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Super Bowl…

So we are finally here.  Super Bowl LII is almost upon us.  These two weeks of hype always kill me…of course especially when the hometown team New England Patriots are in the actual game.  The two weeks did help me for sure in one case however…it allowed Rob Gronkowski enough time to shake the cobwebs (literally) and allow him to suit up in the game.  No need to speak about how important that is.

Did I pass my time last Sunday by watching the Pro Bowl?  Ummmmm…no.  But I suppose I should have watched that mess instead of what was probably the worst Grammy telecast of all time.  But that’s a story for a different day.

By the way, did you know that David Carr was in the Pro Bowl?  That guy had a putrid season.  How the hell…nevermind.  Another story for another day.

Time to get to the matter at hand…

Philadelphia “at” New England (-4.5)

Last year, I thought New England was going to hammer Atlanta from the get-go.  Although I do think the Pats could win big here, I won’t make that mistake again.

Just once…ONCE…I would like to see a Pats blowout win in the Super Bowl.  Win or lose, I am tired of the nerve-wracking endings in the Big Game during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.  I know, cry me a river, right?  The Pats have been to 8 Super Bowls with that duo, what the hell am I complaining about?  My apologies.  But I still want that comfortable blowout.  And for those of you that may say, “well, the Falcons were blowing the Pats out late in the third quarter and THEY lost.  You really can’t feel comfortable until the clock reads 0:00…”.  That may be true in theory, you would be absolutely correct.  I am generally a “0:00 guy”…talk to me when the game is officially over…in any sport.  But I would also assure you the Pats ain’t blowing that type of lead that late.  Sorry.  So the chances that I would be comfortable under that scenario would probably be pretty good.

In any event, I don’t think I will ever find that comfort.  It appears the formula seems to be set in the Super Bowl for the Patriots:  don’t score in the first quarter, continue feeling the game out in the second quarter, make halftime adjustments and show some life in the third quarter, head into the fourth quarter down (just hopefully not to the tune of 28-3 or 28-10 or the like), score late to secure the victory…or give up a miracle catch near the end and lose a heartbreaking one.  3 point game in the end either way.  Hard to go against what seems to be habit.

Enough of the preamble.  Let’s get down to brass tacks.  Although I have not watched a ton of Eagle football this season and sure as hell have not studied any of their game film.  But after soaking in all the hype for the past two weeks, here are some thoughts/concerns on the game/matchups/etc., in no particular order:

*The Eagle defensive line scares the bejesus out of me because, well, the Patriot offensive line scares the bejesus out of me.  That one is easy.  No, Chris Long doesn’t necessarily make me nervous.  But Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham kind of do.  The good thing is that the Eagles apparently like to rotate these guys to keep them fresh.  Why is that good?  The Patriots can presumably go no huddle the times that the backups are in the game.  Thus obviously keeping the starters on the bench.  Unless the Eagles are willing to take penalties and/or use timeouts.  Which also would be beneficial to the Pats.  Not to mention the fact that running a lot of plays would seem to wear down those fat hogs on the line and perhaps the defense as a whole.  See, Falcons, Atlanta, Super Bowl LI.

*Malcolm Jenkins seems to have a reputation of being a very good player.  However, the rest of the secondary and linebacking corps don’t necessarily make me fret.  Saw a stat recently that showed that Philly’s defense is rather pedestrian on the road, for whatever reason.  Minneapolis is not Philadelphia, as you are well aware.  Eli Manning also carved them up late in the season, while having virtually zero weapons on offense.  This should make Eagle fans a little nervous since, you know, Manning is done.

If Jenkins and say, a linebacker, take Gronk, then that leaves the rest of the secondary to take on the Patriot receivers.  Brandin Cooks had a pretty good game against Jacksonville, despite one horrific drop.  Danny Amendola is money.  But I also have a gut feeling that this is the week that Chris Hogan decides to show up again.  I wouldn’t bet serious money on it, but it’s a lingering thought I haven’t been able to dismiss.  Would be a nice story, since Hogan has been hurt/invisible for most of the year.  We’ll see…

*Doug Pederson is from the “Andy Reid coaching tree”.  What that essentially means is if this game is close in the 4th quarter, expect horrible game decisions and inexcusable clock mismanagement.  There is no way around that.  Pederson is also coaching in his first Super Bowl (with a backup quarterback…more on him next), Belichick his eighth.  This fact simply cannot be overstated.

*If Carson Wentz was playing in this game, I may have a different prediction.  Maybe not, but the point is moot.  Nick Foles is the QB.  Foles had a monster season a few years back in his first go-round in Philly.  But has done little since.  Ergo, that’s why he is a backup QB.

People seem to be overrating Foles at this point, simply because he had that one monster year and…he did play well against a good Viking defense in the NFC Championship.  But have those same people seen the rest of the games Foles played this year?  Wasn’t pretty.  In fact, the Eagles had to go back to some plays that were in Chip Kelly’s playbook to make Foles feel more comfortable.  I don’t necessarily think this is a great thing.  Kelly is also close pals with Belichick.  And likely is still vengeful toward the Eagles after his treatment there.  Maybe he deserved it, but still, that doesn’t change his feelings.  In any event, I’m guessing there was a conversation between Bill and Chip during the prep time.  Of course, Pederson also probably spoke to Reid as well, so maybe it’s a wash.

One thing is for sure though…Nick Foles is not going to single-handedly beat the Patriots.

*I’m praying that Pederson runs the ball 40 plus times with LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi to “keep the ball out of Brady’s hands”.  This will not beat the Patriots.  Will he be that stupid?  I don’t think so, but you can’t underestimate some people.  Oh, and if Blount can fumble early in the game like last year, that would help me a great deal.  Thank you in advance.

*Speaking of Philly running backs, we all know Blount has hands of stone and judging by the numbers, Ajayi doesn’t do much damage catching the ball either.  This is favorable for the Pats.  We know their linebackers may be the worst collection of stiffs I have ever seen.  I don’t care how many sacks special teamer Marquis Flowers had in the last two regular season games against the Bills and Jets.  And if I see Elandon Roberts try to cover ANYONE in the Bowl…

*One big concern for the Patriot defense against the Philly offense is that Philly doesn’t have that ONE dude that Bill usually likes to take out of the game and let the others beat them.  They have a bunch of dudes that can do some things.  This undoubtedly makes things a little more difficult to prepare for.  My guess is that they try to take away tight end Zach Ertz first.  But then you have Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and to a lesser extent, Blount and Ajayi and to an even lesser extent, but perhaps on a deep shot or two, Torrey Smith.  Corey Clement may actually be someone to fear more than a smidge as well.  As poor as the Patriots’ third down defense has been recently, this has to be a big concern for the team.  Even with the two weeks to prepare.  A lot of options.

*One thing about the Eagle offense that they themselves should be concerned about is that Jason Peters is not at left tackle.  Peters is supposed to be awesome, from all the people who actually watch offensive line play.  But he is hurt.  His backup, some Vaitai character with a real long first name, has apparently struggled.  The Pats D-Line is no juggernaut, as we all know.  But maybe Trey Flowers makes his presence felt?

*Aside:  Philly fans are absolute lunatics.  This is absolutely no secret.  I’m glad I’m not in Minny, as one of them may try to set me on fire.  Better to let them do that to someone else.

*Aside, Part II:  Loved Jeffery predicting a win.  You be you, brutha!  Don’t teams ever learn?

*Aside, Part III:  Just for fun, with everyone on the active roster being “healthy” (ie:  not injured enough to be listed on the injury report), here’s my take on the inactive list:  Mike Gillislee (wasted year), David Harris (why bother even having him this season?), Alan Branch (too bad he apparently packed it in this year.  He’s pretty damn good when he’s engaged), Bernard Reedy (who?), Kenny Britt (glad you came for the ride!), Jacob Hollister (sorry, just no room kid) and…Cole Croston (yup…who?).  That seemed fairly easy, though don’t rule out Belichick surprising people.  Like the year he released Tiquan Underwood the day before the Super Bowl, so he could activate someone from the practice squad (Alex Silvestro and yes, I just had to look that up) to have an extra defensive lineman available.

*Aside, Part IV:  I don’t want to hear any more about injuries…Wentz’ specifically.  Sure, having him healthy and active would probably put a different spin on this game.  But you don’t think the Pats wish they had Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower, among others?  EVERY team loses key players EVERY season.  Deal with it.

*Aside, Part V:  I don’t want to hear about the officials either.  The Patriots have historically have had plenty of bogus calls go against them as well.  No different from any other team.  Those things tend to even out over time.  And I would bet that officiating will not be a factor in this years’ Super Bowl either.

*Dion Lewis…PLEASE hang on to the ball.  Thank you.  I have a hunch you may be catching the ball quite a bit and not running it as much.  Hopefully that helps.

*Rex Burkhead WILL make a few plays.  Perhaps out of the slot.

*Stephen Gostkowski has had a nice career.  But my confidence, and likely Patriot fans’ confidence, in him is not where it was a few years back.  Let’s make him a non-factor, ok?

*With “Tom vs. Time” and “The Two Bills” and all that crap going on this week, it would appear Brady and Belichick are putting some unnecessary pressure on themselves to win this game.  Like, why did they do these now?  Tom certainly and Bill probably had some say in when these would come out.  Why add this to the mix before the game if you really don’t need to?  It probably doesn’t matter, what do I know?  It just doesn’t seem like normal operating procedure for the two of them though.

Ok, that seems like enough.  Prediction time…oh, one more thing.  I love Seth Wickersham of ESPN picking the Pats to win 38-9.  Yeah, the same guy who wrote that piece about New England organizational discord several weeks ago.  I’d love to have his back on that prediction and see it come to fruition.  But…

New England 27, Philadelphia 24.

Week (against the spread):  1-1

Week (straight up):  2-0

Season (against the spread):  142-124

Season (straight up):  180-86

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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

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.

Quarterback:

Players under contract:  Tom Brady, Jacoby Brissett, Jimmy Garoppolo

Free agents:  None

What I would do:  Look, I would love to keep Garoppolo around if he truly is the “next big thing”.  And Bill Belichick normally would keep the 25-year-old and trade the 39-year-old…999,999 times out of a million.  But we all know Brady is a special case and is that one exception.  I really don’t know if he can play until he’s 45 or so.  The end can come quick.  And I am sure Jimmy Football wants to play.  Some people think if you hand him a boatload of money, he will sit on the bench the next 5 years waiting for Brady to retire/fall apart.  I don’t see it.  The Pats are unlikely to tie up serious dough in two QB’s anyway.

They can certainly keep Jimmy next season and let him walk after the season for just what they would receive for his part in the compensatory draft pick process.  I’ve thought about that.  But if teams are willing to overpay for Garoppolo now and the Patriots are sticking with Brady until the end, why would you pass the overpayment up?  If the speculation that Jimmy could bring a huge return in a trade is bogus, then I’d keep him for insurance and let him walk next year and get that pick.  If the Patriots only get a mid-second round pick in reality for Jimmy now, why bother?  May as well keep him.  If there is truly a bidding war for him now, see ya!

What I think will happen:  Pretty much what I just said.  If they get a huge return, Jimmy is gone.  If not, he stays.  I don’t see how some of these reports out there now say that he is absolutely not getting traded under any circumstances can be accurate.  Bill seems to have everyone available at the right price.  I mean, if a team offered like 6 first round picks for Brady, do you think Brady would still be here?  Radical example, I know.  But you get the point.

If Jimmy goes, reports have also said the Pats aren’t prepared for Brissett to be the primary backup…yet.  So maybe they get a veteran backup.  Maybe those reports are also bogus and they draft another QB to develop instead.  Brady himself made a huge jump from his first year to his second and became the primary backup in that second year.  No, I am not comparing Brissett to Brady, but could the same thing happen here?  Perhaps.  We know the team loves Brissett.  And that he works hard and has a good head on his shoulders, etc.  Ultimately, I am guessing that, other than what goes on with Garoppolo, QB will not be a high priority this spring/summer.

Running back:

Players under contract:  D.J. Foster, Tyler Gaffney, Glenn Gronkowski (FB), Dion Lewis, James White

Free agents:  LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (FB),

What I would do:  Lewis and White have one year left on their deals at about 1.5 mil and 800k respectively.  I see no reason not to have them both back.  Despite the fantastic Super Bowl, I remain not a huge fan of White.  He trips over yard lines too much and gets caught from behind in the open field almost always.  He absolutely cannot run the ball out of a standard offensive set.  And Lewis doubtfully will ever make it through a 16 game season, plus any playoffs.  So they will again need some help.

Can we please upgrade from Blount though?  He is dominant against bad rush defenses.  But less than average against good ones.  Playoff time this past year?  Not so good.  So can they get a guy that is at least average against the good teams?  I’m not talking about getting an Adrian Peterson-in-his-prime-type.  Or even Jamaal Charles.  Just someone better.  Anyone.  A bigger back better than Bolden or Gaffney to back up that starter would be nice too.

What I think will happen:  We will see the same group back as last year.  Lewis and White on their reasonable deals.  Blount, Bolden and Develin are Belichick favorites and they will all sign for next to nothing to come back.  Foster will spend another year at the end of the roster or practice squad to see if he can replace White in 2018.  The “other Gronk” will be on and off the practice squad.  Gaffney will get hurt in the preseason for the 4th straight year and head to Injured Reserve again.  But hey, I think he has 2 rings to show for his career, so there is that…

Next:  The remainder of the offense.

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