Nineteen December Games (Texans v Patriots)

I saw a curious tidbit float around twitter regarding the upcoming Texans/Patriots game on Monday night. Basically, it stated that the Patriots have not lost at home in December since 2002. Nineteen straight December home victories.

The idea behind the tweet, of course, was that the Texans don’t have a great shot at winning, in that they’ll be at New England, in December, against this juggernaut of a December-home-victory team.

Of course, there is some truth to the idea that playing in Foxborough, Massachusetts in the dead of winter is difficult. Playing in any cold-weather city is hard for a team like the Texans who are based in a warm-weather city. And away games are never easy for any team, other than the Giants, who seem to be particularly fond of them.

But there are two issues I take with such a tidbit: it ignores anything other than these wins, and it implies that past performance indicates future results. Both of these issues are not insignificant.

The latter is frequently ignored in sports reporting. There may be an interesting fact about a team, but the Patriots of the past ten Decembers have been ten different teams. Only a few things are still the same after ten years, and such a streak is in no way an indication of whether or not it will continue in the future.

I often see snippets like this while watching sports or reading about a sports story. Something will say “no Bengals quarterback has ever rushed for more than 200 yards in a season” (I made that one up, I’m sure it’s false) as though that means that such a thing can never happen. This is foolish, as past performance is not an indication of future results.

The other issue is the isolation of data. The Patriots have not lost in December at home in nineteen games. But who did they play? How good were their opponents? Did they lose in January? How good were the Patriots come December? There’s a lot more to the story that could be told by answering these questions, so I set out to do so:

Did they lose in January? Over the same stretch of time, the Patriots have played five January regular-season games. They’ve won three (2004 49ers, 2010 Dolphins, 2011 Bills) and lost two (2005 Dolphins, 2009 Texans). Not quite as formidable as December, though the weather is generally worse.

Who did they play; how good were their opponents? Over the course of those nineteen December games, the Patriots faced such juggernauts as the 0-11 2011 Dolphins, the 1-13 2007 Dolphins, and the 2-9 2006 Lions and 2005 Jets. Of course, they also played some difficult teams; the best team they faced in that time was the 9-2 2010 Jets (and they were 9-2 at the time as well). But the combined record of the nineteen teams they played by the time the matchups began was 105-138, for a less-than-impressive 0.432 win percentage.

Who were these Patriots and how good were they? The Patriots, on the other hand, have had the opposite side of the story. Four of the ten Patriots teams made the Super Bowl, two won it. Three of these nineteen games were during the famed 16-0 season. The combined win-loss record of the Patriots by the time the matchups began was 187-56, or a very impressive 0.770. Only twice did the visiting team have a better record than the Patriots: both the 2002 Dolphins and 2005 Buccaneers had one more win than the Pats.

So basically, you have a fantastic team playing against a lot of subpar teams, with only a few standout victories among these December games. And from this, we’re supposed to understand that the Texans have no chance to win, because it’s December in Foxborough.

Will the Texans win on Monday night? No one knows. But will a win or loss come because it’s December (and impossible/due) in Foxborough? Not a chance. But heck, this is an 11-1 team coming in to face a 9-3 team. And after all: that represents the most lopsided-against-the-Patriots game that has been played in Foxborough in the last ten Decembers.