New England Patriots 2014 Season Review: An Unbelievable Streak
It's amazing, really. Since 2001, the New England Patriots have reached nine AFC Championships, failed to make the playoffs twice, been to six Super Bowls and now have won four of them.
There are teenagers who don't know what an NFL with an uncompetitive New England Patriots team is like.
From a high level, the 2014 season for this New England Patriots team looked like a cakewalk. They, once again, finished as the top seed in the AFC and won the Super Bowl. The offense, according to our metrics, was the second-best one in the league this year. The defense, in true Belichick form, ranked sixth.
But let's not forget the team's struggles. At one point in the season, almost all hope was lost for this Patriots team. Don't remember? Well then let's take a dive into their path to the Super Bowl.
A Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs brought questions we really never thought we'd ask. Will the Patriots compete this year? Are the Patriots mediocre? Is Tom Brady...done?
According to our metrics, the Patriots entered the season with a 74.7% chance to make the playoffs. Only the Denver Broncos had higher odds.
After Week 4, those odds sat at a scary (for Patriot fans, at least) 34.2%.
The Pats' defense was mostly fine at this time. The unit ranked eighth in terms of NEP, but did, admittedly, struggled against the run, ranking 22nd in the NFL.
Looking back, it's hard to believe this all happened in 2014 -- at one point, members of the media actually wanted Tom Brady benched. And then he made them look like fools.
The Patriots have lost just one significant game since that meeting in Kansas City. That game was in September.
A lot of credit has to go to Rob Gronkowski, who immediately saw an increase in production after Week 4. I don't know if this is when he became fully healthy -- that'd be speculation. What I do know is that he was averaging 6.5 targets per game during the first four weeks of the season, and that jumped to 9.5 over the final 11 games. (He sat out Week 17.) Gronk ended the year with by far the highest Reception Net Expected Points total, and among high-volume tight ends, only Antonio Gates had a higher per target Reception NEP.
This, of course, turned Brady's season around, too. Two of Brady's first four games resulted in Passing NEP totals of -10.50 or worse. After Week 4, the only negative NEP game Brady saw came in Week 16 versus division rival New York. After the early-season mess, Brady ended as the fifth-best quarterback in terms of Passing NEP.
The Patriot pass defense was strong throughout the season, but the team's rush defense improved down the stretch as well. After Week 8, the unit ranked 28th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. They were a target for fantasy owners, if I'm being honest. Their end-of-season ranking? 17th. They actually finished off the year playing like a fringe top-10 unit.
One underrated aspect of this Patriots' team was their ability to run the football. We rarely see stud runners in Patriot uniforms, and this year was really no different.
Starter Stevan Ridley went down with a season-ending injury in Week 6, and at the time, the Patriots were the 21st-ranked rushing team in the league, per our schedule-adjusted metrics. They finished the year ranked second.
To say things turned around over the second half of the season for New England is an understatement. Things got exponentially better, from every angle imaginable. It was a classic Patriots season.
Looking into 2015
And now, the Patriots' offseason begins. Darrelle Revis will be a priority, and if they're unable to re-sign him, look for them to make moves at cornerback. Offensive and defensive line will be targeted as well.
But as usual, the team could use a wide receiver -- Julian Edelman, their best wideout, ranked just 23rd in Reception NEP at wide receiver this year. And that's with Tom Brady throwing him the ball. The team's lack of success in drafting the position under Belichick doesn't bring much confidence, but it's certainly a place they need to improve.
Regardless, we should expect New England to compete once again in 2015. Because that's just what they've done since the turn of the century.