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New England Patriots News 3-18, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 18, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-18, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: The Patriots have given safety Pat Chung another short-term extension on his contract that ran through the current 2018 season. Terms are not available. But since he returned for his second stint with the team, Chung has been a valuable, dependable defender. Good move all around.

No Honey Badger in NE, tonight we learned that Tyrann Mathieu was heading to the Houston Texans on a one-year deal as what so often happens plays out. It seems every free agent is rumored to be going to New England. And frequently as in Mathieu and Richard Sherman, the Patriots weren’t even in the game.

Often times, I believe that the agents push this agenda to drive up the price and market for their clients. Just like the Patriots were supposedly “in on” Ndamukong Suh and Jordy Nelson which is borderline ridiculous at this point. With about $15.6 million dollars of cap space, how would the team afford to sign a player like Suh or Nelson, if they even wanted them?

Free Agency- When will fans learn that the Patriots, unlike last year, much more often than not eschew the opening feeding frenzy of free agency where several players are in our opinion, are overpaid and then make the moves that they must to build the depth of the roster for the long haul.

This year, the cries of despair from the fan base have never been louder, as if the people that run the operation over at 1 Patriot Place all of a sudden forgot how to build a team. They’ve been to eight Super Bowls in the past 17 years. They know how to build a team that will be playing in February, not winning Day 1 of free agency in March.

And the intent of some to drive the narrative to question every move that Belichick makes like the Red Sox managers have had to endure since Dick Williams (Google his name) is laughable. “Grady Belichick” is the lamest yet, for some media members who are intent on forcing the issue.

Pats Lose Four Key Players Early in Free Agency:
Right after the season ended, we didn’t think there was a chance of Malcolm Butler returning in 2018, and that wasn’t a surprise when he left, for a big payday with the Titans. And with the draft class strong at running back, we’d didn’t feel the market would be that great for Dion Lewis, even though he’s shown how electrifying he can be. He’s had only one healthy season, 2017, but the market heated up for him and he too signed with a nice deal from Tennessee.

But the loss of Danny Amendola and Nate Solder hurt especially. Partly because we expected both to be back. Amendola because he was so clutch at crunch time for the past several years and was their punt returner as well as a go-to guy in the playoffs.  And Solder, because he’s protected Brady’s blind side for the past seven years and they really don’t have a replacement plan in place.

LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are fine swing tackles. But over a 16-game season? I don’t know that they’re the best options and both are free agents anyway. Tony Garcia? After missing all of 2017 with an illness, we’re not even sure he’ll be ready to play, much less be a capable player yet. The other alternatives (for now) are recently signed Matt Tobin, (depth player) Andrew Jelks and Cole Croston. So the loss of Solder hurt.

But it hard to find fault there, the deals for Amendola and Solder were much more than the Patriots could or would be willing to offer. The Patriots offer to Solder was 4 years, $50 million, while more than $12 million a year, was a full $12 million less than the Giants offered. That is substantial.

While the frustration level of losing those key players is understandable, it has to be tempered with the realization that the business model that the Patriots have stuck to for so long is the reason that they are able to remain so competitive for so long.

Patriots Add Five Players Including McCourty, Clayborn, and Hill:
The news wasn’t all bad, as usual, the team began building their roster depth, resigning special teamers Brandon King and Nate Ebner and running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead was an intriguing, New England kind of player. While he’s not outstanding in any one facet of his game, he does everything well. He runs between the tackles, can catch the ball, pass protect and be a key special teams guy.

The trade for Danny Shelton became official, which will immediately impact the Patriots rush defense. With an interior rotation of Malcom Brown, Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (who returns from IR) and Adam Butler, who is more of an interior sub rusher, they depth is much stronger now.

The Patriots addressed cornerback with the trade of Jason McCourty which we covered in a piece here:  I still believe that the team will add another corner in the upcoming draft, but they are building depth while adding a veteran presence there.

Then the team signed DE Adrian Clayborn as well as RB Jeremy Hill. So the Patriots have hardly been stagnant during free agency. Were they the splash moves everyone clamors for? No, but the roster is building up for the 90 man limit. And there is still a long, long way to go. We’ll give our thoughts on the newest additions below.

Adrian Clayborn Immediately Upgrades the Front Seven:
The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries along the front seven last season, coupled with the loss of Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency as well as the sudden retirement of Rob Ninkovich left them in a bind all season long.

Getting Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Valentine, and Derek Rivers back will no doubt help. But the team added another very nice piece in signing DE Adrian Clayborn the free agent from the Atlanta Falcons.

Clayborn who will turn 30 in July, is coming off of a 9.0 sack season (six in one game against Dallas) and is a very good but not great pass rusher. But what he does extremely well is set the edge in the running game. And in the Patriots defense, that is paramount. They aren’t, nor ever will be, that pin your ears back, attacking defense.

One play that Patriots fans may remember well with Clayborn is back during the joint practices in 2013. Clayborn bullrushed Nate Solder and their feet got tangled up and Tom Brady went down in a heap. It was an accidental play. Brady held his knee and was down for several moments before walking off. My pic from the practice was carried by Boston.com for their column that day.

Adrian Clayborn and Nate Solder got tied up and Solder fell into Brady but he wasn’t seriously injured. (SBalestrieri photo)

Clayborn will be just fine here, he has a relentless motor and will take a lot of heat off of Trey Flowers on the other side of the defensive line. After four seasons with the Bucs, he spent the last two with the Falcons. He’s had injury problems during his career but a healthy 2018 will be a successful one for the veteran in this scheme.

Jeremy Hill,  Gives the Patriots Needed Depth at RB:
When the Bengals drafted Joe Mixon in the 2017 NFL Draft, Hill became expendable. And at just 25-years old, Hill has plenty left in the tank. At 230 pounds, he is the big back that the Patriots had in LeGarrette Blount. And short yardage was a sore spot for the Patriots offense in 2017. The Pats ranked a lowly 24th in the league on converting third or fourth and one last season. Hill will definitely help in that aspect.

But for the immediate future, he gives the team options, he and Mike Gillislee will compete for the big back role in the Patriots offense. He’s had issues with ball security in the past but he knows how Belichick feels about those and it will be a key area for him to work on. Eventually, in camp, the team may have to decide whether to keep one or the other as the team’s big back. But for now, the team just added two much-needed depth backs with him and Burkhead, who were teammates in Cincinnati.

One area that may be in Hill’s favor is that he’s a decent pass receiver, something the Patriots like their running backs to do in their offense. It is the case of the more you can do which helps to secure a roster spot on the Patriots. So we’ll see what a fresh slate can do for Hill.

While the Patriots will still probably draft a running back this season, it now probably won’t be one in the top rounds, it will probably be a later round, developmental pick.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Are Very Active in Free Agency:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been shy about making a slew of moves in free agency. After signing CB Vontae Davis, they shipped off LT Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and now have picks #12 and #22 in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

But that was hardly the tip of the iceberg as the Bills signed DT Star Lotulelei, re-signed DT Kyle Williams, then signed DE Trent Murphy from the Redskins strengthening their pass rush.

The Bills added depth to the running back position by signing veterans Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. And then after unloading QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, they signed their bridge QB, A.J. McCarron for a 2-year, $10 million dollar price tag from the Bengals.

It has been a busy off-season for the Bills and they are far from done. It will be an interesting draft season in Buffalo. While I may think they overpaid Murphy and question the trade of Glenn, the Bills are still in much better shape than they were after their playoff loss to the Jaguars.

Dolphins Plan to be “Straight Up Flying” in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are never ones to lack for confidence in the offseason. After trading Jarvis Landry to the Browns, the team has addressed his loss by adding former Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson from the Chiefs and confidence is high in South Beach.

.“We’re straight up flying,” said Wilson. “I feel like the way we’re going to put the stretch on some defense is going to be crazy. The speed outright shows itself.”  Both Wilson and Amendola can play the slot or move outside. That will present matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Wilson, who was the fourth or fifth option in Kansas City, now will get a chance to see the ball a lot more. And with Amendola setting the table by making the chain moving catches, why shouldn’t the Fins be confident? Ryan Tannehill got an early Christmas present with his two new toys in the offense.

Plan “B” for the Jets, No Cousins? They Move Up to #3 in the Draft:
The New York Jets made a huge pitch to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency and they failed to bring him in. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Now they move on to their Plan B and it is to draft the best available quarterback.

So, on Saturday, the Jets moved from the 6th position to the #3 spot in the 2018 NFL Draft by trading for the Colts pick. But it won’t come cheap.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets are giving the Colts the sixth pick, the 37th overall selection, the 49th overall pick, and a 2019 second-round pick. That is some pretty steep compensation for sliding up just three spots. The Colts hit a homer there in terms of compensation.

By signing bridge QBs Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, the Jets get to draft their QB of the future and groom him and allow him time to develop.With Buffalo thought to be ready to pick a QB at #6, the Jets have leapfrogged them and now are poised to pick ahead of the Bills. The next and most important question now becomes, WHO will be the Jets QB of the future with the #3 pick?

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

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

Can the New England Patriots Keep Free Agent Rex Burkhead?

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited in others.

The Patriots have only $13.14 million dollars under the salary cap right now and will have to be creative in creating some room as well as decide who they want to retain. They’ll need to sign a few of their own free agents as well as grab some others who they covet from other teams. All the while knowing they have draft choices to sign.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the more intriguing players facing free agency is running back Rex Burkhead.

The Patriots made a very nice move last spring grabbing Burkhead off of the free agency pile in an under-the-radar move from the Cincinnati Bengals. Burkhead was stuck behind two very talented backs and didn’t see the field much. They signed him for the modest price of $3.15 million dollars.

The team liked his versatility, he can run the ball between the tackles, catch it out of the backfield and play a key role on special teams. We knew he’d fit right in here and it was easy to see that the coaches liked what they saw as well.

Burkhead hauls in a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. SBalestrieri photo

Why Burkhead Will Return: The Patriots and especially Bill Belichick love players who can do more than one thing. And versatility is Burkhead’s middle name. His season production, 264 yards on the ground with five touchdowns, 254 yards in the air with three more touchdowns. A blocked kick on Special Teams…

When the Patriots made the backfield a combination of Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White, the offense was extremely difficult to stop. The trio made it hard for opposing defenses to expect a pass or a run. All three also do a very good job as pass blockers as well, something the Patriots demand of their running backs

Burkhead was injured a couple of times this season and played in just 10 games in the regular season. And that may work in the Patriots favor this season. He showed the team he is an excellent fit in what they do and his two injuries last season may scare away, would-be suitors from investing heavily in a guy that they’re not sure if he can hold up for the long term.

Why Burkhead Won’t Return: There are enough of Burkhead’s good work with the Patriots on tape to show other teams what he can do. And let’s face it, the Patriots don’t pay their running backs to retain their services. They let them walk to other teams.

Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead ring a bell? All of them had fairly good success here in New England. Then when it was time to get paid, they moved on, just like LeGarrette Blount did…twice.

Players like him are rare, he can play four downs and do it all. If a team comes in with an offer that blows him away, he’d be foolish not to consider it. Careers in the NFL are woefully short and so is the window of peak earning potential. And Burkhead is right there. He’ll be 28 this season.

And of course, the Patriots could have cold feet themselves. Burkhead was injured twice last season and a Belichick mantra is availability is very important. Could they decide to walk away because of injury concerns? Absolutely.

Bottom Line: The Patriots love the selfless, egoless attitude of Burkhead. Bill Belichick lauded his work ethic speaking of him before the Super Bowl.

“Rex is really is a four-down player. He can play on first, second, third and fourth down at a good level. And those players are hard to find in the National Football League. He’s a very reliable, dependable player.”

Burkhead saw that for the first time he was given a chance to play meaningful snaps in an offense. And he thrived in it, before getting dinged up. He seemed as happy here as the coaches and other players were to have him here.

Both he and Dion Lewis are free agents this spring. Lewis had much more production this past season and is extremely elusive in the open field. If there is one back who will get a lot of money offered upfront, it is him.

Again this could work in the Patriots favor. They aren’t going to break the bank for Lewis and if another team scoops him up, the team could throw some decent but not crazy money after Burkhead on a short-term (2 years) deal that could lock him up for the foreseeable future.

Various cap-based projections put Burkhead in the $3.3 million dollar range for 2018. That is a modest raise from what the Patriots paid him in 2017, but if they can work out a deal in that vicinity, then there is a very good chance of Burkhead returning.

This is another intriguing decision that Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will have to make this spring. On one hand, they both know what Burkhead brought to the table when he was available on the field. But they also know in his only season in New England, he missed a lot of time.

That’s why a short-term deal would work for both sides. They won’t be able to keep both Lewis and Burkhead. In the end, they may not be able to keep either. But keeping Burkhead is a financially more doable situation for the Patriots. If the money is right…

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.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Dion Lewis

Steve Balestrieri
February 13, 2018 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited at others.

While the team has a limited amount of cap space, right now… they should be retooling a few contracts or cutting their ties with some players soon which will create more cap space.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the key players facing free agency is running back Dion Lewis. Lewis put it all together in 2017 and proved that he can withstand the rigors of a 16-game season as well as three playoff games and at 27 years old, is in the great position to cash in on free agency. He’s won a Super Bowl and now he wants to get paid.

Lewis’ situation is a bit different than other notable free agents as he’s missed so much time due to injury in the past, it will be interesting to see if there is a great demand for his services on the open market.

But as always, the question remains, who does the team feel is one of their priority free agents? Will Lewis be one of the guys that the Patriots feel like they must re-sign him?

Why Lewis Will Return: The Patriots settled on Lewis in the second half of the season as their go-to back and he didn’t disappoint. He carried the ball 180 times for 896 yards with six touchdowns. He added 32 receptions for 214 yards and three more touchdowns.

But the bottom line was, once they went with Lewis, the offense was much more difficult to stop. Opponents had to respect the run as well as the pass and his versatility was on full display. As we mentioned above, Lewis showed he can stand up to being a feature back. His previous career high for carries was 64 in 2016, this season he nearly tripled that.

Lewis displays the willingness to run the ball between the tackles and for a smaller back, showed remarkable ability to carry would-be tacklers for yards after contact. He also has the innate ability to make people miss in the open field.

Lewis is a well-respected player by his coaches and teammates and they know what he can bring to the table.

Why Lewis Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here in regards to Lewis and his tenure here. First, the Patriots have never highly valued the running back position. So, will they pony up the kind of cash that they’ll have to, to keep Lewis in the fold? That is the big question. It will all come down to how much?

Lewis isn’t going to sign anything quickly here. He’s earned his payday and will want to test the waters to see what he can bring in during free agency. The Patriots have allowed Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman to test the waters of free agency in the past with the stipulation that the player gives them a chance to match any offer out there. You can expect the same with the Patriots.

Will another team try to wow Lewis away from New England with a big money contract offer? That is a distinct possibility. Other teams could see the potential with him and with the run/pass option he presents. He could easily be a fit with several other teams out there. It all comes down to money and the amount others are willing to spend. I could easily see the Patriots wish Lewis the best and wave goodbye this spring.

Bottom Line: The Patriots, do, however, recognize what they have in Lewis and the dynamic playmaking ability that he possesses, especially in the open field. Does that mean, the Patriots will break their mold and pay top dollar for a running back? That part is doubtful.

Bill Belichick has always been especially reluctant to pay big bucks to a running back, and one with an injury history like Lewis’.So have most other teams. The NFL really doesn’t value the running back position like in days of yore.

The Patriots have always eschewed the idea of a “feature” running back with the exception of Corey Dillon and have relied on a running back by committee with the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and Antowain Smith. But this year was a bit different. Although they still used a committee, Lewis was the main guy down the stretch and he was equal to the task.

So what would it take to sign him to a new deal? Several sites have been throwing around the numbers of a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. If the Patriots are willing to pay Lewis that kind of cash, then I think the deal could definitely work.

Reliability? He caught 32 passes on just 35 targets in 2017, that is a 91 percent completion percentage when the ball is thrown his way. That isn’t good, that is outstanding. And of course, there is the little stat that the Patriots are 32-3 when Lewis is in the lineup and just 13-7 when he’s not.

So, the chances are good, better than 50/50 that Lewis returns to the Patriots for the next three years on a new contract. But it is far from a sure thing. He’s turned enough heads for other teams to look long and hard. And then Lewis will have to decide what is in his best interests for the long term before coming to a decision, but he’s earned that right. If the money is right, he’ll be back. If not, wish him well elsewhere.

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.

Offense Anyone? Foles, Eagles Hold Off Brady, Patriots 41-33 in SB LII

Steve Balestrieri
February 4, 2018 at 11:42 pm ET

This one won’t go down as a defensive struggle as both teams combined for nearly 1200 yards of offense and 84 points, but it was the Philadelphia defense that made the one big stop when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball and it was the Eagles and Foles who played tremendous all game long walking over the Lombardi trophy and a huge win in Super Bowl LII.

Foles, who was the MVP completing 28-43 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He connected with Zach Ertz for a touchdown with 2:21 left to give the Eagles a 38-33 lead but it certainly appeared that the call would be reversed.

But the call didn’t matter a bit. It would have just 35-32 before the Brady sack.  There were a couple of close calls in terms of what is or what isn’t a catch… but again, when the defense couldn’t stop Foles and the Eagles offense all game, that wasn’t the reason for the loss.

It was simply another tremendous Super Bowl, maybe not if you like a defensive struggle in terms of drama, it doesn’t get much better. Right down to the final pass into the end zone as time expired. The Eagles made just one or two more plays than the Patriots did and that’s why they are the new Super Bowl champions.

Other observations include:

Philly’s Coaching Staff Called a Great Game:
Doug Pederson said after the game that the Eagles wanted to stay aggressive with their play calling and they did and the Patriots were completely unable to stop them. Alshon Jeffrey was getting the better or Eric Rowe early in this game. Nelson Agholor was beating everyone the Patriots trotted out there against him. The Eagles identified mismatches they felt they could win and exploited them. Agholor had nine catches on 11 targets…he was uncoverable all game long.

Zach Ertz had a very strong game and Corey Clement torched the Patriots for 100 yards receiving, including a 55-yarder where Jordan Richards took just a brutal angle on the play. Pederson’s best call was on 4th and 1 near the end of the first half, they ran the option pass to Foles. With him in the shotgun, no one accounts for him and he trotted all alone for a huge touchdown to put the Eagles up 10 at the break.

Defense Was MIA:
The Patriots defense was dissected and shredded for over 500 yards of offense (374 passing, 164 rushing) by the Eagles who also gashed them for 41 points. The Patriots defense was manhandled up front by a very good Philadelphia offensive line that opened up big holes in the running game while giving Foles plenty of time to throw.

The pass rush was missing most of the game, Trey Flowers had a very, very quiet Super Bowl and was not a factor at all. With the exception of Gilmore and perhaps Pat Chung, and James Harrison, it was their worst performance since Week 1.

Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick didn’t have the answers this week. With the exception of moving Gilmore on Jeffrey, who was shut down, they didn’t make any adjustments that worked. They were out-coached in Minneapolis.  It doesn’t happen often but it did tonight.

Brady Was Fantastic Despite the Loss:
Immediately after the game, I was reading criticism of Tom Brady which is laughable. Brady was shredding the Eagles defense in the second half as bad as they were being shredded.

Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns averaging 10.5 yards per attempt on the night. And the offense put up 33 points. I didn’t like the play call early in the game on 3rd and 2 with the end around to Brandin Cooks, where they were moving down the field, but that is the way the cookie crumbles, it could have been 40 with a better call.

Cooks left with a concussion on an awful collision with Malcolm Jenkins but Brady and the offense reacted well and spread the ball around. Danny Amendola was his clutch self, catching 8 passes for 152 yards, Gronkowski had nine catches for 116 yards with a pair of touchdowns, nearly all of it coming in the second half. Chris Hogan had six catches for 128 yards and a score. Overall the Patriots had three players with over 100 yards receiving.

The Butler “Didn’t Do It”, Benched for the Game:
With several players in the secondary struggling all game, it was more than curious that Malcolm Butler was benched for the entire game other than special teams. Bill Belichick said after the game that it wasn’t a disciplinary decision but a strict football one why he didn’t play.

Butler, who was very emotional during the National Anthem, may have realized that his last game in New England (and the chances of him returning now are practically nil) was coming to an end in the worst way possible, by riding the pine. What had to be particularly galling for Butler was that the secondary was being gashed.

With no one able to cover Agholor, in the biggest game of the year, was Butler the worst option between Rowe, Bademosi, Richards et al?

Changes are Coming:
Suffice to say, the team we see at the mini-camp in June will be quite different from the one that took the field tonight. Matt Patricia is gone. It was thought Josh McDaniels was gone too, but now, some in the media are saying to pump the brakes on that talk…at least for now. But the roster will see changes as the team will have several decisions to make in the coming days, which we’ll address later.

Sorry New England, no parade this year, we’re on to the NFL Combine.

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.

New England Patriots – Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

And then there were two. The Patriots and the Eagles rightfully face off for the Super Bowl LII bragging rights for the final game of the 2017 NFL season. The teams are remarkably evenly matched. Each is the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Both were 13-3 in the regular season. Each had a close playoff game and a blowout.

The Eagles had a close win over Atlanta and blew out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots blew out Tennessee and then had a close, come-from-behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During the season the Patriots scored one point more than Philadelphia offensively, 458-457, while the Eagles defense bested New England by a single point defensively 295-296. Even? I don’t know how it gets any closer.

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Channel 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michelle Tafoya will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (15-3) came back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady firing two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to beat Jacksonville 24-20.

The Eagles (15-3) blew out the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, by scoring 38 unanswered points. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns and the Eagles punched their ticket easily.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and Eagles are meeting for just the 14th time. Philadelphia leads the all-time series 7-6. The two teams met once in the Super Bowl already with New England beating Philadelphia 24-21 in SB XXXIX where Deion Branch took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

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 Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia
The Patriots running game has been extremely effective with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead as a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game. Lewis will be the main guy in the running game and he’ll have a tall order this week.

Philadelphia had the #1 rush defense in the league in 2017 allowing only 79.2 yards per game. The big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan make it very hard to run inside, especially where the Patriots like to run by stuffing up everything at the point of attack.

In order for the Patriots to be successful, they are going to have to remain balanced. So play-action passing is key here. Josh McDaniels will have to get a bit creative here, mixing in some draws and Jet Sweeps to take advantage of their aggressive pass rush, but this will be some tough sledding this week.

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

The Patriots passing game will tremendously benefit by having Rob Gronkowski cleared for this game. Although he’s been practicing, as of right now (late Weds. night), he still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.

Tom Brady can spread the ball around with Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and out of the backfield with James White, Lewis and Burkhead. But having Gronkowski out there and healthy makes it all go.

Philly’s pass defense is built around that terrific front four (read seven). They can freely mix things up and substitute. Their subpackage pass rush is especially effective where they move Brandon Graham inside next to Cox and have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as edge guys. Protection for Brady will be the key here as the Eagles don’t get tons of sacks but DO get tons of pressure.

One area to watch, Philly will probably play much more man coverage in this game. They played a lot of zone during the season and the Patriots, if Brady has time to throw will attack the linebackers with play action and Ronald Darby on the perimeter. Look for them to take some shots down the field early.

Next up the Philadelphia offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Eagles have two very good and varied backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Philly is using both in a committee approach and goes with the hot hand They are very effective at running the ball averaging 132.2 yards per game.

The Patriots run defense has been terrific down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy healthy again as well as the addition of James Harrison, they slowed the running games of both Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Eagles will want to run to take the pressure off of Nick Foles and give him the option of play action as well. While the Eagles will get their yards on the ground, I look for them to slow down the running game and force Foles to beat them.

Eagles WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Eagles passing game was a question mark after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. But Foles has answered his critics with a pair of playoff wins, including a blowout conference championship win where he carved up the NFC’s best defense in Minnesota. The RPO (run-pass option) we’ve all heard about is their bread and butter and Foles has Zach Ertz as the team’s leading receiver at tight end and their go-to guy. But Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor give them plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

The Patriots defense has been very good down the stretch and the strength is the secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at corner. Jonathan Jones who recently went on IR may have been a better matchup with Agholor because of his speed but it will be interesting to see how they line up.

The key for New England is to keep generating pressure with their front four, where coincidentally the Patriots have had 11 sacks in their two playoff games, something no one is mentioning. And relying on their corners to remain in tight coverage. Containing the RPOs (something Jax ran) requires discipline and gap control. The chess match here should be a fascinating one. Watch for Trey Flowers here, he’s primed for a big game. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his pooch kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen was the underrated difference in the conference championship game, pinning the Jags deep in their own end ….field position here will be key.  Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Eagles are very solid on Special Teams with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Donnie Jones. The coverage units are very good as well but no one’s STs units have been better than New England’s down the stretch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well, here we go… .This one should be a Super Bowl worthy of its name. As we pointed to above, the teams are evenly matched and both, being the #1 seeds have earned the right to be here.

I look for a high scoring game, it may not begin that way, but like the 2003 game with Carolina and New England, I see things heating up. This one will be a back and forth affair. I see Agholor and Amendola having big games for each team. The key for each team will be field position and not be turning the ball over.

But in a close game like this, I don’t ever bet against Tom Brady and I think he gets it done once again with a late score to bring home Super Bowl victory number six. Cue up the Duck Boats Marty, there will be a parade next week. Patriots 31-28

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.

Podcast: Super Bowl Preview

Russ Goldman
January 30, 2018 at 10:55 am ET

This is our preview of the Super Bowl. We go in depth into the match-ups between the Patriots and the Eagles. We also share our keys to victory for the Pats along with our predictions for the game.

New England Patriots News 10-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 15, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 10-15, & AFC East Notes.

**Langi, Wife Involved in Serious Car Crash: **

Reports have been coming in all day on Saturday about a serious car crash that Patriots LB Harvey Langi and his wife were involved in Friday night about 9:30 in Foxborough. Early reports state that Langi and his wife were stopped at a red light when they were rear-ended in a three-car crash. Firefighters were forced to use the Jaws of Life to free some of the injured. The injuries suffered by Langi were considered serious but not life-threatening.The Patriots released a statement on the accident:

“We are aware of the traffic accident involving Harvey Langi and a passenger last night in Foxborough. The two were stopped at a traffic light when they were rear-ended by another vehicle,” the Patriots said. “They were both transported to a local hospital with injuries and are receiving medical attention. Our thoughts are with Harvey, the Langi family and those who sustained injuries in last night’s accident.”

Just a quick question to everyone… is there anyone out there, anyone who DOESN’T know that Tom Brady is 40 years old? Anyone? Bueller? Does every piece on Brady have to have in the first paragraph, “New England’s 40-year old QB” or a reasonable facsimile thereof? Between that and the talk of him approaching the cliff is old folks.

Let’s Hear it for the Rivalry: The Patriots and Jets renew unpleasantries for the 117th time on Sunday. There are rivalry games and there are rivalry games. And there is the Jets. The two teams have always had a healthy disdain for one another. I remember speaking with Steve Nelson, former Patriot team HOF-Linebacker and he said from the moment he was drafted, and he walked into the locker room for the first time, there was that palatable hate for the Jets, which exists the same down in NJ. Here’s to the next chapter in that rivalry.

Besides the rivalry and first place in the division which is online today, another streak that the Patriots have going since last season is their road record. The Pats have won their last 10 road games dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season.

Brady Can Set Another Record With a Win:
Tom Brady already owns the most wins in NFL history for a QB in both regular and postseason combined but for regular season wins only he’s tied with Brett Favre and Peyton Manning at 186. A win by the Patriots today in Brady’s start will put him over the top at 187 career regular season wins and add another career milestone for #12.

It is interesting to note that Sunday will be Brady’s 241st start. Manning had 266 and Favre 298. It shows the level of success that the Patriots have had with Brady under center with him having essentially almost 2 seasons less than Manning and nearly four less than Favre to reach this milestone.

Brady would like nothing more than to set the new career regular season record against the Jets. BTW Brady is 23-6 against the Jets during the regular season. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Goodell: No Policy Change on the National Anthem:
The NFL Commissioner has weighed in on the kneeling, standing, sitting, stretching, eating a banana issue on the National Anthem. In a joint statement with the NFLPA, they stated: “There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem. The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.”

Goodell added, “What we want to do is get back to focusing on the actions that we want to take to really improve our communities and support our players to get things done,” Goodell said. “We want to get to from our current situation to where we are really making a difference in the community and get involved in action that is going to have a positive outcome for our law enforcement, for our communities, and for our country overall.”

And in a non-story hot take for the week centered around Roger Goodell’s wife who used an anonymous Twitter account to defend her husband. The Twitter account that has since been taken down, didn’t do anything that could be remotely considered controversial, she just defended her husband. Isn’t that what any good wife would do?

We’ve been super critical of Goodell and his policies on these pages but making a big deal out of an anonymous tweet that says “Roger is doing his job?” Nope. Hey, at least he has one loyal follower on his side. You go, Jane.    

NaVorro Bowman Could Be a Fit in New England:
I’ll be the first to say that I’m the first person to pooh-pooh the idea that every time a veteran player is released, Patriots nation clamors for him, regardless of fit or level of play. Due to listening to certain talking heads on the air, “they gotta have the name.”

But in this case, Bowman could be a nice addition to the Patriots defense. He was one of the best inside linebackers in the game, but injuries in 2014 and last season have taken their toll on Bowman. Despite still being the leading tackler on the Niners, the team is moving away from him and tried to find a trade partner, and barring that gave him his release. That part wasn’t surprising since the Niners are on the hook for his remaining salary the rest of the season.

Now any team, including New England could sign him as early as Monday according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus when he’ll choose his next team. They can reasonably sign him for the league minimum for veterans and Bowman can sign anywhere and not lose any cash this season.

In terms of fit, while he’s lost a step in coverage, he’s still a very effective run stopper on early downs and has the type of veteran savvy that David Harris possesses. Why would Bowman be a fit over Harris? Well, the Patriots haven’t used him at all this season. He’s played seven snaps in five games. Harvey Langi appears to be in a red-shirt type situation and the team is still weeks away from being able to activate Shea McClellin from IR. It will be something to monitor, especially today to see if Harris plays against his old team.   

Belichick Believes Run Game Will Open Up…We do too:
Bill Belichick in his weekly “Belestrator” break down of the Tampa game, he played Dion Lewis’ 31-yard scamper and spoke about Mike Gillislee’s body of work so far this season. Belichick believes that we’ll see Gillislee break out sooner rather than later and mentioned that the backs are running hard and playing better than their numbers may indicate this season.

We agree. While fans are clamoring for the return of LeGarrette Blount, the running game’s struggles would be the same…or worse with him back here. It is an offensive line issue as to why the backs have been struggling thus far to get untracked.

Today’s game may be a perfect time to get things untracked. With Muhammad Wilkerson either limited physically or out with an injury, the Patriots could make a concerted effort to run the ball. The Jets are allowing 143 yards per game and 4.6 yards per rush. With a unit that is trying to limit the hits on Tom Brady, having an effective ground game goes a long way in alleviating that. Opponents can’t pin back their ears as much and make play-action passing even more effective.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 6:
Last week there were a few surprises and I picked a couple of upsets that didn’t pan out so I finished with a 9-5 mark. Season Total: 50-27.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Philadelphia over Carolina. Now for the rest (14 games now with bye weeks) of the slate:
Bears at Ravens – Baltimore

Packers at Vikings – Green Bay

Redskins- Washington

Lions at Saints – Detroit

Dolphins at Falcons – Atlanta

Browns at Texans – Houston

Patriots at Jets – New England

Buccaneers at Cardinals – Arizona

Rams at Jaguars – Los Angeles

Chargers at Raiders – Oakland

Steelers at Chiefs – Kansas City

Giants at Broncos – Denver

MNF Colts at Titans – Tennessee

Bye week: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Seahawks

Next Thursday Night Oakland over Kansas City

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills On the Bye, Is Taylor the Man Moving Forward:
The Buffalo Bills are on a bye this week and will certainly be watching the Jets-Patriots game with more than just a passing interest. But the majority of the talk centered around the Bills this week and new coach Sean McDermott continues to be QB Tyrod Taylor.

The subject still hasn’t changed from when he took over in the 2015 season. Can Taylor lead the Bills to the playoffs? The long and short answer is both yes and no.

Now in his third season, Taylor can be a placeholder for Buffalo as long as the running game is going well and the defense plays to the level that they are playing at right now. But can Taylor put a team on his back like a franchise QB and lead them to a playoff spot and possibly playoff wins? No. What you see is what you get. There is a reason the Bills have the 29th passing offense in the league, averaging about 165 yards per game. And it starts behind the center.

Taylor hasn’t shown in three years that he’s capable of more than what he is. He can make things happen with his feet to extend the play and reach downfield, as long as the running game is getting big chunks of yardage. Look back over three seasons and see where the Bills running game has struggled and look at how the passing game responded. However, the team’s best chance for success…right now rests with Taylor. As long as Shady McCoy stays healthy and the defense holds up, the Bills will compete every week and have a good shot at making the playoffs. But he isn’t the answer, and the Bills already know that.

Dolphins Fans Chants for Moore at QB “Embarrassing”:
The Miami Dolphins, even more so than the Bills have struggled to throw the ball this season. Miami currently has the 32nd passing attack in the NFL, averaging just 156.5 yards per game. Jay Cutler who was signed to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill is completing 62 percent of his throws and averaging paltry 5.4 yards per attempt. Worse, he’s thrown for just three touchdowns against three interceptions and his passer rating thru four games is a career-worst 74.8.

When Dolphins fans began chanting for Matt Moore during last week’s 16-10 win over Tennessee, Miami WR Jarvis Landry called it embarrassing. From the Miami Herald, Landry said, “If they want to change the players, we can’t buy into all that. I believe it’s disrespectful. A man that comes out here and works his [expletive] off and for people to not really understand what’s really going on. Or to not even have touched the field before, to say we want somebody else to be playing, they don’t understand the situation or know what’s going on. They just want to be on Twitter. They just want to start a [expletive] chant and it’s embarrassing, as a player to have fans like that.”

Miami coach Adam Gase pretty much reiterated what Landry said, but with the weapons that Miami put around Tannehill this summer prior to his injury, the talk was that anything less than a big step up would mean the end of his tenure in Miami. Cutler has done very little in the first quarter of the season and a playoff team from 2016, the Dolphins can’t wait much longer. They face a very good Atlanta team on the road this week.

Jets’ Ealy Looking Forward to This Week’s Game:
The New York Jets, have a chance to take over first place in the AFC East this week and according to a piece on ESPN by Lenn Robbins, Kony Ealy is itching to play the team he spent training camp with.

Robbins wrote:
But for Ealy, this is personal. The Pats traded for him in the offseason. He was expected to be one of their two key free-agent acquisitions on defense along with cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

It became clear early on that Ealy and Belichick weren’t going to find common ground. Ealy was released. The Jets signed him.

Less than two months later, Ealy and Belichick will stand on opposite sidelines, each keenly aware of how this game could play out.

He did get one part of this piece wrong, after stating that the Patriots haven’t protected Brady well, (they haven’t), he wrote the Jets have 15 sacks. They don’t. They have gotten seven so far this season and have allowed 15. Ealy is still looking for his first however and that will be an area to watch.

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

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

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: Texans vs. Patriots Preview

Russ Goldman
September 19, 2017 at 12:13 pm ET

In this episode we previewed the upcoming game for the Patriots against the Texans. However, we started the show by looking back at the Patriots victory against the Saints.

Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 2.0 – After Week 1 of Camp

Steve Balestrieri
August 3, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make at the end of training camp this summer. They enter the 2017 season fresh off a Super Bowl win and have re-tooled their roster to an even more dangerous (on paper) group that was victorious in February.

They seem to have more than made up for the players that they’ve lost in free agency and appear poised for another deep playoff run in 2017. Bill Belichick went against the grain once again and traded most of his draft picks in what was considered a very deep draft and came away with a slew of established veterans.

The team only drafted four players in April with two each from the offensive and defensive lines, but even those are with an eye to 2018 as this team appears loaded. First up are the key players lost and then the ones added.

Key Players Lost:
TE Martellus Bennett
DE Jabaal Sheard
DE Chris Long
RB LeGarrette Blount
CB Logan Ryan
LB/ST Barkevious Mingo
WR Michael Floyd
RT Sebastian Vollmer (injured/retired)
Andrew Hawkins (retired during training camp)
*DE Rob Ninkovich
(retired during training camp)

Key Players Added:
LB Dont’a Hightower (re-signed)
DL Alan Branch (re-signed)
S Duron Harmon (re-signed)
FB James Develin (re-signed)
RB/ST Brandon Bolden (re-signed)
CB Stephon Gilmore
DL Kony Ealy
DL Lawrence Guy
WR Brandin Cooks
TE Dwayne Allen
TE James O’Shaughnessy
RB Mike Gillislee
RB Rex Burkhead
WR Andrew Hawkins
LB David Harris

This doesn’t take into account their four draft picks and the UDFAs that they’ve signed thus far. While the inevitable injuries will occur, as its part of the game, the team seems in very good shape to handle whatever gets thrown at them in 2017. Our first attempt at an early roster projection was done on July 1 prior to training camp. We’ll highlight any changes we make from our earlier version.

First up is the offense…

OFFENSE (24)
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has an embarrassment of riches at the position. They have three QBs that have started and won games for the team. Garoppolo was the guy everyone had being traded this spring but they held on to him … at least for this season. And can we please cease and desist with the “is Jimmy G injury prone?” talk? He has proven he can take over the team in a pinch and he’ll be watched closely this summer to see where his progression is at.

Neither Garoppolo nor Brissett has really shined in the first week of camp. Both have struggled at times and both have thrown a lot of interceptions. Brady has been Brady. The incessant, inane talk of him “falling off a cliff” this year is ridiculous. We’ve been hearing that for 5-6 years. So, keep it up, and one year the writers who spout that stuff off will finally get it right and take victory laps. But for now, he’s as sharp as ever.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
I was a big fan of the additions of Burkhead and Gillislee this spring. Now, I’m an even bigger fan of these moves. I love the versatility that Burkhead brings to the table. One issue the offense had a year ago, depending on who was on the field, opponents could tell if the play was run or pass. With him and a healthy Dion Lewis? That has changed.

Burkhead can run the ball between the tackles and in the passing game, will find those sweet spots in the flat when Brady spreads the field. Gillislee has shown that the power running game will look a bit different this year, but may be better. He hits the hole quick and he’s a faster, one-cut runner.

James White hauls in a pass. (SBalestrieri photo)

Foster is still the tough cut here. He’s getting a lot of work with the backups but is a very competent receiver with speed and quickness out of the backfield. Strictly a case of numbers for Brandon Bolden who is a core STs player. Daniels is a great candidate for the practice squad.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton
A healthy Gronkowski is a wonderful thing to behold. He and Allen are locks. The real battle comes down to the number three slot. We originally had O’Shaughnessy beating out Lengel on the basis of his blocking and STs skills. But he’s shown soft hands and the ability to find the open spots on the field.

Hollister is an intriguing case as he’s more of a “move” tight end that can stretch the field. He’s getting a ton of reps with the top STs unit. What does that mean? They want to keep him around and he’s a primary practice squad candidate.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola

Out: Devin Lucien, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Brandin Cooks has been everything as advertised. His speed is incredible to watch. Imagine if Tom Brady didn’t have diminishing arm strength (sarcasm). He’s going to be fun to watch in this offense.

Edelman and Hogan seem in mid-season form and the top three are going to be a versatile, dynamic group. Mitchell and Amendola are working with the training staff so they haven’t practiced but there are no worries there.

Carr has been electrifying at times as he’s building a nice chemistry with Jacoby Brissett when working with the backups. He seems to make a big play in every session and the team may have to get creative to keep him around.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year and are locked. It comes down to Ferentz and Karras and so far, I haven’t seen anything to change my earlier call of the 2nd year guy sticking around.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks
The starters and the swing tackle from 2016 (Solder, Cannon, and Fleming) return this season. Garcia isn’t that big but plays with a bit of a mean streak that I like.  McDermott is in a red shirt year and will go to the practice squad.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSE (23):
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vince Valentine, Lawrence Guy

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Alan Branch is on PUP to begin camp but he’s a lock. Brown has been steady but unspectacular as has Valentine. Guy was a nice pickup from Baltimore and projects as an interior guy with New England. Bill Belichick spoke about his versatility and dependability before practice on Tuesday.

EDGE RUSHER (4): Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise,

Out: Geneo Grissom, Caleb Kidder
With Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, this puts Ealy and Flowers firmly in the starters position with the two rookie draft picks Wise and Rivers as the backups. Depth is definitely thinner now. Combined the team lost 26 years of experience at the position.

Deatrich Wise has had a nice start at training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Grissom is getting a ton of reps with the starting unit to see if he can break thru in season #3. He may be kept or the team may opt for another linebacker. Wise has really turned some heads so far in camp. He’s shown good explosion off the ball and the strength to hold up and set the edge. Can he keep it going? We’ll see.

Rivers has struggled a bit with the speed and physicality of the NFL game which isn’t a surprise given he’s a rookie from Division 1AA. I had one fan DM me asking if he was a bust… Really? After five practices? Relax folks, he’s going to be fine.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis
Hightower is on PUP but should be ready soon, he’s been out at practice in sweats, usually a good sign. Harris looks like he’s still a thumper inside and with Roberts gives them good depth in the middle. This will allow the team to move Hightower outside more where he can be more of a disruptor.

Van Noy and McClellin will probably be asked to fill in at times as edge rushers (Hightower as well) so the team may opt for an extra linebacker. Harvey Langi is a good sized, athletic kid who can play inside or outside and even as DE in a pinch but this unit will have to work out some roles during the season.

CORNERBACK (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
This has been a fun group to watch. Butler and Gilmore have played as advertised. Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe have both played well thus far in the slot. This may be a case where they’ll use both depending on matchups.

Stephon Gilmore looks to be a good fit in the Patriots defense.

All of the others have played well. It is strictly a numbers crunch. If they had the slots they would keep them all. Moore has had a great nose for the ball and has made some nice plays so far.

SAFETY (4): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

Out:  David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
Richards leap frogs Jones from our earlier projection as he’s played fairly well so far and Jones, who we are really high on, has been working with the training staff on the lower fields thus far.

The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid. Harmon had an injury scare the other day and missed Tuesday’s practice but it isn’t considered serious.

SPECIAL TEAMS (6): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner

Out: None
A good solid group who has had a good camp thus far. Allen had a weird sequence of two straight shanked punts on Saturday but that was an anomaly. The Patriots under STs coach Joe Judge have a very solid core group and they should be fine in 2017. Gostkowski is looking for a rebound year and has looked his normally solid self in camp.

They will need a backup long snapper now, something that was always covered by Ninkovich in the case of an injury to Cardona. Slater is still a marvel and has tremendous speed for a guy in his 10th season.

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.

Patriots Training Camp Day 3, First Padded Practice, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
July 29, 2017 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots get back to work here at Gillette Stadium on Saturday morning and now is when the work really starts. The pads come on for the first time today and as Bill Belichick so aptly put yesterday, now is when the evaluation begins.

The team had a pair of shorts and shells practices the first two days of training camp to get things started but the intensity was dialed down a bit. Today, that should change. Here are a couple of things to watch for today as the team ratchets up the tempo and intensity:

Will Rob Ninkovich Show Up? We’ve been hearing the rumors about Ninkovich possibly going to retire and the only official word we’ve heard from the Patriots is that Nink is dealing with a personal issue.

If Ninkovich indeed does decide to call it a career it will be a definite blow to the defense. Although he’s dealt with a suspension and some injuries a year ago which affected his production, Ninkovich remains one of the best Patriots players at crunch time. He’s always been at his best when the games are on the line.

He may have lost a half-step last season but he’s still a stalwart on the defense and a versatile one to boot. He can line up as a defensive end, as a linebacker and even serves as the team’s emergency long snapper in a pinch. We’ll be watching for the players coming out on the field this morning to see if he’s back….If he does retire, it would leave Kony Ealy and Trey Flowers as the probable starters with rookie draft picks Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise with veteran Geneo Grissom.

How will the Power Running Game Look: The Patriots parted ways with LeGarrette Blount this spring and brought in Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. Those are the two backs that are expected to pick up the slack of Blount’s departure and provide the team the heavy running between the tackles that they’ll need to keep defenses honest in 2017.

James White and Dion Lewis are the primary passing back options along with D.J. Foster and veteran Brandon Bolden who can jump in for the occasional carry but the new players are the ones to watch today.

With the pads coming on today, Burkhead and Gillislee are the guys to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team open in some sort of goal line drill today to set the tone for the day. UDFA rookie Leshun Daniels is a dark horse to make the roster and he is also in that power back role. It will be curious to see how he performs as well.

Can the Young Players Keep up the Pace? We wrote about how Austin Carr had turned heads in the opening days of camp with some nice catches and showing good hands. Of course, Bill Belichick pooh-poohed the entire episode during his Friday presser but the fact remains that Carr didn’t do anything to hurt his chances during the first two days of camp.

Besides Carr, the Hollister twins, Rivers and Deatrich and others in their first Patriots training camp will be guys to watch now that the heat gets turned up.

As Belichick said, the teaching part will continue but now the evaluations begin. He should be making his way to the podium shortly and after that Saturday’s practice will begin.

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.