I know what you’re thinking: Why is there so much optimism around the New England Patriots?
I know, I know.
They’re undefeated in their last five games, have beaten the Indianapolis Colts in four straight, and have the league’s second-ranked defense.
You’ve probably already seen a few of those games, so let’s take a closer look at how the Patriots stack up against their rivals.
Let’s begin by looking at how they fared against the league leaders in points scored (10.9) and points allowed (31.2).
If they could somehow maintain their current pace of 5.3 yards per play (on average) and continue to score more points, the Patriots would rank fourth in the league in points per game (14.4).
But, while the Patriots have done a nice job of holding opponents to a few points more often than not, their defense has been playing the better football, allowing the Colts to score just 29.8 points per contest, fourth-worst in the NFL.
That’s not a huge number.
That stat is actually a tad more predictive of what the Patriots will do against their biggest competition.
The Colts have averaged 31.3 points per play against teams that have allowed more than 28 points per outing.
This is good news for New England, who should have a tougher time keeping up with that defense, especially on the road.
As we mentioned earlier, this team has some talent in the secondary, but the Colts have the third-best cornerback group in the entire league in coverage.
The Patriots have been more successful against the pass this season than they have against the run, allowing just 19.2 points per 100 yards (second-best in the NBA), which ranks 14th in the League.
That is something that needs to improve on in order for New York to continue to be able to dominate against its division rivals.
It’s also something that has helped keep the team in the playoff picture as the Patriots continue to hold opponents to just 29 points per opponent, sixth-worst among all teams.
The biggest question facing New England this week will be the matchup against the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers have had a lot of trouble stopping the run in recent weeks, and that will be a huge factor this week.
That will be especially true because the Patriots defense is ranked fourth in rushing defense (28.9 yards per game) in the AFC, allowing 27.9.
That means New England will need to get pressure on Philip Rivers if they want to hold him to more than 30 yards rushing in any given game.
If the Chargers keep Rivers under 30 yards, New England should have an easy time running the ball effectively.
They have the second-best rushing attack in the game, averaging 38.7 yards per outing, but that number is a tad lower than the number of rushes the Chargers have allowed, allowing 28.9 per game.
That number should be manageable, but New England needs to start looking for the right time to make the Chargers pay.
As for how the Chargers will try to stop the Patriots rushing attack, I’m guessing the Chargers won’t have much trouble.
The Chiefs have allowed the NFL’s third-most rushing yards per opponent (259.7), but that’s not really a concern for New Mexico, who have allowed just 29 rushing yards to opposing running backs this season.
New England has faced just five opponents that have rushed for more than 100 yards, including only two against the Chargers.
That group is a bit more dangerous than the Chargers, with the Chiefs allowing just three running backs to rush for more yards than 1,000 yards, while only allowing one to rush past 1,200.
San Diego is also very good against the passing game, allowing a league-low 21.6 points per match, but it will be hard to expect that number to go up against New England’s pass-happy defense.
San Francisco is one of the best offenses in the world in terms of scoring touchdowns, but San Diego has scored just eight in their past eight games.
The 49ers are ranked fourth-best at stopping the pass and are fourth-ranked at stopping opposing running back runs.
The best way to stop San Francisco’s rushing attack is to keep it out of the backfield, and they have done that well against the Patriots, allowing only five running backs (including one touchdown) to score over 200 yards.
They are also one of only five teams in the AFL with a top-15 scoring defense.
They might not have enough speed to match up with New England on the ground, but they can certainly put up points on the scoreboard in the passing attack.
That passing attack is led by San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis, who has a league record of 13 touchdowns in his past five games.
Davis is also one for the ages with an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14-for-20.
It will be interesting to see how the 49ers try to force turnovers and get pressure against the Pats secondary.