A Patriots-Bucs Super Bowl That Would Break the Universe is Now the Most Likely Scenario. The Numbers Don't Lie.
At the beginning of the month, I wrote a post about the eerie, increasingly hard to ignore similarities between the current Patriots season and the one that preceded it by exactly 20 years:
There are a lot of comparisons. From the first time starter at quarterback impressing everyone with his game management skills, the elite defense, the power run game and so on. And in a time-is-a-flat-circle way, the surreal way some of the specific games have unfolded. Not the least of which was how in 2001 the Patriots were still sort of finding their way when they lost to the recent Super Bowl champion Rams on Sunday Night Football in a close game, while proving to themselves and the rest of the world they could compete with one of the best teams in the league. A team they would, of course, go on to face in the Super Bowl and defeat in order to end one dynasty and jump start their own.
For this season, the obvious direct analogy to that one is the Week 4 game against the Bucs. When Mac Jones outplayed Tom Brady (according to everyone) and the Pats lost on a last second field goal try hitting the upright.
That was a game I dreaded with every synapse in my brain. I was calling it my Emotional Chernobyl. I would've refused to go to Gillette for it if Mr. Kraft sent a chopper and invited me to watch from his private suite. But I, like most Pats fans, came through it OK because, like the Sunday nighter two decades earlier, it gave us hope. It showed what this new edition of this team is capable of.
Yet, not even in our wildest edibles-induced fever dream, was anyone willing to speculate about a rematch like the one we got in 20 years ago. Even floating the idea as a fantasy would get you mocked and shunned by society like you were Alec Baldwin. But here we are, just over two months later, and a Pats-Bucs Super Bowl is not only possible, according to ESPN's analytics, it's the most likely scenario:
Here's the view from space if that should happen:
It goes without saying that a 10% chance, while the most likely scenario, is still a slim possibility. I'm just a public school kid, but unless I've done the math wrong, that means there's a 90% chance of it not happening. There are still five more weeks to the regular season and a lot of playoff games to go. Acknowledged. But nevertheless, the other 100 or so permutations of possible Super Bowl matchups are less likely than a NE-TB rematch. It's science.
I mean, the first meeting in October was the most anticipated regular season game in the history of North American team sports that didn't have a playoff berth on the line. So we can scarcely imagine how huge this would be. It'd be like all the Ali-Frazier bouts, if Ali was an alien coming to take over Earth and Frazier was a robot we built to save us from annihilation.
For now, rather than dive into what the hype around such an even occurring would be, I'm instead going to lean into the analytics that are all indicating how very legitimate this Patriots team is. It's a given that Tampa is good enough to go on the road and beat anyone, because they just did in January. And according to all the mathletes, the case for New England getting to play in SoFi on the day before Valentine's Day is getting stronger by the week. Let's go around the statosphere and see how they're grading this team.
Overall, New England is the most complete team in the league:
For the record, Pro Football Focus has them as the second highest graded offense behind only Dallas, and the third highest graded defense, behind just the Rams and Saints.
Pro Football Outsiders uses a different metric than PFF for expressing how they evaluate every single play of the season. DVOA (which I found out after a confusing Google search does not stand for Delaware Valley Orienteering Association), is defined as "Our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system breaks down every single NFL play and compares a team's performance to a league baseline based on situation in order to determine value over average." And in order to determine DVOA, they give more credit for more important yards gained. So for instance, three yards on 1st & 15 doesn't get the grade that three yards on 3rd & 2 does, and so on. And their Weighted DVOA puts more emphasis on recent games than early season games.
By DVOA, the Patriots are up there with anyone:
Who would have thought this team that started out 2-4 would be within striking distance of the top seed in the AFC. New England has posted positive single-game total DVOAs in every game since Week 5 against the Houston Texans (a game they won). Their defense has returned to form, ranking 2nd in total defensive DVOA and leading the league in weighted defensive DVOA. That, plus an 11th-ranked offensive DVOA, has boosted New England into the top tier of the league in the eyes of DVOA.
In terms of DVOA, they're just behind Tampa overall, and No. 1 overall in Weighted DVOA. And defensively, they're No. 2, just behind Buffalo.
When it comes to chances to win the Super Bowl, Football Outsiders has it:
- 1. Patriots: 33.7%
- 2. Tampa Bay: 14.4%
No other team in the AFC is in the top five.
Also, a measurement of excellence that needs no analysis other than subtraction and works across all sports is Point Differential. And on that one, the Patriots lead the league at +150. Buffalo is now second at +140. Only two other teams are above +100 and neither of them has reached +120.
Offensively, the Patriots have the most balanced rushing attack:
According to PFF's grades, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are the only running back combo that both rank in the Top 8 (minimum 100 attempts). Harris is 5th at 83.1 and Stevenson is 8th at 79.9.
From Next Gen Stats, they have the fastest receiving group in terms of getting off the line of scrimmage:
Defensively, the Pats CB 1 is simply the best in the business. (And this is not about 2019 Stephon Gilmore.):
Jackson is the best overall as well, with passer rating when targeted of 39.2. Even if you set the minimum coverage snaps as low as 150 coverage snaps. He's also still second in the NFL in interceptions and first in passes defensed.
Also defensively, they're developing one of the best interior linemen in the game. No matter which analytics site you ask:
And a little something to warm the heart of a head coach who loves special teams like moms love Hallmark Christmas movies:
Oh, and Mac Jones is still good:
Despite being a professional ball hander offer this past week, Jones is still third in completion % and Top 10 in total completions.
All of this is meant to say that, while there's still an infinitely variable amount of variables to consider over the next five weeks and beyond, a case can be made for this New England-Tampa Bay Super Bowl becoming a reality. Gird your loins, because I don't think any of us is equipped to handle it.