An Opportunity in the Making?

Ever since the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers in October 2017, there has been rampant discussion about how the team planned to find the successor to Tom Brady. Many analysts believed that the Pats would take a close look at the QB prospects during the months leading up to April’s draft, as Brady isn’t getting any younger. A recent development with the QB situation in Arizona could end up changing the Pats’ plans in April.

In short, it’s becoming increasingly possible that the Cardinals may choose to move on from their 2018 first round pick, Josh Rosen, who had a disappointing rookie campaign after being drafted tenth overall from UCLA. Ironically enough, Arizona’s new head coach Kliff Kingsbury said that he would draft Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray if he had the first pick of the draft, back when he was the head coach at Texas Tech. This is now the situation Kingsbury finds himself in, as the head coach of the team with the first pick and with Murray entering the draft. Analysts believe that Rosen is not a natural fit for Kingsbury’s Air Raid style of offense, with Murray being an ideal fit with his combination of athleticism and playmaking ability. Although Kingsbury has said the right things in public, Arizona’s GM Steve Keim sparked speculation regarding the team’s plans in April, when he said that Rosen was their QB “for now”.

This could serve as an opportunity for the Patriots, who were reportedly interested in Rosen leading up to the 2018 draft. It’s also important to consider that Rosen is likely better than most if not all of the quarterbacks in this draft class, which would mean that the Pats would most probably have to give up at least a first round pick in order to entice Arizona. Notable quarterbacks traded in recent years, such as Garoppolo and Teddy Bridgewater (who were both on expiring contracts) netted second and third round picks, respectively. Oddly enough, the Eagles netted a first rounder and a fourth rounder in 2016 from the Vikings in exchange for Sam Bradford. Hence, I would expect Arizona to not really consider any offer from the Pats if it didn’t include at least one mid-round pick packaged with the 32nd overall pick. Bill Belichick and the front office could probably afford to give up a mid-round pick, with their war chest including two second rounders and three third rounders. Another interesting angle to acknowledge is the fact that Kliff Kingsbury was Tom Brady’s backup during the 2003 season, and reportedly still has a good relationship with both Brady and Belichick. Maybe the Pats will be able to use that relationship to their advantage.

I truly believe that adding Rosen would be advantageous for the Pats for a number of reasons. Due to their recent victory in Super Bowl LIII, the Pats have the last pick in the first round, which would make it hard for them to draft a top QB prospect without moving up the round via trade. Hence, the Pats would likely be giving up a similar package in a hypothetical trade for Rosen. Also, Rosen could move past his disappointing rookie campaign, similarly to the Rams’ Jared Goff and Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky, who both took a step forward due to a coaching change and the addition of a strong supporting cast. Rosen could get both if he was traded to the Patriots, as he would be learning from Josh McDaniels, with solid pieces such as Sony Michel and Julian Edelman on the offense, who would likely take some pressure off of him. It would also be hard to undersell the benefit of playing behind Tom Brady, due to his work ethic and preparation.

If the Patriots were to trade for Josh Rosen, I think it would set them up wisely for the future.

Super Pats stifle the Rams to win their sixth title!

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I’m not sure that most fans or casual viewers were expecting a defensive slugfest when they tuned into Super Bowl LIII, but that ‘s what we got yesterday, as the Patriots prevailed 13-3 over the Los Angeles Rams (15-4) to win the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the last seventeen years. Although points were at a premium in this game, Julian Edelman capped off his impressive postseason with a performance that earned him the Super Bowl MVP Award.

Here are some takeaways from Super Bowl LIII.

1. Defense wins championships!

As most Patriots fans lament, the New England defense was the weak link the last time the team was in the Super Bowl, as they didn’t have an answer for Nick Foles or the Philadelphia Eagles who dropped 41 points on them. Following that dreadful performance, not much was expected of the defense, with most people overlooking them throughout the season and also leading up to this game, as pundits felt that the Rams had the edge against Bill Belichick’s defensive unit. That was not the case last night, as the raw physicality and ferociousness of the Pats’ defense sent the high-flying Rams crashing down to earth. Whenever Tom Brady and the offense struggled to finish off drives, the defense had their back, as they didn’t allow Jared Goff and the Rams to gain any sort of momentum.

Belichick and Brian Flores ensured that Goff would never be comfortable, as they consistently sent pressure after him which caused the young signal caller to either rush throws or absorb vicious hits. In total, the Pats sacked Goff 4 times and hit him an additional 12 times, with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy playing a huge part. The Rams were one of the NFL’s best offenses due to a steady balance between their rushing and passing attacks which allowed them to either stretch the field with play action or punish their opponent with the speed and power of Todd Gurley. Neither facet of their identity was in play yesterday, as Gurley only got 11 touches, and Goff was forced to drop-back more times than he was accustomed to. This resulted in the Rams being shut out in the first half for the first time under Sean McVay.

In the second half, the Rams had a chance to take the lead, as Brandin Cooks was wide open in the end zone due to a busted coverage, but a second’s hesitation by Goff resulted in a wobbly ball that allowed Jason McCourty to cover 10 yards and dislodge the ball from Cooks’ hands. Later on in the fourth quarter, with the score at 10-3 in favor of the Patriots, the Rams were driving to tie the game, and Goff lofted a perfect pass to Cooks that was knocked out by Duron Harmon to save a touchdown. On the very next play, Harmon came on a safety blitz that caused Goff to panic and float a ball in the vicinity of Cooks that was picked off by Stephon Gilmore to all but seal the victory.

The game plan constructed by Belichick and Flores was absolutely remarkable, as it befuddled the normally impervious McVay, and knocked the Rams out of rhythm. As the Pats proved last night, defense wins championships.

gilmore pick sb53.jpg
(Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

2. The offense was clutch when it mattered

As the final score indicates, the Patriots’ offense left a bunch of points on the field, as Wade Phillips’ defensive unit were able to consistently make stops in order to ensure that the Rams were in contention throughout the night. Tom Brady had a nightmarish start to his night, as his first pass was intercepted (due to a bad read on his part), which wiped out a promising opening drive that appeared to be destined for points. Julian Edelman (10 catches for 141 yards) was a consistent mismatch for the Patriots, as the Rams could not cover him regardless of who was on him, with Nickell Roby-Coleman and Aqib Talib being burnt on several occasions. Edelman was Brady’s security blanket throughout the night, and was especially clutch on third down.

In the fourth quarter, the Pats got the ball back with just under 10 minutes left, and Tom Brady relied on his old friends, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, on a 5 play, 69 yard drive that helped the Patriots drive down the field. Gronk turned back the clock on this drive, as he first beat Samson Ebukam on a 18-yard catch and run, and he set up the Pats deep in the red zone with a diving 29-yard catch. On the very next play, Sony Michel pounded the ball in for the game’s only touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead that they would never relinquish.

I also feel that the penultimate possession by the Patriots was equally impressive, as they were able to use Gilmore’s interception to milk the clock. They rushed the ball from their own 4-yard line all the way to the Rams’ 24-yard line, with Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead leading the way to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal to make it a two possession game.

One of the headlines leading into this game was the matchup between the Rams defensive line and the Pats offensive line, who were amongst the NFL’s best at their respective positions. I think it’s fair to say that the Patriots’ offensive line performed much better than people expected, as the Rams only sacked Brady once (the first and only time he was sacked during the postseason) and hit him 4 times. The duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were limited to 2 combined QB hits.

Brady did look erratic at times and he was hardly his best self, but it is hard to deny that #12 and the rest of the offense were absolutely clutch when it counted.

gronk catch sb53.jpeg
(Photo via Getty Images)

3. Special teams was remarkable!

Apart from Stephen Gostkowski’s missed field goal in the first quarter, the Pats’ special teams unit had an unblemished performance, with Ryan Allen constantly booting impressive punts that resulted in the Rams being pinned deep in their own territory. Matthew Slater also played a big role, as he was responsible for downing Allen’s punts and stopping punt returns before they could become deadly.

Gostkowski made up for his early miss with a late field goal that made it all but impossible for the Rams to mount a comeback.

gostkowski fg sb53.jpg
(Matt Rourke/AP)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 21/35 for 262 yards, and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 18 carries for 94 yards, and 1 touchdown
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 10 catches for 141 yards
  • Defensive: Jonathan Jones – 8 tackles (including 1 sack)

Rams

  • Passing: Jared Goff – 19/38 for 229 yards, and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Todd Gurley II – 10 carries for 35 yards
  • Receiving: Brandin Cooks – 8 catches for 120 yards
  • Defensive: Cory Littleton – 10 tackles

 

What’s next?: The Patriots enter the offseason as champions, but will need to quickly turn their attention to the draft and free agency, as they may end up losing key contributors to either free agency or retirement. It will be interesting to see how this team looks during the 2019-20 season.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pats may end up hosting the Chiefs, Steelers, Cowboys, or Browns for their season opener.

Bonus: Check out this sweet Disney World promo featuring Brady and Edelman!

 

 

Duel at the ATL: Who will win Super Bowl LIII?

The Patriots have their second opportunity to seize their sixth championship this Sunday when they take on the formidable Los Angeles Rams (15-3) in Super Bowl LIII. Everything the Pats have worked for this season, from overcoming injuries and suspensions, to silencing their doubters, has led to this moment. The Pats will undoubtedly face one of their toughest tasks of the season, as the Rams are a team that can dominate on either side of the ball.

Here are some things to consider entering the Super Bowl.

1. Will the offense continue to dominate the time of possession?

One of the key strategies the Pats have employed this postseason is to control the time of possession in the game by consistently and strategically running the ball with Sony Michel, who has been remarkable this postseason. This tactic was heavily efficient against both the Chargers and the Chiefs, as it wore down their defenses, and limited the number of drives for their explosive offenses, hence enabling the Pats to dictate the pace of the game. With regards to the Rams defense, they were extremely porous against the run in the regular season with teams like the Seahawks running the ball down their throats. However, they have stiffened up in the postseason, with their most efficient performance in the Divisional Round where they held Ezekiel Elliot to under 50 rushing yards. 

Running the ball effectively with Sony Michel will be key for the Patriots if they want to have a chance of winning the game.

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

2. Can the Pats limit Donald to give Brady a chance?

All 3 of the Patriots’ Super Bowl losses with Tom Brady have featured effective pass rush down the interior, with the Giants consistently getting after Brady with their 4-man rush, and the Eagles sealing their victory with a strip sack in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Pats, they’ll be facing the NFL’s best pass rusher in Aaron Donald, who has 20.5 sacks on the season, and can change the course of a game with his unmatched prowess as a pass-rushing defensive lineman. The Pats will also have to contend with Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler Jr. who were instrumental in the Rams making the Super Bowl. So far this postseason, the Pats have absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage and protected Tom Brady who has only been hit 1 time and still has not been sacked. The offensive line led by David Andrews and Trent Brown will need to figure out how they decide to block Donald, who will likely draw multiple blockers, which would challenge the other Ram defenders to win their one-on-one matchups on the line of scrimmage. 

Giving Tom Brady enough time in the pocket will be essential for the Patriots to emerge victorious.

  (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
3. Can Brady and his weapons dice up the Rams?  

The Patriots offense has been on a tear this postseason, scoring 41 against the Chargers and 37 against the Chiefs, in contests that could be described as offensive clinics. Apart from 2 interceptions against the Chiefs, Tom Brady has been at his best during the playoffs, as he has made the most of the clean pockets provided to him by the offensive line in order to dissect the opposing defense. Brady has been historically successful against zone defenses, as he is adept enough to find the soft spots in the defense, and deliver strikes to his receivers. As I mentioned earlier, this week could prove to be a tiny bit more difficult for Brady due to the daunting test of going up against Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and the rest of the Rams’ pass rushers, who are the best interior pass rushing defense in the league. Throughout this season, Brady has struggled against interior pass rushers, who have been able to rattle him. To counteract the threat of Donald and Suh, Brady will need to get rid of the ball in under 2 to 3 seconds.

Brady will need his playmakers, such as Julian Edelman, James White, and Rob Gronkowski to be at their absolute best on Sunday, as winning their individual matchups quickly would allow Brady to get rid of the ball quickly without being overly worried about about the threat of Donald. I think that White and Rex Burkhead will be extremely vital for the passing game, because they will likely be covered by the Rams linebackers who struggled to cover Alvin Kamara in the NFC Championship Game. Using screen plays would likely challenge the Rams to counter the Patriots’ speed at running back and receiver, with effective tackling.

If the Pats want to have a chance of succeeding, they will need to have big games from their receivers and running backs in the passing game.

(Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
 
4. Can Belichick & Flores out-scheme McVay?

Ever since Sean McVay became the head coach of the Rams in 2017, the Rams have consistently been one of the NFL’s best offense, featuring innovative play-calling that challenges defenses to be disciplined and not be fooled by the flow of the offense. Under the tutelage of McVay, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have flourished, with the duo being amongst the NFL’s best at their respective positions.

Bill Belichick and Brian Flores will have their work cut out for them, as out-scheming Sean McVay is easier said than done. Various analysts have said that it wouldn’t be surprising to see Belichick dust off some of his own game plans from games such as Super Bowl XXV and Super Bowl XXXVI. In Super Bowl XXV, Belichick was the defensive coordinator for the Giants against the Bills, during which he crafted a game plan that utterly negated the devastating passing game of the Bills, while allowing Thurman Thomas to run rampant. In Super Bowl XXXVI, Belichick and the Pats faced off against the then-St. Louis Rams, where his defense neutralized the explosiveness of the Greatest Show on Turf, with a focus on physicality, which was not something the Rams were accustomed to.

I think that Belichick will try to use a combination of both schemes, with a primary focus on the plan from Super Bowl XXXVI, because the current Rams bear a pretty significant resemblance to the 2001 Rams, with an explosive running back, and a duo of deadly receivers who can burn defenses with their speed, alongside a young but poised quarterback. With regards to the plan from Super Bowl XXV, shutting down the passing game sounds like a good idea, but having Todd Gurley running at full speed doesn’t sound very comforting.

I think that Belichick and Flores will repeat their game plan from last week against the Chiefs, with Stephon Gilmore drawing the assignment of covering Robert Woods, and J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty doubling ex-Patriot Brandin Cooks. This would likely result in man-to-man coverage on other Rams receivers/tight ends such as Josh Reynolds, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. One of my major concerns in the passing game will be containing Todd Gurley on screens, because he has the potential to score on almost any play. Another major part of the game plan in the Chiefs game was to constantly put pressure on Patrick Mahomes, who was rattled for most of the first half. In comparison to Mahomes, Jared Goff is not as mobile, which could make it easier to bring him down. A key component to Goff’s success this season has been the high usage of play-action passes, which have enabled him to get out of the pocket and find open receivers down the field. Shutting down this part of the Rams’ offense would make life very hard for Goff.

The Rams have had one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks in recent weeks, with CJ Anderson serving as an excellent complementary piece alongside Gurley. An example of their dominance could be from their victory over Dallas where each of them rushed for over 100 yards. Gurley’s health has been under question ever since his limited involvement in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots were effective in shutting down the Chargers’ dynamic running backs in the Divisional Round, but stopping a healthy Todd Gurley is something else altogether.

It will be interesting to see how the chess match between Belichick and McVay plays out.

(Photo via CBS Sports)


Injury Report:

  • Patriots: No players listed
  • Rams: No players listed

 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Rams 28

Here are some of my other predictions for the Super Bowl

  • X-factor on offense: James Develin
  • X-factor on defense: Trey Flowers
  • MVP: James White

 

 

The Pats march past the Chiefs in OT to advance to Super Bowl LIII!

 

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What a game!!!

The Patriots secured a berth in Super Bowl LIII yesterday, as they triumphed over the Kansas City Chiefs (13-5) 37-31 in a thrilling contest that went into overtime. The Patriots dominated the Chiefs in the first half, as they grabbed a 14-point lead going into halftime, but the Chiefs roared back, led by their young phenom Patrick Mahomes, and gave the Patriots almost all they could handle.

Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s AFC Championship Game. 

1. TB12 and his weapons came up clutch again!

When the Chiefs took the lead just under 8 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if the Pats had squandered their chance to advance to the Super Bowl, as they had just turned the ball over (due to a drop by Julian Edelman), and watched their lead evaporate in just 10 seconds of game time. The Pats were able to answer the Chiefs by driving down the field, partly aided by an incredible one-handed catch by Chris Hogan, which was upheld following a challenge by Andy Reid. After the Chiefs retook the lead, Tom Brady and the offense had to drive 65 yards with just under 2 minutes left in the game. For a moment, it appeared as if the game was over, as an errant pass went off the hands of Rob Gronkowski and was caught by Charvarius Ward, who seemed to have clinched the AFC for the Chiefs. However, the Pats were aided by the left arm of defensive end Dee Ford, which was over the line of scrimmage, and gave the Pats a second chance. They didn’t waste their opportunity, as their next play was a 25 yard pass to Gronk that got them to the 4-yard line. The Pats quickly scored, but the Chiefs answered, which sent the game to overtime.

Similarly to Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons, the Pats won the coin toss, and never looked back, as they methodically marched the ball down the field against the Chiefs. A common criticism of the Pats this season has been that their main targets (Gronk and Edelman) were too old and banged up to have an impact on a game. They changed the narrative last night, as the duo came up big on 3 consecutive third downs, which enabled the Patriots to win the game.

A vintage performance by Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, & Rob Gronkowski has the Patriots in prime position to win another Super Bowl.

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(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

2. The running backs were impactful!

The  Pats employed a similar game plan to their Divisional Round victory against the LA Chargers, as they came out running the football during their opening drive that went on for over 8 minutes, and resulted with a touchdown by Sony Michel. Michel and James White were a big part of the offense during the first half, as they were utilized to run the football constantly in an effort to burn the clock and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. In the second half, Rex Burkhead was primarily used, and he definitely delivered, as he scored 2 touchdowns, including the eventual game winner. 

The Pats will need another solid performance by their running backs if they want to have a good chance of winning Super Bowl LIII.

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(Denny Medley / USA TODAY Sports)

3. The offensive line was simply remarkable

I don’t believe that any unit in this game had more of an impact than the offensive line for the Patriots, as their brilliance was unmatched last night. Kansas City entered this game as the NFL’s top sacking defense, with superstars on the defensive line, including Dee Ford, Justin Houston, and Chris Jones. The Chiefs’ pass-rushing duo never got close to Brady during the game, as they were utterly and completely neutralized. The Chiefs had zero sacks and only hit Brady once. 

They were also heavily efficient in the running game, as they were able to constantly produce gaping holes that enabled their running backs to run rampant through the Chiefs’ defense.

The Pats’ offensive line will need to maintain this performance for them to succeed in the Super Bowl.

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(Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

4. The defense did enough to win

As I mentioned in my preview for this game, the Pats were not going to stop Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, due to the immense talent permeating throughout their offense. However, they did succeed in slowing him down enough for the offense to grab an early lead, which allowed them to weather the second half explosion by Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Pats were able to get after Mahomes consistently, as they sacked him 4 times and hit him 10 times. Kyle Van Noy was extremely efficient in the first half, as he sacked Mahomes twice (including a strip sack that ended the half). The Pats had a great performance against Tyreek Hill (1 catch for 42 yards) and Travis Kelce (3 catches for 23 yards and 1 touchdown) who were virtually non-existent for the majority of this game. However, Sammy Watkins and  Damien Williams caused problems for the Patriots, as they were essential in sparking Kansas City’s comeback. 

I think that Bill Belichick and Brian Flores did a remarkable job in crafting the game plan, as they shut out the Chiefs for the first time at home during the Reid era. As mentioned by Tony Romo, Mahomes is a unique quarterback who is extremely hard to defend against. Hence, I don’t think that we can be too hard on the performance of Belichick’s defense.

For the second time this season, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs scored 31 in the second half against the Patriots, but New England’s first half heroics ensured that they would emerge victorious.

In order to prevent the result of last year’s Super Bowl, the Pats’ defense will need to be at the top of their game.

mahomes fumble 19ccg.jpg
(Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 30/46 for 348 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 29 carries for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 7 receptions for 96 yards
  • Defensive: Kyle Van Noy – 10 tackles (including 2 sacks)

Chiefs

  • Passing: Patrick Mahomes – 16/31 for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns
  • Rushing: Damien Williams – 10 carries for 30 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Receiving: Sammy Watkins – 4 receptions for 114 yards
  • Daniel Sorenson – 14 tackles and 1 interception

 

What’s next?: The Pats head to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII (on February 3rd at 6:30 EST on CBS), where they’ll take on the Los Angeles Rams (15-3) in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI. It’ll be interesting to see how the Pats match up against the likes of Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley, while coaching against the wunderkind Sean McVay. 

Battle at Arrowhead!: Who will advance to Super Bowl LIII?

The Patriots head to Arrowhead Stadium tomorrow to take on the Kansas City Chiefs (13-4) for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII.  The Patriots will undoubtedly face their toughest task of the season, as the Chiefs usually take it up a notch when they’re in front of their rabid fans at Arrowhead Stadium, which will test the Pats on both sides of the ball. 

Here are a few things to consider entering the AFC Championship Game.

1. Will Brady, Michel & the offense deliver?

The last time the Pats met the Chiefs, Tom Brady and Sony Michel were both remarkable, as Brady threw for more than 300 yards, and Michel ran for more than 100 yards. To have any chance of keeping up with the explosive offense fielded by Andy Reid, Brady and Michel will need to be at their absolute best. Bill Belichick and his staff will definitely be looking at the Divisional Round game played between the Chiefs and the Colts, where Kansas City’s defensive line dominated Indianapolis’ previously impervious offensive line. This resulted in Andrew Luck and Marlon Mack being stifled by a Chiefs defense that had been dreadful throughout the season. Hence, I believe that for the Patriots to have offensive success, their offensive line will need to have an assertive performance at the line of scrimmage, as this would allow Brady to have time to deliver the ball in a clean pocket. Rob Gronkowski and James Develin will also need to be at their a-game, as their blocking would enable Michel to have the space required to gash the Chiefs on the ground. Julian Edelman and the rest of the receivers will also need to be as efficient as they were in Week 6 against Kansas City, because they’ll permit the Pats to stretch the field with play action.

I believe that the key for victory will be a dominant performance on the ground, as this will allow the Pats to control the time of possession and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. Also, starting hot will be especially important, because it will be hard to play from behind against a lethal team like Kansas City.

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(Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

2. Can the defense stifle the high-powered Chiefs?

The last time the Pats faced off against Patrick Mahomes, he torched them for 352 yards and 4 passing touchdowns. Mahomes maintained his explosive performance throughout the season, as he ended up throwing 50 touchdowns, and is considered to be the 2018-19 MVP. Coach Belichick and Brian Flores will have to craft another impressive game plan this week, because the way to defeat Mahomes is to force him to make mistakes in situations when he would normally be unflappable. The reason why the Patriots emerged victorious in Week 6 is because they were able to cause two turnovers in the first half, which allowed them to jump out to an early lead. It is important to understand that the Pats will not be able to stop Mahomes, due to the potency of his abilities, so their strategy for victory will be to slow him down. The way to do this is to get after him with constant and consistent pressure, and to confuse him with their coverages.

The next thing to consider about the Chiefs’ offense is their receivers. The Pats will need to be focused on the big play ability of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, who can burn the Pats for explosive plays if given the opportunity. In my opinion, the Pats will need to double Hill with either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson, and Devin McCourty helping out over the top. Kelce would likely be covered by Patrick Chung, which is not a matchup that would be very favorable for the Pats. However, if I was Bill Belichick, I would rather be burned by Kelce than Hill. Stephon Gilmore would most probably matchup against his old teammate Sammy Watkins, who he limited to 18 yards in Week 6.

Luckily for the Patriots, they will not have to face off against their kryptonite, Kareem Hunt, who has over 400 yards of total scrimmage yards in 2 career games against them. Damien Williams has been quite efficient in replacing Hunt, as he has had over 100 rushing yards in 2 of the last 3 games he’s played in. Stopping the run will allow them to focus in on Mahomes and the passing attack.

Making enough stops and forcing turnovers will give the Patriots a good chance of advancing to Super Bowl LIII.

mahomes v pats w6
(Photo via SI)

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • No players listed

Chiefs

  • Dorian O’Daniel (ankle) – Out

 

PredictionPatriots 35, Chiefs 31

 

Here is my pick for the NFC Championship Game. 

Last week: 3-1

Rams at SaintsRams

Balanced Pats bolt past the Chargers!

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Contrary to popular belief, the New England Patriots are not dead, as they decisively routed the Los Angeles Chargers (13-5) 41-28 in a Divisional Round game that was not as close as the final score indicates. The Pats took control early by scoring on their first 4 drives and never gave the Chargers a chance of coming back in the second half. This victory improved the Pats to 12-5 on the season and set up a date with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

Here are some takeaways from today’s victory.

1. Michel leads the way!

Sony Michel ended his collegiate career with the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoffs, where he dominated Oklahoma to set up an appearance in the National Championship Game. Michel didn’t disappoint in his playoff debut with the Pats as he shredded the Chargers for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns off of 24 carries. A week after shutting down Baltimore’s vaunted rushing attack, the Chargers had no answer for the dominant Pats’ offensive line, who were able to consistently open holes for Michel to run through. Rob Gronkowski and James Develin were also essential parts of the rushing attack, as they assisted in pushing back the Chargers.

If the Patriots want to advance further, they’ll need Michel to continue playing like this.

Sony Michel, Kyle Emanuel
(Elise Amendola/AP)

2. Don’t doubt the GOAT and his weapons!

Most pundits entered this game wondering if Tom Brady and his receivers stood much of a chance against the Chargers who featured elite defenders in their defensive line and their secondary. Let’s just say that they were wrong, because the Brady Bunch dissected the Chargers defense early and often. The lethal duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were neutralized, as they combined for 1 hit on TB12. All in all, the Chargers never sacked Brady and only hit him once, due to the remarkable job done by the offensive line. Julian Edelman had one of his best performances in recent memory, as he corralled 9 receptions for 151 yards. Edelman was consistently a mismatch for the Chargers’ secondary, and was even harder to bring down as demonstrated by an epic conversion on 2nd & 13 when he broke free of a sure tackle to dive for a first down. Edelman’s 9 receptions helped him pass Reggie Wayne for second place in career postseason receptions. James White (15 catches for 97 yards) was a constant problem for the Chargers as he used his speed and agility to get past defenders. White’s 15 catches helped tie a record for receptions in a postseason game, and exceeded the 14 catches he had during Super Bowl LI. Phillip Dorsett (4 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown) and Chris Hogan (3 catches for 13 yards) also pitched in for the passing game. Gronk had 1 catch for 25 yards, but his impact was felt due to his effective blocking and the penalty he drew on the opening drive.

There was no denying that Tom Brady was surgical today, and he will need to be at his absolute best for the Patriots to be successful next week.

 BRADY V CHARGERS DP19.jpg
(Charles Krupa/AP)

3. The defense stifled Rivers & company!

The Pats defense was otherworldly today as they consistently stopped the Chargers and enabled the offense to lengthen their lead. The Chargers had one of the NFL’s best running backs in Melvin Gordon, but the Pats never let him get him settled as they limited him to 15 yards and a touchdown off of 9 carries. Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower and the rest of the pass rushers made life miserable for Philip Rivers, as they hit him 7 times and sacked him 2 times. Rivers became increasingly frustrated and emotional throughout the game due to the constant hits he endured. He finished with 331 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception, with most of his production coming in garbage time.

Stephon Gilmore continued his impressive season, as he rebounded from an early error (which resulted in a 43-yard touchdown by Keenan Allen) by not allowing another completion and also picking off Rivers in the fourth quarter.

The Pats were exceptional in shutting down one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses, and they’ll need to be even better to stand a chance next week.

RIVERS V PATS DP19.jpg
(Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 34/44 for 341 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 24 carries for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 9 catches for 151 yards
  • Defensive: Devin McCourty – 7 tackles

Chargers

  • Passing: Philip Rivers – 25/51 for 331 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Melvin Gordon – 9 carries for 15 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Receiving: Tyrell Williams – 5 catches for 94 yards
  • Defensive: Jahleel Addae – 12 tackles

 

What’s next?: The Pats head to Kansas City to take on the red hot Chiefs (13-4) for the AFC Championship Game. This is a rematch of the wild Week 6 contest that ended with a 43-40 victory for that Pats at Gillette Stadium. It will be interesting to see how the game differs during a cold night at Arrowhead Stadium.

Brady vs Rivers: Is the eighth time the charm for #17?

This Sunday, the Patriots welcome the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) to Gillette Stadium for their AFC Divisional Round matchup. There’s no doubt that the Chargers will be a formidable opponent for the Pats, and in order for New England to reach their 8th straight AFC Championship Game, they’ll have to be at their best.

Here are some things to consider entering this playoff game.

1. Will history repeat itself?

As the title of this article suggests, Philip Rivers has never defeated Tom Brady, with Brady and the Pats emerging victorious during all 7 of their matchups (including 2 postseason games in 2007 and 2008). The last time these two teams faced off was last year in Week 8 when the Pats fended off the Chargers for a hard-fought 21-13 victory.

Let’s hope that history is on Brady’s side this week.

W2ST2873.JPG
(Matt West/Boston Herald)

2. Road warriors vs Dominant hosts

The Chargers have been one of the NFL’s best road teams throughout the season, as they’ve gone 8-1 away from the Dignity Health Sports Center, with their only road loss coming against their brethren, the LA Rams. Hence, the Chargers have been undefeated outside of Los Angeles, with victories at historically tough venues such as Arrowhead Stadium, Heinz Field, and CenturyLink Field. The Chargers’ dominance outside of LA can be matched by the Pats’ record at home, as they went 8-0 this season at Gillette Stadium.

It’s going to be interesting to see which team triumphs and extends their respective record.

gillete dp.jpg
(Photo via the Kraft Group)

3. How will the Pats account for Ingram and Bosa?

The Chargers had a masterful defensive performance during their Wild Card Weekend victory against the Baltimore Ravens, with Melvin Ingram leading the way in clamping down on rookie phenom Lamar Jackson. The Chargers had 7 total sacks in the game, and forced 3 total turnovers (2 fumbles and 1 interception). Los Angeles was able to throw the Ravens off course by stifling their time-consuming rushing attack. Luckily for the Pats, they are not as dependent on one particular phase of the offense, which will make it tougher for the Chargers to catch them off-guard if they are able to have success on defense. If the Pats do want to have success on offense, it will be absolutely imperative for them to account for the duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa at all times, because they will make life hard for Tom Brady if they’re able to get after him. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and the rest of the receivers/tight ends are going to have tough individual matchups this week, as they go up against the vaunted Chargers secondary, which includes some of the NFL’s best defensive backs in Derwin James, Desmond King, and Casey Hayward. Based on last year’s matchup between these two teams, I believe that the Pats will have to channel the crux of their offense through their stable of running backs (whether it be through rushes or passes), as they can win matchups against the Chargers’ linebackers due to their speed and agility.

If the Pats want to advance, the offense will need to be a well-oiled machine on Sunday.

brady vs chargers dp.jpg
(Photo via NBC Sports Boston)

4. Will the Pats slow down Rivers and company?

The Pats defense is going to face one of its toughest tests of the season this week, as the Chargers possess one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. Throughout the season, the Pats have struggled to stop the run, which does not bode well for Sunday, as the Chargers have a great stable of running backs in Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, and Justin Jackson. One of the highlights of last year’s meeting between these two teams was a 87-yard rushing touchdown for Gordon, where he simply outran every Patriot defender in sight. Fortifying the line of scrimmage will be important, as it will allow the Pats to rely on the strong half of their defense, which is definitely their secondary. I would expect Stephon Gilmore to have the assignment of shadowing Keenan Allen, with J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty being the ones guarding Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, respectively. The Pats will also have to account for the veteran tight end Antonio Gates, who continues to have an impact at the age of 38. It will be interesting to see if the Chargers’ other tight end, Hunter Henry is active tomorrow, because he could pose a problem for the Pats’ safeties, who have struggled to cover tight ends effectively. Getting after Rivers also has to be a priority, because giving him a comfortable pocket is not a strategy for success.

The Pats’ defense needs to be at its best tomorrow to have a good chance of winning this game.

rivers v pats dpp.jpg
(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • Deatrich Wise (knee) – Questionable

Chargers

  • Brandon Facyson (concussion) – Questionable
  • Derek Watt (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Kyle Wilson (concussion) – Questionable
  • Hunter Henry (knee) – Questionable

 

Prediction: Patriots 30, Chargers 28

Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Divisional Round games.

Last week: 2-2

Colts at Chiefs: Chiefs

Cowboys at Rams: Cowboys

Eagles at Saints: Saints

 

 

The Pats end the regular season on a high note by grounding the Jets!

TEAM

1

2

3

4

T

NYJ 3 0 0 0 3

NE

7 14 7 10 38

The Patriots continued their dominance over the Jets (4-12) yesterday, as they eviscerated Gang Green 38-3. The Pats performed well in all 3 phases of the game, and generally made life miserable for the Jets. This victory improved the Pats to 11-5 on the season and helped them secure the second seed in the AFC.

Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game.

1. The offense was remarkable

The Patriots offense has had its fair share of criticism in recent weeks due to uneven performances by Tom Brady and the passing game, which led the team to rely on Sony Michel and the other running backs for production. That narrative changed yesterday, as Brady caught fire early and dissected the Jets secondary for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns. Over the last week, there were several reports which stated that Brady had sustained a knee injury which would hamper his effectiveness. If that’s true, Brady did not appear to be any slower than usual, as demonstrated by the mobility he showed on his touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett in the second quarter. All in all, Brady was sharp (except for some errant throws and a missed read in the red zone), and he was able to distribute the ball to receivers who had struggled to make an impact in previous weeks, such as Dorsett (5 catches for 34 yards and a touchdown) and Chris Hogan (6 catches for 64 yards). Julian Edelman was his usual effective self, as he corralled 5 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Rob Gronkowski (2 catches for 24 yards) showed some of the explosiveness he had lacked in recent weeks, especially on a 30 yard catch and run that was wiped out by an offensive penalty.

The offensive line was able to produce gaping holes at the point of attack which enabled the Pats to rush for over 130 yards, with Sony Michel (14 carries for 50 yards) and James White (4 carries for 30 yards) leading the way.

Jules v jets s17.jpg
(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

2. The defense was otherworldly

Many analysts expected the Jets offense to put up a fight against the Pats, but that never happened due to the strong performance of the defense. The Jets scored a field goal on their second drive of the day, but couldn’t sustain a drive after that. The defense was extremely opportunistic, as they forced 3 fumbles, including a 46 yard scoop and score for Kyle Van Noy, which made it hard for the Jets to score points even after getting good field position. Sam Darnold was rattled early, and was forced to consistently play from behind, which didn’t help his production. The Pats had a consistent pass rush which resulted in 4 sacks and Van Noy’s touchdown. Apart from Deontay Burnett, none of the Jets receivers crossed 30 receiving yards, which speaks to the dominance of the secondary.

This performance was a confidence booster entering the playoffs, but we should monitor the condition of Devin McCourty who left the game with a head injury.

kvn v jets w17.jpg
(Charles Krupa/AP)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 24/33 for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 14 carries for 50 yards
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 5 catches for 69 yards and 1 touchdown
  • Defensive: J.C. Jackson – 7 tackles

Jets

  • Passing: Sam Darnold – 16/28 for 167 yards
  • Rushing: Elijah McGuire – 18 carries for 41 yards
  • Receiving: Deontay Burnett – 5 catches for 73 yards
  • Defensive: Jamal Adams – 11 tackles

 

Bonus: 

(a) Here’s the complete playoff picture following the completion of the regular season

NFC

  1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
  2. Los Angeles Rams (13-3)
  3. Chicago Bears (12-4)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
  6. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

AFC

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
  2. New England Patriots (11-5)
  3. Houston Texans (11-5)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)
  6. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

 

(b) I began making predictions for every NFL game during Week 3, and my final record for the games I picked is 139-71 (0.662) 

 

What’s next?: The Pats have secured a first-round bye which means that they won’t be playing until January 13th when they take on either the Texans, Ravens, or Chargers at 1:05 PM. 

The Pats end the season against the Jets!

The 2018 regular season has flown by, as Week 17 is upon us. The Patriots hope to clinch a first-round bye when they welcome the New York Jets (4-11) to Foxborough. Winning this game would guarantee the #2 seed for the Pats, but they could still gain home field advantage if the Chargers and Chiefs lose this week.

Here are some things to consider entering this Week 17 contest.

1. What will be the focal point of the offense?

Over the last few weeks, the Patriots have had a run-oriented offense, which has helped in relieving pressure from Tom Brady. Sony Michel and the running backs had a brilliant game last week against Buffalo as they totaled more than 250 yards on the ground. I would expect the Pats to continue to lean on the running game, as the Jets come into this game with the 26th ranked rushing defense. Michel had over 130 yards the last time these teams met , which should be an encouraging sign for the Pats. It’ll be important for the Pats to maintain the health of Brady, Gronk, and Julian Edelman because they’ll be essential for the team to make a run in the playoffs.

sony v jets w17p.jpg
(Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

2. Can the defense stifle Darnold?

In Week 12, the Jets were without their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, and had veteran Josh McCown start instead. Darnold has had an up and down rookie season, as he’s shown flashes of brilliance while also leading the NFL with interceptions thrown. I would expect the Pats to try to come after Darnold with Trey Flowers and Dont’a Hightower, who are amongst the NFL’s leaders with pressures on the quarterback. Bill Belichick will likely challenge Darnold to beat man coverage or try to fool him with zone schemes. Dominating the line of scrimmage will be essential if the Pats want to stifle the Jets’ rushing attack and force Darnold to play from behind.

sam darnold w17p.jpg
(Anthony J. Causi/New York Post)

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • Jacob Hollister (hamstring) – Out
  • Dwayne Allen (knee) – Questionable
  • Brandon King (knee) – Questionable
  • Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) – Questionable
  • LaAdrian Waddle (illness) – Questionable

Jets

  • Morris Claiborne (shoulder/ankle) – Out
  • Quincy Enunwa (ankle) – Out
  • Jermaine Kearse (achilles) – Out
  • Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) – Out
  • Jordan Jenkins (ankle) – Questionable

 

Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 13

Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 17 contests.

Last week: 10-4

Dolphins at Bills: Bills

Falcons at Buccaneers: Falcons

Cowboys at Giants: Cowboys

Panthers at Saints: Saints

Jaguars at Texans: Texans

Lions at Packers: Packers

Eagles at Redskins: Eagles

Chargers at Broncos: Chargers

Raiders at Chiefs: Chiefs

Bears at Vikings: Vikings

Browns at Ravens: Ravens

49ers at Rams: Rams

Bengals at Steelers: Steelers

Cardinals at Seahawks: Seahawks

Colts at Titans: Colts

The Patriots vanquish the Vikings!

TEAM

1

2

3

4

T

MIN 0 7 3 0 10

NE

7 3 7 7 24

The Patriots had a dominant performance today, as they beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 to improve to 9-3 on the season. The game was relatively tight until the middle of the third quarter when the Pats took the lead and never looked back. Both sides of the ball performed well which enabled the Patriots to dictate the pace of the game. Continuing to play like this will be essential for the team as they enter the last 4 games of the season.

Here are some takeaways from this Week 13 contest.

1. Tom Brady and the passing game challenged the Minnesota secondary early and often

Tom Brady had an efficient performance against a ferocious defense, as he threw for over 300 yards and 1 touchdown (along with a late interception). The offensive line was able to counter Minnesota’s pass rush, as Brady was constantly held upright, and was not sacked. James White (7 catches for 92 yards) and Josh Gordon (3 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown) led the way for the passing game, with Rob Gronkowski (3 catches for 26 yards) and Julian Edelman (3 catches for 25 yards) having a relatively quiet game. Cordarrelle Patterson played his former team for the first time, and he had a remarkable catch down the field, as he corralled the ball before it hit the ground. The passing attack had its way with Minnesota’s secondary, as they were able to connect on both deep passes and passes across the middle of the field. 

This was an encouraging performance for the passing game, as Brady and his arsenal of weapons were able to overcome a well-coached unit in Minnesota. 

jules v vikings w13.jpg
(Elise Amendola/AP)

2. The committee of running backs had a fine performance

The Patriots welcomed back Rex Burkhead following a 10-week absence, and he helped in relieving pressure off of James White and Sony Michel. Burkhead may not have had the most efficient performance (7 rushes for 20 yards), but he definitely had fresh legs, which allowed Michel and White to get some much-needed rest. Michel had 17 carries for 63 yards, as he was frequently able to find space to get around Minnesota’s talented defensive linemen, while White chipped in with 6 carries for 26 yards. Fullback James Develin had 2 touchdowns on the ground, as he punched it in twice from the one-yard line.

As the weather continues to get colder, it will be essential for the committee of running backs to gain some traction in order for the Pats to control games.

Burkhead v vikings w13
(Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

3. Defense wins championships!

I’ve been pretty hard on the Patriots defense this season, as I’ve felt that they have not held up their end of the bargain, which has put the offense in tough spots. However, today was remarkable for them, as they utterly stifled the potent Vikings offense. Kirk Cousins was constantly rattled, as the Pats were able to get after him consistently, which helped result in 2 interceptions. Cousins rarely had the time to look down the field, which forced him to look for short completions instead. As a result, Cousins had over 30 completions, but only barely scraped past 200 yards. Stephon Gilmore and the McCourty twins were sensational today as they neutralized both Adam Thielen (5 catches for 28 yards and a touchdown) and Stefon Diggs (5 catches for 49 yards), and forced Cousins to look for his less-reliable targets. 

The one aspect with which the Pats struggled was stopping the run, as they couldn’t stop Dalvin Cook who ran for 84 yards off of 9 carries. As pundits remarked, Minnesota’s play-calling was suspect, as they went drives without running the ball, which was strange because Cook was clearly having success when he got the ball. 

The Patriots may have benefited from spotty play-calling, but there’s no denying that they dominated Minnesota’s offense, which is heartening as they begin to play more talented teams in the playoffs.

pats defense v vikings.png
(Travis Ellison/Minnesota Vikings)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 24/32 for 311 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 17 carries for 63 yards
  • Receiving: James White – 7 catches for 92 yards
  • Defensive: Devin McCourty – 8 tackles

Vikings

  • Passing: Kirk Cousins – 32/44 for 201 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions
  • Rushing: Dalvin Cook – 9 carries for 84 yards
  • Receiving: Stefon Diggs – 5 catches for 49 yards
  • Defensive: Eric Kendricks – 16 tackles and 1 interception

 

Bonus:

1. Brady has a record-setting day!: Tom Brady achieved a remarkable feat, as he finally crossed 1000 career rushing yards in 19 seasons as a starter. He also tied the all-time passing touchdowns record (including postseason) with 579. Brady also moved to 3rd all-time on the passing touchdowns list (regular season) as he tied Brett Favre with 508. 

Check out this humorous video produced by the Checkdown!

2. Bill Belichick had an amusing encounter with Adam Thielen: Bill Belichick and Adam Thielen had an interesting chat during today’s game, when Belichick opted to challenge a play in the fourth quarter. It’s clear that Belichick told Thielen to do something that’s not very kind…

Check out their encounter below!

 

What’s next?: The Pats head down to Miami to face the Dolphins (6-6) in a rematch of a dominant Week 3 victory for New England. The Pats have historically struggled in Miami during the Brady/Belichick era, so it will be interesting to see how they perform next week.