The rest of the AFC East? Not so much.
If there was ever one stat to clearly explain the large gap between the Patriots and their three AFC East rivals, it's how all four teams perform on first down. New England was immensely successful in 2012 and led the NFL in first-down offense, while the rest of the division finished no higher than 15th.
It is no secret that success on first down makes it much easier for offenses to convert on second and third downs. The Patriots were able to have success on first down both through the air (2,151 yards) and on the ground (1,198 yards), making New England's offense very tough to defend.
Here are the total yardage numbers on first down according to ESPN Stats and Information:
No. 1: Patriots, 3,316 yards
No. 15: Buffalo Bills, 2,424 yards
No. 20: New York Jets, 2,314
No. 23: Miami Dolphins, 2,268
New England’s offense gained 892 yards more on first down than Buffalo, which finished second in the division in first-down yardage. Those yards add up over the course of a season and one reason why New England was the only AFC East team to finish with a winning record.
The Patriots were very balanced on first down. New England called 277 pass plays and 273 run plays on first down in the regular season, according to ESPN Stats and Info, which made its offense unpredictable. The Patriots also were sacked just five times on first down all last season, which kept the offense out of bad spots.
Not surprisingly, New England led the NFL in total offense in 2012. The Patriots made a lot of changes at wide receiver and have injury concerns at tight end entering this season. But it’s clear that play calling under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is not a concern.