Tag Archives: Odell Beckham Jr.

Patriots Week 8 Report Card, Defense Shines in 27-13 Win Over Cleveland

Steve Balestrieri
October 29, 2019 at 7:18 am ET

 Patriots Improve to 8-0 at the halfway mark of the season

The Patriots defense put the team on their back early in this one, forcing three Cleveland turnovers in three consecutive snaps to springboard the team out to an early 17-0 lead in the first quarter. They held Baker Mayfield to under 200 yards passing and frustrated the talented Browns wide receivers.

The shorthanded offense sputtered a bit but came up with a key drive in the third quarter when the Browns threatened to crawl back into the game. The Patriot played perhaps their worst game of the year, but it was more than enough to down the mistake-filled Browns.

So, while the Patriots aren’t perfect, they are certainly undefeated. Check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s win.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady completed 20 of 36 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns in Sunday’s win. Dealing with the absence of three starting offensive linemen, two tight ends, both fullbacks and with a WR who had been on the team just a few days, he ran the offense as well as one could expect. 

Despite having to get rid of the ball very quickly because of pass protection issues, Brady still had several nice throws. His movement in the pocket, sliding to the right and hitting Julian Edelman for a 14-yard touchdown was a nice play. He delivered a beautiful deep ball right on the money to Phillip Dorsett. And threw a dart down the seam to Ben Watson. 

Running Backs: B-

The running game continues to sputter but things got off to a good start on Sunday afternoon before grinding to a halt later in the game. Sony Michel got off to a nice start and broke a couple of nice runs, breaking tackles, giving the Patriots some early balance. Michel finished with 74 yards on 21 carries (3.5-yard average). 

But when Cleveland knew they were going to run late in the game, the running game ceased. James White and Rex Burkhead didn’t fare any better with five carries for eight yards. The issue wasn’t with the running backs but with the blocking up front.

White, however, was a big factor in the passing game catching four passes for 75 yards including a huge 59-yarder that led to a touchdown that broke the game open in the second half. Burkhead after missing the past few games had one catch for nine yards.

Wide Receivers: B

Julian Edelman and James White were the biggest targets in the passing game (no surprises there) and each came through in their normal fashion. Edelman had a game-high eight receptions for 78 yards with two touchdown catches. White, as mentioned above had four for 75. Phillip Dorsett had three catches for 43 yards. 

Newcomer Mohamed Sanu played in 37 snaps, which was over half, considering he just arrived last week, that number was surprisingly high. He chipped in with a pair of catches for 23 yards. His numbers will increase every week as he gains a better grasp of the offense. He was right with White downfield blocking on his 59-yard catch and run. That had to get the attention of the coaching staff. 

Jakobi Meyers was targeted just twice and had one catch for five yards.

Tight Ends: B-

Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson both saw considerable action with Tomlinson logging in nearly half of the offensive snaps and Watson around 70 percent. Tomlinson did a good job in the run blocking game inside, he sprang Michel for a nice run up the middle sealing the linebacker off in a play that was highlighted on the telecast.

Watson caught the only pass he was targeted with but it was a big one, a 26-yard rope from Brady down the seam that set up the team inside the 10-yard line. We can Watson’s role in the passing game expanding in the near future.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line was missing another key piece in Shaq Mason, the left guard was ruled out and James Ferentz took his place. Ferentz stepped up and played all 69 offensive snaps. However, with three of the five starters out, it is little wonder that the unit struggled in both the running game and pass protection. 

Early results were good in the running game, but they tapered off to nearly nothing late in the game when the Browns knew the Patriots were going to run. Trying to close out the game by running the ball once again failed and continues to be an issue. 

Pass protection wasn’t good on Sunday. The Browns sacked Brady three times and he was forced to get rid of the ball far too often. Health is the biggest factor in holding back this unit right now. 

 Defensive Line: B

The defensive line had some issues in the running game, part of it was by design as they were being aggressive in getting after QB Baker Mayfield, but they were pushed around a bit as well. But they tightened things up when they had to. It is an issue that they’ll address in the meeting rooms to be sure. 

But they did a very good job of getting pressure on Mayfield. Lawrence Guy perfectly read the shovel pass coming to Jarvis Landry and blew up the play in the backfield intercepting the pass to boot. Adam Butler continues his high level of play with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a pair of QB hits.

Linebackers: A-

Jamie Collins was the star of the group again. Seemingly everywhere on the field, Collins logged 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits. Kyle Van Noy caused the first turnover, setting the edge and as the blocker was going to the ground he kicked the ball out of his own runner’s hands. Van Noy added a sack.

Dont’a Hightower scored the first touchdown of the game on a scoop and score off a Nick Chubb fumble, caused by Van Noy. Hightower was beaten for a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first half where he took the wrong angle inside and was beaten to the pylon. 

Chase Winovich in limited snaps added a half-sack and a QB hit. Overall the Patriots sacked Mayfield five times. ***Note*** The Patriots defense in 2018 had 30 sacks for the entire season. The defense this year has 31 with the season just half gone.  

Secondary: A

The secondary continues their outstanding play of 2019 limiting the Browns to under 200 yards passing. Stephon Gilmore once again goes to the head of the class. Going against the dangerous and explosive Odell Beckham Jr., Gilmore easily won this matchup. He held Beckham to four catches for 21 yards until a late garbage time 31 yarder. The Patriots will take that all day long. 

Jonathan Jones continues his strong play in the slot and showed tremendous speed while chasing down Chubb and causing the fumble to take away a scoring opportunity from the Browns. Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson were solid.  

Pat Chung returned from injury and he, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon continue their strong play at the back end and in the box. Missed tackles were an issue for the entire defense but the weather no doubt had a hand in that. But give Chubb credit, he runs hard and is a tough guy to bring down, rain or shine.

Special Teams: C+

Mike Nugent had a block on a 29-yard field goal attempt and badly missed another. Jake Bailey had a good game with a 45.4 yard average with one punt inside the 20 and another that was a touchback. The coverage units did a very good job on a dangerous returner in Dontrelle Hilliard. The return game didn’t do much

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff were working on a short week. They wanted to get off to a quick start and they did, racing out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. That was huge in putting the Browns and their coaches behind the eight-ball. They weren’t up to the task. 

Bill Belichick got his 300th career win while Freddy Kitchens showed he has a long, long way to go. Josh McDaniels because of injuries and new personnel had to limit the playbook somewhat, and he’s still searching to find the offense its identity.   

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.


Undefeated but Imperfect Patriots Improve to 8-0 With Win Over Cleveland

Steve Balestrieri
October 27, 2019 at 10:23 pm ET

The Patriots took care of business at home on a very rainy and windy Gillette Stadium on Sunday and went to 8-0 on the season with a 27-13 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Bill Belichick joined the 300 club as today the win was the 300th of his career, the fastest any coach has ever won that many. Belichick was victorious in his 434th game as a head coach. (Hint, that is a pretty darned good winning percentage)

Tom Brady waxed poetic in his praise for Belichick. Asked about the significance of the coach’s 300th win, he had this to say.

“Three hundred wins is pretty spectacular. He’s the best coach of all time and it’s a privilege to play for him for as many years as I have. He’s taught me so much on and off the field, just been a great mentor for me,” Brady said.  “

Being here 20 years ago – it was his first year, it was my first year. It’s been a great journey. Just proud of him, everything he’s accomplished. Amazing to think that he coached for another place and they didn’t think he was good enough, and then he comes here and does a great job. It’s a great celebration for him and certainly hard-earned, well-deserved. And the only thing better than 300 is 301. So, we’ll be back at it this week.”

So, while the team is undefeated, they are far from perfect. But the Patriots have a way to bring out the very worst in their opponents and they used the Browns’ many miscues to put this one in the rearview mirror early. 

The Patriots defense forced turnovers on three straight offensive snaps by Cleveland to take a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and the Browns could never recover. The first turnover was created on a solid play by Kyle Van Noy and Nick Chubb’s fumble was scooped up by Dont’a Hightower and returned for a touchdown. 

The next turnover occurred when Chubb rolled for 44 yards and appeared headed for a touchdown. But Jonathan Jones ran him down and tomahawked the ball out. Devin McCourty recovered for the Patriots at the five-yard line.

The third turnover was perhaps the most bizarre of all. The Browns attempted a shovel pass to Jarvis Landry. Lawrence Guy read the play and got penetration inside and actually made contact with Landry before he was in position. Baker Mayfield should have never attempted the pass and in essence, he passed it right to Guy who had to be the most surprised player in Gillette Stadium. 

Not many teams can spot an opponent 17 points on the road and come back to win. Especially with the weather conditions the way they were and facing a defense that has been playing like the Patriots’ have thus far this year. 

Cleveland hung around, thanks to the terrific running of Chubb who settled down after his first two miscues and pounded out 131 yards on 20 carries. But the Browns never gave the impression they were seriously threatening to challenge for this game. 

Although they made things interesting with a field goal to open the third quarter to make the score 17-10, the Patriots immediately answered with Tom Brady leading the team on an 84-yard drive in seven plays putting them up 24-10 and pretty much putting this one to bed. The key play was a 59-yard pass play from Brady to James White on a 3rd and 10. Brady capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman, his second touchdown reception of the game. 

Baker Mayfield completed 20 of 31 passes for 194 yards with a touchdown and an interception. While it wasn’t his worst game of the season by a long stretch, it wasn’t a great one either. Mayfield broke up a streak of 71 straight points by the Patriots when he connected with Demetrius Harris for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Harris got by Hightower who tried to play inside leverage. Harris broke for the pylon and Mayfield hit him with a nicely thrown ball. It would be the only touchdown of the game for the Browns. 

The Patriots defense held Cleveland to just 13 points and generated another three turnovers while adding five more sacks to their total while scoring another touchdown. It wasn’t perfect there either as Chubb and the ground game gained far too much yardage. But Mayfield and the passing game never got untracked. 

Stephon Gilmore and Odell Beckham Jr. were matched up and the talented wide receiver had five catches for 52 yards but 31 of them came late on a deep pass at garbage time when this one was already decided. This match goes to Gilmore. Jarvis Landry led all Browns receivers with 5 catches for 65 yards on 10 targets. 

Which brings us to the Patriots offense. The problems at the offensive line with replacements at the center, left tackle, and right guard this week are becoming a show stopper. The running game could muster only 79 yards on 27 carries, a measly 2.9-yard average. This against a team allowing 154 yards per game. 

Sony Michel had 74 yards on 21 carries but his yards per carry average suffered late in the game when the Browns knew the Patriots were trying to run out the clock and they stuffed him time and again. 

Brady was only sacked three times but the pressure was such that he is forced to get rid of the ball in under two seconds or he’s going to get hit more often than not. The playmakers on offense aren’t the problem. When he did have time to throw, he made nice throws to Edelman for a pair of touchdowns, a nice deep throw to Phillip Dorsett and a really nice seam pass to Ben Watson for 26 yards. The protection has to improve. And the run blocking has to vastly improve. 

Newcomer Mohamed Sanu had a pair of catches including a nice first down where he just made it to the sticks before getting popped but was able to hold on to the ball. He’ll get more involved the longer he’s here and learns more of the offense. 

In our pregame key matchups, we said that Chubb was the key for the defense and that James White and Edelman were the go-to guys on offense. Edelman had eight catches for 78 yards with two touchdowns. White had four catches for 75 yards on five targets. 

So the team moves on to Baltimore “for their first real test” of the season. They’re 8-0 at the halfway point of the season. Unbeaten but hardly perfect. They’ll be taking on a Ravens team that is on their own bye week. They’ll be rested and at home. 

So, be forewarned, the airwaves will be filled this week with ways that the Ravens can beat New England and reasons given why you should fear Baltimore.  We’ll get into that more as the week goes on. 

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 10-27, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-27 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, as the Patriots take on the Browns in the later game this afternoon.   

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

“We’re Not in Kansas anymore Toto” – If I told you… say three or four years ago that the Patriots would have Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon and Michael Bennett on the roster in the same season, and then either cut or trade every one of them? I’d have been locked up. It just goes to show what a crazy season it has been.

Behind the Scenes – The Patriots video department was the subject of a very cool behind the scenes clip for the Patriots All-Access crew. Ever wonder what it takes for the video crew to break down the coaches’ film from games and how fast it gets to the coaching staff? Check it out here:

Mohamad Sanu – has been made to feel right at home this week. Sanu spoke about Tom Brady who spoke highly of the Patriots’ new acquisition. Sanu jokingly said that Brady even offered him the #12 jersey that Sanu wore with the Falcons. Sanu’s answer? “Nah, you got that. I’ll change to 14.” Asked as a follow-up if he offered anything to Brady for the jersey, Sanu laughed it off and said, “No, I’ll just go out there and do my job and let him be great.”

Bill Belichick, Not a fan of the Weathermen- The Patriots coach has never been a fan of the weathermen who are predicting heavy rains for the Browns game this afternoon. Asked during a press conference if the team was preparing for the deluge, Belichick scoffed at the notion.

“In the Giant game, it was supposed to be a monsoon and everything and, like usual, there was not one drop of rain and let’s say minimal wind. Although there was some wind. It was across the field, so it didn’t affect the game that much.

“We went down to Miami. We thought it was going to be hot… So predicting heat in Miami in September … maybe you and I can figure that out.

“I’ve seen the forecast. This is the exact same forecast we had for the Giants. Not one drop of rain. So we’ll see. I don’t know. I’m sure it’s hard to get it right, especially specific locations like this. Where it is 10 miles from here and where it is here makes all the difference in the world to us. That’s the world we’re in. So we’ll see.” If there is one person who Belichick believes is wrong more than the weatherman? Charley Casserly.

Trade Deadline Approaching, But Will Anyone Trade With Bill? 

After the Patriots traded for Mohamed Sanu, their cap space was down to $10K according to Miguel, aka @Patscap. Not $10 million but 10 thousand.. Yikes.  That number was increased to a little over $2.8 million with the trade of Michael Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys but still leaves the team with precious little room to maneuver.  With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, do they have enough cap space to make another deal? And will anyone make a trade with New England? 

There are still some players out there who the Patriots have been linked to but how much they are actually interested at this point remains to be seen. Or was their interest simply doing their own due diligence? Among those players are:

TE O.J. Howard: Howard is a big, athletic tight end in the Gronk mold. We’re not comparing him to Gronkowski, but he could be that kind of complete tight end. He’s 6’6, 255 and he can run. But he’s woefully underutilized in Bruce Arians’ offense in TB and has just 13 catches so far this season. The Patriots reportedly inquired and were told no…He’s not playing today, I’d try one more time.

TE Austin Hooper: The Falcons trade of Sanu made sense, their season is shot and they still have Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The got a 2nd round pick for Sanu which will help with the retooling process there. But trading Hooper? That would be folly for Thomas Dimitroff.  He’s only 24 years old and is on pace for a 100 catch 1100-1200 yard season. Several teams have supposedly asked about Hooper but have been told that he’s staying. 

TE Tyler Eifert: The Cincinnati Bengals tight end has been another name that has frequently been rumored to be on the Patriots radar. Eifert is a very good tight end when he’s on the field which is very rare in the past three years. Eifert appeared in a total of 14 games in the three seasons of 2016-2018. He has appeared in all seven games this season and has 17 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Picture a more fragile Rex Burkhead…

Rumors persist about WRs A.J. Green of the Bengals and Danny Amendola returning to New England. But unless the Patriots decide that they are not going to activate rookie WR N’Keal Harry, bringing in another wide receiver just doesn’t make sense at this point.

Redskins LT Trent Williams name continues to be tossed about to the Patriots, who were reported to have offered Washington their 1st round draft pick for the veteran tackle who hasn’t played a down this year. How they could afford him now under the cap is a major mystery. 

Patriots Players to Watch Today :

With the short week due to Monday Night Football, we didn’t get to post our normal players to watch that we usually do on Friday. So, with the game in just a few hours, we still have time to share our players who we feel need to step up for a Patriots victory today. So, (Jim Lang voice) Heeeerrrree they are.

Stephon Gilmore: The best cornerback in the league is facing the most explosive, dynamic playmaker for the Browns in Odell Beckham Jr. today. This is the kind of matchup that is tailor-made for the national television audience. 

Baker Mayfield has been trying to force things to Beckham in the early going of the season. Will he do it again today in Gillette? Seeing two players of this magnitude competing against one another is always must-watch territory. 

Mohamed Sanu: The newest Patriots wide receiver has only been on the ground for a few days. We expect that he and Tom Brady will eventually forge a nice chemistry on the field. But how much can we reasonably expect this week? 

Wouldn’t it be a great storyline if Sanu can turn in a big game this afternoon? But we’ll temper expectations a bit this week …and next. After the bye week, he should be fully involved in the offense. 

Dont’a Hightower: The Patriots linebacker is off of the injury report and he’ll be needed against the Browns top running back Nick Chubb this week. Cleveland needs to move the ball on the ground and control the clock against the Patriots defense. They can’t get into 3rd and long situations. Chubb is the man who can do this. Hightower is the player the Patriots need to step up against the Browns today. 

Hightower is always at his best in big games. Against an opponent who was considered the up and coming team of the year and on national television, this is a big game. How well the Patriots defend or don’t defend Chubb will go a long way in determining this game today. 

Marshall Newhouse: The Patriots left tackle hasn’t been great thus far this season. He hasn’t been terrible, just not great. He’s facing the Browns’ best defender in Myles Garrett who leads the Browns with nine sacks. 

We don’t expect Dante Scarnecchia to put Newhouse out there all alone. I would expect the Patriots to chip Garrett with a tight end or have help with running backs to stay in and block. However, Newhouse will also be under a microscope this afternoon. 

James White: It seems like the Patriots Swiss Army Knife at running back is on here every week. With the running game sputtering for the most part and Rex Burkhead hurt again, the team has come to rely heavily on White, who is as reliable as they come. 

Look for Tom Brady to target White heavily again this week. The pass rush of the Browns is a concern, one way to minimize it is to get White involved in the short, quick passing game where he’s outstanding. 

NFL Schedule Week 8, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 11-3
Season: 65-40-1

TNF Minnesota over Washington 1-0

Seattle over Atlanta
Indy over Denver
Tennessee over Tampa Bay
New Orleans over Arizona
LA Rams over Cincinnati
Philadelphia over Buffalo
Chicago over LA Chargers
Detroit over NY Giants
Jacksonville over NY Jets
San Francisco over Carolina
Houston over Oakland
New England over Cleveland
SNF Green Bay over Kansas City
MNF Pittsburgh over Miami

Bye week: Dallas, Baltimore

Week 9 Thursday Night Football San Francisco over Arizona 

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Still in the Market For a WR After Losing Out on Sanders:

The Buffalo Bills tried to bring in Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos to help out their passing offense but lost out on the bidding war with the San Francisco 49ers. Today the Bills are facing the suddenly desperate Philadelphia Eagles in what is a big barometer test for both teams. The Eagles were considered one of the top teams in the NFC but dropped two in a row to fall to 3-4. The Bills are 5-1, but are hearing the same lament as their neighbors in the AFC East, “They haven’t played anybody.”

Besides Sanders, who would have made the division race even better this season, the Bills are also rumored to be looking at the Jets Robby Anderson, Eagles WR Nelson Agholor, Taylor Gabriel of the Bears, as well as Miami’s DeVante Parker and A.J. Green of the Bengals.

It will be interesting to see if the Bills can land a quality WR by the trade deadline and improve the passing game. With a good running game and a very good defense, an improved passing game would put the Bills in great position down the stretch.

Dolphins Could Get Two Important Players on IR:

The Miami Dolphins season is one of rebuilding and evaluation of the players on the roster to decide whether they will remain when the team begins it long retooling in 2020. But two Dolphins players that are eligible to soon return of the PUP list are DL Robert Nkemdiche and CB Cordrea Tankersley. 

It will be interesting to see what these players can bring to the table for head coach Brian Flores who has the unenviable job of starting from scratch. Nkemdiche was a highly touted prospect who spent three forgettable years in Arizona. 

In other news, many teams have contacted Miami about RB Kenyon Drake but the Dolphins request of a 4th round pick is deemed too high. Current indications are that most teams aren’t willing to part with any more than a 6th rounder.

NY Media Turning on Jets Adam Gase Already:

This didn’t take long. A week after hyping the game with the Patriots, the media has already grown tired of New York Jets head coach Adam Gase. After being forced to play his third-string QB for about a month, Gase finally got his starter, Sam Darnold, back two weeks ago. And after an impressive win over Dallas, Darnold …and Gase were overmatched and overwhelmed at home against New England. 

But according to the NY Daily Post and noted flip-flopper, Manish Mehta, Gase is redefining  “non-competitive” one blowout loss at a time. Well, with their starter, it IS one blowout loss. Amazed? You shouldn’t be.

It seemed like yesterday, Mehta was guffawing over the Jets’ weak slate upcoming. Now the sky is falling. 


“Smart kid picks things up well. We’ll see what we can do here. Sometimes as it accumulates – early downs, third down, red area, situational stuff. We’ll see what the load looks like, but he’s made good progress both days. Works hard. Good kid. Is really in-tune and trying very hard to pick up things quickly and get on the same page as everybody else. That’s obviously a long way to go, a lot of work to do, but he’s working hard at it, so we appreciate that.” – Bill Belichick being asked about new Patriots WR Mohamed Sanu


“So, how was your 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 Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.


Patriots – Browns Week 8 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 25, 2019 at 7:29 am ET

The Patriots return home to take on the Cleveland Browns with the opportunity to close out the halfway point of the season 8-0 for the third time in team history. The Patriots defense has been playing at a historically high level and is facing a Browns’ team that can be explosive in both the running and passing games.

With a win on Sunday, Bill Belichick will join the 300 club, it will be the 300th win of his career, which he started with the Browns, earning his first victory against the Patriots.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ Channel 4 on Sunday, October 27 at 4:20 p.m.. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (7-0) beat the New York Jets 33-0. The defense intercepted Sam Darnold four times and collected two fumbles. Sony Michel rushed for three touchdowns.

The Browns (2-4) are coming off  their bye week. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 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 Browns are meeting for the 25th time with Cleveland holding a 13-11 overall advantage. The Patriots have won the past five matchups at home however. 

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 Browns Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Cleveland

This is a matchup that the Patriots should dominate. Cleveland is allowing a whopping 154 yards a game on the ground, including 5 yards a carry. While Cleveland does a great job in getting after the QB, their run defense has been gashed. 

However the Patriots running game remains mired in mediocrity in 2019. Sony Michel did rush for three touchdowns last week, but was held to just 42 yards on 19 carries. The offensive line is not opening up nearly enough holes for him to run effectively. Hopefully, the team will get Rex Burkhead back from yet another injury. Burkhead has been the teams’ most effective back overall this season. 

Look for the Patriots to try to establish the run in this game by hitting the running game between the tackles. But until we see signs of it improving on the field, the feeling here is that they will continue to scuffle along.                     

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

The Patriots passing game is going thru another change. The injured Josh Gordon has been placed on IR and is to be released as soon as he’s healthy. The team traded for Mohamed Sanu this week and he, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers will be the team’s WRs this week. With Ben Watson at tight end and James White and possibly Burkhead and Brandon Bolden out of the backfield, Tom Brady will have plenty of places to throw the ball.

The Browns have been excellent at getting after the quarterback this season with 19 sacks, nine of them by Miles Garrett. They’ve had injuries at cornerback but both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are expected to be back this week.

Look for the Patriots to give the struggling LT Marshall Newhouse some help this week against Garrett. Brady, as always will try to get the ball out quickly and get his chemistry going with Sanu who will work out of the slot with Edelman and outside. Protection is the key here.

Next up the Browns offense:

Browns RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Cleveland

Cleveland has the explosive Nick Chubb at running back. He’s gained over 600 yards this season while averaging 5.3 yards per rush and has six touchdowns. The Browns average nearly 120 yards per game on the ground.

The Patriots run defense has been very good overall allowing just 74.7 yards per game on the ground. Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler have done a terrific job at stopping the run at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to clean up and make plays.

Chubb will get his yards this week, Frank Gore and Le’Veon Bell had good games against the Patriots front seven as well. But will Cleveland be able to run effectively enough to control the game? The feeling here is no. 

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

The Browns have some very explosive wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry along with Chubb out of the backfield. That’s the word that we’ve heard coming out of the Patriots side of the house all week. However, Baker Mayfield has struggled with turning the ball over, throwing 11 interceptions already this year. 

The Patriots defense has garnered 25 sacks and 18 interceptions so far this season. They’ve varied the pass rush and the pressure has forced opposing QBs into making far too many mistakes. They also boast an extremely sticky cornerback group who has the ability to shut down the opposition. Beckham Jr. and Stephon Gilmore ought to be the most intriguing matchup of the game. Landry who guaranteed victory in his pregame trash talk will face either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson. 

Cleveland’s pass protection of Mayfield has been a mess this season. We’ve read that they’ve toyed with changing players in multiple positions during the bye week. We may not see as many of the “0 blitzes” this week, but with the varied pressure they can bring on the QB, I’d expect to see the defense trying to force Mayfield into making more mistakes this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots already solid special teams has just received a boost this week when they signed All-Pro ST/S Justin Bethel who was released by the Ravens. He joins Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden and others in an excellent unit. Mike Nugent has solidified the kicking game while rookie Jake Bailey is having an outstanding rookie season. 

The Browns Austin Seibert hasn’t missed a FG this year (8-8), while Jamie Gilan was the STs Player of the Month for September. Dontrelle Hilliard gives Cleveland good return ability. The Patriots at home get the nod here and look for Joe Judge to give Bethel a chance to shine this week..  

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking for the third 8-0 start in team history. Bill Belichick can earn his 300th career win with the team he earned his first head coaching win a long time ago.With a national television audience, this should be a great game to watch. 

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Continue the Turnover Machine – Look for the Patriots defense to try to force Mayfield into making mistakes. No one has thrown more interceptions than he has in the early going this season. By mixing up the pass rush and coming from all different angles, they can pressure an offensive line that has been terrible at protecting its quarterback. They’ll mix up their coverages and show the Browns something different than they’ve seen on tape. 

The Running Game is Key This Week: The Browns haven’t been good at defending the run. One way to slow down that pass rush of theirs is to run the ball effectively. If Sony Michel isn’t getting it done, then they should rotate Burkhead or Bolden in more.

On the flip side, limiting Chubb’s effectiveness, puts the onus more on Mayfield’s shoulders. He’s going to get things figured out eventually, and with the WRs they have, their offense will be very good. Just ensure it isn’t this week.

Play a Clean Game: The Patriots can’t allow the Browns to get any short fields for their offense and must protect the ball. Can the Browns generate enough offense on their own to win this game? I’d say no if you’re going by how this season has played out. 

Another area to monitor is the flags. The Patriots have been getting flagged more this season it seems than other years. The coaches need to get that cleaned up before it hurts the team in a key situation



The Patriots defense has been playing at an insanely high level this season. We look for that to continue. Mayfield hasn’t done a good job of protecting the ball and that should once again rear its ugly head in this one. Look for Brady to work the short area of the field with Edelman, White and more of Ben Watson this week. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can get Sanu into the passing offense.   

The defense will put pressure on Mayfield and do another great job of blanketing their opponent’s wide receivers. And the home team holds serve. Patriots 24-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour heads back out on the road next week when the Patriots travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.

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 and breakdown game analysis


Trade for Beckham, While Possible, Isn’t Practical, Look Elsewhere

Steve Balestrieri
February 21, 2019 at 8:21 am ET

Ah, the doldrums of late February and early March. As soon as the Super Bowl is over, weather-weary New Englanders are ready for spring. We want to see flowers and green grass and leaves on the trees.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want…” Mark Twain.

Such is the way with the New England Patriots every spring. The team that was constructed for the long-haul, for continued long-term success. We revel in it, and love to rub other fan bases’ noses in the fact that “this is how you build a team.” and then in late February – early March, the fan base collectively loses its mind and wants to throw caution to the wind.

Diva WRs? Gotta have ‘em, Can’t win without them… “We need anotha’ deep threat Mike!” “Brady’s getting old and needs weaponz!” And my new favorite, “They won’t win anotha’ Super Bowl scoring 13 points!”

Truthfully, all of the talk of the Patriots acquiring Antonio Brown is just that…talk. The Steelers would never send him to New England and with each passing Instagram post he makes, I’d want him less and less.

The talk of Odell Beckham Jr. is quite another. Chris Simms broke the news that the Patriots tried to trade for him in the spring of 2018. And I totally buy that. A look back to last year, they brought in a bevy of veterans and knew that Julian Edelman would be suspended for the first four games of the season.

Plus Beckham was on the back end of his deal, they could have had a one-year rental of a very talented player. They have done this recently like Brandin Cooks the year before and Darrelle Revis.

From a football perspective, Beckham would fit into the Patriots offense easily. He has that short-area quickness off the line, that allows him to get separation quite fast in the short area passing game. He is very good at aligning at different spots on the field and he can create big plays without having to complete low-percentage deep balls. He, along with Julian Edelman, would give Tom Brady a dynamic 1-2 punch at WR. And if Rob Gronkowski does return for one more season, the possibilities are endless.

Would Beckham fit in the locker room? That’s far from a given. Despite Beckham’s quotes about his love for Tom Brady, how will he react on a day where the running game is cooking and Michel et al carry the ball 30+ times?

And then there’s his contract. By signing an extension, the Giants locked him up for several years, where if they trade him, they’d eat his prorated signing bonus ($4 million in 2019 and $16 million overall). His cap hit for the Patriots would be $17 million, a $16,750,000 base salary and a $250,000 workout bonus.

While not excessive compared to other WRs, Edelman’s salarycap hit for 2019 is $4,541,688 or slightly more than a quarter of what they’d pay Beckham. And is a guy who was instrumental in already winning the team three Super Bowls, including the MVP in SB LIII just three weeks ago. How would that play out?

Bill Belichick has never wanted to pay big money for his wide receivers, they paid Randy Moss decent money (5 percent of their cap space) but when he insisted on getting big money was shipped out. Cooks was strictly a rental and as soon as he was due his payday was traded. Beckham’s cash is slightly less than 10 percent of the team’s cap space. Would Belichick go that high? His track record says no.

On the subject of cap space, the Patriots, according to our old buddy Miguel Benzan, aka @Patscap currently have $17,905,328 in space as of today. While we know they’re going to create some space by extending some players and releasing others, that would put them in a very bare situation …at least initially.

The Patriots generally like versatile players, guys that can play a position and contribute on Special Teams. Most of the diva WRs (shiny hood ornaments, shamelessly stolen from @footballfacts) are not.

Beckham’s talent is great, of that there is no doubt. But for the money they’ll spend on his salary, the team could sign two good WRs and guys who could also fit into the Patriots offense very well. And then there’s the draft. Belichick and Nick Caserio don’t have the greatest track record of drafting WRs. However, there is some talent out there in the early to mid rounds that would fit in very well.

So, do the Patriots need a “deep threat WR”? No, they don’t. That’s not how this offense operates to its maximum efficiency. While it is nice to have a guy who can stretch the field, they don’t need one. They’ve won six Super Bowls without a true deep threat #1.

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 and game analysis.

PHOTO: Julian Edelman “Dinner On Dell”

Robert Alvarez
August 28, 2018 at 12:35 pm ET

On Monday, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made headlines when he agreed to an NFL record 5-year contract extension worth $95 million and $65 million guaranteed.

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman took to Instagram to “congratulate” his friend with a photograph of the two.

“Friendship is what makes a man wealthy. Also contracts #DinnerOnDell” Edelman said in a caption.

Well played Jules, well played.

Friendship is what makes a man wealthy. Also… contracts. #DinnerOnDell

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

Rob Gronkowski Chosen For “Madden 17” Cover

Robert Alvarez
May 13, 2016 at 8:30 am ET

On Thursday afternoon, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was announced as the newest NFL star to grace the cover of “MADDEN NFL 17” in a special on ESPN’s SportsCenter.  For the first time since 2009, the decision was not based upon a fan vote. In 2015, Gronkowski finished second to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and it was speculated Gronkowski only lost because Patriots fans feared the urban legend of the “Madden Curse” which is said to be bestowed on the cover athlete during the season of his selection.

Gronkowski didn’t appear to be phased by the curse, telling ESPN, “It’s definitely reversed itself from back in the day,” Gronkowski said. “You have to look at the players that were on it recently. You have Odell, who had an unbelievable year last year. You have Richard Sherman, who went to the Pro Bowl the year he was on it. Calvin Johnson, who broke the receiving record when he was on the cover.”

In fifteen games in 2015, Gronkowski caught 72 passes for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gronkowski is the first ever Patriot to be on the cover of a Madden video game.

Madden 17′ is scheduled to be released August 23, 2016.

The Denver Broncos, whom defeated the Patriots in this past seasons AFC Championship game, appeared to question the pick of Gronkowski via Twitter, who scored the final minute touchdown during the teams comeback attempt that cameup a two point conversaion short.


NFL Week 16 Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

John Morgan
December 26, 2015 at 7:00 pm ET

NFL Week 16 Previews, Predictions, TV Info, Odds and Picks Against the Spread

The next to last week of the 2015 NFL regular season began with a meaningless game between two franchises with a Christmas wish to never play in front of their own fans again, desperately wanting to relocate for greener pa$tures. AFC West division rivals San Diego and Oakland met on Thursday night in Charles Woodson’s next to last game.


While there are several games of high importance for determining this season’s playoff picture, the two most relevant matchups are Cincinnati at Denver in the AFC and Washington at Philadelphia in the NFC. The Bengals-Broncos tilt is in all likelihood a determination of which team will receive a much coveted first round bye, while the latter is an elimination game for Philly, and a chance for the Skins to mercifully end the NFC East division race – and avoid a situation where an NFL team with a losing record would be rewarded with a first round playoff game at home.


As has been the case nearly all season, this week there is a paucity of games between teams that both have winning records. There are only three games that fit in that category this week (and just two for the entire day Sunday): the Patriots at Jets in an early game, Green Bay at Arizona late, and then Cincinnati at Denver on Monday night. No wonder the NFL pushes fantasy football and jumps in bed with weekly fantasy/gambling sites to maintain fan interest; 21 franchises have not at this point produced a winning record for their consumers, the fan bases for their respective teams.


NFL Week 16 Playoff Picture with Clinching and Elimination Scenarios

NFL Week 16 TV Info: Patriots-Jets, Panthers-Falcons Receive Primary Early Game Broadcast Distribution

NFL Week 16 Television Maps


★★★★ 7-7 Washington Redskins at 6-8 Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, December 26 at 8:25 pm ET on NFLN; Ian Eagle, Trent Green, Evan Washburn
Eagles -3 (opened at -4) . . . . over/under 48 . . . . Phi -150, Was +130

This could be a game where DeMarco Murray returns to his 2014 self, if only he could get on the field. Washington is allowing 130 rushing yards per game (28th) and 4.9 yards per carry (31st). However, the Eagles need to finish drives better on both sides of the ball. Philly’s offense ranks 26th in red zone touchdowns (1.3 per game) and hits pay dirt on only 50% of their trips to the red zone (26th). Chip Kelly‘s D isn’t much better, allowing 2.5 red zone touchdowns per game (30th) and their 68.6 RZ percentage is last in the NFL. On the other hand Washington scores touchdowns 64.1% of the time in the red zone, while the defense is limiting opponents to touchdowns 51.2% of the time (8th) and 1.5 RZ touchdowns per game (9th). A win would give the Skins a division title for only the second time in 16 seasons – and insure the NFC East will not send a team with a losing record to the playoffs. Philly has been blown out in three of their last five games, and Kirk Cousins is playing noticeably better with DeSean Jackson back in the lineup.

Prediction: Skins 28, Eagles 27
Skins +3 . . . . . over 48 (one unit) . . . . . Washington +130


★★★ 5-9 Chicago Bears at 6-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX; Sam Rosen, Matt Millen, Peter Schrager
Bucs -3 (opened at -2½) . . . . over/under 46 . . . . TB -160, Chi +140

Both teams have lost three of their last four games, but there is a sense that the Bucs are heading in the right direction while Chicago is going the opposite way. Doug Martin quietly ranks second in the NFL with 1,305 yards rushing (just nine yards behind Adrian Peterson) leads the NFL with 13 carries of 20+ yards, and his 5.1 yards per rush is best among all players with at least 150 attempts. The Bears have played much better (4-3) on the road than at home (1-6), but their defense nneds to come up with some big plays: Chicago’s 14 takeaways rank 28th in the NFL. The Bears have been guilty of playing to the level of their competition, with wins at Green Bay, at Kansas City, at St. Louis and a two-point loss versus Denver – while playing poorly in home losses to the Niners and Washington. WR Alshon Jeffery will miss his sixth game with a hamstring injury; the Bears will need to make tough decisions on him and RB Matt Forte as both are set to become free agents in March.

Prediction: Bucs 27, Bears 20
Bucs -3 . . . . . over 46 . . . . . Tampa -160


★★★★ 14-0 Carolina Panthers at 7-7 Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver
Panthers -6½ (opened at -6½) . . . . over/under 47½ . . . . Car -300, Atl +250

Remember in mid-October when people debated which of these two NFC South teams would lose first? How about back in August, when nobody doubted that the Falcons possessed the superior offense? Fast forward to late December and the Panthers are averaging an NFL-best 32.1 points per game while Atlanta is tied for 19th at 21.6 ppg. Matt Ryan has not thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions in a game since Week 9 when he had one TD and no picks against San Francisco. Fun fact: Carolina has only played one team with a winning record at the time the two met this year (Green Bay, Week 9).

Prediction: Panthers 31, Falcons 20
Panthers -6½ . . . . . over 47½ . . . . . Carolina -300


★★ 4-10 Dallas Cowboys at 6-8 Buffalo Bills
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin
Bills -6½ (opened at -5½) . . . . over/under 42½ . . . . Buf -270, Dal +230

Why has there been such a precipitous drop off in production for the Bills, when the hiring of Rex Ryan was supposed to improve performance for an already good Buffalo defense? It is quite simple, really. Rex prefers to blitz and confuse opponents, rather than rush four linemen and drop seven defenders in coverage. Ryan’s philosophy does not mesh well at all with a great (or at least very effective) defensive line. His downfall as a coach is his stubborn inability to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of the players on his roster.

Prediction: Bills 20, Cowboys 17
Cowboys +6½ . . . . . under 42½ . . . . . Dallas +230


4-10 San Francisco 49ers at 5-9 Detroit Lions
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX; Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Tony Siragusa
Lions -10 (opened at -8½) . . . . over/under 42½ . . . . Det -600, SF +450

San Francisco has scored more than 17 points just once since Week 6, and Detroit has won four of their last six games to remove themselves from contention for the top overall draft pick.

Prediction: Lions 24, Niners 16
Niners +10 . . . . . under 42½ . . . . . San Francisco +450


★★★ 3-11 Cleveland Browns at 9-5 Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS; Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Chris Fischer
Chiefs -11 (opened at -12½) . . . . over/under 42½ . . . . KC -600, Cle +450

Say what you want about Alex Smith, but the Chiefs rank second in the NFL with only twelve turnovers – and five of those came way back in Week 2 when KC fumbled the game away to Denver. That formula should work fine against a team like the Browns, but I can’t help but wonder if that is a sustainable recipe for success come playoff time when facing the league’s elite squads.

Prediction: Chiefs 24, Browns 14
Browns +11 . . . . . under 42½ (one unit) . . . . . Kansas City -600


★★★ 6-8 Indianapolis Colts at 5-9 Miami Dolphins
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX; Dick Stockton, David Diehl, Kristina Pink
Dolphins -2½ (opened at -1) . . . . over/under 44 . . . . Mia -140, Ind +120

Indy takes a page out of their Suck for Luck campaign and loses a game they could and should win.

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Colts 20
Dolphins -2½ . . . . . under 44 . . . . . Miami -140


★★★★★ 12-2 New England Patriots at 9-5 New York Jets
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS; Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn
Patriots -3 (opened at -3) . . . . over/under 45½ . . . . NEP -155, NYJ +135

Did you know that according to ESPN, Ryan Fitzpatrick is having a better season than Tom Brady, and that the greatest game a quarterback has ever had was when Charlie Batch threw two picks and passed for 186 yards?

Podcast: Patriots vs Jets Preview
Patriots 2015 Opponents: Five Impressions of the Jets
Patriots-Jets Key Matchups
Key Players to Watch, Patriots at Jets

Prediction: Patriots 20, Jets 16
Patriots -3 . . . . . under 45½ (one unit) . . . . . New England -155


★★★ 7-7 Houston Texans at 3-11 Tennessee Titans
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS; Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcotts
Texans -3½ (opened w/Titans -4½) . . . . over/under 40½ . . . . Hou -170, Ten +150

I could not for the life of me understand why Tennessee opened as favorites by more than a field goal. Had Houston already clinched? No; had Brian Hoyer suddenly turned into a combination of Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Tom Brady? No, the dropoff from Hoyer to Brandon Weeden was not quite that monumental; if nothing else, Hoyer and Marcus Mariota both being out is a wash. Hopefully you all jumped on that line when it was available early in the week.

Prediction: Texans 27, Titans 17
Texans -3½ . . . . . over 40½ . . . . . Houston -170


★★★ 9-5 Pittsburgh Steelers at 4-10 Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, December 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl
Steelers -10 (opened at -9½) . . . . over/under 47 . . . . Pit -600, Bal +400

Perhaps with this being a division rivalry the score will remain close, but Baltimore has more starters on injured reserve than they have able to suit up and play at this point – though they have plenty of other problems as well. Thankfully this game was flexed out of the Sunday night prime time slot.

Prediction: Steelers 27, Ravens 13
Steelers -10 . . . . . under 47 . . . . . Pittsburgh -600


★★★★ 5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars at 5-9 New Orleans Saints
Sunday, December 27 at 4:05 pm ET on CBS; Andrew Catalon, Steve Beuerlein, Steve Tasker
Saints -3 (opened at -3½) . . . . over/under 51½ . . . . NO -175, Jax +155

I realize that part of the job of television announcers is to promote the game in order to maintain viewer interest, but sometimes these people just go completely off the rails. Last week on Sunday Night Football, Jon Gruden said that he “really liked the Saints’ defense“. Memo to Chucky: so does every single offense in the NFL.

Prediction: Jaguars 31, Saints 28
Jaguars +3 . . . . . over 51½ (one unit) . . . . . Jacksonville +155


★★★★★ 10-4 Green Bay Packers at 12-2 Arizona Cardinals
Sunday, December 27 at 4:25 pm ET on FOX; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Cardinals -4½ (opened at -4) . . . . over/under 50½ . . . . Ariz -220, GB +190

Two weeks ago Minnesota nearly beat Arizona, but lost due to three turnovers. Green Bay is the best in the league at not giving the ball away (only 11 all season), but will be without CB Sam Shields and LT David Bakhtiari. It’s too bad that FOX was able to protect this game; it should be the league’s showcase contest on Sunday night.

Prediction: Cardinals 27, Packers 24
Packers +4½ . . . . . over 50½ . . . . . Green Bay +190


★★★ 6-8 St. Louis Rams at 9-5 Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, December 27 at 4:25 pm ET on FOX; Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale
Seahawks -12½ (opened at -14) . . . . over/under 40½ . . . . Sea -950, StL +650

I feel bad for Wes Welker for not only having to play for Jeff Fisher, but also because his only job opportunity in the NFL was on such a putrid offense.

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Rams 13
Rams +12½ . . . . . under 40½ . . . . . St. Louis +650


★★★ 6-8 New York Giants at 9-5 Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, December 27 at 8:30 pm ET on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Vikings -6½ (opened at -4) . . . . over/under 45 . . . . Min -270, NYG +230

I wonder how many fantasy football championships will be won or lost due to Odell Beckham’s suspension? This is a difficult game to handicap because when the game kicks off the Giants could either be eliminated from the post-season, or have the potential to put themselves in a three-way tie for first place with a win; similarly the Vikings could be locked in to the sixth seed depending on the outcome of earlier games.

Prediction: Vikings 24, Giants 20
Giants +6½ . . . . . under 45 . . . . . Minnesota -270


★★★★★ 11-3 Cincinnat Bengals at 10-4 Denver Broncos
Monday, December 28 at 8:30 pm ET on ESPN; Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Bengals -3½ (opened at -3½) . . . . over/under 39½ . . . . Den -180, Cin +160

Battle of the backup quarterbacks to determine a first round bye. This is a rarity: a genuinely competitive game between two of the league’s best teams on a Monday night.

Prediction: Broncos 23, Bengals 20
Bengals +3½ . . . . . over 39½ . . . . . Cincinnati +160


★★ San Diego Chargers (4-11) at Oakland Raiders (7-8)
Thursday, December 24 at 8:25 pm ET on NFLN; Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
Raiders -4 (opened at -6) . . . . over/under 45 . . . . Oak -200, SD +170

Prediction: Raiders 24, Chargers 17
Raiders -4 X . . . . . under 45 . . . . . Oakland -200
Final Score: Raiders 23, Chargers 20 (OT)

Considering the two team’s records, the game was far more entertaining than I had anticipated even though both defenses dominated the second half and the two clubs combined for 25 penalties worth 196 yards. San Diego led by seven at halftime but the Raider defense was stout, and sacked Philip Rivers for a safety late in the third quarter. Oakland finally took a three-point lead with less than five minutes to play when they recovered a fumble on the three, scored on the next play, and then converted on the two-point conversion. Josh Lambo hit a 45-yard field goal in the final minute to send it to overtime, and after an eight-minute drive on the first possession of OT Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 31-yard field goal. The Raiders stopped Danny Woodhead for a two-yard gain on third down on San Diego’s ensuing possession, and then a pass to Dontrelle Inman – who had to play defense as a nickel back late in the game due to injuries – fell incomplete to end the game. Oakland WR Seth Roberts – a teammate of Malcolm Butler at West Alabama – made two big plays late: scoring on that two-point conversion, and then holding on for a key 33-yard juggling catch and run to set up the game-winning field goal.


Monday Observations, Patriots Down Giants in a Thriller 27-26

Steve Balestrieri
November 16, 2015 at 6:44 am ET

The Patriots beat the Giants in thrilling fashion with a last second 54 yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to remain unbeaten at 9-0 on the season. The 27-26 victory turned the table on the Giants who had won the last three meetings against New England with late heroics by Eli Manning. This time it was Tom Brady and Stephen Gostkowski who led the final charge for the Pats.

But the victory was costly, WR Julian Edelman suffered an injured foot and it was being reported on Sunday evening that he broke his foot and will require surgery on Monday. It is expected that he’ll miss the remainder of the regular season and may be available once the playoffs roll around.

The Patriots and Giants games are always compelling contests to watch and this one was no different. It was back and forth all the way with a definite playoff feel to the game. It now joins the previous four matchups as an instant classic. This one was worthy of the prime slot it was given as well as CBS putting their top crew on it.

The Giants were seemingly in control with a 10-point lead in the second half until Danny Amendola ignited the moribund Patriots offense with an 82-yard punt return. It may have gone for a touchdown; however Duron Harmon committed a cardinal sin by tripping up Amendola at the Giants 10-yard line when he was surrounded by blockers. Had the Patriots had to settle for three or even been stopped on the ensuing possession, it could have been disastrous.

Giants Can’t Put it Away: The Giants after the game were lamenting the lost opportunities to seal this game away and there were some flashbacks to similar plays that the Patriots can remember. On the Giants final drive, Odell Beckham Jr. beat Malcolm Butler in the corner of the end zone with what would have been a game-clinching touchdown.

The third down pass was perfectly thrown by Eli Manning but as Beckham was coming down Butler made a great play by knocking the ball out of his hands forcing the Giants to settle for a field goal setting the stage for the Brady drive. It was reminiscent of the drop by Wes Welker in Super Bowl XLVI that could have iced the game.

On the Patriots final drive, Brady’s first pass was underthrown and it seemed Landon Collins had the interception to once again seal it away. But as he went to the ground, the ball bounced away and the Patriots got another chance. Giving Brady a second chance can be dangerous and indeed it was. This play also harks back to Asante Samuels’ dropped pick in Super Bowl XLII.

The Giants clock management on their final drive will and should come under scrutiny. They could have used up much more of the clock, and their inability to do so gave Brady just the amount of time needed.

Gostkowski Cements Legacy: Stephen Gostkowski is the NFL’s highest paid kicker and is by far the most automatic. He hasn’t missed an extra point in nearly ten years and has been perfect in kicks and field goals this season. He also leads the league in kickoffs into the end zone. It is money well spent.

But the one thing missing from his legacy is the one big kick at crunch time ala Adam Vinatieri to give his team a big victory. Well that block can be checked now as his 54-yarder with a second to go eased a lot of bad memories for the Patriots against the Giants. It was fitting that his kick also broke Vinatieri’s record for most career field goals by a Patriots kicker.

It was dramatic, it was clutch and most importantly it was good.

Butler Answers Bell: Malcolm Butler’s highly anticipated matchup with Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t start off particularly well for the 2nd year corner. On the Giants second play from scrimmage Beckham beat Butler cleanly down the right sideline where a perfectly thrown ball by Manning hit him in stride.

Devin McCourty took a poor angle and actually took Butler out of the play. The result was an 87-yard touchdown, the longest ever given up by a Bill Belichick team and the collective breath was sucked in by New England fans.

But Butler not only recovered but was outstanding the rest of the game. Butler held him to just three more catches for 17 yards after the big touchdown. The two were battling it out play after play, after the game there was a lot of mutual respect being thrown back and forth.

Beckham Jr. was targeted 12 times and had just four catches. It had to be Butler’s best game as a pro and he reacted well after an auspicious start. He also saved the potential game winning touchdown by knocking the ball away from the Giants star receiver in the end zone forcing a field goal.

Brady’s Drive This Time Wins a “Giant” Game: This win is just a Week 10 win but just the way the two teams battled it out in a playoff atmosphere, you could tell it was important to each team. This one was very important for NE not only from a divisional perspective as they remain four games ahead of the Jets and Bills but from a mental one as well. The Giants had gotten the better of New England the last three times they’ve met with late scores, two of them in Super Bowls.

One could tell by Brady’s body language during his presser after the game that he wasn’t happy with a lot of his own performance. Especially with a red-zone pick that was thrown behind Brandon LaFell. Brady took responsibility for it, LaFell said he ran a sloppy route and wasn’t in the right position.

Either way, this one was big or “Giant” to coin a phrase. Brady’s final drive with 1:47 left and no timeouts wasn’t always pretty, but he got the job done.The near interception and having to convert a 4th and 10 from their own 20-yard line were two key plays. But he moved them into position with key receptions by Amendola and Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots were able to pull off a dramatic win and flip the tables on the Giants.

What Now for the Offense?: With Edelman on the shelf for probably the remainder of the regular season, how will the Patriots offense adapt? The offensive line is already decimated by injuries and now they’ll miss Brady’s top target.

The pressure will be on Amendola to as closely replicate Edelman’s role as he can. He was immense on Sunday, besides his 82-yard punt return, he turned in 10 catches for 79 yards on 11 targets including several clutch plays on the final drive.

Rob Gronkowski will be looked to even more, the big man had five catches for 113 yards including a career long 76-yard touchdown strike from Brady on Sunday and Brandon LaFell will have to step up his game a notch as well. LaFell only had two catches but for 66 yards. These three will be the key players that will have to step up.

Depending upon the opponent, the Patriots could utilize more two tight end sets featuring Scott Chandler, the big tight end had an early touchdown reception as well as two deep drops later in the game. Or bring in Aaron Dobson, the forgotten one at WR who could conceivably give them a deeper target on the perimeter. Dobson did get in the game and a single catch for five yards.

Either way, the loss of Edelman is a big one and won’t be easy to replace his production or his toughness on the field.

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

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

Three Keys to Victory for the Patriots over the Giants

Steve Balestrieri
November 13, 2015 at 8:25 am ET

The undefeated Patriots (8-0), take on the Giants (5-4) Sunday afternoon in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Forgive us if this sounds somewhat familiar. The last two times the Patriots have played the Giants they were on long winning streaks of 10 games+ and each ended in losses to New York. Currently the Pats are on an 11-game winning streak heading back to the playoffs in 2014.

So we know that the Giants and in particular Eli Manning seems to channel his best performances against New England. Manning plays his best when the money is on the line especially in the playoffs, much like Joe Flacco his regular season numbers belie a solid if not spectacular post-season quarterback, so he is the polar opposite of his more famous brother.

But those Super Bowls were then and this is now. So from a Patriots perspective how do the Patriots end their three-game slide against those G-Men from New York? Here are our three keys to victory for the Pats to come out of New York with a 9-0 record:

Win the Turnover Battle: This sounds innocuous enough and we state it every week but for the Giants winning the turnover battle is essential. How does a team that has a defense that is 25th in the NFL and 31st against the pass go 5-4? Turnovers.

No one is better than forcing turnovers than the opportunistic Giants defense. They’ve forced 21 turnovers in 2015, (13 interceptions and 8 fumbles) and lead the league with a plus-12 turnover differential. Entering Thursday night’s game between the Jets and Bills, the Patriots and Jets were tied in 2nd with a +7 turnover differential.

The Giants defense gives up a lot of yardage and a lot of points, but how they’ve been able to counter that is to force a lot of turnovers that have stopped drives. The Patriots will make things much easier on themselves by limiting the turnovers, something the Patriots have been excellent at this season. Tom Brady has thrown only two interceptions and the team has lost only three fumbles.

This is also an area where the Patriots can improve defensively. They’ve forced ten fumbles but only recovered three. And so many times this season, we’ve seen would-be interceptions slide thru the Pats secondary’s hands. This will be one of the key areas to watch on both sides of the ball on Sunday.

This is a Gronk Sunday: When the Patriots and Giants last met in Super Bowl XLVI, TE Rob Gronkowski was hurt and a shadow of himself. Brady and the Patriots offense used him mostly as a decoy as his ankle injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game really limited his effectiveness.

Gronkowski is healthy and is facing a team that has a lot of trouble stopping opposing tight ends. Indeed, opposing tight ends have caught 52 of 70 pass targets for 658 yards and five touchdowns against the Giants. The 77.9 yards per game given by the Giants defense to opposing tight ends are the second most in the NFL behind the Saints (80.6). Now they’re facing the best overall tight end in the game. With a beat-up secondary and a pass rush that’s struggled to get after opposing QB’s this is a perfect week for Brady to attack the middle of the Giants defense.

There was some talk of the Giants sliding their best available cornerback, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie over to cover Gronkowski this week, something coach Tom Coughlin joked with the media about earlier in the week. Coughlin said with a smile that he was going to listen to the media about the matchup. That would be a mistake considering the Patriots can counter with WRs Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. That would open up large areas of the field for them to operate in.

However, Gronkowski is a big matchup mismatch on the Giants safeties, former Patriot Brandon Meriweather and Landon Collins. With injuries to the linebacking core as well, this is an area where Brady and the Patriots can really attack the defense. Look for Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels to call Gronk’s number early and often Sunday.

Flip the tables on Manning With the Pass Rush: One of the reason’s the Giants were able to derail the Patriots last two Super Bowl matchups was the pass rush, specifically using just a four-man rush. Manning and the Giants haven’t had a productive running game but they’ve been very good thru the air.

Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris, Larry Donnell and Shane Vereen give Manning plenty of weapons to use in the passing game. They’ll get even more dangerous once Victor Cruz returns around Week 12. So to stop Manning and the Giants passing game, they’ll have to get after Manning.

Now it is the Patriots who have the better pass rush, they’ve logged 26 sacks, good for 2nd in the league and will need to bring some heat on Manning and disrupt his deep passing game. Given time, Beckham Jr. will no doubt get open and then he’s very apt to break a long gainer.

Having Jabaal Sheard back to practice this week is a big plus, if he is able to go on Sunday, the rotation with him, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones is an area the Patriots will have to win. One area to watch will be the A-gap pressure from Dont’a Hightower. Hightower has been an effective blitzer and the team may opt to use him over Jonathan Freeny who wasn’t effective coming up the middle last week.

Normally Hightower shares that responsibility with Jamie Collins, but this week with the team activating Eric Martin from the practice squad, it is looking like the virus that sidelined Collins last week will hold him out again.

If the Patriots can carry out those three keys on Sunday, then the chances look much better for them to leave New York for a happy plane ride back to Foxboro.

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