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Week Seventeen…

Another (somewhat) abridged (but not so last-minute) holiday edition.  Tough sledding here, as plenty of teams will be resting guys for the playoffs, shutting guys down period, playing some young kids to see if they are worth hanging on to for next year and any other scenario in-between.  We will see what happens.  If we go 1-15, we finish the year over .500 still.  So that’s good enough for me anyway.  Happy New Year!!

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-13.5)

Cleveland is shooting for 0-16.  I think they can do it, even though the Steelers are apparently not playing any of their key guys…well, Big Ben and Le’Veon Bell anyway…with Antonio Brown still out too.  Landry Jones and Stevan Ridley anyone?  Sure.  They could (and should) probably still beat the Brownies.

Pittsburgh 17, Cleveland 13.

Green Bay at Detroit (-7.5)

The Lions actually should win this one going away…but of course they won’t.

Detroit 20, Green Bay 17.

Chicago at Minnesota (-12.5) 

I believe Minnesota still has to play its way into the second seed and the bye over in the NFC.  Therefore…

Minnesota 30, Chicago 10.

Dallas (-2.5) at Philadelphia

Philly is apparently going to play their starters for a bit.  Which Nick Foles will show up?  Who cares?

Dallas 27, Philadelphia 17.

Houston at Indianapolis (-3.5) 

Speaking of “Who cares?”, 7-23 between these two squads.  The only intrigue will be after the game to see if either of the two coaches keep their jobs.  They both honestly probably should, based on their respective teams’ injury concerns this season.  But I’d keep O’Brien and fire Pagano.  Then again, Billy O’B and the Houston GM apparently despise each other.  Kind of thinking both are going, right or wrong.  Oh, I have to make a pick?

Houston 13, Indianapolis 10.

New York Jets at New England (-15.5) 

It’s apparently going to be 50 below in Foxborough Sunday.  The Jets are likely ready to hit the offseason, despite their competitiveness this season.  Because the Pats still need to win (or have the Steelers lose) to sew up the #1 seed, I’d say that they will probably just try to do enough to get the W and get the hell outta there unscathed.  But they may only have Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden at running back…and I’d prefer not to give Lewis 30 carries on the eve of the playoffs.  Maybe Pro Bowler (?!) James Develin gets some carries too.  I’m starting to think the Patriots come out throwing and take a little bit of a lead and then ride Bolden to victory in the second half!

New England 27, New York Jets 16.

Washington (-3.5) at New York Giants

The brand new Giants GM said he is leaning towards keeping Eli as the starting QB next year.  Yeah, until he finds someone better this offseason…likely with the #2 overall draft pick.  The Giants owner also seemingly wants to bring cornerback Eli Apple back too, because you “don’t give up on talent…” or some nonsense like that.  That should go over well in the locker room.  Not to mention the Giants interim coach is playing Eli Sunday “start to finish”.  Why?  He says they already know what they have in third rounder Davis Webb…despite Webb getting zero game experience this year.  All of the above is kind of irrelevant for Sunday…even Eli playing the whole game…but it does make me laugh.

Washington 14, New York Giants 13.

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-9.5) 

The Bengals winning on Marvin Lewis’ way out?  Nah.  The Ravens need this one.  Though the spread is probably too high.  I’m still doing it.

Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 17.

Carolina at Atlanta (-3.5) 

This may be the one game worth watching.  The Falcons need this one more.  That of course makes me nervous…but I’m still gonna do it here too.

Atlanta 27, Carolina 20.

New Orleans (-7.5) at Tampa Bay

The Bucs are bringing back Dirk Koetter next year?  Yaaaay!  Wait, what happened to all those Jon Gruden rumors?  Anyway, the Saints should roll here either way.

New Orleans 37, Tampa Bay 23.  

Kansas City at Denver (-3.5) 

The Chiefs are resting everyone and the Broncos are starting Paxton Lynch (I think).  I should be taking the Broncos defense here, but I’m not.

Kansas City 17, Denver 13.

Jacksonville at Tennessee (-3.5)

This may be the second best game of the week…if the Jags play their regulars…which their coach said they were going to.  But we will see, since the game doesn’t mean anything to Jacksonville.  Other than to get revenge on a Week Two beating the Titans handed to them.  Since that point was mentioned specifically by Dougie Marrone, I’ll take my chances with the Jags this week.  The Titans have continuously underwhelmed and I really don’t expect anything different here…even with a playoff berth staring them in the face.

Jacksonville 31, Tennessee 20.  

Arizona at Seattle (-8.5)  

The Cards are 7-8?  Hard to believe.  The Seahawks have been inconsistent, but still have a chance.  Based on their inconsistency, laying 8.5 seems aggressive, but the feeling here is that they come out ready to go.

Seattle 34, Arizona 23.

Buffalo (-2.5) at Miami

Two times in three weeks for this marquee matchup, with the Bills winning by eight in the first one in Buffalo.  The Bills are still remarkably in the playoff mix and therefore need it more.  Despite the Bills not actually being very good.  Throw in the fact that Miami isn’t good either, I am not expecting the ‘Phins to go all out to knock the Bills from the playoff chase.  I don’t know…

Buffalo 27, Miami 17.

Oakland at Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5)

The Raiders actually gave the Eagles a game last Monday.  Both teams were kind of inept though.  Chargers have a chance.  Raiders do not.  That’s all I can say really.

Los Angeles Chargers 24, Oakland 13.

San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5) 

The oddsmakers apparently have not been watching the Jimmy G show.  Of course the Rams are the better team, but when your coach has already said your best players aren’t playing and the rest of the starters aren’t playing much, one wonders how the Rams could still be favored in this game.

San Francisco 27, Los Angeles Rams 16.

Week (against the spread):  6-10

Week (straight up):  13-3

Season (against the spread):  128-112

Season (straight up):  163-77

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New England Patriot Free Agency Review – Defense

Picking up where we left off yesterday…onto the defense.

Arriving:  Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy

Returning:  Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Duron Harmon, Geneo Grissom, Justin Coleman, Brandon King

Departing:  Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Barkevious Mingo

In limbo:  Malcolm Butler

Who cares?:  Chris Long

Worth mentioning:  No one else

Let’s start with the big ones:

*Sign Gilmore for 5 years, 65 million…of which apparently 40 mil is guaranteed.  Whoa.  Lotta dough.  Did anyone see this coming?  I doubt it.  Sure, everyone knew they were likely to lose Ryan.  And that Butler would want some big money sooner, rather than later (more on him later) and that fact may have had some impact going forward.  So signing a cornerback or two in free agency may have been on the list at some point.  But signing a big-ticket CB?  One of the most coveted free agents out there?  On the morning of the very first day of free agency?  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Especially throwing the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the franchise.

OK, let’s just cover Butler here as well.  A lot of fans seem to be pretty upset that the team would make this kind of move.  After all that Butler has done here…cementing the Super Bowl with his interception at the end of his rookie year.  Then playing at an All-Pro/Pro Bowl level the subsequent two years.  All the while doing everything the team asked him to and keeping his mouth shut.  At limited dollars.  Blah blah blah.

And those fans may have a point.  Butler sure as hell does deserve a raise.  And he got one.  This year as a restricted free agent, he was tendered at the highest level and will make close to 4 million.  I’d say that is a pretty good raise.  Apparently, he was offered 6-7 million dollars a year before this past season.  Now, we don’t know how many years (ie: how many years past his current unrestricted free agent date at the end of next year would he have to lock into and “lose”), or the guaranteed money involved (BIG consideration).  But still looks like a pretty good raise nonetheless.

Malcolm did not want any of that and wants to cash in after next season in unrestricted free agency.  Fair enough for sure.  So despite the fact that we all feel for him to some degree, he really shouldn’t be upset that the Pats pounced on a potential long-term replacement now in case Butler walks next year.  Plus, the team rarely pays players before they have to, unless it’s a situation like above, where the player pushes off unrestricted free agency a few years for additional financial security before the Pats actually HAVE to lay out the cash.  I usually don’t begrudge a player for going after the money, especially in a sport like football where the average career is short.  But…them’s the rules…

As for the two players’ actual skills on the field?  I have seen Butler every week and I love him.  I don’t watch a lot of (ummm…any) Buffalo Bills football, so I can’t tell you if Gilmore is a better player.  But he is a smidge younger.  A smidge bigger.  And the Patriots locked him up for 5 years, so apparently THEY think he is better.  So who am I to argue with that?

All that being said, I hope Butler stays this year, makes his 4 mil, gives the team a great CB tandem (while keeping Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, et al off the field as much as possible) and this helps them win another Super Bowl.  Then he can walk, since I doubt the Pats are paying 2 cornerbacks 8 figures a year apiece.  But now what I think will happen, especially with Butler’s visit today to New Orleans, is that Malcolm will get traded to the Saints post-haste.  It appears it would have happened in the Brandin Cooks deal, but it didn’t for many reasons.  One, Butler can’t be traded without signing his tender.  Two, Cooks had some sort of bonus deadline that he had to be dealt by if NO didn’t want to pay.  And also I suppose three, Butler needs to decide if he wants to play there and sign long-term and he and the Saints would have to negotiate and all that.

Butler leaving would certainly be too bad.  But that’s life in the NFL I guess…now that we’ve beaten this to death…

*Trading a second round pick (#64) to Carolina for Ealy and a third rounder (#72).  Steal, even if Ealy sucks.  Dropping 8 spots in the draft and getting a young defensive end with potential?  One that makes less than a million beans?  With Long and Sheard gone and Rob Ninkovich seemingly towards the end of the line, leaving the position fairly thin?  How could you not do that?  Maybe he’s not as good as the guy that had 3 sacks against Denver in the Super Bowl 2 years ago.  But should be an asset…and absolutely worth the seemingly miniscule acquisition price.

*Re-signing Branch and signing Guy.  You know I wanted Branch back.  Don’t know a thing about Guy and the contract seems steep.  But I’m guessing he is better than Woodrow Hamilton.  And along with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, seems like a serviceable rotation to have in the middle of the defensive line.  I’ll wait and see if Guy gets turnstiled regularly before I complain about this one.  In the meantime, Hamilton can go back to the practice squad and be insurance for if/when Branch decides to smoke some more weed.

The rest:

*I’m not classifying Hightower’s return as a “big” one.  Not because it’s not a big deal he came back.  It sure is…just look at the rest of the linebacking core.  But rather because I think most felt like he was pretty much coming back here anyway.  That he had a “McCourty-esque” kind of understanding with Bill Belichick and the team.  Where he would bring any offers back to the Pats and they would get the opportunity to match it.  Once the first few days of free agency passed with no monster offers for Dont’a, I think this theory became stronger.  I mean, seriously, the Jets?  The cupcakes were a nice touch (huh?), but unless they gave him the moon, did anyone actually think that he would go there?  Doubtful.  Didn’t seem to be other serious suitors.  Always kind of felt like he wasn’t going anywhere.

*Seems like waaaay too much dough for Harmon.  3rd safety, technically a backup.  But I’m not opposed to him being here.  Just hope the money invested in Duron doesn’t stop them from paying someone, you know, good, in the future.

*Again, I expected someone to overpay Ryan.  That happened.  No worries there.  We knew Sheard wasn’t coming back.  But the Colts gave him 25.5 mil over 3 years?  Yikes!  The Colts also gave Mingo 2 mil for a year.  Mingo barely played on D here, so 2 mil sounds way too steep as well.  Guess Indy had some money to burn.

*We covered Long already, with his desire to “get back to being the player he once was”.  Good luck with that, my friend.  I hate to tell you that that ship has sailed.

*Grissom, Coleman, King?  Useful.  Depth.  Low cost.  Sounds good to me.

Now let’s get this Butler nonsense settled…

Thanks Donnie!!

Donnie Hockey actually came through!!  Things must be looking up!!

So Don Sweeney pretty much did what the Blowhard wanted him to do at the deadline.  All Sweens did was trade a 6th round pick for a couple of months of Drew Stafford.

Some people may not even like that, since Sweeney traded away yet another pick.  But it’s a 6th rounder.  Sure you can get a Bob Sweeney or Mike Krushelnyski in that round.  And maybe Anton Blidh and/or Zane McIntyre turn into something.  But the list of “ne’er made its” is looooong.  And yes, I totally looked all that up.

Plus, Sweeney has a slew of young talent (we hope) that has already been drafted or acquired and at some point at least some of those guys will have to be implemented into the mix.  So who cares about the 6th round pick?

The most important thing is that he wasn’t blinded by the great record under Bruce Cassidy and pretend that this team was a player or two away from a Stanley Cup Championship run, give up too many young players and/or more picks…and then either not make the playoffs or lose in the first round.  Would have been yet another black mark against him.

I’m sure he listened to both buy and sell situations.  If he didn’t, he’s not doing his job.  But thankfully, he did not pull the trigger on buying.  I actually am ok with him also not completely selling at this point.  As discussed previously, the edge of the roster guys weren’t going to bring you much anyway.  The more talented players on this roster seemed to have been re-energized some with the coaching change.  And it may behoove the team to keep a guy like Zdeno Chara for next year, to be a kind of “coach on the ice”…especially for the significantly reduced cap hit.  Let’s ride this thing out this year as is, have no illusions of where the finish line is, then tinker with things over the summer.

To me, this was the best case scenario.

As for Stafford?  I can’t say I have followed his seemingly less than illustrious 144 game Winnipeg Jet career.  But I do remember when he was a Buffalo Sabre he always seemed to play well against the Bruins.  Although Jimmy Hayes has played better since Cassidy took over, he still is playing only 8-9 minutes a night.  So the coaching staff can’t be trusting him THAT much.  Stafford would probably qualify as an upgrade, no?

Stafford would also seem to qualify a sort of “Peter Cehlarik”-type of insurance.  Don’t get me wrong, in my eyes, Cehlarik has played pretty well with David Krejci and David Pastrnak.  I like what I’ve seen thus far.  But he’s just a kid.  He hasn’t scored in his 8 career NHL games.  And as the playoff race gets tighter, if he isn’t producing offensively on the second line, I can see him back in Providence (instead of buried on the 4th line or a healthy scratch) as Cassidy leans on the veterans more.  Unfair?  Perhaps.  But all bets are off if the team is actually trying to make the playoffs.  Which I presume they are.  And I know, Stafford is technically a right wing and Cehlarik a left wing.  But those types of things always work themselves out.

Seems to me that Stafford is a solid, if unspectacular acquisition.  At a reasonable cost.  No problems there.

So I applaud you Don Sweeney!!  I’m not sure I’ve ever said anything positive about Donnie Hockey since he took over the GM chair.  I suppose there is a first time for everything though, right?

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