- The New England Patriots are about to compete in their 8th Super Bowl in 17 seasons under their current Head Coach, Bill Belichick.
- Quarterback Tom Brady is the other common factor in this incredible run of success.
- Can history and statistics from the past and present help establish if the Eagles have any chance against the defending champions?
On Sunday 4th February the New England Patriots will run out of the tunnel in Minnesota’s US Bank Stadium for the 10th time in Super Bowl history. It will be their 8th appearance under current Head Coach Bill Belichick and they will once again be Quarterbacked by the other common denominator in the Patriots recent dominance - Tom Brady.
There is no doubting that the Patriots are one of the great dynasties, not only in the NFL but in sports in general. To be able to consistently compete at the highest level for as long as they have deserves as much credit as they can handle.
But when it comes to the actual championship games themselves, what are the keys? Is there a common factor to all or most of their victories and at the same time, do their two loses also carry clues to how it might be possible for their opponents this season, the Philadelphia Eagles, to cause an upset?
I’ve gone back through the history books to see what they tell us and hopefully, my findings can prove of some use.
THE GAME RESULTS
Below is a table of the Patriots seven previous Super Bowls that have seen them coached by Bill Belichick and feature Tom Brady at Quarterback:
This makes pretty interesting reading. Firstly, as underdogs they’ve won both times and whilst they’ve also won as favourites three times they’ve failed to cover the spread four times and in the case of three of them games, a spread of 7 points or more against them was not covered.
In the case of the entire history of the game, 34 favourites have won and they have covered the spread six times with two “pushes”. When there has been a double digit spread the favourite is 9-4 covering the spread seven times with one push. Underdogs are 12-4 against the spread since the Patriots first Super Bowl win 16 years ago.
The current spread for this upcoming Super Bowl sees the Patriots set at 5/5.5 point favourites depending on where you shop but they have never covered a spread that big when favourites!
When it comes to the total points market, it’s a mixed bag. The history of the entire competition sees a close split of 26 times having the points total go over and 24 times the under being the case (Super Bowl I had no over/under total hence 50 previous results, not 51).
It doesn’t get much clearer with the Patriots last seven Super Bowl appearances, with three “overs” and four “unders”. The average market total for those seven games was 50 and don’t forget last years total of 57.5 was the highest ever in Super Bowl history. It went over thanks to the first ever overtime period in the games history.
If we leap back to the all-time list, the average points total over the previous 50 that were given a mark was 42.6 but over the previous 16 seasons that mark is up to 48.5 but the split is exactly eight apiece.
The long and the short is that the points total market has no significant clues from history although is we reduce the sample size down to the last five then the “overs” has come in four times in the last five seasons.
THE PATRIOTS VICTORIES - WHY DID THEY WIN?
What I’d like to do here is review each of their five previous wins and give very basic but clear reasons for each win. Is there a common theme?
SUPER BOWL XXXVI vs ST LOUIS RAMS - won 20-17: The
Patriots were outperformed significantly in offensive output and
time of possession but they did outrush the Rams 90 yards to 133.
Lots of people remember the Rams star rusher Marshall Faulk
but be honest with yourself about how well you remember Pats
leading rusher that day, Antowain Smith?
The main key here was turnovers. The Patriots played a clean game whilst the Rams threw a pick six, another int in the Patriots half of the field and fumbled deep in their own half to set up the lone Patriots offensive TD of the game. Ultimately the Patriots got the ball last and a certain Adam Vinatieri stayed cool under pressure to kick the winning field goal.
SUPER BOWL XXXVI vs CAROLINA PANTHERS - won 32-29: Once again the Patriots out-rushed their opponent despite the Panthers looking a stronger rushing team on paper. They dominated time of possession (just under 39 mins to 21 mins) and were twice as effective on 3rd down.
Their ability to get pressure on Carolina QB Jake Delhomme was perhaps the biggest factor though as they produced 4 sacks that all happened on 3rd downs and one of those sacks produced a turnover to set up a Patriots TD. Once again, despite a furious Panthers comeback, getting the ball last seen Adam Vinatieri seal the deal.
SUPER BOWL XXXIX vs PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - won 24-21: For their third World Championship, once again a combination of out-rushing their opponents, controlling the clock and key turnovers was the order of the day. The Pats, led this time by Corey Dillon, had over double the rushing yards of their opponents and four costly turnovers stopped the Eagles ever getting two close with only a late score putting them within 3 points. Those turnovers were a result of the heavy pressure they put the Eagles pass attack under all game.
Rather fittingly, the game ended with Eagles QB Donovan McNabb throwing his third interception of the day to Patriots Safety Rodney Harrison who had already intercepted one pass in the red zone from McNabb earlier that day.
SUPER BOWL XLIX vs SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - won 28-24: The trend of dominating time of possession continues but not because of their running game this time as the Seahawks significantly out-rushed the Pats but, their failure to sustain drives (or the Patriots success in stopping them) was the key as the Seahawks had four 3 and outs, two other drives which only had 4 and 5 plays respectively and they were held to only 3 successful conversions of 10 3rd down attempts.
Meanwhile the Patriots converted 8 of 17 attempts and held the ball for 6 and a half minutes longer although this game is remembered for another nail biting ending with Malcolm Butler intercepting Seahawks QB Russell Wilson at the goal line to end the game.
SUPER BOWL LI vs ATLANTA FALCONS - won 34-28 (in OT): I’m sure this is still fresh in the memory for some and I’m sure some people would simply put the Pats improbable comeback down to some questionable offensive play calling by the Falcons when they had a significant lead but there are some worthwhile stats to note from the game.
The Falcons were only 1 of 8 on 3rd downs, so their inability to keep the ball allowed the Patriots to keep coming back at them. This shows more heavily in the time of possession and although the game was longer because of the overtime period, a 40:31 - 23:27 stat tells its own story.
When the Patriots win they do several things well - they tend to run the ball better than perhaps you would expect. Three of their five wins has seen them win the rushing battle and last season seen them match the Falcons exactly. This allows them to dominate the time of possession and only their first win, over the Rams, seen them lose that battle.
Defensively, in their early victories, turnovers and pass pressure were vital. In their later victories, it’s been the ability to get the opponent off the field and not sustain drives that has been the order of the day.
THE PATRIOTS LOSSES - WHY DID THEY LOSE?
SUPER BOWL XLVI vs NEW YORK GIANTS - lost 17-14: The perfect dream was shattered as the 16-0 regular season record meant nothing under a brutal Giants pass rush that got constant pressure on Tom Brady with 5 QB sacks.
Just as significant was that the lost the battle on the ground and that in turn seen the Giants able to narrowly edge the time of possession battle. If you struggled to remember Antowain Smith you may struggle even more to recall Laurence Maroney who had 14 carries for only 36 yards on the day (he did score a TD though). They also gave the Patriots a taste of their own medicine with a late score to take the lead.
SUPER BOWL XLIX vs NEW YORK GIANTS - lost 21-17: Once again the Patriots were out-rushed and the difference in time of possession was much more significant this time as the Giants held the ball for over 37 minutes.
The pressure on Tom Brady from their defense was also vital and whilst they only recorded two sacks they also forced a safety from an intentional grounding early in the game.
Apart from the obvious reason that they lost to the same opponent twice, two key factors seem to emerge from both the losses to the Giants - pressure on Tom Brady and out-rushing the Pats so as to keep the ball away from the Patriots offense as much as possible. Control the clock and you can control Brady!
COMPARING THE STATS
One thing that seems to resonate over both the wins and the losses is the ability to run the ball and to control the clock. The Patriots are often seen as a pass-first offense but they do mix in the run well and their short passing game with the Running Backs can see them use that as effectively as a hand off. Don’t forget RB James White broke the Super Bowl record for most receptions in last years victory.
More recently they have been able to win the 3rd down battle. This also relates to time of possession as in it stops opponents sustaining drives whilst their own offense can keep the chains moving.
Ultimately, when making your mind up about Super Bowl LII ask yourself these questions:
- Can the Patriots run the ball on the Eagles or move the ball with their backs in the short passing game?
- Can this in turn allow them to dominate time of possession?
- Can the Eagles run the ball well enough to control the clock themselves?
- Who can win the battle on 3rd down?
With those question in mind let’s see what this seasons stats tell us for both teams.
The Patriots were ranked 10th in rush offense in the regular season. They averaged 118.1 yards per game, averaged 4.2 yards per carry (ranking 12th) and scoring 16 TD’s (ranking 6th). They’ll face the best rush defense in the league in the Eagles who held opponents to 79.2 yards per game, 3.8 yards per carry (6th) and only allowed 7 rush touchdowns (Jt 3rd).
Philly’s run D has stayed consistent in the playoffs, with 78 yards per game allowed actually bettering their regular season mark but they have seen the average per carry allowed creep up above the 4 yards per carry (4.1).
The Eagles were 3rd in the NFL in rushing averaging 132.2 yards per game, averaging 4.5 yards per carry (5th) although only scoring 9 rush TD’s (24th). The Patriots rush defense was 20th in the league allowing 114.8 yards per game and allowed 4.7 yards per carry, only the Chargers allowed more yards/carry! They did however only allow 6 rush TD’s, second best in the league
In the postseason the Pats rush D has stiffened up though, allowing an average of only 83 yards and 3.5 yards per carry in their two wins.
Both teams had positive time of possession stats with the Eagles the league leaders averaging 32:41 per game compared to the Patriots 30:37. Interestingly, in postseason, the Eagles have better that mark going over an average of 33 minutes/game in their two wins whilst the Patriots have dropped below 29 minutes/game in their two victories.
Both teams were solid converting 3rd downs on offense. The Eagles ranked 8th with 42% and the Patriots 10th at 41%. Both teams have upped the ante in the postseason with the Eagles going up to 59% and the Patriots 48%.
There’s a bigger difference defensively with the Eagles ranking 3rd allowing only 32% of 3rd downs to be converted whilst the Patriots were down in 21st allowing a 39% conversion rate. The Eagles have slipped down to 38% in postseason with the Patriots improving slightly to 37%.
With regards to the Eagles defending of Running Backs in the passing game, checking of the fantasy stats sees the Eagles D face 124 pass targets to Running Backs (7th most in the league) and allowing 91 of those targets to become receptions (10th most in the league) but those receptions only went for 653 yards (7.2 yards per reception) which was only 24th in the league!
Those stats tell us that the Eagles tackle well and don't let the likes of screens and passes into the flat break for big plays.
A lot of the focus on this game is going to be on the Quarterbacks. Tom Brady is arguably the greatest ever signal caller in NFL history whilst the Eagles are going with are going with Nick Foles in the absence of the injured Carson Wentz. It’s right of course that their impact on the game is considered but what i hope I have shown here is that looking back on the Patriots traditional recipe for winning in these games, the Eagles match up extremely well with them.
Comments and feedback are welcomed and encouraged. Please reply using the comments below or bring your discussion over the OLBG American Football Forum.
You can follow me on Twitter @ChrisJBrophy.