Now we have further evidence that the end of days could be near: The New England Patriots have a mediocre special teams group.
The Patriots enter Week 17 with a special teams DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) of minus-0.4, 19th in the NFL per Football Outsiders. DVOA measures a team's efficiency by comparing its success on every play to the league average (accounting for situations and opponents), so this basically means New England is below-average on special teams.
That Bill Parcells-led squad posted a special teams DVOA of minus-0.2 while stumbling to a 6-10 record. Since then, New England has had above-average special teams units for 25 consecutive seasons, including 20 straight with head coach Bill Belichick.
The Patriots haven't just been decent on special teams under Belichick, either: They boasted the best special teams DVOA in the NFL last year (8.3) and have finished in the top five in special teams DVOA seven times in the last 10 seasons.
So, what's going on with this year's special teams unit?
Kicker Nick Folk has been excellent, leading the NFL in both made field goals (34) and attempts (37). Special teams ace Matthew Slater also earned a Pro Bowl nod, while long snapper Joe Cardona received some votes as well.
The punt game has been a different story, however. The Patriots are tied for 19th in the league in net yards per punt (41.7), while Jake Bailey has had an NFL-high three punts blocked this year. New England owns a minus-10.6 DVOA in the punt category (second-worst in the NFL), which is the primary reason why its overall special teams DVOA is so low relative to the standard Belichick has set over the years.
At 9-6, the Patriots are still a balanced, effective team that could make noise in the playoffs despite back-to-back losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills. But it's pretty eye-opening to see this team struggle in the punt game, and as a noted special teams lover, Belichick can't be pleased with that development.