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Still No Clarity…

…on who exactly the New England Patriots are this season.  We’ve been through this a ton.  Their next game is in December.  We usually know by this month on the calendar.

We are clear on the AFC East stinking…yet again.  3 game lead for the Pats with 5 to go.  So that means another division crown.  Go figure.

The conference?  Not sure.  KC is obviously off to a fantastic start.  But it remains to be seen if they can stop anyone.  The Steelers coughed one up last week and should have lost the week before.  The Chargers or Texans?  Can we really expect these teams to do anything in the playoffs?  Doubt it.  The rest of the teams?  Don’t see it.

As for the Pats themselves?  Offensively a step behind what they usually do.  Maybe three steps.  27 points against the f’n Jets?  Tom Brady looks old and injured (sorry).  Rob Gronkowski?  Yup…”old” and injured.  Sony Michel?  We will see.  People think Rex Burkhead’s return this week will help.  But he’s always…injured.  Chris Hogan is no superstar.  But he can play.  And Brady refuses to even look at him anymore.  And so on…

The defense?  Sure, 13 points allowed in a game is nice.  But…the Jets.  Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty have been alternating between average and “washed-up” all year long in my eyes.  “Average” may be too kind a word for the personnel on D this year.  Think of it this way:  When Kyle Van Noy is one of your better players, that speaks volumes…I don’t care how well he actually seems to be playing.

Special teams?  You know, made up of a ton of guys that Bill Belichick likes to keep and can’t do anything else on the field?  Atrocious all around this season.  Well, I guess Stephen Gostkowski has been pretty good and every once in a while Bill raves postgame about the punter, Ryan Allen (like last week).  But the return and coverage units.  Bad.

By now, any issues are supposed to have been fixed.  Not this year.  Can they still be?  Not sure.  But now it’s a real fight to the end.  Starting Sunday against another team that likely should be better than they have been…the Minnesota Vikings.  More on them next column.

The rest of the schedule isn’t daunting.  But playing at Miami hasn’t always been great.  Even if the game is in December and not September.  The Pats have a good track record against the Steelers, even in Pittsburgh.  This year?  No idea.  Should be cakewalks against the Bills and Jets at home the last two weeks.  But can we even count on this now?

I guess we will find out in due time.  For now, the Thursday game:

New Orleans (-7.5) at Dallas

The NFC West has 2 doormat 2-9 teams, but the NFC East isn’t much better as a whole.  The Saints have crushed the other 3 NFC East teams they have played this season to the tune of 124-44.  Dallas may be home.  But New Orleans is actually 5-0 on the road.  Both of these teams played on Thanksgiving, so no advantage there.  I’m just filling space now.  There is no debate on this one.

New Orleans 41, Dallas 20.  

Week (against the spread):  11-4

Week (straight up):  11-4

Season (against the spread):  96-80

Season (straight up):  111-65

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Typical Patriots?

Not quite yet, I’m afraid.  What we mean here is, “typical” where the New England Patriots start off a little slow in September (by their standards), such as 2-2 and then steamroll to at least another AFC Championship game by going something like 11-2 (including playoffs) after that.

A lot of fans want to point to that.  Hell, I want to too.  But I’m not there yet.  We’ve spoken before about how “this year feels different”, from several angles.  The sometimes (often?) public snippiness between coach and stars.  The overall talent, or lack thereof.  The different way both the team and its two biggest studs went about their offseason this past summer.  And all that.

The win against Miami was nice.  But there’s a significant possibility that the Dolphins aren’t really very good, despite leaving the game with a still good 3-1 record and first place standing.  The ‘Phins apparently are missing some decent players and on top of that, they lost a couple more during the game.  That’s what I’m hearing anyway.  I have no idea if these injured players are any good, truth be told.

I do know Ryan Tannehill is a certified bum.  That’s not going to help a football club in any way, shape or form.  But who are they going to turn to there, Brock Osweiler?  Ummmm…nope.  Ask Jay Cutler to unretire again?  Ugh.  Miami is actually carrying 4 QB’s, so I suppose there are two more options already on the roster.  I don’t know, there are people who like Tannehill though, so maybe…nevermind…I don’t think we really need to dive all that deep into the Dolphin quarterback situation.  My apologies.

The Patriot defense sure played better, despite the average, at best, opponent.  That has to be encouraging, no matter who the opponent was.  But then again, maybe it’s because the Dolphins forgot that Kenyan Drake ran for a ton of yards down the stretch last year, then gave him only three carries against the Pats.  Drake didn’t do anything with those three carries in the game, but I’m thinking that may not have been enough to get him started.  Especially early in the game before it got out of hand.  I mean, did Adam Gase and his staff watch the Patriot run defense the first 3 weeks?

The Patriot offense looked better of course too.  But still doesn’t appear to be a finely tuned machine.  I mean, has anyone seen the Patriot de facto #1 receiver thus far, Chris Hogan?  Thank God Josh Gordon looked useful in limited action (though the question will linger, how long can he keep his nose clean?  (Pun completely intended).  Julian Edelman comes back Thursday.  But let’s see what he looks like.  Missing all of last year with injury and now he can’t take any juice anymore.  Is the quickness still there?  We will see.  Can’t hurt though.

To the Blowhard, the jury is still out.  Speaking of the Pats…

Indianapolis at New England (-10.5)

…glad to see the Colts come to town.  Looks like Indy has their share of injuries too, including one to receiver T.Y. Hilton.  Huge break for the Pats if Hilton can’t go.  And even Adam Vinatieri is tending to a groin injury.  Can’t have kickers getting hurt, though it seems like a few of them around the league have missed time this year already.  In any event, to top it all off, there are a lot of questions about Andrew Luck’s arm recently.  I suppose that will tend to happen when the coach yanks Luck for Jacoby Brissett to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the game a couple of weeks ago.  Maybe the arm is ok, maybe it’s not.  But it sure took a while to figure out when he was going to play this year over the past offseason.  Where there is smoke there is fire, as they say.

So yeah, Gronk is nursing an ankle issue too and hasn’t looked all that great when he has been on the field this year to boot.  Several reporters have said that the injury is “not serious”.  But…you have to worry about Gronk’s health no matter what.  Plus, we have to worry if Gronk’s Dad will allow him to play with even a slight injury.  I’m not too concerned about it though…yet.  I suppose I should be, seeing that the alternative is more Dwayne Allen.

Here’s hoping the team continues to improve on both sides of the ball and doesn’t overlook this game to the next one…a Sunday Nighter against the smokin’ hot Kansas City Chiefs.  I’m thinking as long as the Patriots show up, this one should be easy enough.  But again…nothing is guaranteed with this group this season.

And…what if the Colts are fired up about the “Josh McDaniels Experience”?  Well, that may be an issue more for the front office after Josh left them at the altar.  I suppose Frank Reich may just ruin that mojo by being overly aggressive…

New England 34, Indianapolis 17.

Week (against the spread):  8-7

Week (straight up):  10-5

Season (against the spread):  30-33

Season (straight up):  37-26

As We Wait…

…with bated breath for the first game of Week 3 in the NFL season, the New York Jets versus the Cleveland Browns, we can address a few additional football topics.  Specific to the hometown New England Patriots, I mean.

Wait, is anyone really anxious to see Jets v. Browns?  I guess…J-E-T-S fans could be excited about Sammy Darnold.  Browns fans can be excited by almost getting a couple of wins against alleged Super Bowl contenders in the Steelers and Saints.  Perhaps the nation is fired up to see this new Cleveland kicker that no one’s ever heard of…someone who only made 69.5 percent of his kicks in college too…that should work out nicely.

Anyway, as for the Pats, we could talk about the Jacksonville beating.  But why bother?  The offense couldn’t do anything and the defense stunk.  Some think that because it was Week Two, the Pats didn’t overextend themselves, knowing that beating a fired up Jags team in their home opener in 90 plus degree weather was unlikely to happen.  The offense didn’t exactly take a lot of risks, after all.

That doesn’t explain how poorly the D played though.  Sure, when you lose 2 of your better players in Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung fairly early in the game, that certainly doesn’t help.  But that doesn’t explain Eric Rowe and all the linebackers looking putrid.  And Adrian Clayborn running past Blake Bortles numerous times, leaving Bortles plenty of room to run for yet another first down.

I don’t have any answers.  All I am thinking is that the Pats sometimes look very average in September and then fix problems as the season goes along.  Though I was pretty pissed during the game, I have started to trend in that direction throughout the week.  Maybe this year is different though, who knows?

Perhaps the Patriots have fixed one of their issues already…a punt returner.  Because CYRUS JONES IS BACK!  He is?  Really?  Didn’t see this one coming.  And I’m sure he’s not really going to make much of a difference.  I’m not sure I understand…even if it is just to return punts for two games until Julian Edelman comes back.  But they gave Jones a two-year contract.  Not that that necessarily means a whole bunch.  But still…does that mean they have bigger plans for Cyrus?  They didn’t sign Corey Coleman or Bennie Fowler to two-year contracts, to the best of my knowledge.  We’ll see…

You wanna talk about Josh Gordon?  I don’t.  Why?  That’s all people are talking about locally now and I’ve had my fill.  He supposedly has great talent.  I say “supposedly”, because he really hasn’t played in 5 years.  So how do we know he still has “it”?  Wide receivers coming into this system often take forever to figure things out, if they ever even do.  Can’t afford that kind of time here, but it may happen.  I have no problem with the trade, as who really cares about the 5th round pick?  It’s worth the gamble, even if he goes and gets loaded tonight and gets banned from the NFL yet again.  Because of the potential for that and all the other uncertainty revolving around Gordon, I am not getting my hopes up.  But I certainly will be paying attention.

You wanna talk about Ian O’Connor’s book?  I suppose we can chat a little.  I mean, it’s kind of old news now a rift has formed between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady over time.  Some of the excerpts from the book are gold though.  Bill and at least some of the coaches think they could have taken an average quarterback and made him do the same things Brady has done in his career?  Laughable.  Brady is shocked that he was getting old and Bill was looking to the future to replace him at some point, just like what has happened to EVERY OTHER PATRIOT, INCLUDING ALL THE LONG TIME GREATS.  Laughable.

Listen, this was bound to happen.  Anyone that has a head on their shoulders should know that this wasn’t going to end well.  “This” being Brady’s career in New England.  And…it will get worse, I think I would bet the house on that.  Unfortunate, of course, but who really didn’t see this coming?

This topic is going to be beaten to death over the next few weeks, so I’ll stop here now.  Once the book officially comes out, maybe I’ll read it and share some thoughts.  In any event, hopefully, Bill and Tom can put their differences aside and just win games together.  Because they needed each other for this long run of success.  We should be all able to agree on that.  Thank God Brady has Matty Patricia’s defense coming up on Sunday Night.  That should be a recipe for success.  Then again, Eric Rowe will be out there again trying to stop Matty Stafford…

As for the beginning of Week Three’s slate:

New York Jets at Cleveland (-3.5)

When do you think the Browns were last favored in a game by three and a half points?  I don’t know the answer, but I can’t imagine it’s in the decade of the 2010’s.  Maybe it was, but they still shouldn’t be favored by that here either, even against the Jets.

I know, Cleveland is a little bit of a darling these days.  1-31 the last two years, somehow Hue Jackson keeps his job and the GM is fired.  Then the tie in Week One and a close loss in Week Two…largely again, because their kicker was brutal.  But these guys are still the Browns.  And Tyrod Taylor is still their QB.  But their new kicker has a strong leg, did you hear?

You know what?  This is the NFL.  EVERY kicker has a strong leg.  Maybe teams should be more concerned with getting a kicker who is ACCURATE, even if his leg is a little weaker.  There’s a thought, eh?

Anyway, Cleveland may yet win this game.  But Darnold looks like the real deal.  And Thursday Night games usually stink.  So I am “betting” this one is close.

New York Jets 20, Cleveland 16 (one missed extra point and at least one missed field goal).

Week (against the spread):  8-8

Week (straight up):  9-7

Season (against the spread):  13-19

Season (straight up):  16-16

 

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