Category Archives: 2017 Patriots Season

Brady, Patriots Defense Shine in Blowout of Raiders in Mexico City

Steve Balestrieri
November 20, 2017 at 8:52 am ET

Don’t look now but the Patriots defense has turned things around and looks like the unit we envisioned back this summer. The Pats defense held the Raiders to just eight points while Tom Brady carved up Jack Del Rio’s defense once again as the Patriots rolled to a 33-8 blowout win that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

Brady improved to 9-1 against Del Rio’s defenses with a ridiculous 25 touchdowns to one interception. Oh and Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half that may have been good from 72. The win allows the Patriots to keep pace with the Steelers at 8-2 in the AFC and coupled with another blowout loss by the Bills gives New England a commanding three-game lead in the AFC East.

Bill Belichick earned another career milestone moving past Tom Landry in all-time wins by an NFL head coach with 271 with the victory. He now resides in third place all-time amongst NFL head coaches. Other observations without the benefit of a film review from the game include:

Brady likes the rarified air the past two weeks: Brady started off laser hot, hitting his first 12 passes and he finished 30-37 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the past two games in the altitude in Denver and Mexico City Brady is a combined 55 of 71 for 605 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a completion percentage of 77.4 and a passer rating of 130.3.

Those are some remarkable numbers for a guy who the national pundits proclaim every year that this will be the one that he falls off the cliff and shows his age. On the season, Brady is completing 68.7 percent of his passes, (261-380) for 3146 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a passer rating of 110.9.

Tony Romo made a good analogy before the game, Brady, he said, is like an old schoolteacher who already knows the answers to the questions on his tests. He knows his offense inside and out and against the Del Rio defense that he’s faced so many times, there were no surprises. Del Rio always runs a “we do, what we do” type of defense and Brady simply eviscerates them every time.

Brady made a terrific fake on the first touchdown, looking left and at the last second turning right and hitting Dion Lewis who juked and cut, leaving three Raiders in his wake for a beautiful touchdown putting the Patriots up 7-0. Lewis had another very solid day.

Patriots Defense Shines South of the Border: Matt Patricia’s unit has turned a corner and is playing some really good football during this current six-game winning streak. The Patriots haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points since the last minute loss to Carolina in Week 4.

In the past six games, the Patriots are allowing an average of just 12.5 points per game. That is winning football. The secondary is playing light years better than they were earlier in the year and the communication breakdowns that plagued the team are seemingly a distant memory.

Stephon Gillmore and Malcolm Butler are playing very solidly at corner and they’re being backed ably by Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. They held the explosive two wideouts of the Raiders, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree under check today. Combined the two wideouts had nine catches for just 79 yards.

Jared Cook who entered the game red-hot had just two catches for 36 yards with the safeties, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon did a great job of keeping him under wraps. Elandon Roberts also played well in coverage on Sunday.

Issues persist with the run defense and pass rush, but this unit is in far better shape than the group who was struggling mightily the first month of the season.

Patriots Secondary Coming Together: To piggyback off the above paragraph, the Patriots secondary is really beginning to come together. The first half dozen games, teams were routinely throwing for 300 yards, not any longer. While the Raiders had a number of drops on Sunday, the play of the secondary has to be a bright spot with the coaches this week.

Raiders QB Derek Carr’s numbers reflect a very pedestrian day, 28-49 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 68.2 on the afternoon. Carr didn’t even pass 100 yards through the air until early in the fourth quarter. On his last couple of drives, he piled on a number of yards underneath in garbage time as the Patriots with a big lead were more than content with allowing him to throw short underneath passes buying time for space. Carr averaged just 4.8 yards per throw on the day.

Scarnecchia Influence Felt on the Offensive Line: Game ball should go to Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle who filled in ably on the offensive line. Karras was filling in at center for David Andrews who was a late scratch due to what was characterized as altitude sickness late last week. Karras had played guard in college and had never played center before. There was no issue at all with his shotgun snaps during the game, the communication between the interior offensive linemen seemed fine and Karras did a good job in the running game as they ran the ball effectively between the tackles.

Waddle filled in for the second week in a row and faced one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Khalil Mack. Last week he faced Von Miller. In both games, Waddle, with some help from chipping tight ends has fared extremely well. He allowed one sack to Mack in the two games and has been solid in pass protection.

The influence of Dante Scarnecchia can’t be overstated here. His attention to detail and the proper technique that he instills in his linemen are always in the best position to succeed. For Waddle, the road doesn’t get any easier, he’ll face Cameron Wake next week if Cannon is still banged up. But Scarnecchia will have them ready. Game balls for all three.

Situational Football, Gostkowski Has a Monster Day: The Patriots special teams had another big day and it was just highlighted by the team’s stress of practicing situational football. Because of the altitude, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski was able to make 70-yard field goals in the warm-ups and the team knew that if the situation arose they could count on him.

That came late in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 14-0. The Raiders were driving for a score and WR Seth Roberts caught a Carr pass and did a terrible job of securing the football on the Patriots five-yard line. Marquis Flowers punched the ball loose and the Pats recovered on the 7-yard line with just 33 seconds left in the half.

Like they’ve done so many times at practice and at training camp, the situational football drill was performed to perfection. Brady drove the Patriots from their seven to the Raiders 45-yard line in just 28 seconds setting the stage for Gostkowski.

Gostkowski boomed the 62-yarder for a field goal as time expired in the half and it wasn’t even close. The ball hit the netting beyond the goal posts and would have been good from 70-yards. The Patriots got the ball first in the second half. On the third play, Brady hit a streaking Brandin Cooks for a 64-yard touchdown, in the span of five plays the Patriots scored 10 points. Game over, thanks for coming, have a safe trip home.

Gostkowski added field goals from 51, 40 and 29 yards on the day. It was his third game where he’s had two field goals from 50+ yards in the same game. Situational football and special teams are hallmarks of Bill Belichick’s teams and on Sunday, they shined once again.

Brandin Cooks has a Monster Day: The Patriots wide receiver has been having a terrific 2017 season. But while he’s been consistently very good, he hasn’t had that one big day where he blew the game open. That block has been checked.

When he was brought in to the team this spring, it was immediately noted that Cooks brings a different element to the table. The Patriots were known as a quick team that thrived on the short, intermediate parts of the field. But they lacked that one true speed demon who can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Cooks has filled that need quite well. He and Brady went to great lengths this summer working on their deep ball game, something that Brady supposedly couldn’t do anymore.

After missing on a deep throw early in the second quarter on a third and five. On the Patriots next possession, Brady went right back to it on first down. He and Cooks hooked up perfectly for a 52-yard gain. That set up the second touchdown, a Brady pass to Danny Amendola.

He and Cooks hooked up again on the third play of the third quarter. The Raiders, short-handed at corner, had rookie safety Obi Melifonwu playing corner opposite Cooks. It was a poor matchup for Oakland and Brady caught the rookie peeking into the backfield while Cooks did a double move and was gone. Brady laid the ball in perfectly and the deep safety help was very late in getting over and Cooks was gone for a 64-yard score. He ended up with six catches for 149 yards and the score.

Cooks has bought into the team first concept where Brady is spreading the ball around to everyone and thus far he has just 45 catches on the season. But he’s on pace for a 1250 yard+ season, which would be a career high. He leads the league with catches of 40 yards or more with six. He also has a dozen catches for 20+ yards.

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Five Takeaways From Sunday’s Win Over Oakland

Ian Logue
at 8:32 am ET

Last week’s decision to remain in Colorado paid dividends as the Patriots certainly appeared to be the more conditioned and well-prepared of the two teams, with Bill Belichick’s club leaving no doubt during a 33-8 beating of the Raiders on Sunday.

This one was never close, with Tom Brady and New England’s offense getting out in front early and taking control against a Raiders team that didn’t look like the same club many felt could be the next contenders in the AFC.  Instead, it was Belichick’s group that took care of business and took yet another step toward another playoff run, while leaving the Raiders with plenty of questions as the two teams depart Mexico City.

Here are some takeaways from the game, which given the Patriots were without Chris Hogan, David Andrews and Marcus Cannon against a pretty good Oakland defense, was certainly impressive.

1) Brandin Cooks continues to settle in– For a team that’s already leading the league on the offensive side of the football, it’s hard to believe that they’re not really even playing up to their potential given the personnel they have on offense.  One player who comes to mind under that context is Cooks, who  continues to be one of their weapons on offense who seemingly gets better every week.  On Sunday, Brady found him on two of their longest pass plays of the season, hitting him for 52 and 64 yards, the latter of which went for a touchdown.  He finished with six catches for 149 yards and a touchdown.

It sounds funny to say, but Cooks hasn’t been a go-to player for Brady in clutch situations and really up until now, he hasn’t been someone Brady’s connected with when he’s really needed to.  He came into Sunday’s game against the Raiders having caught just 4 passes on 14 targets from Brady on third down, as well as just two receptions on four targets down in the red zone.  On Sunday, Brady targeted him twice in scoring territory, with Cooks catching one pass for a 1-yard loss while finishing 0-for-2 on third down.  Those continue to be areas to keep an eye on but should they eventually get on the same page, it’s hard not to like New England’s chances in the postseason given what we’ve already seen from him.

2) Tom Brady continues to amaze – It doesn’t matter what country he plays in, Brady will dominate and that’s exactly what he did on Sunday after becoming the first quarterback to finish with a 300-yard passing performance in three different countries.  He opened the game by matching his 2003 performance against the Colts by hitting his first 12 passes, and he had the Patriots up 17-0 at the half after missing just four passes while throwing two touchdowns.

He was razor sharp all afternoon, throwing touchdowns to Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and a 64-yard bomb to Cooks in front of a crowd that spent most of the game chanting his name after each big throw he hit.  The two long throws he threw to Cooks were right on the money, with Cooks catching the ball in stride and not having to turn back and adjust as he had on previous similar attempts.  The Raiders tried to put the pressure on him but each time they came after him, he read the defense and got the ball out of his hands before they ever had a shot at him.

However, there was a scary moment late in the game where he was tackled low by Khalil Mack, which saw his leg get twisted awkwardly as he was taken down.  The play drew a roughing the passer penalty but the important thing was Brady got back up and continued on, which given how it looked on the replay was pretty remarkable.  Four plays later, Gostkowski hit a 29-yard field goal and Belichick wisely turned the reins over to Brian Hoyer, who finished the game with Brady as a spectator.


Lewis was terrific again on Sunday.

3) The streak continues for Dion Lewis – Lewis had a strong outing on Sunday running the football, finishing with 60 yards on 10 carries while showing his usual quickness and escapability against a Raiders defense that was clearly frustrated by his elusiveness.  What’s really impressive about Lewis is how well he’s been getting through the line and into the second-level, which is one of the areas where he’s been dangerous and that proved to be the case again on Sunday.

However, Lewis continued an impressive streak which saw him catch all four passes thrown his way, improving him to 14-of-14 on passes targeted to him this season, continuing his run as the only receiver with 10 or more targets with a 100% completion rate.  Oddly enough, the other player is slowly making his way into that category at that this point is Martellus Bennett, who came into Sunday’s game having caught 3-of-3 last week, while catching another 3-of-3 again against the Raiders.

Lewis seems to be peaking at the right time and that’s good news for New England, who is about to embark on a six-game stretch that includes five games against their Division rivals and one against a team that could stand in their way of getting home field in January in the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Having someone like Lewis playing at this level will certainly help their cause, and it’s good to see him playing back to form at this point in the season.


Trey Flowers and the Patriots defense dominated on Sunday.

4) Patriots Got Another Key Turnover Sunday – With Dont’a Hightower lost for the season, New England has been without one of its key playmakers on the defensive side of the football.  But they’ve started getting timely turnovers and on Sunday, Marquis Flowers made a big one against the Raiders after forcing a fumble in the closing minutes of the first half.

The turnover happened after he punched the football out Seth Roberts’ hands as the Raiders were threatening, having driven down to the Patriots’ 15-yard line.  At the time, New England held just a 14-0 advantage and had Oakland scored, they would have pulled to within 7-points right before the half and it could have changed the momentum of the game.  Instead, it gave Brady a shot with 0:33 to play and he managed to drive them from their own 7-yard line out to the Raiders’ 45-yard line, where Stephen Gostkowski drilled a team-record 62-yard field goal to close out the half.

That sequence seemingly took the wind out of Oakland’s sails, with Raiders QB Derek Carr looking frustrated and nowhere near the normally calm player fans have generally seen from him.  But it’s a play that really made a difference and these types of plays are slowly becoming a Hallmark again of this football team, and it certainly turned the tide of the game for New England Sunday.

5) Another good game for Jones – One of the more fun aspects of each season is seeing unexpected players doing unexpected things and Jonathan Jones continues to be one of those players.  He had another unheralded moment again on Sunday, playing pretty good defense early in the game that lead to a deflection, allowing Duron Harmon to make an interception on the Raiders’ second offensive possession.

While New England didn’t turn it into points, it did take the ball out of the Raiders’ hands and allowed the Patriots to control the filed position battle after Ryan Allen pinned them back to their own 13-yard line.

Jones finished the afternoon third in the team in tackles with five, and overall he did a pretty good job in coverage, which played a part in holding the Raiders to just eight points.  While it wasn’t a flashy performance, his contributions have quietly been one of the big reasons behind New England’s improvement on the defensive side of the football.

For now, the Patriots will return home to prepare to take on Miami, as the Dolphins will visit Gillette Stadium next Sunday afternoon at 1pm.

Belichick Passes Another Legend After Sunday’s Win

Ian Logue
November 19, 2017 at 10:59 pm ET

Bill Belichick has established himself as one of the best in the game, and on Sunday he managed to surpass another terrific coach in the record books.

Sunday’s victory over the Raiders was Belichick’s 271st career victory, moving him ahead of legendary coach Tom Landry into third place all-time in the NFL record books.

It’s an amazing accomplishment, with Belichick now trailing just Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324) in total victories.  The likelihood of passing Halas could certainly be a possibility, especially should Tom Brady manage to play five more seasons and continue to average at least 10+ regular season wins over that span, along with a few more deep playoff runs, .  The only issue there could be whether or not Belichick, who is 65, would potentially coach into his 70s.  That may not be something he’d be willing to do.

With five Super Bowl wins as a head coach and additional ones during his time as a coordinator, the possibility is still there to add a couple more to his resume.  Given what he’s already accomplished, after passing Landry, the last two spots may not be a priority.  Ultimately, great coaches are judged on the number of championships they’ve won, which at this point, Belichick has already established himself among the all-time greats.  At this point, he’s more than surpassed Shula in terms of titles, with Shula finishing 2-4 in Super Bowl appearances.  Should he add another, it will only distance him further from the former Dolphins coach who has made it clear he thinks little of Belichick, having referred to him as “Beli-cheat”.

Fortunately, on Sunday he’s moved further up the ladder thanks to a dominating 33-8 win over the Raiders.  In typical fashion, he praised his players and credit them for his accomplishment.

“The credit goes to the players,” said Belichick. “They’re the ones who go out and win. They won the game tonight, and they deserved to win because they played better. That’s the way it’s been on those other 270 games or whatever it is. [I’ve] been very fortunate to have a lot of great players.”

NFL Week 11 Odds, Predictions and Picks against the spread

John Morgan
at 11:00 am ET

The Patriots versus Raiders in Mexico City highlights a decent slate of pro football games in Week 11. Four games in particular stand out, conveniently with one in each time slot.

The day kicks off with a matchup of division leaders, a rarity in the early time slot. The 7-2 Rams have won four straight and bring their top ranked offense (32.9 ppg) to Minnesota. The 7-2 Vikings have won five in a row and are allowing just 18.3 points per game. Minnesota is listed as a 2½ point favorite.

The Patriots and Raiders renew their decades long rivalry in the late afternoon time slot. New England puts a five game winning streak on the line in their second consecutive game on the road at high altitude. The Patriots need a win to keep pace with Pittsburgh for the best record in the AFC, and to maintain their two game lead in the AFC East. 4-5 Oakland has been inconsistent this year but still possess plenty of talent on offense. The Raiders need a victory to keep hopes of winning the AFC West alive.

Sunday night has a good game with Philadelphia at Dallas. The Eagles own the NFL’s best record at 8-1, and have a league-high seven game winning streak. The 5-4 Cowboys need a win to stay in contention for a wild card spot, as nine other NFC teams have at least five wins. With all that has been happening off the field for Jerry Jones, a victory would be sweet. The Jerrah now knows first hand with what it is like to be on the wrong side of Roger Goodell’s erratic system of lies punishment.

Week 11 wraps up with a good game on Monday Night. 5-4 Atlanta travels to Seattle to play the 6-3 Seahawks. The defending NFC champs are in third place, two games behind New Orleans. The Falcons need a win here to not only stay close in the NFC South, but to just keep up as a wild card contender. Seattle is only one game behind the Rams in the NFC West but they have bigger issues. The Seahawks will be without Pro Bowl CB Richard Sherman (ruptured Achilles’ tendon) and Pro Bowl SS Kam Chancellor (neck stinger).

For a full list of announcers and to see what games are being broadcast in your are, please check JP Kirby’s 506 Sports.

Early Games on Fox

5-4 Detroit Lions at 3-6 Chicago Bears
Lions favored by 3; over/under 41 points; money line -150, +130

The Bears continue to find a way to lose close games. Mitch Trubisky has a bright future but right now he’s going through the growing pains of being a rookie quarterback on a bad football team.

Pick: Lions 21, Bears 17
Detroit -3, under 41

 

3-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 4-5 Miami Dolphins
Pick’em; over/under 41½ points; money line -110, -110

How much of a distraction will the Uber allegations against Jameis Winston be for the Bucs? This game comes down to which CB gets burnt more badly, Miami’s Xavien Howard or Tampa’s nickel duo of Javien Elliott and Robert McClain.

Pick: Buccaneers 20, Dolphins 17
Tampa Bay -0, under 41½

 

7-2 Los Angeles Rams at 7-2 Minnesota Vikings
Vikings favored by 2½; over/under 45½ points; money line -135, +115

Most of the talk has been about Jared Goff and the #1 LA offense against a tough Viking defense. The Rams are well balanced, with Aaron Donald leading the way in Wade Phillips’ defense. LA is allowing just 18.0 points per game and has forced 19 turnovers. Keep an eye on Viking WR Adam Thielen. The D-2 receiver has five games with at least 90 yards receiving, and at least five receptions in all nine games.

Pick: Rams 24, Vikings 20
Los Angeles +2½, under 45½

 

4-5 Washington Redskins at 7-2 New Orleans Saints
Saints favored by 7½; over/under 51½ points; money line -380, +310

The Saints are playing well in all three phases of the game. The offense is far more productive with more emphasis on the running game, keeping opposing defenses off balance. Net result is a 7-game winning streak, tied with Philadelphia for the longest in the NFL this season. Make that eight straight over the injury depleted Skins.

Pick: Saints 31, Redskins 21
New Orleans -7½, over 51½

 

4-5 Arizona Cardinals at 3-6 Houston Texans
Texans favored by 1½; over/under 37½ points; money line -125, +105

You want to know why ratings are down? Games where the starting quarterbacks are Tom Savage and Drew Stanton may have something to do with that.

Pick: Cardinals 19, Texans 16
Arizona +1½, under 37½

 

Early Games on CBS

6-3 Kansas City Chiefs at 1-8 New York Giants
Chiefs favored by 10; over/under 46 points; money line -500, +400

Remember when preseason prognosticators were predicting that the Giants would win the division and contend for the Super Bowl? Now Big Blue is a double-digit underdog at home and instead in contention for the number one pick in the 2018 draft.

Pick: Chiefs 34, Giants 10
Kansas City -10, under 46

 

4-5 Baltimore Ravens at 5-4 Green Bay Packers
Ravens favored by 2; over/under 38 points; money line -130, +110

Brett Hundley looked awful in his first two games, but was improved last week. Packer RB Jamaal will need a productive day to counter Baltimore’s blitz-heavy defense on a cold (33) and windy (12-25) day.

Pick: Packers 20, Ravens 17
Green Bay +2, under 38

 

6-3 Jacksonville Jaguars at 0-9 Cleveland Browns
Jaguars favored by 7½; over/under 37 points; money line -380, +310

Jacksonville may be without their top four receivers, so it will be imperative that the Jags get their running game in gear. Jacksonville’s offensive line has performed well this year, with the Jaguars averaging an NFL best 163 yards rushing per game. Cleveland’s run defense has been their lone bright spot. The Browns are allowing an NFL-low 3.1 yards per carry and just 86 yards rushing per game.

Pick: Browns 20, Jaguars 16
Cleveland +7½, under 37

 

Late Afternoon Games

5-4 Buffalo Bills at 3-6 Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 ET on Fox
Chargers favored by 5½; over/under 41½ points; money line -250, +210

Nathan Peterman gets the start at quarterback over benched Tyrod Taylor. Expecting a rookie QB to win on the road in his first NFL start is a tall order, even though the Chargers have virtually no home field advantage.

Pick: Chargers 27, Bills 16
Los Angeles -5½, over 41½

 

3-6 Cincinnati Bengals at 3-6 Denver Broncos, 4:25 ET on CBS
Broncos favored by 2½; over/under 38½ points; money line -145, +125

Denver has lost five straight and Bronco fans are pointing their fingers at everybody, including John Elway. If the Bengal secondary could not cover Tennessee receivers last week, what will they do at Mile High against Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders?

Pick: Broncos 23, Bengals 20
Denver -2½, over 38½

 

7-2 New England Patriots vs 4-5 Oakland Raiders
4:25 pm ET on CBS, at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City
Patriots favored by 7; over/under 54½ points; money line -320, +270

Jack Tatum. Daryl Stingley. Russ Francis. George Atkinson. Phil Villapiano. Ray Hamilton. Ben Dreith. Stop whining about the Tuck Rule, Raider fans. You scored six points on your final ten possessions of that game, and failed to stop the Patriots on three of their last four possessions.Pats improve to 19-15-1 all time in this series.

Pick: Patriots 31, Raiders 17
New England -7, under 54½

 

Prime Time Games

8-1 Philadelphia Eagles at 5-4 Dallas Cowboys
Sunday night at 8:30 pm ET on NBC
Eagles favored by 5½; over/under 48 points; money line -240, +200

Carson Wentz has thrown 17 touchdown passes against three interceptions in the last five games. Dallas has not been able to contain good quarterbacks and high scoring offenses this year. The Cowboys gave up 35 points in home losses to the Packers and Rams, and 27 points at Atlanta last week.

Pick: Eagles 31, Cowboys 20
Philadelphia -5½, over 48

 

5-4 Atlanta Falcons at 6-3 Seattle Seahawks
Seahawks favored by 3; over/under 45 points; money line -150, +130
Monday night at 8:30 pm ET on espn

The Seahawks are in a difficult situation, playing without CB Richard Sherman and SS Kam Chancellor. Seattle does benefit with the return of FS Earl Thomas, and Atlanta RB Devonta Freeman (concussion) is out. This could easily go either way; it’s tough to pick against Seattle at home. Former Patriot Justin Coleman gets the start at corner in place of Sherman.

Pick: Seahawks 24, Falcons 20
Seattle -3, under 45

 

Bye Week:
7-3 Carolina Panthers
3-7 Indianapolis Colts
4-6 New York Jets
1-9 San Francisco 49ers

 

For a sneak peak at next week’s games, check out NFL Week 12 Early Advanced ‘Look-Ahead Lines: Pats favored by 14.5 vs Miami.

 

NFL Week 12 Early Advanced ‘Look-Ahead’ Betting Lines: Pats favored by 14.5 vs Miami

John Morgan
at 6:00 am ET

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has published their latest NFL Advanced Betting Lines. These early odds are posted prior to the following week’s games, including this past Thursday’s game between Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Also known as Look-Ahead lines, they give the adventurous sports fan an opportunity to wager on games up to twelve days away. Early lines offer a short opportunity to get a jump on odds that could be less favorable after Sunday’s games.

The good news is that this the bye weeks are over, and that Thanksgiving Day gives us three games to feast on.

On paper the NFL Week 12 schedule does not offer many close games. Eleven games have a spread of 6½ or more and two games list odds of three points or less. The New England Patriots are the heaviest favorites, at -14½ at home versus Miami. Two other home teams are also double-digit favorites. Chicago is at Philadelphia (-11½) and Green Bay plays at Pittsburgh (-12½) next Sunday night.

Home favorites also have the narrowest odds. The Vikings are at Detroit (-1½) in an important NFC North game, and the Rams (-1½) host New Orleans in one of the late afternoon matchups. The only road favorites are Carolina (at the Jets), Tennessee at Indy, Seattle at San Francisco, and Jacksonville at Arizona.

NFL Week 12 Early Odds

Thanksgiving Day, Thursday Nov 24
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-1½) 12:30 pm ET on Fox
Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys (-4), 4:30 pm ET on CBS
New York Giants at Washington Redskins (-8½), 8:30 pm ET on NBC

Sunday Nov 26 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-8)
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-14½)
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-7½)

Sunday Nov 26 at 1:00 pm ET on Fox
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles (-11½)
Tampa Bay Bucs at Atlanta Falcons (-9)
Carolina Panthers (-4) at New York Jets
Tennessee Titans (-6½) at Indianapolis Colts

Sunday Nov 26 late afternoon games
Seattle Seahawks (-8½) at San Francisco 49ers, 4:00 pm ET on Fox
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams (-1½), 4:30 pm on CBS
Jacksonville Jaguars (-3½) at Arizona Cardinals, 4:30 pm ET on CBS
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (-6½), 4:30 pm ET on CBS

Prime Time Games, 8:30 pm ET
Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-12½), Sunday November 26 on NBC
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-7½), Monday November 27 on espn

 

At first glance I like the Vikings (+1½), Rams (-1½), Washington (-8½), Bucs +9 and Packers +12½.

 

New England Patriots News 11-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-19, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots game today in Mexico today will be the first game they have played outside the US since they appeared in London in 2012, a 45-7 win over the Rams. This will be the Patriots and Raiders third appearance in the International Series, and the Patriots first in Mexico City. The team did play a preseason game there in 1998.

Just in case anyone was wondering, five teams have not played in the International Series, the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans.

“Don’t Hand it to Me Buddy, it’s Yours” Lewis Nearly Commits a Gaffe:
Lost in the Patriots dominance on special teams last Sunday night in Denver was a mistake by Dion Lewis that could have been costly but luckily for the team was a non-factor.

When the Broncos kicked off, the ball soared deep into the end zone. Dion Lewis catches it cleanly about 7 yards deep and promptly flips the ball to the official. The issue was, Lewis hadn’t taken a knee yet and the play was still live.

The official, more out of instinct, caught it and promptly handed it back where Lewis took a knee. Had the official let the ball go, things could have gotten interesting especially if the ball had rolled out of the back of the end zone.

Patriots Two Starters on the Offensive Line This Week:
The Patriots were without Marcus Cannon last week in Denver, who had been dealing with an ankle injury and he was ably replaced by LaAdrian Waddle. Cannon is out again this week and will be joined by David Andrews. Andrews was a late addition to the injury report which was characterized as an illness. It was reported that Andrews was suffering from a delayed reaction to the altitude.

In his stead, the team is expected to start Ted Karras this week. Karras could play center or guard. If they move him to guard, they’d slide out Joe Thuney to center.

Belichick Flying High At the Air Force Academy:
The Patriots decided to remain in Colorado after the Denver game for a couple of different reasons. One, that it cut down on the travel time that the team would be forced to deal with. A secondary reason was that it allowed the team extra bonding time on the road, which can never be overlooked and third, perhaps most importantly, with the game today in Mexico City at about 7200 feet above sea level, the air is even thinner than in Denver which is about 2000 feet lower than Mexico City. Coupled with the smog, which at times is very thick, it can be very difficult to breathe there. I spent months there a few years ago and it is a tough place to play football.

But Belichick, who arranged for the team to stay at the service academy which is located 6000 feet above sea level, the location couldn’t have been a coincidence. Belichick grew up at the Naval Academy and has great respect for the military and their traditions. And on Friday, when Mike Reiss of ESPN reported that Belichick watched all 4000 cadets march to lunch, and had the opportunity to address them, he had to be in his glory. Reiss reported that Belichick was presented with an Air Force Academy hoodie by Lt. General Silveria, the Commandant of the Academy. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Reiss stated that Mitchell Hall erupted.

While the trip logistically made perfect sense, I’m sure that Belichick used the time to give the team a tour of the facility and did an impromptu history lesson while they were there.

Mass Native Melifonwu Excited About the Opportunity to Play vs the Pats:
The Raiders drafted Grafton-native Obi Melifonwu in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft this spring. The big safety put on a show at the NFL Combine and he shot up draft boards. But an injury in training camp derailed the start of his career and began the season on IR.

Melifonwu grew up a fan of the Patriots, players like Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown and Antowain Smith, now he’ll be facing them. He played sparingly in his first action last week against Miami but logged three tackles. He’ll be looking across at TE Rob Gronkowski this week.

“He hasn’t been able to be available for us, but we’re expecting him to step up,” Raiders’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said to the media this week. “This is the world champions, the guys who have been doing it really well for a long time. Obi is going to get introduced at a high level, but he’s very confident. We’re expecting him to play at a high level and accept the challenge.”

“I think he’s ready to help us. He’s big, strong, fast and he cares a lot,” Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Hopefully we can get him more involved this week and he can play well for us.”

For the rookie, he knows the assignment is tough but excited for the challenge. “I feel like a lot of people try to out-physical him and it’s just, play to your strengths,” Melifonwu said. “He’s a big, physical guy with strong hands, so it’s definitely gonna be tough. But it’s a matchup that’s gonna be fun.”

Stop Empowering the “Tin-Foil Hat” Wearers:
There has never been a shortage of naysayers on the internet who try to take down the legacy of Tom Brady by repeating the ridiculous notion that he’s a “system QB” and more a product of his coach than anything else ad nauseam. One particular troll has a full-time job on Twitter trying to engage every Patriot fan by twisting around facts to make you believe that Brady really isn’t that good at all. Okay. and just in case anyone was wondering, this guy lives in Western PA and is a diehard Manning apologist.

So while it makes for good ratings by inflaming the masses, stop giving this nincompoop the air time by putting him on the radio. And if you do, don’t act all incredulous at the drivel he spews.

Years ago during the Reagan administration, there was a guy who stood across the street from the White House wearing nothing but black trash bags and would point and yell at tourists that, “Reagan is putting the nation in the trash” amongst other things not fit to print. I don’t remember that guy getting airtime on CNN. Take advice from Bill Belichick, “Ignore the Noise” and quit feeding the trolls.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 11:
Last week 10-4 mark. Season Total: 94-52.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with Pittsburgh over the Titans (1-0). Now for the rest of the slate:
Lions at Bears – Detroit
Jaguars at Browns – Jacksonville
Ravens at Packers – Baltimore
Panthers at Texans – Carolina
Buccaneers at Dolphins – Miami
Rams at Vikings – Los Angeles
Chiefs at Giants – Kansas City
Redskins at Saints – New Orleans
Bills  at Chargers- Los Angeles
Bengals at Broncos – Denver
Patriots at Raiders – New England
SNF Eagles  at Cowboys –  Philadelphia
MNF Falcons  at Seahawks – Seattle

Bye week: Panthers, Colts, Jets, 49ers

Next Thursday Detroit over Minnesota, Dallas over the Chargers and Washington over the Giants

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Peterman Gets the Start at Bills Quarterback:

The Buffalo Bills made a surprise decision to start rookie QB Nathan Peterman over Tyrod Taylor this week on the road in Los Angeles. Two weeks ago the Bills were making noise about overtaking New England and gaining control of the AFC East. But after two blowout losses in a row, they’re now reeling and Coach Sean McDermott has mixed things up by replacing Taylor who was never the long-term answer anyway.

Peterman was the fifth QB taken in this season’s draft, in the 5th round and the 171st player overall.

With the game out of hand last week, he came on in garbage time and completed 7-10 passes with a touchdown against the Saints. This week, he’ll be leaning on the running game of Shady McCoy and have to do the heavy lifting if the situation calls for it.

With Buffalo still locked in a playoff spot, it is a calculated gamble by McDermott that this will ignite his team. If he struggles and McDermott goes back to Taylor, it could really hurt their playoff hopes and possibly damage the rookie’s confidence. We’ll be watching that one.

Dolphins Season On the Brink With the Bucs This Week:

The Miami Dolphins have lost three straight games, scoring an average of just 15 points per game and losing by a combined 67 points in those three games. They sit at 4-5 and after going 10-6 a year ago are in danger of falling out of the playoff race. If they have any hopes of rescuing a playoff berth they have to beat the 3-6 Buccaneers today.

But it hasn’t just been the offense struggling, the defense has been faltering as well, having given up 112 points in those three games.

A loss will drop them to 4-6 with a road trip to New England next week where they haven’t won since the Wildcat game in 2008. One thing the Dolphins will try to do this week is getting the ball in RB Kenyan Drake’s hands more, especially in space. The speedster from Alabama is electric, as evidenced by his 66-yard touchdown run against the Panthers last week. In the last two games, Drake has runs of 66 and 42 yards. While Damien Williams is technically the starter right now, Drake’s role should see a big increase down the stretch.

Jets During the Bye Week are Sticking With McCown:

The New York Jets are off this week but are surprisingly 4-6 as they hit the bye. They’ve already won more games than anyone would have thought possible and although a real long shot, they still have a chance at making the postseason. Raise your hand if you thought that possible by Week 10.

So despite the slim postseason hopes, the team is not going to throw in the towel and go with young QBs, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. They’re going to stick with QB Josh McCown, who has played very well this season.

Any further wins may hurt the Jets’ chances of finding a franchise QB in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Head Coach Todd Bowles isn’t concerned with that. He’s got his players focusing on the now and keeping their jobs. Now the only question is, does the front office step in and demand to see what they have in the two young QBs, or do they already feel that the two aren’t going to be the answer?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Raiders Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 17, 2017 at 10:57 am ET

¡Bienvenidos a México! The Patriots finish up the first two-game leg of their road trip with an outside the border game in Mexico City this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 4:25 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (7-2) are coming off a big 41-16 win in Denver, Tom Brady and Dion Lewis were AFC Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week respectively as the Pats rolled to an easy victory.

The Raiders (4-5) are coming off of their bye week. This was a team that was picked by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. But they struggled in the early going and dug themselves into a deep hole. They’ll have to go no worse than 6-1 down the stretch to make the postseason and have a chance for a deep playoff run. For the Raiders, the playoffs start on Sunday.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Raiders have played one another since 1960 but have only met 34 times. However, the two playoff matchups both ended with very controversial calls. While many Raiders fans point to the “Tuck Rule” game of 2001, they forget the 1976 game in Oakland when referee Ben Dreith, an admitted Raiders fan called the phantom roughing the passer penalty on Ray Hamilton in the closing seconds of that one.

Overall the Patriots lead the series 18-15-1 and have won the last four meetings including a 16-9 win in Foxboro in 2014.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Raiders Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Oakland

The Patriots running game has been improving but still isn’t where they want it to be. They average just under 108 yards per game. The coaches seem to be settling on a duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead because it keeps opponents off balance and the team is just as likely to pass as run. James White is the third-down back and Mike Gillislee was a surprise healthy scratch last week.  

The Raiders run defense hasn’t been great allowing 116.6 yards per game but they’ve gotten a boost by adding NaVorro Bowman who was cut by the 49ers. The big man can’t move like he used to but remains a sure tackler inside and has been very productive in his three games with the Raiders.

Look for the Patriots to run just enough to keep the Raiders defense honest this week. I don’t expect a big game from either Lewis or Burkhead on the ground, but if they can get out to a lead, they may add some yards down the stretch.

Patriots WRs vs Raiders Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is averaging 301.6 per game and Tom Brady continues his torrid 2017 season. Even with a banged up receiving core, with Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on IR and Chris Hogan injured, the beat goes on. Brady still has Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Phillip Dorsett outside, with Rob Gronkowski and newly added Martellus Bennett at tight end with White, Burkhead and Lewis out of the backfield. There are plenty of options still to use and Brady does. The team has five players with 30 or more catches. The favorite target? The open one.

The Raiders secondary has struggled badly this season, their top three cornerbacks were among the worst rated at their position in the NFL. They lost their top draft pick, rookie corner Gareon Conley to IR. Their pass rush despite having Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards have netted just 13 sacks. They have an issue covering the tight ends as well where it could be a big mismatch with Gronkowski.

Look for the Patriots and Tom Brady to air it out this week. Oakland’s secondary has yet to record an interception this season and with the WRs and TEs putting pressure on the back seven, the running backs in the passing game should give Brady a huge edge here. It will be interesting to see if Oakland puts rookie Obi Melifonwu on Gronkowski. He has the size and speed to keep up with the big man. That’s why they drafted him. But he began the season on IR and has one game under his belt. But Gronkowski against either Reggie Nelson or Karl Joseph is a huge mismatch. We’re one of Obi’s biggest fans here, but this may be a tough matchup in just his second game.

Next up the Raiders offense:

Raiders RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Raiders running game has been a disappointment in 2017. Last year the Raiders were 6th in the league and thought that adding former Bill and Seahawk Marshawn Lynch would vault them to the top. Things haven’t worked that way yet this season. The Raiders average just 87.6 yards per game this season, just 26th on the season.

The Patriots run defense has struggled in 2017, they were gashed early in the year with Dont’a Hightower playing outside and Alan Branch benched. Teams were running very effectively up the middle. But Branch has stepped up his game and although Hightower was lost for the year, veteran David Harris and Elandon Roberts are doing well in run support.

Look for the Raiders to try to get Lynch involved and active early in this game. It will help set up their big-play abilities in play action to take shots down the field. Lynch, if he can get going, gets more effective as the game goes on, so they’ll have to stay patient with the running game.   

Raiders WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Oakland

Oakland’s passing game got off to a very slow start. Part of the issue could be that they’re under a new Offensive Coordinator, Todd Dowling. They have all the necessary ingredients to be a tremendous passing offense with Derek Carr at QB, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Cordarrelle Patterson outside, Jared Cook at tight end and DeAndre Washington out of the backfield. But they’ve only averaged 237 yards per game throwing the ball.

The Patriots pass defense is playing much better since a nightmarish start to the season. Last week they got back Stephon Gilmore from a concussion injury and he held Demaryius Thomas to just 44 yards on five catches. He and Malcolm Butler are a fine tandem and if they get back Eric Rowe this week, it will be a huge boost. The Patriots pass rush is struggling as well, logging only 16 sacks themselves.

The Raiders passing game is beginning to round into form. In their last three games, Carr has thrown for 1025 yards against Kansas City, Buffalo, and Miami. Cooper is heating up as well as Cook. Cook has been thrown to 21 times the past three weeks and has 18 receptions. This will be a huge test for Matt Patricia’s defense. Have they truly turned the corner in the back seven? This will be a big measuring stick to find out.

The key from a Patriots perspective is to limit the big plays and make the Raiders work their way down the field. Carr is going to get his yards, but they must make the stops in the red zone and make the Raiders settle for threes.  

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having a very solid season. His kickoffs have been terrific to pin opponents deep.  The coverage units have been outstanding and keep getting better. The return game has been getting a boost by Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis. Lewis returned a kickoff 103 yards last week and 71 in the game prior. Ryan Allen has improved as the season has gone on.

The Raiders Special Teams boast one of the most dangerous returners in the game with Patterson and one of the best punters with Marquette King who owns a 50.3-yard average… (not a typo) In the thin air of Mexico City, King may put one in the traffic pattern at Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México. But the Patriots STs are operating on another plane right now and get the slightest of edges here.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one as we mentioned is a must-win game for the Raiders. A loss here will put them is in real danger of missing the postseason. The Patriots too need this game to keep pace with the Steelers who won on Thursday night to move to 8-2 in the AFC. The Raiders are coming off their bye and have had two weeks to prepare. But if there is a criticism of Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr., they are a “we do what we do defense” If they don’t mix things up quite a bit, Brady will have a field day against this secondary. Mix in the unknown factor of playing in the altitude of Mexico City. The Patriots seem well prepared by their staying in Colorado this week.  Patriots 34-24

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Raiders in a “Must-Win” Position Against the Patriots This Week

Steve Balestrieri
November 15, 2017 at 10:28 am ET

The Patriots and the Raiders face off in Mexico City this week and while this is a big game for both teams, it has taken on an aura of a “must-win” for Oakland as their playoff hopes will take a big hit if they lose on Sunday.

The Raiders are 4-5 and coming off of their bye week, so they’ve had two weeks to prepare for the Patriots and they’ll no doubt have done their homework but one of the main reasons they are in the position they find themselves in is because of their defense.

The Raiders were one of the teams that were expected to push the Patriots in the AFC this season. Many of the pundits had them ready to leapfrog New England and represent the conference this season in the Super Bowl. A loss on Sunday may just about doom their hopes of even making the playoffs. The Raiders must really go no less than 6-1 down the stretch to have any shot at the playoffs, and even that may be a bit iffy. That is why this upcoming game for them is a must-win. And they’re going to need their defense to play much better than it has so far.

Bad Matchups Abound: The Raiders defense faces a tough task this week because overall they don’t match up well against the this Patriots offense. The defense has yet to post an interception on the year and their top three cornerbacks are among the lowest in the league statistically in opponent’s quarterback rating.

Oakland last year knew that they had to improve their defense to make the big jump they envisioned for this season. They spent their first two picks on their secondary with CB Gareon Conley and S Obi Melifonwu. But Conley was placed on IR this week and is gone for the season and Melifonwu, just came off of IR and played in his first game against Miami two weeks ago prior to the bye.

After watching some film on the Raiders, corners David Amerson and T.J. Carrie will probably get the start against Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett, as we expect Chris Hogan to sit again. That’s a matchup that favors the Patriots, but the real mismatches come inside.

The Raiders safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph do not match up well at all with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. The Raiders linebackers have been woeful in coverage. Factor in Danny Amendola in the slot and running backs James White and Rex Burkhead in the passing game and Brady should be able to find mismatches all over the field.

Oakland may opt to put the big Melifonwu on Gronkowski this week. He has the size at 6’4, 244 and ridiculous athleticism to hang with Gronk. Nobody has been higher on Melifonwu than us here, and he has a tremendous future. But is it fair to saddle a rookie in just his second NFL game with guarding the best tight end in the league?

Pass Rush Disappointing: With a front four that features Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, you would think Oakland would be one of the better pass rushing teams in the league. But they haven’t lived up to that. The Raiders have only 13 sacks on the season which is actually less than the Patriots 16 thus far this season. That is one reason why the team has zero interceptions thus far this season.

Without a pass rush getting home and a shaky back seven on the defense it is no wonder opponents are completing better than 71 percent of their passes against Oakland’s defense. Opponent’s QB rating against them is 109.4. That is higher than Tom Brady’s 108.3 which explains the struggles that the Raiders secondary has had thus far this season.

Death By 1000 Cuts: The Patriots will no doubt opt to do what they always do and that is, be patient, let Brady find the mismatches and work their way down the field. James White leads the team with 46 receptions but the Patriots have five receivers with more than 30 catches. And opponents can’t go to sleep on Burkhead who missed several games with a rib injury, Dion Lewis or Martellus Bennett who just returned to the team after he was waived by the Packers.

However, if the Raiders start trying to crowd the underneath and middle routes, Cooks and Dorsett have the speed to stretch the field deeply. Look for Brady to work the middle to find the outside the numbers this week. They don’t normally take a lot of shots downfield but this week they may try to do more of those.

The Raiders haven’t been great against the run this season either and that could be a factor as well this Sunday. Burkhead, Lewis, White and Mike Gillislee give them plenty of options to keep the defense honest.

It will be intriguing to see how Oakland’s defense opts to play this week. Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio have traditionally been a “do what we do” type of defense. If they don’t change things up this week, they could find themselves facing a tough uphill obstacle. But that’s why they play the games, every week is different and there are always surprises on the field.

¡Bienvenidos a México!

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Patriots  Week 10 Report Card, Dominate Broncos on the Road

Steve Balestrieri
November 14, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots quickly put the Denver Broncos in the rear view mirror due to outstanding special teams play on Sunday night and then with a tremendous offensive game plan, kept Denver’s defense off-balance and in chase mode all night long in a 41-16 rout.

With the stadium at Mile High in Denver has been a house of horrors for the Patriots, they’ve now won there in back-to-back seasons. Even more importantly, the win allows the Patriots to keep pace with Pittsburgh having the best record in the AFC at 7-2 and opened up a two-game lead in the AFC East due to Buffalo getting spanked at home by New Orleans.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A

The “No-Fly Zone” didn’t apply to Tom Brady on Sunday night. Denver’s strength on defense is their three cornerbacks, who are arguably the best in the NFL and their pass rush. So Josh McDaniels and Brady did the smart thing. They got the ball out quickly to negate the pass rush and attacked their weakness, the linebackers in coverage.

In our pregame matchups we pointed out that the place to attack was the linebackers with the tight ends and backs. And Brady was absolutely clinical in doing so, Denver had no answer for that. Brady’s first touchdown was to Rex Burkhead who easily beat his coverage on a skinny post to open the scoring.

Brady used play action passing to freeze the linebackers on more than one occasion but the best one was arguably on the deep 26-yard completion to Gronkowski where there was a huge gap in the coverage. Brady finished 25-34 for 266 yards with three touchdowns and should have had a fourth with the call on Gronkowski being called incomplete when the ball never touched the ground.

Brian Hoyer got to come in late and got in a bit of working going 3-3 including a really nicely designed and conducted screen pass to Brandin Cooks that went for 27 yards.

Running Backs: A-

The running backs were part of the focus this week and they didn’t disappoint. On a night where Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis were the focal points and both had very solid outings.

While the running game wasn’t dominant, it was good enough. Denver, other than last week in Philly has been very stout against the run and getting just under 100 yards kept the defense honest and allowed Brady to run play action.

Lewis didn’t have a catch but was good in the running game, lugging the ball between the tackles. Burkhead provided good power also between the tackles, moving the pile a few times in short yardage and picking up a key fourth down run. He was also very productive in the passing game. Both featured key moments on STs which we’ll get to below.

James White didn’t get a ton of snaps this week but he had a nice touchdown reception from Brady where he put an excellent move on safety Will Parks and had an easy pitch and catch for the score. James Develin was outstanding in run support getting the ball carriers to the second level.

Wide Receivers: B-

This was more by design than anything else. The team was shorthanded with Chris Hogan out so, they attacked the Denver weak spots using the backs and tight ends. However, they kept Denver’s secondary honest by targeting Cooks 11 times, mostly in short underneath routes. Phillip Dorsett and Danny Amendola were only targeted six times total but responded with six catches.

On a night the coaches were putting the onus elsewhere, the wide receivers still had decent production and did exactly what was asked of them.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski had a typical Gronkowski evening, seeing double, at times triple coverage down close to the goal line but still had good production with four catches for 74 yards. He also had a diving 19-yard catch for a touchdown erased by an official ruling that the ball hit the ground, but we’ve beat that horse to death enough.

Martellus Bennett was back in a Patriots uniform and although he played only about 8 snaps made his presence felt, catching 3 passes for 38 yards. His first catch was a big 27-yarder where the Broncos had a communication breakdown (other teams have them too), and two linebackers went after Burkhead leaving Bennett all alone.

Dwayne Allen finally got a catch and it was a big one, a touchdown catch where he was held by Von Miller and then made a nice catch on an outside pass by Brady. He was also very good in the running game. Jacob Hollister didn’t play on offense but had a couple of big plays on Special Teams.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line heard all week about the fearsome Denver pass rush especially by Von Miller. Miller was facing backup swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle filling in for injured Marcus Cannon at right tackle and had one pressure all night on Brady. Waddle, receiving little extra help, was mainly left on his own and held up extremely well. Ditto for Nate Solder. Shane Ray on the other side was relegated to milk carton status. The only sack given up was on a safety blitz where James White uncharacteristically whiffed on a pass block, with Brady getting sacked inside Denver’s 10 yard forcing a field goal.

The run blocking was okay but not great. But the bottom line is that the Patriots scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen…ever unless Brady is getting excellent protection. And yes they aced this test.

Defensive Line: B-

The Patriots defensive line was good but not great in this one. They did a decent job of defending the run although the Broncos did have a couple of really good chunk plays, most of those came after the team was comfortably ahead. But they were stout in the red zone which is a plus, with the Broncos scoring only one touchdown.

The pass rush however was virtually non-existent. Brock Osweiler was nearly as comfortable as Brady was in the pocket. This will be an area to monitor moving forward but they couldn’t get any consistent pressure even when Matt Patricia dialed up some blitzes.

Linebackers: B-

Kyle Van Noy gets high marks for his continuing high level of play all over the field. With Hightower gone for the year, Van Noy calls the signals for the defense and will rush the passer, cover the backs in the flat and drop into coverage. He read a play perfectly and blasted in dropping Jamaal Charles for a loss on one running play. David Harris got the most work of the season and was very good in run support and put a jarring hit on TE Jeff Heuerman knocking the ball loose. Elandon Roberts got good pressure on an A-Gap delay blitz and forced Osweiler to unload the ball.

Special teamers Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly got some work in as Matt Patricia worked everyone into the system and all played well.

Secondary: B

While Malcolm Butler had a very rough first half, Emmanuel Sanders had 114 yards receiving by halftime. He recovered however, and played tough and physical in the second half where Sanders could manage just 23 yards after the break. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination but Butler has a short memory and he doesn’t get down or sulk when he’s not playing well.

Stephon Gilmore returned from his concussion and played well. He was tasked with coverage on Demaryius Thomas and neutralized him quite well. Thomas had five catches for 44 yards. In Thomas’ nine games previously against the Patriots he has averaged 92.5 yards per game and 16.6 yards per reception. Thomas did snag a touchdown on Gilmore but that was just a well designed play by Osweiler. His play action fake froze the linebackers just long enough and Roberts didn’t get a deep enough drop where he’d have been right in the throwing lane. Thomas had inside position on Gilmore and made the catch for the score.

Devin McCourty was his normally solid self in centerfield and was forced to make a couple of key tackles when Sanders was getting loose. Pat Chung and Duron Harmon played well and Chung got an interception off of Osweiler when he read the play and jumped the route in front of Heuerman.

Special Teams: A+

The Special Teams get very high marks this week for turning in three tremendous big plays that easily turned this game into the laugher that it was. After the Pats were held to a three and out on their first possession, Jonathan Jones flew up the field on punt coverage and Broncos returner Isaiah McKenzie, who has shown a tendency for bobbling punts muffed this one. Jones blasted him, allowing Jacob Hollister to recover the ball. The Patriots would then score on seven straight possessions.

Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return for a score getting several key blocks including good ones from Hollister and Dwayne Allen. Once he reached the outside, he had clear sailing and no one was going to catch him. That silenced the crowd quickly.

Rex Burkhead came clean on a punt block after a fantastic play by Brandon Bolden freed him up. Bolden caused his man to step out wide and Burkhead burst thru the gap like he was shot out of a cannon. That set the Patriots up with a short field for a score.

Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs were a stake in the heart of the Broncos. He dropped them just short of the goal line time and again and the coverage units were outstanding. Trevor Reilly unloaded on McKenzie on one where it was amazing that McKenzie was able to hold onto the ball.

Denver made the night complete by jumping offside on a 4th and 5 where the Patriots lined up to punt. The first down resulted in the Patriots putting another score on the board where they completed a 16-play, 94-yard drive.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick’s team had two weeks to prepare to face a team that always seems to have its way with New England at home. Belichick and the staff came up with a fantastic game plan to attack the middle of the field with the tight ends and running backs and they simply eviscerated a very good, very proud defense where they scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen very often, if at all to Denver at home.

The players were focused and executed the game plan extremely well. Belichick likes to talk about producing in “All 3 Phases” of the game. The team did it and more. They allowed only one touchdown and just 16 points on defense, scored 41 points and had tremendous splash plays on special teams.

This was the perfect way to start off the second half of the season and a long road trip that will feature five of the next six games on the road.

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Bennett on Belichick: “He knows how to talk to me”

Ian Logue
at 8:35 am ET

There are certain coaches players just seem to click with, and it appears that for Martellus Bennett, the one here in New England seems to understand him pretty well.

Bennett had a roller coaster of a week last week, with the Packers opting to part ways with him after learning about a torn rotator cuff tear in his shoulder.  After the tight end informing them he intended to have surgery, that would have meant Bennett was headed to injured reserve and the Packers claimed Bennett didn’t properly disclose the injury, leading to an ugly exchange between the two sides and the end of Bennett’s run in Green Bay.

After the Packers waived him, he told his agent to let other teams know not to claim him because he was opting for surgery.  However, to his surprise, one did, with Bill Belichick calling him to let him know the Patriots had claimed him.  Bennett said he was shocked when he heard the news.

“It’s not about, ‘Could you play?’ It’s, ‘Should you play?’ It was one of those things,” Bennett told the Boston Herald. “Right now, I’m just like, (expletive) it. At first, I told my agent to tell no teams to claim me because I was still trying to get the surgery. So when Bill (Belichick) called and said they claimed me, I was like, ‘No (expletive) way.’ ”

All of a sudden, everything changed.  Bennett told the Herald that he got a text from Tom Brady encouraging him to come back and suit back up for his old team and that appeared to be enough.  One plane right later, he was back in the same building where he won a championship a season earlier.  For most players, arriving on a Friday would have been far too soon to get acclimated to a new system.  For Bennett, despite being tired, Belichick had plenty of confidence in him and seemed to believe it wouldn’t be an issue.

“Bill was like, ‘Can you practice?’ ” Bennett told the Herald. “I was like, ‘Bill, I just want to go to sleep right now.’ (Belichick said), ‘Oh, it’s a Friday. Just go out and get some snaps.’ I think he knows how to talk to me, too, so I’m like, ‘All right, I’ll go out there.’ ”

We saw the results Sunday night.  Bennett went out against the Broncos and played well, appearing during New England’s second offensive series where he jump-started the offense with a 27-yard reception.  That catch got the Patriots past midfield and ultimately lead to a field goal, which put them up 17-6 at the time.  Overall, Bennett finished with 3 catches for 38 yards while playing just 7 snaps.

Not a bad start for a player who didn’t have much time to prepare.  But having played in this system all last season, he knew the terminology and obviously already had chemistry with Brady, not to mention the confidence from a coach who knew what he was capable of.

It was a crazy week, but after one game Bennett should be feeling pretty good about his decision.  With seven regular season games left to play and the future suddenly looking pretty bright for this football team, Bennett may now find himself in position to make another championship run and hopefully add another ring to take with him in the event he opts to retire after the season.