Tag Archives: 2018 Patriots Schedule

New England Patriots News 9-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 23, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-23, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here and our players to watch for tonight’s game can also be found here:  

Jacob Hollister was a late addition to the injury report on Friday and has been ruled out of tonight’s game. He was one of the players we had in our pregame matchups to watch. He may miss a game or two according to reports.

Cyrus Jones is back in the fold and will probably be returning punts tonight. He was part of the last cuts by New England and landed on the Ravens practice squad. But the Pats signed him back to the active roster this week and look for a hungry and motivated Jones this week. An interesting tidbit was that Jones was practicing with the safeties this week.

Resilience:  The Patriots success under Bill Belichick is always enhanced by the fact that they don’t lose many games back to back. As we pointed out earlier this week, the Patriots are 45-6 since 2003 following a loss. And for those conspiracy theorists that lament the Patriots playing in the AFC “Least”? Since realignment in 2002, the Patriots are 51-16 against the NFC, the best interconference record in the NFL. 

Tom Brady reportedly was testy and irritable all week in practice. Mike Giardi from NFL Network reported that Brady was quite unhappy with the level of execution that the Patriots showed in Jacksonville and wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen again this week against the Lions.

Corey Coleman the former 1st Round draft pick of the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft was released by the Patriots to make room for Josh Gordon. But the next day after clearing waivers, the Patriots signed him to the team’s practice squad.

Coleman had only spent a week in New England and was inactive for the Jacksonville game but Bill Belichick was highly complimentary of the former Baylor wide receiver.

“He’s a player we want to work with,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t had him a long time but he’s done a good job with the opportunities that he’s had. We want to keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

Malcolm Mitchell filed a grievance against the Patriots, as first reported by our old buddy Miguel Benzan, commonly known as @Patscap the salary cap guru. The former the receiver has filed an injury grievance against the team and was seeking his entire 2018 salary of $630,000.

Mitchell was released by the Patriots back on August 6. That release was not coupled with an injury designation, so the receiver could not recoup any money from his deal. Mitchell cleared waivers, however, late Friday night there were reports that the two sides had settled the dispute.

Pat Chung/Trey Flowers didn’t practice this week and are doubtful for tonight’s game. Their loss will be a big blow to the Patriots defense. Flowers is their best player on the defensive side of the ball and Chung is an excellent tackler and his presence will be missed in the running game and the covering of tight ends.

No One Wants to See Gordon Fail:

In the hoopla of the Josh Gordon trade this week, reactions were mixed but by far, most were exceedingly positive and the prevailing theme was, “Brady hasn’t had a target like this since Randy Moss.”

Others, including here in this column were against the trade. And my TL and DMs quickly jumped my mentions by explaining that it was a “low-risk, high reward” scenario. Other mentions accused me of wanting Gordon to fail, which is ridiculous.

But this move isn’t low risk, because Gordon isn’t being just brought in to be a complementary piece. All of the mentions states, the Patriots need a player who can stretch the field and take pressure off of the intermediate receivers. So, yes he will be expected to play a valuable role.

While the compensation is basically a wash, which is basically a no-risk scenario, the big risk here, as I pointed out in the Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on Tuesday is time. This wasn’t a trade you make in March and have six months to figure out if the player fits your offense, your locker room and has put his problems on the back burner enough for you to secure him a roster spot.

This scenario is after Week 2 of the NFL regular season. And the team doesn’t have the time to try to prepare for an upcoming opponent while trying to incorporate a new Wide Receiver into the fold while treading very lightly around said, player. And he is a player with serious addiction issues. It isn’t as some point out, “just weed” and is much deeper.

Saying all this can be easily fixed by just dropping him in the Patriots locker room is overly simplistic and doesn’t lend itself the seriousness of Gordon’s situation. What about when he goes home at night? That’s where his problems lie, not in the building.

Everyone here wants to see him be successful…at life, football is a far second to that. Addiction and drug use are big problems facing our nation as a whole. But his physical talents have never been in question.  Would we love to see him light it up and be a part of bringing Lombardi #6 home? Of course.

But it isn’t as simple or as easy as many will have you believe. Hopefully, Robert Kraft will put some quality off-field support mechanisms around Gordon to help him.

Derek Rivers Set To Make His NFL Debut?

The bad news of Trey Flowers having a concussion and having missed all of this week’s practice could be an opportunity for last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers. Rivers has been a healthy scratch for both of the first two games of the season after falling behind Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise and Keionta Davis on the depth chart.

Rivers missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL during joint practices with the Jaguars last August. He started slowly in training camp this year but came on and started to round into form.

It will be interesting to see how he can produce in a regular season game, which will be his first NFL action if Flowers is a scratch for tonight’s game. Rivers told NESN’s Doug Kyed this week that he hasn’t been frustrated by his lack of playing time yet but he’s just working hard and waiting for his chance.

“I’d be excited,” he said.  “But this is what we’ve been doing since camp. I got to play in the preseason, and every game is similar. I know everybody puts a lot of pressure on preseason and regular season, but a football game is a football game. It’s a blessing to play in each and every one of them. It will be exciting times, and god-willing, if this is the week, then I’ll be excited.”

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Season 18-12-2

Thursday night’s pick Cleveland over the Jets 1-0

New Orleans at Atlanta: Falcons
Green Bay at Washington: Packers
Indy at Philadelphia: Eagles
Buffalo at Minnesota: Vikings
Oakland at Miami: Dolphins
Denver at Baltimore:  Ravens
Cincinnati at Carolina: Panthers
Giants at Houston: Texans
Tennessee at Jacksonville: Titans
San Francisco at Kansas City: Chiefs
LA Rams at LA Chargers: Rams
Dallas at Seattle: Dallas
Chicago at Arizona: Cardinals
New England at Detroit: Patriots
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: Bucs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Tough Matchup on the Road in Minnesota:

Buffalo is 0-2 and heading to Minnesota to take on the 1-0-1 Vikings. Since opening their new stadium in 2016, the Vikes are 14-4 at home, third best in the NFL behind New England and Philadelphia.

Josh Allen has the unenviable task of going with a shaky offensive line and a dearth of playmakers against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Vikings have seven sacks as a team, while the Bills have already allowed 11.

After being hammered in the first half and allowing 28 points, Head Coach Sean McDermott took over the defensive play calling in the second half and the unit responded, allowing just three points in the second half. That will bear watching today.

While we were adamant that Allen should have been sitting and learning in his rookie year, McDermott hit the panic button after just one half of the first game. Allen was sacked five times last week and has been put in a nearly impossible position to succeed. Buffalo will have to tread carefully here, these type of situations have ruined other young QB’s confidence. And the Vikes will be bringing the heat.

Dolphins Have Big Game At Home Against the 0-2 Raiders:

Miami is 2-0 and has played very well against both the Titans and Jets and sit alone atop the AFC East after just two weeks. So why is this game against the winless Raiders such a big one? Because these are the types of games the Dolphins have consistently dropped when having a chance to get momentum going.

Today’s home game will put the Dolphins at 3-0 and guarantee them of no worse than a tie with New England with a road trip heading up to Foxboro next weekend. And a win will put the Dolphins of a chance of going undefeated thru the quarter pole of the season  That will boost a lot of confidence in the team as they move forward.

With kickoff time temps of about 88 degrees with high humidity, it is a built-in advantage. Also, factor in the Raiders are making an East Coast swing for a 1 p.m. game, something that West Coast teams don’t normally play well in, it is something to watch for.

Miami has a prime opportunity for them to pounce on a team that hasn’t played well yet in 2018. And look for their defense today to make a couple of big plays. That will set up some good drama for Week 4, which will pit them against the Pats for the first time this year.

Darnold Takes Blame For Loss, But the Fault Was With Jets Coaches:

The New York Jets lost on Thursday Night Football 21-17 to the Cleveland Browns, the Jets third game in 11 days and may have run out of gas at the end. And of course, the popular narrative was that Baker Mayfield outplayed Sam Darnold on the big stage.

While you can certainly point to the numbers to make that case, it was hardly that simple. When Mayfield came in, the Jets were rolling 14-0. But rather than put restrictions on him, the Cleveland coaches cut him loose and allowed him to throw the ball all over the field, in other words opening the playbook completely to him. And Mayfield looked very much the part of the 1st overall pick in the draft against what is a pretty darn good Jets defense.

Darnold, in contrast, was just 15-31 for 169 yards and two interceptions, both thrown with under a minute and a half left in the game on desperation throws.

“From my point of view, I just have to play better, simple as that,” Darnold said after the game. “It’s not acceptable, the way I played. I know that, and I have to take it like a man. I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stagnant offense we had. I just have to play better, that’s it.”

While standing up and taking responsibility is laudable, the coaches deserve as much if not more of the blame for the stagnant offense. They have saddled the rookie with a very limited playbook. Worried about the Browns blitzing, they gave him a steady diet of screen passes and other very conservative options. They never allowed him to test the field the way the Browns did.

Even Jets WR Quincy Enunwa hit on the issue, although he worded it carefully, there is no doubt what he said here. “He did as well as he could with the plays that were given to him,” Enunwa said. “They had a lot of pressure, and that kind of messed us up.”

The Jets aren’t helping his progression by limiting what he can do on the field. Making things simpler is one thing, hamstringing a QB’s options are another. It is like being thrown the keys to a muscle car and then being told, not to shift it out of second.

NFL fans lost out on what would have been an interesting matchup between two QBs of the future. Darnold didn’t regress in his third start, the coaching staff blinked. Let him play the way he’s capable of.

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.

New England Patriots News 9-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 16, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-16, & AFC East Notes.

We send good wishes today to our friends who live in the Southeast who are in the midst of a fierce hurricane that is pounding the Carolinas and Virginia. Although hurricanes are a fact of life down there, it never ceases to amaze the power of Mother Nature. And to our own neighbors in Massachusetts in North Andover, Andover and Lawrence, we hope everyone gets to get home soon…and safely.

Jacob Hollister is off of the injury report as of Friday and should make his season debut later today for the Patriots. One of those little “game within a game” situations. Hollister’s status may mean more Big Nickel for Jax. The Giants had some success against that last week. Stay tuned.

Sony Michel is itching to get on the field, but that probably won’t be today and with Rex Burkhead in the concussion protocol, the Pats may be really thin at RB today with just James White and recently signed Kenjon Barner.

Weather a factor… watch the heat and the resultant early season conditioning test for the Patriots today. With temps in the low 90s with a chance of thunderstorms in the area, the weather could be a big factor today. This could be a coaching point to get started quickly today.

Duron Harmon was fined $26.739 for a hit on an unnecessary roughness penalty on DeAndre Hopkins with 38 seconds left in the game on Sunday. Hopkins was going up for a contested ball with Devin McCourty and Harmon came in to break it up and appeared to use his shoulder to hit Hopkins, but his wallet is quite a bit lighter this week after that fine.

Kyle Van Noy was the subject of some personal attacks by members of the media for no apparent reason this week. Stating he was an “Ass” and a “Tool” and that he could stand his attitude, in the next breath, the same media member then stated he’s never met him. Even Paul Perillo from PFW who was a guest on that show seemed taken aback by the personal nature of the attack, which is all-too-familiar these days.

From our limited access and personal interaction with the players, we’ve never witnessed anything from Van Noy that didn’t come across as professional and ready to answer anything thrown his way.

And for the record, the Patriots got a steal from Detroit in the Van Noy trade. He’s been a starter here and a valuable cog in the defense and they gave up virtually nothing in return. Sometimes you just have to shrug and move on.

Bentley is a Pleasant Surprise For Everyone Except Belichick:

Ja’Whaun Bentley is off to a very nice start to his NFL career. The rookie from Purdue has turned heads since training camp, preseason and has carried it over thru Week 1 of the regular season. Bentley earned more snaps than any other front seven player against the Texans.

The three-year captain has turned heads with his play against the pass thus far. He was known as a big thumper in the running game, but his play against the pass has been a very pleasant surprise but not to everyone. Bill Belichick said the team isn’t surprised by his value at all.

“Well, I mean, first of all, I was surprised he wasn’t at the combine. That was surprise No. 1. I mean, it wasn’t to save airfare. The guy’s 20 minutes away. But, it is what it is.”

Belichick was asked about the rookie’s playing time and he summed it up, Bill style. “That’s up to them. But (it was) his first game, and he did a lot of good things out there. There were some things that we talked about during the game, some things he’ll improve in. We just need to keep working as a team and individually, collectively to try to get better in every area. “We have a long way to go.”

It will be interesting to see the workload that Bentley gets this week against the Jaguars.

“Must Win” Games in September? Not Hardly:

No one is discounting that today’s game is a big one between the two teams that played in the conference championship in January. But it is a September game and not much more. Far too much is being made of this because of the matchup that it is some kind of a “must win” game for each team. In Week 2? To quote Chad Johnson, “Child Please.”

This isn’t any more than an early season test and Patriots fans should be reminded that Bill Belichick treats the first month of the season like an extended preseason. We see just the basic installation of the offense and defense and this year will be no different.

I’m reading and hearing a lot of talk that playoff seeding in January is on the line over this one. One of our own colleagues here believes this game is more important to New England than to Jacksonville. What? We heard similar talk about the Chiefs after Week 1 last year. How did that work out?  The season is far too long with too many variables to be putting that kind of moniker on a Week 2 matchup.

So what happens if it is a “must win” game and you lose in Week 2? Do you tank the last 14 weeks? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out Matty P:

The long and not-so-fine Boston tradition of kicking people on their way of town is alive and well. Just look at Matt Patricia. Much of New England took entirely too much delight in watching Patricia’s head coaching debut with the Lions go down the tubes badly. The Jets curb stomped Detroit badly on Monday and you would have thought that NE became Jets territory with the shade thrown Patricia’s way.

And now, we have the revisionist history buffs trying to sell us a bill of goods that Patricia was a terrible defensive coordinator in his time with New England….Doug Kyed of NESN tried to quell this bit of chicanery the other day and you’d have thought he stole the crown jewels.  

Take a look at the personnel that the Patriots had on defense during the Patricia years and ask yourself if man-to-man they were anywhere near, the most talented defensive units on the field? The answer is no. And yet every year, the Patriots ranked as one of the best defensive units in the league in terms of points allowed. And that’s what wins games folks points…

Yards gained and yards allowed are the fools’ gold of the NFL. They’re the shiny hood ornament that doesn’t make your car go. Foles shredded the Patriots in the SB for 373 yards and 3 TDs. Brady threw for 505 and 3 TDs but lost.

Since 2014, only the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Doom” have allowed fewer points than the Patriots. So did they do it with smoke and mirrors? It was coaching, plain and simple. While most people, (here included), lamented the style that they played, to say he was a terrible defensive coordinator is crazy talk.

One final thought on that Super Bowl, Patricia took the heat for the Patriots getting picked apart but what about the game before against the #1 defense in the league in points AND yards, the Minnesota Vikings?  Foles threw for 352 yards and 3 TDs in that one as Philly scored 38 unanswered points in a blowout win. By the same judging criteria, Minnesota’s defensive coordinator George Edwards is terrible too? Hardly. Philly got hot at just the right time, and much like Joe Flacco, a few years ago, that was all she wrote.

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Ugh

Thursday night’s pick Cincinnati over Baltimore 1-0

Carolina at Atlanta: Falcons
Indy at Washington: Colts
Houston at Tennessee: Texans
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay: Eagles
Kansas City at Pittsburgh: Steelers
Miami at NY Jets; Dolphins
LA Chargers at Buffalo: Chargers
Minnesota at Green Bay: Vikings (regardless if Discount Double Check guy plays)
Cleveland at New Orleans: Saints
Detroit at San Francisco: 49ers
Arizona at LA Rams: Rams
New England at Jacksonville: Patriots
Oakland at Denver: Raiders
NY Giants at Dallas : Giants
Seattle at Chicago: Seahawks

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills’ Mistake in QB Derby Already Apparent:

The Buffalo Bills screwed up the placeholder job search for rookie Josh Allen and should have never traded A.J. McCarron. They decided to go with Nathan Peterman who struggled mightily with the Ravens on Week 1 and have hit the panic button and are rushing Allen into the breach with a surrounding cast that is not ready to help the rookie in his first NFL start.

“It’s the right move for our football team,” McDermott said. “I’m not going any further than that. I’ve got confidence in Josh, and it’s the right move for our football team.”

We couldn’t disagree more. Allen is the future of the franchise and this move could really backfire on McDermott and Allen. We’ll see how this turns out, but we’d expect a very simplified offense for the rookie and a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy.

And the Bills Mafia can’t be happy with the news that anyone caught table-slamming at a Bills tailgate is now subject to ejection and criminal charges….The horror.

Dolphins Take On the Jets in A Match of Unbeatens:

The Miami Dolphins travel to the Meadowlands to face the 1-0 New York Jets and rookie QB Sam Darnold. The Jets thumped the Lions last Monday night 48-17 and intercepted Matthew Stafford four times. The Jets bandwagon is back in full force since the “Sanchize” days (remember those?), they even trotted out Fire marshall Bill.

The Dolphins beat the Tennessee Titans in a game that was delayed for many hours due to lightning. But the Fins had an impressive win as well and the player to watch this week is Miami QB Ryan Tannehill.

The Jets have traditionally played him very tough, (4-5 record, 10 TDs, 9 INTs) but he has a lot better personnel around him now although the loss of Josh Sitton on the offensive line will hurt, this week and beyond.

Bowles and the Jets Trying to Bring Sanity to Darnold Hype:

The New York Jets stomped the Lions on Monday night in their opener and after a pick six in his first NFL snap, rookie QB Sam Darnold rebounded excellently and played a heck of a game. Of course, the New York tabloids had a field day with the win and loudly proclaimed, “B’Way Sam” next to a picture of Joe Namath and “INSAMITY”. These are the same tabloids that named a certain QB “Sanchize” which even led to a Sopranos mention.

They are also the same tabloids that will turn on the rookie in a second if things go south. Which is why coach Todd Bowles is trying to bring the hype machine back amongst the mortals here and not in that rarified air at the peak of Mt. Olympus.

“It’s only been one game,” he said. “To sit here and say whether he’s great or whether he’s trash or whether he’s anything else, it’s way too early for that. He’s played one game. He’s got a lot of years to go and he’ll build it as he goes.”

Asked if he’s a franchise QB, Bowles laughed and said it was one game, check back when he wins about 100.

Bowles is taking the right  approach with the rookie but he’ll be powerless to stop the hype train if the Jets win again today against the Dolphins. The tabloids will be all for petitioning the NFL to waive the five-year rule for Canton.

But Bowles will be sure to have one of his staff whispering in his rookie’s ear about Sanchize and how quickly that turned. He was the toast of New York until he had an awful game at mid season and got picked five times in an OT loss to the Bills. The next day the papers called him B’way Schmo.

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.

New England Patriots News 9-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 9, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-09, & AFC East Notes.

The 2018 NFL regular season is back and although the Eagles and Falcons kicked things off on Thursday night, the season begins in earnest today. We look forward to seeing a bunch of good interesting match ups.

The opener on Thursday night is about what we expected when the starters for each team barely see the field during preseason. While there was some great exciting play, there was also some sloppiness, (26 penalties).

Kudos to Tom Brady, he saw NBA star LeBron James dunking a basketball and tried to recruit him to come to New England and team up with Rob Gronkowski as a tight end.

“Damn bro come play tight end you and gonk would be unstoppable!!!!” Brady said. Always looking out for the team first…

Duke Dawson was placed on IR for his hamstring injury which he will be eligible to return from this season and in his place the Patriots activated WR Riley McCarron. He should see some action returning punts this week.

Some good news on the injury front was RB Rex Burkhead was removed from the injury report this week and should be good to go for today’s game.

Brady Makes Things Clear…For Some:

Tom Brady has accomplished a ton in his NFL career, in fact, he’s at the pinnacle for success in the league but despite that, he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore…good.

Despite making it crystal clear many times that he wasn’t going to entertain the questions that center around his friend and business partner Alex Guerrero, many in the media insist on pushing this silly agenda. So, Brady felt he had to set the record straight and filmed an epilogue of his “Tom vs Time” video series.

In it, Brady explained that he stayed away from voluntary workouts to spend time with his family and had some choice words to say about every move of his being questioned, scrutinized and his body language dissected using CIA-trained profilers.

“The last couple years, a lot of parts about football weren’t enjoyable when they should have been,” Brady said.

“I think people are just looking for something to write, talk about,” Brady added. “They want to talk about a lot of drama. I’m sure a lot of teams have things like that, but ours is just to the 10th (sic) degree. You learn to deal with it better. I just don’t give a f*** about that much anymore, about anything.” “Like nothing’s that big of a deal to me anymore,” Brady said… To worry about a lot of bulls*** that people may say or think or feel, I really don’t care at all.”

But on Friday, with the opener against Houston just two days away, someone had to ask about Guerrero.

“I don’t want to bring on any drama this year,” Brady said politely. “I’m just focused on what I want to do, and be a great football player for this team and be a good example in the locker room, provide great leadership. That’s where my focus is. I know you want to talk about a lot of other things, but I just really want to stick on football and focus on being the best I can be for this team.”

Nike, Kaepernick Ads Accomplished Exactly What They Aimed For:

The recent Nike ads featuring the former backup QB of the San Francisco 49ers was brilliant in its design and flawless in its execution. Regardless whether you believe in it or support it, the campaign did exactly what it set out to do and that is getting everyone talking about it.

Unfortunately, like anything else in this country, it is nearly impossible to have a measured discussion on anything anymore. There is for and against a topic and if you disagree with me, just scream louder and resort to insults and yes, of course, I’ll do the same. Need a for instance. Just look at the shameful excuse at the Senate hearings this week for the Supreme Court. Yes, shameful. Political grandstanding, people appearing in costumes, protesters interrupting nearly every minute. It is a sorry excuse for representing us a country. And both sides are guilty of it. But back to Kaepernick and the protests.

The ad has spurred countless counter-protests with people, as always plugging their own pictures in the ad which are everywhere. Just as a footnote, if you truly are against this ad campaign, you’re actually helping it when you post these one-up ads of your own. And burning your gear that you already paid for hurts Nike…how? But I guess it doesn’t matter in the world of social media.

I really wish people would stop using the military as the justification for their protests. Especially fallen members like former Cardinal Pat Tillman. I don’t like when people, even fellow military veterans try to equate our service with having a larger stake in our national identity. The flag, the anthem and whatever else belongs to us all equally. This isn’t “Starship Troopers” where the phrase, “Service means Citizenship”. We’re all equally members of this imperfect but beautifully constructed Republic.

The military community, like the country on most matters, is split on this. Many support the players’ right to protest, what they feel is a social injustice issue, while many others do not, mainly because of the vehicle (the national anthem) that they use for the protest.

As I’ve written in a military publication before, if the players feel that way, I’ve haven’t walked in their shoes and far be it from me to tell them how they should feel. And while I don’t care for the WAY they protested, I can’t pick and choose which parts of the Constitution I choose to defend. That isn’t the way it works. Fellow Special Forces veteran and former Seahawk Nate Boyer spoke with Kaepernick and believes that the kneeling protest is right. I’ve spoken with Boyer on Facebook at length about this issue as well.

There is a long way to go in this country when it comes to racial injustice. And Kaepernick didn’t help his own cause by showing up wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt to a press conference. Castro is hardly a beacon of racial justice to people of color. If you doubt that, ask yourself why thousands of men, women, and children braved the ocean in flimsy rafts to get away from him and his worker’s paradise.

Like any other issue with people split on one side or the other, the only way it gets resolved is for people to come together and listen to one another. Will it happen? Let’s just say, I’m not holding my breath with optimism.

Like many others, I supported the idea of the protest but hated the vehicle chosen. And it was ill-conceived and impotent anyway. Why is it impotent? Most networks don’t air the anthem during the regular season anyway. So the message gets lost. And the people who dislike the way the protest is held will automatically tune you out. A better way is to wait until kickoff, at 1:05 p.m. The national cameras are rolling then. Then have the players walk out to midfield, take a knee, hold hands, say a prayer anything. That will get everyone’s attention. Hell, I’ll get kicked out of the stadium and go down and join you on the field. Now, can we get back to football, please?

Pat Chung Goes Full Circle, Is a Captain for 2018:

The Patriots turned a few heads when they brought Pat Chung back to the team after a year in Philly a few years back. His first stint didn’t end so well, but now that move is thought of as a no-brainer. Chung has been outstanding as the strong safety, playing down, close to the box since his return and he’s earned the trust of his teammates and coaches alike. Now, Chung is a captain.

Bill Belichick spoke very highly about Chung on Friday stating, “He’s tough. He’s a tough football player. He has a great football-playing mentality, very competitive, plays well, has played against a lot of good players, plays against good players every week and competes hard every week.”

Chung has only missed one game since returning to the Patriots in 2014.

“He’s out there on everything,” Belichick added. “He’s out there on defense, special teams. He runs a lot of scout-team plays for us on offense, kind of like Rodney (Harrison) used to do. He just loves to get out there and play and compete. He’s in great condition. He can go all day. He can go hard all day.”

Yes, you can go home again.

Who Do You Like This Week, Predictions on the NFL Schedule:

Thursday night, to no one’s surprise, we had the SB Champion Eagles over Atlanta to begin the season 1-0, here is the rest of the slate:

Bills at Ravens – Baltimore
Jaguars at Giants – Jacksonville
Bucs at Saints – New Orleans
Texans at Patriots – New England
49ers at Vikings – Minnesota
Titans at Dolphins – Tennessee
Bengals at Colts – Indianapolis
Steelers at Browns – Pittsburgh
Chiefs at Chargers – Los Angeles (still tempted to say SD)
Seahawks at Broncos – Seattle
Cowboys at Panthers – Carolina
Redskins at Cardinals – Arizona
Bears at Packers – Green Bay
Jets at Lions – Detroit
Rams at Raiders – Los Angeles

Plenty of good games to watch this week, and several new QBs on the slate. The first week of the season is always one of the hardest to predict with the new faces all over the league going into action for the first time.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Daboll Will Get the Bills Offense Moving in the Right Direction:

The Buffalo Bills are not being looked upon favorably by the pundits who do all the predicting when it comes to the NFL. And most of their bile concerning Buffalo has to do with their offense. And I won’t lie, I’m not convinced that this unit offensively will be great this year either. But they have the right guy in charge of it, and once they get their players sorted out, they may surprise some people. Who’s the right guy? Brian Daboll.

Daboll has worked with Bill Belichick and Nick Saban two of the best coaches in both the professional and college ranks and his offense shows a blend of both of those coaching trees.

The Bills offense has seemed predictable and stale for several years. Halftime adjustments were for the other guys. But that will all change with Daboll. Look for the Bills offense to make some headway this year. Instead of trying to get players to adapt to the system, Daboll will use the BB method of finding a players’ strengths and using him in the position where he has a greater chance of success.

It may take a while, but the Bills offense, will turn the corner. They have the right guy on the job already. Maybe not at QB, but at offensive coordinator.

Dolphins Linebackers Still A Question Mark Before Tennessee:

The Miami Dolphins have done a complete makeover for their roster in 2018. They’ve jettisoned, bloating contracts that had little in the way of production and have brought in solid, veteran leadership types. But while the defense on paper looks to be markedly improved, their linebacking core is still a potential weak spot this season.

Today the Titans come into town and have a mobile QB in Marcus Mariota, a two-pronged rushing attack with power runner Derrick Henry and the elusive Dion Lewis and a veteran, productive tight end in Delanie Walker…all things that gave them fits in 2017.

This year, the Fins get back Raekwon McMillan who will be the Mike linebacker after his rookie season was lost totally to a torn ACL. McMillan was very impressive last season before getting injured and he’s looked forward to picking up where he left off last summer. But even if he is, on either side of him are questions.

Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker each come with their own set of questions. And while the Dolphins secondary should be better and their pass rush infinitely better with Robert Quinn joining Cameron Wake, if the Dolphins defense struggles, look no farther than their linebackers. Today is just the first test.

Darnold Gets the Nod for the Jets Against the Lions:

The New York Jets drafted QB Sam Darnold with the #3 pick in the NFL Draft this spring. And the 21-year old is getting the start against the Detroit Lions today. While many, including us here, thought the Jets should be cautious with their rookie’s confidence level until he’s ready….the Jets have gone all in.

“I’m starting him — my confidence level has got to be pretty high,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s [been] playing football his whole life. We don’t go by age.”

Bowles and Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates are both confident that the rookie will play and play well in this first NFL action. It will be interesting to see what new Lions coach Matt Patricia dials up against him. When he was the defensive coordinator in New England, the Patriots defenses were on the conservative side.

If Darnold struggles in the first few weeks of the season, Bowles and Bates, both will hear from the same fanbase and media that are cheering his decision to start the rookie right off the bat. Chalk this one up to must-watch television

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.

Players To Watch Patriots Take on the Texans in Regular Season Opener

Steve Balestrieri
September 7, 2018 at 8:07 am ET

Familiar Faces, Familiar Opponents Face Each Other Again

The New England Patriots open the 2018 regular season against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon and the conditions are supposed to be nearly perfect. The blistering heat wave that rolled thru the East Coast is moving off and it is supposed to be replaced by much cooler, drier air which brings a fall feel to the game.

The Patriots and Texans have faced each other often in recent years and very familiar with one another. In 2017, the two teams shared joint practices together before playing a preseason game and then met again in Week 3 of the regular season. Now they’ll renew the competition as each team has sights set for the postseason.

Although the Texans have never won in Foxboro, they are a team that gets great respect from the Pats. If you’ve ever attended a training camp session and watch those coaching assistants wave those big tennis rackets around when Tom Brady throws in drills? That is the J.J. Watt effect, because the uber-talented, but lately oft-injured defensive lineman has a penchant for knocking down passes at the line.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

The Pats quarterback is entering his 19th season in the NFL and despite being 41 years old, looks as good as ever, winning the MVP of the league at 40 and then throwing for 505 yards against a very good Eagles defense in the Super Bowl.

Brady lost trusted targets in Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks this offseason and then skipped the OTAs to spend more time with his family. Now with a wide receiver core that is thinner than what they’re used to working with, until Julian Edelman returns, all eyes will be on Brady to see if he can continue to keep the offense clicking.

Houston has a formidable pass rush and sacked Brady five times last year, with a new left tackle (Trent Brown) and a right tackle just getting off an injury (Marcus Cannon), the Texans will be looking to disrupt things and Brady will have to be sharp, move the ball around to multiple targets and get it out quickly. Brady takes a lot of the pressure off of his tackles by getting rid of the ball very quickly and this season begins with a big test to see if the rust is gone from a long offseason.

Phillip Dorsett:

Dorsett was brought over from the Colts last year and was pretty much an afterthought in the offense for most of the year. With Amendola and Cooks gone, Edelman suspended for the first month, and Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews released, the onus of much of the wide receiver production is being pushed on his plate.

Dorsett began the summer hot and was looking like he was ready for the challenge, but as camp wore on, he faded a bit and wasn’t a big factor in the first two preseason games. That changed in the third game as he and Brady seemed to be working on their timing and chemistry against the Eagles.

Now the games are for real and a lot of eyes will be following Dorsett as the tries to be the go-to guy and a reliable chain mover for the Patriots offense along with Chris Hogan and the newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson.

Dont’a Hightower:

The Patriots big middle linebacker is back and looks healthy after missing most of last season. While Hightower isn’t an All-Pro, he is for this Patriots defense and his absence in the Super Bowl had more to do with them losing than Malcolm Butler’s absence did.

Hightower will have to control the running game inside and help out when Lamar Miller or Alfred Blue try to stretch them to the edge or head out in the passing game. With the scrambling ability of Deshaun Watson, the Patriot defenders on the edge will have to contain the mobile QB and keep him in the pocket. If he tries to run up the middle, Hightower will be tasked with minimizing the damage.

Having the big, physical Hightower back in the middle of the field is a huge boost for a Patriots defense that was woeful against the run in 2017. Everything with a Bill Belichick defense begins in the middle. Having Hightower back where he belongs is a big first step.

Eric Rowe:

The Patriots corner behind Stephon Gilmore has taken an undeserved bad rap from Patriots fans and will get a chance this season to erase a lot of those. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, Rowe gets elevated to the top two slot. And despite the perception, he’s ready for the challenge.

The bigger, taller  (6’1, 205) Rowe who is beginning his fourth season has earned the right to be the starter. He had a very good spring and summer and fended off all competition from veterans and rookies alike to earn his way into the starters role.

This week he faces Will Fuller of the Texans who will play opposite DeAndre Hopkins and whose responsibilities fall to Gilmore. But an interesting footnote on Fuller, who is recovering from a hamstring issue and may not be 100 percent. Fuller and Watson developed a great chemistry last season. With both Hopkins and Fuller in the lineup with Watson under center, the Texans averaged nearly 40 points per game last year. Rowe’s season opener will have him facing a tough matchup. It should be a fun one to watch.

Rex Burkhead:

The Patriots brought back Burkhead this season after an injury shortened one in 2017. But there is no doubt when he was healthy and on the field, he was an integral part of the Patriots offense. That should not change in 2018 and in fact, his role may actually increase in the first month of the season with Edelman out.

Burkhead missed the Texans game last year after having a big game the week before against the Saints in the passing game. Look for Josh McDaniels to use Burkhead and James White as movable chess pieces in the backfield. The two will serve as slot receivers at times as they’ll put them in motion and try to create matchup problems.

In our key matchups, we said Burkhead may be the “X-Factor” in the game on Sunday. The Texans will be looking to put a lock on Rob Gronkowski and with him and the WRs clearing out some space, it could mean a big day for Burkhead.

Adrian Clayborn:

The Patriots signed the veteran edge player this spring and he was expected to show the veteran leadership role that befits someone of his standing. Clayborn has been the consummate pro since arriving, always being one of the first players on the field and helping the younger players

The Patriots pass rush and their play along the edge in 2017 was a big issue all season. Now, by adding Clayborn to Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise and getting Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis back from injuries that robbed their rookie seasons, the team is optimistic that they’ll be much improved.

But it all begins with Clayborn. He’ll be expected, and rightfully so, to lead the way on Sunday against a very good, young, mobile quarterback. It would do wonders for the confidence of a young group to get off to a good start this season.

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

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Patriots – Texans Week 1, Key Match Ups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will meet the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Their top announcing crew will cover the game with Jim Nance, who will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work 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 (13-3 in 2017) are looking to get 2018 off on a winning track. Tom Brady on the opening day of the season is 12-3, the best record for a QB during the Super Bowl era. The Patriots record in the past 10 years is 123-37, the best in the NFL

The Texans (4-12 in 2017) are healthy and looking to get back in the playoffs. They have a lot of their starters returning healthy after a disastrous 2017. Deshaun Watson was off to an electric start of his career before being placed on IR. They are looking to win in New England for the first time.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 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 Texans will be meeting for just the 11th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 9-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 5-0 advantage at home, including a pair of playoff wins over the Texans in Gillette.

The Patriots needed a vintage 4th quarter Tom Brady drive to beat Houston 36-33 last year in Week 3. Deshaun Watson was outstanding under center for Houston, passing for 301 yards and a pair of scores and the defense sacked Tom Brady five times.

Despite that, Brady passed for 378 yards and five touchdowns in the huge comeback win. The Pats defense didn’t have a great day but produced two interceptions of Watson.

So here are our Keys to the Game, and who gets the Razor’s Edge in the matchups. First up is the New England offense…

Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Patriots running game once again made big changes during the offseason. Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden are gone. Jeremy Hill is in with James White. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have knee injuries and while they’ve been practicing again, it is probably doubtful both plays this week.

The Texans front seven is very good and despite the myriad of injuries they suffered last season, they were very good (13th) against the run. The Patriots could only muster 59 yards a year ago. Can Hill and White muster more than that? We say no this week.

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

The Patriots passing game is thin at WR with only four on the roster plus Matthew Slater. But here’s where the chess match gets interesting. The Texans have a ridiculous plethora of pass rushers, J.J. Watt, Whitney Merciless, Jadeveon Clowney as well as promising rookie Duke Ejiofor and sacked Brady five times last year. But Brady torched them across the middle of the field to the tune of 378 yards a 5 TDs.

Look for lots of two RB, and two TE sets to offset the lack of WRs. James White and Rob Gronkowski will be moved around a lot in motion, splitting out wide to get favorable matchups. Houston has two new safeties, Tyrann Mathieu (Honey Badger) and converted corner Kareem Jackson who are 5’9 and 5’10 respectively. Look for Brady to test them in coverage against the much bigger Gronkowski. Burkhead, if he’s available is the “X-Factor” for the Patriots passing game.

Next up the Houston offense

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

Lamar Miller remains the workhorse for the Texans running game. He lost weight in the offseason to get back some of the explosiveness that was missing a year ago. However, second-year RB  D’Onta Foreman is on PUP for the Achilles he suffered last year. Watson burned the Patriots last year with his ability to scramble. After barely playing in the preseason, will he be given the green light to do it again?

The Patriots made some changes up front from last year, bringing in Danny Shelton who should anchor down the middle, in a rotation with Lawrence Guy, and Malcom Brown. Dont’a Hightower returns from his season-ending injury and should really help in the run defense which was porous last year. Houston has totally revamped their offensive line, which is still a question mark at this point.  

Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Houston

Watson had the Texans offense exploding once he took over at QB last season, averaging nearly 40 points per game. He has one of the best WRs in the game in DeAndre Hopkins who caught 96 passes a year ago, most of the season with awful QB play. Will Fuller has been hurt but is supposed to play this week and he gives Watson a pair of extremely talented wide receivers. Tight End Ryan Griffin could be the “X-Factor” this week.

Last year the Patriots did a terrible job of containing Watson in the pocket, and if he gets out to the edge where he can run or throw, the defense will get gashed again. But unlike last year, when they went to a smaller, safety-centric look, I believe, they’ll go bigger here and look to anchor the edges and push the pocket from inside. The edge rushers, led by newcomer Adrian Clayborn, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, and Keionta Davis will have their hands full. Can they bring pressure without losing containment and force Watson to get rid of the ball early? We’ll see.   

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are back and very solid. Allen, in particular, had an outstanding summer after being pushed in training camp by some competition. The Patriots coverage units are always solid although they’ll be missing two of their stalwarts from the past few years in Jordan Richards and Brandon Bolden. But they get back Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater and have added one of the most dynamic kick returners in the league in Cordarrelle Patterson. Who return punts at this juncture remains a mystery.

The Texans special teams were just awful a year ago, especially their kickoff coverage. But they brought in former Patriots ST coach Brad Seely to right the ship. Long-time punter Shane Lechler was released, beaten out by rookie Trevor Daniel. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has a very strong but inaccurate at times leg.   

Next up, who wins and why…


The first game of the season is always the most difficult to predict. Because the element of the unknown is still out there. The starters for the offenses and a bit on defense haven’t played an entire game since last season and there are always new moving parts on both teams.

The key for the Texans is to get Watt untracked and early. If he’s his normal explosive self, the Texans’ Romeo Crennel will move him around and disrupt everything. A healthy Watt just makes Clowney, who is becoming an elite edge rusher and Mercilus, that much better rushing the QB. The Texans inside backers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, who is a sideline to sideline player will play key roles for them this week, trying to take away Gronkowski’s domain inside.

The Patriots will try to move their backs and tight ends around to create mismatches for Tom Brady to exploit. James White will probably be the most targeted member of the offense on Sunday. How well the offensive line holds up is always a key for the Patriots and especially against this excellent Houston front seven.

Defensively for New England, they try to match up against the Texans top two WRs but how well they do against the backs and tight ends will have a lot to say how this game goes. Containment of Watson in the pocket is key for Brian Flores group.

The Patriots are at home, which is always a big advantage for Brady and the offense. This one won’t be as high scoring as last year’s game, but Brady, White, and Gronkowski do enough to come away with a win.  Patriots 27-21

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Edelman Suspension Creates Huge Hole, Opportunity

Steve Balestrieri
July 5, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Well by now, as everyone heard, the NFL denied the appeal for Julian Edelman and he’ll be lost to the team for the first four games of the season. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for testing positive for an unknown substance which violated the league rules against PEDs. Edelman missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL in a non-contact play during the preseason. He’s been trying to work his way all the way back.

During the spring, the team at times kept him out of some drills, but it seemed more precaution than anything else. In the limited amount of time we were able to watch him, he looked like….Julian Edelman. Quick, able to cut on a dime and nearly impossible to cover in the short passing game.

But now the team will miss him the first four games against Houston, Jacksonville, Miami and Detroit and make no mistake, despite being able to hum along without him last season, this is a big loss for the first quarter of the season.

The offense lost three of its biggest playmakers as Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis left in free agency and the team traded Brandin Cooks to the Rams. So at wide receiver, the depth chart consists of Chris Hogan and a lot of question marks. While there is no denying the talent level is there with players such as Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie Braxton Berrios, as well as the battle-tested but oft-injured Malcolm Mitchell, they haven’t worked for long in the system and the unknown element persists with all of them.

The suspension now may change how they look at training camp and the preseason. Edelman will be gone for the first month of the season, they’ll have to juggle, getting him all the way back with a balance of limiting his workload initially.

This suspension will no doubt put more pressure on tight end Rob Gronkowski and the running backs to produce more in the passing game. With Rex Burkhead and James White back in the fold, the team will look to Sony Michel to add that level of playmaking ability to both the passing and running games in 2018.

The loss of Edelman for that first month of the season, where the Patriots are normally slow starters is a big loss, there is no getting around that. But it opens a window of opportunity for the other players to step up and for at least one of them, it may lead to a four-week reprieve that could lead to him becoming a regular part of the offense.

We wrote on Sunday that the snaps in the slot are now wide open and up for grabs. Mitchell would be the first choice to snag them up but his health is a big question mark right now. Berrios and 2nd-year practice squad player Riley McCarron seem cut from the prototypical Patriots slot receiver mold, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities both in practice and in four preseason games to turn the coaches heads and carve out a role for themselves.

Our money here is on Jordan Matthews who has been able to thrive in many different offenses so he’s able to learn a new one and become productive right away. He brings a different element to the mix, he’s 6’3, so he presents a much larger target especially in the red zone.

Of course, this puts more pressure on Tom Brady and the soon-to-be 41-year-old QB has always been equal to the task. He’ll be operating without two of his best friends and most trusted receivers in Amendola and Edelman but something tells me he’ll be able to weather the storm until Edelman returns in  Week 5 and the newer players find their rhythm in the Patriots offense.

It won’t be a walk in the park and at times they may struggle, as they always do early in the season. That’s what makes every year so different, so compelling and ultimately so much fun to watch.

But nobody circles the wagons better than the Patriots under Bill Belichick and are able to block out the noise and get all 53 men pulling in one direction. Is the loss of Edelman for four games a huge loss? Absolutely. Is it a crisis that will bear close scrutiny? Yes again. But this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff and this is where the great step up to the forefront. JFK once wrote:  

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

I’d place your bets on #12 getting it done this year even without Edelman for the first month of the season.

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

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New England Patriots News 4-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-22, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: 

Rob Gronkowski had a bizarre press conference where he clearly was sending a message to Bill Belichick and it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

It has been said that Gronkowski wants a new deal, there are ways to get that without resorting to what transpired. It wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark, it was planned. Gronkowski’s dad was with him and laughing at his comments.  The Patriots gave him a long-term deal when his health was an issue. They backed him, and now he’s acting like the wronged party here. That could be a big miscalculation.

The weather this week for the Boston Marathon was hardly the ideal conditions for running that or any kind of race. A cold rain was falling with winds blowing right in the runners faces. Congratulations to all who participated in and finished this year’s race. The Patriots Marathon Team all finished this year and raised more than $223,000 for charity. Well done.

The 2018 NFL Schedule was released this week and of course the first thing everyone does is (and we’re all guilty of it), is to try to analyze the schedule and predict what the final outcome of the season will be. It is an exercise in futility of course. Before the draft, no one knows what the landscape across the league will look like yet.

But of course it never stops some, and the first on deck was the Washington Post to loudly proclaim that the Patriots once again have the easiest schedule in the league. Playing seven playoff teams and few others (Green Bay, Houston, and Detroit) who will no doubt again be in the mix hardly seems like a cupcake schedule, but it always seems that way. BTW the much-maligned AFC East had two playoff teams in both 2017 and 2016.

One thing that definitely stands out is the final month of the season, which is a carbon copy of the 2017 season. Road games at the Dolphins and the Steelers, followed by home games to finish the regular season versus the Bills and Jets.

James Harrison announced his retirement from the NFL this week, citing the desire to spend more time with his family. The long-time Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker was released at the end of the regular season and signed by the Patriots.

“I’ve missed way too much for way too long…and I’m done,” Harrison wrote on Instagram. “Many thanks to my family, coaches, the fans, and everyone who played a role in my football life.”

Despite having to learn the defense on the fly, Harrison played very effectively, logging nearly 90 percent of the defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, having arguably the best game of anyone on the team’s front seven.

Kudos to Johnny Manziel and his agent, with the draft upcoming, the media buzz around him has noticeably cooled from a few weeks ago. So Manziel just happened to have himself photographed wearing Patriots garb this week. No other team will garner such a visceral reaction on social media. And Bingo!, he’s news again. Well played.

Quoteworthy Belichick Tidbits:
Bill Belichick was in a presser speaking about the team-building process last week and had this gem, that puts his philosophy out there…in case anyone forgot.

“So the preseason schedule was released and I noticed that there are no games in May, June, or July. Preseason games are in August, so it doesn’t look like the regular season is going to start until September this year.”

Patriots Lose an Icon From the Booth:
Late in the week, we got the very sad news that long-time Patriots radio announcer Gil Santos had passed away on his 80th birthday and also his 57th wedding anniversary.

Santos was the final announcer from the old AFL days, having begun his stint with the Patriots as their color man during the 1966 season. In 1970, he took over as the play-by-play man for the Patriots thru the 1979 season. Working for WBZ, the station lost the rights to the Patriots games from 1980-1990 and Santos was out. However, in 1991, they regained the rights to the Patriots broadcasts and Santos would be the “Voice of the Patriots from 1991 thru the 2012 season.

His final game was the 2012 AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was his 759th Patriots game called on the air. He is a member of the Patriots’ Team Hall of Fame as a contributor. He and partner Gino Cappelletti worked the booth from 1972-79 and again from 1990-2011 when Cappelletti retired and was replaced by Scott Zolak.

Santos rich baritone and always exquisite timing made him one of the very best in the business. From all accounts, he was a very gracious man who never made the moment about himself and had a manner of announcing that made the listener feel that they were right in the booth with them. No one who follows the Patriots can forget the final drive call of his from Super Bowl XXXVI which will remain an icon for the team and the fans.

For a guy who saw the very lean years in the late ‘60s and early ‘90s to finally see the team win their first of five Super Bowls was one of those moments that transcend just the call of a football game. Santos was one of us and you could hear the emotion in his voice as well as Cappelletti, who played in those years. “Well New England, you have the best football team in the world now.”

Growing up in that era, Boston was blessed with some of the best radio voices ever. Santos covering the Patriots, Bob Wilson with the Bruins, Ned Martin calling the Red Sox and Johnny Most covering the Celtics. There were too many school nights to recall where we’d turn an old transistor radio down way low while we were supposed to be sleeping on a school night to hear Wilson or Martin calling a game from the West Coast.

Santos was a frequent guest in the family car on fall weekends when we’d travel to see relatives who lived all over the New England area. His work never changed whether the team was very good or very bad and many times in-between. The mark of a true professional. For those who may have missed it, I’d recommend the book Santos and Cappelletti wrote, “A View from the Booth” which was a great look behind the scenes.  

RIP Gil and thanks for so many great memories. And a call I never get tired of listening to, thanks to Kliff Kingsbury:

Decisions, Decisions, Trying to Decipher What the Pats Will Do in Round 1:
The Patriots have a lot of draft capital in the upcoming draft with two picks in both the first and second rounds. Now everyone is trying to predict what the team will do with all of that capital.

Will they trade up for an elite prospect or one of the quarterbacks, stay put at 23 and 31 and draft some impact players that will immediately help the team or trade back to acquire more draft capital for the middle-to-late rounds. One thing does appear certain, that the team will at one point trade back since they don’t have any picks in the fourth or fifth rounds.

Just some history here, this will be the 14th time in the Patriots history, (if they keep the picks) that they’ll use two or more picks in the first round. Back in the 1970s, the team under Chuck Fairbanks drafted exceptionally well. He had two (2), three pick first rounds taking John Hannah, Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley in 1973, And Mike Haynes, Pete Brock and Tim Fox in 1976. Fairbanks then drafted Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan in the first round of 1977.

Bill Belichick has dipped twice in the first round on two different occasions. He took Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson in 2004 and Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the 2012 NFL Draft. How he decides to proceed on April 26, will depend on how the board plays out. But if he does decide to move up, two slots to keep an eye on are #9 currently held by the 49ers and # 14 held by the Packers. It should be quite an interesting night this week.

Team Hall of Fame Finalists Announced:
The Patriots announced their finalists for the 2018 Team Hall of Fame. All three were teammates on the early 2000’s three-time Super Bowl winning teams. Matt Light, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel are this year’s finalists.

This is the first time for Light to be named a finalist while Seymour is a finalist for the second straight year, while Vrabel is a finalist for the third straight year.

Fans can vote at patriots.com/2018hof through May 14. The Pats will announce the 2018 Patriots Hall of Fame selection that week.  

One interesting footnote is that if Vrabel were to get selected, he’d be the first former player, who also happened to be a head coach of a team the Patriots would play later in the season.

The Patriots have the only team Hall of Fame that is elected by the fan base, which is both a positive and a negative in the process. However, this year’s selection will be the 27th player or contributor to enter the team’s Hall. From the Pats’ website, the following greats are listed in alphabetical order and the year that they were inducted.

Houston Antwine (2015)
Bruce Armstrong (2001)
Raymond Clayborn (2017)
Drew Bledsoe (2011)
Troy Brown (2012)
Tedy Bruschi (2013)
Nick Buoniconti (1992)
Gino Cappelletti (1992)
Ben Coates (2008)
Sam Cunningham (2010)
Bob Dee (1993)
Kevin Faulk (2016)
Steve Grogan (1995)
John Hannah (1991)
Mike Haynes (1994)
Jim Lee Hunt (1993)
Ty Law (2014)
Willie McGinest (2015)
Stanley Morgan (2007)
Jon Morris (2011)
Jim Nance (2009)
Steve Nelson (1993)
Vito “Babe” Parilli (1993)
Andre Tippett (1999)

William H. “Billy” Sullivan, Jr. (2009)
Gil Santos (2013)

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Who Comes Up With This Stuff? Bills Already Picked to Be Worst:
The Buffalo Bills were a playoff team in 2017 but according to ESPN’s Mike Clay, they should stay home in 2018 because according to him, the Bills will own the #1 pick as the NFL’s worst team this season. This is before the draft takes place.

Buffalo made great strides in 2017 and own five draft picks in the first 65 of the upcoming draft…but that didn’t let stop him from predicting the bottom to fall out. Clay didn’t stop there, he picked Buffalo to finish 2-14 along with Miami. And the Jets? Clay gives them a whopping four wins at 4-12. So the Bills and Jets will have the top two picks in 2019 with the Jets picking fourth. Wow.

And for anyone keeping score at home, Clay last year reported that Bills’ secondary was the fifth worst positional grouping in the NFL.

Dolphins Fans Remain Optimistic Despite Lackluster Predictions:
The Miami Dolphins as referenced above by ESPN’s Clay were picked to finish 2-14, they were considerably better in ESPN’s Mike Rodak prediction going 8-8 improving from last year’s 6-10.

The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser also went thru the Dolphins’ slate also going with a 8-8 record, predicting a New England Patriots sweep this season while predicting a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans were feeling much more confident than Clay, (they may not want to see his piece). Going thru each game, Dolphins fans picked how they saw the season playing out and gave the Fins a very respectable 10-6 record. A couple of surprises there as 79 percent feel that the Fins will beat the Titans in Week 1. In a close pick they mainly feel confident against the Jaguars 51-49, but much so against the Patriots at home, 64 percent predict a win.

Mayfield to the Jets Gaining Momentum:
The New York Jets with less than a week to go before the draft are still looking for that elusive franchise quarterback. And the rumors that they are going to go for Baker Mayfield over Josh Allen, who they just had in for a visit. We’re not going to lie, Mayfield would be a fun fit in New York and with his fiery demeanor would immediately put the Patriots – Jets rivalry right back where it should be. Thursday night can’t get here fast enough.

In other news, longtime Jets standout offensive lineman Nick Mangold announced his retirement. And the team announced that they have picked up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Leonard Williams.

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Patriots 2018 Schedule Sees Team Open vs Texans

Ian Logue
April 19, 2018 at 5:21 pm ET

The Patriots schedule was set to be released tonight, but Jeff Howe of the Athletic Tweeted the full calendar this afternoon which will see New England open up against the Texans at 1pm on September 9th.

The Patriots will then play two-straight on the road, traveling to Jacksonville for what will be hyped as an AFC Championship rematch, with the game scheduled at 4:25.  After that, it’s a trip to Detroit to battle Matt Patricia’s Lions in a prime-time game on Sunday night.

From there, the Patriots will play three weeks at home against the Dolphins, Colts (Thursday night game) and Chiefs (Sunday Night).  Then they head out on the road for three of their next four games, playing two road games (Bears and Bills [Monday Night Football]), playing at home against the Packers on Sunday night, followed by a trip to Tennessee to play the Titans.  Then they finally have a bye.

They close the season out playing three of four again on the road, traveling to MetLife Stadium to play the Jets, coming home for a game against the Vikings and then they’ll travel down to Miami to play the Dolphins, followed by a trip to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers.  That should be a tough stretch, especially since at that point they’re into December and everyone will be battling for a postseason berth and playoff seeding.

They close out the season with two AFC East match-ups, facing the Bills and Jets to finish the season.

This marks at least the first step as we start trying to map out how things might go in 2018 but for now, it looks like we’re on to the Texans.