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Not There Yet…and Week Five Picks…

…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

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Should Bill Belichick be fired?

Made you look!  The answer is…of course not!  That would be colossally stupid on the part of Robert Kraft and the New England Patriot organization.

I have to tell you though, some of the coaching decisions made since the team started out 10-0 this year have left me scratching my head.  Based on reactions from the general public discussed in print, talk radio, donut shops and everywhere else, I am not alone.

We all know Bill is an arrogant S.O.B. (my Steeler, Giant and Jet “friends”, among others, remind me of this often).  There are certainly times he acts as if he is smarter than everyone else.  I will allow for that.  The fact is, he IS often smarter than everyone else.  But the last 2 months or so, he may have just been outsmarting himself.

Look, the better team won this past Sunday.  Well, the Denver Broncos were/are not necessarily the better team overall, but they sure as hell were a few days ago.  There is no disputing that fact.  The Pats played about as poorly overall as I can remember them ever playing…in the Brady/Belichick era, that is.  They of course played much worse during the Rod Rust season and several other prior years as a whole.  We don’t need to be reminded of that.  Or actually, do we?  The Pats have been generally great for a couple of decades now.  Too many people have forgotten what a doormat this franchise was for its first 3-4 decades of its existence.  But I digress…

The Broncos were a big part of the reason the Pats played poorly.  Many locals are overlooking that fact.  The makeshift offensive line had absolutely no answer for their pass rush.  Even if they did provide Brady more time, would he have been able to find Julian Edelman more?  Not sure.  Chris Harris Jr. seemed to have Jules under wraps.  And the complete non-existence of a rushing game made it possible for the Broncos to just completely play the pass.  I’m not one of these guys that thinks it’s necessary to “ground and pound” and to have complete 50/50 pass/run balance.  But 70/30 maybe?  75/25?  Not 100/0 or 95/5, which is what the Patriots had Sunday.  Absolutely no one had any fear of Steven Jackson, Brandon Bolden or James White rushing the ball (I wouldn’t either).  So the Broncos could tee off on Brady.  Would LeGarrette Blount have made a difference?  Not necessarily, but more than the aforementioned three.  Dion Lewis may have.  Either way, it would have been nice to have SOMETHING back there.

Back to Bill and his decisions though.  As poorly as the Patriots played, my feeling is that if the game was in Foxborough, they would have won…by double digits at least.  As soon as they lost the last regular season to an inept Miami Dolphin team, I was lamenting the fact that they would have to go through Denver to get to the Super Bowl again.  Sorry, I was not buying the Steelers, Texans, Chiefs or Bengals (especially without Andy Dalton) as real competition.  It is well chronicled how the Patriots and Brady have struggled there historically.  It’s just a place that a lot of teams do not want to play at.  Knowing this as well as he surely knows it, why did Bill not fight harder for the #1 seed?

Let’s look back at specific decisions by Bill that still get under my skin.  And I can assure you, they did very much at the time too:

*Having a rookie (Chris Harper) who barely plays return punts in the hostile environment of Denver in the 4th quarter with a 2 TD lead.  Sure, no Edelman or Danny Amendola took away your first (and maybe only reliable) options.  But Keshawn Martin had plenty of experience (though not here…as of that point) returning punts.  Patrick Chung also had caught one previous punt in the game.  Harper had juggled a punt or two beforehand.  SOMEONE just catching the punt and then running a few plays taking some time off the clock…maybe ices the game.  A mistake may kill you.  It did…or helped immensely anyway.  Don’t put the kid in that position.

*Rugby kicks against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Yup, that’s “kicks” in plural.  Up 2 TD’s against a team that was about to quit on not only the game, but the season.  No need to screw around.  Play it straight and all the other crap that happened in the game doesn’t happen.

*Deferring the kickoff in OT against the Jets.  Sometimes if the weather is a factor, this may actually be a good move.  It worked for Belichick in the past.  But no need to do it in this instance.  The weather wasn’t a factor.  And…IT’S THE FREAKIN’ JETS!!  I don’t care what their record was this year and that they almost made the playoffs.  They still suck.  And proved it by losing the last regular season game the following week to the Bills to eliminate themselves from the playoffs.  Take the ball.

*EVERYTHING against the Dolphins.  Terrible team, lame duck coach, cornerback’s wife ripping the QB, one foot on the bus for the winter, etc.  I don’t care if Miami has also been a difficult locale for the Pats historically.  This game should have been a cakewalk, especially considering the circumstances.  What the hell was the game plan?  It was like they were trying not to win.  Consistently running the ball into a brick wall?  I get giving Jackson some carries to see where he was at.  But only 5 passes in the first half?  A lot of injured players sat out.  Fine.  But if your goal was to protect injuries, why were Brady, Gronk, McCourty, Chung and other key or banged up guys out there for the whole game?  Granted you can’t sit everyone, someone has to play.  But in this case, absolutely not Brady or Gronk and maybe others.  This whole game plan was just mystifying to me.

*Last Sunday.  Winning the toss and NOT deferring surprised me, but I was ok with that actually.  Theoretically going down and scoring right off the bat would have been beneficial, no doubt.  But Malcolm Butler seemingly playing 20 yards off Emmanuel Sanders on an early third and long to prolong a drive?  Not kicking a field goal with about 6 minutes left to cut the lead to 5?  Seemingly not helping out the overwhelmed offensive line?  It’s not Bill’s fault Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for the first time in 45 years, but a lot of the small decisions after that just added up.

Of course, coming up with second guesses after the fact is pretty easy.  But I think a lot of people were in the same boat as the plays/games were actually happening.  Like…what is Bill thinking?  I mean, if Bill gets a ton of credit for not taking a timeout before Butler’s interception in the Super Bowl last year…inexplicably letting the clock run down as people like myself were screaming at the TV to take the timeout…and then it works out and it looks like he is a genius, shouldn’t he take some heat for some of these decisions that didn’t work out and look even worse after the fact?  No, certainly not to fire him.  But make him a little more accountable?  Usually, as long as the Pats win, Bill can be as big an arsehole as he wants and generally owes no one any explanations.  That’s pretty much how I feel.  This time just feels different…

Especially since within the last couple of days a couple of assistant coaches got canned.  So they were the problem?  Dave Deguglielmo (yup, I just looked up the proper spelling) may have had tough shoes to fill after Dante Scarnecchia’s departure.  And maybe he does suck as a OL coach.  What do I know?  But here’s what I do know:  the OL was in shambles from Day One this year.  Last year’s Super Bowl winning line?  Nate Solder only played a handful of games.  Dan Connolly retired.  Bryan Stork played less than a half a season.  Ryan Wendell played 13 SNAPS.  Sebastian Vollmer played most of the year, but some at the opposite tackle, and some he was clearly banged up.  Throw in a few rookies in Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Tre’ Jackson getting tons of snaps.  Starters for most of the year, but better suited as backups in Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon (if EVEN a backup for Cannon).  Practice squad guys like Cameron Fleming playing key roles at times.  Centers playing tackle for the first time ever (Stork)…and on and on and on…yikes!!  How was the sieve that was the OL all “Gug’s” fault?  Bill gave him the players.  And then some of the better ones were hurt.

Maybe the injuries were too much?  We will never know.  We do know a great deal of the team was hurting.  But how bad?  This is where Bill could come clean a little more now.  There are no more games and he doesn’t have to be secretive anymore.  Yes, I know that if he/the team are honest, people will look at it as them making excuses.  Since every NFL team has many players playing hurt.  But we’d all love to know.  After all, Jerod Mayo’s “shoulder” injury apparently was a torn pectoral muscle.  Sssssssoooo…who else was that bad?

Regardless, the season is over.  All in all, I suppose it was a good one.  But…can both teams lose in the Super Bowl now?

 

Changing of the guard

Hope that title wasn’t used yet in any publications or anything relating to the Logan Mankins trade.  I’m sure it has been, but I haven’t seen it.  So I am just going to consider myself clever for coming up with it and leave it at that.  I’ll let everyone else form their own opinions about it.

Sssssoooo…after processing this trade for a day and a half, my initial inclination still stands.  I don’t love it, but can see why it happened.  And I don’t think it makes the Patriots a better team right this second.  But I don’t think it will kill them either.

Logan was a leader on this team, no question.  Carried a lot of weight in that locker room.  Captain.  Long-time veteran.  Perennial All-Pro.  Etc.  But made a lot of money for an offensive guard.  Was aging, though guards seem to play longer than most other positions, I will allow.  And his play had slipped a bit, though I will also allow he was still pretty damn good.  Or seemed to be anyway, I don’t have tangible proof of that, based on the fact that I watch zero game tape like Jaws does and therefore really don’t analyze all the offensive line play.  Maybe he really wasn’t an All-Pro anymore, but still seemed to be reliable, at the absolute worst.  Notice how I am not mentioning how he has all these Pro Bowls to his credit…talk about a joke selection process, especially for offensive linemen.  They can get in every year based on reputation.  So let’s leave that talk alone.

I always thought the salary thing would get in the way after this upcoming season.  I mean, the Patriots had the cap room this year to cover him.  Shoot, they may have even had the cap room to cover him next year, with Brady’s salary going down and the cap rising, among other factors.  But if you factor in Brady probably renegotiating to a higher cap figure, guys like Devin McCourty needing to be re-signed, and of course the whole Darelle Revis most assuredly needing to get paid to stay next year and beyond…then Mankins cap hit in 2015 would likely be a problem.

But now?  Should’ve been able to carry him.  Especially when the offensive line has a huge amount of question marks already.  I think the retirement of Dante Scarnecchia is way overplayed in these parts, but the fact does remain that the offensive line coach is new.  Because of that, there will be an adjustment with that transition, no avoiding it.  Brady ain’t getting any younger, so having the best linemen up front is kinda important.  We want the best players, right?  They’d still be able to carry some kids for the future, have Mankins for another year as a reliable lineman and be able to absorb the cap hit.

But that’s the beauty of the Pats sometimes.  They don’t get bogged down in sentimentality…someone that was great for the franchise for several years, even coming up through the system, can be jettisoned at any given time for any given reason, but primarily because they think it will be the best move for the franchise going forward.  They have been known to move on from players “one year too early, instead of one year too late”, correct?  Now, you can debate some of the dudes they have let go and more specifically, the timing of when they were traded/released.  Like in the cases of Deion Branch, Lawyer Milloy and Richard Seymour most notably.  The timing of those three moves crushed the locker room.  They were exactly as stated above, longtime Patriot stars that were drafted by the team and developed into superstars (or at least very good, key players) and then were unexpectedly pushed out of town by trade.  Either on the eve of the season, or soon after it started.  But once the players realized they had to move on, did it affect the team?  You could argue Branch’s exit may have, since their WR’s that year were putrid.  But I am not sure the latter two moves affected the team at all.  The Pats weren’t that great the year Seymour was ushered out.  But I’m not sure that had much to do with him personally.

I wonder if the Patriots would have released Logan if a trade wasn’t agreed upon?  Sources were coming out today saying that Tim Wright would have been released by the Bucs by the end of the week.  I’m not sure I buy that, even if he wasn’t exactly fitting into the new system over there.  But it would seem that maybe both guys were on the hot seat, and the partners were a good match.  After all, the Bucs were looking at Richie Incognito!  And Timmy Wright is the new Aaron Hernandez!  Ummmm…ok, I don’t want to hear that comparison again, that goes for on or off the field.  Wright may be a “move” tight end, but let’s pump the brakes on saying he will be A-Hern…slam the brakes actually.  I suppose the return is ok for someone that may have been on the way out anyway.  But that remains to be seen.  Either way, adding another weapon for Brady in the passing game and another draft pick can’t hurt.  They also should be able to replace Mankins on the line, even if it may take a bit.  We are not talking about replacing Brady here folks, it shouldn’t be that bad.

So as stunning as it may have been.  As poor as the timing was.  As pissed off as the players are.  I feel that the Patriots will survive.  Understatement, I know.  But come back to me if the line sucks in Week 13.

Beyond all of this though…and it has been in the back of all of our minds for a while I know…it makes you wonder even more what will happen when the organization one day decides that SOMEONE will be a better quarterback for the New England Patriots than one Tom Brady.  Could it be Jimmy Football as soon as next year?  Especially if Brady squawks at his low base salary at age 38?  Or someone else that comes along (er…not you Ryan Mallett)?  We’re gonna find out soon enough folks.  But you think Branch/Milloy/Seymour/Mankins/etc. were “situations”?  That’ll be a whooooooole new ballgame.

 

 

 

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