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Ezekiel Elliott…and Week Six…

…no, I am not really going to talk much about Zeke here.  But I will say, now I know how the rest of the world felt about the Deflategate circus.  Well, I knew how they felt anyway on that, since I felt the same way.  Dragged on for far too long, with all the appeals and all the lawyers and all that nonsense.  Serve the suspension already.  That’s how I felt about Tom Brady at the time, even though I thought the offense was ridiculous and that every team likely does something similar, just that the Patriots were dumb enough to get caught.  In a nutshell anyway.  But I just wanted him to serve the suspension so that the whole thing went away.

Now, Elliott is supposed to start serving his six game suspension after the latest court ruling this week.  But does anyone think it is really “over”?  Zeke’s men are “considering all options” and, though I am far from an attorney, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the field during the Cowboys next game in Week 7.

The reality is, he has (allegedly) a brutal history of domestic violence.  Again, serve the suspension already.  You know you deserve it.  Not to mention some jail time too.  Zeke gets six games for “allegedly” beating women on a regular basis.  Brady got four for taking the air out of footballs.  Sigh…

That’s enough of that…from me anyway.

As for the picks, almost picked the correct score for Thursday Night this week (picked 27-24 and ended up 28-23).  Solid.  Better game than I thought it would be as well.  We shall see if this is a good sign for the rest of them…

Green Bay (-3.5) at Minnesota

Minnesota is always a tough place to play.  Divisional matchup to boot.  But Case Keenum under center again.  No Dalvin Cook.  No Stefon Diggs.  Tough for me to take the Vikes here.

Green Bay 27, Minnesota 17.

Cleveland at Houston (-9.5) 

All aboard the Kevin Hogan bandwagon!!  Hell, I don’t know if Hogan can actually play.  But with the Texans injury issues, I feel like taking the points with the Browns here.  I know, Houston put up 57 on the Titans at home 2 weeks ago and even 34 at home against the Chiefs in a loss a week ago.  How does anyone think the Browns are going to stop these guys?  I don’t know.  I just feel like the spread is too big.  I’ve been wrong plenty though.

Houston 24, Cleveland 17.

Miami at Atlanta (-10.5)

On the flip side, this spread may not be big enough.  In Atlanta, who is off a bye and off a terrible loss at home to Buffalo before the bye.  This could be over by halftime.

Atlanta 44, Miami 10.

San Francisco at Washington (-9.5)

Yup, I’m taking the points with another awful team on the road.  The Niners have lost all five games they have played.  But did you realize that 3 out of the last 4 have been on the road and they have lost all 4 by a field goal or less?  Sure, some of the competition has stunk too (Colts, Cardinals).  But the other 2 (Rams, Seahawks) were decent foes.  Similar to Cleveland, they may not win.  But I’m looking for them to keep it close.

Washington 31, San Francisco 24.

Chicago at Baltimore (-6.5)

Mitchell Trubisky looks like he has some skills.  But he looked nowhere near ready to play in the NFL when I saw him last Monday night.  I don’t expect that to change against the Ravens.

Baltimore 23, Chicago 13.

Detroit at New Orleans (-4.5) 

I put my faith in the Lions last week, while acknowledging it could be a mistake.  Surprise!  It was.  Not this week.  The Saints at home off a bye.  Stafford banged up.  Feeling good about N.O.  I’m sure I’ll be wrong on this one though.

New Orleans 27, Detroit 20.

New England (-9.5) at New York Jets

Battle for first place!!!  Who saw that line ever being printed in 2017, regarding the AFC East?  No one.  But this is where the Pats kick it into high gear and take off.  So says me.  Brady hurt?  Pffffffft.  This one won’t be close.

New England 38, New York Jets 17.

Los Angeles Rams at Jacksonville (-2.5)

Goes without saying that these two teams, both sitting at 3-2, are the biggest surprises (on the positive side) in the league this year.  Unless you count the Bills and the Jets with the same record…which I don’t.  Although maybe I should count the Jets, since they did beat Jax.  Anyway…the Jags have been kind of inconsistent this year, alternating dominant efforts with mediocre to poor ones.  So I haven’t bought in on them at all.  But last week’s demolition of the Steelers in Pittsburgh finally got me to take notice.  So I guess it’s time for me to actually pick them to win for once.

Jacksonville 28, Los Angeles Rams 24.

Tampa Bay (-2.5) at Arizona

The Bucs stunk a week and a half ago and still almost came up roses at the end.  Arizona simply stinks.  Don’t try to convince me that AP is going to save the day here either.  Certainly not this week.

Tampa Bay 31, Arizona 13.

Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland (-3.5)

I don’t believe that the Chargers have been as bad as their record.  Oakland probably has played as bad as their record.  Derek Carr is back after missing the last game.  Maybe Amari Cooper will finally show up too.  Maybe it’s just wishful thinking that I think Oakland takes this game.  They were supposed to be battling for one of the top seeds in the conference after all.  Maybe this is the springboard.

Oakland 31, Los Angeles Chargers 24.  

Pittsburgh at Kansas City (-3.5)

Is Big Ben done?  I hope so!  KC seems like a juggernaut.  Typically, this is where the underdog wins and makes everyone look foolish.  Sticking with the Chiefs at home this time though.

Kansas City 27, Pittsburgh 23.

New York Giants at Denver (-11.5)

The Giants lost 14 wide receivers for the year last week.  Zero running game.  Plus their coach seems to be a buffoon.  And they plain suck this year.  Denver coming off a bye should be ready to roll in this one.

Denver 34, New York Giants 17.

Indianapolis at Tennessee (-1.5)  

Could go either way on this one.  Mariota or Cassel, does it matter?  Indy has surprised to go 2-3 in the absence of Andrew Luck.  The Titans have underachieved for sure.  Divisional matchup.  I have no idea.

Tennessee 20, Indianapolis 17.

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  1-0

Season (against the spread): 38-40

Season (straight up): 49-29

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New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days.  Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up.  Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster.  Anyway, here goes:

DE (5):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)

Comments:  This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.”  Oops.  At least on Flowers.  Welp, I’ve been completely off before.  And most assuredly will be again.  Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season.  Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team.  So I wasn’t the only one.  There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp.  His attitude.  His fit on the team.  His “coachability”.  And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports.  But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”.  I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet.  Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks.  Not likely to go anywhere.  And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point.  Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot.  It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well.  Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement.  But maybe we shouldn’t have been.  He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension.  Yup…

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo

Way Out:  Josh Augusta, Adam Butler

Comments:  Pretty much cut and dried here.  Branch re-signed on a nice deal.  Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere.  May be a little push for Brown in his third year.  But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway.  Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year.  Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season.  And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them.  Good enough for me.

LB (6):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, David Harris

In:  Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi

Out:  Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates

Way Out:  Brooks Ellis

Comments:  When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock.  Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc.  Seemed to be a prime candidate for that.  Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense.  I know, that is “early in camp” too.  But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong.  McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now.  Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes.  He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough.  Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability.  Bates is from Maine and that’s nice.  Ellis?  Yup, no idea who he is.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones

In:  Cyrus Jones

Out:  Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings

Way Out:  William Likely, Dwayne Thomas

Comments:  Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?”  And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”.  Oops.  And.  Oops.  But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year.  Wouldn’t be unprecedented though.  Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp.  Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock.  Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.

As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me.  Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago.  Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that.  I mean, he knows how this organization operates.  But still.  Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened.  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed.  Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them.  Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal.  And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it.  And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year.  That will also benefit the Patriots of course.  But did the team play this out right?  Time will tell.  But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…

Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room.  Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point.  Likely & Thomas?  Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

Out:  Jordan Richards

Way Out:  Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore

Comments:  Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp.  Three safeties is kind of thin.  But the other guys?  You know what I am going to say.

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Nothing really to say here.  Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year.  I’m not.  There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year.  No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker.  Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.

That’s about the size of it.  I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year.  Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list.  Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…

New England Patriots Roster Projection-Offense

It’s that time of year again.  Training camp opened up last week for the New England Patriots.  Already there has been a somewhat surprising retirement and maybe some insight into a future surprise cut.  But for now, the team has 90 players in camp, so let’s get right to it.  The first roster projection of the year, right here:

Offense:

QB (3):

Locks:  Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Jimmy Football will be the starting QB by the opening of the 2019 season.  Yup, probably not a stretch here.  Brady will be 42 before that season starts.  And as much as he is on his special training regimen at his TB12 facilities, with his questionable trainer in Alex Guerrero and his range of products such as the concussion water (which apparently does not actually work, if you ask Giselle) and all that….the fact remains is that age 42 is age 42.  You simply do not see many athletes performing at a high level at that age…in any sport.  Brady did play at a high level at age 39 last season still, but as we have seen with guys like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, the end can come quick.  People often forget that Brady had a 4 game “vacation” at the beginning of last year.  He won’t have that this year.

This analysis isn’t to bash the legend, though I admit after I re-read it, it sure sounds like it.  My apologies.  Brady will be the unquestioned starter this season.  And I expect it to be a pretty good season still for him, without a doubt.  The point really to be made here is that although we have seen greatness for quite some time at this position, it could change in an instant.  Of course we could say this about any football player at any position…any athlete in any sport actually.  But I think the locals truly believe Brady when he says he can play until his mid-to-late 40s.  I’m just here to drive the expectations of that crowd down.  So is Bill Belichick.  He clearly could have gotten top dollar for Jimmy G around the NFL draft in the spring but chose to keep him.  Does Bill think he is the real deal and the franchise going forward?  Perhaps.  Maybe he just wants good QB insurance for this (presumably) long upcoming season.  And then pulls a Matt Cassel and franchise tags Jimmy and then trades him before next season.  I think Bill would have to be convinced that Brissett is the next big thing also and ready to step in when Tom eventually fades for that to happen.  I don’t see it, but you never know…

Can’t forget about the old Madden curse either…with Brady on the cover this season.  Just sayin’…

RB (5):

Locks:  Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis

In:  James Develin

Out:  Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, Glenn Gronkowski

Way Out:  LeShun Daniels

Comments:  Last year I had Brandon Bolden as only one of two locks, simply because of his special teams value.  He had also managed to not kill the team when they played him on offense as well.  So that didn’t hurt.  But he was brutal on offense last year, they have 63 guys that can play special teams this year, the team signed Gillislee and Burkhead to decent sized contracts to replace the departed Hall of Famer (according to some fans) LeGarrette Blount, among other things.  Oh, and when Bolden was free to sign with anyone in the spring, no one really wanted him.  So he’s out this year, but can easily be re-signed if needed, since again, no one really wants him.  I can’t believe I just wrote that much about Brandon Bolden.

People want to make Lewis a surprise cut this year, but I am not sure that will happen.  He undoubtedly will give them all he has for a half a season or so and then get hurt again.  So things will take care of themselves there eventually.  Gillislee and Burkhead will hopefully be more productive than Blount.  I still don’t love James White.  But he signed an extension as well and ideally will springboard off his fantastic Super Bowl performance.  We shall see.  Bill loves Develin.  Maybe better use of that roster spot elsewhere, but I see them keeping the fullback.  Foster is going to be on the fringe this year.  The “other” Gronk is depth and expendable.  And I don’t even know who Daniels is.

Speaking of Blount, I love how the team slapped that “May 9th tender” on him when they officially knew that they weren’t bringing him back.  The tender allowed the Pats to count Blount as part of the compensatory draft pick formula when he signed elsewhere.  And if he didn’t sign elsewhere after a certain date in July, he could only play for the Pats.  No one has ever heard of this tender before.  Probably people working in the league likely included.  But the Pats are ALL business.  Ask pretty much every veteran they let go of over the years when they had their replacements ready.  Troy Brown was maybe the one exception, as they let him hang around for a year longer than they should have.  But Troy spent most of that year on the PUP list.  ALL business.  Just be ready when that business involves Brady.

WR (5):

Locks:  Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell

In:  Danny Amendola

Out:  Austin Carr, Devin Lucien

Way Out:  Cody Hollister, K.J. Maye, Tony Washington

Comments:  Pretty much set in stone.  The problem is that the team usually likes its backup receivers to play special teams.  Mitchell and Amendola really don’t, other than Danny on returns.  But hard to see them ditching Danny after he took yet another pay cut…and is pretty damn clutch.  I believe they paid Carr and Hollister more dough than rookie free agents get, but there is simply no room.  They may find their way onto the practice squad, along with Lucien.  Maye and Washington just signed in the last few days.  Should get plenty of time with Brissett in the early preseason games and they can tell their kids they played with the Patriots in their careers.

TE (2):

Locks:  Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

In:  None

Out:  Matt Lengel, James O’Shaughnessy

Way Out:  Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton

Comments:  The Pats gave Gronk some more money when they didn’t have to, so hopefully he is happy.  And of course healthy.  Those close to the team are also pointing at Allen as a surprise cut.  I don’t see it…yet.  But it also wouldn’t shock me if Belichick cut him and kept both Lengel and O’Shaughnessy.  Let’s see how camp goes.  My guess is they actually start the year with 3 TE’s, but play some roster shenanigans at the final cutdown to give themselves a better chance at keeping some kids elsewhere.  Then they can bring back at least one of Lengel or O’Shaughnessy a couple of days after final cuts.  If that even matters to you…

OL (9):

Locks:  Nate Solder (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT), Antonio Garcia (T)

In:  Ted Karras (G/C), Conor McDermott (T), Jamil Douglas (G)

Out:  Cameron Fleming (T), LaAdrian Waddle (T), James Ferentz (C)

Way Out:  Cole Croston (T), Andrew Jelks (T), Jason King (G), Max Rich (T)

Comments:  A little more settled than the beginning of last year.  The Pats were a disaster on the line at the end of 2015 and seemed to be throwing numerous bodies at the problem during last years’ camp.  Almost no jobs were set in stone.  Dante Scarnecchia was returning to coaching.  Not the case this year.  The starters are locked in.  Although this does not mean it is a dominant line, at least it’s a start.

Seems to me that Garcia was taken in the 3rd round of this past draft to eventually slide into Solder’s spot once his contract runs out at the end of this season.  Did you realize Solder has the second highest cap hit on the team this year behind Brady?  Me neither.  Anyway, Nate may get PAID next offseason.  Garcia may take his place as a result.  (Another reason to make a switch to a more mobile Garoppolo, by the way).  In any event, he is locked in.

I feel like they will hang on to McDermott to start and then hopefully slide him onto the practice squad shortly after final cuts.  A supposed project, he seems to have the physical characteristics they’d like to have at tackle.  And took him in the 6th round as one of their mere four draft picks.  Karras was a backup in the middle last year and I imagine he will fill the same role this year.  Another backup guard seemed to be in order, so I took Douglas over King.  Since Douglas spent some time on the practice squad last year I believe.  That may be a spot for a veteran upgrade at some point.

There seems to be no room in this scenario for Fleming and Waddle, who were on the team all of last year.  But as referenced with Bolden and the TE’s above, they may slide through unclaimed and be available for pickup at a moments notice.  If not, I am sure no one really cares.  Kind of like the last five guys on the outside looking in.  Though a handful of those guys are sure to end up on the practice squad at some point.

Next:  Defense and specialists

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