Through a half-season, the Patriots are assembling a case as the most relentless scoring machine in memory, amassing points as if playing a pinball game yet vanquishing mistakes as if the league's most conservative team.
New England has endured striking changes in personnel along the offensive line as well as the loss of Dion Lewis. Yet such alterations have done little to disrupt a methodical effectiveness in turning possessions into points.
To this point, the Patriots offense has had 87 drives that didn't end in a kneel-down. Of those drives, 50 have ended in a touchdown or field goal – meaning that the Patriots have scored on a whopping 57.5 percent of all their drives this year.
If the Patriots can sustain such a pace, that would make them the most efficient team since at least 1998 (the duration for which drive data is available on Pro-Football-Reference.com) in turning possessions into scoring drives, surpassing the 2007 Patriots, who scored on 56.6 percent of their offensive drives. Given that all five of the highest-scoring offenses in NFL history have made their marks since 1998, it's likely that the 2015 Patriots are thus on a pace that would establish them as the most efficient scoring group of all time.
That is not the same as saying they're the most prolific offense ever. At this point, New England is on pace to score 552 points, the sixth-most in NFL history, and well behind the 606 points posted by the 2013 Broncos.
Nonetheless, there is something striking about a team that has made the ability to put points on the board more routine than any other in recent memory. The Patriots have turned offensive expectations on their head, making it statistically more likely that they will score than not score on a possession. In a way, any time they punt, it represents an anomaly – which in turn makes the team as a whole something of an anomaly.
|Year||Team||Drives||Scoring Drives||Pct||Turnovers||Pct||Scoring drives per turnover|
During the 18 seasons for which such drive data is available, just six prior teams – led by that 2007 Patriots team – have ever ended the majority of their drives by putting points on the board. The margin that separates this year's Patriots from the second-most methodical scoring offense in football this year underscores the point.
Right now, the Cardinals have been the second-most reliable team when it comes to ending offensive possessions with points, having done so 46.2 percent of the time, on 11.3 percent fewer of their possessions than the Patriots. The canyon that separates the first- and second-most efficient offenses in the NFL is thus larger than the gap that separates the No. 2 team (the Cardinals) from the No. 21 team (the Jets, who have scored on 35.3 percent of possessions).
Yet even those markers fail to capture completely the unstoppable freight train that has been the Patriots offense to date. Again, it's not so much that they've been prolific as they've been methodical to the point of splintering the optimism of opposing defenses.
Toward that end, perhaps an even more impressive marker of New England's methodical efficiency this year is found in the fact that the Patriots have turned punts into unexpected events while rendering turnovers simply shocking. After all, most runaway offenses in NFL history have been defined by big plays that prompted an element of risk-tolerance in their game-planning. The occasional interception on a downfield pass could prompt a shrug given the inevitability with which those teams could make up points that they'd given away.
The record-setting Broncos offense of 2013, for instance, turned over the ball 21 times – enough to suggest to opponents that they had a puncher's chance of capitalizing on their sloppiness. The Patriots had a 34-31 overtime win in the regular season against Denver that year in a game where the Broncos turned over the ball four times.
This year's Patriots have just five turnovers to date – a ridiculous number for a prolific offense. Indeed, this year's Patriots are on pace to tie the NFL record for the fewest turnovers (10) in a season.
They have 10 scoring possessions for every drive that ends in a turnover – a number that would blow past the previous record of 8.9 scoring drives per turnover, set by the 2010 Patriots. They are on pace to become the fourth team since 1998 to lead the NFL in the highest percentage of scoring drives and the lowest percentage of drives ending in turnovers, joining the 2014 Packers, 2010 Patriots, and 2007 Patriots.
There have been moments where it appeared that opposing defenses had slowed the colossus. Yet thus far, those have been fleeting.
The Patriots now having matched an NFL record by scoring in 31 consecutive quarters (tied with the 2005 Colts and the 1999-2000 Rams for the longest such stretch). That run highlights the work of a machine that is operating with a ruthless efficiency that is, to this point, unlike anything seen in NFL history.