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NFL Picks…

…starting a new feature here at the Blowhard…picking NFL games.  Why?  Cuz it keeps me engaged and…everyone else does it!  Besides, it keeps my mind off the fact that both of my fantasy baseball teams are massively imploding in the first round of their respective playoffs and will leave me short of collecting the pot.  And, it takes me away from the fact that the Yankees are yet again whining about something.  This time about the Red Sox stealing signs.  Ok, so maybe the Sox were cheating a little by using technology when they shouldn’t have been.  But you can’t tell me that other teams, including, most assuredly, the Yankees, aren’t doing something similar.

Of course, all I can hear now is non-Sox/Pats fans saying that Boston is a bunch of cheaters and strip their titles and all that.  When really their biggest crime is being stupid enough to get caught.

But that’s a topic for another day.

Since the season opens tonight, it’s time to make the first pick.  I also want to issue a disclaimer:  I stink at gambling.  Sure, I have had success in various fantasy leagues over the years.  And I actually won a season long NFL picks pool several years ago with about 200 people in it.  A blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, as the saying goes…

But in general, picking against spreads?  Not my forte.  Ask a couple of buddies of mine from several years ago.  Used to watch 12 hours of football with them every Sunday at a local establishment back in the day.  They used to ask me who I “liked”.  I told them, they knew some…ummmm…”professionals” and then placed some “units” down on the team I did not like.  Good buddies, eh?!  But valid strategy, I do hate to admit.

Anyway, let’s get to it:

Kansas City at New England (-8.5)

Of course being a Patriots fan, I am hoping for a 45-10 win, or something along those lines.

But it’s not going to happen.

I expect the Pats to have a huge year of course, but there are still some holes…or perceived holes…on this team at the current time.  And it’s not just losing Julian Edelman.  Although Edelman is clutch, I think they can and will still score a boatload of points without him.

The Patriots often treat September as an “extension of the preseason”.  Of course they try to win, but now that the roster has been shaved to 53, it’s time to find out about some of the guys that are still on it.

In my mind, and in a lot of other people’s as well, the defensive front seven is a huge question mark.  Trey Flowers and Dont’a Hightower are the big names there.  But Flowers has done it for only one year…three quarters of a year pretty much.  And Dont’a is probably still on the mend and in all likelihood won’t play a full complement of snaps tonight.  Alan Branch is solid.  But the rest?  Who the hell knows?

Since no one expects Alex Smith to be throwing bombs downfield all night, the front 7 will be challenged by the likes of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt.  And Hunt is a rookie, so no one in New England surely knows what to expect.  It may take forever for the Chiefs to drive downfield.  But it will keep the ball away from Brady and the Pats offense.  And should keep this game close.

The Pats always keep games close…it seems anyway.  And despite all the pomp and circumstance in Foxborough tonight with celebrating the Super Bowl Championship last year and raising the banners and the crowd being fired up and all that, I still expect a close game.

Look to a couple of years ago on Opening Night the season after the Pats beat Seattle in the previous Super Bowl.  28-21 Pats over Steelers.  Sure, the game really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.  I was there and never felt like Pittsburgh had a chance.  And the Steelers’ Antonio Brown scored with 2 seconds left to provide the final margin of victory.  But still…

One more area of concern for me is the Chiefs D, led by Justin Houston, against the Pats O-line.  Nate Solder hasn’t played much this preseason, is he ready to go?  The rest of the Pats OL is solid, but not necessarily spectacular.  So we will see.

At least the Patriots will have a faster running back out there, no matter who it is, instead of the plodding LeGarrette Blount.  And we can always count on Andy Reid completely mismanaging the clock.  But we also have to worry about Stephen Gostkowski shanking extra point and field goal attempts.

Ok, that’s enough.  The pick?

New England 30, Kansas City 23.  4 TDs, a FG and missed XP for the Pats.  2 TD’s and 3 FGs for KC.  Thus, a KC cover.  Feels about right.

Week (against the spread):  0-0

Week (straight up):  0-0

Season (against the spread):  0-0

Season (straight up):  0-0

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New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days.  Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up.  Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster.  Anyway, here goes:

DE (5):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)

Comments:  This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.”  Oops.  At least on Flowers.  Welp, I’ve been completely off before.  And most assuredly will be again.  Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season.  Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team.  So I wasn’t the only one.  There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp.  His attitude.  His fit on the team.  His “coachability”.  And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports.  But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”.  I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet.  Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks.  Not likely to go anywhere.  And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point.  Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot.  It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well.  Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement.  But maybe we shouldn’t have been.  He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension.  Yup…

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo

Way Out:  Josh Augusta, Adam Butler

Comments:  Pretty much cut and dried here.  Branch re-signed on a nice deal.  Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere.  May be a little push for Brown in his third year.  But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway.  Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year.  Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season.  And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them.  Good enough for me.

LB (6):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, David Harris

In:  Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi

Out:  Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates

Way Out:  Brooks Ellis

Comments:  When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock.  Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc.  Seemed to be a prime candidate for that.  Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense.  I know, that is “early in camp” too.  But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong.  McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now.  Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes.  He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough.  Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability.  Bates is from Maine and that’s nice.  Ellis?  Yup, no idea who he is.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones

In:  Cyrus Jones

Out:  Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings

Way Out:  William Likely, Dwayne Thomas

Comments:  Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?”  And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”.  Oops.  And.  Oops.  But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year.  Wouldn’t be unprecedented though.  Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp.  Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock.  Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.

As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me.  Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago.  Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that.  I mean, he knows how this organization operates.  But still.  Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened.  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed.  Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them.  Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal.  And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it.  And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year.  That will also benefit the Patriots of course.  But did the team play this out right?  Time will tell.  But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…

Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room.  Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point.  Likely & Thomas?  Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

Out:  Jordan Richards

Way Out:  Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore

Comments:  Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp.  Three safeties is kind of thin.  But the other guys?  You know what I am going to say.

Specialists (6):

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

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Nothing really to say here.  Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year.  I’m not.  There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year.  No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker.  Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.

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.  Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year.  Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list.  Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…

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