Secrets of the New England Patriots

New England Patriots P Jake Bailey
New England Patriots P Jake Bailey
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 13 - The New England Patriots lead the NFL with a 15.1-point "hidden" special teams advantage: opponent's missed field goals plus opponent's punt and kickoff distance, three almost entirely random factors that cannot be attributed to Bill Belichick's brilliance or Mac Jones' precociousness.

We don't point this out to invalidate what the Patriots have accomplished so far this season, but to reassure anyone who thinks they're a little overvalued right now that we haven't all gone mad.

You know what? We should probably insert the segment header here.

Leaderboard of the Week, Part 1: Hidden Special Teams Yardage

Every Thursday, Walkthrough examines a random (and usually obscure) leaderboard from Football Outsiders, Sports Info Solutions, or elsewhere on the analytics Interwebs in search of deep truths and wisdom.

Here are the NFL leaders in hidden special teams points. The full list is a just a click away here within Football Outsiders.

Team Hidden
NE 15.1
DEN 13.2
IND 10.9
DAL 9.4
TB 7.8
SEA 7.8

The Patriots might have been upset by the Houston Texans if not for two missed extra points, a missed 56-yard field goal, and a zero-yard punt. The Titans missed an extra point and a 44-yard field goal in the first half last week;. they probably weren't destined to upset the Patriots, but it's possible that things might have turned out differently if the halftime score was 16-16 (or 16-13 Titans, because the Patriots got a field goal from a short drive after that Titans miss) instead of 16-13 Patriots.

The Broncos are clinging to the playoff chase despite not being particularly great at anything. Hidden special teams points help explain why. They blocked a pair of Chris Blewitt field goals in their 17-10 win over Washington. While blocking a field goal is a skill, blocking two of them in one game is probably a sign that you are facing the opponent's free-agent kicker of last resort. Lost to the mists of time are a pair of missed first-half Jaguars field goals in Week 2. Again, a Jaguars upset of the Broncos in that game sounds unlikely, but six-point first-half swings can snowball and bury an underdog's chances.

The Colts' "real" special teams rank fourth overall. Their Bills upset had a heavy special teams component, though fumbled kickoffs are not included in hidden points and the two missed Bills field goals were a 56-yarder and a 49-yarder after the rout was on. Overall, hidden points don't tell us much about the Colts.

The Buccaneers benefited heavily from hidden special teams against the Cowboys way back in the season opener: Greg Zuerlein missed a 31-yarder and an extra point (plus a 60-yarder before halftime) in a 31-29 Buccaneers win. Hidden special teams points become a handy compendium for close outcomes like this result and the Patriots-Texans game that can be forgotten over a long season. When Tom Brady meets the Patriots in the Super Bowl, I will be grumbling into my whiskey at Zuerlein and Ka'ami Fairbairn..

The Seahawks are the only losing team with a noteworthy hidden special teams edge, which is further evidence of the Seahawks' overall putrescence. No other team has an edge of more than five points.

Let's run through the bottom of the leaderboard quickly:

Team Hidden
NYG -6.7
WAS -8.7
LV -9.3
LAC -9.4
CHI -10.9

The Chargers and Raiders are the interesting teams here. Opponents are 18-of-18 on field goals within 50 yards and 31-of-31 on extra points against the Chargers, who have enough problems of their own on special teams without coping with the fact that opponents rarely make a mistake.

You might think of the Raiders as a team with a special teams advantage because punter A.J. Cole is having such a fine season. But opponents have made 5-of-6 50-plus-yard field goals and are netting 42.8 yards per punt against them. Interestingly, opponents have dropped 21 punts inside the 20 against the Raiders without a single punt for a touchback, which sure sounds like an outlier. The Giants loss springs to mind as a game that could have gone the other way if the Raiders weren't always pinned inside their own 20-yard line.

Based on the randomness of hidden points, I would expect the Broncos and, yes, the Patriots to fall back to the pack a little bit late in the season, while the Chargers and maybe the Raiders should catch an additional break now and then. But we're not quite done with leaderboard of the week. Let's visit Hidden Special Teams Points' Sister City.

Leaderboard of the Week, Part 2: Net Line of Scrimmage Per Drive

Sometimes, Walkthrough features two leaderboards in the same week, either because they are tangentially related or because Tanier feels guilty about turning Wednesday's Walkthrough into an obscure anime parody and wants to stat things the hell up.

When a team misses a field goal, two things happen: they lose three points, and they usually give their opponent better field position than they would have gotten from a kickoff (or punt). Hidden special teams points tabulate the opponent's missed field goals. Net line of scrimmage per drive keeps track of, among other things, all of the ensuing drives that start around the 40-yard line and such.

Net line of scrimmage per drive is also a repository of shanked punts and long returns of non-touchback kickoffs, which makes it a second cousin of hidden points. But there's much more simmering in the NLOS/drive stew: "real" special teams performance, turnover differential, the ability to sustain drives and stop them. NLOS/drive can be both evidence of three-phases team quality and a yellow flag that a team is benefitting from fortuitous bounces, penalty differentials, or—yes—missed field goals.

In the case of the Patriots, it's likely to be a little bit of both.

Here's the leaderboard for net line of scrimmage per drive, another metric that can be found here at Football Outsiders. You will notice how closely related it is to the hidden points leaderboard:

Team Net LOS/Drive
NE 7.43
IND 3.86
SEA 3.40
DEN 3.27
TB 3.03

The Patriots also led the NFL in net LOS per drive with 7.47 yards in 2019, the year they lost to the Titans in the playoffs. The Patriots are frequently among the top five in this odd little category, which suggests that Bill Belichick prioritizes the manipulation of field position, especially when he knows Prime Brady and Randy Moss aren't available. That said, the 2019 and 2021 Patriots are the only teams to top 7.0 yards per drive since 2014: that kind of edge REALLY adds up over the course of a game.

Sunday's victory over Tennessee illustrated how advantageous a significant field-position edge can be. The Titans started the game at their own 11-yard line due to a holding penalty on the opening kickoff. They went three-and-out. A 59-yard punt was negated by another penalty. Brett Kern's second punt traveled just 47 yards and was returned to the Titans 37-yard line, setting up a short New England touchdown drive. Later in the same game, Jake Bailey pinned the Titans at their own 11-yard line again. A three-and-out led to a 48-yard punt, an 8-yard return, and a 56-yard touchdown drive (highlighted by Kendrick Bourne's low-speed chase up the right sideline).

You get the idea. The Patriots also embark on their share of 95-yard scoring drives. But during their recent run of victories over teams that look far better in the standings than on the field, field-position advantages have contributed to lopsided final scores. As with hidden points, it's logical to predict a little bit of regression here.

The Colts and Broncos once again find themselves with a minor advantage that's helping them remain buoyed above .500. The Broncos pinned the Chargers at their 1-yard line early in last Sunday's upset, forced a three-and-out, and turned a short field into a touchdown: a neat encapsulation of what has gone right for the Broncos and wrong for the Chargers so often this season. That said, there's no reason to anticipate that the Broncos or Colts will sustain their field-position advantage late in the season, or lose it for that matter (it's not way up in outlier territory).

The Buccaneers rank sixth in offensive yards per drive and ninth in defensive yards per drive. Their field-position advantage is just residue of all the other things they do well.

The Seahawks are once again the shocking team among the top five, because their offense does nothing but go three-and-out while their defense cannot get off the field. Punter Michael Dickson is playing well but isn't the sort of weapon who can flip field position by himself (you are thinking of A.J. Cole). The Seahawks have attempted just six fourth-down conversions all season, while Dickson leads the NFL in punts, which may be tilting the scales. A punt is better for field position than a failed fourth-down conversion. Of course, the Seahawks are 1-of-6 on conversions, so they still fail often enough to set up short opponent's drives. Their LOS advantage may be an illusion caused by the fact that the Seahawks rarely even have the ball.

Let's check out the bottom five:

Team Net LOS/Drive
WAS -3.16
CAR -3.76
LAC -4.23
CHI -4.45
NYJ -6.94

The Chargers are again the most interesting team on this list. They rank 28th in defensive yards per drive but second on offense, which should balance out field position somewhat evenly. But the Chargers have a relatively low 51.7% touchback rate on punts and give up a large 5.6-yard net punting disparity to opponents, in part because their coverage and return units stink. A -119 net penalty yardage differential is also lurking among the Chargers statistics.

The inability to manipulate field position contributes to the Chargers' red zone woes, which sometimes are just the result of needing to matriculate 75 yards down the field. Special teams errors can also trap the Chargers in a field-position feedback loop. Because they are too good a team to be ranked this low, I believe that central tendency will guide them back to the middle of the pack. A few more yards per drive down the stretch would certainly help.

The Panthers rank 31st in offensive yards per drive but first in defensive yards per drive. They have also gone through three punters this season and rank last in the NFL in yards per punt, with two blocks (including one deep in their own end zone last Sunday). Add "complementary football" to the long list of things Matt Rhule needs to figure out in 2021.

The Jets are the Jets are the Jets.

Coming off the Bye: Kansas City Chiefs

Occasionally throughout the midseason, Walkthrough will spotlight a team coming out of its bye week. But you probably figured that out from reading the header.

The Chiefs Story So Far: Patrick Mahomes and company started the season 3-4 thanks to the utter collapse of their interior defense, some miserable fumble luck, a relatively tough schedule, and the Internet's favorite herbal remedy for preventing quarterback heroics: opponents playing two high safeties against them.

The Chiefs adjusted by moving Chris Jones back from the edge to defensive tackle and relying more heavily on their rushing and short game. They have not rebounded to 2019/2020 levels, but their early-season slump looks no different than the slumps other contenders have endured (or are enduring) this year.

What's Going Right: Most of the good news comes from the last few weeks.

  • The Chiefs lost eight of 12 offensive fumbles through their first seven games. They have lost three of six since. Their defense recovered just two of seven fumbles through their first seven games but are 3-of-7 since. Their fumble luck hasn't quite "evened out," but it's heading that way.
  • The Chiefs defense has posted an negative DVOA in four straight games (negative DVOA means good defense). Moving Chris Jones inside has helped. So has adding Melvin Ingram. So has replacing Daniel Sorenson with Juan Thornhill and getting Charvarius Ward back at cornerback (which rippled through the secondary). Because the defensive improvements are personnel-based, they're likely to be sustainable. Barring injuries, of course.
  • The rebuilt Chiefs offensive line has never really been the problem. Creed Humphrey is a favorite among Offensive Rookie of the Year contrarians, while Joe Thuney, Orlando Brown, and Trey Smith have all played well.
  • Despite all the hoo-hah about two high safeties (a formation which now cures male-pattern baldness), opponents have not really found an answer for the Mahomes/Tyreek Hill/Travis Kelce problem. The best they can do is drop back and hope the Chiefs running game and underneath routes don't kill them. That's really only a viable strategy when the Chiefs defense is allowing 30 points per game.

What's Going Wrong: Let's take this opportunity to look at a few odd DVOA splits:

All of these splits scream "volatility." If the Chiefs get better on offense in the red zone and on third downs (a likely scenario, since those indicators are lagging behind the rest of their offense), they could rocket through the playoffs. If their third-down defensive success dips, it could take the whole defense back down with them. A few short-yardage stops or failures could turn the tide in critical games.

The safest thing to predict for the Chiefs through December is more mood swings as their extreme tendencies level out. Then again, the Chiefs are built on extreme tendencies.

Where They Stand in the Playoff Picture: The Chiefs have an 83.0% chance of reaching the playoffs, a 61.1% chance of winning the AFC West, a 9.0% chance at a first-round bye, and a 12.1% chance of reaching the Super Bowl. They're +330 to reach the Super Bowl, the lowest payout in the AFC. Our metrics like the Patriots and Bills better, but you cannot blame the house for wanting to suppress public action on the Chiefs: they aren't the sort of team that folks sleep on.

What's Next for the Chiefs: Their final schedule consists of six wild-card hopefuls: the Broncos this Sunday and in the finale, with the Raiders, Chargers, Steelers, and Bengals wedged in between. A 6-0 table run is certainly possible, though 5-1 or even 4-2 feels much more likely for a team that still has self-destructive impulses.

The Week 15 visit to the Chargers is a biggie: a win would likely clinch the AFC West, while getting swept could sweep the Chiefs into a very crowded wild-card pool.

Thursday Night Sportsbook: Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) at New Orleans Saints

Dan Quinn will coach the Cowboys due to a COVID outbreak among their coaching staff. Other assistants will likely be unavailable, including offensive line coach Joe Philbin. Philbin's absence is noteworthy because right tackle Terence Steele is out due to COVID and Mike McCarthy has been tinkering with a ridiculous offensive line rotation. The Cowboys have been meeting virtually all week, and we all know how well they handled that last season. Finally, Amari Cooper was apparently hit pretty hard by the virus and will likely be a game-time decision.

On the other side of the ball, Taysom Hill takes over as the Saints starting quarterback. Hooray? Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram may be back, but Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk probably aren't, and it's not like the Saints offense was operating at 2009 levels when their backs were healthy, nor that Hill is a threat to do more than run zone-reads and underthrow deep passes.

Quinn and a half-dozen of Jerry Jones' grandchildren should be able to coach the Cowboys past the current iteration of the Saints, but there is no way we can advise making a wager on it when writing over 24 hours before kickoff during a quarantine situation.

Ah, but that won't stop Walkthrough from making some sort of wager. The Saints have scored just 24 first-quarter points all season. They have scored ZERO first-quarter points in their last four games. Yet their defense remains relatively stout, especially early in games, and they'll face a Cowboys offense that's likely to at least start the game out of sync. So don't stress over The Lovechild Factor: hammer the Under of 9.5 points for the first quarter; root for punts, missed field goals, and missed extra points; and hope everyone gets healthy so we don't have to resort to wagers like this one ever again. (And because all of us are fundamentally good human beings who wish good health on everyone else. That too.)


57 comments, Last at 04 Dec 2021, 9:31am

#1 by TimK // Dec 02, 2021 - 10:37am

Tom Brady has probably already met the Buccaneers, except for any possible late signings in search of a ring, I suspect you meant Patriots in the link to the NYT story (the link seems broken too).

Quite amusing to see the Broncos near the top of the hidden special team points list, given how ordinary (at best) their special teams are. There is a lot of surprise at the continued employment of the special teams coach in Denver fandom.

Points: 0

#27 by reddwarf // Dec 02, 2021 - 4:38pm

Denver gets half of it's score from opponents missing FG's, which don't deserve coaching credit, and the other half from the two blocks in the same game where the kicker basically drove both balls into the line (no elevation at all-I think one bounced off a non-jumping player's helmet).  Mostly the bad coaching is seen in our atrocious coverage units.  With all the "weird" plays going Denver's way (credit to McManus for being reliable) they get a good score but it's not sustainable.

Points: 0

#2 by mehllageman56 // Dec 02, 2021 - 10:38am

Once I saw the Jets at the bottom of the Net Line of Scrimmage per Drive table, I was hoping for some sort of explanation other than the Jets are the Jets.  Especially since it's almost 7 percentage points, about as extreme as the Patriots positive advantage in this stat.  It's not like the Jets have putrid special teams; they rank 19th, higher than their offense and defense.

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#28 by nat // Dec 02, 2021 - 5:02pm


Turnovers are a very big factor in field position, much more so than opponents’ missed field goals, shanked punts and other “hidden” special teams stuff.

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#3 by sgronwold // Dec 02, 2021 - 12:02pm

But I couldn't help but chuckle when I read: "opponents playing two high safeties against them".


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#4 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 12:25pm

The Patriots also led the NFL in net LOS per drive with 7.47 yards in 2019, the year they started 8-0 and no one seems to remember what happened after that.

FTFY.  :)

(or 16-13 Titans, because the Patriots got a field goal from a short drive after that TItans miss)

NE got the ball at the 34 and drove to the TN 19.  Not sure "short" is the best descriptor, unless you mean that the drive was only 7 plays and almost all the yardage was earned on a single pass.

factors that cannot be attributed to Bill Belichick's brilliance or Mac Jones' precociousness.

I'll grant you that Jones' precociousness is probably not a factor, but it should be noted that, going back to 2016 (an arbitrary end point that I selected just for time convenience) NE has been in the top eight of hidden yardage in 5/6 years (top four 4/6), and in the top six of LOS/drive in 5/6 years.  

Given that level of consistency, shouldn't we consider that the Patriots may actually be doing something to contribute to the advantage?

EDIT:  I just looked at 2015 and 2014, and the results are 2/1 for LOS and 16/3 for Hidden.  So we can add two more years to the high ranking trend.  

Points: 0

#6 by scottw // Dec 02, 2021 - 1:30pm


which could definitely be wrong - the Patriots have often used a fair number of starters/regular players in their special teams.  They have a few special teams only guys (Slater, Bethel, Gunnar) but a lot of semi-regular guys seem to play on both sides of special teams.  I honestly have no data if this is more or less than other teams do though.  5 seconds of google did not lead me to an answer, so i'm just relying on memory :)




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#8 by [Very] Special Teams // Dec 02, 2021 - 1:57pm

just saw Kyle Duggar on Covid list, article said he's at 80% of defensive snaps AND 35% of ST snaps.  More famously, Gronk broke his arm blocking on a field goal.  Pats prioritize versatility to play ST, to the point of often drafting inferior players who they think can do that (Cyrus Jones lol).  

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#14 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 2:54pm

which could definitely be wrong

Absolutely!  Randomness could definitely explain the last six years of NE's data.  That said, it seems incomplete to act as if the randomness within the stats also explains why NE is regularly near the top of the league at them.  I mean, maybe it does, but it still warrants mention, no?

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#16 by RickD // Dec 02, 2021 - 3:24pm

It should not take long to dismiss randomness as a factor. Dismissing randomness is a far easier statistical test than determining what the actual factors are.

This entire article is a concern to me.  The need to dismiss the Patriots is reaching unhealthy levels.


Points: 0

#29 by Hoodie_Sleeves // Dec 02, 2021 - 5:04pm

In reply to by RickD

It also accounts for only 15 points. You could reduce their Point Differential by 15 points, and they'd still be #2 in the league and 40 points above number 3(Tampa)


So it's certainly not "the secret to the Patriots" like Tanier claims. 


He's approaching Borges levels at this point. Everything is convoluted nonsense to justify him still being upset about the Eagles losing 20 years ago. 

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#34 by RobotBoy // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:01pm

I don't think it goes back that far, although...

I've read Tanier forever but it's only the past three years or so that his coverage of the Pats has become monotonously negative. This season was the pinnacle of it - a blizzard of schadenfreude and contempt through the preseason and the first six weeks. I thought about assembling a list of his most egregious hater statements but  that would mean I didn't have a life. Still, it's a real thing. I'm fine with partisan takes but there's nothing worse than posing as elevated iconoclast when you really just have an axe to grind.

As for the Pats being good on special teams, is there anything more to it than Belichick investing more resources and attention to it?

Points: 0

#43 by ammek // Dec 03, 2021 - 4:54am

In reply to by RickD

Remember, the Dolphins – another AFC East team – were among the top five in Hidden every year from 2011 to 2017. That was despite ripping through three permanent and two interim head coaches during the period. Inevitably, like all good things, the streak came to an end under Adam Gase.

Meanwhile the Raiders – not a franchise synonymous in the 21st century with great coaching – were in the top ten for Hidden in nine of the ten seasons up until 2016.

I don't agree that randomness can be entirely dismissed as a factor. Belichick clearly runs many things well, but that doesn't make him immune from getting lucky at times.

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#49 by Hoodie_Sleeves // Dec 03, 2021 - 10:05am

I'm not sure this data is in favor of this being random/luck.


Despite multiple head coaches from 2011 to 2017 Miami had the same special teams coach that whole period - Darren Rizzi. He, also, came to an end under Adam Gase. In 2018. He's been with the Saints since 2019 - who have ranked 5,13,14 in hidden ST points with him. Not as good, but still top half. 


The Raiders on the other hand, had a mix of coordinators - but they're all long term ST guys who've hung around in the league. They generally had good special teams coaching that whole period. 

2008-2011 - John Fassel - ST coach of the Rams for most of the last decade - they've floated around the top quartile all decade. 

2012 was a year of Steve Hoffman - this was the year they dropped to 27th. 

2013-2014 was Bobby April - another long term, high hidden points ST coach.

2015-2017 was Brad Seely - who was the ST coach for the Patriots ('99-08) - and they had great special teams that whole period. This was kind of the twilight of his career though - he had one great year with Oakland, then bad ones, then a couple terrible years in Houston. 

The Patriots have had a ton of continuity in their ST coaching. 

When Seely left in 2009, they poached Denver's ST coach - Scott O'Brien. 
When O'Brien transitioned to being a scout in 2015, they promoted his assistant, Joe Judge. 
When Joe Judge left to coach the giants, they promoted his assistant, Cameron Achord
And BB is very involved in ST. 

What sticks out to me looking at the data is that ST coaches seem to hang around in the NFL for a long time - some seem to stay put, and others seem to move every 2-3 years - and hidden points tends to change significantly at those borders - but its fuzzy - sometimes the last year of the old coach is bad - sometimes they're good for another year after the guy leaves. So I don't think this is random, but it would be a lot of work to tease out.

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#22 by Tracy // Dec 02, 2021 - 4:10pm

Here is the FO description of hidden points:

  • HIDDEN represents the advantage teams have received from elements of special teams generally out of their control: opposing field goals, kickoff distance, and punt distance. It is listed as points worth of estimated field position, and is ranked from the team with the biggest advantage to the team with the biggest disadvantage.

The fact that the Patriots have been in the top quartile of hidden points in 5 of 6 years probably has more to do with playing 6 games against the rest of the afc east each year than with some Belichickian ability to cause opponents to miss field goals and shank punts. As for the other stat, credit was given to the Patriots for their consistency, and Tanier predicted that excellence would likely continue.

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#40 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:39pm

credit was given to the Patriots for their consistency

You're right.  I went back through both stats, but I could have been clearer that the consistency of LOS doesn't rebut anything Mike said.  He does imply some good fortune - likely extra good fortune - in the Titans anecdote, as well as using the Hidden lead in, though, so I think the main thrust of my comment still stands.

rest of the afc east each year

It's fairly well established that the AFCE isn't as bad as made out to be, so I doubt this has much to do with it.  Pat's examples of big leads leading to desperate decisions, turnover differential and bad weather strike me as being more plausible consistent outside contributors to NE's ranking.

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#48 by Pat // Dec 03, 2021 - 10:02am

Pat's examples of big leads leading to desperate decisions, turnover differential and bad weather strike me as being more plausible

So, to be clear, NLOS/drive definitely has a turnover differential correlation, which is pretty much a giant "duh" - force turnovers, you get good field position, commit turnovers you give good field position. That correlation's flamingly obvious.

Hidden points has a minor correlation with total DVOA (at least this year), which again is what you'd expect when you tend to put teams in bad situations (The weather correlation's more of a possibility, that'd likely affect both teams equally). For instance, you see a similar thing with Kansas City's hidden points ranking being in the top half (13th, 8th, 5th, 9th, 15th, 16th). 

But it's worth noting that Mike's point is more that the Patriots are leading the league in those two categories, which isn't something you'd expect to continue. Even if they're "supposed" to be a top-half team in net LOS/dr and hidden points because they're good, that'd still be a decline from where they are.

And in addition, if hidden points does have a "team DVOA" correlation due to risky behavior, that doesn't mean that the Patriots are getting an advantage from it. It just means the final scoring margins for winning teams tend to be bigger than you'd expect, which also makes intuitive sense - when you're screwed, it doesn't make sense to be safe.

Points: 0

#23 by Pat // Dec 02, 2021 - 4:22pm

Given that level of consistency, shouldn't we consider that the Patriots may actually be doing something to contribute to the advantage?

Meh, it's something like a 20% chance that you'll get a team like that, I think. Top quarter for 5 years, 6 ways to get that stretch, and 32 teams. Your 'arbitrary endpoint' turns out to be pretty well chosen, too, as something like 3 of the 4 years prior to that they were out of that top quarter.

They also don't necessarily have to be "doing something" - other things stay consistent year-to-year as well, especially with the Patriots - opponents, overall team quality (*) and stadium location.

(*: consider missed field goals, for instance - teams are more likely to try a long field goal even when they're less likely than average to hit it if they're losing) 

and in the top six of LOS/drive in 5/6 years.  

Net LOS/drive isn't uncontrolled: just look at the column right beside it, for instance. Negative net TO/drive leads to positive net LOS/drive. With noise, obviously, but for NFL statistics it's a flamingly high correlation (like 0.25-0.3 or something). The Patriots being top of the league there isn't surprising, it's just saying they win the turnover battle most of the time. 

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#36 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:27pm

Your 'arbitrary endpoint' turns out to be pretty well chosen, too, as something like 3 of the 4 years prior to that they were out of that top quarter.

See the bolded edit in my OP, the trend of high rankings continues at least two more years to 2014.  

I don't quibble with anything else you wrote.  It seems that we agree that the current season's high ranking isn't a particularly strong reason to think NE is due for a decline.  

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#44 by Pat // Dec 03, 2021 - 8:55am

See the bolded edit in my OP, the trend of high rankings continues at least two more years to 2014.  

Not in hidden points, which are out of the team's control (when they went 16th, 3rd, 30th, 17th in years prior). Net line of scrimmage is really just saying New England's a good team, which is like, shock.

And again, to be clear, hidden points being out of their control just means it isn't due to something they do. It can still be due to something they are. Good teams make opponents play riskier (the 2007 Patriots have a number of extremely good examples of this).

a particularly strong reason to think NE is due for a decline.  

"Decline" here doesn't mean that NE stops being a good team and turns the ball over a ton. Right now New England's point differential in the past 4 weeks is +26 points per game. Obviously that's unsustainable, but even a modest decline would put them at 2007 Patriots level. And they're not that good.

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#54 by Anon Ymous // Dec 03, 2021 - 7:50pm

Not in hidden points, which are out of the team's control (when they went 16th, 3rd, 30th, 17th in years prior)

If you read my OP, you'll see that I included the 16th and 3rd.  I'm happy to concede that both have a different relationship in the 2012-2015 set than they do in the more recent set.  

"Decline" here doesn't mean that NE stops being a good team and turns the ball over a ton. Right now New England's point differential in the past 4 weeks is +26 points per game. Obviously that's unsustainable, but even a modest decline would put them at 2007 Patriots level. And they're not that good.

I'm not sure anyone thinks they are +25 ppg good.  Hell, a Titan JV squad was a few mistakes away from being within a single score late in the game.  That said, even if we assume both Hidden and LOS flip and NE becomes the worst in the league, it doesn't account for the likely gap between 2007 Pats and this team's true value, so I maintain that it's not a particularly strong argument for why NE is on such an impressive streak, or what will bring them back to Earth.  

It could also be pointed out that NE's DVOA is about half of what they ended 2007 with, so DVOA already seems to recognize that NE isn't *that* good.  

Points: 0

#5 by big10freak // Dec 02, 2021 - 1:01pm

I am legit shocked that GB is not at the bottom given that Crosby has missed nine kicks, plus the blocked kicks, plus the early season kickoff returns, plus the abject incompetence of the return teams.


If you told me before presenting the bottom of the leaderboard that GB had set a new low for negative hidden points I would not have been surprised

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#12 by Eddo // Dec 02, 2021 - 2:51pm

I think those things aren't "hidden" points, because they are included in the Packers' special teams DVOA (as negative inputs).  This article isn't super clear, but I believe "hidden" points are things that are completely out of your own control - e.g. an opponent making 80% of their 50+ yard field goals, or missing three times as many extra points as you would expect.  Those are things that don't show up in DVOA, but do impact wins and losses.

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#18 by Vincent Verhei // Dec 02, 2021 - 3:32pm

From the Special Teams page:

"HIDDEN represents the advantage teams have received from elements of special teams generally out of their control: opposing field goals, kickoff distance, and punt distance. It is listed as points worth of estimated field position, and is ranked from the team with the biggest advantage to the team with the biggest disadvantage."

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#7 by nat // Dec 02, 2021 - 1:31pm

The Buccaneers rank sixth in offensive yards per drive and ninth in defensive yards per drive. Their field-position advantage is just residue of all the other things they do well.

Probably true. But if so, even more true of the Patriots, who are 11th on offense and 5th on defense, and well ahead of the Bucs in net yards per drive.

There are many factors that go into field position. Net yards per drive is one of them. Net turnovers per drive is another, since turnovers result in good field position more often than receiving punts and kicks do. Special teams play is obviously important. The “hidden” part of special teams can have an impact, too.

It’s kinda bogus to give full credit to drive length for the Bucs and ignore it for the Patriots. It’s kinda bogus to ignore turnovers as a big factor in field position. They’re much more important that the occasional missed field goal.


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#10 by PirateFreedom // Dec 02, 2021 - 2:22pm

saying something the Pats do year after year is unsustainable is just another  day in the "Patriots suck" narrative Tanier has followed this season.

I understand a person can get attached to their off season predictions  but reality has had to drag Mike along all year long, while he's kicking and screaming that the Patriots are worse than everyone else thinks as they win game after game. 

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#46 by dryheat // Dec 03, 2021 - 9:47am

1. I am a diehard Patriots fan, going back to the days of metal bleachers at Schaefer Stadium in 1977.

2. I've been a reader on this site from more or less the beginning.

3. Online Patriots fans, as a class, are incredibly annoying.

4. Mike Tanier is a talented writer, and a decent football analyst.  Certainly the most entertaining, even if I find myself skipping the occasional piece, and merely skimming most others this year (I do agree that less is more sometimes).

5. Mike Tanier is a human being.

6. Human beings do not like to be wrong.

7. Nobody, other than fans of the team in question, enjoys seeing the same team dominate their league for decades.

8. Mike Tanier has always like trolling Patriots fans, see #3.  That doesn't make him evil, incompetent, vindictive, or anything else other than snarky and provoking or, at worst, mildly inflammatory.

9. Read that part about entertaining again.  Typically, Mike Tanier writes with a good mix of analysis and entertainment.  He is not a hard-core stat head.  He is a humorist.

Is there a Who are you going to or your own eyes? thing going on here?  Yeah, probably.  As a few have said, if all your ostensibly well-researched analysis tells you one thing, and objective reality says something else, the tendency is to not take reality at face value.  If you remember, Mike butchered Josh Allen mercilessly when he was in the draft, when he was drafted in the first round, and for the first four seasons of his career.  Why?  Not because he has an axe to grind with Josh Allen's parents, but because what was ultimately happening was not at all what he expected to happen based on his scouting.  We're probably all guilty of this at times -- I know I am.  It's why Parcells said You are what your record says you are.  What was predicted or should have been is irrelevant.  But the idea that's been expressed a couple of times that Mike belittles the Patriots because of the outcome of the 2004 Super Bowl is nonsense.  Especially when the Eagles beat the Patriots in a Super Bowl a few years back.  No, he thinks, like many others, that they're overrated at the moment.  Fine, they probably are.  He writes similar things about many teams and players.  Does anybody here really thing DVOA/DYAR is the ultimate gauge of a team's quality?  I don't.  Aaron Schatz doesn't.  Las Vegas certainly doesn't.  Does anybody really think the Patriots are the 2nd best team in the NFL at the moment?  Maybe some do, but I don't think it's ridiculous to disagree with that assessment.  So, when the statistic that this website has been built around says one thing (and that statistic does not claim to indicate the best team), and you don't believe that's true, the natural inclination is to reason why a team is better or worse than that statistic.  What is that statistic not accounting for?  Mike doesn't think the Patriots good play over the last two months is sustainable.  He's doubling down on his early-season projection.  That's OK.  The great thing is that we'll find out.  Either he'll turn out to be right, for the reasons he mentions, or he'll be right for entirely different reasons, or he'll keep being wrong right through the playoffs. 

Patriots fans clogging the comments with dozens of claims of author bias does not improve the discourse of FO.  If Mike Tanier, or any other writer, causes such feelings of indignation in you, the far more elegant solution is to stop reading him or her.

Finally, I should point out that this long-winded and ultimately meaningless diatribe is not directed at the poster whom I responded to....but it seemed as good a launching point as any.


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#47 by dcl0 // Dec 03, 2021 - 10:01am

We’ll stated.

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#50 by Hoodie_Sleeves // Dec 03, 2021 - 10:29am

" Mike Tanier is a talented writer, and a decent football analyst"

I'd agree with this generally, but this year it hasn't been true. This year his analysis has been generally awful. The Patriots shit is just the most obvious. 

This site is an analytics site. It's fine to have a guy who is narrative/story first - as long as those narratives and stories are generally accurate. He's not anymore. It doesn't matter how well he writes if what he writes is nonsense.  It's not the "The patriots are overrated" stuff that's the problem - it's the fact that he clearly isn't actually watching those games, and isn't fact checking himself. 

Dude is a great writer - but it's really fucking clear at this point that he's watching way less football than he used to, and isn't keeping up with DVOA/etc. He'd be great writing a looser football narratives column - but he's an awful match for this site. 

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#51 by BJR // Dec 03, 2021 - 2:10pm

He's also now having to write several articles a week. Inevitably the quality and attention to detail will go down. 

Personally I would prefer fewer, better researched pieces here, than the current constant treadmill of output which I just don't have time to consume. And as much as anything, having too many articles dilutes the comments sections, which are still (for me) the best thing about the site. 


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#52 by jheidelberg // Dec 03, 2021 - 2:43pm

I enjoy commenting and having discussions with the group.

I am wondering how FO can encourage more to join in the discussion.  Possibly survey all, those that comment, those that don’t.

I can not believe we do not have anyone commenting that is a Bengals fan during this exciting turnaround season.

No Giants fans?  A city as large as New York and not one person on here making comments?

EDIT:  I see from another article thar we do have a Giants fan.

Also, are we losing people?  The open discussion comments are down dramatically from early in the season and are down dramatically from years ago.

Some weeks from years ago had 600-900 comments per week in open discussion. 

My perception is that all are welcome, few are participating. 

FO, please help getting more to participate.

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#56 by Alternator // Dec 04, 2021 - 6:43am

Discord chat eats a bunch of the commentary.

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#55 by Anon Ymous // Dec 03, 2021 - 7:54pm

In fairness to Patriot fans, the team is the focus of this article so it shouldn't be surprising that they would flock to the comment section.  Especially given that Mike's arguments aren't particularly persuasive for reasons that have nothing to do with the team being discussed.  

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#11 by IlluminatusUIUC // Dec 02, 2021 - 2:24pm

The Bills' return game has been a major source of hair-pulling frustration all season. In addition to the untouched fumble vs the Colts that turned that game sideways, McKenzie badly misplayed a short kick vs. Washington that turned into one of the longest onside kicks ever (surrendering an onside kick TOUCHDOWN to the Jets in 2016 possibly being the only challenger), his potential game-winning Td vs. Tennessee was taken off the board by an away from the play hold, and he has multiple other fumbles that he was lucky enough to recover. 

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#13 by charlo // Dec 02, 2021 - 2:53pm

The Titans and Texans missed some long field goals so here's why the Patriots actually suck. Why do the writers on your site constantly beat down on the pats when your own statistic has them second in the league and your odds makers give them the best chance to win the super bowl.

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#15 by scottw // Dec 02, 2021 - 3:17pm

In reply to by charlo


I assume it's a traffic generation technique :).  Tanier makes a comment, and people complain -- it's Pavlovian!


I think if you watch the patriots the don't do a lot of spectacular things, so it's a little hard to point at one thing that is the reason they are winning.  "Everyone is at least adequate" is not a very catchy slogan, but it does kind of seem to be a team philosophy.



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#42 by charlo // Dec 02, 2021 - 10:38pm

I just wish their stats and analysis would match up at this point.

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#17 by jheidelberg // Dec 02, 2021 - 3:30pm

Yes, its true, just google it and you will find a number of articles where he readily admits this fact.  Some of you think that he hires writers that ignore facts and bashes the Patriots.  Rediculous!!!  This site has a group of writers that are committed to football analytics, specifically the DVOA method of analysis.

The Patriots DVOA this year is excellent, their point differential is excellent, clearly they have played excellent football.  In no place on this site have I seen anything to the contrary.  The constant bashing of Mike Tanier and any other FO writer due to perceived "Patriot Hate" or "Anti-Patriot" bias made by reader contributors is absurd in my opinion.

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#20 by RickD // Dec 02, 2021 - 3:41pm

This is a really weird topic for an article, isn't it?  I've been following FO from the start.  This kind of  thing isn't a regular thing.  They don't usually dedicate articles to why their own stats might be wrong and that, really, the team they currently list as having the best odds to win the Super Bowl isn't that good.

Most of us know that Aaron Schatz is a Pats fan.  But he lets his writers do this.  Kacsmar was much worse than Tanier has been in this respect.  But it's getting pretty weak right now.  

And no, whining about critics complaining about bias isn't the same as rebutting the accusations of bias. 

Tanier is going down the Kacsmar path of trying to find new stats to validate his preconceptions just to avoid drawing the conclusion that the Patriots might just be better than he wants to admit.

We've seen worse when it comes to the Patriots.  Some guy at 538 wrote an entire article insinuating that "hey, maybe this deflation accusation has something to it" based entirely on the fact that BenJarvis Green-Ellis was an extreme outlier in fumble rate while on the Patriots. (As always, the fact that the most relevant information, air pressure measurements, themselves failed to support the charge always gets buried by people who desperately need to hold onto an anti-Patriot animus.) 

So, yeah.  This article is weird.  And that's not a conspiracy theory.  The "constant bashing of Mike Tanier" will stop when he stops writing articles like this one.  

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#30 by jheidelberg // Dec 02, 2021 - 5:06pm

In reply to by RickD

The Patriots were mentioned in conjunction with 5 other teams with regards to hidden special teams.

The comments made by Tanier regarding the Broncos seem quite similar to those of the Patriots.

The concept of regression toward the mean is in part predicated on the fact that teams that are at the extreme top or extreme bottom are likely there in part due to luck. 

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#32 by PirateFreedom // Dec 02, 2021 - 5:53pm

In reply to by RickD

Please don't compare Tanier to Kacsmer. I have some disagreements over the years, like I do with anyone I read exhaustively, but I've considered Tanier to be one of the most interesting and entertaining NFL writers for very long time. 

Kacsmer, ugh

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#37 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:29pm

Gotta agree.  Even if Tanier has a bias, it isn't in the same league as Kacsmar.  I still can't understand why FO hired him in the first place.  

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#24 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 4:23pm

I can't speak for anyone else, but I like Mike and bias isn't really a concern of mine.  I only point out times when the arguments made or the evidence offered don't seem to pass muster.  I could make the responses regardless of the team, though obviously knowing more about the Patriots makes it easier to spot potential issues when it comes to that team.  

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#19 by RickD // Dec 02, 2021 - 3:32pm

The Patriots might have been upset by the Houston Texans if not for two missed extra points, a missed 56-yard field goal, and a zero-yard punt. 

The Patriots might be 11-1 were it not for Stevenson's fumble vs. Miami, the Diggs pick-6 in the Dallas game, and a missed 56-yard field goal vs. Tampa.  

So what? When you start changing facts because you don't like them, that's not analysis any longer.  

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#21 by IlluminatusUIUC // Dec 02, 2021 - 3:42pm

It matters only in that opponents making unforced errors is not predictive. Notably, in your counter examples those were forced errors, with the exception of Folk's kick - but Belichick was criticized for attempting it in those conditions. 

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#26 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 4:26pm

The Diggs one wasn't really forced, it was a sloppy route, but I understand that running bad routes isn't predictive of running good ones!  As a Pats fan, I take solace in that the offensive execution has improved substantially since then, as has ball security.  

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#25 by DisplacedPackerFan // Dec 02, 2021 - 4:24pm

Since my long diatribe about GB special teams (post 19) I've been wondering if there is something measurable in the hidden points for special teams. We've got posts in this thread supporting that NE is often positive in hidden points. Over 17 seasons the Packers have had negative hidden points 13 times. In the 13 years prior to that (pre Ted Thompson as GM) they had negative hidden points 8 times. So for 30 years and 4 major GM groups (Wolf/Sherman/Holmgren/Gutekunst) they have had negative hidden points 21 times. That doesn't feel random. The Thompson/Gutekunst era especially doesn't when you learned they self cap on how much they will pay for special teams coordinators.

I'm certain that some of the hidden points are hidden and basically random, but I'm not so sure that some of that value can't be sussed out based on correlations and causation to offense, defense, or the rest of the special teams. GB has had negative DVOA special teams forever under Rodgers. Never had back to back positive have a high water mark of 3.0% and have had negative ST DVOA in 12 of the 17 seasons he was the starter. So it feels like the hidden special teams points following the regular special teams points in being negative might not just be correlated but causational as well. We might have NE on the other side of that coin (I haven't dug) with constantly positive overall special teams and constantly positive hidden value.

So I think it might be worth running some models to see if hidden points are correlated to other aspects already measured and then check to see if you can find the cause of that and maybe tweak hidden points so the non random part is added to the unit that is the cause of it. Just another thing to add to the overloaded offseason to do list.

It's also very possible that you can't correctly attribute the correlated or values with the data set. It's also likely there is no relation and that hidden points are are being calculated correctly and measuring what we think they are measuring.

For those that aren't clear the definition for the stats page is as follows:

HIDDEN represents the advantage teams have received from elements of special teams generally out of their control: opposing field goals, kickoff distance, and punt distance

If you want more of my hypothesis on why some of that might not be hidden it's at the end of the link post under the hidden points heading.

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#33 by PirateFreedom // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:00pm

If the Pats pressure opponents more on special teams then those things might be predictive.  Even if you don't block a punt or kick, having a good block game might hurry and worry the other side. Everything gets on tape.

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#38 by DisplacedPackerFan // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:29pm

Yep, which is one of the things I speculated about in the long post. Pressure or preventing pressure (in the case of GB) could certainly lead to changes in opponents FG and punt length. Hard to fully determine from the data with limited data points but if the Bills punter is routinely about 2 yards shorter than expected vs the Pats and 2 yards longer than expected vs the Jets, even on a limited data set of 2 games a year, that probably says something about the ST quality and isn't hidden. But can you assign it to something else and have it be more meaningful? I don't know. But I do think they have enough data to run some analysis to see if they can better use the data they have. It's low priority to look at for sure. The data is still being captured in the hidden value so you can still see it even if it's not all being lumped in with the predictive stuff. Also I agree that ST is about 1/7 of the game that DVOA uses so that means tweaking it even if it helps the model predict better is likely a very small impact whereas changing how value is assigned on 3rd/4th down with more teams correctly going for 4th down could increase predictive and descriptive value of the model a lot more.

But I do think there might be a bit more predictive with special teams they may be able to capture that is currently lumped in hidden.


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#31 by Bobman // Dec 02, 2021 - 5:35pm

Mike, you said "When a team misses a field goal, two things happen: they lose three points, and they...." 

Not quite accurate. We all know what you mean--they lose potential points, or the points they were expecting--but it sounds as if their score is dinged by 3 because of the miss. (which would be interesting:  negative scores! Take that, bettors!)

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#39 by jheidelberg // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:38pm

If you miss a 50 yard FG the opponents get the ball at the 40 vs the usual touchback after a made kick.

The miss costs 3 points, and the 15 yards of lost field position is worth approximately 1 point, thus many missed FG’s cost a team approximately 4 points.

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#57 by IlluminatusUIUC // Dec 04, 2021 - 9:31am

it sounds as if their score is dinged by 3 because of the miss. (which would be interesting:  negative scores! Take that, bettors!)

Or Fantasy Football players

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#35 by DIVISION // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:26pm

I am definitely not on the baby Pats band-wagon.  They will be humbled by the Bills and swept this year relegating them to the WC.  From a talent perspective, they don't really belong on the same field as Buffalo.  I don't trust Mac Jones to make big time throws on 3rd down after the Bills key on the run and short passing game.  That Pats defense has lost against the best offenses they've faced (Bucs/Cowboys), so I don't understand the hype.

Broncos schematically have the defense to hold Mahomes and co. down enough to squeak out a win.  It won't be a shutdown like you saw last week with the Chargers, but just enough to win.  Barring another Bridgewater injury, I see the Broncos as a value pick against a division rival.

Already posted about Saints/Cowboys on the other thread.  Saints to win outright as a home dog against an inconsistent Cowboys team hurting on both sides of the ball.

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#41 by Anon Ymous // Dec 02, 2021 - 6:43pm

The Pats could certainly be swept by Buffalo, and it wouldn't take a miracle for them to go 0-4 in upcoming games against Buffalo, Indy and Miami.  That said this:

That Pats defense has lost against the best offenses they've faced (Bucs/Cowboys), so I don't understand the hype.

Isn't a particularly strong argument.  NE's defense is so different now that those games might as well have been five years ago.  I could also point out that the Bucs only scored 19 points, so pinning that loss on the defense is eyebrow raising.

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#45 by SandyRiver // Dec 03, 2021 - 9:15am

Dak certainly chewed up the Pats' D but Brady's lowest QB rating this year was in NE.  The lousy weather contributed but Jones played in the same rain and had better stats.

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#53 by nat // Dec 03, 2021 - 4:04pm

Why focus on the Patriots? Because the article did. So, looking at those stats…

Hidden special teams points: 

Sure, the Patriots have the most and should be expected to regress, like anyone leading in a stat. Still, the difference between them and the Colts is about the value of one zero-yard punt, since 12.5 yards is worth about 1 hidden point. And Mike tells us that the Colts’ hidden points are inconsequential. So we’re quibbling over something the size of one freak play.

Bear in mind that the number of people complaining that DVOA and weighted DVOA understate the Patriots is 0. So a drop in their hidden points won’t change a thing. People just aren’t factoring those into their estimation of the team.

Net line of scrimmage per drive:

The Patriots are third in net yards per drive and second in net turnovers per drive. What’s more, they have defeated 12 fourth down attempts, while failing at only 2 of their own. Those three factors explain why they are tops in net LoS. Add in hidden and non-hidden special teams play for the rest. They’ve earned their field position advantage.

As for Houston’s zero-yard punt? That’s worth about 40 yards of field position. Divided by the Patriots’ 120 drives, that accounts for 0.33 yards of netLoS per drive. That’s not nothing. But without it they are still well ahead in that stat.

TLDR; The Patriots have had good field position because they have played well at things that result in good field position. And their good field position has helped them be second in net points per drive. It all lines up nicely with their DVOA.

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