Tag Archives: NFL

New England Patriots News 1-20, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 20, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-20, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning: *No AFC East notes this week*

Politics and Sports: Most of us enjoy sports as an outlet free from the day-to-day politics that now permeate our lives. One of my other jobs is to write about military and politics. And it is frankly much less enjoyable than this one. And it is always an uncomfortable moment at least for some of us when the two worlds of sports and politics collide.

Case in point, the Red Sox Alex Cora stating this week wavering on whether or not he’ll attend the ceremony at the White House to honor the Red Sox. Cora and the Sox are hardly the first in this. It has become a tradition for the standing President to host the winning team for a short visit for the purpose of honoring the champs. Now it has become a big story whoever wins a championship over who is NOT attending.

Perhaps, because this country has become so partisan and intolerant of any views other than their own, it is time for the practice to end. When the President invites someone to the White House, it is supposed to be received as respect for the office and not necessarily the man that the invitee would attend. Sadly, we as a whole have forgotten that.

Brady’s Accomplishments Get Pushed Aside Over the Cliff Talk: Trey Wingo on ESPN had a pretty interesting segment, that I caught on a replay, late on Sunday night after the Patriots win over the Chargers.

Wingo stated that Brady was playing in his 13th conference championship (today) and If you throw out 2008 where he played on the first quarter of the first game, he’s played in 17 NFL seasons. His percentage of reaching the conference championship game is at 76 percent. Wingo stated, Drew Brees just set the NFL record with a 74 % completion percentage this season. Wingo added, “Brady has a higher chance of a reaching a championship game than any QB ever had of completing a single pass.”

But I bet if you watch many of those other national shows, you didn’t see that, right?

Did you Know? From Inside Edge: When Tom Brady has more passing yards than his average (279), his team is 12-2 (.857) since the start of last season — best of 27 Qualified QBs in NFL; League Avg: .487

Did you Know Pt. 2: From Inside Edge- The Patriots are undefeated (16-0) when having the lead at the end of quarter 1 since the start of last season — tied for best in NFL; League Avg: .749 Also… The Patriots are 33-2 (.943) when leading at the end of the first half since the start of the 2016 season — best in NFL; League Avg: .799

Did you Know Pt. 3: From Inside Edge- The Patriots are 29-5 (.853) when forcing 1 or more turnovers since the start of the 2016 season — best in NFL; League Avg: .591

Trade Foles? Folly: After the Eagles dramatic loss to the Saints last week when Nick Foles pass passed right thru Alshon Jeffrey’s hands for an interception to seal a win for New Orleans, we still see the “trade Nick Foles” talk.

Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win last season and got them on a hot streak down the stretch and nearly pulled off a monumental upset last week. Philly would be insane to trade him rather than Carson Wentz. But hey, trade him to New England. With that “cliff” right around the corner, I’d take that guy as my QB in a second.

Edelman Remains A Key Component in the Offense:

Julian Edelman had a huge game for the Patriots last week against the Chargers catching nine passes for 151 yards which comes as a surprise to no one who follows this team regularly. Edelman’s nine catches now rank him #2 all-time in the career playoff list behind only Jerry Rice.

His 151-yard performance was the fifth in his career, the only two players with more 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs (Rice with 9 and Michael Irvin with 6) reside in Canton. Yet when people think of playoff superstars, does Edelman’s name ever come to mind? Perhaps it should start. His catch two years ago against the Falcons in the Super Bowl was the stuff of legend.

His QB knows how valuable he is to this offense and on Monday Brady spoke about how Edelman (much like himself) had grown into a tremendous player. “You just remember when nobody thought about Julian as what he’s become, except Julian,” Brady said.

“That’s a great lesson for all of us: When you believe in yourself, you can accomplish a lot of things. Julian has always had great belief in himself, and he’s had an incredible career. I think yesterday was one of the best games he’s ever played, at the biggest moment. That’s when Julian is at his best — in the biggest moments.”

If the Patriots are to win today and move on to Atlanta in the Super Bowl, they’ll no doubt need another big performance from Edelman. He currently ranks 7th all-time in playoff receiving yardage. With another 141 more, he’ll move all the way into 2nd place there, also behind Rice. Another two games could probably do the trick. It is amazing how underrated Edelman has been in his career. Still known only as a slot receiver, he’s been much, much more here in New England. He can play the “X”, the “Z” or the slot. He’s lined up in the backfield and runs the jet sweeps and returns kicks.

He probably won’t sniff Canton, but perhaps when his playing career is over, he should be in the conversation. Not bad for an option QB, that had to go to Junior College and learn an entirely new position in the NFL.

Patriots Embracing the Underdog Role:

With the end of the Chargers game, Tom Brady in his on-field interview with Tracy Wolfson said what the entire team is feeling and they are embracing it. Everyone outside of New England is wanting the Patriots to lose, picking them to lose and basically hoping they’ll lose. Of course, Brady’s “everyone thinks we suck” quote was reiterated in the locker room which produced a silly hair-splitting response from Andrew Siciliano asking “where did anyone say that?”

On his own network, one former player turned analyst gave the Chiefs every competitive advantage in the two teams’ matchups, (QB, RB, Pass Catchers, Defense, and Coaching).

One said that he’d take any QB over Brady in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Another had Brady 6th among trusted QBs in the playoffs. The ESPN “Power Poll” gives New England the least chance of winning the SB with a 15 percent chance of winning it all. And there were plenty of writers who gladly jumped on the “Patriots dynasty is dead” storyline only to see the Pats put a curb-stomping on the Chargers the likes of which we haven’t seen since “A Bronx Tale” bar scene.

We get it here, everyone is sick of seeing the Patriots win and no one outside of the New England states wants to see Brady and Belichick in another Super Bowl. But stop with this foolishness. I’ve seen several places where it has been said, the Patriots “have to play a perfect game to beat KC.”

Flashback to Week 6, NE gave up a 97-yard KO return, a 67-yard TD pass, a 75-yard TD pass, and Brady fumbled at the New England 29 to set up the Chiefs on a short field. Hardly perfect, but yet the Patriots won. Make no mistake, they have to play an excellent game tonight, but perfect? No. The Chiefs are latest, team du jour who everyone is rallying around as the next great team, and the one they want/hope will dethrone the Patriots.  

Patriots Versatility in the Running Game Key Tonight:

One Patriots’ key to winning this game is to remain balanced on offense and having the running game be effective. Their still a passing team first, however, an effective running game keeps the defenses honest and slows down the pass rushers, allowing Brady to throw from a clean pocket.

The Patriots have been running a lot of “21 Personnel” (2 RB, 1 TE, 2WR) packages down the stretch. And it has been a big reason why the offense has been so effective. They can mix and match different combinations with the backs and it gives options to Brady on how he wants to attack the defense, given how they match up defensively.

During the Week 6 matchup, the Patriots shredded KC’s defense when running the “21” package. They had a 65 percent success rate while running out of it with an average of 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. And an even better success rate of passing out of it, with an 80 percent success rate where Brady averaged 15.4 yards per attempt while passing out of the “21” package.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Conference Weekend Predictions:

Final Regular Season 165-89-2

Wildcard Weekend:  0-4

Divisional Weekend: 4-0

New England over Kansas City
New Orleans over LA Rams

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 and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 01-06, AFC East Notes

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

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

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB to the Pats? Not Happening:

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

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

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

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

Young QBs Have Fans Excited in Several Markets:

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

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

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

Who You Have This Week? NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions:

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

Wildcard Weekend:

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

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphins Search For the Next Head Coach:

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

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

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

Jets May Have Interest in Baylor HC Matt Ruhle :

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

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

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

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

PatriotsThrottle the Jets 38-3 in Finale, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 31, 2018 at 6:42 am ET

P

We’re on to the bye week… isn’t it crazy how perceptions change? The Patriots are considered to have had a downer of a season. And yet they’ve won 11 games are getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs because of their thumping of the Jets this afternoon in Foxboro.

Yes, before any of Negative Nancy’s are quick to remind everyone, which I’m sure the hot take artists already are…the Jets mailed this one in. This had none of the intensity we’ve come to expect from the Patriots-Jets games, however, that isn’t what’s important.

What is important, is that the Patriots had a job to do today and that was they had to take care of business, win the game to secure a bye week for the team and then prepare for the Divisional Round. Check and check.

Bill Belichick was happy, he was giving much longer answers than normal and despite his normal dour expression, knew that the team performed exactly as they should have. He said it best when discussing the game in his post-game presser when he asked about the significance of the win and the season.

“There were some good things, and there were some things that could’ve been better – but in the end, we are where we are,” Belichick said. “Essentially we won next week because we won today.” Boom… mike drop.

We don’t know how far this team will go, but we say that every year because the playoffs are a one-game elimination where anything can happen, but in the end, as Belichick said, they are where they are. That is one win away from an eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game.

On Friday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally. And we hit on some and missed on others.

But here are our observations from today’s game:

Brady Spread the Ball Around:

That doesn’t seem like a big point because it seemed like he always did that. But lately, he’d been too locked into certain players. Not so on Sunday. There was a much more even spread to things and that ended up with one of Brady’s best games in a while.

Brady finished 24-33 (72.7%) for 250 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs with a passer rating of 133.8, which was his highest rating since Week 3 of 2017 against Houston. Other than overthrowing a wide-open Chris Hogan in the end zone, he was very sharp and made several really nice throws, his best was the touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead for an 18-yard touchdown.

Chris Hogan, who we were about to put on a milk carton, was rediscovered in the offense today and was targeted 11 times and had six catches for 64 yards. He was wide open in the left half of the end zone where Brady badly overthrew him from the 18, or his numbers would have been even higher. But today was a very welcome sight.

Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett each had five catches, James White chipped in four as the production was spread around pretty evenly. Rob Gronkowski had two catches for 24 yards but had a 30-yarder wiped out by a penalty.

We said we wanted to see the ball spread around more…and they did exactly that. And when they do that, this offense is much harder to game plan around.

Running Game Still Clicked:

The Jets had a sound game plan this week, they knew the Patriots were going to try to run the ball, as they did against the Bills last week. And with the passing game scuffling, they were going to take their chances there. So, they were bringing a safety up into the box at the snap and by bringing that extra body up, made it harder for the running game to find the room at the line of scrimmage. But it opened up room in the passing game, where Brady (as we mentioned above) was very efficient.

But regardless, Josh McDaniels kept things moving along and still found ways to keep the running game going. The Patriots were still able to grind out 131 yards on 30 carries and before three Brian Hoyer kneeldowns, they were averaging 4.96 yards per rush. That creativity is what they’ll need in two weeks and beyond.

While Sony Michel had just 50 yards on 14 carries, he once again came very close to breaking a couple of deep runs. He finished off a very solid rookie regular season with 931 yards rushing and that was with no preseason action and in just 13 games.

The Jet sweeps called by McDaniels were once again very effective, a total of four for 40 yards. Two by Julian Edelman for 24 and two by Dorsett for 16. James White added a really nice 21-yard run in the mix.

Defense Did a Good Job of Keeping the Jets Out of the End Zone:

The Jets were banged up at wide receiver but Sam Darnold threw for nearly 350 yards and three scores last week against Green Bay. And regardless of who is on the field, you still have to make plays.

The run defense was solid all day, the only aberration was a scramble from Darnold that went for 28 yards. Elijah McGuire was bottled up for the entire first half, at one point having nine carries for nine yards, one of which went for 17, so he essentially had eight carries for -8 yards when the game was still in doubt. He ran better in the 2nd half but by then the Pats had gone to lighter fronts to get after Sam Darnold who was forced to throw more.

Darnold finished 16-28 for 167 yards with 0 TDs, 0 INTs and a passer rating of just 74.6. The Patriots were blanketing his WRs, especially Robby Anderson who was covered by Stephon Gilmore (3 catches, 24 yards). After that absolute stinker in Miami, the defense held Pittsburgh to 17 points, Buffalo to 12 (with a garbage time TD) and the Jets to three. That’s trending in the right direction.

Gilmore and Trey Flowers have had outstanding seasons. And the Pats secondary has been one of the strengths of the team this year. There is still some question about the middle of the DL in the running game, but with Danny Shelton back inside, we’ll see how that works out.

In the six games since they came off the bye, they’ve held all of their opponents (except Miami) to 17 points or less.

Turnovers Are Always a Welcome Sight:

The defense has been pretty opportunistic this season forcing 28 turnovers (18 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries) the most the team has had since 2013. They forced three more on Sunday, Trey Flowers punched the ball out of McGuire’s hands in the first half, which they turned into a touchdown shortly after. Adam Butler knocked the ball out of Darnold’s hand which Kyle Van Noy scooped up and returned 46-yards for a TD (which will thrill a certain 2-6 radio show) and Jonathan Jones stripped the ball on the Jets final offensive play before Hoyer’s kneeldowns.

This is important because these things to tend to snowball one way or the other. When a defense isn’t getting any turnovers, they seem to go a long time without one. When a defense starts to get a bunch, that trend also seems to snowball…in a good way.

Another stat to consider is that the defense also had another 10 turnovers by stopping the opponent on downs.

Now We Wait …and Watch:

The Patriots came out of the game relatively unscathed, Devin McCourty suffered a concussion, but he’ll have two weeks to get ready for whoever gets the nod, and that game will be here in Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 13 at 1:05 p.m.

The Patriots will play either the Texans, Ravens or Chargers, whoever is the highest remaining seed. The Patriots and the Chiefs get the bye and Kansas City, by clinching the top seed in the AFC will draw the lowest remaining seed.

The games should be interesting to watch this week, but we’ll be watching and trying to look at how this crazy 2018 NFL season continues to play out.

We’re on to the bye week…

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.

New England Patriots News 12-30, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 30, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-30, & AFC East Notes.
From all of us here, we wish you all an early very Happy New Year. Having the Patriots playing on a deep playoff run into February would definitely get 2019 started off right…

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
Also our Players to Watch for today’s game against the Jets.

Did you Know? That Tom Brady is tied with Brett Favre for the 2nd most wins (26) against one franchise, Favre with the Lions, and Brady with the Jets. With a win today Brady would own the top two number of wins against a single opponent, (Buffalo 30, Jets 27). Also, the Patriots are the only undefeated team at home this season. They can finish at home, 8-0 this season with a win today.

Did you Know Pt.2? The Patriots, with a win today will crack the 500 win total, the first of the old AFL teams to do so. Also with a win today, it would guarantee a bye for the Patriots in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Since 2001, the Patriots have had 13 byes, the most in the NFL. The next closest team is the Denver Broncos with 5.

Did you Know Pt. 3: If they score two points or more today, the Patriots will extend their NFL record to 12 straight seasons with at least 400 total points (2007-18). The Chargers previously held the record by scoring at least 400 points in eight straight seasons from 2004-11. The 2018 Patriots are currently eighth in the NFL with 398 points scored.

Sacked by Flowers: Trey Flowers currently leads the team in sacks with 6.5 if he finishes the season with the lead, he will become the seventh player to lead the team in sacks for three consecutive seasons.

Ben Watson, a Class Act, Announces His Retirement:

Former Patriot Benjamin Watson this week announced that the 2018 season will be his last, as he’s retiring to focus on his still growing family. He’s always been active in work off the field and accompanied Patriots owner Robert Kraft on one of his trips to the Holy Land.

Watson has spent 15 years in the NFL, the first of which he was a member of the Patriots. A first-round draft choice out of Georgia, he caught 167 passes for 2102 yards (12.6-yard average) with 20 TDs while a member of New England. In Tom Brady’s first game back after injuring his ACL, Watson caught two touchdowns in the final two minutes to help beat Buffalo on Monday Night Football.

But the play he’s probably most known for was one where he didn’t even have the ball in his hands. During the 2005 divisional playoff game with Denver. Champ Bailey intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone and raced down the sideline in what would have been the longest interception return in NFL history. Watson, on the other side of the field, chased Bailey down and blasted him out of bounds at the one-yard line. The Patriot bias in me still believes that the ball went thru the end zone, but it was close and the Pats certainly weren’t going to get that call in Denver.

Both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick commented on Watson with the news of his retirement and wished him well. Belichick also commented on the news that Bills great Kyle Williams is also retiring.

“Ben’s been a great friend for a long time and had an incredible career,” Brady said. “He’ll certainly be missed. He had a great impact on this team and every team he played for because of the person he is. He’s just a great man, great father, great husband, great player, great teammate. We’ll always be in touch, so I wish him nothing but the very best.”

“Both great players, guys I have a lot of respect for,” Belichick said. “I knew Ben from when he was here but have stayed in contact with Ben through the course of his career. Kyle, I got to know at the Pro Bowl. Both guys are good people, great players who had great careers. I have a lot of respect for both of them.”

Belichick Still Onboard With Derek Rivers:

When the Patriots lost Derek Rivers in the training camp of his first NFL preseason, it set his development significantly back. Not only did he lose his initial NFL season, but it has taken him over a year to get back physically to where he was prior to his injury and now he is truly just now in his rookie campaign.

He’s played very sparingly (65 snaps) and has all of one tackle on his resume. So while many of the fickle faithful are already throwing out the dreaded “B” word about his selection, one person who isn’t is Bill Belichick.  “I like Derek. He’s got a good future,” Bill Belichick said when asked about Rivers on Friday.

“When he’s had an opportunity he’s done well with it, both in practice and in games,” Belichick said. “He’s got a really good future. Glad we have him. He is a good player, it’s just kind of a situational thing right now.”

Belichick said the back end of the roster players are still developing both in meetings and on the practice field. “They should learn something every day,” Belichick said. That’s what we try to do. The only reason they wouldn’t is if they don’t apply themselves. There’s every opportunity to do that. We work with them, do extra things with them and they respond to it because they want to get better and they want to have a professional football career.”

For players like Rivers, Isaiah Wynn, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Duke Dawson, while their development window has been altered due to injuries, they still have the opportunity to show what they can do. For most of them, next season may be where they get evaluated much harder.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 1Predictions:

Last week: 12-4 Season 153-85-2

Miami @ Buffalo: Bills
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay: Falcons
Dallas @NY Giants: Cowboys
Carolina @ New Orleans: Saints
NY Jets @ New England: Patriots
Jacksonville @ Houston: Texans
Detroit at Green Bay: Packers
Philadelphia @ Washington: Eagles
LA Chargers @ Denver: Chargerss
Oakland @ Kansas City: Cheifs
Chicago @ Minnesota: Vikings
Cleveland @ Baltimore: Ravens
San Francisco @ LA Rams: Rams
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh: Steelers
Arizona @ Seattle: Seahawks
Indianapolis @ Tennessee: Titans

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills To Retire After Dolphins Game Today:

The Buffalo Bills will be saying adieu to DL Kyle Williams who is retiring after 13 outstanding seasons. Williams has spent his entire career with Buffalo and has played in 182 games with 177 starts. He wrote an open letter to the fans of Buffalo and said he’s loved his time there.

“This isn’t easy. It was never going to be,” Williams said. “There’s no perfect time to retire from a game, a franchise and a city that means so much to me and my family. But it’s time to hang up my cleats.”

He thanked the fans stating”I’ve been at this a really long time, but it doesn’t feel like it, and that’s a testament to your unwavering support.”

“It didn’t take me long to identify with this city, with its people, with their attitude and loyalty. This place celebrates grit as much as it does talent, and there is something to be said for that. It’s just not like everywhere else, and it will always be a part of me.”

Despite taking a pay cut this season, Williams never thought about playing anywhere else. “At the end of the day, I’m a Buffalo Bill. Compared to what I made the year before, a million bucks, a half a million bucks, at a certain point it comes down to, who are you? What’s your legacy? And I think, at the end of the day, I’m a Buffalo Bill. And I want to stay that way.”

He told Coach Sean McDermott the news on Monday and then shared it with the rest of the team. He is a shoo-in for the Bills Wall of Fame in short order.

Gase Still High on Tannehill for the Dolphins QB in 2019:

The Miami Dolphins are on their way to chilly Buffalo to put a lid on a very disappointing 2018 season. Miami can finish the season at .500 with a win in Buffalo, but for them, a 7-8 mark at this point is a bad sign.

Rumors are Mike Tannenbaum is out after the game and that GM Chris Grier and coach Adam Gase are probably safe for at least next year. Despite Tannehill having six years on the playing field to prove himself, (he missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL), Gase still believes that the much-maligned QB’s best days are ahead of him. He has said repeatedly that Tannehill, “hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.” He pointed out that injuries and inconsistent play with the offensive line has made it difficult to get an accurate picture of what they have.

Regardless, there should be lots of other changes to the Dolphins roster in 2019.

Jets Can Still Get the #1 Pick in the 2019 NFL Draft:

The New York Jets, according to the overthecap.com are still in the mix for the #1 pick in next years NFL Draft. The site wrote:

If the Jets lose to the Patriots and the Cardinals beat the Seahawks, the Jets will be no worse than No. 2 in the draft order. The Jets can get to No. 1 with a loss combined with a Cardinals win and a 49ers win over the Rams.

If the 49ers lose, the Jets might still beat them in the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker, which goes to the team with the worse strength of schedule. The Jets can beat the 49ers in SOS if three of the four happen: the Giants beat the Cowboys, the Buccaneers beat the Falcons, the Ravens beat the Browns or the Chargers beat the Broncos.

One person who probably NOT be there to reap the benefits of the said #1 or #2 pick will be head coach Todd Bowles. He’s expected to be let go after their game with the Patriots either Sunday evening or Monday.

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.

New England Patriots News 12-23, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-23, & AFC East Notes.
From all of us here, we wish you all an early very Merry Christmas.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:

Did you Know? That the Patriots currently have a regular season home winning streak of 11 games dating back to last season. That is currently the fifth longest in team history and can move into a 4th place tie with the team from 2006-2008.

Did you Know Pt.2? The Patriots picked up Cordarrelle Patterson to help with the kickoff return game. The Patriots currently rank 2nd in the league with a 28.6 yards per return average. If that number remains the same or increases, it will be the team’s best average in the Bill Belichick era, beating the 2006 team’s average of 26.8 yards per return.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With just 21 yards passing today, Tom Brady will reach the 4000-yard mark for the 10th time in his career, the 3rd most in NFL history. Also with just three catches, Julian Edelman will move past Ben Coates (490) in career catches with the team, which will put him in 5th place.

Points Allowed Stats: One of the more interesting stats especially for those who like to chime in with the “Bill can’t coach defense anymore” crowd is the fact that since 2001 the Patriots have the most seasons allowing 20 points per game or fewer with 12. The Ravens and Steelers are next with 11 each. Baltimore is a shoo-in for their 12th this season unless they allow 68 points in their last two games, which isn’t likely. The Patriots would have to hold the Bills and Jets combined for 10 points…very unlikely. The Steelers would have to hold their opponents (New Orleans today) to four points or less.

Josh Gordon’s Story Shows Why Mental Health Is Such an Issue :

With the news this week after Josh Gordon announced that he was stepping away from football to concentrate on his own mental health and addiction issues and the league announced that he failed another drug test, the social media world exploded.

Several noted hot take media types including a few here in the Boston market took to calling Gordon “selfish” and not taking “individual or personal responsibility” is short-sighted and wrong. We were guilty of it here as well, not being aware of how deep his mental health issues were initially until the team signed him.

And mental health and addiction issues DO go hand-in-hand. I keep reading and hearing people go on and on about “choices” which is patently ludicrous. Does anyone seriously think that a person with their first drink or taste of an illegal substance plan on becoming an alcoholic or drug addict?

Chris Carter who had his own issues with addiction during his playing career was very emotional about the entire Gordon issue and how he feels most people still don’t understand it all.

“And the kid needs help! He does not need football. He needs help. He needs tools that he can be able to say ‘no.’ No to those drugs. No to the world, and yes to his opportunities. Yes to relationships.

That’s what so upsetting [for] me is just the lack of understanding. This is what addicts do. They don’t show up for work. They lie. They deceive. That’s what they do. But addicts need help. Myself, I need help. Josh needs help. And I hope that he’s able to continue this long, long battle, because there is no cure. The day you’re cured is the day they put you in the ground.”

The Patriots, who are now being roasted by the “I told you so” crowd, certainly knew the risks with signing a player with a troubled history such as Gordon’s. They did everything they could as an organization to help him find his way here. They installed him with a locker right next to Tom Brady’s where the two would certainly interact more.

The coaches stayed late with him, helping him learn the offense and navigate the intricacies of it. Even the PR Dept. of Stacey James took great care with his interactions with the media, trying to keep everything on point and limit the talk about the off-field distractions that had derailed such a promising career.

There were even rumors to the effect that the team had hired people to hang with Gordon in the off-hours to keep him away from the demons that have haunted him. Not like Foxboro on a Friday night will be confused with Vegas. But even that, wasn’t enough for a person/addict with issues to fall back into their destructive behavior. For the first time in his professional career, Gordon was playing for a winner with a chance to write his own redemption story.

That’s the saddest part of the story. I would encourage anyone to attend an Alcoholic’s Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting sometime and listen to the stories of those who tried and failed many, many times before finally slipping away from the bonds of their demons. Rarely if ever it is done on the first attempt.

The Patriots issues at wide receiver are minuscule next to a man’s life. We hope that Gordon, the man, will find his way back to mental health and be able to live his life as normally as possible. Whether or not he ever gets another chance to play in the NFL is secondary at this point.

Ufomba Kamalu Presented With a Chance to Stick:

When the Patriots signed OLB Kamalu to their practice squad on November 5th, it barely registered on the social media spectrum, other than his unusual name. But what is really intriguing about Kamalu, who has been signed to the active roster in the fallout from the Josh Gordon situation is his size and athleticism.

Kamalu originally was an UDFA from Miami and signed with the Houston Texans in 2016. He’s 6’6 and weighs 295 pounds, but for a big man, he’s pretty athletic. Kamalu ran a 4.88 in the 40-yard dash, a 31.5-inch vertical leap, 7.32-second 3-cone drill, and a 4.58-second short shuttle at his pro day.

In his time with the Texans, they used him at OLB and in 13 games with three starts, he logged 11 tackles and three sacks before being let go in the final cutdown this year. He briefly spent time with the Cardinals on their practice squad before signing with the Pats.

Now he’s on the active roster and although Bill Belichick had been wondering how the Pats would use him, maybe this week and next against the Jets, he’ll see some snaps and we’ll catch a glimpse of what he can do. Belichick was asked by NESN’s Doug Kyed a few weeks ago how the team envisioned Kamalu.

“I think we’re trying to figure it out, but he’s an interesting player to work with and a good player to work with,” Belichick said. “He works hard, smart. He’s played outside linebacker to defensive end to defensive tackle. So, he hasn’t really done a lot in our defense. It’s been more scout team and so forth, drills.

“But he works hard, he’s smart. He picks things up. He’s … done and is able to do different things for us. We’ll see how it goes. But yeah, he’s an interesting guy. We don’t really have anyone like him from a skill-set standpoint, so I’d say we’re kind of trying to figure it out. But he gets better every day. So, we’ll keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

With Kamalu’s size, he won’t be an OLB with the Patriots but probably a DE or kick into the interior on passing downs. If he is active today, that would mean he’s leapfrogged both Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis on the depth chart as both have been inactive lately. But it is also said that Belichick remembers when opponents have big games against them. Well in a 2017 preseason game, Kamalu had four tackles, a sack and two QB hits against the Patriots.

On a defense that could really use some help in the front seven, perhaps Kamalu could work himself into a job beginning today.

Patriots Secondary Deep and Underrated:

The most overlooked aspect of the Patriots this season has been the play of their secondary. Which overall this season has been very good. The team has their best corner, Stephon Gilmore playing at a high level, he’s been outstanding from the first snaps during OTAs and has continued that. Even though the team lost Eric Rowe to IR, they’ve scarcely missed a beat with Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, and rookie J.C.Jackson holding down the cornerback position.

They have been playing so well that this year’s 2nd round draft pick Duke Dawson who was injured for most of the first half of the season, hasn’t even played yet. Jackson, the UDFA from Maryland has been terrific so far as he’s making his presence felt in the 2nd half of the season.

At safety, the team still has Devin McCourty and Pat Chung along with the “closer” Duron Harmon and then the team added former 2nd round draft pick Obi Melifonwu. That’s a deep area as well.

Ah, you say, but what about the yards allowed. The Patriots allow 256 yards thru the air each week, only 23rd in the league. But opposing QBs are still not very efficient when facing the Pats secondary. They currently rank 9th in the league in opposing QB rating with an 88.5 mark.

Jackson leads the way (albeit in a limited body of work) with opposing QBs having a rating of just 26.0 when targeting him. Gilmore has an outstanding 60.1 rating, frequently covering the opposition’s top WR. Jonathan Jones who plays the very tough position in the slot where a WR can go in either direction has a rating of 79.5 when being targeted. McCourty brings up the rear with a 98.8 but has played tough all year.

It will be interesting to see if the pass rush picks up how well the secondary can keep playing to their strengths/

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 16 Predictions:

Last week: 9-7 Season 141-81-2

Saturday picks: Titans, Chargers

Cincinnati @ Cleveland: Browns
Tampa Bay @ Dallas: Cowboys
Minnesota @ Detroit: Vikings
Buffalo @ New England: Patriots
Green Bay @ NY Jets: Packers
Houston @ Philadelphia: Eagles
Atlanta @ Carolina: Panthers
NY Giants @ Indianapolis: Colts
Jacksonville @ Miami: Dolphins
LA Rams @ Arizona: Rams
Chicago @ San Francisco: Bears
Pittsburgh @ New Orleans: Saints
Kansas City @ Seattle SNF: Seahawks
Denver @ Oakland: Broncos

**Note, No Saturday Games Next Week**

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Want to Rely on Defense to Keep the Game Close:

The Buffalo Bills are smelling blood in the water this week as absurd as that sounds for a team that is 3-29 against Tom Brady. All of the talk out of Western New York this week centers around “3”. Can the Bills make it three in a row that the Patriots lose?

With their offense improving but still among the worst in the league, Buffalo will have to rely on their defense, including their top-ranked pass defense to keep the score close and give Josh Allen and the offense the opportunity to steal one on the road.

They’ll not only need a big game from their secondary but from the big guy Kyle Williams inside. Buffalo hasn’t got a sack in their last two games but they’ll need Williams to bring pressure inside where Brady can’t step into his throws. If they can do that, they’ll have a puncher’s chance, as they did in October.

Dolphins Trying to Break Out of Mediocrity Slump:

The Miami Dolphins are 7-7 and still in the playoff hunt but to get there they are going to need some help. But the ownership will be looking hard at once again making some changes at the end of the season and that begins with Executive VP of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier.

Tannenbaum has been at the helm for the Dolphins for the past four years and the franchise is no better or worse than they were when he took over. Is this the end for him? Very possibly. And he may not be alone. Head Coach Adam Gase, like his team, has been very inconsistent. These next two games may hold a lot of the future for these two. An 8-8 finish might be the end for the both of them.

The once proud Dolphin franchise is 199-1949 since the 1994 season. The Patriots in the same time frame in the regular season are 277-121. Plus they are 30-14 in the post-season. Since Gase has taken over, the mediocrity has continued with a 23-23 mark. Those numbers would both be under .500 if not for a “miracle” finish.

These next two games may decide a lot. Tannenbaum has the confidence of Matt Higgins, the Dolphins VP and a close confidante of owner Stephen Ross. Higgins is reportedly not happy with Gase. Stay tuned…

Jets Hoping Darnold Can Spark a Win Over the Packers:

The New York Jets 2018 season is over as far as any hopes for a playoff berth are, however, there is an awful lot to play for in the next two weeks against the Packers and then next week at the Patriots. And it isn’t just for pride and jobs in 2019. It is hope.

The Jets are looking for a sign that their fortunes are headed in the right direction. After two decades of having the Patriots dominate the division, the Jets invested heavily in QB Sam Darnold. Any rookie QB starting in the NFL is going to struggle at times and Darnold was no exception.

But he played his best game of the year last week against the #2 seed in the AFC, the Houston Texans and the Jets came up just short of upsetting Houston. Now Darnold gets to take on two of the best QBs of this generation. Aaron Rodgers this week and Tom Brady in the finale in Foxboro. This will be a huge opportunity for the Jets and Darnold to build some momentum for 2019.

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.

New England Patriots News 12-16, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-16, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
And our players to watch from a Patriots perspective by clicking on the links:

Did you Know? With a win today and a Miami loss or tie, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the 10th year in a row, breaking a tie with the Cowboys and Colts for the most consecutive years making the playoffs. It will also be the 16th divisional title since 2001.

Did you Know Pt.2? The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time with New England holding a slim 16-15 edge in wins over but a pretty decisive 4-1 edge in the postseason. The Patriots have won the last five matchups (including the playoffs)

Did you Know Pt. 3: The Patriots and Steelers are #1-2 in several categories since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994.

TOTAL VICTORIES (INCLUDING POSTSEASON)
New England Patriots ………307
Pittsburgh Steelers…………..272
Green Bay Packers………….268
SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONSHIPS
New England Patriots ………….5
Denver Broncos…………………..3
Baltimore Ravens………………..2
Pittsburgh Steelers………………2
Green Bay Packers……………..2
N.Y. Giants …………………………2
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
New England Patriots………….9
Pittsburgh Steelers …………….4
Denver Broncos …………………4
PLAYOFF VICTORIES
New England Patriots………..28
Pittsburgh Steelers …………..20
Green Bay Packers ………….20
DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS
New England Patriots………17
Pittsburgh Steelers ……………13
Green Bay Packers …………..12

Gronk-Brady Connection: With one touchdown reception from Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Brady will tie Dan Marino and Mark Clayton for fourth-most touchdown connections in NFL history with 79. The third most goes to Steve Young -Rice connection with 85 TDs. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison remain up top with 112, while the duo of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates (still active) remain in second with 89

Ridley Wants Revenge Now? Not Buying It :

Every so often a player will make some noise about wanting some kind of revenge against another team and it makes sense. And there’s Stevan Ridley. According to Ridley, he’s had this game “circled for a long time.”

Ridley in the latest example of a player screaming “look at me” told the Herald this week that he was trashed by the Patriots after tearing his ACL in 2014. “I’m just going to put it that way. I’m not going to say specifically, but to be a starter for [the Patriots] for four years, to tear my ACL and never get a callback, that’s a tough pill to swallow.”

To be clear in his four years with New England, Ridley started 25 games between 2011-2014 and his 2012 season was his best by far when he rushed for 1263 yards and 12 touchdowns. Since then his career has gone steadily downhill with his final year (2014) with him not being nearly as effective before his injury.

“I don’t really need to harp on [the past]. I don’t want to make this interview too much about me,” Ridley said, making it very much about himself.

“Now they’re still looking for a running back to come in and play,” he added. “How many running backs have been through there to try to give them some consistency as a quote-unquote first- or second-down back? They’re still looking for it right now. Yeah, it’s very personal. It is.”

Apparently, it wasn’t as personal in 2015, when Ridley fresh off his release from New England played for the Jets against the Patriots in Week 15 in the Meadowlands? Since leaving New England, Ridley has been part of six teams, the Jets, Lions, Falcons, Colts, Broncos, Vikings, and the Steelers. There is plenty of room for a lot of grudges in that case.

Either NE or Steelers Playoff Seeding Can Take a Blow Today:

The Patriots and Steelers are always two of the teams that predicted to be among the top seeds of the AFC. This year was no exception but after bad losses in very winnable game situations last week, the team that loses this week could be looking at a fall outside of the teams trying to get a bye week. With the Chiefs on top of the heap with an 11-3 mark, the Patriots lost a key opportunity to leapfrog them at the #1 spot, courtesy of the final play meltdown in Miami. With the Houston Texans also sitting at 9-4, another loss could drop them down to the #3 seed and set up another playoff match on Wildcard Weekend with Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have dropped three in a row and now sit just a half-game ahead of the Ravens who lost in O.T. to the Chiefs last week. With a Patriots victory and Ravens win over Tampa Bay, the Steelers would lose the division lead and drop them down to the #6 seed which would be a road game throughout the playoffs.

Flores Takes the Blame for the Ending in Miami, Ready to Move On:

The Patriots were stunned by the weird finish in Miami last week but Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores wasn’t going to allow any finger pointing on the team, taking the blame for that final play on himself.

“Flo made no bones about it, he felt like it was on him, but at the end of the day, none of us really care. We weren’t like, ‘Man, that was on you.’ It was more like, ‘That’s on all of us. Let’s move forward,'” safety Devin McCourty said to ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

“That’s on us as a coaching staff. It happened, we wish it hadn’t, we’ve watched it, we’ve corrected it as a staff, we’ve corrected it with the team, and we’ve got to move on to Pittsburgh,” Flores said to the media. “So if that situation shows up again, I think we’ll handle it better.”

“He’s on us a lot,” McCourty added. He feels like we need to be an all-about-business defense, and if he feels like it’s slacking, he’ll get on us. If he feels like we’re having too much fun, he’ll get on us. I’ve enjoyed it. Leadership is something he’s meant to do. It’s in him, even outside of just X’s and O’s and football.”

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 14 Predictions:

Last week: 7-9 Season 132-74-2

Thursday night’s pick Chargers over Chiefs 1-0
Saturday picks: Texans over the Jets, Broncos over the Browns

Green Bay at Chicago: Bears
Detroit at Buffalo: Bills
Tampa Bay at Baltimore: Ravens
Arizona at Atlanta: Falcons
Oakland at Cincinnati: Raiders
Tennessee at NY Giants: Titans
Miami at Minnesota: Vikings
Washington at Jacksonville: Jaguars
Dallas at Indianapolis: Cowboys
Seattle at San Francisco: Seahawks
New England at Pittsburgh: Patriots
Philadelphia at LA Rams SNF: Rams
New Orleans at Carolina MNF: Saints

Next Saturday: Titans over the Redskins, Chargers over the Ravens

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Getting Healthier Before Taking on the Lions:

The Buffalo Bills had a bit of good news for a change this week, Derek Anderson sidelined since the Monday Night game against New England in the concussion protocol, six weeks ago, has been finally cleared to play. Also in the good news category was that RB LeSean McCoy seems poised to play after tweaking a hamstring last week in the first series of the game against the Jets. Also injured against the Jets but expected to play was kicker Stephen Hauschka.

McCoy who is mired in a very tough season has played in 12 games and has a career-worst 3.3-yards per rush average. Age and a very heavy workload may have finally caught up to the running back who is 30 and will turn 31 before the 2019 season begins. But with Chris Ivory banged up with a shoulder injury, the Bills need him to play.

Part of the issue may be the play of the offensive line but it certainly seems like McCoy has lost a step. The Bills have a tough decision to make in the spring.

Dolphins Need to End Road Woes Today in Minnesota:

The Miami Dolphins are still in the mix after last week’s improbable win over New England. This week they take on the reeling Minnesota Vikings who dropped their second game in a row to the Seattle Seahawks to move their record to 6-6-1. Minnesota’s playoff hopes are on life support after their two latest losses. Miami at 7-6 has to deal with their road record which sits at 1-5. The Dolphins are 1-10 in their last 11 games away from home. The only road win this season was Week 2 at the Jets.

The Dolphins will have to follow the latest trend in bringing pressure on QB Kirk Cousins who’s been under siege lately. In the first seven games of the season, Cousins had 308.9 passing YPG; 7.2 yards per attempt; a 14-3 TD-INT ratio, and a 101.8 passer rating. Contrast that to the last six games where he’s managed just 256 passing YPG; 6.9 yards per attempt; a 10-6 TD-INT ratio, and a 93.9 passer rating.

Cousins has been bailing backward behind an offensive line playing poorly. Miami meanwhile has not been great at generating pressure but will need big games from their edge rushers Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake to pull off a win today.

Another key to watch is Ryan Tannehill on 3rd down against one of the best 3rd down defenses in the NFL. Tannehill has struggled on 3rd down this year. And while Tannehill is getting raves about his “incredible” game against the Patriots it should also be noted he had less than 200 yards passing before his “miracle” throw last week. I’m taking the Vikings at home in this one.

Jets Place Crowell on IR Prior to Game with the Texans:

The New York Jets are playing the Houston Texans today (Saturday) and will be without leading rusher Isiah Crowell who aggravated an existing toe injury and was placed on IR. Crowell had 685 yards rushing.

He missed last week’s game, the first of his career, he’d played in 77 straight games and Coach Todd Bowles said that the pain his running back was in was “excruciating”.

According to ESPN, Crowell is no lock to return in 2019. He signed a three-year, $12 million contract in free agency, but he can be released with minimal salary-cap implications. The Jets can save $3 million by cutting him, taking a $2 million cap hit for 2019.

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.

Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 14

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Playoff Atmosphere in South Beach This Weekend

The New England Patriots head to Miami to take on the Dolphins on Sunday and would love to exorcize some South Florida demons that have plagued them down there. Like a week ago, this game is important for both teams. The Patriots want to at least keep the #2 seed for the time being with the Houston Texans having the same record where the Patriots own the tiebreaker having won head-to-head. And they’re just a game behind the Chiefs for the #1 seed, also with a tiebreaker in hand.

Miami at 6-6 is still very much in the Wild Card hunt but has a rough road if they want to make up any ground. Following the Patriots, they have to go to the Minnesota Vikings, the Jacksonville Jaguars before finishing up on the road in Buffalo.

Yesterday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally.

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

Sony Michel:

The Patriots rookie running back is a key part of the New England attack and the go-to guy in the running game. On the season Michel has carried the ball 144 times for 649 yards (4.5-yard average) with five touchdowns.

He’s facing a Miami defense that is allowing 144.7 yards per game and 5.0-yards per carry this season. Michel had his coming out party against Miami in Foxboro Week 4 when he carried 25 times for 125 yards and a 10-yard touchdown.

While the Patriots will probably use all three running backs heavily in this one, with Rex Burkhead and James White in the passing game, Michel should be a key component in the offensive game plan this week against a team that is struggling to stop the run.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best defensive lineman has been outstanding this season. And this week they’ll probably be moving him to the left side to attack what has been the Dolphins weak spot, the right side of their offensive line.

Setting the edge will be important this week with both Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore in the backfield for Miami and Flowers has been the best at doing that for the Pats all season.

Miami has given up 31 sacks on the season and they’ll have to bring pressure on Ryan Tannehill to get him to get rid of the ball quickly and hopefully force him into making some mistakes. Flowers has notched sacks in three of the past four games and could be in line for another big game this week. Last week, Miami RG Jesse Davis gave up a pair of sacks, was flagged for holding as well as a false start.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver is someone opponents have to account for him on every play, given his size and speed. With Xavien Howard out this week with a knee injury, Gordon’s role may become much larger this week as the Dolphins will have to shuffle personnel around to cover for their ball-hawking corner.

Gordon will draw either Minkah Fitzpatrick or second-year UDFA Torry McTyer and they are matchups that Tom Brady will be testing out early in this one. Gordon has been solid for the Patriots since arriving in mid-stream this season but has only had two 100-yard games, Chicago (4-100) and Green Bay (5-130-1TD). Could this be #3 for him?

Gordon wasn’t part of the game plan until late in the third quarter last week against Minnesota before ending up with 3 catches for 58 yards, and a score as well as drawing a big pass interference penalty. We expect that will change this week.

Kyle Van Noy:

The Patriots under the radar linebacker doesn’t have that concern when it comes to the Miami Dolphins. Dolphins coach Adam Gase called Van Noy a “nightmare for us” the past two seasons. And indeed Van Noy, when he’s been in the lineup has been exactly that when facing the Dolphins.

In the win in Foxboro in 2017, Van Noy had six tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, two QB pressures and a QB hit. This year in the 38-7 win in Week 4, four tackles, two pressures, a QB hit, and a fumble recovery. It is interesting to note, that Van Noy was injured and missed the late season game in Miami last year. Doug Kyed from NESN reported that Gase said that Van Noy on their radar.

“He does a great job. He disrupts. He does a great job setting the edge,” Gase said. “He always does a great job any time we — if we ever try to run the ball to the edge, it’s getting to the point where it’s kind of pointless. He shuts down the run to his side. That whole defensive line does a great job as far as when they’re working their stunts and you got the TEs and the ETs, they set each other up so well. There’s a lot of unselfish football going on along the defensive front. He plays a big part in it. He causes all kinds of problems.”

Chris Hogan:

The Patriots wide receiver has kind of been the forgotten man in the Patriots offense in the second half of the season. He went thru two straight games without being targeted at all. In the last two games, Hogan’s been targeted twice with two catches in each. And although it seems like his production is way off his previous seasons, it isn’t really. If Hogan can average two catches or more for the final four games of the season, he’d be right about the same production he’s been in the past.

We wrote that he may be an “X-Factor” in the offense this week. With Miami banged up across their roster and missing Howard in their secondary, it puts more pressure on the backup players. The trickle-down effect means that Hogan could be facing lesser competition with the Dolphins top defenders worrying about Gordon, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski.

He could be in line for a game like he had against either Kansas City or Chicago in back-to-back weeks where he had four catches for 78 yards or six for 63 respectively. One area where they’ve not targeted Hogan or Edelman as much this season is in the red zone. Especially that play along the back of the end zone. This may be a perfect time to dust that one off.

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

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

Patriots-Dolphins Week 14, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots head out for the first of their final two road games of the 2018 regular season. They play in Miami this week and Pittsburgh next week in games that will go a long way in determining where they stand in terms of AFC Playoff seeding.

The Patriots can clinch their 10th straight AFC East title with a win or a tie and would set a record for making the playoffs in10 straight years. They are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and the Indianapolis Colts (2002- 10) as the only teams to play in the postseason for nine straight seasons.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn 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 (9-3) beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 in Foxboro as the defense was outstanding limiting the Vikings offense to just 278 yards while rolling up 471 of their own.

The Dolphins (6-6) beat the Buffalo Bills 21-17 as Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter come-from-behind win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Dolphins are meeting for the 107th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-52 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots are 4-15 in the month of December.

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 Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game is nearly back to full strength with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead as the three main backs in the backfield. But Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson both will see some carries on Jet Sweeps. James Develin, their big blocking fullback is now a short-yardage option. He scored a pair of touchdowns last week against Minnesota.

The Dolphins run defense was first gashed by the Patriots to the tune of 175 yards this season after Miami began 3-0. Since then they allowed 164 to the Bears, 248 vs the Lions, 188 to Houston, 195 to Green Bay, and 198 to the Bills. Miami is allowing an average of 144.7 yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush, which is 30th in the league.

Look for the Patriots to try to pound the rock all day between the tackles. Miami’s defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence have not played well against the run and neither have linebackers, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso. If DC Matt Burke tries to bring the safeties up into the box in run support or blitz the linebackers, it will open up play-action passing.

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

The Patriots passing game has been playing their cards close to their vest lately as their being fairly conservative in the passing game. But in Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan at wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel out of the backfield, Tom Brady has a plethora of weapons. Add it Patterson and Phillip Dorsett and the depth is there for them to mix it up.

Miami may be without their best defensive player in Xavien Howard who has a knee injury. He’s an All-Pro talent who leads the team with seven interceptions this year. With him injured they’ve been forced to play Minkah Fitzpatrick at the other corner with Bobby McCain in the slot. If Howard can’t go, 2nd-year corner Torry McTyer will get the start. Miami has two very talented edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake but they’ll need to get pressure up the middle if they want to be successful there.

Look for Brady to utilize the “Pony” backfield with White and Burkhead on third down a lot in this one, they’ll try to isolate the linebackers in coverage and keep the sticks moving. If Howard is indeed out, look for Brady and Gordon to test McTyer. Chris Hogan could be an “X-Factor” this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

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

The Dolphins running game is averaging 102.7 yards per game (24th) this season with a 4.3 average yards per carry. They have two very good backs in the ageless Frank Gore who leads the team with 616 yards and the dangerous Kenyan Drake. Their problem has been the offensive line hasn’t been on the field enough because of injuries.

The Patriots rush defense is currently 13th allowing 106.7 yards per game. They’ve been trending up in that regard and this week, they’ll have their hands full as the Dolphins will try to mix things up by using both Gore and Drake. They’ll have to get a big game out of their linebackers, especially Kyle Van Noy who Adam Gase was talking about this week.

Look for the Patriots to go to a bigger front this week with Gore in the lineup and try to get Miami into the 3rd and long passing situations. They’ll have to set the edge this week as the Dolphins should be much more patient with their running game than the Vikings were.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Miami passing game is 28th in the league averaging just 199.4 yards per game. But getting Ryan Tannehill back from injury has helped and in the last two games, he’s had a passer rating of over 100 against the Colts and Bills defenses. He has DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Danny Amendola as wide receivers with Nick O’Leary and Mike Gesicki at tight end with Drake out of the backfield. The team was much more explosive before Jakim Grant and Albert Wilson went on IR.

The Patriots defense had their best game of the year last week against the Vikings. The secondary stuck like glue to the receivers and they had constant pressure on QB Kirk Cousins. Can they do that again in South Florida?

I would expect they will try to match Stephon Gilmore on Stills which should be a great matchup to watch. And I’d expect either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on Parker with either McCourty or Jonathan Jones on Amendola in the slot. The key is getting pressure on Tannehill and look for the Patriots to attack the middle/right side where the Dolphins OL is banged up and RG Jesse Davis has not played well.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Miami

Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England. But Sanders gives the Dolphins the edge in the kicking game, especially at home. While Patterson in the return game is always a threat to return a big one. But although Miami misses Grant in the return game, the Pats coverage units have been uncharacteristically very inconsistent.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a playoff game for both teams. Unlike 2013 and 2015 when the Patriots came limping into Miami beat up, this year it is the Dolphins who are all banged up with injuries while the Patriots are as healthy as one can expect at this time of year.

Last year the Pats got caught looking ahead to Pittsburgh and got their butts handed to them. But last year they afford that loss and keep the #1 seed as long as they beat Pittsburgh the next week. This year they don’t have that luxury and they know Miami still has a shot for a playoff berth.

Three keys from a Pats perspective:

Run the Ball Between the Tackles:
Miami isn’t good against the run and they’re ranked 30th for a reason. Spread the wealth between the three RBs and keep their defense on their heels. Plus it will open up play action and slow down their edge rushers.

Win the Turnover Battle:
Miami isn’t an offense that scores a lot of points, they can’t afford to get into a shootout situation. Their 29th in offense and 29th in defense. They are still in the hunt because they force a lot of turnovers. Make them go the length of the field with no easy scoring drives is a win-win situation.

Get After Tannehill:
Dolphins QBs have been sacked 31 times this year, the offensive line is suspect. Especially in the center and on the right. The Patriots don’t have a lot of sacks this year but they are among the top teams at creating pressure. They need to do that and force Tannehill into making mistakes. When they’ve lost to Miami down there, he was standing flat-footed in the pocket for much of those games.

Look for the Pats to play much better this time around. Belichick will harp on the way they looked past them last December and they should be ready to play. Look for Michel, Burkhead, and White to all have big games for the Patriots as the defense clamps down this time in South Beach. The East goes thru New England again.   Patriots 27-13

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.

Miami’s Defense May Be Without Howard But the Focus Should Be on the Ground

Steve Balestrieri
December 6, 2018 at 7:56 am ET

With the news that Xavien Howard will be a game-time decision to play this week, the Miami Dolphins are possibly going to be missing their best defender on the defensive side of the ball.

Howard, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week has seven interceptions and is Miami’s lock-down corner. If he is able to play (and we feel he will), he’ll probably be locked up with Josh Gordon on the perimeter.

Adam Gase didn’t sound confident that he’ll be able to go this week for the Dolphins who at 6-6 are still very much in the Wildcard hunt.

“If you throw the ball at him and you’re inaccurate he’s not just going to knock it down,” Gase said. “He’s going to pick it off. And it’s an extreme value. He’s one of our best players, if not our best player on that side of the ball. It’s hard to say. But that’s what this game is. And that’s what the league is. We have to make some adjustments on defense. Be smart with that. And you know our guys have to step up. If he can’t go, you’re not going to replace him. But we’ve got to shuffle some things around.”

Torry McTyer would likely get the start if indeed Howard can’t go. McTyer, 6’0, 187 a 2nd-year UDFA from UNLV has started in two games this season (Chicago, Cincinnati) and has a confidence level matching Howard’s. However, the rest of Miami’s secondary has struggled in 2018.

When opposing quarterbacks have targeted any Dolphins defender not named Howard this year, they have completed 68.5 percent of their passes, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt, throwing 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 96.9. Miami has given up the 3rd most explosive plays this year (that is considered to be a 15-yard run or more and a 20-yard pass play or more). The Dolphins have allowed 12 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more thus far in 2018.

But the issues with Miami’s defense rests within their run defense. Remember the Dolphins started the season 3-0 and came into New England riding high. They were blown out in that game 38-7 and have gone 3-6 since because of issues stopping the run.

Miami is currently 30th in the league in run defense, allowing 5.0 yards per carry and a whopping 144.7 yards per game on the ground. The New England game where they allowed the Patriots to run for 175 yards started a bad trend where they gave up 164 on the ground to the Bears, 248 against the Lions, 188 against the Houston Texans, 195 against the Packers and 198 last week against the Bills, although most of those were Josh Allen scrambles, which gashed them badly.

Miami’s 4-3 defense hasn’t gotten great tackle play inside, their consistency has been poor and their linebackers notably MLB Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso haven’t been good against the run either.

The Miami run defense was leaky in 2017 as well and they had hoped to fix it going into the 2018 season. But their first couple of preseason games showed that perhaps that wasn’t the case as they were gashed but then things solidified somewhat. That 3-0 start masked what was still an issue and they’ve been battling this since then.

Unlike in other years when traveling to Miami (2013, 2015 come to mind) when the Patriots went into the games with a walking MASH unit, the Patriots are about as healthy as they’ve been all season.

They attacked a Minnesota defense that was a Top 5 unit against the run and garnered 160 yards on the ground. With Sony Michel back to full health and Rex Burkhead back from IR, look for New England to line up this week and try to pound the ball between the tackles. That should open up play-action passing for Tom Brady and the wide receivers.

This is essentially a playoff game for the Dolphins who have to finish strong for any chance to make the postseason. They face the Patriots this week, travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings, return home against Jacksonville and close out the regular season on the road in Buffalo.

Last season, the Patriots were caught looking ahead to the Pittsburgh game and were thrashed in every phase of the game losing 27-20 to Miami in a game that wasn’t even close to what the score indicated. That will be a big, big teaching point by Bill Belichick this week.

Lo and behold, the Steelers are again on the slate next week. Don’t expect the Patriots to make that same blunder twice. Last year, the Pats could afford to lose the game and still secure home-field advantage for the playoffs with a win over Pittsburgh. The 2018 version of the Pats does not have that luxury. Miami is on the cusp of a playoff berth themselves.

There won’t be no overlooking them this time. Expect a much better game this week. And look for the Patriots to pound the ball in the running game. We’ll have much more in our keys to the game tomorrow.

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.

No “Yeah Buts” Patriots Defense Is Coming Together Right On Time

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

With the Patriots win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots are 9-3 and are currently the #2 seed of the AFC. They can clinch their division with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday, the first “hat and T-shirt” game of the season.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, there are still four games left to play and they could finish anywhere from the #1 seed to out of the playoffs if they drop all four. But is there anyone really out there that can see that scenario?

Things you can set your watch/calendar by:

  • The Pats laying a stinker or two in Sept.
  • National media rushing to be “first” to predict the end of NE’s run
  • Patriots fans screaming on social media every time an opponent completes a pass of more than 10 yards, “They’re trash!”
  • The team slogging thru the midway point of the season stringing together wins
  • Post-Thanksgiving, the team is suddenly among the AFC’s top seeds…again
  • After every win, especially against big opponents, the “yeah buts” come out
  • That “trash” defense begins to come together

Did we miss any? One fan who follows us on social media proclaimed during the Lions game that the team was “going 5-11 as Bill has gutted this team with terrible drafting”, and yet here we are again.

The best thing to watch on Sunday was the work of the Patriots defense. The one constant about the Patriots defense is that it is always changing. They don’t have the one signature aspect that everyone can point to and say, “Team “A” is going to have to deal with this” or that “Team “B” can’t match up with that”. It is, under Bill Belichick a unit that changes from week to week depending on the team and can morph into totally different entities.

Against the Jets, they went to a heavier package trying to stop the running game that was base-heavy. Against Minnesota, they went to nearly all sub-packages, at times having Trey Flowers as the only down lineman, daring them to run, while trying to stop the pass. They did a masterful job of disguising their blitzes and the safety group was moving all around which confused Kirk Cousins to where he was forced to check down time and again to outlet receivers where the defense cleaned them up.

This requires a massive amount of work and study and having players that are smart and versatile, especially the secondary which gets far too little credit. The Patriots have quietly amassed a very talented group in the secondary and they are getting better each week.

Last week, facing the Vikings talented duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Pats defense, didn’t do their normal M.O. which is to try to take away their top threat and make you beat them elsewhere, they DID take away both.

Thielen, who had amassed nine 100-yard games was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a 5-yard TD. Diggs had five catches for 49 yards. And right smack in the middle of it all was Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore is a corner who doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves for being the player that he is. Other than the Titans game where he and everyone else played terribly, he’s been lights out since the earliest days of OTAs. Joining him is Jason McCourty, who not only is playing meaningful games for the first time in his career, is also playing some of the best football of his career. Jonathan Jones and the surprising rookie emergence of J.C. Jackson has to be a source of confidence moving forward.

The safety group now has four players that the team can use in just about any situation. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty are both ramping their games up to an extremely high level with Duron (The Closer) Harmon and newcomer Obi Melifonwu providing depth and versatility for the coaches to throw different looks at the opposition.

While everyone south of the North Pole laments the amount of yardage that they allow. But yards passing doesn’t win football games…points do. Otherwise, the Pats would have cruised in the SB against the Eagles. And don’t look now, but that “trash” defense of the Patriots? They’re currently tied with Seattle for 9th best in points allowed with 21.6. Right on time. And the opposing passer rating, they’re currently 6th, with opponents QBs having a passer rating of just 85.9.

They aren’t the most talented group in the front seven, with the exception of Trey Flowers on the defensive line, there are a bunch of workmen who bring their lunch pails to the stadium every day. Lawrence Guy, in particular, has been a great pickup for them.

The Linebacker group is the same. Are Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy All-Pros? Nope but in this defense, they are as valuable as them. Elandon Roberts is someone we frequently criticize but he has the confidence of his coaches and on Sunday was flying around the field which is a good thing. They miss their rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley but who should be even better next season.

Are they now a Top-10 defense? Nope. But they’re competitive and with a confidence level that they feel they can match up and slow down anyone they meet. We all heard the noise (all year) but especially before last week’s game. “They can’t stop Thielen”, or “Diggs will eat them up”, “Who is going to cover Cook underneath.” It was the same when they faced Aaron Rodgers but of course, after that game, there were the endless…yeah buts.

One of the things that Bill Belichick talks about, and one of the hardest thing to do as a coach, is getting a team to “buy-in” to what they’re trying to get across with a team philosophy. We saw that fail in 2009 when he lamented on the sideline in New Orleans that the team wouldn’t do so. Judging from what we saw on Sunday, this team is all-in. What happens from here? Nobody knows, they could run the table or get booted in the first round. “Yeah but what about the Steelers’ offense?” But just this time, for once, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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.