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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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Travesty, Pt II

So this time we will reference the debacle in Miami.  I know, this game has been rehashed over and over again.  But let’s do it again!

Key Points:

*There isn’t any question that Rob Gronkowski should not have been on the field for the final miracle play.  It simply wasn’t a Hail Mary situation.  I’ve never really been much of a fan of putting an offensive guy on the field for a defensive play like that anyway.

Taking Devin McCourty off the field in that situation seemed a little bizarre as well.  Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson or one of the lineman may have been a better choice.  Devin should have been on the field for sure…despite the fact that he really hasn’t been real good this year.

But I believe people are missing the bigger issue here:  the replays I saw showed a few guys kind of standing around apparently waiting for another player to make the play.  Missed tackles.  Bad angles.  And all that.  That type of play should pretty much NEVER work.  There were personnel decision issues, sure.  But the play should have never gotten to Gronk in the first place.

*Stephen Gostkowski can have a tendency to miss kicks in key situations.  And that was the case again Sunday.  But people calling for his head are being unreasonable.  That was the FIRST extra point he missed this year.  And he’s only missed a handful of field goals this season.  He has been a pretty successful kicker in this league for a long time.  Especially considering the elements he has to kick in often at home.

He’s no Adam Vinatieri, I grant you this.  But have you seen the kickers in this league?  And how many bums are parading around out there?  I’ve said it a million times before, there are only 32 kicking jobs in the NFL.  How come the league can’t find 32 decent kickers in the entire world?  Mystifies me.  Off the top of my head, there are a handful of kickers over 40 in the league now (Vinatieri, Matt Bryant, Phil Dawson, Sebastian Janikowski…I think these guys are all 40 plus, but if not they are close enough.  And there may be others).  There are no younger guys that can take these guys’ jobs like what happens at every other position on the field?

If you are one that wants Gostkowski out of town, be careful what you wish for.

*Tom Brady brain fart at the end of the first half.  All I can say is…wow.  I never in a million years would have thought I would ever see something like this.  Incredible that he didn’t throw it away.  Not to mention he missed a wide-open Chris Hogan in the end zone the play before.  I honestly think THIS play had more of an impact on the game than anything else.  They score a TD there and the Pats are up 34-21 at the half (or 33-21 if Gostkowski misses the point after, which I am sure some are thinking here).  The complexion of the game may have changed significantly if the Pats get this touchdown.  Not enough is being made of this, I can tell you that much.

*The defense.  Letting a 412-year-old Frank Gore and a career special teamer in Brandon Bolden carve you up for 152 yards on 14 carries is laughable.  Heat or no heat.  Letting an eminently mediocre and also hobbled Ryan Tannehill have an almost perfect quarterback rating is a joke.  I can’t even talk more about this unit.

*Running game.  A pretty uneventful 20 carries for Sony Michel.  The guy seems decent.  But I am still waiting to see what made him a first-round pick.  I actually like Rex Burkhead.  But he was invisible.  I know Brady is hurt or banged up or whatever you want to call it.  And you want to protect him a bit.  But if the running game is not working, go to what works.  And that was the passing game, for the most part.  And it usually is the passing game that works.  Has been for a long time.  Just do it.

That’s enough…let’s move on…

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City (-3.5)  

The Chiefs beat the Chargers by 10 in Week One…a long time ago.  The winner of this game probably has the best chance at winning the AFC West as well as locking up the #1 seed in the AFC.  KC has been a little pedestrian in recent weeks.  But the Chargers just barely beat the Bengals and their backup QB.  KC has scored 105 more points than LA, but they also have given up 81 more.  Eric Berry is supposed to be back, but will it matter?  I’m trying to figure out a way to pick the Chargers and I’m not sure why.  But with the game in Kansas City, I think we are going that route.

Kansas City 34, Los Angeles Chargers 28.  

Week (against the spread):  9-7

Week (straight up):  8-8

Season (against the spread):  112-96

Season (straight up):  129-79

New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

Moving right on to the defense…

DE (4):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Adrian Clayborn

Out:  Keionta Davis, Eric Lee

Way Out:  Frank Herron

Comments:  I’m putting Flowers in the Shaq Mason category.  Trey is in the last year of his deal and may command big money next year.  Money I don’t think the Pats will pay.  Now, he may not command “Chandler Jones money”.  He hasn’t had the start to his career that Chandler had.  But he may still be too expensive for Bill’s taste.  I think if a trade made sense, Bill may do it.  I probably wouldn’t, as you can see the depth is a little thin at this position.  But I’m not ruling out the possibility.

Hopefully Wise can build on a decent rookie year and that Rivers can show something after missing last year due to injury.  Clayborn is probably a lock due to the contract…a surprising one at that…with like 2/3 of his sacks coming in a single game last year.  But again, every year there is a long-time veteran that just doesn’t fit in the Patriots’ system.  For some reason, I think it may be him.  Just a hunch.  It’s probably wrong though.

Lee flashed after being claimed on waivers last year…in the regular season anyway.  So he probably has a chance.  Davis always seems to be around when I write these projections, but not sure he is any type of answer.  I’ve never heard of Herron, so he will need to make some noise in camp for me to take him seriously.

DT (5):

Locks:  Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton

In:  Adam Butler, Vincent Valentine

Out:  None

Way Out:  John Atkins, Trent Harris

Comments:  One more guy I put in the “possible trade” category is Brown.  His contract is up after this season.  And he may require an investment.  The acquisition of Shelton could grease the skids for that…though Shelton’s contract is up after the year too.  Seeing that they just made the trade to get Shelton, a trade of him seems unlikely.  But maybe with the other guys around, Brown can be shopped.  Again, I do not think this will happen, but I am not overlooking the possibility.  Guy has his fat contract and played well enough last year I guess, so he’s in.

We had Butler as “way out” in the initial projection last year.  Smart.  But of course, he was someone we never heard of and he needed to catch the eye to improve his standing.  And he certainly did it appears.  I think with a year of development, he sticks again.  Valentine missed all of last year.  But if he is healthy, he stays.  Because he is also young and cheap.  And Bill likes his fat guys.

This years’ “never heard of dudes” in this category are Atkins and Harris.  So we will follow their camp progress…or lack thereof.

LB (5):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy

In:  Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley

Out:  Harvey Langhi, Christian Sam

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Once again, an absolutely putrid group here, especially if Dont’a can’t stay on the field…which is bound to happen.  A stud when healthy, unfortunately, that almost is never the case.  They love Van Noy and gave him a ton of dough…still trying to figure that one out.  Flowers and Roberts stink, simple as that.  But who else is there?  And the team likes these guys too.  Bentley makes my team because some of the draft picks have to make it, don’t they??  (My team has the three first and second rounders and fifth rounder Bentley making it and the five sixth and seventh rounders on the outside looking in).  Sam, as a sixth rounder, may sneak on, who knows?  And Langhi showed some promise last year as an undrafted free agent, made the team, played sparingly, then had that horrific car accident.  Who knows how well he has recovered?  If he has fully, he will get his shot, since again, this is a sad linebacking corps.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson

In:  None

Out:  Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson

Way Out:  Jomal Wiltz

Comments:  Gilmore is the clear #1 now, but who plays the other spots and in what order is anyone’s guess right now.  The staff seems to like Rowe.  And also Jonathan Jones, who got more time at corner as the year went on before he went down with an injury late.  Some people think Jason McCourty may not be quite the lock some think he is.  We’ll see, but that’s where I’m leaving him now.  Dawson clearly makes it as a second round pick, but how much he plays is up for debate.

Lewis had some buzz in the spring and was on the practice squad most, if not all, of last year.  But then the team signed McCourty and drafted Dawson.  So much for that.  Crossen was a seventh rounder and I’m not sure who Jackson or Wiltz are, so let’s leave them where they are for now.

Cyrus Jones?  Interesting case.  Is he worth keeping around and trying to salvage?  Perhaps.  He looked a little better in the preseason last year before being lost for the year with injury.  But a ton better?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think he fumbled on returns anyway.  Has Bill given up on second rounders before?  Yup.  Bill actually has taken several bad second round picks during his tenure.  But he will get some kind of shot this summer, I will bet you that.  Perhaps Cyrus or one of the others can play safety?  They could also try to trade him, but what the heck are you going to get for him with how his career has gone thus far?  It will be interesting to watch, since I have a feeling he may stick around.

S (4):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  Jordan Richards

Out:  Damarius Travis, A.J. Moore

Way Out:  Eddie Pleasant

Released:  David Jones

Comments:  Locks are easy…then we get to Richards.  Another dude who I think is atrocious.  But another dude I think the staff loves for some reason.  I don’t know if one of the corners can convert to safety and knock him off.  Or one of these other safety characters can do it either.  Jones spent last year the practice squad and was then dumped before camp.  Travis was around on the practice squad last year too, but no one is chatting him up now.  Moore?  No idea.  I do know they signed Pleasant the other day, so that seemingly leaves him out of the mix, barring a miracle.  Right now, looks like Richards will be around.  Sad to say.

Specialists (8):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST), Brandon Bolden (ST), Nicholas Grigsby (ST)

In:  Ryan Allen (P)

Out:  Corey Bojorquez (P), Geneo Grissom (ST)

Way Out:  None

Comments:  It’s amazing that with Gostkowski’s inconsistency the past few years the team has not brought someone in to at least challenge him a little bit.  It just doesn’t make much sense.  But with Stephen and Cardona facing no competition, they are locked in.  The fact that another punter is in camp this year means Allen’s job is not safe.  He probably holds the kid off, but we shall see on that.

The rest of the locks basically do not play another position, so they are listed here.  And since Bill loves his core special teamers, they all stick with the exception of Grissom.  But Geneo will be back.  He’s a guy they can bounce on and off the roster and no one else wants him.  So he will always be available.  And perhaps even break camp with the squad as well.

That’s about the size of it.  I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  Looks like Slater, Ebner, Britt, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones are starting on the preseason PUP list.  Bolden is on the non-football illness list apparently as well.  Some of these dudes starting on the regular season PUP list will open up roster spots for others.  Let’s see how that all goes.

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