Patriots

Patriots probably don't need a dominant red zone defense to be a Super Bowl team

Patriots probably don't need a dominant red zone defense to be a Super Bowl team

Much has been made of the Patriots’ red zone defense of late, and for good reason: It isn’t very good and Pats fans are on such a high following the return of Tom Brady that they need something negative to balance things out. 

While it’s tough to panic over a defense on a 4-1 team that has recorded one of just three shutouts this season, the numbers are what they are: New England ranks 30th in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on a jarring 80 percent of their trips inside the 20. 

Much of Bill Belichick’s press conference Friday was spent on the red zone defense; to the surprise of few, he focused more on saying the team needed to do everything better. Yet how much better does the New England defense actually have to become in the red zone? For a team with its eye on the Super Bowl every year, how much would such a struggle encumber them? 

The answer: Somewhat. 

Recent history suggests you don’t need a prolific red zone defense to reach (or even win) the Super Bowl. Dating back to 2003 (the farthest back teamrankings.com has kept information on red zone defenses), the top red zone defense in the league has not won the Super Bowl. The last several years, a middle-of-the-pack red zone defense has been just as likely to hoist the Lombardi trophy as a great one has. 

Last year’s Super Bowl champion Broncos ranked 16th in the league. The 2014 Pats ranked 11th. The 2011 Giants ranked 19th, and a year prior to that the Packers ranked 15th. Of the last four Super Bowl champions, only the 2013 Seahawks and the 2012 Ravens (both second in the league) ranked in the top 10. 

Looking at conference champions tells the same story. Prior to last season’s Super Bowl, the NFL saw a three-year run in which three consecutive Super Bowl runner-ups finished 20th in the league or lower: the 2012 49ers (27th), the 2013 Broncos (26th) and the 2014 Seahawks (20th). 

Of course, a look through recent red zone defenses suggests water will find its level with the Patriots, for only two teams since 2005 — the 2010 Eagles (78.26 percent) and 2012 Chargers (70 percent) — have allowed their opponents to score on 70 percent or more of their trips to the red zone. Neither of those rates hit New England’s current mark of 80. 

Aside from the fact that the Patriots’ current numbers historically aren’t sustained, there’s reason for optimism. Though they’ve given up eight touchdowns in the process, the Pats have only allowed 10 trips to the red zone, which is tied for second in the league. Opponents having success in the red zone naturally isn’t as big a deal if they only get a crack at it twice a game. Teams like New Orleans, Oakland and Kansas City, all of whom have allowed four or more trips to the red zone per game this season, would naturally need to worry if their red zone numbers fell to those of the Pats. 

Then there’s the whole “look at their offense” part. It’s no secret — and former Pats coaching assistant Michael Lombardi expressed this on The Bill Simmons Podcast earlier this month — that having Brady puts New England in a different situation than other teams that allow more scoring plays than they’d like. The last time the Patriots finished outside of the top five in points was in 2009, and they finished sixth that season. 

Though it defies the old “defense wins champions” adage, a great offense can indeed mask the deficiencies of an imperfect defense. The Patriots will be able to do that as long as Brady is Brady. 

New England’s defensive numbers inside the 20 obviously need to improve. The silver lining is that they probably don’t need to improve as much as one might think. 

That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

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That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

The people's court is now in session. The topic of debate: Who made who, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?

The two New England Patriots greats will always be inextricably linked for the success they've had in creating the Patriots dynasty. Together, the duo has won six Super Bowl titles and has overseen the most dominant two-decade stretch in NFL history.

Still, the question of who is chiefly responsible for the team's success has long been a debate among the New England faithful. And this week, Shanda, Cerrone, and Leroy take a deeper dive into the case for both sides on the latest episode of "That 617 Life Podcast".

Cerrone kicks off the "trial" by defending Brady, arguing that his on-field play and his arrival to the team snapped the Patriots out of the funk that they were in for most of the early part of their franchise's existence.

[The Patriots] were the team that nobody wanted to use in TecmoBowl. Now, for everybody in America, you're cheating if you use Tom Brady in Madden.

Furthermore, from Cerrone:

There's teams in the NFL over the past 20 years that still haven't defeated Tom Brady. Still, over 20 seasons. There are organizations and fan bases that still have not seen a victory in front of Tom Brady.

As for the case for Belichick, Leroy laid out a simple case for Belichick and called him "possibly the greatest coach in sports history."

Hear more of the trial and thoughts on the latest Boston sports stories on the latest episode of the "That 617 Life Podcast", which drops every Friday as part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

CURRAN: Are we watching Brady's final day with the Patriots?>>>

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Report: Patriots expected to re-sign Nick Folk on Saturday

Report: Patriots expected to re-sign Nick Folk on Saturday

It's no longer a mystery who will kick for the New England Patriots vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

The Patriots are expected to officially re-sign Nick Folk on Saturday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Folk was released by the team and replaced with Kai Forbath prior to last week's game vs. the Houston Texans after undergoing an appendectomy.

In three games with the Patriots this season, Folk has made seven of nine field goals and all three extra-point attempts. 

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