If statistics mean anything, Sunday's game between Dallas and New England should be a low-scoring defensive-minded affair. In New England, league rankings tend to get minimized because Bill Belichick is known as a bend-but-don't-break coach who is concerned about points, not yards. Heck, his Super Bowl winning defense two years ago ranked 24th, but was sixth in points allowed. This year's Patriots defense is ranked 11th, but fifth in points allowed (155) through nine games, which is four spots behind the Dallas Cowboys, who have allowed a league-low 136.
But that's not the only area the Cowboys defense leads the league. They are No. 1 overall on defense, No. 1 against the pass and No. 3 against the run. They have allowed the fewest first downs in the NFL (126) and lead the league in yards allowed on first down (3.89). They also are eighth in red zone defense and are holding opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 49 percent completion percentage.
The Patriots are ranked seventh in the league against the run, but 23rd against the pass and sixth in red zone defense. They have allowed a league-low four touchdown passes and have held opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 59.5-passer rating. They lag behind Dallas in the other categories.
"This could easily be the best defense we've faced and we've faced some good ones," Belichick said. "They are very fast. They blitz a lot. They are good in the secondary. They have big hitting safeties. The corners cover well.
"They don't beat themselves," Belichick continued. "They force you to make plays to beat them and they pounce on opportunities that you give them. That's why they're 7-2."
Both New England and Dallas are among the league-leaders in third down defense. The Patriots have allowed just 38 conversions in 124 opportunities for a 30.6 percent mark, which is good for third in the NFL. Dallas, meanwhile, has allowed 39 conversions in 125 chances for 31.2 percent, the fifth best mark in the league. Those stats would indicate that punters Ken Walter and Toby Gowin will be busy, which favors Dallas in a field position fight.
Walter is averaging just 38.8 gross yards per punt and 34 yards net. He has struggled kicking the ball consistently all year, although he does have 13 punts downed inside the 20 against just three touchbacks. Gowin is averaging just more than a yard better in both categories, which may not seem much but can take its toll. Walter had his best game of the season in his team's Week 8 win over Cleveland, downing four punts deep inside the Browns 15 against only one fluke touchback, but struggled in Denver when he had a short, low punt returned for a 57-yard touchdown.
Dallas also has the statistical edge returning those punts although Troy Brown can do that as well as anybody, and is a threat to score on any return. But Dallas' Joey Galloway is averaging 12.3 yards per return to Brown's 10.2.
Bill Parcells is probably equal parts revered and despised in New England, but he was instrumental in raising the Patriots out of the ashes in the early 1990s and rebuilding them to respectability. But he also left in a cloud of controversy when he never returned from New Orleans with his team following its Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers, knowing his days in Foxborough were over.
But after leaving the Patriots, Parcells became a thorn in their side, winning 4-of-6 against New England in his time with the Jets from 1997-1999, including 2-of-3 in Foxborough. But while 11 Patriots have played for Parcells, only six remain from his Patriots team that won the 1996 AFC Championship -- Adam Vinatieri, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Troy Brown and Ty Law.
Parcells also has coached against the his former defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, four times -- all four coming during Belichick's days as the Browns head coach and Parcells as the Patriots head man. The two coaches split those four games with Belichick winning the only playoff meeting in 1994 and Parcells winning the last one in the 1995 season opener. All four games were decided by a touchdown or less with two of the four coming down to a field goal.
"He's been successful in Dallas the same way he's been successful everywhere else," Belichick said. "He's demanding and he wants it done a certain way. If a player doesn't do it that way, someone else plays."
New England is 8-2 in its last 10 games against NFC opponents dating back to the 2001 season, a streak that includes the team's Super Bowl XXXVI win over the Rams. The Patriots have won five of their last six against the NFC, with that loss coming earlier this season at Washington. New England was 3-1 in inter-conference games in both 2000 and 2001 and a win Sunday night would keep that record intact for another year since its is 2-1 so far this year. ...
BY THE NUMBERS: 15 -- Number of consecutive games the Patriots have won when leading at halftime.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If Scott Norwood makes the kick, his shoes are in the Hall of Fame." -- Bill Belichick when asked about his game plans and the fact that his defensive plan from Super Bowl XXV is in the Hall of Fame.