Tag Archives: Aaron Rodgers

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-06, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

No…This IS 41: Last week in the aftermath of the Jets game, another hot-take artist of Fox Sports radio with an ax to grind, first complained that the league conspired to get the Patriots the bye because of what he called a terrible call of roughing the passer by the Jets against Brady. “NFL badly needed the Patriots to get that #2 seed. This call is total garbage. Patriots eventually score, up 21-3.”

Then he cherry-picked a missed throw by Brady to Hogan in the end zone to claim, “This is 41.” The funny part was the next day, he called out another writer for having a “garbage take” on the Antonio Brown saga. Glass houses, especially when in the game against the Jets, Brady completed over 70 percent of his throws, threw 4 TDs and had a passer rating of 133.8.

But we can cherry pick too, so…here’s your “This is 41”

Did you Know? Since 2001, the Patriots have had 13 byes, the most in the NFL. The next closest teams are the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers with 5. This is the ninth consecutive year earning a bye, the most prior to this Patriots run has been four. . Dallas and San Francisco earned four straight byes from 1992 through 1995 and Denver had four straight from 2012 through 2015.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The only NFL team to win a championship and is no longer in the league was from New England. The Providence Steamroller was part of the league from 1925 -1931 and won the NFL Championship in 1928. Besides being one of two teams (Chicago Cardinals) to be the first to play a night game in 1929, Providence, due to a scheduling snafu and bad weather played four games in a six-day stretch which the night game, attended by 6000 fans was the second game of the stretch.

Patriots Unveil 2018 Playoff Motto: The Patriots, as part of their M.O., have unveiled a motto for the playoffs this year, “Everything We Got.” They unveiled a short video that showed many of the national pundits calling for the demise of the Pats dynastic run.

Then the video shows the team in a quick series of vignettes and then the narrator says:
To get everything,
It’s going to take everything.
So we’re going to give everything.
EVERYTHING WE GOT.

Is it as good as “Do Your Job”? Nope. But it is a step up from “One More” in our opinion. Enjoy the Wildcard Weekend’s slate of the games. There were 12 good teams entering the playoffs this weekend, 11 of them will lose their last game of the year. That’s why our motto, which we’d steal from Hollywood, would be. “There Can Be Only One!”

With McDaniels and Flores Being Courted, Focus on O’Shea, Bielema:

Like clockwork, the staff of Bill Belichick is being raided again as multiple teams have requested interviews with coordinators Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores. McDaniels is rumored to be the top choice for the Green Bay Packers and is very much in the mix for Cleveland, he turned down a request to interview with Cincinnati. It might sound strange but the better job overall and probably better for McDaniels may be Cleveland.

The Packers have a 36-year old QB who got his last coach fired. The offense runs through Rodgers, it is doubtful, he’s going to want to learn a new system at this stage of his career. Cleveland has a good young defense, an exciting rookie QB that knows how to win and is a team trending up.

But we digress… If one, or both leave who will take over the reins as the coordinators for the Patriots in 2019? On offense, it seems like a no-brainer in that Chad O’Shea will take over the play calling there. He’s been being groomed for that spot for some time now. O’Shea has been with the team for 10 years and called the plays during the preseason last summer. That one seems like a slam-dunk. However, O’Shea’s name is being floated around as a possible Offensive Coordinator for Matt Patricia in Detroit. We’ll have to monitor that situation.

Defensively, the situation will be difficult as they have no clear-cut coach lined up to take the reins. In reality, Flores isn’t even a “true” defensive coordinator, as he’s not been even given the title of it yet… why, is a story for another time.

Bill Belichick would probably take most of the onus on himself as the defensive coordinator for 2019, however, there isn’t a clear-cut successor ready yet. The best choice? Bret Bielema who was a head coach at both Wisconsin and Arkansas. Brendan Daly, who coaches the Defensive Line, may become a candidate in a year or two, but right now, the odds would be against him.

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

When the news broke about the deteriorating situation in Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown, it was amazing how dysfunctional that team truly is. Mike Tomlin has always run a loose ship and that has come home to roost. But as soon as the story broke about Brown requesting a trade, Patriots fans jumped all over the story, wanting Belichick to swing a deal for Brown.

But there is no way that’s happening. For one, the Steelers would still be on the hook for Brown’s huge 2019 cap hit. They’ll probably try to mend the relationship between Brown, QB Ben Roethlisberger, and Tomlin. Barring that, if they do decide to trade him, one place they never would trade Brown to would be New England.

And as ridiculously talented Brown is, I can’t imagine that there would be a mutual interest in bringing him here. Can you imagine Brown’s Facebook Live video going on while Belichick is addressing the team in a post-game setting? And Brown, although in the midst of a terrific season, was mad because Roethlisberger was making JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had an even better 2018, the focal point. I can’t see Brown accepting a role where he’s not “the guy” that the offense runs thru.

After last season and the tabloid-like story on the divorce of Brady/Belichick, while the team was going 13-3 and on their way to another Super Bowl, is there going to be a big breaking piece on the disintegration of the Steelers’ locker room? Their two most talented offensive players quit on their team this season…but we’re not holding our breath on that one.

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

The NFL had an influx of young QBs this year and many of them played big roles for their teams right off the bat. And it is a great thing for several NFL franchises that have been downtrodden for a number of years as these young QBs generate hope and excitement for the next generation.

The league has their established stars in QBs like Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers but the story this season really wasn’t about any of them but Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes, while technically not a rookie lit the league on fire this fall. While perennial bottom feeders in Cleveland now have an exciting young QB, Baker Mayfield who has instantly brought hope and respectability to the franchise. Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen have had different levels of success but at least have their fans tuning in.

No one knows if any of these young studs can keep up the long-term success that they’ve found in their first year of playing.  There are no guarantees, injuries occur as well as other issues that can arise, but right now, the 2019 season looks to be, on paper one to really look forward to.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

Last week: 12-4 Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:

Saturday – Houston over Indy,
                 Seattle over Dallas
Sunday –   Baltimore over LA Chargers (tough start time for West Coast teams)
                Chicago over Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have Their Man in Josh Allen, Now Need a Surrounding Cast:

The Buffalo Bills picked their guy in the QB Class of 2018 in the person of Allen, the big, strong-armed youngster from Wyoming who had a very up-and-down year, which isn’t a rarity for rookie QBs.

Allen has some obvious flaws in his game. He can be woefully inaccurate at times, but those are mechanical issues that can be solved thru coaching. But for a big guy (6’5, 237) he runs deceptively fast from the pocket.

The Bills need to surround Allen with better weapons next year. Although they have Zay Jones and Robert Foster, they could use another WR, RB, TE and a heckuva lot better support along the offensive line.

Allen ended the season in dramatic fashion, throwing for three TDs and running for two more, the first Bills QB to account for five TDs in a game since Jim Kelly. That left fans in Western NY, itching for a winner, looking forward to 2019. That may even stop them from throwing sex toys on the field during games… Maybe not.

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins, in a mild surprise, fired head coach Adam Gase after the season was over, but the way the team finished their final quarter of the season, it shouldn’t have been. After an improbable, last-second fluke win over the Patriots, Miami was blown out in Minnesota, lost by 10 to Jacksonville and by 25 to Buffalo.

The Dolphins are busy trying to find their next head coach. GM Chris Grier has interviewed the Patriots’ Brian Flores, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and now are set to interview Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. For Bieniemy, this season was just his first as a coordinator but it was his fourth interview this week. He also met with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Other names included in the search include Vic Fangio, Mike Munchak, Jim Harbaugh, and Dolphins’ Special Teams Coach Darren Rizzi.

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

The New York Jets are in Texas this weekend, interviewing Cowboys’ assistant coach Kris Richard but multiple sources are reporting that the Jets may also have a lot of interest in Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle.

Ruhle would be an interesting choice as he’s been instrumental in turning around a couple of college programs. Ruhle was born in New York City and spent a year on Tom Coughlin’s staff as an assistant offensive line coach.

He was the QB coach and offensive coordinator at Temple before becoming the head coach for four seasons. His last two in Temple, the team won 10 games, the only time in the program’s history that they accomplished that.  He then moved to Baylor to a program that had been rocked by a sexual assault scandal. In 2017, his team went 1-11. This season, they went 7-6. Ruhle got some interest from the Colts last year in their coaching search. He’d be a good coach it is believed to work with Sam Darnold.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots  Week 9 Report Card, New England Downs Green Bay 31-17

Steve Balestrieri
November 6, 2018 at 6:46 am ET

The Patriots won their sixth game in a row and in impressive fashion defensively downing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 31-17. The win, while not quite as big as the one over Kansas City was a big one nevertheless, given the pregame hype that was dropped on this.  

Missing three of their key players on the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots defense rose up to play their best game of the year, holding the Packers to their season low in points and making Rodgers and the explosive Packers to earn everything they got.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady, despite missing Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and RG Shaq Mason on offense, and going thru a rough stretch in the third quarter still managed to put up 31 points on offense which should not be forgotten.

After struggling thru the third quarter and with the game on the line, Brady delivered and led the Patriots on two huge drives to get the winning touchdown and then put it away. Facing a 3rd and 7, he whistled a nice 17-yard pass to Phillip Dorsett that got the drive going. It finished up with the James White touchdown to take a 24-17 lead.

On the 55-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon, Brady expertly baited the young Packers corners, by staring down Julian Edelman, who waved for the ball. The corners bit and then Brady lasered a pass over their heads to Gordon who was wide open. Once he made the one player miss, it was an easy touchdown reception.

Rather than downplay the meeting of two HOF QBs this week, both Brady and Rodgers embraced it and engaged in a mutual admiration game where it is clear that they both greatly respect one another. Much to the chagrin of the national “Brady may be done” crowd, he outperformed Rodgers going 22-35 for 294 yards, with 1TD for a 99 QB rating.

Running Backs: B+

James White was injured in the 2nd quarter of the game and for a few minutes, all of New England was holding their collective breath. He had 31 yards on the ground and caught 6 passes for 72 yards and after the game seemed fine meeting with the media in the locker room, something the Patriots normally don’t allow if a player is hurt.

Cordarrelle Patterson had another solid game, the wide receiver is filling in for Sony Michel while he’s injured and showcased his tremendous speed while bursting off the line and contributing 61 yards. He scored a touchdown after ripping of a number of impressive runs on a drive where he appeared to be shot out of a cannon. He’s embraced his chance to help out the team and again deserves high marks.

Kenjon Barner had just one carry but on a blitz pickup, he’s sure to get praise from Brady when he leveled Clay Matthews who was coming straight up the A-Gap.

Wide Receivers: A-

The wide receivers had a solid night overall but were led by Josh Gordon. Gordon has given the offense the player that can go high and catch those jump balls that they’ve lacked. He high-pointed a 29-yarder over Bashaud Breeland down the sideline in the first half that was a beauty. He had another that was ruled out of bounds but was one on second glance that the Patriots should have challenged.

In our pregame matchups this week we wrote that this game was tailor-made for Julian Edelman. And we hit the nail right on the head for that one. Edelman caught six passes for 71 yards, he added 28 more on two very well disguised Jet sweeps. And then he dusted off his old Kent State throwing arm and completed a double pass to James White for 37 yards. Simply outstanding all-around effort.

Phillip Dorsett had that huge drive starter for 17 yards with the score tied in the fourth quarter. Chris Hogan wasn’t a big part of the game plan this week.

Tight Ends: B

Rob Gronkowski was out this week with ankle and back injuries and Dwayne Allen was the lone Patriots tight end…again. His value is mainly as a blocker and he’s very good at that and he once again proved his worth there. But on Sunday night, he chipped in with a big 21-yard reception on a pass down the right sideline. That bumped his grade up a bit.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line had a nice comeback night after their down week in Buffalo. With both teams daring the other to run, the Patriot offensive line was able to open some holes against the Packers defense. They ran for 123 yards without Michel and utilizing a true ground game committee.  

The pass protection overall was very good, but they did have their lapses in communication with Ted Karras in there that allowed two sacks.

Defensive Line: A

The defensive line was immense in this one. Despite the fact that the Patriots blitzed very little, they pressured Aaron Rodgers on nearly 50 percent of his throws Sunday night. The coaches moved Trey Flowers inside and he wreaked havoc all night long. Don’t be swayed by the fact that they only had one sack. The pass rush in this one was consistent and effective all night long.

Flowers was everywhere, he topped off his best game of the year last week with an even better one against the Packers. He and Adrian Clayborn combined for a sack, but the overall play of the defensive line was outstanding. Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown barely played as they went lighter with Adam Butler and Flowers inside trying to create some interior pressure.

With going lighter, they dared the Packers to run and they did …to a degree. But Lawrence Guy provided the turning point of the game with a forced fumble on Aaron Jones which Stephon Gilmore recovered.

Linebackers: B+

The Patriots linebackers initially looked like they were going to be targeted in the passing game, but either thru the coaching of the Packers or solid play, they never became a factor at all. The linebackers were good in run support despite the lighter fronts they were running. But where they truly excelled was in keeping Rodgers in the pocket and not allowing him to scramble for yards.

The containment (which we always harp on) was outstanding. Rodgers ran four times for just eight yards. And when he did attempt to scramble they were contesting everything. The entire front seven made it a very long uncomfortable game for Rodgers.

Secondary: A-

The secondary had another strong game against a much, much better group of receivers than they faced in Buffalo a week ago. Stephon Gilmore goes to the head of the class. He was squared up with Davante Adams for much of this game and shut him down. Against Gilmore, Adams had 2 catches for 15 yards. Overall he finished with six catches for 40 yards after having over 400 combined yards in his previous three games.

The used the defensive backs to blitz a few times and once it worked perfectly with Devin McCourty forcing Rodgers to unload a wildly inaccurate pass. But the other time, Rodgers recognized Duron Harmon coming, it was picked up and he rifled a 51-yard pass to the blistering fast Marquez Valdes-Scantling who beat Jason McCourty off the line.

Pat Chung had some issues with Jimmy Graham but on the touchdown pass, it was one of those plays where the DL didn’t get any pressure and Rodgers had time to wait for Graham to run down the right side and then cut all the way across the field where he got separation in the left corner of the end zone. With Adams pretty much a non-factor and Graham held to just 51 yards, this was the kind of effort the secondary has been looking for.

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams also made a huge comeback this week. Stephen Gostkowski was automatic …as usual. Ryan Allen, despite only punting a couple of times had an outstanding game, pinning the Packers twice inside their 20-yard line. He averaged 49.6 yards per punt. The coverage units were much improved.

Cordarrelle Patterson had two solid kickoff returns of 36 and 28 yards to go along with his running back duties.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff aced this test. With the national media in the excuse making department for  Rodgers after he failed to get the better of Brady, they pointed to the coaching matchup of Belichick versus McCarthy as the difference. And in reality, Belichick can and did coach circles around the overrated McCarthy.

Josh McDaniels coached a fantastic game offensively, despite spitting the bit on a sequence where the Patriots had a 1st and goal at the one and failed to score any points. However, the decision to come out lightning fast immediately put the Packers on their heels. That was a brilliant move and worked to a tee.

McDaniels has a knack for knowing the exact perfect time to unleash those trick plays and they generally work out perfectly. The flea-flicker and the double pass by Edelman were perfectly executed. The latter had the Packers so confused, it appeared that there were no Packers on the left side of the field where White rolled down inside the five before being caught from behind.

Defensively Belichick and Brian Flores had an outstanding game plan, holding the Packers to a season-low 17 points. Rodgers had 259 yards passing but everything, every yard was contested. He averaged 6.2 yards per pass, had a QB rating of 89 and in the fourth quarter? He completed just 2-7 for 15 yards.

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 I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots Down Packers 31-17, Observations, 3 Who Stepped Up

Steve Balestrieri
November 5, 2018 at 7:45 am ET

Mission Accomplished, Role Players Shine

The New England Patriots pulled out a tough victory over the Green Bay Packers 31-17 on Sunday Night Football in only the second meeting between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, and perhaps the last.

Both quarterbacks looked excellent at times and struggled at others. But Brady rallied his team in the fourth quarter with two touchdown drives and the Patriots pulled away after forcing a fumble where it appeared Green Bay would take the lead.

Defense/Gilmore Steps Up:

The Patriots defense,much-maligned by the fans on social media actually played a very strong game, holding Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to just 17 points. The game plan was to mainly use Stephon Gilmore to shut down Davante Adams. Adams this week, proclaimed for all to hear that he didn’t believe anyone could cover him. And who could blame him? His last three games, he’s had 133, 140, and 132 receiving yards.

Well, Gilmore just put that thought to bed. Gilmore blanketed Adams to where the talented wide receiver was becoming frustrated to the point where the Packers were trying to force the ball underneath to him, just to get him involved. Adams finished the night with 6 catches for 40 yards. Mission accomplished.

The Patriots pass rush had only one sack but were getting good pressure on Rodgers all night long and his mobility didn’t allow him to make as many plays as we’ve seen in the past. Trey Flowers was outstanding and Adrian Clayborn had his best game in a Patriots uniform. Rodgers final numbers? 24-43 for 259 yards with 2 TDs with an 89.2 passer rating. Not bad but not great either. But Rodgers 4th quarter numbers? 2-7 for 15 yards. That is pretty impressive for the Patriots defense against any QB. Much of the talk pregame was “who gets the ball last will win”, well the defense put that to bed as well. Mission Accomplished 2.

Brady and Co. Keep the Packers Off-balance:

Brady finished 22-35 for 294 yards with 1 TD with a passer rating of 99.0. Julian Edelman had one pass and completion to James White for 37 yards. With Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel, and RG Shaq Mason out, the Patriots had to get creative offensively…and they did. A Flea Flicker, a double pass and using WR Cordarrelle Patterson as a tailback again were just some of the things we saw. Patterson is quickly proving to be much more than the one-trick pony kick returner that the team signed this spring. He carried 11 times for 61 yards and had one touchdown and another taken away when the review showed him down just short of the goal line.

Josh Gordon, dislocated his fingers early in the game but played on and had five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown to ice the game. Julian Edelman had six catches for 71 yards, James White had six for 72 and added 31 yards rushing.

The Patriots got the opening kickoff and went on a blistering pace where they were moving faster than Han Solo when he did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. They moved easily down the field where the Packers’ defense was having trouble even getting set and never able to catch their breath. James White took it in from the 8-yard line for the first of his two TDs on the ground.

Rodgers answered and led the Packers on a 62-yard drive but only came away with three. It was clear, that although Rodgers and the Packers could move the ball, the Patriots defense was making them earn their way down the field and nothing was coming easy.

The Packers would tie it at 10-10 when Rodgers hit Adams with a 2-yard pass on 3rd and goal after he scrambled away from pressure. But the Patriots answered the bell and Brady led them on a 7-play, 69-yard drive, nearly all of which was on the ground, with Patterson battering his way into the end zone from 5 yards out and the Pats went into halftime up 17-10, because there were no heroics by Rodgers at the end of the half. The defense did their job.

Rodgers and the Packers took the third quarter kickoff and went 76 yards to tie the score. The big play was a 51-yard bomb from Rodgers to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The rookie has incredible speed and cleanly beat Jason McCourty and Rodgers dropped the ball in the bucket. On 2nd and goal from the 15, Rodgers had a ton of time and that allowed Graham to run all the way across the field where Rodgers lasered a pass in the back of the end zone. That tied the score at 17.

Brady drove the Pats down the field but they were stuffed on four attempts after getting a first and goal at the one. The Packers played some incredible defense but the play calling in that sequence was a bit curious, to say the least.

After trading possessions, Rodgers had the Packers moving at the end of the third quarter. After back-to-back great plays by Rodgers and Valdes-Scantling for 50 yards, the Pack had the ball at the New England 34. Aaron Jones carried for six yards, but Lawrence Guy coming up from behind, punched the ball loose where Gilmore recovered. Crisis averted and the momentum switched back to New England.

Brady and the Patriots went 76 yards for the go-ahead score. On a 3rd and 7, Brady hit Phillip Dorsett with a huge 17-yard catch to move the chains. Then they dusted off the double pass from Edelman to White for 37-yards. White powered it in and the Pats had the lead they would not relinquish.

On the ensuing drive, Rodgers was sacked by Flowers and Clayborn to force a three and out. On 2nd and 10 at the New England 45, Brady faked out the Packers DBs, by staring down Edelman in the flat. Two defenders raced up as Edelman waved his hand for the pass. Brady then looked downfield and hit Gordon who was wide open. He loped easily for a 55-yard touchdown. That was it, game over, thanks for coming and ensure your trays are locked and in the upright position. Mission accomplished 3.

So who stood out in this big team win this week? Lots of people but we’ll narrow it down to just three…

3-UP:

Stephon Gilmore – The Patriots paid Gilmore last year like one of the top CBs in the league. After a slow start to his career here, he was excellent in the second half of the season. This year, there is no doubt the Pats paid the right corner as he’s been simply outstanding since the spring.

Gilmore had the big task of shadowing Adams for much of the night and he did so frequently without any help. And he was outstanding. Adams had over 400 yards in his last three games and had 40 tonight. That is Ty Law/Revis territory folks.

Trey Flowers – This guy is really turning it on the past few weeks. And he was simply overpowering at times tonight. Despite being held frequently, Flowers was a disruptive influence all night long. He did a great job of setting the edge and getting pressure on Rodgers, on one play, beating his man and then a double team before forcing Rodgers to throw the pass off-target.

Flowers is the gaudy stat machine some edge players are…but he’s no less valuable to this defense than any of those players are to their respective teams. Perhaps even more so. He’s going to get paid.

Josh Gordon – Gordon had his fingers get dislocated a few times during the game, but toughed it out, had them jammed back in and kept going. That alone deserves praise. But his ability to go up and grab contested passes is something no other receiver other than Gronkowski is really able to do.

He put the dagger in the Packers with the 55-yard TD catch and run and had his first really big game in a Patriots uniform with 130 yards and a score.

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 I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Players To Watch Patriots-Packers Week 9 SNF

Steve Balestrieri
November 3, 2018 at 7:49 am ET

“Once More unto the Breach”

The New England Patriots return home and face off next against the Green Bay Packers in yet another primetime game this Sunday night. Remember when the Patriots played on Sunday afternoons? This primetime stuff is getting ridiculous.

A lot of the fun of watching two future Hall of Fame QBs with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers going head to head against one another is lost when the ridiculous “who’s better” crap gets injected into the equation ad nauseam. Like our politics of today, neither side is going to budge, so just sit back and enjoy the offenses of each doing their thing on Sunday and revel in it. These matchups aren’t going to be around much longer.

This is an important game for both teams, the Patriots have won five in a row and are right in the mix for one of the top teams in the AFC and an all-important first-round bye in the playoffs. The Packers are a much better team than their 3-3-1 record and need to get on a roll. They nearly pulled off a huge upset last week against the undefeated Rams. So, how they react this week will have a lot to say about the rest of their season.

So, from a Patriots perspective if we can tear ourselves away from the Red Sox celebration for a moment, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Stephon Gilmore:

The Patriots very talented corner has been outstanding all season and is now facing arguably his toughest test of the season. Davante Adams is Rodgers go-to guy and he’s having an outstanding season. He’s caught 52 passes for 690 yards and 6 TDs thru just the first seven games of the season. He’s on pace for 118 catches, 1,577 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns.

Gilmore will have his hands full with the speedy Adams who said this week, he doesn’t believe anyone can cover him. And he may be right, the Patriots may have a plan for Gilmore to cover him underneath with safety help over the top. It would seem to be the normal Patriot M.O of trying to limit the top weapon of the opposition. If it isn’t Adams, Gilmore would draw Randall Cobb, not much of a break there is it?

But regardless, Gilmore has been outstanding since the first OTA session this spring. He should garner some serious Pro Bowl consideration this winter. The soft-spoken Gilmore has drawn Sammy Watkins of the Chiefs, Allen Robinson of the Bears and Kelvin Benjamin of the Bills the past three games. Those receivers combined for a total of five catches for 67 yards in those three games. Opposing QBs have only completed 28 percent of the passes targeting WRs Gilmore is covering. This should be a great matchup.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best player on the front seven had a tremendous game against the Bills on Monday night. Six tackles, two tackles for loss, two QB hits and he should have had an interception of Derek Anderson but couldn’t hold on.

This week the stakes and the quarry are much, much tougher. The Patriots remember what Aaron Rodgers did to them in Green Bay a few years ago. The front seven will have to play a very fine balancing act. They have to be able to pressure Rodgers enough to get him to get rid of the ball asap but do so in a way that keeps him contained in the pocket. If he breaks containment, very bad things will happen and all of them will happen to the defense.  

They’ll need a big effort from everyone on the defensive front seven but a lot of the pressure will be on Flowers to lead the way. Flowers coming out party as a rookie featured a sack of Rodgers in Gillette several years ago in preseason. The Patriots will be hoping to see much more of that on Sunday night.

Trey Flowers (74) beats David Bakhtiari and sacks Rodgers in preseason action as a rookie. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ted Karras:

The Patriots will be minus Shaq Mason on the interior of their offensive line this week and Ted Karras who subbed in for Mason when he first got hurt in Buffalo on Monday night. Mason hurt his calf against the Bills and didn’t return.

Karras is the Patriots top backup at all three of the interior offensive line positions but is probably best suited for the center position but he’ll be at right guard this week. And his job will likely entail matching up with Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, both of whom are having very solid 2017 campaigns.

This will be a big test for Karras, he hasn’t played in a ton of games thus far in his career and the Packers will be looking to test not only his skill but his communication with the other offensive linemen when the Packers stunt, or blitz. There’s no pressure on Karras…right? He’s just on the stage with the two of the best QBs in any era and it is on national television to boot.

James White:

The Patriots Swiss Army Knife has a lot of pressure on him since the injury epidemic has hit the New England running back position hard. Jeremy Hill is gone for the year with an ACL tear, Rex Burkhead is on IR with multiple concussions and isn’t eligible to return until Week 14. And Sony Michel seemed to avert serious injury in Chicago when his knee got twisted during a tackle.

White has been just outstanding out of the backfield catching 55 passes for the Patriots for 459 yards and six touchdowns. His career high is 60 and he could possibly break that on Sunday night with another big game. The Packers at times play a lot of dime packages on defense and they may opt to try to take White away in the passing game by putting a defensive back on him rather than a linebacker which is a mismatch.

But with Michel’s status up in the air this week, (he’s questionable, but we doubt he’ll play this week), the onus will be even heavier on White to produce. We’d expect to see Brady look his way often on Sunday, especially if the Packers begin blitzing.

Julian Edelman:

With Michel’s status in doubt and even Rob Gronkowski who is battling ankle and back injuries this week and is questionable to play, Edelman’s value as a circled member of trust with Tom Brady will no doubt play a big role this week.

With Pettine’s defense which uses the old Rex Ryan overload schemes and multiple blitz packages, there will be times where Brady will be forced to make a decision and get the ball out very quickly. And in the past several years, he and Edelman have been outstanding at working in sync doing just that. Many times they’ll both recognize a look presnap and with just a look between the two, they’ll know right where they plan to go.

Edelman had a big game in Buffalo and this game in Gillette against the Packers could be a tailor-made game for #11. Look for Brady to call his number early and often.

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 I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots-Packers Week 9, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots return home for a Sunday Night Football game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots finished off a perfect (4-0) October and have won five games in a row. They’ll be looking to make it six against the very explosive Packers who are smarting off a late loss to the Rams.

This week is the second Patriots prime-time game in a row and the fourth in the past five weeks. They’ve already appeared on Sunday Night Football twice this season. A week three loss to Detroit and the win over Kansas City. Amazingly enough, this is only the second time that Brady and Rodgers will be on the field against each other. That alone will be worth tuning in to watch two of the all-time greats to compete at the same time.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya 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 (6-2) defeated the Bills 25-6 on Monday Night. The game was actually much closer than that for the majority of the game but two late touchdowns put it away. The offense only scored one touchdown but the defense scored one and held Buffalo to only a pair of field goals.

The Packers (3-3-1)  lost to 29-27 to the Los Angeles Rams last week in what seemed like a home game for them in LA. Packers fans outnumbered the Rams fans but Ty Montgomery’s fumble on a kickoff return sealed it after the Rams kicked a go-ahead field goal.

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.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Packers don’t meet very often, this will only be the 12th meeting between the two teams. The regular season matchup is tied at 5 wins apiece. The Packers beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI in the only post-season meeting. Green Bay beat the Patriots in their last matchup 26-21 in Lambeau in 2014. You would have to go all the way back to 2010 since the Packers last visited Gillette. That one was most remembered as the game that Rodgers missed with an injury and Dan Connolly, the Patriots right guard returned a kickoff 71 yards, nearly scoring a TD. It was also, coincidentally the last game the Packers lost that year.

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 Packers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Green Bay

The Patriots running game had taken off during the last month as Sony Michel has given the Patriots the balance on offense that they were looking for. It worked so well that they were averaging 38 points or better every week for that month. But injuries have really hurt the position.

Jeremy Hill was lost for the year with a torn ACL, Rex Burkhead was placed on IR with multiple concussions, (he can’t return until Week 14). And then Michel went down in the loss to the Bears. They were forced to use WR Cordarrelle Patterson in the tailback role in Buffalo and he, not surprisingly had issues finding holes to run thru.

The Packers have had some issues stopping the run and are allowing 119.1 yards per game and 4.4 yards per rush. Part of that rests with the aggressiveness of the defense, Mike Pettine uses the old Rex Ryan Jets overload scheme and they can be susceptible to the quick hitters to beat the blitz.

With Michel in the backfield, the Patriots would get the nod here, but I tend to think that although he’s back at practice, he probably won’t be able to go this week. That gives the nod to Green Bay.

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

The Patriots have plenty of weapons for Tom Brady to utilize with Julian Edelman back in the fold, although both Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski have been slowed by injuries. Brady also has Chris Hogan and the invaluable James White out of the backfield. Gronkowski, just coming off ankle and back injuries was laboring in Buffalo. On a short week, it will be interesting to see if he gets a jump back in his step.

More intriguing is the injury to Edelman. He took a shot to his shoulder/neck area in Buffalo and was in obvious discomfort the rest of the game. He missed practice on Weds. If he can’t go it is a huge blow to the offense, that is already hurting.

The Packers have been very improved against the pass this season. Led by Jaire Alexander, they cover much better and they have 23 sacks thus far. The overload schemes make things very difficult on the opposition. They allow just 221.7 yards per game thru the air which is the 5th best in the league.

One question will be who replaces Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Dix was traded at the deadline and played nearly every snap this season. He was the team’s leading interceptor (3) and second-leading tackler (27). They probably will turn to Jermaine Whitehead who was their go-to guy in sub packages, but we may also see CB Tremaine Williams at times. When Pettine was in Cleveland, he often would play Williams at safety. They also have 2017 2nd round draft pick Josh Jones, but he’s been mainly a special teamer this year.

If he can go this week, this will be another tailor-made game for Julian Edelman. His ability to make the tough third-down catches and with he and Brady having the chemistry to read presnap what the defense may do, he’ll be invaluable when the Packers blitz. We look for James White to get a lot of looks once again in the passing game. He currently leads to the team with 55 catches.

It should prove to be an interesting chess match between Pettine and Brady. The two have faced each other quite frequently and the GB defensive coordinator will show plenty of different looks trying to confuse Brady. They’ll show six or seven at the line and then drop seven into coverage or overload blitz on one side. With Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason banged up on the offensive line, the communication between the backups will be key.

Next up the Green Bay offense:

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

The Green Bay running game will scarcely miss Montgomery after his trade. He fell to the third position in their running game by committee group. They have found their man, however, in their 2nd year running back Aaron Jones. While he’s not the biggest guy at 5’9, 208, he is electric with the ball in his hands. Last week his 33-yard touchdown right up the middle sparked the Packers comeback in the second half.

The Patriots run defense has been steadily improving over the course of the season. Last week they held Bills running backs to just 46 yards in 19 carries. Shady McCoy had just 13 yards on 12 carries. The big men in the middle plus improved linebacker play has been the difference. Kyle Van Noy filled in for Dont’a Hightower last week and was outstanding in the middle.

Look for the Packers to feed Jones who had a career-high 12 carries last week more than that on Sunday night. With the Patriots possibly opting to bring A-Gap pressure with either Hightower or Van Noy, it will be the perfect antidote.  

Packers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Green Bay

The Packers Aaron Rodgers is averaging about 308 yards per game and has a plethora of talented receivers who can all be dangerous with the ball in their hands. It starts with Davante Adams who leads the team with 52 catches for 690 yards and six touchdowns. He’s a threat to take it to the house on every down if he gets free.

Rodgers also has Randall Cobb, TE Jimmy Graham, Geronimo Allison, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and reserve TE Lance Kendricks who can chip into the passing game. Rodgers remains excellent at making plays with his feet, once he’s flushed out of the pocket. The Packers have given up 24 sacks but coming after Rodgers is a risky proposition.

The Patriots have given up a lot of yardage this season, that won’t change on Sunday but the key is making some stops in the red zone. Going back to that 2014 game, Rodgers shredded the NE secondary but they only scored two touchdowns. They’ll need that kind of effort again. The issue is pressure or lack of it from the Patriots defensive line. They have to squeeze the pocket without losing containment or they’ll get toasted this week.

Look for Rodgers to spread them out and try to run those crossers underneath that drive the Patriots mad every week. Adams and Stephon Gilmore should be a good battle to watch but the key this week is the secondary targets Cobb and Allison going against Jason McCourty. The Patriots will also have to watch Graham closely with Chung and LB help.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have gotten another very solid season from Stephen Gostkowski but the rest of their special teams play has been wildly inconsistent. After getting two scores from STs in Chicago, they took a step back in Buffalo.

The Packers counter with the normally automatic Mason Crosby but he went thru a rough patch and has only hit 17-22 field goals this year. Their return game is where they miss Montgomery the most. They can either use Marquez Valdes-Scantling or activate WR Trevor Davis from IR.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This much-ballyhooed matchup between Brady and Rodgers who both throw the ball extremely well may come down to which team runs the ball better. The Packers are a much better team than their 3-3-1 record indicates and could easily be a 5-2 or 6-1 team right now. Part of that rests on head coach Mike McCarthy. They’ve come out flat in a few games and they saw that they just can’t show up and win. They came out strong and played an excellent 60-minute game against the undefeated Rams last week and if not for Montgomery’s fumble may have won that one.

Now they travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots where they are awfully tough to beat. Rodgers has the personnel to do that and the experience to take what is out there. They won’t panic if they get down a score or two because they are so explosive.

Third downs and special teams play may ultimately decide who takes away the win here. While a lot of people are expecting another huge scoring game akin to the Kansas City Week 6 matchup, I see this one playing out like the 2014 game, with scoring in the mid to high 20s.

If this game were in Green Bay, I’d say the Packers and Rodgers would cruise, but it isn’t and Gillette is a tough place to play too. Like last week in LA, a late special teams return will spark New England to bring home a tough, hard-fought win. Patriots 28-27

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 I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Five Monday NFL Thoughts After Week 6

Ian Logue
October 16, 2017 at 8:40 am ET

Sunday was an interesting afternoon with a variety of stories from around the league that stood out.  We’ll attempt to cover a few of them here each week, including several from yesterday.

1)  Undefeated no more – The Kansas City Chiefs suffered their first loss of 2017 after the Pittsburgh Steelers came into Arrowhead Stadium and dropped them to 5-1 on the season after a 19-13 loss.  They held the Chiefs to just three points through three quarters and the 12-3 lead Pittsburgh managed to put together over that span ended up being enough to hold them off.  Kansas City closed to within 12-10 with just over six minutes to go in the game, but Ben Roethlisberger came right back and hit Antonio Brown for a 51-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive to put the game away.

Roethlisberger was coming off of a loss to the Jaguars the previous week where he questioned whether or not he still “had it”, but that seemingly was just him whining after he came out earlier in the week calling himself “one of the best in the world”.

“You wake up Monday morning, and you realize, ‘Man, I’m still one of the best in the world [to] do what I do,’ ” Roethlisberger said via the Post-Gazette. “I’m gonna have that confidence. I’m gonna have that when I go out there Wednesday to practice and Sunday when we go to Kansas City.”

Fortunately for Roethlisberger, his team did enough to improve to 4-2 on the season and lift his ego for at least another week, while also helping New England’s chances at getting the top seed now that the Chiefs finally have one in the loss column.


Rodgers won’t get an opportunity to potentially battle with Brady in February.

2) Tough break for Rodgers – Aaron Rodgers season may have come to an abrupt end after the veteran took a big shot out in Minnesota that saw him get carted off the field during a 23-10 loss out in Minneapolis.

Unlike New England, where there the news might have taken a few days to come out, the Packers announced the injury over their Twitter channel saying that “he could miss the rest of the season.”  It’s disappointing because his loss likely will put the Packers’ postseason chances in jeopardy, eliminating a potential match-up between Brady and Rodgers in February.

Brady found out about the injury during his press conference.

“I didn’t know that. That sucks,” said Brady.

Rodgers’ injury turns the reins over to back-up Brett Hundley, who head coach Mike McCarthy said is “my quarterback”, with Joe Callahan as his back-up as the team now tries to move forward with Rodgers sidelined.

3) Colin Kaepernick trying to land a death blow to the CBA – For some odd reason, Kaepernick seems to believe that his ongoing unemployment is related to NFL owners conspiring against him, which will now reportedly see the quarterback file a collusion grievance, which holds some significance due to its potential effect on the CBA if he’s successful.

According to ProFootballTalk.com, Kaepernick is hoping to trigger the termination of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement if he’s able to prove collusion by the owners.

It seems to be a long shot, because one of the things that’s seemingly gotten lost surrounding the beleaguered quarterback is the fact that he’s not unemployed because of the fact he started the kneeling movement during the national anthem.  People seem to forget he was wearing police portrayed as pigs on his socks during training camp, as well as featuring a police officer badge as a “runaway slave patrol badge.”


Kaepernick’s bad decisions, not his anthem protests, are likely the reason he’s still unemployed.

Those statements were pretty telling and while his actions sparked the current league movement, what Kaepernick has already done has been ugly enough where given that teams are escorted by police and security on a weekly basis, bringing a player who openly wears socks portraying them with a word that most officers dislike being called is something that is probably the bigger reason keeping owners from seeking his services.  Not to mention the fact that adding that drama and attention to their locker room is another thing they likely don’t want either.

Given that some of Kaepernick’s concerns involve racially charged accusations that most people dislike making blanket statements about, it’s ironic that Kaepernick made such strong blanket statements about police.  While it’s hard to deny that there may certainly be legitimate things that need to be discussed with this issue, he didn’t handle it as well as he could have and he really went too far, which has also hurt his cause.

The other issue is the fact that Kaepernick wasn’t playing at a high level during his final days in San Francisco and the negatives he brings as a distraction likely outweighs a substantial enough reason for a team to take the chance of bringing him in.  Had he knelt and then made his thoughts known to media outlets to bring his grievances to light in a more controlled manner, it might have played out differently.  But the pig socks and the strong Twitter statements haven’t helped his cause, and when you take into account the national backlash the league is already feeling over the anthem protest to begin with, it would be tough for one member club to want to take the additional baggage surrounding Kaepernick on.

Let’s be honest, when you look at how things have been handled by concerned players even here in New England, it’s completely different from Kaepernick’s actions.  Even Indianapolis has handled things better, with former Patriots Darius Butler and Kamar Aiken doing positive things to try and spark productive discussions with local police.  It’s a stark contrast to what the now unemployed player did, and it’s amazing that people seem to have forgotten that.

At the end of the day, Kaepernick had the right intention with his plight but it’s ultimately been his poor execution and decision-making that has him in this position.  He may try and prove collusion, but these are likely the real reasons his NFL career may be over.

He needs to look in the mirror instead of pointing any fingers when it comes to why NFL owners don’t want anything to do with him.  Hopefully the progress he ultimately makes someday years from now in sparking a positive change, which if Kaepernick is being truthful in some of the other things he’s said, will be more rewarding than the NFL career he cost himself by going too far with his actions.

He’s his own worst enemy.  The sooner he admits that and shifts his focus to truly wanting to finish what he started, the sooner maybe he’ll finally bring about the change he sought to begin with.


Matt Ryan fell apart Sunday against Miami.

4) Dolphins come away with big second-half over Atlanta – With the Falcons set to visit Gillette Stadium next Saturday night, they’ll likely be fired up after dropping a disappointing game at home against the visiting Miami Dolphins.

Atlanta put together a 17-0 first half lead, but were shut out by Miami in the second half as the Dolphins put up 20 unanswered points and forced an interception by Matt Ryan with 0:47 to go with the Falcons sitting at the Dolphins’ 26-yard line.  The turnover sealed the win for Miami, who improved to 3-2 on the season and kept them even with the 3-2 Bills, who are on a bye this week.

It’s the second loss to an AFC East team in successive weeks for Atlanta and it’s also the second-consecutive loss at home for the Falcons, who will face another AFC East foe this week on the road when they come to Foxboro next Sunday in a rematch of February’s Super Bowl.

Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said that two home losses is a disgrace and at 3-2, they need to “reset” with a critical game on tap next weekend.

“We’ve got to reset,” Allen said via ESPN. “It ain’t no other way. What you going to do, just lay down? There’s s— else you can do. You’ve got be a man. You’ve got to know what we work for when we wake up every morning. What we grind for. What this team stands for. We’ve got to reset.”


Rivers and the Chargers did just enough to beat the Raiders Sunday.

5) Chargers Upset Oakland – Despite a hapless Los Angeles team that seemed like their season was headed into the tank, the Chargers managed to get their second win of the year after beating the Raiders 17-16 with a last-second field goal.

The Raiders saw quarterback Derek Carr return from his back injury but he’s clearly still hampered, with Carr struggling his way through a 21-of-30 performance that included two interceptions.

For the Chargers, it’s their second straight victory as they appear to be gaining some momentum and confidence despite playing in a division where they’re going to have their work cut out for them in catching the 5-1 Chiefs and 3-2 Broncos.

“I thought the guys stepped up and made plays when we had to,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said via ESPN.  “That’s what we’ve been talking about. I’m so proud that they starting to see the fruit of their labor because these men work hard every single week.”

The Chargers will visit New England in two weeks on 10/29 and one stat to watch will be the fact that Los Angeles’ defense has struggled in the first quarter, having been outscored 50-7 in the opening quarter through six games.   The Patriots have had some success scoring points in the first quarter, which has been the Patriots’ second highest scoring quarter with 40.  The Patriots’ highest scoring quarter has been the second quarter, which has seen them put up 71 points through six games.

NFL Week 2 Early Advanced ‘Look-Ahead’ Betting Lines: Pats 6.5 point favorites at Saints

John Morgan
September 8, 2017 at 8:30 pm ET

On Tuesday the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published their NFL Regular Season Week 2 Advanced Betting Lines. Also known as Look-Ahead or Early Lines, these odds are released prior to any of the previous games – including Thursday night’s game between the Patriots and Chiefs. These Early Advanced Lines can and will differ substantially from odds posted by Vegas and offshore accounts by the time these games kick off next week. It will be interesting to see how the professional handicappers that set these lines react to the Pats loss to KC when the Week Two odds are initially set next week.

 

The Patriots at New Orleans looms to be the most analyzed game in the NFL heading into week two. It features two potent offenses led by a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. The Pats loss to the Chiefs will result in even more scrutiny, as New England strives to avoid an 0-2 start to the 2017 season. Last time these two met it was an incredible game. The Saints were up 27-23 with just over a minute to go, and the Patriots were out of timeouts. Brady led the Patriots on a 70-yard scoring drive, converting on 4th down and then connecting on a 17-yard touchdown pass to undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with only five seconds remaining.

 

 

The last time these two met in The Big Easy it was a different story. New Orleans dominated both sides of the ball on a Monday night game and crushed New England, 38-17. With that victory the Saints improved to 11-0; they would go on to defeat the Colts in Super Bowl 44 that post-season.

 

Another game well worth watching will be played on Sunday night, with Green Bay at Atlanta. This is a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game, featuring a marketing executive’s dream: Matt Ryan an Aaron Rodgers. The two clubs are among the favorites (along with Seattle) to represent the NFC in next February’s Super Bowl. Clear your calendar; this should be one of, if not the best game of the 2017 season.

Thursday Sept 14 at 8:25 pm ET on NFLN
Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals (-3)

Sunday Sept 17 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-7)
Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers (-8)
Tennessee Titans (-2½) at Jacksonville Jaguars
New England Patriots (-6½) at New Orleans Saints

Sunday Sept 17 at 1:00 pm ET on Fox
Arizona Cardinals (-3½) at Indianapolis Colts
Philadelphia Eagles at Kansas City Chiefs (-4)
Minnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7)
Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6½)

Sunday Sept 17 at 4:05 pm ET on CBS
Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers (-4)
New York Jets at Oakland Raiders (-15½)

Sunday Sept 17 at 4:25 pm ET on Fox
Dallas Cowboys (-1½) at Denver Broncos
Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Rams (PK)
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-11½)

Sunday Sept 17 at 8:30 pm ET on NBC
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-3)

Monday Sept 18 at 8:30 pm ET on espn
Detroit Lions at New York Giants (-6)

 

Early Week 2 Best Bets:
Bucs (-6½) vs Bears
Skins (pk) at Rams
Texans (+3) at Bengals
Seahawks (-11½) vs Niners

 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publisher of this website. Neither the author nor this website promote or advocate gambling. This is solely for entertainment purposes only.

 

Follow on Twitter @AllThingsPats

 

Is the NFL’s Pendulum Swinging Back to the Running Game?

Steve Balestrieri
February 12, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The NFL is a passing league and it is driven by the quarterbacks. With the plethora of talented passers and athletic receivers in the league, it has led to an explosion of passing yards, touchdowns and offenses that love to spread out defenses and find mismatches.

That has led to smaller, faster and more athletic defenses that have to try to keep up with these offenses. Denver’s defense is a prime example, a very athletic, blistering fast unit that uses speed to overwhelm their opponents.

But the NFL is always evolving and the league is trending back to being more run based but at a bare minimum, it is going to be much more balanced in terms of offense. A quick look at the final eight teams that rounded out the NFL’s season from the Divisional Round thru the Super Bowl shows that for the most part,  teams that ran the ball well were the ones standing in the end.

All four of the teams from the NFC were in the top 12 of rushing. Carolina was the #2 rushing team in the NFL averaging 142.6 yards per game. Seattle was the #3 rushing team, even without Marshawn Lynch down the stretch averaging 141.8. Arizona came in 8th with 119.8 yards per game and Green Bay rounded out the NFC at #12 with 115.6 yards per game.

Over in the AFC, Kansas City was the #6 rushing team in the NFL averaging 127.8 yards per game. Pittsburgh came in 16th with 107.8 yards per game. But they lost LeVeon Bell after only six games in 2015 with him serving the first two games of the season on a suspension and then him going down with a season ending injury, tearing an MCL in Week 8.

Denver was right behind Pittsburgh in 17th place in the league averaging 107.4 yards per game. But that number needs to be looked at closer. After Peyton Manning was sat down, and Brock Osweiler took over, Gary Kubiak finally installed the running game as he envisioned it with the QB under center. The results were startling. In the last seven games of the season, Denver averaged 134.9 yards per game, which would have put them right around 5th/6th place over the course of a season.

Only the New England Patriots were the anomaly in the final eight, rushing for a paltry 87.8 yards per game, 30th in the NFL. Their success had more to do with the ability of Tom Brady than anything else and why they made it the conference championship.

It also isn’t surprising that the league’s top five scoring teams (Car, AZ, NE, Sea, Pitts) are also on this list, again only the Patriots are the wildcard with the vast onus being on the passing game. Kansas City finished with the 9th top scoring team in the league.

Does this mean that the NFL is going back to the 4 yards and a cloud of dust days? Hardly, as long as QBs like Brady, Aaron Rogers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger et al. are under center teams are going to throw the ball and do so very well.

But to combat the fast nickel and dime defenses that teams are playing more and more with five and six defensive backs on the field, teams are going back to more of balanced run based approach. It keeps the downs and distances manageable and when facing third and short, teams that run effectively have the option of mixing things up and keeping the chains moving.

The NFL is a copycat league, with the success of both Denver and Carolina having very good running attacks and fast, athletic defenses, look for the other teams in the league trying to duplicate their success. The age of the mobile, big-armed QBs are here and now the defenses will have to adjust accordingly again.

Bill Belichick likes to stay a step ahead of the trends in the game, when the Patriots play their nickel and dime defenses, they frequently do so with extra safeties instead of cornerbacks. Part of the reason is in the AFC East, they play the Bills and Jets, two teams that run the ball extremely well.

Safeties who take the place of linebackers in the big nickel defense have to be able to stuff the run and still be able to cover tight ends and running backs and the occasional slot receiver. Big safeties who can stuff the run and cover will become increasingly sought after as teams play more in their sub-packages than in their base defenses.

What does this mean for New England? Well one last look at the coach’s film from the AFC Championship Game shows that at a bare minimum, they’re going to need a complimentary running game if they want to get back to the big game.

They can’t rely on Tom Brady chucking the ball 80 percent of the time. Being one-dimensional against a very good defense like Denver’s hurt them twice in 2015. Brady took a beating in both games. With him turning 39 this season, they can’t afford to have him going down because the defense is just pinning their ears back.

So while the Patriots haven’t valued the running back position in recent years, perhaps this is a good time, to reverse that trend a bit and spend the money and/or draft picks to get themselves a higher tier running back. They’ve proven they can throw it with the best of teams, but with a viable running game, not only will it make the passing game even more effective, it will limit the abuse your 39-year old QB has to take.

There are some intriguing names out there both in free agency and the draft, several that can be had in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds. The league is trending towards having better rushing attacks again. The Pats are already well equipped to stop those. Now they need to get to work on getting one of their own.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

Packers at Cardinals: Preview, Key Matchups, Betting Odds & Prediction

John Morgan
January 15, 2016 at 6:00 pm ET

Three weeks ago the Arizona Cardinals bludgeoned Green Bay in a shockingly one-sided 38-8 victory. Saturday evening the Packers will have an opportunity to prove that game was an anomaly as they travel to Glendale for the first of this weekend’s NFC Division Round playoff games.

 

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals:
Preview, Key Matchups, Betting Odds & Prediction

Who: #5 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #2 Arizona Cardinals (13-3)

What: NFC Division Round Playoff Game

When: Saturday, January 16 at 8:15 pm ET on NBC

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale AZ

Odds: The line has been remarkably steady all week, with Arizona favored by seven points at almost all betting parlors. As of Friday afternoon the only exceptions to be found were Treasure Island (-6½) and SportBet (-7½), so consider one of those venues based on which side of a touchdown difference that you are leaning towards, or if you want to play a parlay or teaser.

Most sites list the point total at 49½, though there are a few with an over/under of 50. Money Lines vary slightly from one place to the next, with a typical ML listing Arizona -300 and Green Bay +250. Early in the week over ¾ of the money was being placed on Green Bay and well over 80% of the wagers were on the over. During the course of the week the dollars slowly but consistently shifted, to the point where 60% of the cash is now on Arizona. The point total money is still heavily leaning towards a high scoring game, with more than 70% on the over. Two-thirds of the money line dollars are backing the Cardinals as of Friday afternoon.

Head-to-Head Record: Considering the history of the two franchises, it should be of no surprise that Green Bay holds about a 2:1 advantage in the all-time series. The Packers are 46-23-4 versus the Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals in the regular season, and 1-1 in the playoffs. However, 67 of those games were played before 1991, and the Cardinals have won two of the last three. In a wild card game following the 2009 season Arizona won a shootout 51-45 with Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers combining for nine touchdown passes and 802 passing yards. The game was decided early in overtime when the Packers turned the ball over for the third time, and Karlos Dansby returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown. In the 38-8 game three weeks ago Arizona forced four turnovers and recorded nine sacks, limiting Green Bay to 77 net passing yards and 178 yards of total offense.

 

Green Bay offensive line vs Arizona front seven

The Packers were without starting left tackle David Bakhtiari because of an ankle injury, and then lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga in the nine-sack debacle three weeks ago. Both should be back for this game, and Arizona will be without OLB Alex Okafor, who was placed on Injured Reserve due to a mystery toe ailment suffered during the bye week. While the loss of Okafor hurts, even without him the Arizona front seven is still one of the best in the league.

The Packers were able to run the ball effectively last week, which – along with the hurry-up, no huddle offense – opened things up for the passing game. Bruce Arians’ defense is much better than Washington’s, and won’t be caught off guard the way the Skins were.

 

Green Bay receivers vs Arizona secondary

Cardinal cornerback Patrick Peterson shut down Randall Cobb in the last game, limiting Cobb to three catches for yards. Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown at Washington last Sunday, but he is out with a sprained MCL in his right knee – as is tight end Andrew Quarless. On paper it looks like the Cardinals have a decided advantage in this matchup.

 

Green Bay front seven vs Arizona running game

Mike McCarthy moved Clay Matthews inside to improve the run defense mid-season, with positive results. Once the Packers have a lead Matthews is shifted back outside to capitalize on his pass rushing prowess. The Cardinal offensive line is much better than it was in recent seasons, with the additions of left tackle Jared Veldheer and left guard Mike Iupati providing a significant boost to the unit. Former Patriot Ted Larsen is playing the best ball of his career, and has replaced the #7 pick of the 2013 draft, Jonathan Cooper in the starting lineup.

The Packers need to win this battle of the trenches in order to win this game. In Arizona’s losses this season they were never able to get anything going on the ground, and become one-dimensional with unfavorable down-and-distance situations. Arizona running back David Johnson can run between the tackles and also be a matchup nightmare for a linebacker out of the backfield.

 

Green Bay secondary vs Arizona receivers

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has developed into an accomplished playmaker in the Packer secondary, but the big question is whether or not corner Sam Shields will play. Shields is listed as questionable, but still needs to pass the league’s concussion protocol before he can take the field. Even if Shields can suit up, the advantage here goes to Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown give Carson Palmer one of the best wide receiver trios in the league, and that’s without considering the tight ends (Jermaine Gresham and Darren Fells) or running backs (David Johnson and Andre Ellington). It is imperative that Green Bay mounts an effective pass rush to give their secondary a fighting chance.

 

I certainly do not expect another blowout, but Arizona appears to be the superior team in nearly every aspect of this game. Matthews and Julius Peppers should create enough havoc on defense for Green Bay to keep it relatively close, but the Cardinals should be able to advance to their first conference championship game since the 2008 season.

Prediction: Cardinals 30, Packers 20

Pick: Arizona minus seven, Arizona -300

 

Packers at Redskins – Preview, Odds, Prediction

John Morgan
January 10, 2016 at 10:00 am ET

The final game of wild card weekend pits the Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins. During the off season Green Bay was expected to be a Super Bowl contender, and the Pack is in the post-season for the seventh consecutive season. Washington on the other hand was viewed as being one of worst teams in the league before the season began; this is just their second winning season in eight years, and their last playoff victory came ten years ago when Joe Gibbs was still the head coach for Washington.

 

Who: #5 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #4 Washington Redskins (9-7).

What: NFC Wild Card Game.

When: Sunday, January 10 at 4:40 pm ET on FOX.

Where: FedEx Field, Landover MD; surface is natural grass.

Weather: mid-50s, partly cloudy.

Coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (104-55-1, .653 in regular season; 7-6, .538 in playoffs; 8 winning seasons in 10 years).
Washington’s Jay Gruden (13-19, .406 in two seasons; zero playoff experience; one winning season in two years).

Odds: Washington opened as a 1-point favorite, but the line swung to a pick’em and then Green Bay minus one. As of Saturday night the betting line had swung back once again to Washington being favored by one in most venues, with many listing this as a pick’em. I found only one site (5Dimes) that was on the other side of the ledger, with Green Bay minus one point.

The over/under is 45½ and a typical Money Line has Washington -115 and Green Bay -105. The spread dollars are fairly evenly split (53% on Green Bay, 47% on Washington), but the ML dollars lean more heavily on the Pack (69%-31%). 83% of the betting public thinks this will be a high scoring game, taking the over.

 

Green Bay would have been a prohibitive favorite against whatever team came out of the NFC East, but after looking dismal in a 38-8 loss to Arizona and then laying an egg in last week’s loss to Minnesota, it is difficult to have any confidence in the Packers. Green Bay went 4-6 over their last ten games, and that would have been 3-7 if not for a Hail Mary against a poor Detroit defense after a questionable penalty. The Packers are beat up, with about one-third of their roster – 17 players – on the injury report. Two starters in particular stand out: CB Sam Shields (doubtful, concussion) and LT David Bakhtiari (questionable, ankle).

 

At first glance the absence of Shields is minimal, since he has not played in four weeks. However, Kirk Cousins has passed for 300 yards in three of Washington’s four straight wins. In the one other game Cousins completed 80% of his 15 passes, including three touchdowns. LG Josh Sitton (#71) has filled in for Bakhtiari (#69) the last two weeks, but HC Mike McCarthy has stated that will not be the case Sunday. Washington’s pass rush improved over the last month (20 sacks in the last four games), and Aaron Rodgers has been under duress of late, sacked an unacceptable 14 times for a loss of 95 yards over just the last two games. The Skins like to bring an extra pass rusher rather as often as any team in the league; the results of that feast or famine approach will likely determine the outcome of this game. That philosophy leaves their secondary in one-on-one coverage; with three of their six top defensive backs on injured reserve, Washington is vulnerable in the secondary. If Green Bay can be creative with their pass protection and give Aaron Rodgers time, then the Packers can exploit the Washington defense.

 

Washington scored an average of 33 points during a four-game win streak to finish the season, but the fact remains that the Skins were 0-3 against teams that finished with winning records. WR DeSean Jackson (#11) can beat defenses deep with his speed, WR Pierre Garcon (#88) has scored in three straight games, and now that he is healthy Jordan Reed (#86; 29 receptions for 378 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games) has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league. However, the Washington defense is average overall. NT Pot Roast Knighton (#98) is a force up front, and WLB Ryan Kerrigan (#91) has become a force. The 2011 first round pick recorded 9½ sacks this season along with three hits and 46 hurries. The matchup between Kerrigan and Green Bay RT Bryan Bulaga (#75) could be pivotal to the outcome of this game.

 

Since Week 7 Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in completion percentage (72.4) and passer rating (119.1), and has a jaw dropping TD:INT ratio: 23 touchdown passes with only three interceptions. Cousins has thrown for 11 scores without a pick over his last three games, with Washington’s offense averaging 35.7 points and 429 yards in that span. His fifth-ranked passer rating of 101.6 included performances of 100-plus in each of the last six games. Looking at how the two clubs have played down the stretch, you would have to pick Washington at home. Add in the way that the Green Bay offense has underwhelmed over most of the last ten weeks, and there is plenty of logic to believe that the Cheese Heads’ season comes to a shocking end Sunday. However, Washington’s weak defense – specifically their secondary – could be exactly the cure for the Pack’s late season malaise.

 

Prediction: Redskins 31, Packers 27

A slight lean to Washington in this game.