The New England Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champs and enter 2017 with a loaded roster. How could things get any better?
Well, how about an extremely favorable schedule?
At first glance, the Patriots’ 2017 slate doesn’t look like a cakewalk. Six of New England’s upcoming opponents made the playoffs last season — including the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons — and it will face a slew of top-tier quarterbacks, including Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger.
But the folks at Football Outsiders did a deeper dive on the Patriots’ upcoming schedule in an article for ESPN.com and reached a surprising conclusion: The Patriots project to have the easiest schedule in the entire NFL in 2017.
Author Aaron Schatz determined strength of schedule by compiling the Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) of each team’s opponents, and New England’s opposition ranked dead last. Here’s Schatz’s explanation behind the numbers:
“We’re forecasting decline for many of (the Patriots’) out-of-division opponents, including Atlanta, Denver and Kansas City. Meanwhile, the rest of the AFC East comes in under .500.”
Indeed, the Pats benefit from playing in a very easy division: The AFC East has produced just one playoff team outside of New England (the 2016 Miami Dolphins) in the last six seasons. But the club’s non-division opponents might not offer much resistance, either, which is why Schatz projects the Patriots to go 13-3 in 2017.
“A lot of it is a lack of balanced teams that are average or better on both sides,” Schatz told ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss. “Most of the teams with better quarterbacks have iffy defenses (Atlanta, New Orleans, we have Tampa Bay’s defense regressing), and the really good D’s have no quarterbacks (Houston, Denver).”
In short: The Patriots are in very good position to defend their Super Bowl crown.
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