I actually think the NFL should go a step beyond and make pass interference reviewable. I'll even make this concession -- it's reviewable only for DPI that puts the ball inside the 10 and is longer than 15 yards. How's that?

"More reviews?!?!? We don't need more reviews?!?!?!"

Okay, but you'll accept them when a dimwit coach argues a spot on a three-yard run that may or may not mean a first down, but not on a play that hands the offense half the field? Come on. Forward thinking.

As for the contention corners are going to begin bludgeoning receivers once they realize they're being beaten deep -- BAM! -- that's where you get the aggravated pass interference (API . . . trademarked 2018) that can be dropped on their heads.

A DB that doesn't turn to face the ball and runs through a receiver? An arm bar all the way downfield preventing a receiver from getting his hands up? A way-too-early arrival? That's API and it's a spot foul. What are the possible negative consequences?

It will now spawn debate as to what's aggravated PI and just garden variety PI. And it asks officials to make another judgment call.

But the truth is, it already is -- in many cases -- a judgment call. And if I were an official reaching for my flag on a Hail Mary from the 43 at the end of the game where there was jostling, I'd sure as hell be happy that I have the option to call garden variety PI and put the ball at the 28 rather than put the ball at the 1.

It's a rule change that makes the game better. That way you don't have calls like this or this. This 55-yarder would be an API (defender hugs Crabtree).

Tellingly, there's no outcry about the need to reform pass interference NOW like there is about the catch rule. You know what needs to happen? A few more plays like this where the Patriots profit. Then you'll see a damn MOVEMENT!


Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Bill Belichick is a teacher. His father was a teacher. His mother was a teacher. He is very much their son in that regard. 

The glimpses into Belichick's essence aren't as rare as you might think, but they still generate an inordinate amount of interest because he's arguably the best to ever execute the kind of teaching he's made his life's work.

Every time he takes several minutes to answer a conference call or press conference question thoughtfully, the hundreds of words found in the text of the transcribed answer typically create a stir on Twitter. NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, make every installment of the ‘Do Your Job’ series a must-watch.

Clips of Belichick on the practice field aren't necessarily hard to find, there just aren't many of them considering how many practices he's run over the course of his decades-long career. But thanks to more lax media policies at the college programs he visits for pro days, video of his on-the-field work pops up on a regular basis this time of year. They are mini-clinics dotting the internet. 

This is Belichick in his element. Even in the middle of a random university campus. Even with scouts, coaches and front-office people from around the league watching his every move. Whether he's coaching players one-on-one or three or four at a time, Belichick is imparting his wisdom on eager close-to-blank slates. All the while he's trying to evaluate how they're absorbing what he's giving them. Do they pay attention? How do they process information? Are they error-repeaters? 

It's a fascinating give-and-take between the 60-something coach trying to build a roster and the 20-something players trying to make one, some of whom hadn't yet hit kindergarten when Belichick won his first ring in New England. And he seems to enjoy it. 

Here's a quick look at some of what Belichick has been up to the last few days at Georgia, South Carolina and NC State.