ESPN Names the Patriots 'Best of the Decade' in Almost Every Category

ESPN just released a Best/Worst list for the NFL in the decade of 2010-19. And as you might assume when one team had the most wins, the most playoff appearances, the most postseason wins, the most Super Bowl appearances, the most championships, scored the most points while allowing the fewest, the Patriots took practically all of the superlatives. They were pretty much Most Popular, Most Likely to Succeed, Best Smile, Class Clown and the Dundie for Whitest Sneakers.

Best team

New England Patriots

How they fared: 141-42 (.770), 10 AFC East titles, 16 playoff wins, three Super Bowl titles

Qualifying for the playoffs each season of the decade, and winning the AFC East each year, is a good place to start. They also had five Super Bowl appearances, three championships and eight appearances in the AFC Championship Game. Their overall record in the decade, including playoffs, was a league-best 141-42.  ...

Best coach

Bill Belichick, Patriots

Record: 141-42 (.770)

Leading the Patriots to three Super Bowl championships, he became the only head coach in NFL history with six Super Bowls titles. His NFL-best 140 victories in the decade upped his career total to 304, which is third all time behind Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324). Belichick became the fastest to reach 300 wins, doing so in his 434th NFL game, faster than Shula (445) and Halas (455). ...

Best offense

New England Patriots

How they fared: Offensive efficiency: 71.3 (first), points per game: 29.5 (first), yards per game: 390.7 (second)

It helped having Tom Brady at quarterback, and perhaps this stat was most telling: The Patriots had 29 games over the decade in which they came back from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie to win. So they were clutch, in addition to potent (averaging 29.5 points per game). Not to be overlooked is their penchant for evolving on the fly. Their smashmouth offense to win Super Bowl LIII looked a lot different from the air-it-out approach that sparked the Super Bowl XLIX title. 

That's great. And well deserved. It's like one of those Oscars where one movie like "Silence of the Lambs" sweeps all the major categories, so there's really no reason for the producers to get their tuxedo pants in a bunch if it doesn't win for Best Sound Editing or whatever. 

But still, there is one team award they gave that doesn't make much sense to me:

Best defense

Baltimore Ravens

How they fared: Defensive efficiency: 59.4 (first), points per game: 19.7 (third), yards per game: 322.6 (second)

Baltimore barricaded the end zone for offenses over the past 10 seasons, seven times finishing in the top 10 in fewest points allowed, including four years among the top three. At the start of the decade, the Ravens' defense dominated with two future Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. By the close of it, Baltimore was turning turnovers into touchdowns with Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley and Marlon Humphrey. The Ravens finished this decade with the highest-scoring offense behind quarterback Lamar Jackson, but their identity over the past 10 years remained on the defensive side of the ball.

Look, I'm not going to just automatically assume the Patriots should've gotten this one too. But I'm not going to automatically assume they shouldn't have gotten it either. What I can do though is question their qualifications, because this is some weak cheese. 

First in "defensive efficiency"? That might impress the hell out of the fellas in the office of ESPN's Stats & Info Department, but it sounds more like the kind of thing you talk up in a job interview than an actual accomplishment. "In my previous position I was put in charge of promoting public health by sanitizing frequently used equipment while operating a complex, state of the art industrial anti-bacterial system," instead of saying "I was a dishwasher." I've yet to see a team walk off the field victorious with their "defensive efficiency" percentage on the scoreboard. 

As far as the number they do put on the scoreboard, here are the top three (the math is my own so you'll just have to trust me):

Fewest points allowed, 2010-19:

  • 3. Baltimore: 3128
  • 2. Seattle: 3098
  • 1. New England, 3048

Even if you want to say the Patriots' defense doesn't deserve to be called the "Best Defense" simply for the fact that they did the thing a defense is supposed to do better than any other defense, which is not give up points and also win, fine. I disagree with your logic, but I'm a reasonable man. ESPN justified choosing the Ravens because they, what? Finished in the top 10 seven times and the top three four times? Then how about this stat then:

Times Allowing the Fewest Points in the League, 2010-19:

  • Baltimore: 0
  • New England: 2
  • Seattle: 4

And in those seasons, the Seahawks defense led them to two Super Bowls, winning one, and the Pats won a ring in one of their seasons. 

So if you want to crown the Seahawks, crown 'em. A strong case can be made. They won a Super Bowl by shutting down the most prolific scoring offense in NFL history, the 2013 Denver Broncos. Just don't sleep on the Patriots doing likewise to THREE of the top 10 highest scoring offenses of all time:

2016 Atlanta Falcons - Atlanta went into Super Bowl LI having scored the 7th most points in a season in NFL history, 33.8 per game. The Patriots not only held the Falcons to three scoring drives (their fourth touchdown was a pick-6) the only team to do that all season. And with Atlanta facing a 1st & 10 at the New England 22 and a chance to put the game out of reach, the defense ended up forcing a punt, the only time all year a team got that deep into enemy territory on a drive that ended with a punt. 

2018 Kansas City Chiefs - This Chiefs team still ranks as the third highest scoring offense ever, with 35.3 PPG. And while it got ugly late in the AFC championship game, the Patriots shut them out entirely in the 1st half. Dustin Colquitt had to punt five times, tied for his most all season for a guy who basically had the year off, with 12 games (including the playoffs) where he had three or fewer punts. Even with that wild finish, New England held KC to below their season average in one of the most notoriously difficult stadiums for a visiting team. And got them the chance to face this team:

2018 Los Angeles Rams - It's no exaggeration to say Super Bowl LIII is one of the truly great performances by any defense in any sport, ever. The Rams were the 12th highest scoring team ever (now 13th), with 33.2 PPG. Brian Flores' defense held Sean McVay to three points (a Super Bowl record) and zero trips to the red zone. Jared Goff's passer rating on the season was 101.1. In this one, it was 57.9. 

Of course Baltimore does have their one championship. And that counts for a lot. Even though they were 12th in points allowed that year. But sure, give the Ravens and their seven-time top 10 defense the Participation Ribbon because they had more Hall of Famers and led the Seahawks and Pats in some obscure metric the advanced stats guys love. I'll take the unit that gets all the trophies and banners over the ESPN superlatives.