Tag Archives: AFC Championship Game

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots: Full Team Stats, Odds, More

John Morgan
January 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm ET

Sunday’s American Football Conference Championship Game pits the two teams that have ruled the AFC this millennium. Including next month’s game in Houston, either the Steelers or Patriots will have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl ten times since 2001.

In the 1994 season Bobby Ross and Stan Humphries ended the Buffalo Bills’ reign of four straight AFC championships, with their San Diego Chargers blown out by San Francisco in the 49ers’ last Super Bowl victory. Since then the Pats (7) and Steelers (4) have combined for eleven conference championships, laying waste to the NFL’s vision of parity and every team taking a turn as the best in the league.

The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons; Pittsburgh has had only one losing season since 2000, back in 2003. New England has won ten or more games 15 times since 2001, including 14 straight times. The Steelers have eleven double-digit winning years in that time span, including the last three in a row. The Patriots have won four Super Bowls this century to Pittsburgh’s two. Any and every Steeler fan will quickly respond to that fact by pointing out that the Black and Gold still lead the Patriots by the count of six Vince Lombardi Trophies to four overall – even though in most cases they are not old enough to remember four of those victories.

 

The Basics: Who, What, When, Where and Why

Who: 13-5 Pittsburgh Steelers (#3 seed, AFC North champs) at 15-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs)

What: 2016-17 American Football Conference Championship Game

When: Sunday January 22 at 6:40 pm ET on CBS

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough MA

Why: Winner represents the AFC in Super Bowl 51 at Houston on February 5

 

Weather, Odds and More

Weather: Cloudy with 30% chance of light rain in the late afternoon. Chance of precipitation increases to 70% later in the evening. Winds from the northeast at about 15 mph. Game time temperature of about 33° F.

Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.

Coaches: Mike Tomlin is in his tenth year as head coach of the Steelers, having taken over for Bill Cowher in 2007. He has a 103-57 (.644) regular season record, finishing no worse than 8-8 in 2012 and 2013. Tomlin’s teams have made the playoffs seven out of ten times, compiling an 8-5 (.615) post-season record. Under Tomlin the Steelers lost in the wild card game three times and the division round once. Tomlin is 2-0 in the AFCCG and 1-1 in the Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick has compiled a 261-125 overall record in 22 seasons as an NFL head coach. In 17 years with the Patriots Belichick has amassed a 237-115 (.673) regular season record and 24-10 (.706) post season record. Under his guidance the Patriots have won four Super Bowls, six conference championships and fourteen division titles. This will be a post-merger record sixth consecutive time the Patriots have advanced to the AFCCG, and eleventh time they have done so under the Hoodie’s watch. The Pats are 5-5 in those games but only 1-3 in their last four conference championships.

Odds: This game opened up with the Patriots a six-point favorite, and that line has remained relatively steady thus far. Most outlets publish the over/under at 50½, with a handful of venues still listing the total at the original 51 points. New England has covered better than any other team in league this year, going 14-3 against the spread. The Pats 7-2 home ATS record is also the best in the NFL. After last week’s game at Kansas City Pittsburgh is 10-7 ATS, 6-3 on the road. Both clubs went over six times and under ten times in the 2016 season.

 

 

Head-to-Head Series Record: In franchise history the Patriots are 14-15 versus Pittsburgh, but the Pats have owned the Steelers in the Belichick-Brady era. The Patriots are 9-3 dating back to the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field fifteen years ago. Brady is 9-2 versus Pittsburgh and 4-0 against the Steelers in games in Foxborough. The Patriots defeated Pittsburgh 41-27 on January 23 2005 en route to their third Super Bowl victory. That came three years after upsetting Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl plans, sandwiched between the Snow Bowl (aka Tuck Rule) game and knocking off the supposed Greatest Show On Turf.

 

There is also this full game for your viewing pleasure. The NFL is very proactive about keeping these gems out of the public’s hands, so be forewarned; I don’t think it will be available for very long.

 

These two clubs met twice prior to Belichick’s arrival in the post-season. On January 3, 1998 the Steelers nipped the Pats 7-6 in the division round; the only touchdown came in the first quarter on a 40-yard scramble by Kordell Stewart. One year earlier Curtis Martin rushed for three touchdowns and 166 yards, as the Patriots cruised to a foggy 28-3 victory. The next week The Pats defeated Jacksonville, more probable than not bringing Mark Brunell to tears. Unfortunately Bill Parcells was too busy making contract plans with Leon Hess to notice that kicking to Desmond Howard was a bad idea.

 

Team Stats and Rankings

Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game.

Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-five. Please note that the information below includes post-season games, so it will likely differ from official stats found elsewhere which are only for the regular season.

Pittsburgh is a well balanced team with legitimate championship aspirations. On offense the Steelers have explosive quick-strike weapons as well as the capability of methodically controlling the ball to drive the length of the field.

 

New England Patriot Offense versus Pittsburgh Steeler Defense

Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.9 (4th); Steelers 19.7 (8th)

Points per Play: Patriots .423 (4th); Steelers .320 (9th)

Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 3.2 (4th); Steelers 2.2 (8th)

Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 2.4 (4th); Steelers (12th)

Red Zone Touchdown Percentage: Patriots 64.1 (8th); Steelers 47.5 (5th)

Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Steelers 334 (9th)

First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.8 (7th); Steelers 19.3 (10th)

Yards per Play: Patriots 5.8 (7th); Steelers 5.4 (13th)

Yards per Drive: Patriots 6.66 (1st); Steelers 32.2 (15th)

Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Steelers 1.87 (11th)

Drive Success Rate: Patriots .742 (5th); Steelers .694 (13th)

Third Down Conversions per Game: Patriots 6.4 (2nd); Steelers 5.3 (24th)

Third Down Conversion Percentage: Patriots 45.2 (4th); Steelers 40.5 (23rd)

Punts per Score: Patriots 0.9 (10th); Steelers 1.1 (12th)

Plays per Game: Patriots 66.1 (7th); Steelers 61.6 (4th)

– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –

Rushing Yards: Patriots 116 (9th); Steelers 95 (9th)

Yards per Carry: Patriots 3.9 (25th); Steelers 4.2 (18th)

Passing Yards: Patriots 270 (4th); Steelers 239 (11th)

Yards per Pass Attempt: Patriots 7.8 (3rd); Steelers 6.5 (11th)

Completion Percentage: Patriots 65.7 (8th); Steelers 65.2 (28th)

Passer Rating: Patriots 106.8 (2nd); Steelers 87.1 (14th)

TD Passes-Interception Differential: Patriots +30, 34-4 (3rd); Steelers -7, 22-15 (8th)

Complete Passes per Game: Patriots 22.7 (16th); Steelers 23.9 (26th)

Incomplete Passes per Game: Patriots 11.9 (7th); Steelers 12.8 (20th)

Quarterback Sacks per Game: Patriots 1.5 (5th); Steelers 2.4 (7th)

Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Patriots 9.3 (2nd); Steelers 16.2 (7th)

 

Pittsburgh Steeler Offense versus New England Patriot Defense

Scoring per Game: Steelers 24.8 (11th); Patriots 15.6 (1st)

Points per Play: Steelers .390 (10th); Patriots .250 (1st)

Touchdowns per Game: Steelers 2.8 (12th); Patriots 1.6 (1st)

Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Steelers 1.7 (17th); Patriots 1.4 (2nd)

Red Zone TD Percentage per Game: Steelers 55.4 (14th); Patriots 51.1 (8th)

Yardage per Game: Steelers 373 (7th); Patriots 325 (8th)

First Downs per Game: Steelers 20.8 (12th); Patriots 18.1 (2nd)

Yards per Play: Steelers 5.9 (6th); Patriots 5.2 (9th)

Yards per Drive: Steelers 33.8 (10th); Patriots 28.8 (8th)

Points per Drive: Steelers 2.26 (8th); Patriots 1.42 (1st)

Drive Success Rate: Steelers .724 (9th); Patriots .662 (5th)

Third Down Conversions per Game: Steelers 5.2 (13th); Patriots 4.6 (2nd)

Third Down Conversion Percentage: Steelers 41.6 (11th); Patriots 35.6 (4th)

Punts per Score: Steelers 0.9 (9th); Patriots 1.7 (1st)

Plays per Game: Steelers 63.7 (15th); Patriots 62.6 (10th)

– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –

Rushing Yards: Steelers 117 (6th); Patriots 89 (5th)

Yards per Carry: Steelers 4.4 (9th); Patriots 3.9 (8th)

Passing Yards: Steelers 256 (10th); Patriots 235 (11th)

Yards per Pass Attempt: Steelers 7.1 (10th); Patriots 6.3 (6th)

Completion Percentage: Steelers 64.2 (14th); Patriots 61.5 (10th)

Passer Rating: Steelers 93.0 (12th); Patriots 82.2 (5th)

TD Passes-Interception Differential: Steelers +17, 35-18 (8th); Patriots -6, 22-16 (7th)

Complete Passes per Game: Steelers 23.0 (14th); Patriots 23.0 (18th)

Incomplete Passes per Game: Steelers 12.8 (14th); Patriots 14.4 (6th)

Quarterback Sacks per Game: Steelers 1.3 (2nd); Patriots 2.2 (16th)

Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Steelers 10.9 (7th); Patriots 14.2 (16th)

 

Turnovers

Turnover Differential: Patriots +12 (3rd); Steelers +7 (7th)

Patriot Takeaways: 1.5 per game (14th); 26 total

Steeler Giveaways: 1.2 per game (13th); 21 total

Steeler Takeaways: 1.6 per game (13th); 28 total

Patriot Giveaways: 0.8 per game (2nd); 14 total

 

 

Penalties

Penalties per Game: Patriots 5.8 (5th); Steelers 6.8 (19th)

Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 51.1 (6th); Steelers 65.6 (27th)

Opponent Penalties per Game: Patriots 6.9 (11th); Steelers 6.7 (15th)

Opponent Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 59.1 (13th); Steelers 58.0 (17th)

 

Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average

Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.0% (1st); Steelers 20.0% (3rd)

Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Steelers 11.1% (8th)

Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Steelers -4.7% (11th)

Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Steelers 0.0% (16th)

 

If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity. Pittsburgh has a very good team and deserves to be in this championship game. That being said the Patriots are just a bit better in all phases. Between the better coaches, better quarterback, and home field advantage the Pats should win. Enjoy the game, it should be a classic.

Prediction: Patriots 30, Steelers 20

2016 New England Patriots Transactions Tracker

John Morgan
February 12, 2016 at 7:00 am ET

Here is a look at the transactions made thus far by the New England Patriots; this post will be continuously updated as more moves are made throughout the year. Besides transactions, other events involving the roster such as final weekly injury reports and game day inactive lists are included. For those wishing to take a trip down memory lane, check out the following:
2014 New England Patriots Transaction Tracker
2013 New England Patriots Transaction Tracker
2012 New England Patriots Transaction Tracker

 

Jan 1: Final Injury Report for Week 17 game at Miami Dolphins:
Out
CB Justin Coleman (concussion) Did Not Practice Wed, Thu, Fri
WR Julian Edelman (foot) Limited Participation Wed, Thu; DNP Fri
LB Jonathan Freeny (hand) LP Thu; DNP Wed, Fri
LB Dont’€™a Hightower (knee) LP Wed, Thu; DNP Fri
DE Chandler Jones (abdomen/toe) Full Participation Wed; LP Thu; DNP Fri
OT Sebastian Vollmer (ankle) DNP Wed, Thu, Fri
Questionable
WR Danny Amendola (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
TE Scott Chandler (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
SS Patrick Chung (foot) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
OL Josh Kline (shoulder) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
WR Brandon LaFell (foot) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
FS Devin McCourty (ankle) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
DE Rob Ninkovich (shin) LP Thu; DNP Wed, Fri
DT Sealver Siliga (personal) DNP Fri
Ol LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder) LP Wed, Thu, Fri

Jan 3: Week 17 inactive list
CB Justin Coleman (concussion)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (hand)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower (knee)
DE Chandler Jones (abdomen/toe)
DT Sealver Siliga (family matter)
OT Sebastian Vollmer (ankle)

Jan 3: DC Matt Patricia reportedly a candidate for Head Coach of Miami Dolphins.

Jan 4: Cleveland Browns receive permission to interview DC Matt Patricia for Head Coach.

Jan 8: OC Josh McDaniels refuses to interview for any head coaching positions during open window.

Jan 8: TE Rob Gronkowski and K Stephen Gostkowski named to AP first-team All Pro team.
LB Jamie Collins named an AP second-team All-Pro.

– Jan 8: Director of Pro Scouting Bob Quinn hired as General Manager of the Detroit Lions.

Jan 12: DC Matt Patricia interviews with Cleveland Browns for Head Coach.

– Jan 12: WR DeAndre Carter released from Practice Squad.

+ Jan 12: WR J.J. Worton (Rams) signed to Practice Squad.

+ Jan 12: S Cedric Thompson (Dolphins) signed to Practice Squad.

Jan 12: DE Chandler Jones admitted to Norwood Hospital.

– Jan 13: OL Torrian Wilson released from Practice Squad.

+ Jan 13: WR DeAndre Carter (Patriots, Raiders, Ravens) re-signed to Practice Squad.

Jan 14: LB Darius Fleming requires 22 stitches after saving woman from burning car.

Jan 15: Final Injury Report for Division Round Playoff game versus Kansas City Chiefs:
Out
OL Tre’€™ Jackson (knee) Did Not Practice Wed, Thu, Fri
Questionable
LB Jonathan Freeny (hand/not injury related) LP Wed; DNP Thu, Fri
WR Danny Amendola (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
TE Scott Chandler (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
TE Rob Gronkowski (knee/back) DNP Thu; LP Wed, Fri
CB Justin Coleman (concussion) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
DB Nate Ebner (hand) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
WR Julian Edelman (foot) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
LB Dont’€™a Hightower (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
DE Chandler Jones (abdomen/toe) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
DE Rob Ninkovich (shin) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
OT Sebastian Vollmer (ankle) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
OT LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
Probable
QB Tom Brady (ankle) FP Wed, Thu, Fri
OL Josh Kline (shoulder) FP Wed, Thu, Fri
WR Brandon LaFell (foot) FP Wed, Thu, Fri
FS Devin McCourty (ankle) FP Wed, Thu, Fri

+ Jan 16: WR Keshawn Martin signed to two-year extension
$600,000 signing bonus
2016: $1,287,500 salary cap number
$850,000 base salary
$200,000 roster bonus ($12,500 per game)
$25,000 workout bonus
$750,000 performance bonus (based on receptions)
$600,000 cap hit if cut
$687,500 cap savings if cut or traded
2017: $1,537,500 salary cap number
$1,000,000 base salary
$200,000 roster bonus ($12,500 per game)
$25,000 workout bonus
$100,000 roster bonus (due 5th day of 2017 league year)
$750,000 performance bonus (based on receptions)
$200,000 escalator (based on 2016 receptions)
$300,000 cap hit if cut
$627,500 cap savings if cut or traded

Jan 16: Week 19 inactive list:
OL Tre’ Jackson (knee)
OL LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder)
LB Jon Bostic (healthy scratch)
WR Chris Harper (healthy scratch)
S Tavon Wilson (healthy scratch)
DL Geneo Grissom (healthy scratch)
DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (healthy scratch)

Jan 16: Rob Gronkowski sets new NFL record for most career touchdown receptions (8) by a tight end.

Jan 16: Bill Belichick ties Tom Landry for NFL record for most conference championship game as head coach (10).
Belichick also tied Landry for 2nd most divisional playoff games in NFL history (13), and is now one away from tying the NFL record of 14 held by Don Shula.

Jan 18: Rob Gronkowski and Stephen Gostkowski named to the All-NFL team by the Pro Football Writers of America.

x Jan 19: LB Jerod Mayo (shoulder) placed on Injured Reserve.

Jan 21: LB James Vaughters (Packers) signed to reserve/future contract.

Jan 22: Ty Law to serve as honorary captain for AFCCG at Denver.

Jan 22: Final Injury Report for AFC Championship Game at Denver Broncos:
Out
OL Tre’€™ Jackson (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
OT LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
Questionable
TE Rob Gronkowski (knee/back) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
LB Jonathan Freeny (hand) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
WR Danny Amendola (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
TE Scott Chandler (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
LB Jamie Collins (back) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
LB Darius Fleming (back/shin) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
DB Nate Ebner (hand) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
WR Julian Edelman (foot) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
LB Dont’€™a Hightower (knee) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
DE Chandler Jones (abdomen/toe) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
DE Rob Ninkovich (shin) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
C Bryan Stork (ankle) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
OT Sebastian Vollmer (ankle) LP Wed, Thu, Fri
WR/ST Matthew Slater (shin) DNP Wed; LP Thu, Fri
Probable
QB Tom Brady (ankle) FP Wed, Thu, Fri
OL Josh Kline (shoulder) FP Wed, Thu, Fri
WR Brandon LaFell (foot) FP Wed, Thu, Fri
S Devin McCourty (ankle) FP Wed, Thu, Fri
S Patrick Chung (foot) FP Thu, Fri

+ Jan 23: LB Kevin Snyder signed to 53-man roster from Practice Squad
$450,000 base salary

Jan 24: Week 20 Inactive List:
OL Tre’ Jackson (knee)
OT LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder)
DL Ishmaaily Kitchen (healthy scratch)
LB Jon Bostic (healthy scratch)
S Tavon Wilson (healthy scratch)
WR Chris Harper (healthy scratch)
DE Geneo Grissom (healthy scratch)

Jan 24: Patriots tie record for most consecutive championship games (5) in NFL history (Raiders, 1973-77).

Jan 24: Tom Brady sets NFL record for most postseason games (31), breaking Adam Vinatieri’s record.
Brady also tied George Blanda and Gene Upshaw for most appearances in a conference title game by any player in NFL history (10).

+ Jan 25: FB Joey Iosefa signed to reserve/future contract.
$450,000 base salary

+ Jan 25: S Cedric Thompson signed to reserve/future contract.
$450,000 base salary

Jan 25: Practice Squad WR J.J. Worton arrested for assault and battery.

Jan 25: Patriots draw highest television rating (31.8/53) for a conference championship game since 1987.

– Jan 25: Patriots decide to not re-sign OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo.

+ Jan 25: G Chris Barker signed to reserve/future contract.
$525,000 base salary

+ Jan 25: S Brock Vereen signed to reserve/future contract.
$600,000 base salary

+ Jan 25: WR DeAndre Carter signed to reserve/future contract.
$450,000 base salary

+ Jan 25: CB Rashaan Melvin signed to reserve/future contract.
$675,000 base salary

+ Jan 25: G Keavon Milton signed to reserve/future contract.
$525,000 base salary

+ Jan 26: DT Joe Vellano (Colts) signed to reserve/future contract.
$600,000 base salary

Jan 26: HC Bill Belichick attends Senior Bowl.

Jan 26: LB Jerod Mayo undergoes surgery to repair torn pectoral muscle.

– Jan 27: Patriots decide to not re-sign strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash.

– Jan 28: Offensive Line coach Dave DeGuglielmo signs with San Diego Chargers in same position.

– Jan 28: Director of Player Development Kevin Anderson signs with Detroit Lions as chief of staff and assistant to the general manager Bob Quinn (former Patriot scouting director).

– Jan 28: Linebackers coach Patrick Graham signs with New York Giants as their defensive line coach.

– Jan 29: Head strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash signs with Detroit Lions in same position.

 

+ Feb 1: RB Montee Ball signed to reserve/future contract.

Feb 5: Practice Squad RB Montee Ball arrested for battery.

Feb 7: Tom Brady booed during year’s largest television audience.

Feb 8: LB Dane Fletcher activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Feb 8: LB Rufus Johnson activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Feb 8: DT Chris Jones activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Feb 8: RB LeGarrette Blount (hip) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: CB Tarell Brown (hip) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: TE A.J. Derby (knee) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: FB James Develin (leg) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: WR Aaron Dobson (ankle) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: DT Dominique Easley (thigh) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: DE Trey Flowers (knee,shoulder) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: RB Tyler Gaffney (knee) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: WR Brandon Gibson (knee) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: RB Dion Lewis (knee) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: LB Jerod Mayo (shoulder) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: CB Darryl Roberts (wrist) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: LT Nate Solder (biceps) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: WR Brian Tyms (foot) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: G/C Ryan Wendell (knee) taken off Injured Reserve.

Feb 8: Dante Scarnecchia is in talks to return to the Patriots as the offensive line coach.

Feb 8: Patriots listed as early favorites to win Super Bowl 51.

 

Looking ahead, here is a list of all the free agents for the New England Patriots once the 2016 league year commences.

Unrestricted Free Agents
#29 – RB LeGarrette Blount
#25 – CB Tarell Brown
#43 – S Nate Ebner
#13 – WR Brandon Gibson
#72 – DE Akiem Hicks
#39 – RB Steven Jackson
#52 – OLB Dekoda Watson
#62 – G/C Ryan Wendell
#27 – S Tavon Wilson

Restricted Free Agents
#46 – FB James Develin
#72 – OL Kevin Hughes
#96 – DT Sealver Siliga
#84 – WR Bryan Tyms
#68 – OT LaAdrian Waddle

 

Below is the remainder of the roster, sorted by length of contract.
Based on the 90-man roster, there are currently 16 openings.

Two players signed through 2019:
#87 – TE Rob Gronkowski
#32 – FS Devin McCourty

11 players signed through 2018:
#6 — P Ryan Allen
#90 – DT Malcom Brown
#49 – LS Joe Cardona
#86 – TE A.J. Derby
#98 – DE Trey Flowers
#3 — K Stephen Gostkowski
#92 – DE Geneo Grissom
#63 – RG Tre’ Jackson
#69 – LG Shaq Mason
#37 – SS Jordan Richards
#28 – CB Darryl Roberts

15 players signed through 2017:
#80 – WR Danny Amendola
#60 – C David Andrews
#12 – QB Tom Brady
#23 – SS Patrick Chung
#99 – DT Dominique Easley
#11 – WR Julian Edelman
#36 – RB Tyler Gaffney
#10 – QB Jimmy Garoppolo
#67 – RG Josh Kline
#33 – RB Dion Lewis
#82 – WR Keshawn Martin
#51 – ILB Jerod Mayo
#77 – LT Nate Solder
#66 – C Bryan Stork
#28 – RB James White

32 players signed through 2016:
#64 – G Chris Barker
#38 – RB Brandon Bolden
#58 – OLB Jon Bostic
#97 – DT Alan Branch
#21 – CB Malcolm Butler
#61 – OL Marcus Cannon
#88 – TE Scott Chandler
#91 – OLB Jamie Collins
#17 – WR Aaron Dobson
#53 – OLB Darius Fleming
#55 – ILB Jonathan Freeny
#30 – FS Duron Harmon
#14 – WR Chris Harper
#54 – OLB Dont’a Hightower
#47 – FB Joey Iosefa
#34 – CB Leonard Johnson
#95 – DE Chandler Jones
#94 – DT Chris Jones
#70 – DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
#19 – WR Brandon LaFell
#52 – OLB Eric Martin
#24 – CB Rashaan Melvin
#50 – DE Rob Ninkovich
#26 – CB Logan Ryan
#93 – DE Jabaal Sheard
#18 – ST Matt Slater
#45 – LB Kevin Snyder
#41 – FS Cedric Thompson
#NA – ILB James Vaughters
#72 – DT Joe Vellano
#35 – DB Brock Vereen
#85 – TE Michael Williams

 

– Feb 9: RB Montee Ball waived.

+ Feb 16: Dante Scarnecchia rehired as Offensive Line Coach.

– Feb 16: LB Jerod Mayo announces his retirement from the NFL.
As a result of this decision, the Patriots gained a net savings of $6,475,000 in cap space in 2016, with $4,400,000 of dead cap space being carried this season due to a $2.4 million proration of Mayo’s 2012 option bonus and a $2 million proration of his 2015 signing bonus. The Patriots also saved $10,500,000 in space off the 2017 salary cap.

The Patriots now have an estimated $13,058,036 of salary cap space available.

– Feb 17: CB Leonard Johnson released.

Feb 25: NFLPA announces that the Patriots will carry over $1,347,882 in unused salary cap space from the 2015 NFL league year.

Feb 26: 2016 NFL salary cap set at $155,270,000, an increase of $11,990,000 over the 2015 cap of $143,280,000.
With the carryover and a $1,347,882 Likely To Be Earned adjustment and a $3,188,125 Not Likely To Be Earned adjustment, the Patriots 2016 adjusted salary cap number will be $159,860,007.

The Patriots now have $13,563,036 of salary cap space available.

Feb 26: Patriots update Wells Report in Context website to include Peter King’s article “Why NFL Should Give Back Picks to Pats (But Won’€™t)” and Stephanie Stradley’s article “Best Argument for Giving the Patriots Draft Picks Back“.

Feb 29: With 2016 NFL salary cap announced, salaries for Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan and Chris Jones are set based on qualification for the Proven Performance Escalator in a player’s fourth league year.

+ Feb 29: Patriots extend Tom Brady‘s contract.
$28 million signing bonus and $41 million in new money.
Deal creates $1 million in salary cap space for the Pats in 2016, and $2 million in 2017.
2016 base salary: $1 million (guaranteed); cap number: $14 million
2017 base salary: $1 million (guaranteed); cap number: $14 million
2018 base salary: $14 million; roster bonus: $1 million (paid per game) cap number: $22 million
2019 Base salary: $14 million Roster bonus: $1 million (paid per game) cap number: $22 million

 

Mar 1: NFL window for applying franchise tag closes; Patriots did not apply tag to any of their players.

– Mar 2: WR Brian Tyms will not receive an RFA tender ($1,671,000).

– Mar 2: WR Brandon LaFell released.
LaFell was due to count $3,675,000 against the 2016 cap.
The move creates $2,150,000 in cap space as well as $1,000,000 in dead cap dollars.

– Mar 2: TE Scott Chandler released.
Chandler was due to count $3,050,000 against the 2016 cap.
The move creates $1,525,000 in cap space as well as $1,000,000 in dead cap dollars.

Mar 3: TE Rob Gronkowski will host “Crashletes” on Nickelodeon.

Mar 3: Jet fan and ESPN public editor Jim Brady feebly addresses TWWL‘s biased reporting of Framegate.

Mar 3: Open of hearing in New York City on NFL’s appeal against Tom Brady.

– Mar 3: DT Sealver Siliga will not receive an RFA tender ($1,671,000).

– Mar 4: LB Darius Fleming released.

+ Mar 6: OL Cameron Fleming receives ERFA tender: $600,000 base salary.

+ Mar 7: Patriots pick up final $6,000,000 of the $10,000,000 contract option on TE Rob Gronkowski, placing him under contract through 2019.

Mar 7: Former (2005-2013) Patriot LG Logan Mankins retires.

+ Mar 7: CB Justin Coleman receives ERFA tender ($525,000).

+ Mar 7: RFA FB James Develin signs one-year contract.
$675,000 base salary; $50,000 signing bonus; $25,000 workout bonus; $150,000 playing time incentives.
$750,000 cap number and $900,000 maximum value.

+ Mar 8: Pats exercise $400,000 option bonus on DT Alan Branch.

– Mar 8: Patriots will not re-sign UFA ST/S Tavon Wilson.

+ Mar 9: RFA DT LaAdrian Waddle signed to two-year contract.
$250,000 signing bonus with a maximum value of $3,800,000.
2016: $700,000 base salary; $200,000 roster bonus (12.5 per game); $25,000 workout bonus; $700,000 NLTBE playing time incentive bonus; $962,500 salary cap number.
2017: $800,000 base salary; $150,000 roster bonus due 5th day of league year; $200,000 roster bonus (12.5 per game); $25,000 workout bonus; $700,000 NLTBE playing time incentive bonus; $1,062,500 salary cap number.

+ Mar 9: ST/LB Ramon Humber (Saints) signed to two-year contract.
$885,000 base salary; $25,000 signing bonus; $25,000 reporting bonus; $30,000 roster bonus (paid per game).
$676,250 salary cap number (qualifies for minimum salary benefit).

– Mar 9: LB Dane Fletcher released; will retire from NFL.

– Mar 9: ST/S Tavon Wilson signs with Detroit Lions.

– Mar 9: WR Josh Boyce, OT Kevin Hughes, DT Sealver Siliga, LB Jerod Mayo and WR Brian Tyms do not receive qualifying offers from the Patriots, officially making them unrestricted free agents.

Mar 10: RFA WR Chris Hogan (Bills) meets with Patriots.

Mar 10: RFA RB/ST Benny Cunningham (Rams) meets with Patriots.

Mar 10: UFA RB James Starks (Packers) meets with Patriots.

Mar 10: UFA TE Clay Harbor (Jaguars) meets with Patriots.

Mar 10: UFA WR Rod Streater (Raiders) meets with Patriots. [Signs with Chiefs 3/12]

Mar 10: UFA CB/ST Sherrick McManis (Bears) meets with Patriots. [Re-signs with Chicago 3/10]

Mar 10: Former Patriot DT Gary Jeter dies at the age of 61; had seven sacks with Pats in 1989.

+ Mar 11: Patriots sign RFA WR Chris Hogan to a 3-year, $12,000,000 offer sheet.
Buffalo has five days to match deal, which includes a first-year salary cap charge of $5,500,000.

Mar 11: NFL announces compensatory picks for the 2016 draft; the Patriots will get four of those.
Patriots receive a third round pick (number 96 overall) for the loss of CB Darrelle Revis.
The Pats also receive three sixth round picks (numbers 208, 214 and 221) to compensate for the losses of Akeem Ayers, Brandon Browner, Jonathan Casillas, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Vince Wilfork, while only acquiring Jabaal Sheard as an unrestricted free agent from another club.

Mar 11: With the compensatory picks announced, New England’s initial order in the 2016 draft is now set.

2nd round: 60th overall
3rd round: 91st overall
3rd round: 96th overall (compensatory pick, cannot be traded)
4th round: 127th overall
6th round: 196th overall (from Houston)
6th round: 208th overall (compensatory pick, cannot be traded)
6th round: 214th overall (compensatory pick, cannot be traded)
6th round: 221st overall (compensatory pick, cannot be traded)
7th round: 243rd overall (from Houston)
7th round: 250th overall

– The first round pick (29th overall) was stolen by Roger Goodell in the league’s attempt to smear Tom Brady the Patriots, and give the commissioner full power over the players and the NFLPA.
– The fifth round pick (154th overall) was traded to the Houston Texans on September 17, 2015 for WR Keshawn Martin and Houston’s sixth round pick (178th overall).
– The sixth round pick (204th overall) was traded to the Chicago Bears on September 29, 2015 for LB Jon Bostic.
– A seventh round pick (243rd overall) was acquired from the Houston Texans in exchange for QB Ryan Mallett on August 31, 2014.

+ Mar 11: DL Frank Kearse (Washington, Dallas, Carolina) signed to a contract.

+ Mar 11: Buffalo Bills decline to match New England’s offer sheet for WR Chris Hogan; Hogan signs contract with the Patriots.

Mar 12: UFA LB James Laurinaitis (Rams) meets with Patriots.

+ Mar 12: ST/S Nate Ebner re-signs with Patriots.
Two-year contract.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: AFC Championship Game Review

Russ Goldman
January 29, 2016 at 11:42 am ET

Check out our PatsFans.com, weekly ‘Patriots 4th & 2’ podcast.  Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and Steve Balestrieri our featured columnists for the site, break down the games every week and bring some analysis to the latest news featuring both the Patriots and the NFL as well.

In this episode, we looked back at the AFC Championship Game loss for the Patriots. We analyzed each quarter of the game, and also graded all the Patriots units along with the coaching staff. We also had another segment of “Around The League” and we ended with our early predictions for the Super Bowl.

Be sure to listen in during the coming weeks; just because the Patriots playoff run in over, there is no off-season for them or us. We’ll bring our listeners the questions surrounding the team approaching free agency as well as looking at some players that the team may be interested in. We’ll look at some available free agents in the coming weeks as well as the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft.

Belichick, Patriots Made the Right Decisions in Denver

Steve Balestrieri
January 26, 2016 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots season is over, the Broncos held on in the final 12 seconds to stop a two-point conversion that would have sent the game to overtime. With their defense earning a much-deserved win, Denver moves on Super Bowl L. And now the second guessers are circling, eagerly awaiting their chance to snipe at Bill Belichick and point fingers at him as to why the Patriots lost.

I think this has more to do with people wanting to chip away at Belichick’s image and having to assign blame to someone  at a loss than just admitting the fact, that the Broncos were the better team on Sunday.

Did Belichick and the Patriots coaches make some questionable decisions in the rarified air in Denver? Absolutely and you could start with the very rare decision to take the ball at the opening kickoff, something they never do. The hope was to strike quickly, put Peyton Manning the and Denver offense in catch-up mode and take them out of their game.

It didn’t work, the Patriots stalled and it was the Broncos who scored on their first possession. If you want to question anything from the start, question why the powers that be (Belichick, Matt Patricia), treated Manning like the one of yore in the first quarter, afraid to bring pressure. Once they finally did do that, they were already down 14-6 and the Denver offense didn’t do much more the rest of the game.

But the calls everyone are falling all over themselves to second guess are “Why didn’t they take the field goals, they’d be heading to the Super Bowl.” Sounds simple enough and reasonable, but let’s look at the facts leading into it.

4th & 1 with 6:03 Remaining: Through the first 54 minutes of the game, the Patriots offense couldn’t move the ball with any rhythm or continuity. Their longest drive, 48 yards, resulted in only a field goal. Their lone touchdown drive to that point came off of a turnover, a backwards pass gone awry and set them up with a very short field.

So if you’re the head coach, you are looking at this game in the context that thru 54 minutes your offense has done next to squat, you are still within one score and a two-point conversion and this just might be your only chance to tie this thing up and hope your defense can generate a turnover. The offense put together its longest drive of the day and is inside the red zone at the 16-yard line. 4th and 1 isn’t the most difficult one to make, in the red zone. If and a big IF, if you have any semblance of a running game. The Patriots didn’t so this is where you trust your QB and skill position players to make a play.

A field goal here does what? Narrows a 20-12 lead to five, and the Patriots would still need a touchdown to win. The way Denver’s defense had been playing to that point, there was nothing to suggest that the Patriots were going to get another opportunity, especially with the way the pass rush of the Broncos was bringing pressure on Brady every single snap.

The point differential here is everything, if Denver’s lead had been six points, I believe Belichick wouldn’t have hesitated for a field goal attempt. Then they’d need only another field goal to tie or a touchdown to win. Watching the game, I thought at the time, they have to go for it here, thinking they may not get this close again.

Many have lambasted the play call and while I see their point, looking at the replay, it wasn’t so much the play call but the execution by DeMarcus Ware who blew up the play. The call had Edelman coming in motion from right to left, at the snap Brady slides to the right and Edelman is supposed to slip behind the flow and catch a pass from Brady where he’s supposed to be alone in space.

Everything seemed to be working, except Ware blew the play up. Coming hard after Brady, he was on him in no time. Brady couldn’t fire the ball to Edelman as Ware was in his face. Instead he had to loft it over him; Edelman, instead of catching the ball at the line of scrimmage, was caught waiting for it to come down a yard behind the line. Chris Harris who had been playing about 3-4 yards back, flew in and with Aqib Talib’s help stopped Edelman for a loss. That was just a great head’s up play by Ware. Had Brady been able to fire it in quickly, Edelman makes that first down easily.

If your offense can’t get you a yard at crunch time when you’re down by a touchdown, then you aren’t going to win a lot of games. And in this case, they did not.

4th & 6 2:25 Remaining: But the Patriots did get another chance late in the game. This time they drove to the Denver 14-yard line with just under two and half minutes remaining.

The Denver pass rush was finally beginning to tire just a bit and their secondary was taking some injuries. Look at the scenario again; if they kick a field goal here, it still leaves your team needing a touchdown. And although the defense has stuffed the Broncos in the second half, even with three timeouts and the two-minute warning, one first down by the Broncos ends it.

At this point now, Belichick’s hand is about forced; do you kick a field goal, still needing a touchdown to win, knowing one first down ices the game for Denver? So they went for it. Brady was under duress (as one nearly every snap) but was able to get the pass away in the back of the end zone where Gronkowski was covered by three different defenders. The pass was a bit high and tipped away.

Gronk Talib

Gronkowski and Brady were screaming for a pass interference penalty on Talib, who did have a bear hug as well as a tug on the jersey of Gronkowski at the back of the end zone. The referee was right there and had a perfect view of it. But it was to no avail, Talib got away with a veteran move, did just enough to NOT get called for a flag and Denver took over on downs.

Should there have been a flag? You can argue that one ‘til the cows come home. Perhaps Denver’s obvious lobbying the refs prior to the game had an influence on the call, who knows? It was close, that’s for sure.

So in looking at the scenario late in the game, while everyone can’t wait to point fingers and assign blame to Belichick for going for it…twice. They were the right moves at the time. But there seems to be this unending desire to chip away at the Hoodie at every opportunity. Looking back at some decisions against Philadelphia and the finale at Miami, I can and would agree with. Against the Broncos on Sunday…nope.

We’re on to the off-season, Free Agency and the Draft.

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.

Monday Observations: Brady Battered, but Resilient In Loss to Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
January 25, 2016 at 6:31 am ET

The Patriots will look back on this one as the one that went awry from the outset. The Pats were playing a step slower and from behind all day long and could never get on track as the Broncos defense dominated the New England offensive line in their 20-18 win in the AFC Championship Game.

This was a game that the front seven of Denver took charge of right off the bat and never let up, sacking Brady 4 times and being credited with 20 QB hits. The Patriots offensive line wasn’t close to providing anywhere near the protection that Brady needed to get the job done.

Playing at home and with the crowd noise, Denver keyed in on the Patriots snap cadence and were teeing off all game long. Several times their edge rushers blew past the tackles on the outside untouched. The coaches tried to even put an extra tackle (Cameron Fleming), out there to help but he too was rendered into a turnstile without laying a hand on the defender.

The Broncos defense and coach Wade Phillips deserve a lot of praise for this one. They were able to take away the quick passing game of the Patriots and bring the heat with a very talented front seven. Von Miller led the way with 2.5 sacks and four QB hits. Derek Wolfe had a sack and four QB hits. DeMarcus Ware chipped in with a half-sack and seven QB hits.

In contrast, the Patriots edge rushers, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard…0 stands for zero. No sacks, no QB hits, no pressure. The only pressure the Patriots were able to produce was in the A-gap with Jamie Collins and Allen Branch who combined for the three Patriots sacks.

The flip side of the offensive line’s struggles was the continued inability to run the football. The Patriots were able to muster only 44 yards on the ground on 17 attempts which comes out to a measly 2.6 yard average. Brady was the team’s leading rusher with 13 yards which sends up red flags as to what kind of day it was.

In a game where they were only trailing by one score, any semblance of a running game would have taken a tremendous amount of pressure off of Brady. As a result, the Pats third down percentage was once again an awful 2 for 15.

Brady Battered but Resilient: Brady deserves a lot of credit for hanging tough in this one. He was bruised, battered and bloodied all day long. His numbers won’t reflect him having an even close to Brady-type afternoon, 27-56 for 310 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 picks, but he was under duress on nearly every play.

It marked the first post-season game where he didn’t complete at least 50 percent of his passes, and while he made some questionable decisions, he did lead the team to what should have been a tying touchdown with 12 seconds left.

The pass and catch to Rob Gronkowski for 40 yards to set them up at the 10-yard line was a beauty over double coverage. And he and Gronk hooked up again for the touchdown on a fourth-down pass from the 4-yard line. A rare Stephen Gostkowski missed PAT in the first half (his first since 2006), couldn’t have come at a worse time. It forced the Pats to go for two which the Broncos stopped to clinch the game.

Gronk is a Gamer: Rob Gronkowski had another outstanding day. The big tight end wasn’t at 100 percent, was drawing a lot of double and at times triple coverage but still came thru with a big game. Gronk hauled in eight passes for 144 yards and a touchdown and although was struggling with leg cramps and dehydration was still able to make plays at crunch time.

His big 40-yard catch over double coverage was one of the best plays of the season and he was able to defeat double coverage at the back of the end zone for the potential game tying touchdown at the end of the game.

Curious Decisions to Start: The Patriots made a couple of head scratching decisions to start the game and their second really hurt them. The first was after winning the coin toss, the Pats went against their normal M.O. and elected to receive. I can’t recall the last time they did that to start a game.

Obviously the thinking was to get the ball, score quickly and make Peyton Manning play from behind. They didn’t do that and were forced to punt. Which leads to the second strange decision.

At the beginning of the game, the Patriots defense was treating Manning like the Manning from 2003 where they seemed afraid of blitzing him for fear that he’d make them pay. Well…it did. Manning was operating early in the game with impunity for the most part and after driving down to the Patriots 21-yard line on their opening possession, Owen Daniels ran down the seam.

Jamie Collins and Rob Ninkovich couldn’t decide who should cover him and in the end neither did. Manning laid a 35mph fastball down the middle that was way too easy for the score. That gave Denver the lead they would never relinquish. Manning would toss another touchdown to Daniels where he faked Collins out badly to the corner of the end zone.

Once they finally decided to start getting after Manning with some aggressive packages, the Broncos offense stalled for much of the rest of the game. They did get one nice run by C.J. Anderson that set them up with a field goal, but that was it.

Manning finished 17-32 for 176 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions although he was tagged for a fumble on a backwards pass that was picked up by Jonathan Freeny. Malcolm Butler had opportunities for two interceptions that went right thru his hands.

The Patriots defense did a good job of limiting the Broncos running game, holding them to 99 yards rushing of which nearly a third of that total was on the one run by Anderson in the second half. It wasn’t the defense that lost this one. We wrote yesterday that Manning was 3-12 when the opposition scored 19 or more points. The Patriots scored just 18 and that isn’t enough

Denver Won STs Field Position Battle: This wasn’t a stellar day for the Patriots special teams’ units. First Gostkowski misses his first PAT in 524 attempts which puts them down 7-6. Ryan Allen wasn’t able to push the Broncos back and his 46.8 average was a bit misleading.

In contrast, Denver’s special teams were constantly pinning the Patriots deep in their zone. Britton Colquitt had an outstanding day, his punts were hanging up there allowing the coverage units to get down field. He had four punts inside the 20 including a few inside the 10-yard line.

On a day where the Denver front seven was kicking the NE offensive line’s ass, it ended up being a huge win for them as they held favorable field position for much of the day.

White Targeted, Martin/LaFell Invisible: There has been calls for the Patriots to get James White more involved in the passing game. Well they certainly did that, targeting the 2nd year RB 16 times in the air. The problem was he caught only 5 passes for 45 yards.

They kept attempting to hit him on a go-route isolated on a linebacker and while a few came close, especially one in the end zone, it didn’t materialize for them. While some of the issues came about because Brady didn’t have proper time to get him the ball, one would think they would’ve looked elsewhere.

On the flip side, WRs Keshawn Martin and Brandon LaFell were relegated to milk carton status. Martin was targeted once, LaFell not at all and both were invisible. On a day where Denver was placing a premium on stopping Gronk and Edelman, they needed to make some plays and didn’t.

A disappointing end to a year that started so well, no it’s on to offseason. The draft is next up and the team will have to look to it and free agency.

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.

Patriots need to improve third down defense against Broncos

John Morgan
January 24, 2016 at 10:00 am ET

For most of the season the topic of conversation in regards to the New England Patriots has centered on the performance of the offensive line. While that unit has at times deserved scrutiny, the return of Sebastian Vollmer has seemed to have stabilized the group. Overlooked has been what may be the real Achilles heel for this squad as they battle the Denver Broncos on Sunday: the team’s third down defense.

 

Last week the Chiefs converted on an astounding 12 out of 20 third down attempts. Add in a fourth down conversion, and Kansas City was able to stay on the field 65% of the time on third down against the Pats. To put that in perspective the New York Giants, with an atrocious pass defense that led to the exit of Tom Coughlin, had the NFL’s worst third down defense in 2015 – and opponents converted on only 47% of their third down opportunities. Logan Ryan in particular had a rough day, with opposing players catching eight out of ten passes thrown his way, plus committing a penalty that resulted in a first down and led to a touchdown on the next play.

 

To be fair we are comparing the small sample size of one game (against a playoff caliber team) versus a defense’s entire season, but every New England fan watching last week’s game had to be very frustrated watching KC convert over and over, after the Patriot defense won first and second down to set up third and long. Considering the opponent, some of that should not have been totally unexpected also. The Patriots’ defensive game plan was to contain Alex Smith and force him to beat the Pats through while limiting his runs. Smith averaged 5.9 yards per carry and quietly rushed for 498 yards and 30 first downs in 2015. Rather than bringing an aggressive pass rush, Matt Patricia’s group focused on gap integrity and setting the edge to contain Smith.

 

In addition the secondary was in zone coverage more often than usual; that should change Sunday. Peyton Manning simply cannot get the ball downfield with any velocity at this point in his career. Pittsburgh made a critical defense with their game plan last week, positioning their defenders as if Manning could still throw the football like he did five or ten years ago. Although Bill Belichick stated that he would never underestimate Manning, I am sure that he saw the same thing I did. Belichick game plans to take away an opponent’s strength and dares them to beat his team with a weaker asset – in this case, that is Manning having to throw the ball deep or outside the numbers.

 

The good news for the Patriots is that Denver’s offense struggled mightily against a Steeler defense that is not nearly as proficient as New England’s. The Broncos were a woeful 2-12 on third down last week, and also failed to convert on two fourth downs. Some of that can be attributed to Pittsburgh’s defense being much better against the run (3.8 yards per carry, 6th in 2015; 91 yards per game, 6th) than they are in pass defense (7.5 yards per pass attempt, 18th; 64.3% completion rate, 22nd; 272 yards per game, 30th). Gary Kubiak wanted to run the ball (33 rushing attempts in the game) even if that was playing to Pittsburgh’s strength. The Denver head coach counted on his team’s defense being able to contain Pittsburgh without Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. It was a smart game plan, figuring that the Steelers’ best chance to pull off an upset was if Manning threw a couple of wounded ducks that ended up as pick-sixes. Facing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman this week, he won’t have that luxury.

 

In regards to the previous meeting between the Patriots and Broncos this season, I believe the most important factor that many (especially in Denver) are overlooking is that Jamie Collins did not play, and Dont’a Hightower left early with an injury. The game took a huge change when Hightower went out; once that happened the Broncos were suddenly able to run the ball. The absence of Jerod Mayo is relatively minor; he was on the field for just 36.1% of the defense’s snaps, and many of those came when Collins and Hightower missed time earlier this season. As for Denver fans that counter that the Broncos were equally distressed by having to start Brock Osweiler at quarterback, that argument does not hold water. The reality is that based on how he was performing, the removal of Manning was an improvement, not a downgrade.

 

Kansas City Chiefs Offensive 3rd Downs vs New England Patriots

Drive #1 – with score Patriots 7, Chiefs 0
17 plays, 64 yards in 8:31
3rd and 7 at KC 33 (8:14 – 1st)
Alex Smith pass to short middle to Jeremy Maclin to KC 44 for 11 yards (Logan Ryan)
First Down

3rd and 3 at NE 49 (6:15 – 1st)
Alex Smith pass to short middle to Travis Kelce to NE 44 for 5 yards (Rob Ninkovich)
First Down

3rd and 13 at NE 47 (4:52 – 1st)
Alex Smith scrambles off left tackle to NE 32 for 15 yards (Jabaal Sheard)
First Down

3rd and 4 at NE 26 (3:27 – 1st)
Charcandrick West off left end to NE 20 for 6 yards (Justin Coleman)
First Down

3rd and 6 at NE 16 (2:03 – 1st)
Alex Smith pass incomplete, thrown away from outside the pocket to short left [Jamie Collins]
Stop forces KC to settle for a field goal

Drive #2 – with score Patriots 7, Chiefs 3
7 plays, 25 yards in 3:22
3rd and 2 at NE 48 (13:39 – 2nd)
Charcandrick West up the middle to NE 45 for 3 yards (Alan Branch)
First Down

3rd and 7 at NE 42 (11:40 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short middle to Travis Kelce
Penalty on KC, Illegal Use of Hands; declined
Stop forces KC to punt

Drive #3 – with score Patriots 7, Chiefs 3
3 plays, minus-1 yard, 1:38
3rd and 12 at NE 38 (9:51 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass to short right to Travis Kelce to NE 37 for 1 yard (Patrick Chung; Dont’a Hightower)
Stop forces KC to punt

Drive #4 – with score Patriots 14, Chiefs 3
11 plays, 52 yards in 3:11
3rd and 7 at NE 46 (2:00 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass to deep right to Jason Avant to NE 20 for 26 yards (Devin McCourty)
First Down

3rd and Goal at NE 9 (0:21 – 2nd)
Penalty on KC – Alex Smith, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced at NE 9
No Play

3rd and Goal at NE 14 (0:21 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short left to Chris Conley
Stop forces KC to settle for field goal

Drive #5 – with score Patriots 14, Chiefs 6
8 plays, 44 yards in 4:29
3rd and 10 at KC 25 (14:13 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass to short right to Jeremy Maclin, ran out of bounds at KC 37 for 12 yards
First Down
Drive ended when the Patriots recovered a fumble.

Drive #6 – with score Patriots 21, Chiefs 6
12 plays, 80 yards in 6:12
3rd and 7 at KC 23 (7:39 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass to deep left to Jason Avant to KC 49 for 26 yards (Logan Ryan)
First Down

3rd and 3 at NE 29 (4:51 – 3rd)
Alex Smith scrambles off right end, ran out of bounds at NE 22 for 7 yards
First Down

3rd and 3 at NE 15 (2:50 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short left to Chris Conley (Justin Coleman)

4th and 3 at NE 15 (2:45 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass short to left to Jason Avant to NE 11 for 4 yards (Logan Ryan)
Penalty on NE (Akiem Hicks), Illegal Use of Hands, 5 yards, enforced at NE 15
First Down
Result of drive: touchdown

Drive #7 – with score Patriots 24, Chiefs 13
3 plays, minus-8 yards in 2:20
3rd and 10 at KC 20 (13:24 – 4th)
Alex Smith sacked at KC 17 for -3 yards (Chandler Jones)
Stop forces KC to punt

Drive #8 – with score Patriots 27, Chiefs 13
8 plays, 29 yards in 2:52
3rd and 1 at KC 29 (9:16 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to short right to Albert Wilson to KC 37 for 8 yards (Malcolm Butler)
First Down

3rd and 10 at KC 49 (7:45 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to deep left to Chris Conley (Devin McCourty)

4th and 10 at KC 49 (7:28 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to deep right intended for Albert Wilson: intercepted by Duron Harmon at NE 23.
The Replay Official reviewed the pass completion ruling, and the play was reversed.
Alex Smith pass incomplete to deep right to Albert Wilson (Duron Harmon)
Stop forces ball to be turned over on downs.

Drive #9 – with score Patriots 27, Chiefs 13
16 plays, 80 yards in 5:16
3rd and 8 at KC 22 (5:52 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to short left to Chris Conley to KC 38 for 16 yards (Justin Coleman)
First Down

3rd and 8 at KC 40 (4:51 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short left to Knile Davis

4th and 8 at KC 40 (4:42 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to short middle to Jason Avant to NE 47 for 13 yards (Logan Ryan)
First Down

3rd and Goal at NE 3 (1:22 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short right to Jason Avant.
Penalty on NE (Logan Ryan), Defensive Pass Interference, 2 yards, enforced at NE 3
First Down
Drive results in a touchdown.

 

New England Patriots News 1-24 and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division.

Belichick Snubbed Again: When the PFWA (Pro Football Writers of America) announced their annual awards, it was no surprise that Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was named Coach of the Year, by the writers all over the nation who cover the NFL.

While I have no issue with the job Rivera did this season, after all the Panthers went 15-1 and cruised thru the season I didn’t vote for him, (yes I am a member and did vote).

My question is, does the unparalleled success by the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era make the fact that winning 12+ games every year become passé in the eyes of the rest of the league? In the last six seasons, the Patriots under Belichick have not won less than 12 games, they’ve hit that number the last four years in a row. In 2011, they won 13 and in 2010 they won 14.

And yet every year the rest of the NFL falls all over themselves to crow about the job some other coach is doing. A record of 75-21 the past six seasons is outstanding in any circles, but today the Patriots are playing in their fifth straight conference championship game. With a win today, Bill Belichick would have more conference championships (7) than anyone since the 1970 merger breaking a tie with Don Shula.

Belichick and Brady are appearing in their 10th conference championship together today. That’s 10 in 15 seasons together. That’s continued excellence my friends and it seems every year it is ignored.

Mayo to IR, Snyder Activated: In another crushing end to a season following an injury, Jerod Mayo was placed on IR this week with a shoulder injury. His latest injury cut short his third season in a row less than a week before the conference championship.

This may be his final season in a Patriots uniform unless he renegotiates his contract that will carry an $11,400,000 cap hit in 2016. Mayo had returned from two serious injuries in 2013 and 2014 where he played only six games in each and played in all 16 games this season. After starting a bit slowly, he turned things up a notch in the middle of the season and played much more solid until he faded a bit down the stretch.

In his stead the team has activated LB Kevin Snyder from the practice squad. Snyder is the 5th member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to be a member of the New England this season joining Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Jonathan Freeny. He’s a guy that can contribute on defense and special teams.

The 6’2, 240 pound Snyder was signed as an UDFA by the Lions and spent time with them and the 49ers on their practice squad before being released in October. He signed with the Pats practice squad before being signed to the active roster this week.

Snyder ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at his pro day in March with a 7.09-second time in the all-important (to NE), 3-cone drill, 4.31-second short shuttle, 35-inch vertical leap and 9-foot, 9-inch broad jump.

His signing is perfect timing for his checkbook; in lieu of his $6600 a week paycheck for being a member of the practice squad, he will get a $46,000 share of playoff money this week.

Why You Should Feel Good about the Patriots Chances Today: Facing a tough Denver Broncos defense, ranked #1 in the NFL this season and on the road here are few reasons Pats Fans should feel confident.

  • Tom Brady with both Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski in the lineup is 22-1 in his last 23 games.
  • In those contests, Brady has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 7322 yards, 64 TDs and just 13 INTs for a passer rating of 107.
  • Facing the #1 ranked defense in the postseason, Brady has faced all three on the road and is 3-0. And NE won the Super Bowl in all three seasons.

Slater Slater part of Football Royalty: Greg Garber of ESPN wrote a fantastic piece this week on Patriots ST captain Matthew Slater and his dad Jackie, long-time Rams OL and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.

The Slaters are #2 in the amount of Pro Bowls earned by a father son team with 12. They trail only the Mannings with 16. Slater was the slight, asthmatic kid with the thick glasses who everyone told would never amount to anything on a football field.

But he learned a one-of-a-kind work ethic from his dad and never looked back. And Jackie is one proud dad of the player and man his son has become. Take the time and read this one…it is well worth it.

Some Other Playoff Notes:

By starting the game on Sunday for the Patriots, Tom Brady will stand alone in NFL with the most playoff games played in with 31. He currently stands tied with former Patriot Adam Vinatieri.

Obscure stat of the day goes to Ryan Hannable of WEEI who found that when an opponent in the playoffs scores 19+ points, Peyton Manning’s record is 3-12.

BTW Tom Brady’s record when scoring 19+ points in the postseason is 20-2.

Even More Obscure Fact of the day goes to Alex Spier of the Boston Globe who researched the amount of times that Brady and Belichick face an opposing head coach what their winning percentage is. Whe-2n facing a coach for the seventh time…Brady and Belichick are 8-2. And they’ve faced Broncos HC Gary Kubiak six times, tomorrow will the seventh. You can’t make this stuff up.

Bills Hire First Female Assistant Coach: Kudos to the Bills and Rex Ryan by hiring Kathryn Smith as their special teams quality control coach for next season. Smith has worked with Ryan for nearly the past decade and has earned her shot.

Special teams quality control coaches normally break down film from the opponent and is considered a stepping stone job to ones with more responsibility. Ryan knows her and trusts her ability to get the job done. It wasn’t some kind of publicity stunt and she earned the right to move up the ranks.

But not everyone is happy about it. Kevin Kiley a radio host from Cleveland made many misogynist quotes on his show that reveal he has more in common with 19th century thinking than those of today. Let Smith succeed or fail or her own accord. And let’s not jump to conclusions and act a fool for your 15 minutes.

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.

Who Are the Players to Watch, Patriots Broncos AFC Championship

Steve Balestrieri
January 23, 2016 at 10:48 am ET

The Patriots need just one more win to book a trip to Santa Clara for Super Bowl L and a chance to win back-to-back championships. That is something that the mainstream media has been remiss in reporting all week. Considering it hasn’t been done since the 2003-04 Patriots with Tom Brady at the helm, it deserves mention. And not just a little.

The Pats took care of business against the Chiefs and looked much more like the team that throttled the opposition early in the season than the team that limped into the postseason losing four of six. Tom Brady was especially sharp hitting 28-42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, despite his team having a case of the drops.

The Broncos had an impressive 23-16 comeback win against the Steelers. Down 13-12 midway thru the 4th quarter, Peyton Manning with a strong running game, led them to the eventual game winning touchdown and then added a field goal to put this one away. The defense held the potent Pittsburgh offense to just 16 points.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week. We’ve selected three players from each team that will be key to each team’s success.

Julian Edelman: The Patriots sparkplug wide receiver returned after missing two months and it seemed that he never left. Edelman caught 10 passes for 100 yards. He set the tone right away as he caught a key third down pass from Brady to move the chains on the Patriots opening drive.

Edelman’s presence ignites the short passing game that the Patriots lean on in lieu of the running game and no one does it better than Edelman. Prior to his injury the Patriots offense on third down was humming along at 50 percent (54 of 107). After his foot injury the team’s third down conversion percentage plummeted to 31 percent (34-108). During the first game in Denver without Edelman and Danny Amendola the Patriots were a woeful 2 of 13 on third down. Last week against the Chiefs, the Pats were 6 of 12 to get back to that 50 percent mark.

Edelman and Rob Gronkowski are Brady’s favorite and most trusted targets in the Patriots passing game, how well they produce will go a long way in determining the outcome of this one.

Key stat: With Edelman back in the lineup, his presence along with his ability to get open quickly gave Tom Brady the capability of getting the ball out of his hands incredibly fast. This helped the Patriots offensive line which has had issues with protection. On Brady’s 10 completions to Edelman he got the ball out of his hands in 1.57 seconds from snap to throw. On Gronkowski’s six receptions while lined up outside the numbers, Brady’s snap to throw times were an even faster 1.48 seconds.

Chris Harris: The Broncos most athletic cornerback will be the player tasked with stopping Edelman on Sunday. He has the quickness and physicality needed to matchup with #11 and try to take away that underneath quick pass that the Patriots offense thrives on.

Harris has been dealing with a shoulder injury which was characterized as a deep bone bruise. He played only on third downs against the Steelers, but was reportedly much better this week, with HC Gary Kubiak characterizing him as “ready for a full load” on Sunday.

Harris himself said he felt “light years better” and was listed as probably for the AFCCG on the Broncos injury report Friday. His matchups with Edelman will be the story inside the story of the passing game of NE against the Broncos defense. Especially when Edelman slides inside into the slot.

Key Stat: When moving inside in the slot, Harris held opposing QBs to a passer rating of just 44.6 in the 2015 regular season. Something will have to give here. This should be a good matchup between the two players.

Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski definitely benefitted from having Edelman back in the lineup along with Amendola. No longer could teams dedicate a fleet of players assigned to Gronkowski, he now had much more room to operate in and he made the most of his opportunities.

On the Patriots opening drive, facing a 3rd and 13 from the KC 43-yard line, Gronkowski attacked the middle of the field and hauled in a 33-yard pass from Brady which set up the opening touchdown, also a pass to Gronkowski.

Whenever the Patriots spread the Chiefs out with a four or five-man wide formation, Brady would look to Gronkowski if he were singled up in man-coverage and the results were plain to see. Six of Gronkowski’s seven receptions were outside the numbers and they resulted in two touchdowns. Brady targeted Gronk eight times against KC, completing seven for 83 yards and the pair of scores.

Key Stat: In the first meeting in Denver, prior to being injured in the 4th quarter, Gronkowski had six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. And that was without Edelman and Amendola in the lineup. In Brady’s last 23 games with both Gronkowski and Edelman available the Patriots are 22-1. And in those games Brady has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 7322 yards with 64 TDs, 13 INTs for a passer rating of 107. That is how effective this trio is when they all are together.

Peyton Manning: The Denver signal caller is entering the twilight phase of his career. He’s no longer the focal point of the offense but rather a game manager who has to rely on his running game to get the job done as injuries and age have taken their toll.

The throws down the middle of the field aren’t as easy anymore as he now longer has the arm strength to test those passes which used to come so easily for him.

But he still has his brain and that with his experience can still be a dangerous combination if the game is close at crunch time. He was patient against Pittsburgh as he didn’t try to do too much and would only take what the defense was giving him. But Denver’s defense kept the game a one-point affair late into the fourth quarter. How Manning and the offense respond if they fall down by more than that will bear watching on Sunday.

Key Stat: Manning had his worst statistical year of his career in 2015 throwing just nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Dont’a Hightower: The Patriots linebacker is questionable for this game and his status as well as his production will be a huge key for the Patriots defense on Sunday. Hightower is the Patriots key player on their defense, he is a big run stuffer that explodes in the gaps and blows up plays at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield.

He is also an underrated player in space that is very good at covering backs and tight ends close to the line of scrimmage. In the Pats front seven, Hightower is the anchor and Jamie Collins is the playmaker. The two give New England a very talented pair that work seamlessly with one another.

One other aspect for Hightower’s game is his ability to blitz up the A-gap. Both he and Collins have been quite adept at that and with an immobile Manning in the pocket, that could be something to watch for a couple of times on Sunday.

Key Stat: In the first meeting between the two teams in Denver, the Broncos rushed 15 times for 43 yards (2.9 yard avg), when Hightower was on the field. After he left with an injury, Denver ran 15 times for 133 yards (8.8 yard avg), and three touchdowns.

Derek Wolfe: The Broncos interior defensive lineman played a big role in the earlier meeting back in November and may once again be one of the key players to watch in this conference championship. With Brady attempting to the get the ball off quickly, it negates much of the rush that the Broncos can bring from the edge.

But Wolfe can bring the pressure from the inside and not allow Brady to step up in the pocket. He and Malik Jackson in the interior may play a bigger role in this game than their more well-known teammates in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in disrupting the Patriots passing game.

Wolfe had a big year in 2015 with 6.5 sacks, all in the last eight games after missing the first four games of the season, serving a suspension for violating the league rules on PEDs. He just signed a four-year contract extension worth $36 million with 17.5 of it in guarantees.

Key Stat: In the first meeting Brady had Gronkowski in single coverage with Miller, a huge mismatch, and as Gronk was breaking free with plenty of room to run after a catch, Wolfe burst thru a double team and was able to get the sack. It was one of those plays that turned field position as the Patriots instead of being near midfield, were forced back around the 10-yard line.

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.

Patriots, Broncos Keys to the AFCCG, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 22, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots need one more win to get back to the Super Bowl with a chance to repeat as champions. But to do so, they face a familiar nemesis in the Denver Broncos.

The game will be televised by CBS with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak doing the play-by-play and analysis. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET

The Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round 27-20 as Tom Brady threw for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski. The team welcomed back Julian Edelman and his presence ignited the short passing game. Edelman missed the final seven games but had 10 catches for 100 yards on Saturday.

The Broncos made a big fourth quarter comeback and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16. Trailing 13-12, it appeared as if the Steelers were driving for clinching touchdown when a fumble turned the game around. The Broncos scored the next 11 points in the final four minutes to pull away for the win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our playoff edition of the “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give a quick break down on some of the key match-ups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Broncos will meet for the 51st time in their history, the most the Patriots have faced an opponent that has been outside their division. The Patriots never seem to play their best football in the altitude there as they’ve been 9-20 in Denver since the early days of the NFL. There was one stretch from 1984 -1998 that the teams met 11 times, nine of them in Denver and the Pats lost them all.

The two teams met in November in Week 12 with the Broncos taking a 30-24 win in OT.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots Return of Edelman, Good News For James White

Steve Balestrieri
January 21, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots are just a win away from returning to the Super Bowl and after the win over Kansas City, there is confidence in the offense, especially in the short passing game once again.

The return of Julian Edelman and a healthy Danny Amendola did wonders for Tom Brady, the offensive line and the receivers as they were able to spread out the Chiefs, neutralize their pass rush and surgically pick them apart.

Edelman and Amendola missed the game in Denver back in November and their presence are expected to jump start the offense quickly against the Denver defense which led the league in sacks with 52. The Broncos have some quality edge rushers with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shaq Barrett along with inside guys Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson.

In the November game, Brady was hit or pressured on half of his drop backs, but against Kansas City all that changed.

With Edelman back in the fold, Brady was getting the ball out lightning fast and methodically carving up a very good Chiefs secondary. Edelman brings that out and now with the team confident that they can throw the ball quickly and move the chains, it is creating a snow-ball effect which should benefit James White out of the backfield.

Gronk 16 yd TD3

White still didn’t have the coaches’ trust in that earlier Denver game as Brandon Bolden got a lot of snaps during the Week 12 loss. Now White seems fully integrated in the offense and with Edelman and Amendola back, he should emerge as a bigger weapon this time around.

In the earlier game, the Patriots tried to stress the Broncos linebackers by putting them in coverage. It was a match-up they didn’t fully exploit but with Edelman back on the field, White is a weapon that they can bring to bear.

We saw some of this against the Chiefs. Instead of keeping White in to block on the majority of his snaps, they shifted him out wide, at times going 5-wide and that with Brady’s quick release (average 1.94 seconds according CSNNE’s Mike Giardi), rendered the Chiefs talented pass rush toothless.

White had a big 29-yard catch and run, from out of the backfield in the KC game and could be primed for more. Denver has a very talented defense that likes to set the tone and be very aggressive. By spreading them out and forcing them to declare where the pass rush is coming from, Brady can send White, Edelman or Gronkowski in motion to see if the defense is sticking with man or dropping into zones.

James White 29 yd2

Can we see them trying to put pressure on the linebackers again by using the backs, i.e. White out of the backfield or split wide? Absolutely and he may be utilized more this time around and even more so than he was against the Chiefs.

Being able to get rid of the ball so quickly will help Brady immensely against this talented front seven. Giardi posted some eye-popping numbers from Saturday regarding how quickly Brady was throwing the ball.

On Edelman’s ten receptions, Brady’s average time from snap to throw was an incredibly fast 1.57 seconds. When the Patriots spread the Chiefs out and had Rob Gronkowski split wide, Brady threw to him seven times, completed six and got two touchdowns. He got rid of the ball in a ridiculously fast 1.48 seconds.

It makes life incredibly difficult for the pass rushers to get there in that fast of a time. Look for the Broncos to bring pressure up the A-gap, much in the same manner that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia use Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. But if Brady is getting the ball out that fast, it is going to create more receiving opportunities for White and that is a positive for New England.

With Edelman and Gronk bound to get a lot of attention from the Denver defense, White could be the Patriots “X-Factor” in the game on Sunday.

And if he and the rest of the Pats do their job on Sunday, they’ll be packing their bags for Super Bowl L.

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.