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Champs…Yet Again…

…surprised?  I am a little bit…actually, a lot.

Sure, the New England Patriots have a ton of talent.  But, on paper, was it on par with teams like the Los Angeles Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints?  Not so sure about that.  Not to mention having to play the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.  With that atrocious (for them) road record this season.

But that’s why they play the games, as they say.

Plus…the Pats have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  So there is that…

Now, Brady didn’t exactly play his best last Sunday.  But did he need to?  I guess not the way the defense played.  And with how putrid Jared Goff looked.  Then again, it would have been nice to see some points on the board.  And not waiting until about seven minutes left to score a touchdown.  But that’s what happens when you don’t give Brady many weapons.

I’m not sure what happened to Chris Hogan this year.  Hogan had been a fairly reliable wide receiver during his first two years with the team.  But completely disappeared for most of this year.  He supposedly fell out of the “Brady Circle of Trust”.  But seemingly came back in during the playoffs.  Zero for six in the Super Bowl for catches and targets, however.  Disgusting.  And Phillip Dorsett played a good amount of snaps and no one even saw him on the field I don’t think.  James White had one catch on four targets.  Surprisingly not part of the game plan in that respect, but apparently was chipping the Rams’ D-linemen often.  So we will give him a pass.

Other than that?  Just Gronk and Jules.  But I guess that is all you need…Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.  How could the Rams let those two catch ANYTHING?  Have to let those other stiffs beat you, no?

So the Pats won the game…with running and defense?  What, was this 2001 all over again?

Hard to believe.

When you look back, the running game wasn’t exactly stout the entire game.  154 yards is a nice total.  But it was also misleading.

What wasn’t misleading was the fact that the Patriots ran the ball down the Rams throat when it counted most.  Their last drive.  After Stephon Gilmore picked off a Goff floater inside their own five yard line with about 4 minutes left and the Pats up 10-3, the running game then took it to another level.  They marched down the field running the ball led by a pair of 26 yard runs, one each by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead.  (Though Michel couldn’t get two yards on a third and about a yard and a half, but we won’t nitpick too much).

That drive obviously sealed the game.  When is the last time that anyone could say the running game wrapped up a game for the New England Patriots?  The Corey Dillon days?  Usually, Brady would be throwing screens to guys like Edelman and White to get 3-5 yards and first downs because they couldn’t run the ball.  Seemed weird.  But it worked.

The Patriot defense? Sure, they played pretty well.  But was the performance overrated?  Perhaps.  Goff was absolutely abysmal, in all aspects.  And Todd Gurley can tell anyone he wants that he wasn’t hurt.  But that can’t possibly be the case.  He HAD to have been hurt.  10 carries in the Super Bowl?  A handful in the NFC Championship Game?  It’s noble for Gurley to deny his knee was a problem.  But we all know it was.

Not having a healthy Gurley was a huge blow for the Rams…and don’t give me “well, C.J. Anderson was lighting it up after they signed him…”.  Anderson isn’t Gurley.  I think we can all agree on that.  A player isn’t on three different teams in one season for no reason.

I’m sure this factor has been talked about ad nauseam this past week.  However, I have not been able to listen to a lot of the chatter, unfortunately.  But Sean McVay got taken to the woodshed in the game.  Simple as that.

According to people who watch film, and all the other information available that has been analyzed and re-analyzed, it appears that the Patriots had two different calls for the defense for every play…or a majority of them anyway.  One to show the Rams a look before the 15 second mark on the play clock and another for after the 15 second mark.

Why the 15 second mark?  Well, you have all heard about this too.  McVay can talk in Goff’s ear until then.  After that, the line of communication is shut off.  So McVay helped Goff before the time limit, then Goff was helpless thereafter.  Because the Patriots changed things up and Goff had no idea what to do.

My main question is:  How come no other team has figured that out?  I guess teams “do what they do” and don’t strategize to that degree.  Kind of a mistake I would say.  But then again, when you have the same coach and the same systems in place for almost two decades, I guess that makes it easier for a team to do.

My second question would be:  Wow, is Goff really that inept that he can’t figure things out on his own?  Makes you wonder if he is really a franchise type guy.  Not our problem I guess.  But worth noting nonetheless.

So there is your story:  Coaching, defense, running game…and maybe a dash of special teams.  Stephen Gostkowski did have 7 of the teams’ 13 points after all.  Yes, a little shaky.  But the job was done nonetheless.

For all those people who thought the game was boring?  I understand.  If you are not a fan of the teams, I imagine that more offense would have been what you wanted.  If you were like most of the country, wanting the Patriots to lose, well, having the Rams score only three points couldn’t have been that exciting for you.  And…we know that offense is now the name of the game.  See the 54-51 game between the Rams and Chiefs earlier this year.

The fact is, the Patriots should have scored more points.  How many times were they into Rams territory with nothing to show for it?  Plenty.  But defense is still a part of the game.  And fans should have been paying attention to that.  Wasn’t a boring game for the Blowhard.  Then again, being out in a pro-Patriot crowd while enjoying some (many?) adult beverages will often help that, I will allow.

In any event, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champions for the 6th time.  Deal with it.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again:  People, for some reason, fail to remember the years before Robert Kraft owned the team.  Many failures, few successes, lots of laughable moments.  Drug scandals, head coaches in the playoffs creating distractions by taking other jobs before the season is over (Chuck Fairbanks AND Bill Parcells), sexual harassment scandals (Lisa Olson), a bogus roughing the passer call (Sugar Bear Hamilton), the Rod Rust (1-15) era, the Sullivan’s and their decrepit stadium, Matt Millen punching one of the Sullivan’s, James Orthwein, Victor Kiam, etc., etc., etc.  The list can go on.

Patriot fans should make no apologies for the past two decades of dominance.  Because we all know the other side of it…and how fast things can change going forward.  Who knows what this organization will look like once Brady and Belichick retire?  I believe that as long as the team remains under the Kraft’s ownership (which should be a significant amount of time, as undoubtedly Jonathan Kraft will take over for his father Robert at some point), I expect no 2-14 or 1-15 seasons.  But that does not mean they will continue winning Super Bowls.

Let’s enjoy this run, ignore the haters…and go for the seventh next year!

Which leads me to what’s next for this Patriot’s team.  Welp, seemingly a lot of roster decisions.  A whole slew of free agents of varying importance.  And we will cover that in due time…

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  1-0

Season (against the spread):  147-120 (55.1%…1.5% better than last year!)

Season (straight up):  171-96 (64.0%…3.4% worse than last year…yikes!)

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Super Bowl…

…the Big Day is finally within sight.  The two weeks between the Championship games and the Super Bowl seem like an eternity, no?  Well, I suppose it is only that way for the fans of the participant teams anyway.  Sorry to you also-rans!

So we all know what happened by now in the Conference Championship games.  The Los Angeles Rams stole one from the New Orleans Saints…or did they?  And the New England Patriots held off the Kansas City Chiefs.

Back to the Rams.  Everyone has been talking like they shouldn’t have beaten the Saints.  All because of that non-penalty call on Nickell Robey-Coleman.  Sure, it was a penalty.  Sure, it should have been called.  And sure, the Saints would have been almost able to run out the clock after that.

BUT, everyone seems to forget that New Orleans had a 13-0 lead early on.  PLUS, it should have been 17-0, or even 21-0.  Are the Rams coming back from that deficit if it occurred?  Not so sure about that.

Ok, the Saints couldn’t get to 21-0, so I guess the point is not applicable.  But they had several chances to put the game away early on.  And didn’t capitalize.  So although they did get kind of screwed late, let’s not forget the rest of the game.

As for the Pats, well, that one was an Instant Classic.  Their defense dominated early, then Patrick Mahomes started lighting it up all over the place.  The Patriots absolutely got a few breaks, but hey, that’s what has happened to them during this Bill Belichick/Tom Brady run.  So I think everyone needs to accept it already!

All kidding aside, what a game.  But that has been analyzed left and right, top to bottom, so no need to dig down deep on it two weeks later.

Let’s focus on the present…and the immediate future…

New England (-2.5) “at” Los Angeles Rams

Let’s be honest right off the bat.  We are not going to sit here and pretend that we watched a ton of Ram football this season.  Certainly not any film, breaking down the line play and such.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t give some opinions, bogus or not!

We can say at 13-3, it was a helluva a season, sneaking out from the NFC Championship or not.  They scored the second most points in the NFL.  Explosive.  And since they will be playing indoors, that’s something that needs to be noted.

Sean McVay gets all the credit.  Boy genius and all that.  And he’s good.  But I have to tell you that having Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator on his side kind of scares the bejesus out of me.  I heard on the radio this week that the Pats have chewed up Phillips’ defenses on occasion.  Unfortunately, I only seem to remember Phillips being able to shut Tom Brady and the New England offense down.  Not sure why that is…guess it’s the recurring nightmares…ok, that was a little strong.

But Phillips and his crew do scare me a bit for sure.  Aqib Talib is pure gold when he speaks.  But he’s pretty f’n good when he’s on the field too.  Aaron Donald?  No explanation necessary.  Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters…there are some names out there.  And if they play to their capabilities, it feels like they can dominate.  Maybe that’s just me looking at names.  But still…

Robey-Coleman?  Nah.  Brady will look to torch him of course because of his comments earlier in the week…where he called Brady old and all.  And maybe Tom will.  But if NRC is covering Chris Hogan or Cordarrelle Patterson or Phillip Dorsett, Brady may not be able to take advantage of even that matchup.

Everyone always points to the fact that Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for this game and should dominate because he is so much smarter than everyone else.  But doesn’t the other team have the two weeks to prepare as well?  And what happened last year against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Bill had two weeks to prepare…and somehow thought that Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards were better options to have on the field than Malcolm Butler?  Yup…

What if Phillips comes up with a great game plan?  Maybe put Talib on Rob Gronkowski?  Like the Pats did when he was here, putting Aqib on Jimmy Graham.  Yeah, Gronk may not be Gronk this year.  But he is still dangerous.  Wade can come up with something himself in these two weeks.

But here is the twist…I think the Patriots try to run the ball down the Rams’ throat.  Just like against the Chiefs.  Time of possession.  Keep the explosive offense off the field.  Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, a little bit of James White and some old fashioned James Develin blocking.  Then unleash Brady when appropriate…although hopefully without that brutal interception at the goal line against KC.

Will it work?  No idea.  But expect a fair amount of those screens to White and Julian Edelman as well.  With Aaron Donald poised to wreak some havoc, Brady may not have a ton of time to throw.  Then again, the Pats line has played well.  Maybe Dante Scarnecchia comes up with another gem.

Although the Pats did not do this nearly as much as I would like this year, I have a feeling we see the hurry-up offense a little more on Sunday.  Yes, I did just say I feel like they will try to win time of possession by running the ball, so why the hell would I say that they will hurry up?  Welp, doesn’t mean that they won’t run the ball out of the hurry up.  I’m just thinking they will try to tire that D-Line out even more…by not allowing them to substitute.  Work quickly, but still eat clock.  I don’t know, just a gut feeling there.

The Rams may try to run the ball too.  Not exactly a Patriot strength.  But is Todd Gurley anywhere near 100%?  Doesn’t seem it.  C.J. Anderson has been nice.  But he’s not Gurley.  Especially catching balls out of the backfield.  Jared Goff will most assuredly go downfield more, but if Gurley is good to go, watch for plenty of short passes to him with the likes of Elandon Roberts trying to cover him.  Not ideal.

That being said, my guess is the Pats will let the Rams do what they please with the running backs and prevent guys like Brandin Cooks from getting by them deep.

One more thing to consider:  History.

This game will be played 17 years to the day after the Pats won their first Super Bowl against the high flying…St. Louis Rams.  Brady can win his sixth Super Bowl.  Would be a nice bookend.  The Pats can tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most wins in Super Bowls.  Etc.  Food for thought.

Experience?  Yeah, it can matter.  Talent usually wins out in the end, however.  Of course, lack of experience in this setting can make even the best dudes make the wrong decisions in crunch time.  Something to think about as well.

The Patriots are playing their “no one respects us” card again.  Kind of silly, but whatever works.  Hopefully, they are using last year’s Big Game as motivation too.  They should be.  Throw in the fact that the team could look a little different next year.  I know, every team looks a little different each year.  And Brady already said there is zero chance he is retiring.  But Gronk might.  And Devin McCourty threw that word around this week…though I am not sure that is likely.  But Dev and guys like Dont’a Hightower do have high cap numbers next year and aren’t the same players.  Could they be cut?  Trent Brown and Trey Flowers could cash in elsewhere.  There could be more turnover than usual next year.  And a 42-year-old quarterback that showed some decline this year, whether he wants to admit it or not (yes, I said it).

Some of us have been saying it for a while, but it is appropriate.  This really could be the New England Patriots’ “last hurrah”.

I expect they will take advantage of it.

New England 34, Los Angeles Rams 30.

Week (against the spread):  1-1

Week (straight up):  1-1

Season (against the spread):  146-120

Season (straight up):  170-96

Week Sixteen…

…welp…we’ve heard it all about the New England Patriots this week.  2 bad losses in a row.  Uncharacteristic mistakes, stupid penalties…and a lot of them, drops, dumb interceptions, bad coaching/play calling, no offense, miscommunication, etc.

And then…Josh Gordon.

I’m not sure we need to rehash all of it.

We are just not used to seeing this kind of stuff in New England during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.  Not often anyway.  People point to 2009.  Sure, there was some dysfunction there, as we learned in later years.  But at least Brady was on board back then.

Wait, he’s not on board now?  Yeah, I suppose he probably is overall.  But we all have to acknowledge that this year’s Brady is a different Brady.  For a few reasons.  But mentally he appears to be a great deal different.  Thanks Gisele…and Alex.

On top of that?  Key players are old and most assuredly hurt.  Brady is 41.  We’ve said it here time and time again:  never know when the end comes when you are talking 40-year-old quarterbacks.  Actually, they are usually done before that age.  Now, Brady has had a decent year, make no mistake about it.  He has had subpar talent to throw to as well.  But he’s nowhere near the MVP form of last season.  And the dumb interception at the goal line against Pittsburgh, combined with taking the sack at the end of the first half against Miami, just defies logic.  Plus, I don’t think there is any question he is hurt.  That doesn’t help.

Rob Gronkowski is clearly not the same guy either.  Obviously.  That’s not necessarily age.  But he is most definitely battling something…or many things.  Plus maybe all the hits have taken their toll.

Julian Edelman has been ok as well.  But I believe he is hurt as well.  And the drops.  Wow.  Some bad ones.

Having those three dudes at (much?) less than what they normally give you, for whatever reason, can certainly impact an offense.

And now, no Gordon.  Surprised?  Shouldn’t be.  I’m not.  But he was becoming a good piece.  Now we have to look forward to more Phillip Dorsett.  Yippee!!  At least Brady may go back to throwing to Chris Hogan when he is wide open…which according to people who watch film has been quite often actually.

One thing that hasn’t been talked about (at least from what I have seen) is the run defense.  Yes, it has been talked about.  But not in the way I am going to talk about it.  My opinion is that, at least in the Pittsburgh game, Bill didn’t care if the Steelers ran all over us with their 3rd and 4th string running backs.  He wanted to minimize the damage done by Antonio Brown and Juju Smith Schuster.  By having a thin D-Line and dime defense all game.  And they did minimize damage.  They had a combined 8 catches for 89 yards.

What happened to pointing to Bill taking away the guy(s) that are going to hurt you and letting the other guys beat you?  He did EXACTLY that.  The Steelers scored 17 points.

With the Pats, that should be more than enough to win.  Unfortunately, as noted above, the offense is simply not the same.  THAT’S the problem.  NOT the fact that Danny Shelton was a healthy scratch.  He’s apparently sucked the whole year anyway.

So the Patriots now return home to face the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.  They should roll over those guys like a combined 75-10, go 11-5, win the AFC East and even sneak back into the #2 seed in the conference, once Houston loses to Philadelphia tomorrow.  The Pats yahoos will all be back on board and start proclaiming a Super Bowl run is now in the cards.

Will the Blowhard be on that same train?

Not really.

BUT…the NFL is WIDE open right now.  Kansas City, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams were juggernauts the first part of the season.  But the Chiefs have looked pedestrian in recent weeks and lost Kareem Hunt, a big part of their offense.  Their defense stinks.  The Rams have looked bad two weeks in a row and now Todd Gurley is hurt.  The Saints aren’t scaring anyone lately and Drew Brees has been average at best.

The Los Angeles Chargers and Chicago Bears are now everyone’s darlings.  But does anyone trust the Chargers in the playoffs?  And the Bears and Trubisky?  I don’t think so.

Houston?  Hahahahaha!!

Seattle was getting some nice momentum but threw up a stinker last week.  Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Dallas, Minnesota, Tennessee?  Meh.

Indianapolis may be the hottest team in the league right now.  But they are also not even IN the playoffs right now either.

Philadelphia?  Don’t rule it out.  Maybe the Eagles and Nick Foles ARE going to do it again.

It’ll be an interesting ride, that’s for sure.

Washington at Tennessee (-10.5)

This is a huge number for the Titans.  And I still don’t believe in that team.  So I don’t exactly feel that comfortable going this route.  But the ‘Skins are banged up all around.  And Josh Johnson is still their QB.  Being at Tennessee, I feel like I have no choice here.

Tennessee 27, Washington 13.

Baltimore at Los Angeles Chargers (-4.5)

Like three weeks ago, John Harbaugh was getting fired.  Now they are talking extension?

Los Angeles Chargers 30, Baltimore 20.

Jacksonville at Miami (-4.5)  

Speaking of getting fired, nice to know you Dougie Marrone.

Miami 24, Jacksonville 17.

New York Giants at Indianapolis (-9.5) 

Seven out of the last eight for the Colts.  G-Men got shut out last week and yet again without ODB.  Seems like a slam dunk here.

Indianapolis 38, New York Giants 10.

Atlanta at Carolina (-3.5)

A couple of underachievers here.  Let’s see what Taylor Heinicke can do.  Funny thing is, I am kind of interested in what he can (or can’t do).  Who remembers Heinicke’s 2-week stint on the New England Patriots practice squad last season?  I may be the only one, but I do remember.  I’m not saying he’s going to pan out.  It’s doubtful he will.  But if he does…nevermind…

Atlanta 24, Carolina 13.

Buffalo at New England Patriots (-12.5) 

See above.

New England Patriots 34, Buffalo 17.

Houston at Philadelphia (-0.5) 

See above, Part II.

Philadelphia 31, Houston 20.

Green Bay at New York Jets (-1.5)

I know the Packers haven’t played well this year.  Aaron Rodgers is banged up and is questionable.  The Pack would have every right to shut him down if they wanted to.  And they still may.  But even if they go with the backup, DeShone Kizer, can the Jets STILL be favored in this game?  When is the last time the Jets have been favored against ANYONE?

Green Bay 27, New York Jets 10.

Cincinnati at Cleveland (-7.5)

It’s a big line, no doubt.  But it’s all of a sudden hard to go against the Browns these days.  Imagine that.

Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 13. 

Tampa Bay at Dallas (-7.5)

The ‘Boys got whitewashed last week by the Colts after winning 5 in a row.  They are 6-1 at home, however.  The Bucs have played the Saints and Ravens tough the last two weeks but methinks that’s more a reflection of those two teams than the Bucs being any good.  Hate to say it, but Dallas bounces back in this one.

Dallas 27, Tampa Bay 17.

Minnesota (-5.5) at Detroit

I read somewhere that the Vikings are “revitalized”.  Why, because they smoked the Dolphins, who stink themselves?  We will see.  But they should beat a terrible Lions team anyway.

Minnesota 28, Detroit 9.  

Chicago (-3.5) at San Francisco

I ALMOST took the Niners here.  Because they are 4-3 at home.  And beat a decent Seahawks squad (who everyone had fallen in love with) there last week.  And because I think the Bears are completely overrated.

Chicago 20, San Francisco 14. 

Los Angeles Rams (-14.5) at Arizona

The Rams have not looked good for two straight weeks.  Todd Gurley is hurt and may not play.  Thank God for the Cardinals!

Los Angeles Rams 34, Arizona 3.

Pittsburgh at New Orleans (-6.5) 

Seems like every team that beats the Patriots gets crushed the next week.

New Orleans 38, Pittsburgh 24.  

Kansas City (-2.5) at Seattle

If the Seahawks didn’t lose to the 49ers last week, I probably would have taken them in this game.  Wait, I am going to take them anyway.  They are THAT unpredictable I guess.

Seattle 27, Kansas City 24.  

Denver (-2.5) at Oakland

They couldn’t have flexed another game into Christmas Eve??!!  Wait, this game actually may be entertaining.  So I’ll give it a chance.

Denver 30, Oakland 27.  

Week (against the spread):  9-7

Week (straight up):  9-7

Season (against the spread):  121-103

Season (straight up):  138-86

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