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Patriot Free Agency (in)action, Defense…and…The End…

Continuing on…defense AND specialists, that is.  Can’t forget how important the special teamers are to the Patriot organization!!

And, in case you forgot, there’s this:  For the record, we will say where the player came from if they are an addition and where they went if they jumped ship.  We will also note if they finished last season on the Patriots injured list (IR) or on the Patriot practice squad (PS).

DE:

Holdovers:  Keionta Davis (IR), Trey Flowers, Eric Lee, Derek Rivers (IR), Deatrich Wise

Arrivals:  Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta)

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Seems a little bizarre we start this section with someone named Keionta Davis, eh?  The danger of going in alphabetical order I suppose.  Anyway, it would seem that even with the addition of Clayborn, the expected return of Rivers and the hope of growth from Year One to Year Two for Wise, this group still may not be saved.  Lee had spurts at the end of last season.  But there’s also probably a good reason he spent the year on the Buffalo Bills practice squad.

In addition to not really knowing if Rivers can actually play, or whether Wise will get better, I cannot say I am too bullish on the Clayborn move.  I mean, it appears this won’t cost the team much, per usual.  But on the surface, it’s fair to question how a player can get 6 sacks in one game and then 3.5 total in the other 15.  Maybe he didn’t play all 16, but I’m not even going to look it up.  You get the point.  Clayborn certainly cannot hurt.  But there still needs to be an infusion of talent here this offseason.  And I’m not sure where they are going to get it.  The free agent list I am looking at is…weak.  The draft?  Sure, but any studs here will be long gone by the time the Pats even pick in the first round.

Let’s hope they figure out something here as well.  Oh, and Flowers is a free agent after this season.  He may not necessarily be a stud, but he is the best they have.  May want to figure something out with him too, while they are at it.

DT:

Holdovers:  Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (IR)

Arrivals:  Danny Shelton (Cleveland)

Departures:  Alan Branch (released)

In limbo:  Ricky Jean Francois

Comments:  There’s a lot of NFL bodies here now, but how good really are they?  Shelton apparently can play the run, but not the pass.  I’m still not sure what to make of Brown, and he’s been around a few years now.  I’m not exactly sure what Guy did last year, after signing that fat free agent contract last year.  Butler still likely remains a project and we probably can say the same thing about Valentine, to be honest.

Branch would help…well, the 2016 Branch and not the one that loitered around last year.  I suppose that’s the risk you take with guys like that though.  Francois really isn’t in limbo, as he said he wasn’t re-signing with the Pats.  I think he was babbling about going to a team with a better scheme fit like Chris Long did after the 2016 season.  Francois isn’t even as good as Long, so I am not sure what he was talking about.  He was lucky to have a job.  He was only here because Branch didn’t feel like playing.  Whatever…best of luck Ricky Jean.

Here’s hoping they do some more work here too.  But not as much as the place that needs the most work…

LB:

Holdovers:  Dont’a Hightower (IR), Harvey Langi (IR), Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  Shea McClellin (IR-released), Trevor Reilly (PS-not re-signed)

In limbo:  Marquis Flowers, James Harrison

Comments:  If only Hightower could ever stay healthy, this group would…still suck badly.  Holy crap.  I haven’t seen a worse collection of stiffs at one position…maybe ever.  Ok, that’s hyperbole.  I’m sure if I just analyzed the position groups of the Cleveland Browns over the last two years I would find worse.  But the message is clear:  This is the area of greatest need.

The team loves Van Noy and that’s really kind of inexplicable.  Roberts is terrible and everyone else listed may be worse than terrible.  I’m not sure what the Patriots’ plan is here.  This should have been the first thing addressed.  And they haven’t added anyone.  The draft?  Sure.  But again, picking late in each round and having several needs…how many impact players can they get from there?

I don’t know if Preston Brown made a gazillion tackles for the Bills over the years because there were simply too many players running free past their defensive line.  But that would have seemed to have been a guy to target.  Especially after he publicly said he would love to come here like some other former Bills (Hogan, Gilmore, Gillislee).  And the fact that he signed with the Bengals for a mere 4 million for 1 year.  25 years old too.  I’m not sure why the Pats didn’t sniff him out a bit and why he signed for next to nothing.  I guess I am missing something, but on the surface, I don’t understand the lack of interest.  No one is really talking about it locally, so maybe it’s just me.

But the fact remains that they need several capable bodies here.  And there is no way Brown would have hurt.  At this point, can adding anyone hurt?

CB:

Holdovers:  Stephon Gilmore, Cyrus Jones (IR), Jonathan Jones (IR), Ryan Lewis (PS), Eric Rowe, Jomal Wiltz (PS)

Arrivals:  Jason McCourty (Cleveland)

Departures:  Johnson Bademosi (Houston), Malcolm Butler (Tennessee)

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Believe it or not, the Pats may be all set here.  Gilmore came on later in the year.  McCourty may not be an All-Pro, or even technically as good as Butler, but he should be solid, by all accounts.  I can probably live with Rowe and Jonathan Jones as backups.  And as much as I hate to say it, let’s give Cyrus one more chance.  I’m not expecting much, but you never know.  Lewis has been getting some love here as well, but I have no idea about him.  Adding a body here, of course, would not hurt.  But the needs are more pressing elsewhere.

S:

Holdovers:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, David Jones (PS), Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis (PS)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Same here as the cornerbacks I would say.  Devin struggled some and likely isn’t worth the money he gets paid.  But you could do a lot worse than the trio of him, Chung and Harmon.  I would be very disappointed to see Richards on the team next year.  He is flat-out awful.  But we are splitting hairs if we are complaining about the 4th safety.

Specialists:

Holdovers:  Ryan Allen (P), Brandon Bolden (re-signed), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST, re-signed), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Nicholas Grigsby (ST), Geneo Grissom (ST), Brandon King (ST, re-signed), Matthew Slater (ST, re-signed)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

My favorite group!  Once again, the Pats carry more special-teams only guys than anyone else.  This HAS to be a fact, right?  Slater apparently re-signed as I write this and with the team bringing back Ebner, Bolden and King, well, the gang’s all here!  Cardona had a bad snap and Allen a worse hold in the Super Bowl, but I cannot complain too much about those two otherwise.

The key question here is:  Is this the year they bring in competition for Gostkowski?  One year left on his deal, with a 5 mil cap hit, which I think is all guaranteed.  But although he seemed to get back on track last year during the regular season, his playoff performance left a lot to be desired…again.  Even with the aforementioned bad snap, he still should have hit that 26-yarder…blindfolded.  And another stray extra point.  I don’t know, maybe make him fight for his job this training camp?

It won’t happen, but we can hope, right?  I suppose that since kickers generally are all of a sudden pretty average in the NFL, especially since they moved the extra point back, they may as well hang on to Gostkowski.  But how about even attempting an upgrade?

That pretty much sums everything up.  I’m not anticipating many more moves before the draft.  We can all be somewhat disappointed at that.  But looking at the free agent list, there does appear to be plenty of swill out there, so how many more of those guys can really help?  Guess we gotta hope the draft class is strong…

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“D” Is For “Disastrous”…

…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

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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