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What the hell happened?

Thursday night, that is.

Kansas City is a good team for sure.  #2 seed in the East last year.  A lot of talented players.  And many thought the game would be close, including myself.  But to smoke the Patriots in the end?  Not sure a lot of people saw that coming.

Am I worried?

Nah.

Well, maybe a little.

Disappointing performance, but ultimately I think it is a little bump in the road.  Unless the injuries pile up.  But every team has to worry about that.  I mean, the Chiefs themselves lost Eric Berry for the year in that same game.

Tom Brady did not look like Tom Brady.  Part of it was of course the Chiefs’ game plan.  Maybe he was rusty, since he didn’t play much this preseason.  Maybe it was partly because in the second half he was throwing to the likes of Phillip Dorsett.  Probably a combination of those things and more.  But I’m not blaming his age.  That was a terrible opening throw to Dwayne Allen though.  Maybe we should have taken that as a sign for that particular night.

Hopefully the coaches were in preseason mode still.  Seemed as if the game plan on both sides of the ball left a lot to be desired.  I know the Patriots are thin at wide receiver.  Julian Edelman out and now Malcolm Mitchell as well.  But didn’t they know that playing Danny Amendola every snap was bound to backfire?  Love DA, but he is extremely brittle.  Add in him returning punts and it was asking for trouble.  Of course, then the concussion…Dorsett then had to play apparently.  And he has been here less than a week.

Why can’t one of the 15 running backs they carry line up at receiver?  Specifically, James White, Dion Lewis and/or Rex Burkhead?  White and Lewis have been here, so they should know the “route tree” and all that.  Seemed like a better idea playing them over Dorsett, especially since Rex only played 10 snaps and Dion 6.  Then they may not have resorted to just throwing the ball up for grabs the last quarter.

And the defense?  Ugh.  Starts with the game plan again.  Jordan Richards for half the game?  Yikes!  The guy seems to be a special teamer at best…and they are trying to make him a linebacker?  Not good.  I know the Chiefs have a lot of speed.  But they gave real money to David Harris.  And he plays 2 snaps?  I’m not saying he would be better than Richards or Kyle Van Noy or anyone else.  I’m just saying that if he’s playing only 2 snaps on Opening Night, perhaps that money was better spent elsewhere?

Is Dont’a Hightower really ready as well?  Was it necessary to rush him out there for Opening Day?  I know, Bill will say “football players play” and “if the doctor clears them, they are ready to go” and stuff like that.  But even with a seemingly weak front seven, perhaps maybe they should have given him some more time to recover from what ailed him this offseason?  Maybe even left him on PUP?  He doesn’t exactly play every game every year either.  Then, predictably, he goes down too.

I was actually OK with them going with the 2 4th and shorts they had.  I just didn’t love the play calls.  Mike Gillislee got stuffed on both.  But he had nowhere to go.  Where was the QB sneak, which seems to work 99.8% of the time?  Where was…any other play call?  Especially with all of KC up on the line?

Also of note, the Pats may have less depth all around this year…more than in recent years.  Is the decision to carry a slew of “special teams only” players going to come back to bite them…finally?  They always do it and it always seems to work.  But there seem to be more of them this year.  Bademosi, Bolden, Ebner, M. Flowers, J. Jones, King, Slater…and I would say Richards too (first names not necessary).  These guys are (or should be) special teams players only.  To carry 8 of them seems like a lot.

Ultimately, although this game did indeed finish ugly, I expect that the Pats will roll next week and be on their way to something like 13-3, a division championship and a likely appearance in the AFC Championship Game at least.

But…one last point to note:  Brady and other veteran players said after the game that the team has to have a better attitude and compete more and all that.  And to me, seemed like they borderline “gave up” on that last KC TD.  Uh oh.  Made me think of 2009 and that dysfunctional locker room.  If this is a problem, let’s get this taken care of…like, NOW.  Or all the talk will have quickly gone from “16-0” to “10-6, thanks to this team of underachievers”…and possibly worse…oh, 10-6 will likely still will win the division.  But it would also mean a quick exit in the playoffs.

On to the picks…short and sweet this week.  Not a whole lot of ammo in Week 1.  First week is always kind of a crapshoot.  Plus, I really didn’t pay close attention to the league this preseason.  For whatever the preseason is worth.

Pittsburgh (-9.5) at Cleveland

Cleveland definitely has improved and will be undoubtedly better this year.  Just not yet.

Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 13.

Arizona (-1.5) at Detroit

Going with the Lions at home.  Good enough for me.

Detroit 24, Arizona 20.

Jacksonville at Houston (-5.5)

The Jaguars still stink.  I don’t care how many running backs they want to use.

Houston 20, Jacksonville 10.

Baltimore at Cincinnati (-2.5)

Could go either way on this division game.  But is Joey Flacco ready to go?

Cincinnati 21, Baltimore 17.

Oakland at Tennessee (-1.5)

Lots of people on the Tennessee bandwagon this year.  Oakland coming to the East Coast for a 1:00 game.  Seems like a Tennessee pick, right?  Not today.

Oakland 34, Tennessee 30.

Atlanta (-6.5) at Chicago

Mike Glennon or Mitch Trubisky?  Who cares?  Atlanta on the road?  No matter.  I don’t believe Atlanta was as good as they ended up last year, when they got to the Super Bowl and chok…er, lost.  But they are probably going to still be in the mix this season.  And the Bears should still be putrid.

Atlanta 38, Chicago 17.

Philadelphia at Washington (-0.5)

No idea on this divisional battle.  The spread suggests no one else has an idea either.  Or “they” like Philly since “they” presumably gave the ‘Skins three points for being at home.  Either way, when in doubt, go with the home team…I guess.

Washington 28, Philadelphia 27.

New York Jets at Buffalo (-7.5)

Wretched.  Who’s watching this one?  Probably not even many Jets or Bills fans.  Jets are going to make a serious run at 0-16 this year.  That’s high on the list of things that make me happy.

Buffalo 27, New York Jets 6.

Indianapolis at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)

Another “must-watch” game.  Scott Tolzien vs. Jared Goff.  I’m sure the only person who predicted New England would actually trade Jacoby Brissett instead of releasing (or just keeping him) may want to see some Jacoby action in this game (there you go Batts!!).  But not sure that is going to happen.  I would have to think the St. Louis offense will be better this year, even out of the gates.  So I am going with Todd Gurley over the 150 year old Frank Gore in this one.

Los Angeles Rams 17, Indianapolis 13.

Seattle at Green Bay (-3.5)

Looks like a good one.  Normally I would go with the home team both to win and against the spread in what should be a fantastic game between two top contenders.  But Week 1, you just never know.

Green Bay 34, Seattle 31.

Carolina (-5.5) at San Francisco

Feel like Carolina rebounds this year.  Not the same feeling about the Niners.

Carolina 34, San Francisco 10.

New York Giants at Dallas (-3.5)

Ezekiel Elliott is ready to go.  Dak is back.  ‘Boys at home.  As much as it pains me though, going with G-Men.  Purely a hunch.

New York Giants 28, Dallas 24.

New Orleans at Minnesota (-3.5)

I have absolutely no insight here.  Just another hunch.

New Orleans 35, Minnesota 27.

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver (-3.5)

The Broncos at home.  Even though Trevor Siemian is still the QB, they presumably still have the stout defense and nice running game.  “Los Angeles” in front of Chargers instead of “San Diego” just sounds stupid and wrong.

Denver 27, San Diego 17.

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  0-1

Season (against the spread):  1-0

Season (straight up):  0-1

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New England Patriot Free Agency Review – Offense

So now we are over a week into free agency.  As you know, most of the huge money across the league flies out in the first couple of days.  There are still some very desirable stragglers, but most of the big-ticket dudes sign right away.  The Patriots, as you also know, made some unexpected moves.  Of course, we will cover everything that has happened thus far in this post and the one that follows.  Thank you for listening.

Arriving:  Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead

Returning:  James Develin, Michael Williams, Matt Lengel

Departing:  Martellus Bennett

In limbo:  LeGarrette Blount, Cameron Fleming

Who cares?:  Brandon Bolden, Michael Floyd, Greg Scruggs

Worth mentioning:  Jimmy Garoppolo, Danny Amendola

First, the trades:

*Allen from the Colts, along with a 6th round pick, for a 4th rounder.  This was the first shoe to drop for the Patriots in the free agency period.  A gamebreaker, by no means.  But we all knew Bennett was going to chase the green once he got to free agency.  He got his ring, now it was time to get paid.  No problem with that, good for him.  Highly doubtful the Pats were going to throw a ton of money at him anyway.  So they got someone else for just dropping down a couple of rounds in the draft.  Belichick was going to turn that 4th rounder into a 6th and a 7th or something like that anyway.  May as well get a useful player while we are at it.

In any event, even though Allen isn’t Bennett, it appears to be a move worth making.  His contract extension signed before last season is kind of silly for what he has(n’t) done in the NFL…3 more years at roughly 17.5 million left.  But he is supposed to be a pretty good blocker and also a nice red-zone target.  So can’t complain much here.  Besides, hopefully Gronk stays healthy for 19 games this year.  Yeah…

*Cooks from New Orleans, along with a 4th round pick, for 1st and 3rd rounders.  Always have to wonder when a stud 23-year-old receiver, who in 3 years in the league has two 1,000 yard seasons already, gets dealt.  Why did the Saints want to unload this dude?  Yeah, he supposedly whined about not getting any targets in a blowout win last season.  But what stud wide receiver DOESN’T do that sort of thing?

Is there another reason he was available that we don’t know about?  Maybe.  Perhaps he was impressive in putting up those stats indoors with Drew Brees his QB in a pass-first offense.  And can’t transition to cold weather or something.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care.  The first rounder given up was last in the round.  I’d rather have the guy that has proven he can play in the NFL a bit anyway instead.  The third rounder given up?  Bill would have just taken some random dude from Rutgers.  No big loss.  The fourth rounder acquired looks like it will be given up due to the last remaining piece of the Deflategate penalty.  But Bill would’ve just taken another guy from Rutgers there too…so I’m not losing sleep over that either.  I’m all-in on this one.

The rest:

*Rex Burkhead?  I’m not doing cartwheels.  But it seems like a solid move.  I’ll tell you one thing…if this means Bolden is gone, I MAY do some cartwheels.  I asked for an upgrade at backup RB.  Rex could be that guy.  Looks like he can contribute a helluva lot more offensively than Bolden can.  That’s enough for me.  I can’t imagine the team picked him up to be the lead back.  I’ll feel a little differently if that is the case.  Let’s see what the dough is…

*Williams/Lengel.  Can’t hurt.  That’s about all I need to spend on these guys.

*Blount.  He will be back.  I feel it.  Jamaal Charles, Latavius Murray and Adrian Peterson are still out there.  Along with plenty of other flotsam and jetsam.  But I don’t see it.  If Blount thought he was going to cash in because of the 1,100 yards and all those TD’s, he was mistaken.  He knows the system, Bill loves him and all that.  He will eventually take a small deal to return, much to my dismay.

*Fleming.  He’s restricted.  No one else is paying him 1.8 mil.  He will eventually be officially in the fold.

*Floyd.  I would’ve taken a flier if no other moves were made at the position.  Despite the fact he has some jail time to serve.  But Cooks’ acquisition has closed this door.

*Scruggs.  Who?

*Amendola.  Love this guy.  Hated him when he first got here.  Several big catches, great attitude, team player…and then some…eventually won me over.  Has a cap hit of almost 8 mil next year though.  I’m sure he would restructure (again), but it may be over.  Cooks, Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell ahead of him on the depth chart.  If Bill keeps a 5th, he’s a special teamer…or just uses Matthew Slater there.  Only 4 are usually active on game day.  All the injuries.  Belichick loves his depth elsewhere more than he does at this position.  We will see what happens and I’d love to keep him.  But the signs are there…and it doesn’t look good.

*Garoppolo.  I’ve changed my mind.  I now believe that those reports of the Pats not trading him for ANYTHING are true.  He stays.  But the Pats already have thrown a few surprises at us already.  So watch him go.

Here’s what I believe now though:  Jimmy Football stays this year.  Tom Brady is owed 1 million cash in 2017, 15 mil cash in both of 2018 & 2019.  With all of the cap room available still in 2017 (even after a few more signings to go), I believe the Patriots rework Brady’s contract this offseason.  Use a ton of cap space in 2017 for Brady, then add some bogus years to spread things out.  And pay him a ton of cash in 2017 & maybe 2018.  Have it all work out where it is essentially a 2 year deal, with the majority of the cap hit occurring in 2017.

Then the Pats franchise Jimmy in 2018.  Yup.  If Brady’s cap hit is huge in 2017 and low in 2018, they can afford to do this.  Instead of you know, spending and/or having cap hits of like 50 million on 2 QB’s in 2018.

I may have confused anyone that actually reads this with all that crap above.  Bottom line?  Brady is the QB for the next two years.  Jimmy takes over in 2019, when Brady will be 42.  Will Tom still be able to play at a high level at age 42?  Perhaps.  But do you think Bill is going to bet on that?  It’s never been done.  Bill is going to err on the side of caution here.

Now…get ready for a Garoppolo trade next week…

New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 2

NFL free agency begins Thursday afternoon at 4:00 pm.  Of course there is some sort of “legal tampering” period that starts Tuesday.  But let’s ignore that for now.  The following is one man’s thoughts on what’s going on with the players that ended the 2016 season on the Patriots’ roster, by position.

Wide receiver:

Players under contract:  Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Devin Lucien, Malcolm Mitchell

Free agents:  Michael Floyd

What I would do:  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t do anything to the group that ended the year on the team.  The top 4 of the group (Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell and Amendola) have earned the complete trust of Tom Brady.  This alone is huge.  They run the right routes, make the right reads, have decent hands, make the tough catches and are completely comfortable in the system.  And all that.  Amendola gets banged up a lot and that would most likely necessitate carrying a 5th receiver (please no Matthew Slater here).  But these four seem to be a reliable crew in general.  Amendola would have to adjust his almost 8 million cap hit…and all indications are that he is amenable to that.  The other 3 have salaries that the team could live with.

That 5th receiver could be Floyd.  I’d be ok with that.  He likely will have to take one of those 1 year “prove it” deals that people love to talk about…and the Patriots like to give out.  At probably cheap money too.  Why not take a chance?  He’s got talent…and a head start in the system already.  There have been some rumors that the Pats have interest in New Orleans’ Brandin Cooks.  Wouldn’t argue with that either.  Not sure why he is even on the market, but that’s their problem I guess.  Lucien, a 7th rounder from last year, would not seem to be able to crack this group.  Maybe sticks on the practice squad again.

No reason to go too crazy finding other receivers to fit in here right at the start of free agency for sure.

What I think will happen:  Belichick doesn’t love dressing 5 receivers for games, unless they make an impact on regular special teams units.  Edelman and Amendola do returns, but none of the other guys above are a factor there.  But if Amendola takes that pay cut and returns, I think Bill adds either Floyd or another “traditional” receiver.  That also could come through the draft though.  Maybe they eventually make a trade for a Cooks or the like.  But this is another position that will be low priority in free agency for the team.

Tight end:

Players under contract:  Rob Gronkowski, Rob Housler,

Free agents:  Martellus Bennett, Matt Lengel (exclusive rights), Greg Scruggs, Michael Williams (?)

What I would do:  Bennett was a good soldier this year.  Kept his attitude in line.  You know he played hurt for a great deal of the season.  It’s a crime he and Gronk were not together, healthy, for a 16 game season.  That would have been fun to watch.  Bennett has his ring now and wants big money in free agency.  He will probably get it too.  If the dough is out of hand, I’d let him go.  I’d let him go regardless actually.  Because he is the type of guy that if he signs here for less than he believe he deserves, and he already has a ring, he could revert to his past ways where he is kind of a headache.  No thanks.

That being said, having a TE of Bennett’s caliber is something I think the team should pursue.  Gronk is Gronk.  But with another back surgery in the books.  The Pats should chase another TE that is in the upper tier.  Maybe buy low on someone like they did with Martellus last year.  Housler, Lengel, Scruggs and Williams don’t fit that bill.  I don’t even know if Williams is still here.  He spent all of last year on injured reserve and is still listed on their roster.  But not on the salary cap page from what I can see.  But that really doesn’t matter I suppose.  Anyway, maybe that upper tier TE comes in the draft.  But I’d look hard for one in free agency.

What I think will happen:  Bennett walks.  The team signs a couple of backup TE’s in the mold of a Clay Harbor or something.  A veteran with seemingly more to offer than the 4 “other” TE’s above, but not as good as Bennett.  Then work on getting another quality TE in the draft…which is supposed to be TE-rich.

Offensive line:

Players under contract:  David Andrews (C), Chris Barker (G), Marcus Cannon (T), Jamil Douglas (C), Chase Farris (T), Tre’ Jackson (G), Ted Karras (G), Shaq Mason (G), Nate Solder (T), Joe Thuney (G), LaAdrian Waddle (T)

Free agents:  Cameron Fleming (T) (restricted)

What I would do:  The line was exposed a bit in the playoffs.  Maybe it’s because the middle is full of young guys.  Maybe it’s because Cannon isn’t actually as good as he apparently played this year.  Maybe it’s because Nate Solder isn’t as good as people think he is, period.  Maybe it’s because it was Dante Scarnecchia’s first year back in the saddle and he is still working on some things with the unit.

The line seemingly played pretty well this year before the playoffs, so maybe the weaknesses showing up there can be fixed in the offseason…plus with more experience for the interior guys.  I’d work on getting better depth in free agency for one thing.  The team carried only 8 guys for most of the year…with Waddle mostly inactive and Fleming playing a lot of tight end when injuries hit.  I haven’t done any research, but I would say Belichick usually has 10 or so guys on the active roster.  Maybe he felt he didn’t need that this year with the line staying intact for most of the year.  And also with Douglas, Farris and Barker on the practice squad for most of the year too.

Even with Jackson returning from injury, none of the backup guys seem to inspire confidence.  I’d spend some time in free agency finding a better veteran backup swing tackle and a better veteran backup interior guy that can play both guard and center.  I’d also restructure Solder’s gruesome 11 mil cap hit.  The Pats will have plenty of cap space to do what they want.  But that number (currently second on the team overall) just doesn’t look right.

What I think will happen:  Nothing.  Maybe Solder gets an extension to shrink his cap number.  But I think these are most of the characters you see next year.  Certainly the starters.  Solder and Cannon, with his fat extension signed during last season, will be the tackles.  Thuney was a third rounder from last year that they love and he played something like all but 4 snaps the entire season.  He’s going nowhere.  Andrews seems entrenched.  If anything, maybe Mason gets pushed.  But by Jackson or Barker (since he can’t spend an 18th consecutive year on the practice squad I would bet), not by a vet they have signed.  They will probably bring in some big bodies at the middle to end of the draft.  But I doubt they sign any veterans.  Not in the first wave of free agency anyway.  I can tell you that Sebastian Vollmer ain’t coming back either.  So long Sea Bass!!

Next:  Onto the defense.

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