The Patriots are going to win the AFC East again this year. They will be one of the top 5 Super Bowl Contenders. The sun will rise in the East tomorrow. Some things are facts of life.
But, as we learned the hard way last season — which we should have known all along — the Patriots’ playoff seeding is incredibly important, especially with a trip to Mile High in Denver on the line. The Pats have always struggled in Denver, and ensuring that the AFC Championship would be in Foxboro was an important aspect of the Pats’ 2015 season. Of course, Bill Belichick made one of his rare mistakes and rested the team in Week 17 (and didn’t go for 2 on the tying touchdown in the Jets game in Week 16).
In the 2016 season, the Patriots, Broncos, and Steelers/Bengals will likely experience another all out war for the number 1 seed. Here’s the problem: The NFL gifted the Broncos with a very advantageous schedule.
I’m not saying that the Broncos have an easy schedule in terms of opponents, mainly because it’s near impossible to predict how teams will be playing in half a year. In terms of the timing of several significant games couldn’t be much better for the defending champs. Let’s take note of the Broncos’ schedule perks:
- The NFL Twitterverse commented on the Broncos schedule by exclaiming, “Look how tough the Broncos’ first 3 games are!” But here’s the thing, if the Broncos are gonna have to face the Panthers this season, the best time to play them is opening night. Since 2003, only the 2012 Giants and 2013 Ravens lost the kickoff game. The 2013 Ravens had to travel to Denver for the opener because the Orioles were playing at the time and the two teams’ stadiums are too close to have both teams play at once (seriously), and the Eli Manning era Giants have been an all time enigma, so I don’t put much stock into them losing, either. Given the Broncos’ home field advantage at Mile High, they’ll probably continue the streak with the added motivation of the night, and then they get the Colts at home with 3 extra days’ rest. That’s a fantastic way to face the Colts, as well.
- Denver’s other Thursday night game and Monday night game. couldn’t have worked out better. It seems like a Thursday night on the road after facing the Falcons would be a tough game, but the Broncos only have to play the Chargers. Philip Rivers might have one of his random 500 yard days, but it’s more likely that an all time QB statue will get pummeled by DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Then the Broncos don’t play the Texans for another 11 days and it’s in Denver. The game after a Monday night game also have high trap game potential… but not so much when those same Chargers come to town for the Broncos’ 2nd home game in a row.
- Then the Broncos have to go on the road for 2 games in a row, but they get rewarded with a bye week. That bye comes in Week 11, and a late bye seems to be much better for a team with a front-heavy schedule who’s already expected to easily make the playoffs, right?
- The Broncos’s bye week gives them an extra week of rest before they face the Chiefs at home.
- Finally, the most important game of the year from our perspective is the Pats-Broncos game in Week 15 on Sunday Night Football. We already knew that the Pats would travel to Denver for the game, but we didn’t know that New England would host Baltimore on Monday Night Football only 6 days before. The Ravens do anything possible to beat the Pats up every time they play, which is part of what makes those games so awesome. The thin air of Denver on a short week after facing the Ravens? The Pats couldn’t have had a worse draw for that game.
Looks like we might have to get used to the idea of the Pats going back to Denver in the playoffs. Let’s hope Philip Rivers has a few more random 500 yard games in him.
If there’s one thing that the Peter Chiarelli taught us during his mostly successful tenure as Bruins GM that ended badly, it’s that you don’t hold onto players from a championship team just for the heck of it. The New Orleans Saints will also have to learn that lesson the hard way.
This season, both Drew Brees and all of the Saints’ dead contracts will each take up $30 million in cap space. That’s right, the Saints are paying $60 million off the top for a single player. They also finished last season with a 7-9 record and a Pythagorean win expectation of just 6.5 wins, and then proceeded to make Coby Fleener their chief free agent signing.
The Saints aren’t going anywhere, and there is zero reason to keep rolling out the same team. They signed Sean Payton to a 5 year extension today, which is totally understandable because he’s such a great coach, but it’s a signal that they’re not moving on from the pipe dream of turning back the clock to 2009. If the Saints want to keep Payton, that’s fine, but they need to trade their star quarterback.
Drew Brees just turned 37, and he had a better season at age 36 than age 35. There is no better time to trade an aging quarterback with a $30 million cap hit — and that’s before you remember that NFL teams need quarterbacks like fish need water.
There’s a poker game/bidding war for Colin Kaepernick that involves multiple teams right now. Kaepernick was a fine quarterback in 2012, but it’s impossible to know if he can still be that guy. At least we know that Brees was a hell of a QB just a few months ago, and while his production will obviously continue to slip in his late 30s, he has far more of a chance to play for a Super Bowl contender than Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Robert Griffin III.
If the Saints were to trade Brees and therefore eat a large chunk of the dead money on his contract, they could trade him for a king’s ransom. For example, the Rams have a lot of cap space left, the 15th overall pick, and a pair of 2nd round picks. They also are set to begin their time in the country’s 2nd biggest market with Case Keenum as their starting quarterback. Don’t you think they’d be smart to trade a lot for Brees? They have a great defense and awesome young running back, and some defenses on their slate of opponents this season include the Seahawks and Cardinals twice each, the Patriots, Jets, Bills, and Panthers. How in the world are they going to make the playoffs with Case Keenum at QB? But if they got Brees, suddenly they’re a Super Bowl contender.
I can’t understand why the Saints aren’t trading Drew Brees to the highest bidder. They’re just going to waste away in mediocrity because they’re so fond of the memories of 2009. What they don’t realize is that, if they refuse to revamp their roster, there will be no memories of these years if they continue to finish 7-9.
First of all, forgive me for writing just about nothing in the past 2 weeks about football. The 2015 season is over in New England, and I’m already counting down to Super Bowl 51 in Houston, just like Tom Brady.
But the big day is finally here, so I have to write about it (I guess). I know that it’s dumb for a Patriots fan to say “I don’t think that Peyton Manning’s offense can score enough to win,” but that’s what I’m going with here. Manning played as well as he possibly could have in the AFC Championship game, and even if he plays that well, the Panthers won’t play as badly as the Pats did. The Panthers don’t have Marcus Cannon at right tackle, after all, and Cam Newton should be able to avoid the rush better than TB12.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive starpower of Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly will play better than Jamie Collins (who’s might be my pick for 2016 DPOY, by the way, because he’ll be coming back with a vengeance after his 2015 that was riddled with a weird illness and a weak performance in Denver 2 weeks ago) and company.
Essentially, the Pats were a good matchup for the Broncos (especially in Denver), and the Panthers will be able to do what the Pats couldn’t in order to win. I don’t like the spread pick that much of Panthers -6 (even though that’s what I’m going with, barely), but I LOVE the 2 team tease of Panthers to win and the under of 51.5. That’s what I’m rolling with.
From the perspective of a New Englander, we just don’t wanna see Peyton go out on top. I have the utmost respect for Peyton Manning, but Manning vs. Brady is something that we definitely care about, even if we pretend that we don’t. Let Cam Newton take home the Lombardi Trophy and piss off his haters.
Sorry that this analysis wasn’t exactly the best, but that’s how you know that I cared a ton about the Patriots 2 weeks ago. At least we’ll always have Super Bowl 49.
The pick: Panthers 23 Broncos 16
MVP: Cam Newton, because they’re not gonna give it to anyone else.
Malcolm Butler had an awesome season. His 2015 campaign was better than we could have hoped for, given his place on the team last year and his jump from the 5th to the 1st cornerback. Sure, there were signs that Bill Belichick trusted him to make a leap, like letting Revis, Browner, Arrington, and Dennard go and having him sit out large chunks of preseason games with the rest of the surefire starters, but we didn’t expect this. Nobody foresaw him shutting down the 2nd or 3rd best receiver in the league (Odell Beckham Jr.) during the final 3.5 quarters of the game with 1-on-1 coverage.
You know what Butler’s only bad game was? Opening night vs. Pittsburgh. Matched up against Antonio Brown, the definitive best receiver in football, Butler gave up 9 receptions to Brown on 10 targets for 133 yards and a touchdown. Butler was no match for the best receiver in the game, but it’s not like anyone else is, either. Here is Brown’s incredible 2015 game log that added up to 136 receptions for 1834 yards and 10 TD.
Brown missed yesterday’s game against the Denver Broncos with a concussion that he suffered on an attempted decapitation from Vontaze Burfict. The loss of Brown might have actually been worth it for the Steelers, because the 15 yard flag (and then the subsequent one when Pacman Jones acted like 2006 Pacman Jones on the field) may have been the difference between the Steelers having enough yardage to kick a game winning field goal. By this past Sunday, though, Brown’s brain hadn’t recovered from violently shaking only 8 days before (When you think about how a concussion is the brain shaking inside someone’s skull and see those words in writing, doesn’t it make you cringe?), and he didn’t travel to Denver for the game.
Let me be honest. I’ve rooted for injuries before. If you’re as much of a diehard fan as I am, then you have, too. I won’t openly celebrate a player going down, because there is a level of outward respect that you have to show to a guy who makes a living entertaining you at the risk of injuries. But I’ve rooted for injuries, and I’ve especially rooted for players to not recover from injuries in time to face one of my teams. I was thrilled that DeMarcus Ware couldn’t suit up against the Pats in their late November game, and I still look to the heavens and thank Bill Belichick (God) for the fact that Jeremy Lane suffered an injury in Super Bowl 49 and the Seahawks had to put Tharold Simon into the game as a replacement. Tom Brady lit up Simon like a Christmas tree, and the Lane injury — on his interception, no less — was the most underrated reason why the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
There are two boundaries that I try not to cross when rooting for injuries, though. The first is a serious, life-altering or career-damaging injury. I don’t root for ACL tears or chronic back problems, because a man shouldn’t lose his livelihood at any point. I’ll root for broken fingers and pulled hamstrings and even “fatigued groins” all day long, but I try not to root for something that could seriously affect a grown man’s ability to play the game that he’s worked all his life to play.
The second boundary is concussions, and I shouldn’t have to tell you why. Good thing the NFL started caring about them in 2010.
Here’s the thing, though. If the Steelers had upset the Broncos on Sunday, it would have been a major advantage for Belichick & Co. if Antonio Brown wasn’t playing. Think about this: The Steelers would have just gone into Mile High, one of the toughest stadiums in the league to play in, and beaten the best defensive team in the league without their top wide receiver, without their top 2 running backs, and with a quarterback whose shoulder is hanging together by dental floss. If Brown (and maybe running back DeAngelo Williams) returned for the Conference Championship in Foxboro, wouldn’t that be terrifying?
But maybe Antonio Brown wouldn’t have recovered from his concussion. Such a situation would have been a tremendous advantage for the Pats, because they could have put Butler and Logan Ryan on Matravius Bryant and Markus Wheaton instead of letting one of those guys go to Justin Coleman, who is a huge dropoff from Ryan. Would you have been rooting for Brown to miss the game? Truthfully, I probably would have. I would have rationalized it by saying something ridiculous like “Well, I want his concussion to no longer plague him starting Sunday morning, right after he’s already been declared out for the game and wouldn’t have made the trip to Foxboro.” But the point still stands that I would have been rooting for a player to have a more significant concussion than was originally hoped.
If you’re a diehard Patriots fan and you feel differently, then I respect you for not feeling the same way that I do. If you’re unsure how you would have felt, then be grateful that you didn’t have to ponder a serious moral dilemma in your head. And as much as that quandary would have been a problem in your head, at least your dome is doing better than Antonio Brown’s right now.
Don’t have a girlfriend during a 3 day weekend of playoff football. She’ll schedule a trip and tons of tours the whole weekend (except during the Pats game, because she knows what she signed up for when dating me). So I don’t have time for a full preview page, sorry about that. Here are the picks.
Carolina to win and cover spread of -2.5.
Denver to win and cover any spread of less than 7. But more lines I’ve seen show Steelers getting at least 7, and I’ll take them to cover that number because the Broncos don’t blow teams out. Hopefully I’m wrong with my pick that the Broncos win overall.
Don’t worry, this one won’t be as long as my post on the Chiefs-Patriots game.
Since their bye week, the Packers have only beaten a single team who finished the year with at least 10 wins: The Minnesota Vikings. They beat the Chiefs and Packers in Weeks 2 and 3, but there was clearly something different about those teams then, Packers especially included.
Green Bay finished the regular season with the 11th ranked offense and 9th ranked defense according to Football Outsiders, and while they were 10th in overall DVOA, they were 19th in weighted DVOA, which places more emphasis on later games.
Eddie Lacy took the rarely seen huge step back in his 3rd year without suffering a major injury. Jordy Nelson’s absence still haunts the Packers, and there’s only so much that Aaron Rodgers can do with James Jones and Randall Cobb against a great defense. The Packers are a great team when they play bad teams, but they don’t look so great when they play against top competition.
The Cardinals are top competition. Tyrann Mathieu’s injury is a big deal, but they still have Patrick Peterson and the 3rd ranked defense by DVOA. Their offense pales in comparison to their defense, as it falls all the way to… 4th.
The Cardinals are simply a better team who has beaten better teams throughout the season, and they are the home team. All that leads us to point to the Cardinals in this game, and that’s before we mention the key X-factor. Bruce Arians coaches the Cards, and he had 2 weeks to prepare for the game. Mike McCarthy coaches the Packers, and he had 6 days to prepare for the game. Bruce Arians > Mike McCarthy.
This game won’t be the blowout that some are predicting, but it won’t be close, either. The Cardinals have been favored by about a touchdown or a little less throughout the week, and I think they’re gonna cover that spread and then some.
Pick: Cardinals win 31-17. This game will probably be the most boring of the week, but I predicted an ugly Pats win that could be worse.
P.S. If I’m right about these Saturday games being boring, then the NFL has a serious problem on its hands. The regular season sucked this year as I’ve been saying (along with many others) for awhile now, and last week consisted of mediocre-at-best games with 2 exciting finishes thrown in. The NFL had better hope I’m wrong.
The day is finally here. After the Patriots won the most rewarding and fulfilling game of my life since Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, we were just waiting for the next Pats postseason game. The seeding, the opponent, and the health of the team were all unknown, but the Pats’ presence in this game was a given. And finally, here we are.
Given that Vontaze Burfict and other members of the Bengals defense would have missed this game, and given Antonio Brown’s concussion and Ben Roethlisberger’s arm that is held together by dental floss right now, the Pats clearly drew the worst of the possible AFC opponents. Make no mistake about it, the Pats clearly cost themselves by losing the 1 seed, drawing the Chiefs, and maybe having to go to Mile High, which is their worst stadium. They would have rolled over the ailing Steelers, but instead, they got the team with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston during the year when Nate Solder is gone for the season.
The obvious — and true — narrative of this game is that it depends on the Patriots’ health. Rob Gronkowski went to the hospital this week for a knee injection, and that fact unequivocally terrifies 95% of Pats fans… and the other 5% are lying. Gronk is likely to play on Saturday afternoon, but he won’t be 100%. That being said, his health might not be the most important of any non-Brady offensive player for the first time in a long time. Julian Edelman will be the key to the Pats offense, as Gronk’s effectiveness might be limited with a strong Chiefs’ pass rush, anyway. They’ll need Gronk to block on some plays, and he won’t have time to get open for the really dangerous routes if KC is rolling through New England’s offensive line. Edelman, however, is the security blanket that Brady needs for those quick throws when he’s pressured.
Edelman will likely draw Chiefs rookie stud cornerback Marcus Peters, but you should feel far better about the matchup than you probably do. Peters is much better as a vertical cornerback than a horizontal one, and Brady and Edelman should be able to connect on crossing routes. Think of what Brady and Edelman did to the Legion of Boom last February. The LOB is an incredible secondary, of course, and they play zone far more than anyone else, Chiefs included. However, they also were much weaker at covering horizontal routes than vertical ones, and Brady picked them apart in those situations. The Chiefs’ top cornerback can’t cover the horizontal routes as well as the vertical ones, and that connection to SB49 bodes well for the Brady Bunch.
The Pats offensive line scares me, of course, especially with Tre Jackson out for the game. Only Josh Kline finished with an above average rating on the team’s offensive line according to Pro Football Focus, and given that he wasn’t exactly 2007 Logan Mankins in 2014, it would shock absolutely nobody if he gets beat all game. Sebastian Vollmer should play tomorrow, but that doesn’t make Justin Houston and Tamba Hali vs. the Pats O-line a fair matchup.
If you’re looking for a few relative dark horses to step up for the Pats, look for James White and Danny Amendola. Brady will need to check down a ton in this game, and hopefully White can do a good enough impersonation of Dion Lewis. If White can be a reliable option for Brady when he’s rushed, then he’ll add a huge element to the Pats’ ability to avoid sacks from Houston and Hali. And if he starts breaking long gains off of check downs, then the KC pass rush will lighten up and wear down over the course of the game, just like Michael Bennett and Seattle’s pass rush finally wore down in the 4th quarter after 50 passes from Tom Brady that included mostly quick throws and a ton of short completions to Shane Vereen.
As for Amendola, the analysis is simple. Peters might get some help on Edelman or Jules might not be 100%, and Amendola can capitalize off of Edelman’s presence and get some space in the open field. Amendola is also huge for quick passes to beat the Chiefs’ potent pass rush, and having 2 shifty slot receivers instead of 1 will be a tremendous advantage to Brady.
On the other side of the ball, the Pats are finally lucky that the opponent’s offense might be more banged up than theirs. Jeremy Maclin is questionable (So are Justin Houston and a few other guys, but they’ll almost certainly play), and he won’t be close to 100% after suffering a high ankle sprain last week. Gronk had a high ankle sprain in the 2011 AFCCG and then was hobbled 2 weeks later in SB46. Even if Maclin does play, I have no doubt whatsoever that Malcolm Butler can stick the 6 ‘0″ Maclin. Travis Kelce will be a headache, but the Pats should be able to devote enough attention to him since Butler will take a hobbled Maclin out of the game and the Chiefs’ don’t have another scary wide receiver.
Maybe even more important than Maclin’s status is that Chiefs center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are both out for the game tomorrow. The Chiefs shockingly have the top ranked rush offense in the league even after Jamaal Charles’ injury, but the running game is way more about offensive lines than people realize. The Pats have their full core of Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Jerod Mayo at linebacker, and their presence coupled with the absence of Morse and Duvernay-Tardif will be a huge advantage to New England.
Ultimately, I’m more confident than most Pats fans, even with the Gronkowski injuries that snuck up on us. Why? Because I don’t see the Chiefs being able to move the ball. Who’s gonna beat the Pats on offense? Maclin is hurt, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West won’t be as effective with missing linemen, and Travis Kelce isn’t exactly a healthy Gronk. Alex Smith is a fine QB, but he isn’t at the level where he can beat a good team with little help.
The Pats’ biggest problem could be turnovers and special teams that give the Chiefs free points. Kansas City had the 7th best special teams according to Football Outsiders, and the Pats, while ranking 5th, have had some horrible meltdowns on the 3rd side of the ball this year. And if Brady throws a Brian Hoyer-esque interception in his own territory, then you never know, the Chiefs might combine that with a big special teams play to steal 10 or 14 points from the Pats. But I’ll never bet on a Belichick team failing in those types of ways in a big game, and that’s why you still have to pick the Patriots. The spread of Pats -5 makes it tempting to take the Chiefs, but I’ll pick the Pats to cover in an ugly 10 point game.
Pick: Patriots win 20-10. The game will be either the least or 2nd least exciting game of the weekend.
The inevitable happened, in that at least one team was gonna move to LA. ESPN is reporting that sources say that the Rams are moving and the Chargers will probably join them. I’m not surprised in the slightest.
Originally, I thought that it would be the Chargers and Raiders. St. Louis is a pretty good sports town, and while Oakland is full of tons of fans who will literally kill you if you say anything bad about the team, the organization has never really embraced Oakland since the team moved back there in the 90s. The Chargers… well, they had to leave. You simply can’t have a football team when half your stadium every game is full of opposing fans.
But there was no chance that the NFL wouldn’t have a team in the biggest market in the US other than New York, and it was very unlikely that they wouldn’t have 2. A third team seemed completely unrealistic for a city that has almost as many traffic problems as it does fairweather fans.
Speaking of those fairweather fans, that’s why I still don’t think that having 2 teams in LA is smart. Not having a single team is dumb because of the market of LA, and the Chargers should have just moved up the 405 to LA and capitalized on the bigger market. But a 2nd team? I’ve spent considerable time in LA recently, and the people there really don’t care much about gaining an NFL team. If you follow Bill Simmons on Twitter, you’ll know that he reports the lack of interest of an NFL team that the people of SoCal have.
If you’re gonna move a team to a new city, they should probably really, really want a team to come. Remember how pumped OKC was when the Sonics decided to move? It’s hard for me to believe in a team’s move to a city if the city’s reaction is almost the opposite. LA is an obvious exception to some degree because of the size of its market, but that exception should be worth 1 team and not 2 in this case.
In case you’re wondering (and you obviously were), the Pats next play the Chargers in San Diego/Los Angeles in 2020, and they next play the Rams in St. Louis/Los Angeles in 2020 as well. The Raiders host the Pats in 2017, so from our perspective as Pats fans, that’s a negative aspect of the Raiders staying put in Oakland.
Since the Vikings beat the Packers in Week 17 to decide the NFC matchups, this is the one game that I haven’t been able to get a feel for whatsoever. The line has been hovering between either team favored by up to 2 points depending on where you check, because nobody else has a feel for this game, either.
These two teams are going in opposite directions, but you already knew that. Green Bay is 10th in total DVOA and 19th in weighted DVOA, while Washington’s rankings are 15th and 12th, respectively.
Here’s the one bit of analysis that you probably haven’t heard enough about, though. The Redskins have a weak pass defense. They’re 19th overall in pass defense DVOA, and they’re 25th in run defense. The Packers without Jordy Nelson will struggle against any strong defense, but the Redskins aren’t very strong. Meanwhile, the Packers (somehow) clock in at the 6th best pass defense in the league, and that will help them greatly against a Kirk Cousins passing offense that has surprisingly become potent.
The fact that people are picking the Redskins seems a little bit too trendy. They’re forgetting that Aaron Rodgers is a damn good QB who can win any game by himself, especially if the opposing defense isn’t great. People are forgetting that the Redskins didn’t beat a single team as good as the Packers, and they’re forgetting that the Redskins played in the NFC East.
I’ll take the Packers +1 or whatever the spread is now, and I’ll obviously take them straight up as well.