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Champs…Yet Again…

…surprised?  I am a little bit…actually, a lot.

Sure, the New England Patriots have a ton of talent.  But, on paper, was it on par with teams like the Los Angeles Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints?  Not so sure about that.  Not to mention having to play the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.  With that atrocious (for them) road record this season.

But that’s why they play the games, as they say.

Plus…the Pats have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  So there is that…

Now, Brady didn’t exactly play his best last Sunday.  But did he need to?  I guess not the way the defense played.  And with how putrid Jared Goff looked.  Then again, it would have been nice to see some points on the board.  And not waiting until about seven minutes left to score a touchdown.  But that’s what happens when you don’t give Brady many weapons.

I’m not sure what happened to Chris Hogan this year.  Hogan had been a fairly reliable wide receiver during his first two years with the team.  But completely disappeared for most of this year.  He supposedly fell out of the “Brady Circle of Trust”.  But seemingly came back in during the playoffs.  Zero for six in the Super Bowl for catches and targets, however.  Disgusting.  And Phillip Dorsett played a good amount of snaps and no one even saw him on the field I don’t think.  James White had one catch on four targets.  Surprisingly not part of the game plan in that respect, but apparently was chipping the Rams’ D-linemen often.  So we will give him a pass.

Other than that?  Just Gronk and Jules.  But I guess that is all you need…Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.  How could the Rams let those two catch ANYTHING?  Have to let those other stiffs beat you, no?

So the Pats won the game…with running and defense?  What, was this 2001 all over again?

Hard to believe.

When you look back, the running game wasn’t exactly stout the entire game.  154 yards is a nice total.  But it was also misleading.

What wasn’t misleading was the fact that the Patriots ran the ball down the Rams throat when it counted most.  Their last drive.  After Stephon Gilmore picked off a Goff floater inside their own five yard line with about 4 minutes left and the Pats up 10-3, the running game then took it to another level.  They marched down the field running the ball led by a pair of 26 yard runs, one each by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead.  (Though Michel couldn’t get two yards on a third and about a yard and a half, but we won’t nitpick too much).

That drive obviously sealed the game.  When is the last time that anyone could say the running game wrapped up a game for the New England Patriots?  The Corey Dillon days?  Usually, Brady would be throwing screens to guys like Edelman and White to get 3-5 yards and first downs because they couldn’t run the ball.  Seemed weird.  But it worked.

The Patriot defense? Sure, they played pretty well.  But was the performance overrated?  Perhaps.  Goff was absolutely abysmal, in all aspects.  And Todd Gurley can tell anyone he wants that he wasn’t hurt.  But that can’t possibly be the case.  He HAD to have been hurt.  10 carries in the Super Bowl?  A handful in the NFC Championship Game?  It’s noble for Gurley to deny his knee was a problem.  But we all know it was.

Not having a healthy Gurley was a huge blow for the Rams…and don’t give me “well, C.J. Anderson was lighting it up after they signed him…”.  Anderson isn’t Gurley.  I think we can all agree on that.  A player isn’t on three different teams in one season for no reason.

I’m sure this factor has been talked about ad nauseam this past week.  However, I have not been able to listen to a lot of the chatter, unfortunately.  But Sean McVay got taken to the woodshed in the game.  Simple as that.

According to people who watch film, and all the other information available that has been analyzed and re-analyzed, it appears that the Patriots had two different calls for the defense for every play…or a majority of them anyway.  One to show the Rams a look before the 15 second mark on the play clock and another for after the 15 second mark.

Why the 15 second mark?  Well, you have all heard about this too.  McVay can talk in Goff’s ear until then.  After that, the line of communication is shut off.  So McVay helped Goff before the time limit, then Goff was helpless thereafter.  Because the Patriots changed things up and Goff had no idea what to do.

My main question is:  How come no other team has figured that out?  I guess teams “do what they do” and don’t strategize to that degree.  Kind of a mistake I would say.  But then again, when you have the same coach and the same systems in place for almost two decades, I guess that makes it easier for a team to do.

My second question would be:  Wow, is Goff really that inept that he can’t figure things out on his own?  Makes you wonder if he is really a franchise type guy.  Not our problem I guess.  But worth noting nonetheless.

So there is your story:  Coaching, defense, running game…and maybe a dash of special teams.  Stephen Gostkowski did have 7 of the teams’ 13 points after all.  Yes, a little shaky.  But the job was done nonetheless.

For all those people who thought the game was boring?  I understand.  If you are not a fan of the teams, I imagine that more offense would have been what you wanted.  If you were like most of the country, wanting the Patriots to lose, well, having the Rams score only three points couldn’t have been that exciting for you.  And…we know that offense is now the name of the game.  See the 54-51 game between the Rams and Chiefs earlier this year.

The fact is, the Patriots should have scored more points.  How many times were they into Rams territory with nothing to show for it?  Plenty.  But defense is still a part of the game.  And fans should have been paying attention to that.  Wasn’t a boring game for the Blowhard.  Then again, being out in a pro-Patriot crowd while enjoying some (many?) adult beverages will often help that, I will allow.

In any event, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champions for the 6th time.  Deal with it.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again:  People, for some reason, fail to remember the years before Robert Kraft owned the team.  Many failures, few successes, lots of laughable moments.  Drug scandals, head coaches in the playoffs creating distractions by taking other jobs before the season is over (Chuck Fairbanks AND Bill Parcells), sexual harassment scandals (Lisa Olson), a bogus roughing the passer call (Sugar Bear Hamilton), the Rod Rust (1-15) era, the Sullivan’s and their decrepit stadium, Matt Millen punching one of the Sullivan’s, James Orthwein, Victor Kiam, etc., etc., etc.  The list can go on.

Patriot fans should make no apologies for the past two decades of dominance.  Because we all know the other side of it…and how fast things can change going forward.  Who knows what this organization will look like once Brady and Belichick retire?  I believe that as long as the team remains under the Kraft’s ownership (which should be a significant amount of time, as undoubtedly Jonathan Kraft will take over for his father Robert at some point), I expect no 2-14 or 1-15 seasons.  But that does not mean they will continue winning Super Bowls.

Let’s enjoy this run, ignore the haters…and go for the seventh next year!

Which leads me to what’s next for this Patriot’s team.  Welp, seemingly a lot of roster decisions.  A whole slew of free agents of varying importance.  And we will cover that in due time…

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  1-0

Season (against the spread):  147-120 (55.1%…1.5% better than last year!)

Season (straight up):  171-96 (64.0%…3.4% worse than last year…yikes!)

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Super Bowl…

…the Big Day is finally within sight.  The two weeks between the Championship games and the Super Bowl seem like an eternity, no?  Well, I suppose it is only that way for the fans of the participant teams anyway.  Sorry to you also-rans!

So we all know what happened by now in the Conference Championship games.  The Los Angeles Rams stole one from the New Orleans Saints…or did they?  And the New England Patriots held off the Kansas City Chiefs.

Back to the Rams.  Everyone has been talking like they shouldn’t have beaten the Saints.  All because of that non-penalty call on Nickell Robey-Coleman.  Sure, it was a penalty.  Sure, it should have been called.  And sure, the Saints would have been almost able to run out the clock after that.

BUT, everyone seems to forget that New Orleans had a 13-0 lead early on.  PLUS, it should have been 17-0, or even 21-0.  Are the Rams coming back from that deficit if it occurred?  Not so sure about that.

Ok, the Saints couldn’t get to 21-0, so I guess the point is not applicable.  But they had several chances to put the game away early on.  And didn’t capitalize.  So although they did get kind of screwed late, let’s not forget the rest of the game.

As for the Pats, well, that one was an Instant Classic.  Their defense dominated early, then Patrick Mahomes started lighting it up all over the place.  The Patriots absolutely got a few breaks, but hey, that’s what has happened to them during this Bill Belichick/Tom Brady run.  So I think everyone needs to accept it already!

All kidding aside, what a game.  But that has been analyzed left and right, top to bottom, so no need to dig down deep on it two weeks later.

Let’s focus on the present…and the immediate future…

New England (-2.5) “at” Los Angeles Rams

Let’s be honest right off the bat.  We are not going to sit here and pretend that we watched a ton of Ram football this season.  Certainly not any film, breaking down the line play and such.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t give some opinions, bogus or not!

We can say at 13-3, it was a helluva a season, sneaking out from the NFC Championship or not.  They scored the second most points in the NFL.  Explosive.  And since they will be playing indoors, that’s something that needs to be noted.

Sean McVay gets all the credit.  Boy genius and all that.  And he’s good.  But I have to tell you that having Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator on his side kind of scares the bejesus out of me.  I heard on the radio this week that the Pats have chewed up Phillips’ defenses on occasion.  Unfortunately, I only seem to remember Phillips being able to shut Tom Brady and the New England offense down.  Not sure why that is…guess it’s the recurring nightmares…ok, that was a little strong.

But Phillips and his crew do scare me a bit for sure.  Aqib Talib is pure gold when he speaks.  But he’s pretty f’n good when he’s on the field too.  Aaron Donald?  No explanation necessary.  Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters…there are some names out there.  And if they play to their capabilities, it feels like they can dominate.  Maybe that’s just me looking at names.  But still…

Robey-Coleman?  Nah.  Brady will look to torch him of course because of his comments earlier in the week…where he called Brady old and all.  And maybe Tom will.  But if NRC is covering Chris Hogan or Cordarrelle Patterson or Phillip Dorsett, Brady may not be able to take advantage of even that matchup.

Everyone always points to the fact that Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for this game and should dominate because he is so much smarter than everyone else.  But doesn’t the other team have the two weeks to prepare as well?  And what happened last year against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Bill had two weeks to prepare…and somehow thought that Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards were better options to have on the field than Malcolm Butler?  Yup…

What if Phillips comes up with a great game plan?  Maybe put Talib on Rob Gronkowski?  Like the Pats did when he was here, putting Aqib on Jimmy Graham.  Yeah, Gronk may not be Gronk this year.  But he is still dangerous.  Wade can come up with something himself in these two weeks.

But here is the twist…I think the Patriots try to run the ball down the Rams’ throat.  Just like against the Chiefs.  Time of possession.  Keep the explosive offense off the field.  Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, a little bit of James White and some old fashioned James Develin blocking.  Then unleash Brady when appropriate…although hopefully without that brutal interception at the goal line against KC.

Will it work?  No idea.  But expect a fair amount of those screens to White and Julian Edelman as well.  With Aaron Donald poised to wreak some havoc, Brady may not have a ton of time to throw.  Then again, the Pats line has played well.  Maybe Dante Scarnecchia comes up with another gem.

Although the Pats did not do this nearly as much as I would like this year, I have a feeling we see the hurry-up offense a little more on Sunday.  Yes, I did just say I feel like they will try to win time of possession by running the ball, so why the hell would I say that they will hurry up?  Welp, doesn’t mean that they won’t run the ball out of the hurry up.  I’m just thinking they will try to tire that D-Line out even more…by not allowing them to substitute.  Work quickly, but still eat clock.  I don’t know, just a gut feeling there.

The Rams may try to run the ball too.  Not exactly a Patriot strength.  But is Todd Gurley anywhere near 100%?  Doesn’t seem it.  C.J. Anderson has been nice.  But he’s not Gurley.  Especially catching balls out of the backfield.  Jared Goff will most assuredly go downfield more, but if Gurley is good to go, watch for plenty of short passes to him with the likes of Elandon Roberts trying to cover him.  Not ideal.

That being said, my guess is the Pats will let the Rams do what they please with the running backs and prevent guys like Brandin Cooks from getting by them deep.

One more thing to consider:  History.

This game will be played 17 years to the day after the Pats won their first Super Bowl against the high flying…St. Louis Rams.  Brady can win his sixth Super Bowl.  Would be a nice bookend.  The Pats can tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most wins in Super Bowls.  Etc.  Food for thought.

Experience?  Yeah, it can matter.  Talent usually wins out in the end, however.  Of course, lack of experience in this setting can make even the best dudes make the wrong decisions in crunch time.  Something to think about as well.

The Patriots are playing their “no one respects us” card again.  Kind of silly, but whatever works.  Hopefully, they are using last year’s Big Game as motivation too.  They should be.  Throw in the fact that the team could look a little different next year.  I know, every team looks a little different each year.  And Brady already said there is zero chance he is retiring.  But Gronk might.  And Devin McCourty threw that word around this week…though I am not sure that is likely.  But Dev and guys like Dont’a Hightower do have high cap numbers next year and aren’t the same players.  Could they be cut?  Trent Brown and Trey Flowers could cash in elsewhere.  There could be more turnover than usual next year.  And a 42-year-old quarterback that showed some decline this year, whether he wants to admit it or not (yes, I said it).

Some of us have been saying it for a while, but it is appropriate.  This really could be the New England Patriots’ “last hurrah”.

I expect they will take advantage of it.

New England 34, Los Angeles Rams 30.

Week (against the spread):  1-1

Week (straight up):  1-1

Season (against the spread):  146-120

Season (straight up):  170-96

Conference Championships…

…so the top two seeds in each conference will be playing in their respective championship games.  What a novel idea!  Let’s dive right in…

Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans (-3.5)

Both teams spent the better part of the 2018 season scoring a ton of points, but also giving up their fair share of points to boot.  Both had a few hiccups toward the end of the regular season.  Both are currently 14-3.  Seems to be a lot of similarities, no?

Both QB’s, Drew Brees of the Saints and Jared Goff of the Rams, didn’t exactly light it up down the stretch either.  Brees had good numbers last week, but if Alshon Jeffery didn’t let that pass go through his hands, there was a very real possibility that we aren’t even talking about New Orleans today.  Goff didn’t seem to do much last week against the Dallas Cowboys, but he really didn’t need to, since the team ran for like 600 yards.

The Saints handed the Rams their first loss back in Week 9, 45-35.  So what happens this week?  Welp, the point totals seem about right for one thing.

I’m not sure C.J. Anderson is going to continue to run as wild as he has been since he surfaced with the Rams.  But he might since he hasn’t played much this year overall.  Todd Gurley is Todd Gurley.  And of course, the Rams are plenty explosive in the passing game.  I know, so are the Saints.

Does having Aqib Talib in this game turn the tide for the Rams?  Well, he’s only one guy.  And LA spent a ton on top defensive players the last offseason yet still gave up plenty of scores all year long.  But having Talib available shouldn’t hurt them, I guess I can say that much.

I really don’t have any riveting analysis of this game, to be quite truthful.  It should be fun to watch.  Indoors, plenty of big plays.  And all that.  My gut is telling me the road team wins this though.

Los Angeles Rams 34, New Orleans 31.  

New England at Kansas City (-3.5)

Another rematch in this one, as the Patriots beat the Chiefs 43-40 in Foxborough back in Week 6.  And KC had Kareem Hunt back then.  But the Pats also had Kenjon Barner too.  So that evens it out.

All kidding aside, the Chiefs still have plenty of weapons without Hunt.  And more importantly, will be playing at home.  Thanks to the Patriots not being able to tackle on a final kickoff against Miami.  But we don’t need to revisit that now.  As Bill would say, “it is what it is”.

That “minor” detail though?  HUGE.  Arrowhead is a tough place to play.  For anyone, but also historically for the Patriots, no matter what kind of season it was for them.

I was surprised to see that Travis Kelce only had 61 yards in that Week 6 game.  The Pats have a lot of trouble covering tight ends.  That number could (should?) spike this week.  Hunt had over 100 yards receiving in that game, so there will probably be more targets for Kelce anyway.

Wouldn’t shock me if the Pats blanketed (or tried to) Kelce and Tyreek Hill and maybe even force them to run the ball with Spencer Ware and Damien Williams more, while also maybe sprinkling in a few Patrick Mahomes scrambles.  I really don’t know what the hell NE is going to do…that KC offense scares the bejesus out of me…especially against a very average Patriot defense.

KC’s D?  Not so great really.  But getting Eric Berry back and having Justin Houston available in this one when he didn’t play in the first game won’t hurt them.  They have some dudes that can get to the quarterback.  Sure, Tom Brady can get the ball out quick.  But still…

The weather?  Pffffft.  Don’t see much effect.  If original forecasts of single digits held true, I may have given the Pats a little bit of an edge there.  But the mid-20s and no wind?  Business as usual.

Wildcards?  Two that I can see.  One, how will Mahomes play in a game that means something?  He cruised through the regular season.  Then the Indianapolis Colts were so bad last week, that game pretty much didn’t count.  Now?  We will see.  I’m guessing he is fine.  But you never know.

Second wild card?  Andy Reid.  Yup.  There is a track record.  Inevitably, he will exhibit poor clock management.  That is a given.  But what else will happen?  Maybe this is the year he overcomes that though.

I suppose there is a third wild card:  the Patriots doing the whole “no one believes in us” nonsense.  All of that is completely silly.  But they’ve been known to use lesser things as motivation.

End result?  I hope I’m wrong.  But that stupid Miami kickoff return basically will play a big part in ending the Patriot season.  Arrowhead will be too much to overcome.  But the fact is, the Chiefs simply have the better team, as much as it pains me to say it.

Kansas City 31, New England 27.  

Week (against the spread):  2-2

Week (straight up):  4-0

Season (against the spread):  145-119

Season (straight up):  169-95

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