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You will not be surprised to learn that the Patriots led the NFL this season with 389 first downs. That’s the 9th most since 2002, and New England has three other teams ahead of the 2017 version. The Patriots offense is always great in large part because the Patriots always pick up a ton of first downs.

The graph below shows the number of first downs for each team this season.  The Jaguars, perhaps surprisingly, ranked tied for 7th with a Saints offense that was much better:

The Jaguars allowed just 257 first downs, the fewest in the NFL.

The delta in first downs between the two units is 132, which is the 9th most in a playoff game in NFL history. The biggest disparity in a playoff matchup was 167 in a game between the 2000 Broncos (who led the league with 383 first downs) and the 2000 Ravens (who allowed 216, just one more than the Titans; no other defense allowed under 250). The defensive team won that game, although it was at home.

When the offensive team is at home, and has a touchdown or more spread, the offensive teams have been pretty successful. This includes the 2012 Patriots over the Texans, 2004 Colts over the Broncos, 1984 49ers over the Bears, and 2011 Patriots over the Ravens.

YearRoundOffDefOff 1DDef 1DDiffHomeSpread (Off Tm)WinnerScore
2000WDENBAL383216167Def Tm3.5Defense21-3
2013SDENSEA435282153Neut-2.5Defense43-8
2012DNWEHOU444292152Off Tm-9.5Off41-28
2011DNORSFO416267149Def Tm-3.5Defense36-32
2004WINDDEN379235144Off Tm-10Off49-24
1984CSFOCHI356216140Off Tm-10Off23-0
2006DINDBAL376236140Def Tm4Off15-6
1998WSFOGNB381246135Off Tm-3Off30-27
2017CNWEJAX389257132Off Tm-9.0Defense??
2002SOAKTAM366236130Neut-9Defense48-21
2011CNWEBAL399269130Off Tm-7Off23-20
1984DWASCHI339216123Off Tm-9Defense23-19
1980DSDGBUF372251121Off Tm-6Off20-14
1976COAKPIT303182121Off Tm0Off24-7
2000COAKBAL337216121Off Tm-6Defense16-3
1985DNYGCHI356236120Def Tm9Defense21-0
1976DBALPIT301182119Off Tm0Defense40-14
2012CNWEBAL444326118Off Tm-7.5Defense28-13
2006SINDCHI376258118Neut-6.5Off29-17
1991SBUFWAS359242117Neut7Defense37-24
1991CBUFDEN359242117Off Tm-12Off10-7
1998DSFOATL381267114Def Tm3.5Defense20-18
1978CDALRAM342229113Def Tm-3.5Off28-0
2006CINDNWE376264112Off Tm-3Off38-34
1991DHOUDEN353242111Def Tm3.5Defense26-24
1999DWASTAM338228110Def Tm4.5Defense14-13
1968COAKNYJ287178109Def Tm0Defense27-23
1992SBUFDAL350241109Neut6.5Defense52-17
2013DDENSDG435327108Off Tm-7.5Off24-17
1973DDALRAM281173108Off Tm0Off27-16
2007DNWEJAX393286107Off Tm-13.5Off31-20
1999CSTLTAM335228107Off Tm-14Off11-6
2003WINDDEN348241107Off Tm-3Off41-10
2002DSFOTAM342236106Def Tm6Defense31-6
2007SNWENYG393288105Neut-12.5Defense17-14
1984CMIAPIT387282105Off Tm-10Off45-28
1993DSFONYG372268104Off Tm-8Off44-3
1989SSFODEN350246104Neut-13Off55-10
1992CSFODAL344241103Off Tm-4Defense30-20
2005DSEAWAS361258103Off Tm-8.5Off20-10
2009CINDNYJ339237102Off Tm-8.5Off30-17
1975COAKPIT315214101Def Tm0Defense16-10
2000WSTLNOR380279101Def Tm-5.5Defense31-28
1969SKANMIN258158100Neut12Off23-7
1959CBALNYG267167100Off Tm0Off31-16
1950DRAMCHI278178100Off Tm0Off24-14

For Jaguars fans looking for optimism, they want to look at the 1984 Bears, who shocked the Redskins in Washington, the 2000 Ravens, who won the AFCCG in Oakland, or more recently and comparable, the 2012 Ravens who beat the Patriots in Foxboro in the AFC title game. But of the 14 games between great offenses and great defenses (with a spread of at least 100 first downs), where the offensive juggernaut was at home and favored by a touchdown, they went 12-2, with the Bears and Ravens/Patriots upsets as the two exceptions (the Ravens/Raiders point spread was 6 points).

This isn’t quite Broncos/Seahawks when it comes to unstoppable offense meets immovable defense, but it’s about as good of a matchup as we expected to see with the Saints and Vikings last week. We will all be lucky if this game can come closer to delivering the same, but remember: one big difference there was the great offensive team was on the road.

{ 6 comments }
  • What’s interesting in this whole thing is how quietly good the Jaguars offense has been this year. The Pats offense and Jags defense might cancel out, but the Jags offense, on paper at least, has a sizable advantage over the Pats defense. I think because of the Week 17 and Wildcard performances, people forgot that the Jags offense had been on a tear the last month of the season. If their defense can slow down the Patriots some and not give up a monster 30+ point game, the Jags have a real shot to steal this one. Jacksonville has been legit this year. Their overall team rankings resemble many classic Super Bowl champions. Their stats almost look like a poor man’s 1985 Bears.

  • Joseph Holley

    In both the graphs, there are two columns labeled NFL, and none labeled NO–I suspect that the label away from center belongs to NO, and the other is the NFL average.

  • Richie

    Is first down data publicly available?

    • First downs are on the summary page under team offense (and team defense) on PFR. They display total first downs, passing first downs, rushing first downs, and first downs by penalty. They have total first downs back to 1935 and separated first downs back to 1941.

      • Richie

        That’s right. My mistake.

        It’s the PLAYER first downs that I haven’t found.

        • Player first downs are available back to 1991 at NFL dotcom. You have to watch out for any player who played on more than one team in a given season, as the NFL’s site only includes the stats from the most recent team. It’s really weird. You can also get them from Sporting Charts from 1991-2016. You can’t get them moving forward, but the ones from the past are in a much easier to use format than the ones on the league page.