Watching the New England Patriots loss last weekend against the Miami Dolphins was a frustrating experience, to say the least. Since a couple of early losses to the Kansas City Chiefs (who are apparently not that good?) and the Carolina Panthers (who I still refuse to believe are good), the Patriots had looked nearly unstoppable. They were clearly one of the best teams in the league, and neck and neck with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the number one seed in the AFC. Then came last week against the Miami Dolphins: the 24th offense and 26th ranked defense in the league. The worst 6-7 team in NFL history. And the Patriots lay a dud.
The game was downright pitiful. The offensive line couldn’t block. The receivers couldn’t get open. Tom Brady was missing throws. The defense allowed three touchdowns to Jay Cutler. It was just an overall poor showing. I’m sitting on the couch as the game is winding down and I’m thinking “I feel like it’s at least once a year that the Patriots play terribly against a division opponent they should beat fairly easily.” So I looked back at New England’s schedules and here’s what I found.
In every season but one since 2010, the Patriots have lost at least one game to a division opponent. Overall, their record against division opponents in that time is 36-10, which seems pretty good. But the reality is if you take away the game in 2010 against an 11-5 Jets, and the game in 2015 against the 10-6 Jets, the rest are bad losses. All of the other games were against mediocre and subpar teams. Considering the Pats haven’t lost more than four games in a season since 2010, they should be able to handle mediocre teams.
Maybe there is something to the idea that division opponents simply each other tougher. You take a look through the scores of the games, most of them are very close contests. They are generally very chippy, gritty games. Could it just be a byproduct of seeing each other so often?
I don’t think so. I generally don’t get the feeling of a Steelers-Ravens game when watching the Patriots play division opponents. What it feels like to me is New England playing down to their competition. How is it that they dominant against Buffalo one week and then come out and look overmatched against Miami? The inconsistency is maddening for fans. But there is a silver lining to New England’s sloppy division losses.
In New England’s nine losses to division opponents prior to this season, they were 8-1 in the following game. The only back-to-back losses came ironically against another division opponent in 2015, though the Patriots bounced back with a win in the divisional round of the playoffs against Kansas City. Five of the eight comeback wins were double-digits or more.
The concern for tomorrow’s game is not so much the outcome of the Miami game, but the process. The offensive line looked overmatched against a formidable Miami defensive line, but Pittsburgh is even tougher. Even after last week, the Dolphins are 28th in the league in sacks with 23. Pittsburgh is second with 41. The defense also took a step back, allowing 27 points to the lowly Dolphins offense, including three passing touchdowns for Jay Cutler. The Steelers are second in the league in passing yards per game, behind only Brady and the Pats.
New England needs a win this week if they want a shot at the number one seed. They’ll need to tighten up their sloppy play if they want to bounce back from an ugly loss to the Dolphins.
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