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Was it a Dream?

Welp, Bill Belichick thought it may have been, so he re-watched the Super Bowl a mere few hours after the actual game.

Yup, a week and a half later I am still on the Super Bowl.  I would have normally been onto the Pro Bowl.  But they started playing that the week before the Super Bowl several years back.  So…forget about that I guess.

Anyway, my apologies to anyone who may actually be paying attention.  Snow storms and real life kind of got in the way recently.  Plus, I wanted to replay the game as well…because I definitely wanted to hear every single thing Joe Buck and Troy Aikman had to say from my own living room instead of a somewhat noisy bar.  Wait…not for that reason.  But to make sure I didn’t miss anything worth noting.  That hasn’t been noted a thousand times already.

But guess what?  There’s probably not that much that hasn’t been dissected in this game already.  By everyone under the sun.  So I won’t regurgitate most of the obvious stuff.  We all know about the early Patriot miscues (turnovers, drops, missing wide open receivers, long gainers on defense, Tom Brady getting hit a ton, etc.), Julio Jones’ great catches (specifically his last one), Julian Edelmans’ own fantastic catch, James White’s emergence, Danny Amendola’s re-emergence, Brady’s and Belichick’s greatness, Dan Quinn’s questionable play calling down the stretch, leading into the colossal collapse by the Falcons…and all that.  But I do want to point out a few nuggets that I personally thought were interesting though.  Maybe people have talked about them.  But if they have, they haven’t been talked about enough.

First, stop all this nonsense about this being “The Greatest Super Bowl EVER”.  Just not the case.  The final score was close and the game went into overtime, but that doesn’t make the game actually great.  Essentially, the Atlanta Falcons dominated the first 50% of the game and the New England Patriots dominated the second 50%.  That hardly makes for a great game.  Helluva a comeback definitely.  But that may sum it up.  You could point to a handful of even recent Super Bowls and call them better overall games…including pretty much any of the previous six for the Pats under Belichick.  That’s kind of why the Blowhard isn’t chirping about his 38-27 prediction being close to the 34-28 final.  Because it really didn’t play out the way he thought.

Let’s move on to the game plan.  I look back at some of these Super Bowls the Pats have been in and don’t see the best coaching jobs.  Sorry.  Belichick has this reputation where he is unbeatable after two weeks of preparation.  Maybe in the regular season, especially when the opponent is not coming off a bye.  Though that didn’t even work this year when they lost to a Seattle team coming off a short week and flying cross-country to Foxborough.  In the Super Bowl, the other team ALSO has two weeks to prepare.  I think some people lose sight of that.

Now, I didn’t advocate having Brady come out and throw 62 passes.  The last thing I wanted was to get in a shootout with Atlanta.  That would have been a no-win situation.  So I wanted some kind of balance for sure.  And some sort of ball control.

But force feeding LeGarrette Blount early?  And sending him out on sweeps?  Sure, Atlanta was supposed to be terrible against the run.  But remember, the Falcon defense is young and fast.  Blount was not going to beat them wide.  Why not Lewis on those plays?  And then when Blount was stuffed inside as well, how ’bout changing some stuff there as well?  Oh yeah, they did eventually.  But I thought it took waaaaay too long.  And I know, they were actually moving the ball well and the turnovers killed them.  But still…I suppose my biggest beef with this whole thing is the very first drive.  It would have changed everything likely if the Pats went down and scored a touchdown, maybe even a field goal.  But they sent Blount on a sweep that had no chance on 3rd and 1.  That one still eats me up for some reason…

Going back to the coaching…I know, Super Bowl opponents are supposed to be the best the NFC has to offer.  So of course they are going to be harder to coach against.  Especially since being in the NFC means maybe the Patriots haven’t seen much of them throughout the year and have a lot to catch up on in preparations.  But still…who’s idea was the Edelman cross field throw?  Yikes!!  And going back to the old Super Bowls, don’t give me the “Belichick KNEW not to take that timeout against Seattle late…”.  Methinks he got lucky on that one.

Tom Brady is getting all kinds of accolades for his performance.  As he should.  But man, does he have some brain farts in these big games sometimes.  That pick-six was atrocious.  As was that first down play down by the goal line on the second to last play of the game.  If a defensive back was covering Martellus Bennett on that play, the ball may have very well have been picked off.  And then what happens?  Ok, this may be nitpicking.  And stuff that has been analyzed over and over.  But man, these still stick in my craw as well.

Dan Quinn has certainly taken a lot of heat for not running the ball down the stretch…and deservedly so.  But how about his (non) use of Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman?  I know, the Falcons only had the ball for like 23 minutes.  But Jones caught all of his 4 targets.  It appears that Eric Rowe and a safety had coverage on Jones frequently (with Logan Ryan on Mohamed Sanu and Malcolm Butler on Taylor Gabriel).  Although this may not have been the D on every play, it appeared to be mostly the case.  Rowe actually had good coverage on Jones’ amazing catch late in the game.  But are you telling me that Atlanta couldn’t have taken more advantage of that matchup, even with the two bodies on Jones?

And Freeman had 2 huge gains on his way to 121 yards on 13 touches.  Over 9 yards a play.  Take away the 2 long gainers and he still is over 4 a touch.  Even if the Pats slowed him down running the ball other than his one big play, the Falcons couldn’t have taken advantage of him more in space with someone like Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy or Elandon Roberts in coverage?  13 touches is way too low, and TWO targets is insanely low.  Maybe they didn’t want him out there a lot on passing downs seeing that he whiffed on Dont’a Hightower when he strip-sacked Matt Ryan.  But still, seemed like a severe under utilization to me.

Did the Patriots’ defensive game plan cause Freeman and Jones to be underused?  Perhaps.  But either way, seemed like the Falcons could have adjusted around it.  My thanks to them for not doing so however.  It helps when you don’t use your best two players that much, not counting Matt Ryan of course.

What was Patrick Chung catching that punt over his shoulder with his back to the play deep in Patriot territory in the 4th quarter for?  Talk about potential disaster.

Falcons were 1 of 8 on third downs.  Seems hard to believe.

Atlanta was penalized 9 times to New England’s 4.  But don’t complain about the refs.  3 of Atlanta’s penalties were on one drive and were legitimate defensive holding calls…and that drive ended when they brought the interception back to the house anyway.  I believe they declined one or two penalties on the Patriots as well.  The officials were not a factor in this game, I don’t believe anyway.  Falcon fans may point to the OT pass interference call being questionable.  But as tame as it may have been, those always seem to get called.  I’m actually really upset that Bennett didn’t catch that ball anyway.  He should have.

We will talk more about Bennett’s poor game overall, as well as the state of the offensive line and the kicker formerly known as Stephen Gostkowski some other time.

Interesting game, emotional roller coaster for both teams, exciting finish…for Patriots fans anyway.  A lot more words than I expected to write here.  Hope it added some kind of value.  In any event, that’s a wrap!

Super Bowl:  1-0 (1-0 against the spread).

Total:  7-4 (6-5 against the spread).

Finished better than .500…phew!!

And The Winner Is…

…wait, I’m still thinking!

Almost two weeks have passed since the NFL Conference Championship games and could I possibly still be thinking about who is going to win the Super Bowl?

Perhaps.

It could simply be because my heart is telling me one thing and my head is telling me something a smidge different.

What is my heart telling me?  That the New England Patriots should win this game by 2-3 touchdowns.  Not only because I am a total homer either.

In my head?  Lots of things.  That the Pats have played 6 Super Bowls in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era and the largest margin, win or lose, has been 4 points.  That all of those have gone down to the bitter end.  That the Pats have somehow not scored in the first quarter of ANY of those 6 games.  That the Las Vegas line has not budged since opening up at Pats minus 3, with more of the money coming in on the Pats that would then normally cause a line to be bumped up to get more money coming in on the Falcons…since, you know, Vegas doesn’t like to lose money.  Since Vegas is usually smarter than all us Joe Blows, this would suggest they “know” something.  And all that…

So why do I think the Pats SHOULD win this game handily?  There are actually a lot of reasons for that as well:

*The Atlanta defense is PUTRID.  And that may actually be kind.  We’ve already talked about how they gave up the 6th most points in the league this year.  But also in all the coverage this week another nugget was unearthed that I hadn’t heard.  The Falcons were 32nd this year in red zone D.  Yup 32nd.  That’s LAST, in case you didn’t know how many teams were in the NFL.  You heard a lot of people say this week that “the defense got better as the season went along…”  Pretty easy to say I guess when your last 4 games were against the Rams, 49ers, Panthers and Saints…and they still gave up 32 to the Saints.

Pundits like to say the Patriots’ schedule was full of cream puffs this year and that may be true.  But take a look at the Falcons’ schedule.  Not a Murderer’s Row, by any stretch.  And they still gave up all those points.

*That very defense is young and inexperienced.  7 rookies or 2nd year players start.  They supposedly have a lot of team speed, but speed may not be able to make up for inexperience.  Sure, Dan Quinn has played Brady before and may know some things to do.  But if that doesn’t translate to the players performing well, then that knowledge means nothing.  One may say that because Brady hasn’t faced this defense, that may be an advantage for the Falcons.  But I am sure he has done his homework.  And he too has faced off against a Quinn defense before.  So obviously, it will come down to what happens on the field.  And Brady can make youngsters pay, regardless of the talent level.

*NFC Championship/front running.  “Experts” will tell you Atlanta smoked a hot Green Bay team 2 weeks ago.  But let’s revisit the game.  What if the Packers don’t miss a 41 yard field goal on their first possession?  Then what if they don’t fumble inside the Atlanta 10 on their second possession?  Game starts out a little closer, no?  Let’s take it further.  What if the Packer defender corrals the Falcon fumble that he should have to stop one drive?  Then what if the Packers don’t drop, not one, but TWO sure interceptions on another drive in which Atlanta scores a TD?  How many easy drops did Jared Cook and others on the team have the entire game?

I know, a lot of “ifs”, but if even half of the above happen, Atlanta does not run away with the game at least.  And Green Bay had no running backs, wide receivers that wouldn’t have played due to injury if it were the regular season and absolutely zero defensive backfield.  Give the Falcons credit.  They cashed in on all of the above, ran up a huge lead and never looked back.  Will that happen against the Patriots?

*Vic Beasley.  The Blowhard read a piece from Bill Barnwell of the 4 letter site a day or so ago, in which he included some info that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  If you are so inclined, you can read the piece here:

http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/18599645/barnwell-super-bowl-li-preview-new-england-patriots-atlanta-falcons

His piece included some interesting stuff on Beasley.  In summary, half his 15.5 sacks were in three games against backups and rookies…which I acknowledge (and Barnwell acknowledges) that all pass rushers beef up stats like this.

But the more interesting thing is that Vic rarely plays when the opposing offense has 2 or fewer wide receivers on the field.  Presumably running downs, you might think.  If the Pats trot out Dion Lewis on first down and run with Beasley off the field, then go no huddle with Lewis on second down and pass the ball…then Vic is still on the sideline in the scenario when he is most productive.  Will the Falcons change that up?  Not sure.  But they haven’t all year.

*The “experts” have told us for two weeks that “the Atlanta defense gave up a lot of garbage points after they were winning big and that makes the defense look worse.”  Ummmm, maybe in 3 of their 11 wins, as I looked back at all their games.  But I’m not buying that it happened all year.

*I think nationally that people are overrating the playoff win against Seattle as well.  Atlanta played well, no doubt.  But this wasn’t the same scary Seattle team of the past few years.  The Seahawk offensive line was in shambles.  Earl Thomas was out.  Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson apparently have been hurt all year and trying to push through their injuries.  Oh, and that long Devin Hester punt return was called back.  The Falcons deserved to win, no question.  But lets not get carried away.

I could ramble on some more, but what’s the point?  The Super Bowl can be unpredictable of course.  Two weeks of hype.  Half hour halftime.  Butterflies by even the most experienced veterans.  Players coming out of nowhere to be huge factors:  Chris Matthews, Larry Brown, Malcolm Butler, Timmy Smith, Dexter Jackson, Desmond Howard…the list goes on.  Eugene Robinson soliciting prostitutes the night before the Big Game the first time Atlanta was here…and getting busted.  Stanley Wilson drilling down some cocaine the night before the Bengals played in the Game for the second time.  And then some…

So enough already, who am I picking?  Well, here’s how I (think I) see it:  Green Bay was able to slow the Atlanta RBs down, so since that is a Patriot strength, I believe they will do the same.  The Pats will let Julio Jones get his yards.  They will allow the short stuff to the running backs and everyone else.  Bend, but don’t break, as they usually do.  We all know the Pats are not really a #1 defense, even though they allowed the least amount of points this year.  But they are better than the Falcons D.  They will probably dress an extra corner and play coverage most of the game.  I don’t see them doing a lot of blitzes or really putting a ton of pressure on Matt Ryan.

The Patriots should be able to move the ball any way they want to.  I don’t know if I see them going no-huddle and trying to engage in a shootout with the Falcons.  But they will mix in runs liberally with LeGarrette Blount and Lewis.  They will play ball control…to a point.  Julian Edelman will have a huge game.

Another feeling I can’t shake:  This has game has the feel of a guy like Logan Ryan coming through and making himself rich in the off-season…even richer than we thought for a guy who has largely had an uneven Patriot career, to be kind.

The verdict?  New England 38-27.  I hope…let’s also hope that Atlanta isn’t so fired up about hearing about legacies and 5th Super Bowl wins and if Roger Goodell is going to hand the Super Bowl and/or the Super Bowl MVP trophies to Tom Brady and what’s going to happen then.  And all the rest of that stuff.  The game will probably be closer than this and thus, closer than it should be.  But hopefully the Pats do it.  Cuz, you know, I’m a homer!!

Championship Games:  1-1 (1-1 against the spread).

Total:  6-4 (5-5 against the spread).

 

 

Patriots roster projection, v2

3 preseason games in the books.  Roster cutdown to 75 by Tuesday.  Seems like a good time to put out the next version.  82 players remain, including the QB with the suspension looming.  So 54 players will be left at the end.  Here goes:

QB (3):

Locks:  Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Suspended:  Tom Brady

No changes.  Still don’t see them adding a veteran.  Jimmy Football was not very good last night, and that is a little concerning.  Perhaps some of it had to do with the fact that Tommy Boy had to have his snaps and therefore Jimmy G could not find a rhythm?  Not making excuses, but worth considering.  In my opinion, Brady should not have played at all.  But I suppose he’s done enough for the organization that if he wanted the snaps, he should have gotten them…and did.  Brissett looked good.  But take that with a grain of salt considering the fact that a lot of the defense he was playing against may not be in the league as soon as Tuesday.

RB (5):

Locks:  Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount

In:  James White, James Develin, Tyler Gaffney

Out:  Joey Iosefa, D.J. Foster

Way Out:  None

PUP:  Dion Lewis

Only change is making Blount a lock.  And Donald Brown got cut already, if that counts.  Underwhelming group any way you slice it.  I could really care less about any of them to be honest.  Even Lewis.  Yup.  Lewis was great for what, 7 games last year?  And had done nothing in the league for the previous 4 years?  Sure, he was hurt a lot.  But injuries happen…and they happen to him too much.  Regardless, a lot of people act like losing Lewis is close to the end of the world.  It’s not.  Moving on…not completely sold on Gaffney.  Would love to see more of Foster, but he may be running out of time.  None of these guys seem to be any good in short yardage.  I don’t know why the Pats even bother running the ball in those situations.  Though, the offensive line also plays a part in that for sure.  Wouldn’t shock me to see a waiver wire pick up or two here before the season starts.  That seems to be a popular opinion around the team.

WR (5):

Locks:  Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell

In:  Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson

Out:  Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter

Way Out:  Devin Lucien

PUP:  Danny Amendola

Few changes here.  Because of Mitchell’s injury I added another receiver.  Unfortunately that receiver is Dobson.  Swapped Carter & Lucien, though neither makes it anyway.  I’d actually love it if Carter…or anyone…beat Dobson out.  No secret there.  And Carter does seem to be getting a lot of love.  Never know.  Martin is no Hall of Famer either, but he signed that 2 year extension last year, so he’s likely safe.  Harper may forever be doomed by that lost fumble on a punt return against Denver last year.  To me, that was THE turning point of last season.  Maybe overstating it on one single play.  But once he dropped that ball, it sure felt different.  Right away.

TE (3):

Locks:  Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett

In:  A.J. Derby

Out:  Clay Harbor

Way Out:  Bryce Williams, Steven Scheu

Hemmed and hawed a bit on this one.  Ultimately went with Derby over Harbor.  I think at this point Derby has done enough where they couldn’t slip him through waivers to the practice squad.  But I’m not sure if he blocks well enough, which you really want your third TE to do best.  And A.J. dropped the one pass Brady threw to him last night…on a third down that would have been a first down, no less.  Not a good impression there.  So it wouldn’t shock me if they kept Harbor instead.  Then again, you should be able to find a “Clay Harbor” anywhere, especially after cuts.  It also wouldn’t shock me if they kept all 4 initially, and took one less receiver, using Gronk, Bennett and/or Derby as that extra WR.  Or kept the 4 and then waived Derby a couple of days after cuts to 53-man so that it was easier to move him to the practice squad when teams already have their rosters set and are less likely to make a claim.  Or keep Derby, cut Harbor and re-sign him after Week 1, when salaries are not guaranteed.  One thing is for sure:  I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this…

OL (9):

Locks:  Nate Solder (LT), Shaq Mason (G), Joe Thuney (G), David Andrews (C), LaAdrian Waddle (T), Marcus Cannon (RT), Josh Kline (G/C)

In:  Jonathan Cooper (G), Ted Karras (G)

Out:  Chris Barker (G), Cameron Fleming (T),

Way Out:  Keavon Milton (G), Jon Halapio (G)

PUP:  Sebastian Vollmer (RT), Tre’ Jackson (G)

Oops…guess Bryan Stork wasn’t a “lock” after all.  Stork was credited with being the stabilizing force on the line once he entered into the lineup during the 2014 Super Bowl year.  Less than 2 years later he was dumped for next to nothing.  Hmmmmm.  I’m guessing the concussion history was the deciding factor.  But maybe there’s more to that story.  Anyway, this situation is still in more than a little disarray.  Vollmer may be done for the year.  Jackson and Cooper have not returned from whatever ails them.  Mason broke his hand.  Cannon is still a starter.  Solder hasn’t exactly looked great.  Karras was the starting RG last night.  Kline basically sticks because he appears to be the backup center now.  Ugh, and…yikes!  My guess is there will be some waiver activity here around cut day as well.

DE (5):

Locks:  Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Swapped Flowers and Grissom, but with the injuries to Ninkovich and Sheard they both likely make it anyway.  May be able to get away with limited bodies here if the linebackers they keep play a role in this position.  And they most assuredly will.

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Vincent Valentine

In:  Marcus Kuhn

Out:  Terrance Knighton, Joe Vellano, Anthony Johnson

Way Out:  Woodrow Hamilton

Little thin here, but maybe they can get Johnson on the practice squad.  Looked great in Game #2 and showed up ok in Game #3.  But is it enough?  Knighton played in the 4th quarter of Game #2 and apparently not at all in Game #3.  Never a good sign.  Maybe he is cut and comes back later.  Branch was suspended for whatever by the team, but not released.  Should mean he stays.

LB (5):

Locks:  Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McLellin, Jonathan Freeny, Barkevious Mingo

In:  None

Out:  Rufus Johnson, Elandon Roberts, Kevin Snyder, Ramon Humber

Way Out:  None

Freeny apparently signed an extension today, so that makes him a lock.  Humber, Roberts and Johnson are all victims of a numbers game here.  Humber’s probably a guy you can move on and off the roster at your convenience…if he goes for that.  Roberts started last night and that was a bit of a surprise.  Not sure that puts him on the team though.  Johnson seems to have his moments, but as is the case with the other Johnson above, is it enough?  Who knows what Mingo brings, but since he was just traded for, hard to see him not making it.

CB (5):

Locks:  Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones

In:  Justin Coleman, Cre’Von LeBlanc

Out:  Jonathan Jones, Darryl Roberts

Way Out:  None

Looks like I was way off on LeBlanc.  So much so that I am putting him on.  Played seemingly the entire game last night and has gotten some love all through camp.  We shall see on Coleman, Jonathan Jones and Roberts.  Leaning toward the guy that played last year here though.  After missing all of last year, Roberts may be able to slide to the practice squad.  It appears the team likes Jonathan Jones and probably hopes he can slip through to the practice squad as well.

S (4):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

In:  None

Out:  Vinnie Sunseri

Way Out:  None

Really nothing to talk about here.

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Brandon King (ST), Nate Ebner (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Injured Reserve:  Kamu Grugier-Hill (ST)

Taking one IR guess…and it’s Grugier-Hill.  He did not play last night and I don’t even know if anyone knows why.  I’m guessing that they have/will come up with something to keep him in the organization without exposing him to waivers because I think they like him.  He’s a little small for his listed position of LB, so maybe they want to keep him around to work with him more and build him up…and all that.  Just a hunch.  The rest here were pretty easy.

7 cuts to get to 75 Tuesday:  Iosefa, Scheu, Williams, Milton, Halapio, Hamilton, Knighton

Practice squad stab:  Foster, Carter, Harper, Lucien, Fleming, both Johnson’s, both Roberts’, Jonathan Jones

Until v3…

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