I’m in that awkward stage between doing post-mortems on the 2012 Patriots and looking ahead to free agency and the draft and trying to figure out what they have to do to get back to the natural order of things: winning championship on the regular. So I’m in what Jules Winnfield called “sort of a transitional period.”
And looking ahead at what the Patriots needs are for 2013, it hit me that I have no idea what their needs are. The formula for winning the Super Bowl is the most baffling and indefinable it’s ever been. Think about it. In every other sport there’s a formula for what a team needs to win a championship. Hockey: You need one great line and solid goaltending. The NBA: 3 All Stars. Baseball: An Ace and two other good starters, power hitting and a closer. Those might be cliches, but it doesn’t mean they’re not accurate.
But what does it take in the NFL? Conventional wisdom says… well, a lot of things. But when you look at the 8 teams that have won the Super Bowl since the Patriots last did in 2005, you realize that everything you’ve ever been told about pro football is wrong:
Myth: You need to put together a good regular season
Fact: Of the 8 teams that have won the Super Bowl since the Patriots last did, 4 of them were Wild Card teams. In fact, those eight champions have averaged 10.8 regular season wins. During the same time span the Pats have averaged 13. And lost.
Myth: You need a playoff bye.
Fact: The bye is crap. 5 of the eight winners played in all 3 rounds of the Conference playoffs.
Myth: You need home field advantage.
Fact: Only 3 of the 8 won the Conference Championship at home. The 4 Wild Card teams obviously won all their games on the road.
Myth: Defense wins championships.
Fact: Maybe in 1970 they did, but not any more. The 8 champs since 2005 have included only 3 defenses that were even in the Top 5 in the league. On average they’ve been ranked 12.8 in the league in Points Allowed and 13.3 in Yardage. And they’ve included such gawdawful sieves as the ’06 Colts (21st ranked), ’09 Saints (25th) and (shudder) the ’11 Giants who were 27th.
Myth: OK then, that must mean that now offense wins championships.
Fact: Wrong again. There were only 2 Top 5 offenses among the 8, the Colts and Saints, the only No.1 in the group. The average ranking has been 9.3 in Points Scored and 11.2 in Yards. The worst of the bunch is the ’05 Steelers who were 22nd.
Myth: You have to be able to run the ball, at least.
Fact: The running games of the champs have been the Socratic Ideal of mediocre, averaging a 15.2 ranking. 2 teams were Top 5 in rushing, but then again, the ’11 Giants were (double shudder) dead last and still won.
Myth: Well then, you need an elite quarterback.
Fact: You’d think it would help, and you’d be right. Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rogers were all Top 3 in the league they year they won. On the other hand, Rapelisberger also won in ’08 when he was 24th in the league and Eli Manning was 25th in ’07. Despite what Joe Flacco’s agent thinks, he was slightly above average this year, finishing 12 wedged between no-one’s-idea-of-elite Phillip Rivers and Andy Dalton.
Myth: OK, well stats are for losers and you can stumble around most of the year as long as you get hot down the stretch.
Fact: The combined records for regular season December-January games of the 8 champs is 21-18. This year Baltimore was 1-4 down the stretch, then played their best ball of the year once the playoffs started.
So what I’ve concluded is, there are no conclusions. I haven’t the first goddamned clue what they Patriots need to improve on in order to win and neither does anyone else. The critics and media know-it-alls look for something to blame… Belichick’s drafting, Brady’s not clutch any more, they need a big wideout, they need to stop the pass… but they’re just grasping at straws. The fact of the matter is that there is no formula for winning. And it doesn’t matter how good or bad your regular season was. Now more than ever, it’s all about just making the playoffs and hoping it all comes together like it did for flawed, average teams like Baltimore, the Giants and the rest. The Patriots as currently constituted have everything they need to win Lombardi 4. All they need to do is hold onto the ball in the playoffs and hope the other team doesn’t. It’s not the sexiest conclusion in the world, but the truth seldom is. @JerryThornton1