Celtics Trade (A Ton) for Kyrie Irving

Isaiah Thomas

So long, Isaiah.

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If your immediate reaction was “That’s way too much!,”  I couldn’t agree more.  How did Cleveland come away with Ante Zizic and the Nets pick, as well as Isaiah and Crowder, who were obviously gonna be included if a deal happened, anyway???

Here’s the problem: Kyrie Irving was not that much better than Isaiah Thomas last year, .  In no way am I saying that 28-year-old Isaiah Thomas for 1 year is a better asset than 25-year-old Kyrie Irving with 2 years left on his, but the difference between the two isn’t worth Crowder, Zizic, AND a pick that is practically guaranteed to be top 10 next year.

Also, how is nobody mentioning that now the Celtics have no one to guard LeBron or Durant?  Sure, Crowder was not exactly the wingman version of Gary Payton in his prime, but I’d feel a lot better about an Eastern Conference Finals with Crowder on the team than not on the team.

Ultimately, what this means is that Danny Ainge is betting against Isaiah’s hip and his fight against regression, betting against Crowder as a stopper, betting against Zizic as the rebounding help they need, and betting against Brooklyn being the worst in the league again.  When your team has had all of these assets for awhile, you tend to get attached to them, and I love the fact that Danny Ainge is more cold blooded than I am about his assets.

But this was just a little too much.  This trade doesn’t make the Celtics automatically better than the Cavs this year (who suddenly have the perfect guy to guard Gordon Hayward if LeBron is shutting down someone else), and it’s hard to see them being better in the next 2-8 years with the loss of Crowder and his amazing contract, a young, promising big, and a top 10 pick.

Also, there’s the little problem that Phoenix wouldn’t even trade Josh Jackson and Eric Bledsoe for this dude. Now the C’s traded way more.  Fantastic.

All in all, I should be happier about the Celtics getting the guy who hit this shot.  But I’m not.  Danny Ainge is a master poker player, but occasionally, even Doyle Brunson bets too much on a hand.  Ainge just made the same mistake.

The Avery Bradley Trade that Danny Ainge Should Have Made

By now, you’ve seen Woj’s article that Avery Bradley and a 2nd round pick have been traded to the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris.  While everyone understands why Ainge made the necessary move, it’s clear that he did not get equal value for one the best defenders in the league.

Marcus is not Markieff, so don’t expect Markieff’s twin to make the same impact that he did in the 2nd round of the playoffs against the Celtics.  Marcus has never had higher than 14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, or 43.4 FG%.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that he’ll be an asset to the Celtics when his minutes cut back from 30-35 to about 20-25 — most likely improving his per 36 ratings — but that production doesn’t equal Avery Bradley (plus a 2nd rounder).

Morris does have another year on the books at just $5 million, which is nice for a team that will have to pay Isaiah and Smart next year.  But if we look a little harder, we can find another guy with a very similar contract situation that would’ve been just a little better for the Celtics.

Buried in the Woj report on ESPN was two other suitors that wanted Bradley: the Lakers and Clippers.  In L.A., we find our guy.

Patrick Beverly also makes a little over $5 million each of the next two years, and he’s a flat out better player than Marcus Morris.  What’s more is he can fill in the perimeter defender role that Bradley had.  And I bet that Doc Rivers would love to have someone he’s already coached, since that seems to be his defining metric on whether or not he signs someone.

There are two flaws with that hypothetical trade, so far.  First, Doc Rivers the GM has been pretty dumb at times, but he’s not dumb enough to give up 2 years of Beverley for 1 year of Bradley.  There would have to be another asset thrown in there, but I’m totally fine with that.  Ainge had to give up a 2nd rounder for Morris.  Surely a 1st for Beverley is more appealing. Maybe give the Clippers their future 1st rounder back?  Done.

Second, Bradley makes a little too much.  The Clips would need to add about $1.5 or $1.6 in salary to make the deal work because they’re over the cap.  Either they could throw a minimum guy into the deal — which may make the Celtics have to trade Rozier or Jackson to someone else, or the Celtics and Clips could find a third team with some cap space.

Doc was clearly interested in Avery, and Danny Ainge would clearly love a perimeter defender to take AB’s spot.  Maybe they tried to work this one out and the minor issues I just reviewed were actually major issues, but I know that I’d be far happier giving up slightly more for Patrick Beverley than I am getting Marcus Morris.

So Long, Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley was a true Celtic.  Ever since the Celtics drafted him 19th overall in 2010, coming off an excruciating loss in the 2010 Finals, Bradley has been everything the Celtics could have hoped for and FAR more.

It’s easy to forget now, but the Celtics may have snuck by the Miami Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals if Bradley didn’t go down with injuries to both shoulders that required surgery soon after the season.  He already made a huge impact in just his second year, and he just kept on improving.  Look at how he’s added something to his offensive game every year and improved steadily:

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And of course, these numbers you see above mostly have to do with his worst side of the ball.  Bradley has been a defensive beast since entering the league, and he’s easily one of the best perimeter defenders in the game.  I remember hearing somewhere that Kyrie Irving admitted that Bradley guards him the best of anyone in the league, and it shows.  I will always maintain that, on March 1, 2017 during a nationally televised Cavs-Celtics game in Boston, Avery Bradley played the best defense that I’ve ever seen anyone played in a game. Here are some highlights:

March 1, 2017 Avery Bradley Defensive Highlights

it makes sense that the Celtics had to trade him, and I’m glad they were able to get someone who’s actually on a roster, giving them one less spot to fill with minimum guys.  I knew a trade of Smart, Bradley, or Crowder would happen… but man, it sucks more than I realized to see Bradley go.

Thanks for everything, AB.  You will be missed.



Danny Ainge Just Screwed Up Big Time


The NBA just saw its most one-sided trade since Danny Ainge sold one year of Paul Pierce and two years of Kevin Garnett into three top 5 picks, essentially.  The Celtics had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of this one, as well, but Danny Ainge passed for reasons that will likely remain a mystery forever.

The Sacramento Kings just traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, their 1st rounder this season, and Philly’s 2nd rounder this season.

That’s it.

New Orleans just got a 26 year old, 3x All Star for the 10th-15th pick in the draft, a good 2nd rounder, a 23 year old rookie with a 9.97 PER, a 25 year old with an 11.25 PER, and a decent player on an expiring contract.  I just have one question:


I’ll admit that I’ve been very high, maybe too high, on Boogie for some time now.  Like when I wrote this piece titled “Celtics should go all in for DeMarcus Cousins” 12 months ago, when I said that Celtics should offer 2 of the 3 Brooklyn picks plus Terry Rozier and some other stuff for the big man.  I also said, “The C’s will have to trade at least 1 of the Brooklyn picks without a doubt, but I’d try as I could to not trade Marcus Smart.

Turns out, the price would have been Rozier, Tyler Zeller, a 1st round pick, and either another 1st or one of the Euro guys that Danny stashed last year. (You know Vlade Divac would have loved one of the Euro big men.)

Danny Ainge has always thought in terms of assets, and he has been 100% right to do that.  That’s how he got Isaiah Thomas for a 1st and Jae Crowder and two 1st rounders for half a season of Rajon Rondo.  He HAS to know that DeMarcus Cousins is a much better asset than the pile of garbage the Pelicans sent to NorCal.

Even if DeMarcus Cousins wound up clashing with Stevens and reopening his beef with Isaiah, Ainge could have dealt him during the summer for at least 80% of the same price.  At best, you just got the final piece that takes you over the Cavs and the Warriors by 2018.  (Even with Cousins, a title in 2017 would still be very unlikely.)  At worst, you lose a little bet of your chip count that is still loaded.

I’m still thrilled to have had Danny Ainge leading the Celtics’ front office for the last handful of years, especially during this masterful rebuild.  However, the point of hoarding assets is to be ready to pounce when a superstar becomes available.  If the C’s aren’t huge fans of Boogie, then that’s totally fine.  But when the price for a top 15 player is this low, you have to do it.  Danny Ainge didn’t pull the trigger, and I’m not sure that he’ll get another shot this good for a long time.

Was This the Most Boring Patriots Season Since 2001?


Let me start by saying that I am in no way complaining.  I’d take a boring 2016 season over a thrilling 2013 or 2015 season any day.  But it’s impossible to argue that this Pats season was an awesome one to witness.

Since Week 17 ended, I’ve been looking for Pats 2016 season highlights everywhere I can find them.  And I’ve watched the NFL highlights of all 18 Pats games this year, which have gotten better since the NFL took out the narration of Rich Eisen and made more room for more plays in the highlight package.  (No offense to Eisen, who’s a beast.)

What I’ve found is there really weren’t any awesome Pats wins this year.  The best game of the year was the Seattle game, which loses a lot of luster as a Pats fan because of the final result.

Every other game that was supposed to be a huge game for the Patriots simply did not live up to the hype.  The Week 15 game in Denver flat out sucked, and in November we were all looking ahead to that game as one of the most important of the season.  Week 7 in Pittsburgh wasn’t great because of Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, and the previous week against the Bengals, Brady’s first home game of the season, didn’t deliver because the Bengals didn’t deliver all year.  Week 3 against the Texans was supposed to be a close game to the point that the Texans were actually favored in Foxboro, but Jacoby Brisset and the Pats didn’t give a shit about your stupid Las Vegas lines.  The Week 14 Monday Night game vs. the Ravens was a decent one, but only because the Pats almost threw the game away.

The Patriots had 5 regular season games against playoff teams this year, and 4 were against the Dolphins, Texans, or Roethlisberger-less Steelers.  And they lost the 5th.  Meanwhile, the Pats played 6 games against the Jets, Browns, Bengals, 49ers, and Rams.

Lastly, the Pats’ duo of playoff games have sucked in terms of entertainment. One of them was supposed to suck, and it did its job of sucking because Brock Osweiler is a joke.  The AFC Championship game, however, wasn’t supposed to be a joke, but the 2nd half of the game was almost as lopsided as the 2nd half against the Colts in the AFCCG two years ago.  If you don’t remember that game, it was the one when the Pats cheated their way with deflated footballs to a 17-7 halftime lead, and then won the 2nd half 28-0 with properly inflated balls. Roger Goodell can go fuck himself.

The most entertaining game of the season for the Pats, surprisingly, was the opening night game in the desert.  The Pats beat the Cardinals on a missed field goal with under a minute to go, and it’s the only game where I feel my heart rate rise a beat or two when watching highlights.  The fact that Al Michaels was calling that game only helps matters.

The Cardinals game featured lead changes, late-game drama, and all around good football.  There are two problems, though.  First, the Cardinals finished 7-8-1 and missed the playoffs, and it’s always more fun in hindsight to look back on games in which the Pats beat a playoff team.  Oh, and the second problem is that there was no Tom Brady.

So there it is: The most entertaining game of the Pats season was in Week 1 against a non-playoff team without Tom Brady.

During the past 7 seasons in which the Pats have earned 1st round byes, 2016 was easily the most boring year.  The 2009 season was infuriating, but it wasn’t boring.  It still featured the awesome comeback win in Week 1 vs. the Bills and the 4th-and-2 game against the Colts, and people forget that, through the first 3 quarters of that game, the Pats were probably the best team in the NFL at 6-2 and on their way to 7-2.

The 2001, 2003, and 2007 seasons were not boring in the slightest, and 2004 had enough drama to beat out 2016.  The 2002 and 2005 seasons weren’t boring at all, as the Pats were defending the first title in ’02 and defending back-to-back titles in ’05, neither of which we had ever happened before in Foxboro.  The 2006 season may have been just as boring when it comes to the regular season, but the Chargers game in the playoffs and the subsequent loss to the Colts ensure that 2006 wasn’t as boring as this year.

That leaves 2008, which takes the cake only because Brady was out the whole year.  Among normal years, though, 2016 was the least entertaining season the Pats have had since they started crushing the league. The good news, though, is that nobody in the 5.5 states of New England will care how boring it was if the Patriots make the Falcons their latest victim.

Comparing 2016 Pats to another Brady-Belichick Super Bowl Team


First of all, how amazing is it that I can write this type of can column?  Being able to compare your team’s 7 Super Bowl teams within the past 16 seasons is mind-blowing.  Savor these moments.

Anyway, the 2016 Patriots were an interesting team.  During the middle of the season, it looked like the defense just wouldn’t be able to hold up, and you’re lying if you pretend that you weren’t terrified of a playoff upset by Oakland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, or Denver when Gronk went down.  Nonetheless, the Pats won their two playoff games by a combined 37 points, even though we all agree that they kind of sucked in the first one.

Compared to the 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2014 teams, the 2016 Patriots are far different from so many of them.  There is one of those AFC Champion teams, however, that is a cousin of this year’s Pats team.

The 2001 Pats is clearly not the one.  Tom Brady has an absurd 99.5 rating on ProFootballFocus this season.  (The ratings are done out of 100, and 90 is considered “elite.”)  He definitely was not elite during first season taking over for Drew Bledsoe.  He wasn’t bad by any means, but that team’s defense and special teams were much better than anything about its offense.  Very different from 2016.

The 2003 and 2004 teams achieved what may be the best two year period of a defense of all time, especially when you factor in the team achievements of a Super Bowl win in both years.  I love Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, and Malcolm Butler.  But they’re not Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, and Ty Law.

The 2007 Patriots are not the 2016 Patriots.  They may both have awesome offenses led by incredible seasons from Tom Brady and better than average defenses, but these Pats just aren’t the 2007 ones.  This year’s team didn’t stomp on the rest of the league during the regular season the same way the record setting Patriots did.

Next, we’re going to skip to the 2014 Patriots, which should tell you who my final answer is.  It’s easy to say that the 2014 Pats were similar to this year’s team, and in many ways, they were.  But that offense also relied much more on Gronk than this year’s team has (obviously due to Gronk’s injuries this season).   We all lived in fear of a Gronk injury during the 2014 season that would have dismantled the year’s campaign.  In the first four games when the Pats gave Gronk a reduced snapcount, Brady and the rest of the offense was lackluster.  When they let him loose in Week 5, the offense was incredible.

This year, we all feared that Gronk injury as well, but with Chris Hogan, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis, and James White replacing Brandon LaFell, Shane Vereen, and Tim Wright, the offense could survive that Gronk injury a lot better.  And it did.  There’s no way that the Patriots win the 2014 Divisional game vs. Baltimore without Gronk’s 7 receptions for 108 yards and 1 TD.

Also, the 2014 defense was better.  New England’s best part of the defense in both years was/is its secondary, but the 2016 team doesn’t have the same firepower.  Malcolm Butler is a beast, but he’s not 2014 Darrellle Revis, and Patrick Chung has taken a step back this year.  The Pats defense has improved massively over the course of the season, but consider this:  The 2014 Pats secondary didn’t allow a pass completion to the Seahawks for the first 1.5 quarters in Super Bowl 49, but Russell Wilson lit them up in their matchup this year.

The answer, of course, is the 2011 Patriots that lost to the Giants in Super Bowl 46.  Both the 2011 and 2016 Patriots teams featured a version of Tom Brady that was incredible that season, and the 2011 team was 3rd in league offense that season on Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, while this 2016 team was 2nd.  While the 2011 Super Bowl did have Gronk the whole season, they were relying on a crippled version of Gronk in the Super Bowl, which mirrors the 2016 team not having Gronk at all more than it is to the 2014 team using him at full throttle.

The weakest part of the comparison lies with the defenses, as the 2016 defense is much better.  The 2016 team is ranked at 16th on Football Outsiders, and I’d put them higher because of their performance ever since the Seattle game in early November.  The 2011 Pats, meanwhile, look to be nothing similar, as they were ranked 30th.  But I’ve never bought that ranking.  As much as I love Football Outsiders, I’ve always felt that their ranking of the 2011 Pats defense was off.  They gave up more than 27 points only once, and held the Ravens and Giants to 20 and 21 points in the AFCCG and Super Bowl, respectively.  Those weren’t great offenses, and I’m in no means saying that the Pats defense that year was great, but they also weren’t the 3rd worst in the league.  They were at least mediocre and at best decent, which isn’t too far off pace from this year’s team.  Finally, the Pats’ special teams this year was 7th in the league, while in 2011 it was 5th.  Pretty similar.

The biggest similarities may lie in the intangibles.  In both 2011 and 2016, the Pats faced a ton of criticism (some of it legitimate) about getting easy schedules.  Also, the NFL was searching for a truly great team all year, and there was none to be found.  The NFC was better in 2011, especially when Matt Schaub went out for the year.  The NFC was also better in 2016, if you haven’t been reminded enough by 500,000 Patriots haters that you know.  Finally, the Pats got to beat up on horrendous quarterbacks in the Divisional Round of both years.

The biggest difference between the 2011 and 2016 teams will come down to their Super Bowl opponents.  The Falcons are much better on offense and much worse on defense than the 2011 Giants.  Luckily for us, the recipe for beating the Pats every postseason has been applying pressure to Brady, and the Falcons are nowhere near the 2007 Giants, 2011 Giants, or 2015 Broncos in that department.  For that reason, let’s hope tha t2016 turns out differently than 2011.

Pats Need A Win in Miami, But Not out of Fear of Raiders

We won’t know for sure whether or not the Patriots are resting their starters in Week 17 until the final whistle Sunday against the Dolphins.  That’s the nature of rooting for a team coached by Bill Belichick.  As of right now though, the internet/sports radio guessing machines seem to suggest that the Pats won’t rest their starters in the season’s final week.  That’s the right call.

It’s logical to think, “The Pats lost out on homefield advantage last year, and they probably would’ve beaten the Broncos if the AFC Championship had been in Foxboro and not Denver, so they shouldn’t let history repeat itself.”  That’s fair, but that’s actually not the reason that the Pats need to lock up the 1 seed.  Let’s be real, the Pats should beat the Raiders by a touchdown or two even if the game is in Oakland.  Derek Carr is a damn good quarterback, and Matt McGloin is definitely not a damn good quarterback.  Oakland is currently ranked 8th in total DVOA according to Football Outsiders, but that’s only because their 7th ranked defense buoys their 22nd ranked defense (and 13th ranked special teams.)  That #7 ranking is gonna drop juuuuust a little bit, and we shouldn’t be concerned about New England traveling to Oakland.

There is another opponent lurking, however, that should worry you.  If the Pats fall to the 2 seed on Sunday, then they’ll most likely have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round.  While that game promises to be an incredible one, and while the NFL would be thrilled for the ratings it would bring, it’s a very scary game for the Patriots.

Remember, even when the Pats beat the Steel Curtain in October, the game was in doubt for a large portion of the contest.  The Steelers had the ball down 14-10 in the 3rd quarter, and luckily they only got a field goal on that drive.  The Pats then faced a 3rd and 7 from the outskirts of Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal range, and Brady connected with Gronk for a 36 yard TD pass.  From that point on, New England was in control, and the Steelers were done.

Here’s the thing:  Big Ben wasn’t playing in that game, and Rob Gronkowski was.  Even though the Pats would be facing the Steelers in the playoffs in Foxborough, the Ben/Gronk swap makes a bigger difference than homefield advantage, as important as that is.

The Steelers can drop 40 points on any defense in the league, and their porous defense (which surprisingly ranks 9th on Football Outsiders) will look much less susceptible when they don’t have to prepare for Gronk.  The Steelers are clearly the toughest matchup for the Patriots among the AFC teams in the postseason, and Pats fans should root hard for the Pats to not have to face them in the playoffs.  That 2-3 game scares me, and it should scare you too.  Root for the Pats to win on Sunday so that they don’t have to face the Steelers in the Divisional Round.

Bill Simmons Was Never Meant for TV


Despite the title of this column, I don’t blame Bill Simmons one bit for trying his hand at television.  When he took ESPN’s offer to work on NBA Countdown, he wanted his unique voice to reach more basketball fans, and he wanted to prove that a non-former player could hang with the cool kids who could speak from personal experience.  Simmons had (and still has) many lumps as a TV personality, but it’s not like his time on NBA Countdown was a disaster.  Well, a few moments were disasters.  This one still makes me cringe more than The Situation at the Roast of Donald Trump.

Simmons’ departure from ESPN in 2015 meant that two things would happen:  One, he’d continue to take shots at ESPN like a salty ex-girlfriend for months and months.  Two, Simmons had his own show on HBO after getting paid a boatload of money, reportedly between $7 and $9 million per year.

Now that Any Given Wednesday has been canceled, it’s safe to say that HBO overpaid for the man who has consistently (and fairly) criticized NBA general managers for dishing out horrible contracts.  Simmons will still have value to HBO sports going forward, but now Simmons’ best case scenario is that he and his contract become Rashard Lewis almost a decade ago, whose contract was rightfully panned by Simmons himself.  Lewis got a contract that made no sense and was a huge overpay, but he still was a valuable part of an Orlando Magic team that did well enough to make the 2009 Finals.  That’s what HBO is hoping for out of The Sports Guy right about now.

Bill Simmons’ mistake was not in taking his shot at TV.  His mistake was almost completely abandoning his writing.  Simmons seems to have forgotten where his bread is buttered.  Let me ask you this: When you think of Bill Simmons and what he does now, is the first thing that comes to your mind “sportswriter?”  For me, I now think of him as a TV guy who also runs a website.  When your fans don’t think of your best skill when they think of you, that’s a problem, and it’s a problem that Simmons created for himself.  He should have been writing last fall when he didn’t have  TV show, his own columns need to be a bigger part of The Ringer, and he should have his own section on the top heading of the website like he did with Grantland. But his writing has become an afterthought, which is where Simmons deserves the most blame.

On last week’s Any Given Wednesday, Simmons did a bit on curses in sports.  You should watch it here to know what I’m talking about, and the fact that it’s only 2.5 minutes makes up for the fact that it’s pretty bad.  Simmons listed off the four biggest remaining curses with the undertone that it’s pretty easy to get fans to buy into any curse.  Fittingly, the fourth curse that Simmons listed was actually fake.  On TV, it was horrible.  It didn’t work at all.

In writing, however, that would have been pretty funny.  Bill Simmons was masterful with those relatable stories, tangents that somehow made sense, and creative arguments that always proved his point, like the one with curses.  But his tone plays much better in writing than on TV.  His proof that curses are easy to create would have been fantastic at the end of a paragraph, but it didn’t play at the end of a TV segment.  Simmons’ still has at least 80-90% of the same smart, funny, and influential tone that he always did, but now you can’t find that tone in the medium that it actually works for.  That was his one giant mistake throughout this whole ordeal, not giving TV a shot.

Early Back-to-Backs Will Provide Insight


During the Celtics’ first 13 games, they have 4 back-to-backs, which means that 8 games are involved in back to backs by November 19th.  Last year, part of the reason that the Celtics exceeded expectations last year was that they were awesome in back-to-backs due to their depth.

Tonight, Boston takes on the ever-confusing Bulls in Chicago, and it’ll be a good test for the C’s to determine how they fare against an Eastern Conference team that they clearly should beat.  Even if the C’s are on the road in the latter half of a back-to-back, they don’t have an excuse for losing to a team like the Bulls.

In fact, the Celtics are on the road for the latter half of all 4 back-to-backs by November 19.  They play in Cleveland, Indiana, and Detroit in each of the next 3, all of which will represent tough matchups for the C’s. But tonight’s is the easiest of the quartet of games, and they have to get off to a good start in back-to-backs tonight.  (The Detroit matchup looks like it could be easier on paper than a healthy Chicago, but the C’s face the Pistons the night after playing the Warriors in Boston, which will surely leave the Celtics tired.)

I’m not stupid enough to call the 1st or 2nd night of the season a must win.  That’s Trent Dilfer’s job.  But I am very eager to see tonight’s game, because it’ll be a great litmus test for the Celtics going forward.

Cincinnati Bengals Will Be Perfect Test for Pats’ Red Zone Defense


The New England Patriots are the best pick to win the Super Bowl, but they also have a glaring Achilles heal that could spell their demise in January.  The Pats have been a bend-but-don’t-break defense in the past 5 seasons or so, but their 30th ranked red zone defense this season is a huge departure from the norm.

New England has given up touchdowns on 80% of opponents’ trips to the red zone.  That’s flat out horrible — good for a tie with Atlanta for 2nd worst in the league.  That’s exactly the type of weakness that could cost the Patriots a playoff win.  Even if the pats means that they give up just one more red zone score than an average team in the playoff game, that’s a 4 point swing right there.  In the 4 years that the Pats won the Super Bowl, they’ve won 7 games that were decided by 4 points or fewer.  Their seasons also ended in playoff games decided by that same margin in 2006, 2007, 2011, and 2015.  The importance of the Pats’ red zone defense cannot be underrated.

Malcolm Butler has shut down the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. before, but I’m still concerned about him facing a bigger receiver like A.J. Green.  Green represents the perfect test for the Pats defense, as the Bengals are similarly ranked 30th in red zone offense.  If New England is going to have a chance at being a good red zone defense, the Bengals are the type of offense that they have to contain in the field’s final 20 yards.  We need to see Butler and the rest of the secondary handle A.J. Green, and we need to see Mike Nugent get as many field goal opportunities as he gets PAT chances.  If that happens, then the Pats will be making an almost undeniable argument that they’re the best team in the league.  We’re going to learn a lot about our team’s Super Bowl chances today.