…Thursday Night Football was once again ugly this week. The New England Patriots did hold off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, 19-14. But it was kind of a sloppy game. A thousand penalties, including several real stupid ones by the Patriots. Jameis Winston missing wide open receivers…actually Tom Brady did too. The Patriots offensive line made the Tampa pass rush look like they still had Warren Sapp in his prime. One sack all year, they had three the other night. But it felt like 20, they way they were hitting Brady. I am not sure how the Bucs officially got only 6 hits credited to the stat sheet. Fumbles. Dropped passes. Dropped interceptions. And lastly, but certainly not least, a virtuoso performance by Tampa kicker Nick Folk. I guess once you’ve played for the Jets, that stink never really goes away. May explain why David Harris has only played a handful of snaps for the Pats this year, despite their linebackers being putrid. But I digress…
If you are a Patriot fan, you should be happy they got the win. Short week, on the road, against what is supposed to be a good team, defense in disarray and all that. I am happy for that. But…if you are a Patriot fan, you cannot say that all the problems from the first 4 games have vanished.
The defense played better, no doubt. But it appears they simplified it a little bit, though I didn’t study any game tape, I must admit. And they almost coughed it up late. Maybe they relaxed a bit at the end, who knows? But they could have very well lost the game on the last drive.
The offensive line…I don’t even know what to say. The same five guys are back from last year. And everyone’s favorite assistant coach, Dante Scarnecchia, is still here. So what happened? I really don’t know. But these guys are going to get Brady killed. And maybe you can lay a little blame on Tom himself for holding on to the ball too long. Or the wide receivers for not getting open. Or on the absence of Julian Edelman, and in this game, Rob Gronkowski, who are Brady’s favorite security blankets. Or on Josh McDaniels and the coaching staff, because they seemingly have run more downfield routes this year…partly due to the absence of Edelman, but also due to the arrival of Brandin Cooks. Or TE Dwayne Allen, who apparently sucks at both blocking and receiving. But you’ve all heard the stat, Brady has been sacked more times in five games already than in the 12 games he played last regular season. Not good.
Plenty of work still to be done. And I do think the Patriots will do it. But it’s going to take some more time. In any event, 3-2 is better than 2-3. With the Jets up next. Beautiful!
Now for the rest of Week Five:
Tennessee (-2.5) at Miami
Miami has scored 25 points in 3 games. Tennessee is probably starting Matt Cassel. I hate to pick the Dolphins again and lose, but I feel like I have no choice here.
Miami 20, Tennessee 13.
San Francisco at Indianapolis (-1.5)
A lot of people have some interest in this game…ummmm…ok, no they don’t. Indy is at home, is favored and has won one game this year. But I’m looking for the winless 49ers to finally break through after a three close losses in a row. Why? I don’t have any idea.
San Francisco 21, Indianapolis 17.
Carolina at Detroit (-3.5)
Maybe I am in the minority, but I really cannot jump on the Lions bandwagon. Jimmy Caldwell, for one. Matthew Stafford for two. Maybe I should…and will…give these guys some credit some day. Just not yet. Ok yes, wait. This week I will. Carolina is coming off a big road win in Foxborough. That means they will probably not show up in Detroit. I may be going against my better judgement here. But I really don’t know about this one.
Detroit 24, Carolina 20.
Buffalo at Cincinnati (-3.5)
Buffalo has been better than they should be. Cincinnati has been worse than they should be. Things have a way of evening out over time. Especially when those things concern two mediocre teams.
Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 20.
Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants (-3.5)
Speaking of two mediocre teams, or “SHOULD” be mediocre teams. Since that what they should be, though they both remain winless. A tie perhaps? Doubtful. This is another toss of a coin. When in doubt, take the points. But I will say that even though both offenses have also sucked, a shootout here would not shock me.
New York Giants 31, Los Angeles Chargers 28.
Arizona at Philadelphia (-6.5)
Arizona is fairly lucky to be 2-2. They beat both the hapless Colts and 49ers by three in overtime. And got smoked in their other two games against Detroit and Dallas. It’s an every other week thing too. This happens to be the week of the smokeshow.
Philadelphia 34, Arizona 17.
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh (-8.5)
Speaking of smokeshows. Look for Antonio Brown to be targeted early and often. Despite all that talk about how he needs to grow up and stop the tantrums and all that. The bottom line is that Big Ben WILL want to make him happy. So he will get him the ball and shut him up.
Pittsburgh 38, Jacksonville 17.
New York Jets at Cleveland (-1.5)
Yikes! Niners/Colts and Jets/Browns on the same Sunday?? Oh boy.
Cleveland 17, New York Jets 14.
Seattle at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5)
The Rams may well be for real. But the Seahawks are not done.
Seattle 27, Los Angeles Rams 24.
Baltimore at Oakland (-3.5)
The Ravens have been abysmal the last two weeks. But the Raiders are likely starting EJ Manuel. ‘Nuff said.
Baltimore 24, Oakland 17.
Green Bay at Dallas (-2.5)
I’m not feeling the Cowboys this year. Still should be a pretty good squad. But 13-3? Nah. Well, they would have to go 11-1 from here, so I suppose that is pretty obvious. The Packers didn’t dominate out of the gates this year either. Even though the game is in Dallas, I’m feeling the Pack here…with of course no real statistical evidence for me to back it up with.
Green Bay 34, Dallas 27.
Kansas City (-1.5) at Houston
Houston isn’t going to put 57 up on the Chiefs this week. But the offense has found some rhythm for sure. KC isn’t going to go undefeated. They had a battle with Washington at home last week and managed to outlast the Redskins. This game kind of looks like where they have a little bump in the road…on the road.
Houston 24, Kansas City 23.
Minnesota (-2.5) at Chicago
Mitchell Trubisky may be better than Mike Glennon. But that’s not saying much. Sure, they’ve had a week and a half to get him ready for this game. Well, to start this game. They’ve had months to get him ready. Anyway, throwing him in on a Monday Night Football game against a divisional opponent with a pretty good defense? Not so sure about that. Whether or not Sam Bradford comes back or if it is Case Keenum again under center for the Vikes.
Minnesota 24, Chicago 10.
Week (against the spread): 1-0
Week (straight up): 1-0
Season (against the spread): 30-34
Season (straight up): 40-24
…after another somewhat pathetic week of picking NFL games. Though we almost had an exact score involving Kansas City again Monday night…until of course the lateral thing the Redskins were trying to do with 4 seconds left didn’t exactly work out the way they wanted. Or the way many gamblers wanted either. Oh well, at least we didn’t have any money on that game, like many real gamblers did. Sucks for them…or maybe it worked out for them if they had the Chiefs and the over. But that last line is why I can’t really gamble in real life. It’s a fine line between winning and losing. And I’m usually on the wrong side of that line.
So in this space on the first pick of the week, I usually talk about the previous weeks’ Patriots game. Feeling exponentially angry and frustrated since I was in attendance at said game, I really don’t want to talk about it. Especially about how the defense is playing at an embarrassingly low level. Oh wait, I guess I kind of have to talk about it because…
New England (-5.5) at Tampa Bay
…yup, it’s the next game on the docket. 2nd Thursday Night Football game of the year for the Pats. I’m sure they are hoping it goes better than the first. Me too.
A lot of people are have been on the Bucs bandwagon this year. I suppose a 9-7 finish in 2016, missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker, would get some people juiced up about the team. Especially after a last place finish in 2015 at 6-10. Tampa has some weapons on offense. Jameis Winston may take another step up, in this his third year. Mike Evans is a stud receiver and DeSean Jackson has plenty left to offer. Cameron Brate and 2017 top pick O.J. Howard would seem to form a nice TE combo. And Doug Martin is due back this week, if that floats your boat. The defense? I don’t watch a lot of Tampa Bay Buccaneer football. But there are some recognizable names there on that side of the ball. There are a couple that seem to be hurt and may not play, so that may be a factor. I see that they also do only have one sack in three games. But it’s only three games, so I’m not sure if that means anything yet. So who knows how good they are either?
The way the Patriots defense has been playing, the Tampa offense should march up and down the field against these guys. But will they?
TB is 2-1, getting smoked by the Vikings in Minnesota and hammering the Bears and squeaking by the winless Giants at home last week. Not exactly inspiring results, to be frank. They are home and it is a short week, so they have that in their favor for sure.
New England will sure as hell score some points, you can bet on that. The key of course will be stopping the Tampa O. Nothing the Pats have done this season has indicated that they will be able to do this at all on Thursday Night. But…there’s a lot of things this season that haven’t made any sense so far. The Pats and Cowboys at 2-2 have the same record as the Jets and Jaguars. The Jets were supposed to go 0-16, weren’t they? Houston put up 57 points last week, when they scored 53 in their first 3 games. The Chargers and Giants are 0-4, and LA lost its first two games when their kicker missed a kick at the end of the game. Buffalo and the LA Rams are 3-1 and have beaten the defending NFC champion Falcons in Atlanta and another top NFC team in the Cowboys in Dallas, respectively. Not to mention the Rams have 12 games left to score the 83 points they need to pass last years total.
I could go on, but you get my point. It would make sense for New England to need some time to fix things on defense specifically. Short week, on the road, against what should be a good team…and all that. Seems as if there is also some finger-pointing in the locker room to boot. In this season of weirdness, you actually could see the Pats starting out 2-3. Would be easy to pick the Bucs due to all of that. Even though historically this is when the Pats play their best, when their backs are against the wall…or at least somewhat against the wall. 2-3 really wouldn’t kill them. But it also wouldn’t be great either.
I’ve been back and forth on this one long enough. The verdict?
New England 34, Tampa Bay 31. I know, shocker I took the Pats. I was leaning Tampa all week too. The defense is still going to take some time to be fixed. But the offense will continue to put up points. TB’s performance thus far hasn’t exactly been earth shattering. Pats know how to handle short weeks…generally. Does Tampa? Is Tampa ready for prime time? Tampa may be the easy pick based on the Pats woes and lots of other stuff listed above. But Thursday Night games are also pretty unpredictable historically, in and of itself. Add it all up, this is what you get.
Week (against the spread): 7-9
Week (straight up): 8-8
Season (against the spread): 29-34
Season (straight up): 39-24
…or “disgraceful”? Or “disgusting”? I don’t know, maybe all of them. Atrocious is another one, but that obviously doesn’t start with “D”. And I am not talking about the Blowhard’s NFL picks last week. Those weren’t so great either. But we are talking about the Patriots’ defense here. If you can even call it that.
Three weeks in and the Pats are at the bottom of a lot of defensive rankings. I mean, the bottom. Last. I know…it’s only three games. And Dont’a Hightower hasn’t played a ton. And Eric Rowe missed the last game. And a lot of new players are being integrated in, like Stephon Gilmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Cassius Marsh, Adam Butler, David Harr…well, nevermind on him since he doesn’t actually play. And the Patriots figure it out every year. And on and on and on…
Sure, those are all valid points. But a lot of these guys were here last year. The safeties particularly have not played well. That shouldn’t happen with guys like Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and even Duron Harmon. Guys like Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts were here last year. Harris can’t play over those two guys? He has to be done if that’s the case. And if he is done, why is he on the roster? Van Noy just got himself a nice extension and I don’t think I’m the only one that has wondered why. Moving on to Alan Branch…he got extended in the offseason too. Is this where he reverts back to the problem that he has been in past organizations? Got a ring, got a new contract and then…stop caring?
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Matt Patricia. I HATE the way the defensive backs never seem to turn their heads around to look for the ball when it’s thrown downfield. I don’t love it that they seem to give a ton of space to receivers off the line. Among other things. Yes, Patricia is obviously an extension of Bill Belichick, but still, he is the main man on defense. And his troops have been abysmal thus far.
That being said, they usually figure it out over the course of the season. I will of course allow for that. But I don’t believe they have ever started in this deep a hole. Not to mention guys like Jonathan Jones and Jordan Richards are playing entirely too much right out of the gate. Probably Roberts, Van Noy, Marsh and Adam Butler too. I think I saw that Van Noy has played EVERY defensive snap this year. Really?! And if they are truly trying to phase Malcolm Butler out this year, seeing that he won’t be here next year, then that doesn’t help.
So am I panicking? A little. I mean, how can you not? Giving up a boatload of yards to Drew Brees isn’t something to be ashamed of. But doing the same to mediocre quarterbacks like Alex Smith and rookie QB’s like Deshaun Watson is something that just shouldn’t happen. Cam Newton this week too. Well, he has played poorly this year thus far, so maybe it’s not as daunting a challenge as it seems on paper. But it’s still not encouraging.
I think they will figure some of it out as the year goes along, like they always do. As they always say about the team, “September is an extension of the preseason”. But I’m not getting giddy about the defense’s long-term prospects. I don’t think we are looking at a Top Ten defense at all, as currently constructed.
You know what will happen next though, right? Pats will give up only like 10 points on Sunday and their defense will all of a sudden click and start to take off for the year. Seems about right…
Chicago at Green Bay (-7.5)
Chicago is coming off a somewhat shocking win against Pittsburgh. Even though they were home. And even though that jackass on the Bears tried to showboat his way to the end zone after the blocked field goal before the half…only to never make it. Hate the Steelers myself personally. But loved the play. Sometimes players are just boneheads. And that’s being kind.
Green Bay is coming off a surprisingly tough win at home against the Bengals. It’s a Thursday night game, sometimes a crapshoot with the short week and all. Not to mention a divisional battle. Last week’s Thursday night divisional matchup between the 49ers and Rams was an exciting game…and close.
All adds up to a close game…a probably Green Bay win, but a Chicago cover, no?
Well…no. Thursday night games are usually putrid. Last week may have been the one exception. Divisional games can be hard to predict. But I’m feeling a Packer rout.
Green Bay 38, Chicago 24.
Week (against the spread): 6-10
Week (straight up): 9-7
Season (against the spread): 22-25
Season (straight up): 31-16