"Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships."
Legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant is credited with that saying — and the New England Patriots are hoping to prove the point with a second straight championship in February.
New England's defense has been operating at a historic level for much of the 2019 season, and with only 181 points allowed through 14 weeks, the Patriots have a good chance at breaking the franchise record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season (237).
But what makes the Patriots so good on that side of the ball? In a piece for ESPN.com, Jeremy Fowler asked one AFC personnel evaluator, who said the following:
New England isn't a dominant defense as far as physically beating people, but they are so disruptive and smart and create turnovers, they can dominate games that way. San Francisco can generate a pass rush with four people, which makes them special, but they don't have near the secondary New England does.
Indeed, the Patriots' secondary has been elite this season. Led by Pro Bowler Stephon Gilmore, New England has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 57.4 passer rating, by far the best mark in the league this season — the Bills are second at 76.7.
No quarterback has thrown for 300 yards against the Patriots, who have allowed a league-low 10 passing touchdowns and have racked up a league-high 25 interceptions. Fowler points out that the Patriots have the top defense based on defensive efficiency over the past decade, and they've limited opponents to the worst QBR since 2006.
But one of the biggest questions facing the Patriots is if they can step up against better competition in the playoffs. In their three losses — to the Ravens, Texans, and Chiefs — they've allowed a quarterback rating of 108.7 and an average of over 29 points per game.
The defensive dominance could be enough to spark a Super Bowl run — after all, the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII in a 13-3 defensive battle — but it would definitely help to get some assistance from an offense that has struggled to find its rhythm for the past couple of months.