Every year, one of my pre-training camp traditions is buying the Football Outsiders Almanac and devouring all the terrific nuggets that creator Aaron Schatz (a Sharon native to boot) and company put together on the previous season, and what might happen in the new one.
So it was a great honor, this year, when Aaron asked me to pitch in with the 2017 version by writing the Patriots and Bills chapters. The book will be available this afternoon (Monday), but you can pre-purchase the .pdf version right now. I suggest you do so. I would feel unprepared for the NFL season, both as a reporter and fantasy football player, without it.
In honor of the guys at FootballOutsiders.com and the launch of the book, here are the five nuggets that surprised me the most, digging through their numbers:
- Football Outsiders has been running season simulations and writing books about them for 13 years now, and only the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers had a higher mean projected win total than the 2017 New England Patriots. In other words, this is the best Patriots team since 2004. FO has projected the Patriots to be in the top five for all three units: offense, defense and special teams. The Patriots also have the easiest projected schedule again. Don't tell Devin McCourty.
Note: Aaron Schatz emailed to say that the above info has changed in the final result. His comments: "The final simulation ended up more conservative. So what you can say instead is that the Patriots have the highest win total in the past five years. Sorry about that... I forgot that we changed our simulation method in 2012 and it's been more conservative since then, so when we ran the final numbers, the average dropped. They're still way ahead of the rest of the league though."
- WR Brandin Cooks’ DVOA (32.1%) when lined up wide was the highest in the league for any receiver with at least 35 targets there (Cooks had 39). His DVOA from the slot (-0.7%) was in the bottom half for receivers with at least 35 targets there, but it was better than Julian Edelman's last season. (In an off-year, Edelman had -4.8% DVOA from the slot and -24.0% DVOA when lined up wide.) And it doesn’t matter where he lines up, Cooks catches the ball at the same rate: a very good 68 percent. Edelman’s catch rate was 66 percent in the slot and dropped to 43 percent on the outside.
- Only two running backs in the NFL finished with rushing DVOA over 40%, and the Patriots went out and bought both of them: Mike Gillislee (45%) and Rex Burkhead (41.9% but didn’t qualify to be ranked with just 74 carries).
- The Jets asked LB David Harris (then 32, now 33) to play 900 snaps last season. The Patriots would never, ever do that. So expect him to be better in a smaller role in New England.
- DT Lawrence Guy, who was signed from the Ravens, ranked in the top 30 for stops and average gain per tackle, which is better than anyone on the Patriots, including Alan Branch.
There is much, much more in the book, so make sure you pick yourself up a copy today. Help another fellow New Englander out.