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Pre-Combine Top 100 Prospects for 2014 NFL Draft

My top 100 players in this year’s 2014 draft class:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
4. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
5. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
6. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
7. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
8. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
9. Ra’Shede Hageman, DE, Minnesota
10. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
11. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
12. CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama
13. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
14. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
15. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
16. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
17. Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
18. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
19. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
20. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
21. Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
22. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
23. Hasean (Ha-Ha) Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
24. Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
25. Calvin Pryor S Louisville

26. Kadeem Carey, RB, Arizona
27. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
28. Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh
29. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
30. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
31. Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
32. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
33. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
34. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
35. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
36. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
37. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
38. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
39. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
40. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
41. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
42. DaQuan Jones, DL, Penn State
43. Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State
44. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
45. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
46. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
47. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
48. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
49. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
50. Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State

51. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
52. Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
53. Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State
54. Ego Ferguson, DL, LSU
55. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
56. Tim Jernigan, DL, Florida State
57. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
58. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
59. Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
60. Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
61. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
62. Weston Richburg, OC, Colorado State
63. Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
64. Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
65. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
66. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
67. Jordan Zumwalt, OLB, UCLA
68. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
69. Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU
70. Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
71. Anthony Johnson, DL, LSU
72. Caraun Reid, DL, Princeton
73. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
74. Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
75. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

76. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
77. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
78. Deanthony Thomas, OW, Oregon
79. Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
80. Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
81. Keith McGill, CB, Utah
82. Dion Bailey, S, USC
83. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
84. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
85. Anthony Steen, OL, Alabama
86. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
87. Trevor Reilly, DE, Utah
88. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
89. Storm Johnson, RB, Central Florida
90. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
91. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
92. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
93. David Fales, QB, San Jose State
94. Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
95. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
96. Devon Kennard, LB, USC
97. Deone Buchanon, S, Washington State
98. Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa
99. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
100. Deandre Coleman, DL, California

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First Take: Five Thoughts on the Patriots NFL Draft Needs

Rob Gronkowski’s injury history leaves some uncertainty at the tight end position heading into this offseason. (USA TODAY Images)

The 2013 New England Patriots season is in the books, so it only makes sense we turn our attention to the NFL Draft.

The past several seasons I’ve dissected and analyzed each class, just as I will this year.

New England currently sits at the No. 29 slot in the first round. This year’s draft class is deep and talented, most likely a correlation to the record breaking underclassman that have declared.

Here are five thoughts on the Patriots 2014 NFL Draft needs:

-¬†Deep Draft at Important Positions:¬†As aforementioned, this is a pretty deep class and offers some talented collegiate athletes. Luckily for the Patriots, many of the team’s needs are among the positions that offer high quality. Tight end, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, defensive back, returner, — however or whichever need you deem to be the most important, there are players that fit the system.

 - Targeting Needs on Offense: Some say New England’s biggest need is at wide receiver, but I look at the tight end position as a more glaring need. With Aaron Hernandez gone, Rob Gronkowski coming off another injury, the team needs to add another weapon that can make the offense more dynamic.

A veteran wide receiver should be targeted in free agency, but there are several young players who have potential.

The offensive line went through some injuries and many guys saw playing time in 2013, but the weak interior was exposed far too often. Logan Mankins play was subpar and his contract should be restructured; Ryan Wendell is a free agent; Dan Connolly is paid far too much for the level of play he displayed this past season — the entire middle of the line is in question.

- Targeting Needs on Defense: In a pass-happy NFL, getting after the quarterback is priority one. The Pats worst loss of the season came at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game when New England couldn’t get close to Manning. Adding help in the interior and exterior of the defensive line is key.

Aqib Talib’s impending free agency obviously could change how the team approaches the draft. If he stays, the team has a strong core of cornerbacks returning. but if he goes there is an immediate need at an important position.

Safety — upgrading over Steve Gregory — should be high when I glance over the roster. New England needs a player on the back end to take on the enforcer role and secure the middle of the field. Devin McCourty is a very good free safety, but more of a pure strong safety could go a long way.

 - Quality, Not Quantity: The past few seasons New England has transformed their roster and now is one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Gone are the days the team must draft 10 plus players. At this point, the Patriots need quality, not quantity. Playmakers are needed on both sides of the ball.

- Free Agency Plays a Role: Many fans and analysts have an idea of how the Patriots should or could upgrade this off-season. While the draft will be a great way for the team to continue to add young talent to the organization, free agency will play a big role in how the team addresses the May event.

If the team lands some quality players, they might be less inclined to be aggressive. On the other side, if the team swings and misses during the free agency period, the Pats could find themselves looking to make a splash. A lot could change over the next few weeks.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Thoughts on Upcoming Key NFL Dates

Another exciting NFL offseason has begun as teams around the league look to make changes to their rosters for next year. Contract decisions, franchise tags, the draft and free agency will continue to keep league personnel busy for the next few months. Here are key NFL dates to keep in mind moving forward:

Feb. 17: First Day For Teams To Use Franchise Tag

- All eyes will be on the team to see if they use the tag on impending free agents like Aqib Talib or Julian Edelman. The Patriots haven’t shied away from the franchise tag in the past, but they might look to work on long-term contracts first.

Feb. 19-25: NFL Scouting Combine, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

- A deep, talented class of players in this year’s draft class.¬†¬†The Patriots have seven selections.

March 11: New League Year, Free agency starts

- Teams must exercise player options, submit qualifying offers and be under the league salary cap by 4 p.m. ET.

March 23-26: Owners Meetings

- Usually some league news breaks, but in past seasons both Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick have addressed the media. This year the meetings will be held in Orlando, Fla.

May 2: Franchise Tag Deadline

- As I said before, the team will most likely look to hammer out a long-term contract before slapping the franchise tag on players. If a deal can’t be reached, however, this will be a date to circle on the calendar.

May 8-10: 2014 NFL Draft

-¬†A deep and talented class of players in this year’s draft class, filled with a record number of underclassman.¬†¬†The Patriots have seven selections as of now. How the prior off-season tasks play out will have an impact on the team’s agenda. It’s about quality, not quantity this year.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Reseting the Patriots Draft Selections

The New England Patriots selections in the 2014 NFL Draft:

First Round  - 29 overall
Second Round – 61 overall
Third Round – 93 overall
Fourth Round – 125 overall
Sixth Round Р * Acquired in Eagles Trade for Isaac Sopoaga
Sixth Round – **
Seventh Round – **

- * Patriots fifth Round traded to Philadelphia for Isaac Sopoaga

- **  No selection in the fifth round. Current picks in the sixth and seventh rounds are to be determined based on compensatory picks given out at a later time.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Analyzing the Patriots Upcoming Free Agents

Now that the NFL regular season has ended, this is a great time to evaluate the Patriots current roster.

New England has made re-signing their own veterans a priority over the last few years and I feel they should do the same this season. The following is a list of the Patriots free agents heading into the offseason. Here are my thoughts on each player’s stance with the team moving forward:

Aqib Talib, CB – The Pro Bowl cornerback had a strong season, but was injured in the AFC Championship game for a second year in a row. It’s clear he’s a valuable asset for the Patriots defense, but at what cost? He’s been a good locker room personality and kept himself out of trouble since being acquired, but has struggled with injuries.

Aqib Talib’s presence in the Patriots secondary is much needed, but it will likely come at a high cost.
(USA TODAY Images)

The Pats should look to re-sign him, as his presence is surely needed in the secondary, but breaking the bank for him comes with some risk given his up-and-down injury history. The franchise tag is an option, but priced at a hefty 10.4 million.

Julian Edelman, WR – Some may argue this is the most necessary re-signing the Patriots need to make this offseason. Edelman is coming off a tremendous season, hauling in 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He was the most consistent player on offense all season.

It makes sense for both sides to get a deal done, but the contract will be a tough negotiation. He has struggled staying healthy in past seasons, but his importance to the offense this year is inarguable. Expect Edelman to stay, but if he were to leave, it would leave the offense with a lot of holes to fill in the coming months.

LeGarrette Blount, RB – The veteran tailback made a late season surge and had some terrific performances, carrying the team into the playoffs. While Blount was solid, he did have a slow start and he may receive more on the open market than his real value.

With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen locked down for another season, it may be wise to see how free agency plays out. If Blount gets the same type of deal former running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis received from Cincinnati — 3 years, 9 million — it won’t be worth the investment.

Ryan Wendell, OL – Wendell provided some stability to the offensive line, playing every snap in the 2013 season. He was a serviceable lineman, but was over-powered several times. The Patriots could look to upgrade, but it would not be surprising to see Wendell back with the team next year.

Brandon Spikes, LB – After an odd ending to the season, with the team placing him on Injured-Reserve, it’s doubtful Spikes returns to the Patriots. The bruising linebacker made an impact on the defense, providing a toughness and attitude that was much needed during his stint with the team.

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins will most likely take over for Spikes as the starter for 2014 and New England may explore bringing in a veteran for a reserve role.

Michael Hoomanawanui, TE – “Hooman” had to restructure his contract last year as a restricted-free agent in order to return for 2013. He finished the season with 12 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.¬†Hoomanawanui was just average run blocking and it would not be a surprise to see him land on a new team as they may look to upgrade.

Matthew Mulligan, TE РThe veteran tight end stepped in this year and provided the offense with a solid backup to Rob Gronkowski. While he was not an asset as a receiver, he was more than solid run blocking. Mulligan could find himself in a similar role next year, but as stated with Hoomanawanui, the team will most likely look to upgrade at the position.

The Patriots offense could be left scrambling for answers if Julian Edelman leaves in free agency.
(USA TODAY Images)

Dane Fletcher, LB – The 27-year-old linebacker was in a reserve roll in 2013. Fletcher may be looking for a greater opportunity with a new team, but the Patriots will most likely offer him a contract to fulfill the same duty¬†next season. New England should have their starting linebacker corps intact with Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

Austin Collie, WR – Collie’s concussion history made it difficult to find a job, but he found a role for the Patriots and performed well. While he had some big catches in key moments, it’s hard to see a spot on the roster if the team re-signs Julian Edelman.

Danny Aiken, LS – Aiken is New England’s only restricted-free agent this offseason. As the team’s long snapper, Aiken performed well, but had a few mishaps along the way. Because he has no other real value at another position, expect the team to look to upgrade or at least bring in competition for training camp.

Will Svitek, OL – The tackle was seen as a valuable commodity when he signed last season, but when he was thrown into action this year he was mediocre at best. Marcus Cannon stepped in admirably and with Sebastian Vollmer coming back next season, Svitek will most likely be looking for work over the offseason.

Andre Carter, DE – After Carter joined the team in week eight, he was thrown right into the mix. He registered two sacks, but was held in check more often than not. As much as the 12-year veteran was well received by the team and fans, look for the Patriots to turn the roll over to Michael Buchanan next season.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Patriots Positional Grades For The 2013 Season

The 2013 NFL season has come to a close for the New England Patriots.

With another year in the books, it’s time to look back and grade each position. The grades are based on production, achievement level, expectation and overall¬†performance.

Tom Brady lifted the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game, but the team’s offense was limited this season.
(USA TODAY Images)

Quarterback: A - 

Analysis: The season ended on a disappointing note, but Tom Brady lifted a limited offense to greater heights throughout the year. Even more impressive, he did it with ligament damage in his throwing hand suffered back in October. Brady may be 36, but he hasn’t shown he’s ready to hang it up quite yet.

Running backs: B Р 

Analysis:¬†¬†Stevan Ridley’s fumbling woes continued to plague him, Shane Vereen missed a large chunk of the season to injury, Brandon Bolden was an afterthought, but LeGarrette Blount made Pats fans forget most of that with his late season performance. While the overall unit could have been better and more consistent, flashes of great play gave the offense a significant boost.

Wide Receivers: C - 

Analysis:¬†Julian Edelman proved doubters wrong — including myself — and was one of the most consistent players for the team all year. Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce all showed promise, but were hampered by injuries and disappeared for stretches.

Danny Amendola’s struggle with an injured groin muscle hindered him the entire year, which weakened the unit as a whole. Austin Collie had a few key grabs and was a solid contributor in his role. Unfortunately we never really saw the full potential of the receivers. Changes could and should be coming.

Tight End: C 

Analysis: Going into the season, tight end was expected to be a position of strength as New England had both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Well, Gronkowski started and ended the season with injuries issues while Hernandez was released after being charged with murder.

Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan were left as the team’s options at tight end — talk about a drop off. While Hoomanawanui, Mulligan, James Develin — who played fullback as well — were serviceable, the position was invisible at times and left a huge void in the Pats offense. Expect the team to reload over the offseason.

Offensive Line: C +

Analysis: Despite the offensive line continuity, the unit struggled more than expected in 2013. Dante Scarnecchia did what he could, but players like Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly did not play as well as the previous year. Marcus Cannon stepped in admirably for Sebastian Vollmer, but overall the line was just slightly better than average on the year.

Defensive Line: B - 

Analysis: Chander Jones and Rob Ninkovich stayed healthy all season, which was huge after both tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly ended the year on injured reserve. The pass rush was improved, but still lacked a killer instinct and was more quiet at the end of the season; a result of lack of depth and more attention by opponents.

Interior lineman Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga all made plays at some point, but the losses of two big-bodied veterans left a mark on the team that couldn’t be over-looked.

Linebackers: C +

Analysis: Similar to the defensive line, injuries hit the line-backing core hard during the season. The loss of defensive captain Jerod Mayo forced the team to give players like Dane Fletcher and Jamie Collins more snaps than originally expected.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty stabilized the back end of New England’s defense all year.
(USA TODAY Images)

Collins broke out towards the end of the year and seems poised for a staring role in 2014, while Dont’a Hightower had an up-and-down season leaving spectators wondering if he was worth his draft position. Even though Brandon Spikes will most likely leave in free agency, the line-backing core should be a strength next season.

Secondary: B

Analysis:¬†Aqib Talib started the year on a Defensive Player of the Year pace, but ended it on the sidelines watching the unit get picked apart by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington had moments of greatness as well as their struggles throughout the year. Rookie Logan Ryan showed he could be a keeper after year’s of searching for quality defensive backs.

Safety Devin McCourty was very good throughout the year, keeping the secondary in position and maintaining stability of the back end. Steve Gregory and rookie Duron Harmon both flashed, but were nothing to write home about. Overall, the spot next to McCourty could — and should — be upgraded for next season.

Special Teams: A - 

Analysis:¬†The special teams unit was exceptional for the majority of the season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a pro bowl year, punter Ryan Allen stepped in as a rookie and showed why he replaced Zoltan Mesko, as well as Matthew Slater leading the team’s strong coverage.

Long snapper Danny Aiken had a mediocre season. The return game is still lacking, which could be on the teams “want” list in the offseason.

Coaching: A - 

Analysis:¬†With all of the adversity on-and-off the field, this season was a testament to the coaching staff. Many argue this was head coach Bill Belichick’s finest season, after lifting a group of over-achieving players to the AFC Championship game.

Injuries put the coaching staff, especially coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, in a tough position, but the staff did a great job overall. Losing coaching assistants Dante Scarnecchia, Pepper Johnson and¬†George Godsey may hurt the team, but expect Belichick to replenish his staff just as he’s done throughout his tenure in New England.

Final Thought:¬†It’s hard not to be impressed with the job New England did this season. While it did not end with the Lombardi Trophy, the season was not a total failure.

There are some holes that need to be filled, but the Patriots are in good position moving forward. After year’s of overhaul, the roster has transformed into the second youngest team in the NFL and the team has stayed competitive — one of the hardest things to do in the modern sports era.

Wide receivers, tight end, offensive line, defensive line and secondary seem to be the most pressing needs — rank them in any order you’d like — but after New England has some big time players return from injury, they should once again find themselves in the mix for another championship run in 2014.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Dante Scarnecchia to Retire, New Offensive Line Coach Named For Patriots

After 30 years with the New England Patriots, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will retire.

With Scarnecchia on his way out, the team has named Dave DeGuglielmo the new offensive line coach. Patriots Owner Robert Kraft issued this statement. –

With Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring, the team suffers a significant loss.
(USA TODAY Images)

“Dante Scarnecchia has been the only coaching constant since I purchased the team in 1994. Not coincidentally, he retires as the only coach to have been a part of all seven Super Bowl teams in Patriots franchise history. I want to thank Dante for his leadership, professionalism and always putting the team first. For as long as I have known him, he was always the first to arrive in the morning and among the last to leave. He didn’t demand respect from his players. He earned it. I loved watching Dante lead by example, especially when he would run stride for stride with his players during their conditioning runs. He was a coach who always stressed technique and fundamentals and helped players reach their full potential. At training camp, his colorful, constructive, coaching critiques made him a fan favorite. His presence on the Patriots sidelines will be missed by our coaches, players and fans alike.”¬†

Head coach Bill Belichick had this to say,¬†“Dante Scarnecchia is a Patriot and NFL legend who defined the phrase ‚Äėnot for long. In an industry of constant change, Dante remained a fixture here for the simple reason that he helped every player reach his highest potential, regardless of who he was, how he was acquired or how much raw talent he had. In whatever category a coach can be assessed – evaluator, teacher, motivator, problem solver, disciplinarian, team player, winner ‚Äď Dante is as good as it gets. As many games as he helped us win and as much as we would like to work with Dante forever, we are blessed with the opportunity to have been with him as long as we were.”¬†

DeGuglielmo most recently spent time with the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. He’s been coaching for 22 years and even spent time with Lou Holtz at South Carolina.¬†DeGuglielmo’s teams have typically favored a power-run scheme, but of course, he will be adopting Belichick’s schemes and philosophy.

Quite Take: This is the second loss to the Patriots coaching staff, as defensive line coach Pepper Johnson left the team earlier this week. Two very significant coaching losses, on both sides of the ball. I consider both tremendous losses and Scarnecchia especially was so valuable because of his tenure with the organization.

Scarnecchia is widely regarded as one of the best positional coaches in the NFL today. This makes life tougher on Bill Belichick, but adding some new faces to the coaching ranks is something every organization must do at some point in time.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Monday Hangover: Five Thoughts on the Patriots Loss to the Broncos

“There is winning, and there is misery” – Bill Parcells

An appropriate quote to use after the New England Patriots lost 26-16 to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.

Here are five thoughts on the Patriots loss, in this week’s¬†Monday Hangover. –

1) Brady, Offense Come Up Short:¬†There’s plenty of blame to go around for this game, but once again the Patriots offense fails to score in the postseason.

In the last three playoff losses for New England they scored 17 points against the New York Giants in the 2012 Super Bowl, 13 points against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 AFC Championship and 16 points in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos. In those three games the offense averaged 15.3 points-per-game. Simply put, that’s not going to get it done in today’s NFL.

If the final score from Sunday had hypothetically been 26-23, you could sell me on the defense didn’t make enough stops to get the job done, which they didn’t, but more blame has to be placed on the offense because 16 points is not good enough for a Tom Brady led team.

After last year’s playoff exit, fans and analysts said New England had to add weapons that could win one-on-one match-ups on the outside, the same goes this off-season. Big changes need to be made for 2014.

Head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense had no answer for the Broncos high-powered offense.
(USA TODAY Images)

2) Defense Couldn’t Get It Done: Different year, same story. Fans saw it last season against the Ravens and unfortunately again versus the Broncos, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib left the AFC Championship game with an injury and the defense fell apart.

The Broncos did not turn the ball over and New England’s defense had a few opportunities to get off the field, but failed to execute. All of the injuries suffered by the unit this season, including four starters in the front seven, and it seems like Talib was the tipping point. Could be a factor on his impending free agency.

Peyton Manning got rid of the ball too quickly for the pass rush to make a consistent impact and when there were opportunities, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were stonewalled. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is a solid player, but was constantly beat after Talib left the game. His size hinders him at times and far too many times in this game you saw his out-reached arms inches away from the ball. Have to give credit to Manning for some quality throws throughout the contest.

3) Flashes of 2006 and 2010, not 2003: Throughout the year, many people compared this Patriots team to 2003 when New England went through similar injury woes and adversity. As the season comes to a close, shades of 2006 and 2010 to stick out more.

In 2006 the team made a late playoff push, but ultimately fell short to a Manning led Colts team in the AFC championship game. While that game was much higher scoring, as Indianapolis won 38-34, the lack of weapons for the Pats and inability to get off the field draws similarities to this contest.

In 2010 the Patriots lost to the New York Jets 28-21 in the divisional round and Sunday’s loss left a similar bad taste in fans mouths. New England played flat, without the same fire and passion that had gotten the team to this point. The other team was more physical and seemed to want it more in both contests, which draws the comparisons when I reflect back now.

Even though Pats fans might feel they were proud of the team for getting to this point, it was a disappointing effort and overall performance Sunday afternoon.

4) Three Up and Down Performances: 


Jamie Collins – The rookie linebacker continued to show what he could bring to the table next season. His athletic ability is incredible and he was all over the field. One of the few standout performances.

Dont’a Hightower – He struggled in the middle of the season, but he played much better down the stretch and Sunday. Hopefully he continues to develop and grow, as he will likely be the starting middle linebacker in 2014.

Julian Edelman – No. 11 was solid again, once again showing the consistency and production he had all season. With free agency on the horizon, New England will need to make him a priority when the time comes.


Danny Amendola – Amendola and myself had one thing in common Sunday, we both had zero catches in the game. All week I said on our Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast and in my “Two Way Street” other receivers had to step up in order for New England to win.

Amendola was invisible and had little impact most of the season. Injured or not, hard not to throw out the bust label after his first year with the team. He didn’t earn his salary, especially when it counted the most.

Logan Mankins – Mankins had a tough season and an even tougher game in Denver. When Broncos defensive tackle¬†Terrance Knighton dominated him and sacked Brady, it was eye-opening. The interior of the offensive line has been a weakness all season and Mankins’ play has been questionable.

The Entire Secondary РThe safety play was terrible in this contest. As an example, safeties Steve Gregory and Duron Harmon missed tackles allowing Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno to pick up a big gain on a key third down. Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan all had tough days as well.

Overall, there were way too many holes in the secondary and the Broncos did whatever they wanted. Poor timing for such a terrible performance by the players and coaching staff.

5) Looking Ahead: It’s been an exciting season for New England, despite falling short of their ultimate goal. A roller coaster of emotions week-to-week, fueled by controversy and late-game heroics. By no means does this loss spell the end for the Patriots, though.

The Patriots are the second youngest team in the NFL. Brady, Belichick will be back and this team will come back stronger next season. Fans saw a lot of heart and fight out of this team throughout the season, but no question there is room for improvement.

There’s plenty of time to get into that, so be sure to check back as I go deeper into free agency, the draft and moves that need to be made as the off-season progresses.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Two Way Street: Looking at Both Sides of Patriots at Broncos

The New England Patriots go on the road to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m ET.

The Patriots are coming off a 43-22 victory against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round. On the other side, the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers 24-17 Sunday.

These two teams last met on Nov. 24, 2013 when the Patriots defeated the Broncos 34-31. Tom Brady holds a 10-4 record over Peyton Manning and this will be the fifteenth meeting between the two quarterbacks.

Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. –

How the Broncos win: 

Start Fast: The Broncos scored more than any other team in the NFL this season, averaging 37.9 points-per-game. One thing I have taken away from Denver this season, they force their opponents to get into shootouts and play the way the Broncos want. If the Broncos start fast, not only will they set the tempo, but it will put pressure on the Patriots to score and shy away from the run game.

Get the Ball Downfield:¬†Demaryius Thomas¬†is one of the league‚Äôs better receivers. He’s fast, can get yards after the catch and makes some incredible plays. The Patriots are getting healthy in their defensive backfield, but are still susceptible to downfield passes. If the Broncos can protect Manning and he can get the ball to Thomas or other receivers downfield, they‚Äôll put the Patriots under pressure.

Stop The Run:¬†The Patriots have been on a tear the past few weeks and pounding opponents into submission on the ground. Led by LeGarrette Blount, New England hasn’t had a problem taking the ball out of Brady’s hands and controlling the game rushing. The last time these two teams played, the Broncos got off to a fast start and were able to make the Pats more one-sided as an offense.

Assuming a clean game is played by New England, they’ll look to establish the run early and often. While the Pats have had success rushing, they have limited options in the passing game. Taking away, or at least limiting, the running game will be a key for the Broncos this week.

Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola will need to be a factor against the Broncos Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)

How The Patriots Win: 

Pressure Peyton: Manning likes to get the ball out of his hands as quick as possible, making it extremely hard to bring him down. In fact, he was only sacked 20 times during the regular season.

Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots front seven must swarm to Manning and, at the very least, make him uncomfortable in the pocket. New England needs to hit no. 18 as often as possible, legally of course. If they can do that successfully, expect him to make a few poor decisions.

Get Off The Field: The Patriots need to get off the field defensively in order to win the game, plain and simple. The team cannot expect the Broncos to turn the ball over, even though Denver had 26 turnovers in the regular season, that can’t be expected. New England has to find a way to slow down a potent Denver offense and get off the field on third down. When the game comes to an end, third down defense may tell the tale of this contest.

Receivers Need to Step Up:¬†There’s a lot of talk about the Patriots rushing attack. Rightfully so, as the running game has been phenomenal for New England the past several weeks. The passing game has been an afterthought, however, and with all of the injuries this season, the only real threat in wide receiver Julian Edelman.

This cannot be the case Sunday, though. Whether it’s Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins or Austin Collie, the Patriots need their receivers to step up and make plays versus a weak Broncos secondary. Denver has suffered a ton of injuries defensively and their secondary is vulnerable. The question is, do the Pats have the weapons to take advantage of it? We’ll find out Sunday. Someone outside of Edelman will need to make a play when it counts.

Prediction: Patriots 30, Broncos 27.

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Report Card: Patriots Dominate Colts in Divisional Showdown

The New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 on Sunday night.

While the team did get the victory, they still have a lot of work to do moving forward. Here is my report card for this week. –

Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount scored four touchdowns Sunday, lifting New England to a 43-22 victory against the Indianapolis Colts.
(USA TODAY Images)

Offense Grade:  A

The Patriots dominated on the ground and tailback LeGarrette Blount led the charge. The 27-year-old running back rushed 24 times for 166 yards — 162 yards between the tackles — ¬†and four touchdowns. The Pats rushed for 234 yards on the day, controlling the line of scrimmage, one of the many key takeaways from the contest.

The offensive line pushed around the Colts defensive line on the ground, but Tom Brady was sacked twice. That being said, the unit kept Defensive Player of the Year candidate Robert Mathis in check for the majority of the contest; a big focus heading into the divisional matchup.

Brady had time to spread the ball around, but New England did not pass a whole lot throughout the game. The Pats signal-caller completed 13-of-25 passes, for 198 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass in the contest.

Defense Grade: B +

The Patriots defense played well Sunday and had key contributions from several players. The best news for the Pats, this appears to be the healthiest the defense has been in several weeks.

The Colts racked up almost 400 yards, but turned the ball over four times, Andrew Luck was sacked three times and the team went 6-of-15 on third down. The Pats had an answer for almost everything Indy did offensively, but were beaten over the top a few times. It wasn’t perfect, but a strong group effort by the Patriots.

The secondary showed quality depth, which will be much needed moving forward. Devin McCourty, Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan all played well. Steve Gregory and Kyle Arrington have struggled the past few weeks, though. It’s unclear if it was health or performance related, but Ryan took over for Arrington as the third cornerback for the majority of the contest.

The star of the game defensively was Jamie Collins. The rookie linebacker was all over the field Sunday, finishing with six tackles, a sack and an interception. Not all of the plays showed up in the stat sheet, as Collins played tremendous in coverage as well. With Brandon Spikes going to injured-reserve earlier in the week and linebacker being thin for New England, his emergence came at the perfect time. His athletic ability is fun to watch.

Special Teams Grade: C 

The Patriots special teams play has been solid all year, but the team struggled Sunday.

Three different players were called for illegal block in the back penalties and a high, sailing snap by Danny Aiken put two points on the board for Indianapolis. Ryan Allen attempted to save the punt, but the rookie should have punted the ball into the endzone. The situation could have been much worse for the Patriots, but the ball bounced their way.

Stephen Gostkowski had a stellar year kicking field goals, but the team didn’t settle for three once Sunday. Gostkowski was valuable in other ways, however, taking over punting responsibilities once Allen was injured. Gostkowski punted five times, averaging 41.8 yards-per-punt and pining the Colts inside the 20 twice with only one touchback. He was great in an emergency role.

Also, Matthew Slater and Kanorris Davis did a great job in kick, punt coverage for the Pats. Slater in particular has been such a strong special team player all year. It’s an often-overlooked aspect of the game, but it’s important.

Overall Grade: B +

Overall, the Patriots continued their strong play into the playoffs and as a fan, analyst or spectator; you have to like how the team is playing at this juncture of the season. Despite a year of bumps, bruises and season-ending injuries, the team has found a way to come out on top more often than not.

New England has built up some momentum in the past few weeks, defeating the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills by a combined score of 75-27, and then throttling the Colts at home 43-22. Now the team goes on the road to face the Denver Broncos for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

I’l have more on that game later in the week. For now, check out my initial thoughts on the contest.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!