Good morning, and happy game day for the Conference Championship Weekend of the playoffs. My predictions for the games are below.
Sad tidings on the passing of Phil Bissell, the artist responsible for drawing the logo of Pat Patriot that adorned Patriots helmets from 1961-1993. Bissell’s drawing became the logo of the team and is still used today when the team wears its throwback uniforms. Bissell was 97.
Also, very sad news that Patriots beat writer Doug and Jen Kyed’s daughter Hallie lost a battle with acute myeloid leukemia. She was just two years old. Jen had to quit her job to help care for Hallie, but the couple’s medical bills are huge.
Doug is one of the great guys on the Patriots’ beat, and it is hard to imagine what he and his family are going through right now. All of our prayers are for them.
If anyone can help the family, their GoFundMe page can be located here:
On Friday, I received a couple of messages asking if the Patriots are dawdling on hiring coordinators. Thanks, Steve B. (No, not me; another one). He asked whether there was a lack of urgency on the Patriots’ part. And watching coaches get scooped up by other teams, it certainly would appear that way.
However, it could be that some coordinators aren’t enamored with the idea of building an offense from scratch. The Patriots need a QB, better WRs, revamp an OL, a third-down RB, and have no TEs signed.
Interestingly enough, the Patriots had not complied with the Rooney Rule for the OC position until they interviewed Panthers’ OC Thomas Brown and then Texans QB coach Jerrod Johnson. However, every coach that they have interviewed is from the Shanahan/McVay system, so it would seem that the offense will look quite different in 2024.
The outlier is Nick Calley, who was a Patriot assistant coach for several years and then, after being passed over for the OC position for Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, bolted for the Rams with McVay. He’d be kind of a retread, as would be Josh McDaniels, who was thought to be waiting in the wings for a Belichick signing to be Bill’s next OC.
While Zac Robinson is looking like he’s unlikely to come to NE as he’s highly sought after by multiple teams, Calley has been granted a second interview. One name to keep an eye on is 49ers Passing Game coordinator Klint Kubiak. He is also in high demand. But he may also be interested in building an offense around his own philosophy.
Defensively, DeMarcus Covington has been hired as the new defensive coordinator. However, Steve Belichick is waiting in the wings a la McDaniels. If Bill doesn’t coach in 2024, then it opens the door for him to return in some capacity.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News:
Bill Belichick: The Atlanta Falcons evidently cooled on bringing in Belichick as their next head coach. They hired Rams DC Raheem Morris as their next head coach. Morris was the Rams’ DC for the past three seasons. Belichick has taken no interviews with any other teams, and it appears, at least for now, that he won’t coach in the NFL this season.
Kayshon Boutte: The Patriots’ WR was arrested in Baton Rouge, LA, for creating a fake alias to take part in sports gambling when he was underage.
Between April 6, 2022, and May 7, 2023, Boutte, who was 20 at the time, allegedly bet more than 8,900 times. At least 17 of the bets were on NCAA football games, and six of those 17 were on LSU football games, where he always bet on his team to win.
Joe Flacco: The Browns QB made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t consider himself as a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
“I don’t necessarily know what I’m coming back from,” Flacco said. “Most of the guys on that list, I don’t know what they’re coming back from. That’s probably my initial reaction.”
“I’m just coming back from being old and not being on a team for a couple of months,” Flacco said while throwing his support for Bills S Damar Hamlin.
“I just think mentally to get yourself back to the point where you feel comfortable doing that kind of thing; obviously, the physical part doesn’t need any explanation, but the mental part, especially at his position, is pretty cool.”
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: This week, we discussed the latest news from Foxboro in our PatsFans.com podcast.
Derek Havens and I discussed Jerod Mayo’s hiring, how he came across in his introductory press conference, and his next moves about hiring his coaching staff.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that Francis isn’t in is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens. Casper is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Francis’ numbers stand up well against Casper’s, yet he isn’t even in the team’s HOF.
Area 51 News: Which FAs Should Be Kept —
Patriots’ head coach Jerod Mayo has some decisions to make with upcoming internal free agents. Which ones will they try to keep, which ones to let explore their own market and get rights to match, and which ones to let walk?
The list of free agents for the team consists of:
Hunter Henry –
Kendrick Bourne –
Trent Brown –
Mike Gesicki –
Jalen Mills –
Ezekiel Elliott –
Myles Bryant –
Cody Davis –
Kyle Dugger –
Mack Wilson –
Josh Uche –
Anfernee Jennings –
Pharaoh Brown –
Reilly Reiff –
James Ferentz –
Jalen Reagor –
Mike Onwenu –
Terez Hall –
Joshuah Bledsoe –
Christian Elliss –
Tyrone Wheatley –
Tre Nixon –
Alex Austin –
Nathan Rourke –
T Mike Onwenu, UFA: The Patriots must resign Onwenu as priority one this season. Since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he has been an excellent OL at both guard and RT. The Patriots need an upgrade at LT, and having Owenu back at RT would be a huge relief.
T Trent Brown, UFA: Brown played very well for stretches in 2023. But a myriad of injuries, illnesses, and being a healthy scratch made for a very up-and-down season. Rumors of his going to the NFC were fiercely denied by him.
I think the team will allow him to test FA. It will intriguing if he gets any substantial offers. If not, I can see him being brought back in a team-friendly deal as a depth piece, but they need to get a very good LT in either the draft or FA.
S Kyle Dugger, UFA: Dugger was scoffed at in many circles when the Patriots used a 2nd-round pick on him when he came from tiny Lenoir-Rhyne. He brings an outstanding blend of size, speed, and athleticism to the position.
Dugger has proved to be a very versatile cog in the defense. But he reportedly wants to see his worth on the FA market. The Patriots should pay him; like Onwenu, he is an important building block for the future.
TE Hunter Henry, UFA: The Patriots have none of their big three TEs signed for 2024. Of those, Henry has been the most productive. Jerod Mayo said that Henry is still in the Patriots’ plans for 2024, but are the Patriots in his?
I would make a concerted effort to sign him but not use the franchise tag.
TE Mike Gesicki, UFA: I thought Gesicki would be a red zone monster in 2023, and it just didn’t work out. Not for lack of trying on anyone’s part. He wasn’t a fit in Miami’s version of the Shanahan offense, and with the Patriots interviewing nothing but Shanahan/McVay disciples, I think he moves on.
LB Anfernee Jennings, UFA: Jennings put it all together this season, after getting a lot more playing time due to the injury to Matthew Judon. Fully healthy all season, he showed what a stout run defender he is and led the team with 14 TFLs. He does a great job of setting the edge and is tenacious, strong, and versatile.
He’s showing an increased ability to pressure the quarterback, so I prioritize his re-signing over Josh Uche.
LB Mack Wilson, UFA: The Patriots finally found a way to utilize Wilson correctly in 2023, and he showed them what he could do. Down the stretch, the team used him as both an inside off-the-ball linebacker and a pass rusher, and it worked out just fine. I think the team brings him back.
ED Josh Uche, UFA: Uche is a curious case; he seemed to put it all together in 2022 and looked to be a player on the rise. But he slipped back to his pre-2022 stats and had just 3.5 sacks. For a one-dimensional pass rusher, that is not a good sign.
I think the Patriots will allow Uche to find his own market. If another team wants to pay Uche big money, the Patriots will probably let him walk.
WR Kendrick Bourne, UFA: Bourne has had his highs and lows in NE. In 2021, he turned into the Patriots’ top explosive offensive weapon. In 2022, he was in Matt Patricia’s doghouse. In 2023, he was off to the best start to his career before tearing an ACL in October in the eighth game.
In those eight games, he caught 37 passes for 406 yards and four touchdowns. Due to his injury, I think the team brought him back on a prove-it deal. Given the team’s major need at WR, Bourne should be given a chance to come back.
S/CB Myles Bryant, UFA: Bryant played some of his best football in 2023. I think the team should bring him back due to his experience in the secondary and his versatility to play nickel corner, safety, and special teams. He won’t break the bank.
CB Alex Austin, ERFA: The team signed the UDFA in November and used him regularly down the stretch. He played well and a one-year tender will give him a chance to nail down a depth role in the secondary.
RB Ezekiel Elliott, UFA: Elliott was the Patriots’ best FA addition in 2023. While he isn’t quite the dominant back he was in his Dallas days; he proved he is still a viable back in the offense. He and Rhamondre Stevenson ran behind a below-par OL in 2023, but Zeke took over after Stevenson was hurt and led the team in both carries and yards from scrimmage.
I think he will come back next year and with an improved OL, he should put up some decent numbers.
S/CB Jalen Mills, UFA: Mills has played both cornerback and safety for the Patriots. But with Jabrill Peppers emerging as a team leader with Kyle Dugger at safety, Mills’ playing time was slashed. If Dugger returns, I don’t Mills returning. However, if Dugger walks, then I could see the team resigning Mills.
S Joshuah Bledsoe, ERFA: Bledsoe has struggled with some injuries, as well as playing behind a stacked position. Safety is arguably the Patriots’ deepest position on the team. Where he won’t break the bank to retain, I think he’ll be brought back on a one-year deal and kept around in case of emergencies. They may even work a trade for Bledsoe if he has a strong camp/preseason.
T Tyrone Wheatley, ERFA: The team traded for Wheatley for Pierre Strong last year. He spent the majority of the season on IR and dressed for just two games in 2023. They would have been better served by keeping Strong as a 3rd down back. However, since they traded for him, they should bring him back and let him compete for playing time next summer.
TE Pharaoh Brown, UFA: Brown carved out a small niche for himself as a blocker and surprise target in the passing game. He won’t break the bank, but it will depend on if the new OC feels he’s a fit.
WR/ KR Jalen Reagor, UFA: Reagor could be brought back as a fifth wide receiver with ST’s ability as a kick returner. He’s a former first-round pick of the Eagles. He had only seven catches in 2023 but averaged 19.7 yards per catch.
LB/ST Christian Ellis, ERFA: The Patriots acquired him via the waiver wire for his ability on STs. He saw action on all four ST units. He’ll get a one-year tender and is a younger, cheaper version of Cody Davis.
QB Nathan Rourke, ERFA: The Patriots picked him up via the waiver wire in December. He is a developmental project at QB, but he’s another player whose stay on the roster will depend on the future OC’s vision of the offense.
Players to Wave Bye To: T Reilly Reiff, OL James Ferentz, LB Terez Hall, WR Tre Nixon, ST Cody Davis. The team paid $5 million to Reiff and got only one game from him and two stints on IR. He’s 35 and may retire. Ferentz has been a pet of Belichick and, at 34, may have reached the end of the road. However, he could “continue” coaching. The Herald reported that he was coaching up the OL during the sickness/absence of Adrian Klemm.
Terez Hall and Tre Nixon have not been able to show much at all on the field, and the clock strikes zero for them. Davis seemed to slow down in 2023 and is 34 and also may retire.
Conference Championship Weekend Predictions —
Sunday Day Games:
Baltimore over Kansas City
San Francisco over Detroit
Last Week 3—1
2023 Season 178—94
2022 Season: 178—92—2
2021 Season: 183—88—1
2020 Season: 169—86—1
2019 Season: 162—93—1
“You always want to have a quarterback that can extend plays. Now, in saying that, you could be fast, but you also could have great pocket awareness. Look at a guy like Tom [Brady]. He wasn’t fast, but he had great pocket awareness. When it’s all said and done, it’s about the players.
“And one thing I took away from Coach Belichick, is players win games and coaches lose games. So we can talk all we want to about the scheme, what we want to do, but if you don’t have players that are out there that have a shared vision that are on the same page, then it’s going to be hard to score points. And that’s what it really comes down to.
“Look, everyone gets up here, they say, ‘Oh, I want to throw 10 deep balls,” or, ‘I want to run the ball every single …’ Like, that’s unrealistic. We will remain a game-plan team. Whatever we have to do to make the other team play left-handed, offensive, defensive, or even special teams-wise, that’s always been the goal.”
Jerod Mayo, Patriots’ head coach, on what his offensive philosophy is.
“Talent sets the floor; Character sets the ceiling.” Bill Belichick
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Anfernee Jennings Bill Belichick Ezekiel Elliott Hunter Henry Kendrick Bourne Kyle Dugger Mack Wilson Matthew Judon Mike Onwenu Myles Bryant New England Patriots Patriots edge rushers