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New England Patriots News 1-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-13, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Ignore the Noise: After Chargers beat the Ravens, as expected many of the national pundits raced to tell you why LA was going to win this matchup on the road against New England. The Chargers offense was more explosive, their defense much more stifling, they have playmakers all over the field…did we miss any?

But the numbers don’t really play that out. The explosive Chargers offense? They averaged 26.8 points this year. That scuffling Patriots offense averaged 27.2.  The Chargers defense allowed an average of 20.6 points per game. New England’s much-maligned defense allowed just 20.3 points.

The Bolts are a very good team in 2018 and do have a very good chance of pulling off the win today. But they’ll have to play better than they did a week ago. The Patriots don’t have Lamar Jackson under center. And the Pats are at home. Whoever plays better today will advance, but I wouldn’t buy into the hype that this is it for New England’s dynasty. That’s more wishful thinking than anything else.

Brady’s Cliff Has Different Parameters: Speaking of wishful thinking, several very biased hot take artists have been falling all over themselves to proclaim that Brady’s end is near and that he just doesn’t have it anymore. While issues with his supporting cast this season had as much to do with his numbers falling off as much as anything, but a closer look at those numbers reveal that there is a standard for Brady “falling off” and one for everyone else.

Look at Brady’s biggest rival, Peyton Manning in 2008. Manning completed 371 of 555 passes (66.8%) for 4002 yards, 27 TDs and 12 INTs with a passer rating of 95.0. Now with Brady’s #s in 2018,  375 of 570 (65.8%) for 4355 yards, 29 TDs and 11 INTs with a passer rating of 97.7. One is an MVP year and the other is falling off a cliff? Whose numbers were better?

Why did we bring up 2008? Because Manning’s numbers won him an MVP that year.

Did you Know? With a win today, the Patriots will move on to their eighth straight conference championship game and the 13th of Bill Belichick’s career. The only coach with 10 conference championship games since the 1970 merger is Tom Landry.

Did you Know Pt. 2: The Patriots with a win today will mark a record for Tom Brady in the divisional round at 13-2 in his career, including 12-1 in Foxboro.

Edelman Close to a Personal Milestone: Julian Edelman needs just five catches today to move past Reggie Wayne for second place all-time in playoff receptions. Wayne has 93 and Edelman enters today’s game with 89 career playoff receptions. Not bad for a college QB.

In case you’re wondering, Jerry Rice is far ahead of everyone with 151 catches in the postseason. With 39 receiving yards, Edelman will also move into the Top 10 in playoff receiving yards.

McDaniels Staying Put, At Least Thru 2019:

With the news that he didn’t get the Green Bay head coaching job, Josh McDaniels has announced that he’s off the table in manners of searching for the next head coaching position.

During a conference call with the media, McDaniels didn’t mince words. “The book is closed,” McDaniels said leaving no doubt for anyone to speculate.  “It’s always a humbling experience to have an opportunity to interview with anybody for that position.

“I was thankful for the opportunity to meet with Green Bay; it always gives you greater insight into another organization of how they do things. It’s been very educational for me every time I’ve gone through it and I’ve appreciated every single one of them.”

“I’m completely focused on the Chargers and our season and finishing it strong. And I’ll be here moving forward.”

Kraft Wins Genesis Prize in Israel, the “Jewish Nobel”:

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being honored for his philanthropy work in Israel and is being awarded the $1 million dollar Genesis Prize, which is often equated as the “Jewish Nobel.” He will be awarded the honor at a gala in Jerusalem in June.

According to a statement released by the Kraft Group, he will be giving the money “to initiatives combatting anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice as well as attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel.”

Kraft has given more than half a billion dollars to causes including health care, education, the Jewish community, Christian organizations, and local needs.

Genesis Prize chairman Stan Polovets called the Kraft “one of the world’s most generous philanthropists whose charitable giving reflects the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.”

Patriots Versatility At RB May Serve Them Well This Week:

The Patriots have a versatile group of running backs heading into the postseason with rookie Sony Michel who had 931 yards rushing and six touchdowns is the primary running back in the ground game while James White with 87 receptions was the leading pass receiver of the group. Rex Burkhead who missed all but seven games is the guy who does a little bit of both. James Develin is the blocking fullback who can catch the odd pass. Their versatility helps keep each other fresh and opponents guessing.

This versatility will be needed today, now that the playoffs have arrived. If teams try to stack the box, Brady can put the backs in motion and split them out wide to create matchup problems. If they flood the secondary with defensive backs to stop the pass, they can run the ball and keep the sticks moving.

If the Patriots are going to move on the conference championship, they’ll need big games from their running backs, in both the running and passing games. In last year’s game against the Chargers, Brady completed 14-15 passes for 163 yards to the running backs. Look for them to try to replicate that success again today. And for the Chargers to try to stop that as well.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Divisional Weekend Predictions:

Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend: 0-4 (yikes)

Saturday – Kansas City over Indy
                 LA Rams over Dallas

Sunday –   New England over LA Chargers
                 New Orleans over Philly

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Big Decision Looming on Shady McCoy:

The Buffalo Bills finally have some long-term stability at quarterback.and now they have to decide on whether or not they move on from running back LeSean McCoy.

McCoy, the 30-year old running back has a lot of treads worn off on his tires after being a workhorse for his entire 10-year career. In 2018, he posted career lows of just 514 yards rushing, a paltry 3.2 yards per rush average and just three touchdowns.

Not all of the fault lies with McCoy, the Bills offensive line was a particular area of weakness this season and a place they’ll be looking to improve upon in 2019. Their passing game was also non-existent at times and teams loaded up the box to stop the run.

With a salary cap hit of $9.05 million dollars in 2019, the Bills will be looking to at least adjust his cap number but they may be looking to start fresh with younger players. One area that points to his decline, however, is in the passing game. McCoy caught 59 passes in 2017, this season they dropped to just 34. His touchdown totals in the past three seasons have fallen from 14 in 2016, to 8 a year ago, to just 3 this season.

Dolphins Expected to Hire Flores As The Next Head Coach:

The Miami Dolphins are bucking the trend with going for the next offensive whiz-kid coach (read next Sean McVay), and are rumored to be hiring Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores as their next head coach. Miami was targeting defensive coaches and interviewed Saints DC Dennis Allen and Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richards among their candidates.

It is going to be a tough job for Flores who will have to go thru a bit of rebuild in South Beach before the Dolphins are ready to challenge in the AFC East. For the first time, he’ll have to go thru the process of hiring assistants, running the day-to-day operation of a team and have to deal with offensive personnel, something he’s had no experience with. Flores worked his way from the bottom with the Patriots from a scouting assistant, to a positional coach, STs assistant to the defensive coordinator.

But he has a great reputation as a commanding presence in the meeting room while maintaining a very good relationship with his players. He’ll be the second defensive coordinator in the past two seasons to bolt for a head coaching job.

Jets Hire Adam Gase and Bypass McCarthy:

The New York Jets have hired recently fired Miami coach Adam Gase as their new head coach after the fired Todd Bowles after the regular season. Many believed that former Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was the front-runner for the job, but they turned to Gase, who also has a track record of working with QBs, having worked with Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and had some success working with Ryan Tannehill.

And while many fans, especially those who listen to WFAN were unhappy with the news, Jets’ ownership is quite happy with the hiring. “At the onset of the interview process, I wanted to hire a head coach who was the right person and the right fit for our organization,” Johnson released in a statement. “We talked to a number of excellent candidates and it became clear to me that Adam was the person who will help us establish a winning program and a winning culture.”

“Adam is a young, creative mind, but he also has 22 years of coaching experience,” Johnson said. “He is an innovator whose path saw him succeed at both the college and the NFL levels. He has helped a number of different quarterbacks, at various stages of their careers, reach new heights. We think Sam [Darnold] will continue to develop under his tutelage, but we made the decision because of Adam’s vision for the entire football team.”

Meanwhile, on the “Benigno & Roberts” WFAN show, the duo was lambasting Jets ownership for not hiring McCarthy, which played well to some of the fans on social media. Roberts called Gase this week, “Peyton Manning’s coffee boy.”

Ouch. Welcome to New York Adam Gase.

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-Chargers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 11, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

Patriots-Chargers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon as they play in the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (11-5) beat the Jets two weeks ago but as the #2 seed were idle during the bye week. They are hoping to win on Sunday and move on to their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.

The Chargers (13-4) beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 on Sunday in Baltimore. The Chargers dominated the game and were comfortably ahead 23-3 when the Ravens scored two late touchdowns to make it interesting.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chargers have a history back to the beginnings of the AFL and will meet for the 42nd time in their shared history. The Chargers beat the Boston Patriots in the 1964 AFL Championship Game and the two teams met two more times in the playoffs following the 2006 and 2007 seasons. New England holds the overall lead in the series 24-15-2 including the playoffs.

The teams last met last year which was a Patriots 21-13 win in Gillette Stadium. Since opening Gillette Stadium, the Patriots are 11-1 against the Chargers at home.

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 Chargers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game (127.3 yards per game, 5th NFL) is now a three-headed committee with Sony Michel getting the lion’s share on the ground with Rex Burkhead and James White also getting in some work. But a large portion of what makes the ground game go is the use of wide receivers in Jet Sweeps with Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman.

The Chargers have a good run defense are were the 9th best unit against the run in 2018 allowing just 105.8 yards per game. They stuffed the powerful Ravens running game by utilizing a smaller defense consisting of seven defensive backs. This week they get back a big, big piece of their interior defensive line with Brandon Mebane who missed last week due to the tragic death of his daughter.

I think the Patriots will be able to run some at this defense by mixing things up. Look for the Patriots to run the pony formation with two backs on either side of Brady. I think the Jet sweeps would be of particular use when the Chargers line up in their Wide 9 look with some cutback lanes that they’ll try to exploit.

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

The Patriots passing game (266.1 yards per game, 8th NFL) will miss the speed, size and sure hands of Josh Gordon in the playoffs now that the pretenders have been wiped away from the schedule. While Patterson has the size and speed, he’s nowhere near the accomplished route runner or receiver that Gordon is. They still have a good, but not great group with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett out wide with Rob Gronkowski at tight end and White and Burkhead out of the backfield. The key for them is to utilize everyone, which makes them much harder to stop, something they’ve haven’t always done this season.

The  Chargers have also the 9th best unit against the pass this season, allowing just 227.9 yards per game thru the air. It starts up front with the pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Those two can disrupt the passing game of anyone. They frequently slide Ingram inside and line him up on a guard which can be a mismatch, and overload one side with both on one side, which frees up rushers on the opposite side to make plays.

Derwin James the rookie out of Florida State has been huge for the defense leading the team with 105 tackles with 13 passes defensed, 3.5 sacks, and 6 QB hits. Expect him to be lined up with Gronkowski and I like James to win that matchup.

Look for Brady to get the ball out quickly and target the Chargers LBs in the passing game. If they have a weakness it is there. Last year, Brady completed 14-15 for 163 yards against the Chargers when targeting his running backs. Protection will be key here. Look for Josh McDaniels to use uptempo too to keep the Chargers from substituting personnel. It won’t be an easy game on either part of the Patriots offense against this group, but if they play the way they have all season at home, they should find some success.

Next up the Chargers offense:

Chargers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Chargers running game is 8th in the league averaging 117.1 yards per game. They lean heavily on Melvin Gordon who gained 885 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per rush and had 10 touchdowns in 2018. They have Austin Ekeler as their secondary back and he too averaged a very good 5.2 yards per rush and had 552 yards with three scores. Patriots fans will long remember the 87-yard run he made in Gillette during the first quarter of the game last year, when they didn’t properly set the edge.

The Patriots run defense is ranked 11th in the league allowing 112.7 yards per game, but it has been very inconsistent. At times this season, they were gashed badly up the middle between the tackles. However, the last two regular season games they were much better, albeit against the Bills and Jets. Setting the edge will be a big factor in this one. As well as doing a good job of clogging the middle of the field at the point of attack.

I’m still not sold on this run defense between the tackles and believe Gordon and Ekeler will have some success running inside. Look for Brian Flores to roll the dice a bit and try to send ILB Elandon Roberts on some run blitzes to try to hit Gordon at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Chargers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

Philip Rivers had an outstanding season, passing for 4300+ yards, 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions for a 105.5 passer rating. He has plenty of weapons to throw to with Keenan Allen, 96 catches, 1196 yards, and six TDs, Mike and Tyrell Williams who each had about 650 yards receiving and Gordon and Ekeler out of the backfield. The venerable Antonio Gates is still a third-down target and they’ve activated Hunter Henry this week, he tore an ACL this spring and is ready to go.

The Patriots gave up an average of 246.7 yards thru the air this year but the secondary, particularly the corners are a position of strength. Stephon Gilmore is now one of the top corners in the league and with rookie J.C. Jackson playing very well, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones, the team is in good shape there. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty anchor the safety position with Duron Harmon.

The key for the Patriots is to get pressure on Rivers and force the Chargers to keep their running backs in for pass protection. If Gordon has a weakness it is his pass blocking. Both he and Ekeler are very good receivers and would present mismatches to the Patriots linebackers in the passing game. Look for the Pats to try to condense the inside and rushing the A-gap and try to cut down on Rivers’ time to throw downfield.

It will be the backs and tight ends that will either win or lose this matchup for New England. They have the corners to match up and be very competitive with the Chargers WRs. But if Antonio Gates, Gordon, Ekeler and Hunter Henry, who no one knows how effective he’ll be, have big days then it will be a long afternoon for the NE defense.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a very reliable tandem in the kicking game in Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen. The Chargers Michael Badgley had a tremendous game last week against the Ravens and was the difference in the game. But Donnie Jones had a punt blocked in Baltimore and that could be an issue against the Pats who’ve blocked a few down the stretch.

Both teams have big-play returners in the kicking game. Desmond King had a 72-yarder last week. The Pats answer with Patterson and Edelman. Look for NE to come after a punt early in this one.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be the best game of the weekend. The Charger provide a very capable opponent on both sides of the ball. They don’t have blazing speed on offense, like New England but have a plethora of playmakers that can keep a defense on their heels.

The Keys from a Patriots perspective are:

Stay Balanced on Offense:

The Patriots will have to run the ball effectively enough to keep those pass rushers on their toes and Brady, in particular, will have to spread the ball around to all of his receivers. That means running out of 11 personnel and passing out 21 personnel.

Keep the Pressure on Rivers and Keep the Backs In:

The Patriots front seven will have to mix things up and bring pressure on Rivers while forcing the RBs to remain in for pass protection. If they can do that and keep them out of the stat sheet in the passing game, it should go a long way.

Win the STs Battle:

There will be some points to be had in STs this week. Ryan Allen and Gostkowski are good at keeping the ball away from opponent’s return men. On the other hand they’ll have to get some production out of their own returners. And attack the punting game and get after a kick. They’ve blocked three kicks down the stretch, and could use another one this week.

This one will go down to the wire. If this game were in LA, I’d easily reverse this score, but the Pats have proven to be a much better team at home this season. Brady and Co. get it done and move on their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.  Patriots 27-24

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.