It seems like a lifetime ago when the Cam Newton-led Patriots ran all over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3, en route to a 36-20 victory. Unfortunately for the team, Newton tested positive for COVID-19 the ensuing Saturday, right before their Week 4 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. That game was delayed and played on Monday night, with Brian Hoyer & Jarrett Stidham at quarterback during the 26-10 loss. The Patriots were meant to play the Denver Broncos (1-3) in Week 5, but Stephon Gilmore’s positive COVID-19 test led to this game being delayed to Week 6.
Here’s what to expect entering this Week 6 contest.
1. Can Cam & the offense regain their rhythm?
As I mentioned earlier, this game will be three weeks since the last time Cam Newton took the field for the Patriots, which makes this game important for New England’s offense to regain its footing as the season becomes increasingly difficult. Denver’s rushing defense ranks amongst the top half in the league, but I’d still expect Josh McDaniels to focus on establishing the run throughout the game. Having a strong rushing attack with Damien Harris, James White, & Rex Burkhead will help take pressure off of Newton in his first game back, and also open up play-action passes down the field. As Sony Michel is still on IR, and has also tested positive for COVID-19, it wouldn’t be surprising to see JJ Taylor back in the lineup as the fourth running back.
Hopefully the extended break helped Julian Edelman heal from his knee ailment that has bothered him for the past few weeks. More than anything else, I’m sure that he can’t wait to get back out there to make up for his crucial drop against the Chiefs. The Patriots need continuous production from N’Keal Harry & Damiere Byrd, as they have been able to establish some chemistry with Newton. I’m intrigued to see what practice squad receiver Isaiah Zuber can do, as his brief appearance in the Chiefs’ game was intriguing, due to his speed. It’s also been disappointing to see the lack of production from the tight end position, even though the team has been hyping up their production at practice.
If the Patriots can protect Newton from Denver’s pass rush, I would expect the offense to have a good performance tomorrow.
2. Can the Pats’ D contain the banged up Denver offense?
After a hard fought bout against a high-powered Kansas City offense, the Patriots’ defense will be facing an offense that is missing several key playmakers. Despite the return of second-year quarterback Drew Lock after a several week absence, Denver will be playing without their top running back, wide receiver, & tight end. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Denver try to establish their running game, due to the strength of the Patriots’ secondary & the relative inexperience of Lock. Limiting the effectiveness of Phillip Lindsey will be heavily important if the Patriots’ defense wants to ensure success.
I’d expect Bill Belichick’s defense to focus in on rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy, as he will clearly be Denver’s top threat down the field, with Stephon Gilmore likely drawing the assignment. In addition, I think that Belichick will test Drew Lock with heavy pressure, hence challenging the young quarterback to beat the Patriots’ secondary with his arm.
I would be surprised if the Patriots’ defense has a down game tomorrow, but anything is possible in the NFL!
Adam Butler (shoulder) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee) – Questionable
Isaiah Wynn (calf) – Questionable
Drew Lock (shoulder) – Questionable
Mike Purcell (knee) – Questionable
Jeremiah Attaochu (quadriceps) – Out
Melvin Gordon III (illness) – Out
KJ Hamler (hamstring) – Out
Noah Fant (ankle) – Out
What’re they wearing?:
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 6 contests.
Following an “encouraging” loss in Week 2, the Patriots bounced back against the Las Vegas Raiders (2-1) with a 36-20 victory that featured contributions from all three phases of the team. This win moved the Patriots to 2-1 on the season and second place in the AFC East, behind the Buffalo Bills (3-0).
Here are some takeaways from this Week 3 contest.
1. The Pats’ offense rode their groundgame to victory
The Patriots’ offense has constantly demonstrated their ability to morph from week to week, and yesterday was no exception, as they focused on establishing the run to attack a weak Raiders’ defensive line. Even though Cam Newton was shaky early, New England was able to score points by leaning on Rex Burkhead (who had a career day with three total touchdowns) & JJ Taylor. The best sign from yesterday was the fact that Sony Michel appeared to finally turn a corner after a mediocre start to the season, as a lack of snaps appeared to light a spark for him. Michel entered this game without any career rushes for more than 35 yards, but against Las Vegas, he had two of them on a day where he rushed for 117 yards off 9 carries. If Michel can continue to play like this, the Patriots could have a solid 5-man rotation at running back when James White & Damien Harris return.
One of the biggest factors for the revival of the rushing attack was the shuffled offensive line, which featured star guard Joe Thuney at center (due to David Andrews’ injury) and rookie Michael Onwenu at guard. The Patriots were able to dominate the line of scrimmage throughout the game, and only gave up two sacks. Cam Newton had an ugly interception in the first quarter, but he mostly rebounded, with a smart & decisive performance in the second half. Unlike the game in Seattle, Newton didn’t have to put the team on his shoulders, and he thrived as a complementary piece to the dominant rushing attack. However, Newton did flash his rushing ability once again, with a 21-yard run that helped put the game away in the fourth quarter. After an impactful Week 2, the receiving corps was quiet against Las Vegas, but Josh McDaniels probably won’t complain due to the 250 rushing yards they picked up.
It’s always great for the Patriots to easily win a game when their star quarterback isn’t asked to do a lot, but Cam Newton will definitely have to be his usual self if the team wants to win going forward.
2. Takeaways win games
The Patriots‘ defense wasn’t very sharp during certain stretches of yesterday’s game, but their saving grace was their ability to force turnovers. For instance, on Las Vegas’ first big drive of the game, the defense was able to force a fumble from star running back Josh Jacobs. Later on, Chase Winovich got to Raiders QB Derek Carr and stripped him, giving the Patriots the ball at midfield. Despite these smart plays, the Patriots’ secondary was uncharacteristically sloppy towards the end of the first half, as they allowed Las Vegas to drive 75 yards in 38 seconds to cut their lead to 13-10. Despite being two of the best Patriots’ defenders, Jonathan Jones & Stephon Gilmore struggled heavily on that drive, as they gave up a deep pass and penalty, respectively.
In the second half, the Patriots stiffened up, as they gave up 10 points in garbage time, and prevented the Raiders from maintaining the momentum they gained at the end of the second quarter. The only “low” point of the second half was when the Raiders‘ top weapon Darren Waller caught his lone reception of the game in the fourth quarter after being blanked for more than three quarters. The defense sealed the game with five minutes to go, when Deatrice Wise Jr. recovered a fumble by Carr in the end zone to give New England a 36-13 lead. The referees initially ruled the play as a safety, but after a review, it was clear that Carr lost the football before his knee hit the ground.
All in all, the defense had a good performance, but mental errors once again marred their overall efficiency. Most importantly, Bill Belichick had to use all three of his second half timeouts by the beginning of the fourth quarter, just to make sure that his defense was correctly aligned. I’m willing to bet that the film sessions for the defense won’t be fun when Belichick begins to point out all of their mistakes from yesterday’s game.
Passing: Cam Newton – 17/28 for 162 yards, 1 touchdown & 1 interception
Rushing: Sony Michel – 9 carries for 117 yards
Receiving: Rex Burkhead – 7 receptions for 49 yards, & 1 touchdown
Tomorrow, the Patriots will take on the newly-minted Las Vegas Raiders (2-0) for the first time in 3 seasons, in a matchup that will make or break New England’s season due to the mounting difficulty of their season.
Here are some things to consider entering this Week 3 contest.
1. Can Cam & the offense maintain their momentum?
During last week’s loss in Seattle, the Patriots’ offense came alive, with Cam Newton passing for almost 400 yards, along with Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Damiere Byrd having big performances as well. However, as the team has stated all week, you can’t take moral victories from a defeat, which means that the offense will have to show up once again to prove that Week 2 wasn’t an aberration. They may have a golden opportunity against a Raiders’ defense that ranks amongst the NFL’s worst. They have young players throughout their defense, such as Maxx Crosby & Johnathan Abram, to go along with veterans such as Lamarcus Joyner & Cory Littleton. Due to the Raiders’ relatively weak defensive line, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Josh McDaniels decide to emphasize running the football, with either Newton or the team’s running backs. As always, having success on the ground could open up the run-pass option or play action, which could help keep the defense off guard.
Either way, the Patriots will have to adjust to the absence of David Andrews, who broke his thumb against the Seahawks, and will miss at least three games. Andrews has been crucial blocker for both aspects of the offense, which will put a lot of pressure on his replacement. When it comes to the passing game, I’d expect New England to have a similar game plan to last week, with a greater deal of short to intermediate passes, along with deep passes when the opportunity presents itself. If N’Keal Harry & Damiere Byrd can deliver once again and complement the ever-reliable Julian Edelman, it may be hard to stop Cam Newton & the Patriots’ offense this week.
2. Will the defense rebound?
Last week, the Patriots’ defense got dissected by Russell Wilson, who had 5 passing touchdowns, which was more than they gave up during all of the 2019 season. They will face a much more conservative quarterback in Derek Carr, who is definitely more effective when he throws shorter throws. Regardless of his supposed shortcomings, Carr was efficient against the Saints last week, as he found his top weapon Darren Waller 12 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Waller is best described as a big receiver even though he’s listed as a tight end, as his speed cannot be understated. As Las Vegas’ top speedster in Henry Ruggs is missing this game with an injury, I’d expect Bill Belichick’s defense to double Waller with Stephon Gilmore or Joejuan Williams, along with a safety. This would leave the rest of the team’s secondary with the task of covering Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, & Nelson Agholor.
On the other hand, the Raiders are much more deadly running the football, due to the ever-brilliant play of Josh Jacobs. Despite some injuries, Jacobs had a strong game against the Saints, as he totaled nearly 90 yards on the ground, and helped to put the game away. If Jacobs is at full health, it may be a long day for the Patriots’ defense, as they have struggled stopping the run lately (with the game against Seattle being a prime example). It wouldn’t be surprising if Jon Gruden & Las Vegas coaching staff decide to primarily focus on their rushing attack, which could tire down the defense, and keep Cam Newton off the field.
If the Patriots want to avoid a tough game, they will need their defense to bounce back with a vengeance, and shut down a potentially potent Raiders offense. More than anything else, the defensive line & linebacking corps will need to step up & stop the run.
David Andrews (hand) – Out
Josh Uche (foot) – Out
Adam Butler (shoulder) – Questionable
Brandon Copeland (knee) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee) – Questionable
N’Keal Harry (ankle) – Questionable
Isaiah Wynn (calf) – Questionable
Trent Brown (calf) – Out
Henry Ruggs (knee) – Out
Nick Kwiatkoski (pectoral) – Out
Denzelle Good (thumb/illness) – Questionable
Josh Jacobs (hip) – Questionable
Darren Waller (knee) – Questionable
Sam Young (groin) – Questionable
What’re they wearing?:
Prediction: Patriots28, Raiders20
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 3 games.
The Patriots started off the post-Brady era with a win, as they knocked off the Miami Dolphins (0-1) with a 21-11 victory in an empty Gillette Stadium. Cam Newton made his heavily anticipated debut as the team’s quarterback, and was efficient as both a rusher and a passer. In addition, Bill Belichick’s defense came to play, as they were able to mostly shut down Miami’s offense throughout the game.
Here are some takeaways from this Week 1 contest.
1. Cam and the offense had their way
As I mentioned in my preview for this game, the biggest question mark for the Patriots was definitely Cam Newton’s health and effectiveness, as we hadn’t seen him in action for almost a year. Newton didn’t disappoint, as he had 230 total yards, including 2 rushing touchdowns. He was a decisive rusher, and most surprisingly, he didn’t shy away from contact, with a clear highlight being his second touchdown, where he got hit hard by a Dolphins’ defender as he crossed the goal line. After two decades with a immobile quarterback, it was fascinating to see the designed runs cooked up by Josh McDaniels, which varied from option runs to simple draws.
Furthermore, Newton’s passing was crisp, and apart from a couple of drops and pass breakups, he was accurate with the football. It was encouraging to see him build a rapport with Julian Edelman (5 receptions for 57 yards), N’Keal Harry (5 receptions for 39 yards), and James White (3 receptions for 30 yards). The trio will need to step up throughout the season for the team to have success getting the ball down the field. Unfortunately for Harry, he had a crucial fumble into the end zone which ended a great drive in second half, and breathed new life into Miami’s comeback attempt. More than anything else, Bill Belichick values protecting the football, so I’m sure that he let the second-year receiver know that mistakes like that won’t be tolerated in the future.
I believe that the offensive line had a great game, as they were able to protect Newton (he was only sacked 2 times), and clear lanes for the team’s running backs. It was encouraging to see David Andrews return to action after missing last season, and it was clear that having him back helped anchor the offensive line. The team’s running backs (along with Newton) collaborated for 217 yards on the ground, setting a record for a Patriots’ season opener. After struggling for most of last season, Sony Michel showed some burst, although he only netted 37 yards, to go along with a touchdown. The biggest surprise from the running back room had to be undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, who showed his ability to be a power runner despite his shorter stature, as he totaled 28 yards off of 4 carries.
All in all, having a versatile quarterback such as Newton helped change the pace of the Patriots offense, as they’re definitely more versatile than they’ve been in the past. However, it’s important to note that they will probably switch things up as they get through the season, as it’s not sustainable to have Newton rush 15 times per game.
2. The secondary led the defense once again
The last time these two teams met, Miami had their way against the previously impervious Patriots’ secondary, as they were able to drive down the field at will to win the game. Yesterday was a different story, as the Patriots were able to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into throwing three interceptions, with Stephon Gilmore, Adrian Phillips, and JC Jackson responsible for the turnovers. Apart from some mental errors that extended drives due to penalties in the second half, it’s hard to be mad at how the Patriots’ secondary played yesterday. However, they’ll have to be better as their competition becomes tougher.
The Patriots’ defense was much better against the run, as they held Miami to 87 yards as a team, with crafty veterans Matt Breida (5 carries for 22 yards) & Jordan Howard (8 yards for 7 yards) accounting for less than 30 yards combined. My only complaint is that that they struggled to contain Fitzpatrick coming out of the pocket, as he picked up a few first downs, and even scored on a two-point conversion.
To sum up their defensive performance, I was impressed by the way they locked up a sneaky good Miami offense, but there are definitely kinks to be worked up as the season progresses.
Passing: Cam Newton – 15/19 for 155 yards
Rushing: Cam Newton – 15 carries for 75 yards, & 2 touchdowns
Receiving: Julian Edelman – 5 receptions for 57 yards
Defensive: Adrian Phillips – 9 total tackles
Passing: Ryan Fitzpatrick – 20/30 for 191 yards, & 3 interceptions
Rushing: Myles Gaskin – 9 carries for 40 yards
Receiving: Devante Parker – 4 receptions for 47 yards
Defensive: Jerome Baker – 16 total tackles (including 1 sack)
1. New uniforms!
It was great seeing the Patriots debut their new uniforms, which looked great under the September sun, although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to introduce silver or white pants.
2. Artificial crowd
The artificial crowd noise concocted by the NFL left a bit to be desired, as it definitely didn’t sound like a real crowd was in attendance, but I’m guessing that it will be improved as the season goes on.
3. Post game tussle
Cam Newton and some Miami defenders got into it after the game ended, with Newton insisting that they tried to yank one of the chains around his neck. Newton mocked them after the game on his Instagram, although two Dolphins chimed in to say that they didn’t want his “weak” chain.
In the NFL, it’s common knowledge that you’re not entitled to anything. If you want to put your team in a good position to succeed in the playoffs, you need to show up when it matters. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they didn’t seem to get the memo last season, when they unexpectedly dropped their regular season finale to the Miami Dolphins at home. That loss prevented New England from securing a first round bye, and forced them to host Tennessee for a Wild Card game that ended up being Tom Brady’s last game as a Patriot.
A lot of things have changed since that matchup in December, from the pandemic, to the vast exodus of veterans from the Patriots roster during free agency. A win tomorrow won’t change the result from that Week 17 contest, but it would help set the tone for a wildly different season with Cam Newton under center.
With that being said, here’s what to look forward to during this Week 1 matchup.
1. What will the Patriots’ offense look like?
New England’s offensive struggles throughout the tumultuous 2019 season were well documented, as it quickly became evident that receivers other than Julian Edelman consistently struggled to get open against man coverage. Other than letting Phillip Dorsett walk & releasing Mohamed Sanu, Bill Belichick didn’t do much to overhaul the wide receiver corps, which means that the Patriots will be relying on Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers to carry the load. Personally, I’m excited to see what newcomer Damiere Byrd can bring to the table, as his pure speed could help open things up down the field. Due to the strength of Miami’s secondary, I’m pessimistic about the Patriots’ chances of winning one-on-one matchups against Dolphin defenders. However, the addition of rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could help lighten the load for the team’s wide receivers, as they are definitely miles better than the team’s putrid tight end room from last season. Based on what we’ve heard from training camp, both Asiasi & Keene are dynamic, but the learning curve for rookie tight ends is typically steep, so it will definitely be a storyline to follow.
After a stellar rookie season, Sony Michel struggled mightily during the 2019 season, as he had a tough time getting started behind a patchwork offensive line. Luckily for Michel, starting center David Andrews is returning to action, after missing the entire 2019 season due to blood clots in his lungs. Andrews was a key anchor for the offensive line that dominated opponents during the Patriots’ last run to the Super Bowl. Michel had a leg injury that sidelined him for most of training camp, but when he returned, it was reported that he was quicker and more agile than the last time we saw him. As always, the Patriots will turn to the reliable duo of James White & Rex Burkhead to supplement Michel, with the two veterans also playing an important role in the passing game as well. The most intriguing member of the running back room has to be Damien Harris, who had a strong training camp until he suffered an untimely injury that will sideline him for at least 3 weeks.
I think it’s obvious that the biggest question mark surrounding the Patriots right now has to be the health & effectiveness of Cam Newton. Due to a lack of preseason games, we haven’t seen Newton in action for almost a year, which means that his running ability (which typically energizes an offense) is an unknown for now. Hence, we don’t know how comfortable Newton will be scrambling around the pocket and line of scrimmage tomorrow. Most importantly, it’s interesting to wonder if he’ll still initiate contact with defenders, which was a big part of his game back in Carolina. That being said, the mystery around Newton’s game could actually be a boon for Belichick and Josh McDaniels, as Miami’s head coach Brian Flores won’t know exactly what he’s dealing with. Most analysts have said that they expect McDaniels’ plan for Newton to be similar to Norv Turner’s short passing game from Newton’s stellar but injury plagued 2018 season, which actually seems to suit how the Patriots’ receivers play, as they’re definitely more effective across the middle of the field.
All in all, I’m excited to see how the post-Brady Patriots’ offense looks with a more mobile quarterback in Cam Newton, whose strengths may help cover the warts at wide receiver and other skill positions.
2. Can thedefense deliver?
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was the news that several Patriots veterans, including key leaders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung had decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. The absence of these two important defensive contributors will undoubtedly cast a spotlight on younger players on the defense, and test Bill Belichick’s confidence in them.
It may be hard to take the Dolphins’ offense seriously with 37 year old journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but as the Patriots learned last year, he can hurt you when it matters most. Fitzpatrick’s top two weapons in Devante Parker & Mike Gesicki were key contributors during that December loss, and will likely be an important part of Miami’s game plan tomorrow. Uncharacteristically, Stephon Gilmore struggled mightily covering Parker, so I have to imagine that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is salivating at the opportunity to exact revenge by locking up Miami’s top receiver. Due to the loss of Patrick Chung, it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots decide to match up against Gesicki, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their top pick Kyle Dugger is given the assignment due to the success he had during training camp. Having Devin McCourty in the back end will be as important as ever, due to his effectiveness as both a player and a leader. New England will also have to deal with Preston Williams & Jakeem Grant, but I’m confident that the rest of the secondary will be able to limit their effectiveness.
However, the team’s defensive line and linebacker corps are much more of an enigma. The defensive line struggled to stop the run throughout last season, with the Wild Card game being a clear example, as Derrick Henry accumulated 182 rushing yards for the Titans. Other than adding veteran DT Beau Allen, the Patriots mostly stayed pat at the position, which means that Lawrence Guy and a slew of younger players will be tasked with playing much better against the run this season. Tomorrow’s game will be a tall task, as Miami has one of the fastest running backs in the league in Matt Breida, and a bruising rusher in Jordan Howard.
Dont’a Hightower’s decision to opt out dealt a devastating blow to the team’s linebacker corps, as he was a steadying force in the middle of the field. Luckily, the Patriots went into April’s draft with the goal of improving at linebacker, due to the departures of Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, & Kyle Van Noy (the latter two players signed with Miami). This led to the team drafting Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings & Michigan LB Josh Uche, who should help add versatility to the position behind three-year veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley. New England will also rely on Chase Winovich and John Simon to set the edge, and get after Fitzpatrick.
The Patriots had one of the NFL’s best defenses last year, so it will be intriguing to see how the retooled lineup looks tomorrow against a Dolphins offense that gave them fits last season.
Yodny Cajuste (knee) – Out
Gunner Olszewski (foot) – Out
Dalton Keene (neck) – Questionable
Cassh Maluia (knee) – Questionable
N’Keal Harry (shoulder) – Questionable
Chase Winovich (shoulder) – Questionable
Clayton Fejedelem (pectoral) – Doubtful
1. New uniforms!
Tomorrow’s game will mark the debut of the Patriots’ new uniforms, which are primarily based on the team’s popular Color Rush uniforms which were worn from 2016 to 2019. Interestingly, this will be the first time the team wears the combination in a non-prime time game.
2. Fans in the stands?
Due to COVID-19, the Patriots will not have fans in Gillette Stadium throughout September. New England has been provided with a recorded track of artificial crowd noise which will be filtered throughout the stadium.
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 1 slate (apart from Thursday’s opening game).
For the first time in a decade, the Patriots will be playing on Wild Card Weekend, as they welcome the Tennessee Titans (9-7) for a Saturday night matchup in Gillette Stadium.
Even though New England is favored to win by 5 points, there are many pundits and analysts who believe that the Patriots Dynasty will come to an end tomorrow night.
Here are some things to consider entering this Wild Card matchup.
1. Can the offense deliver?
The Patriots’ offense has been inconsistent at best over the last few weeks, with a solid outing against the stout Bills defense in Week 16, before digging an early hole during a surprising loss to the Dolphins in Week 17. Tom Brady is likely itching to get out and play, due to the constant talk about his future in New England, and the surprising thought that he ranks last amongst all the quarterbacks in the playoffs. Unfortunately for #12, he is facing off against a team that features coaches who are very familiar with how he operates, as Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees were both part of the Patriots in the early 2000s. Brady will need all the help he can get if the Patriots hope to emerge victorious tomorrow.
Tennessee features a dynamic defensive line, which gave the Patriots massive problems during a dominant 34-10 Titans victory in 2018. The Patriots offensive line will need to be at the top of their game if they want to keep Brady upright. In addition, the Patriots’ receiving corps (mainly N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu) has to get separation and make plays down the field in order to help out Brady and Julian Edelman.
The Patriots will also have to focus on producing a solid rushing attack, as the forecast calls for precipitation throughout tomorrow’s game (which may make it tougher to throw the ball down the field). I believe that Josh McDaniels and his staff have to focus on getting Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead involved from the get-go, as it will help take pressure off of Brady and the passing game, and punish Tennessee if they opt to send blitz packages.
If the Patriots want to have the chance to defend their Super Bowl title, they will need to have a great outing by their offense.
2. Will the defense rebound from last week’s debacle?
The most shocking aspect of last week’s loss to Miami was the fact that the seemingly stout Patriots’ defense fell apart against an offensive attack led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, with Stephon Gilmore getting absolutely bullied by DeVante Parker throughout the game. For the first time all season, the Patriots’ defense let down the offense, as they were unable to hold their late lead, which resulted in the team losing their first round bye.
New England has a quick turnaround, as they face a talented Titans’ offense that features playmakers such as Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. Henry led the NFL in rushing yards, and is a downhill runner that will likely give the Patriots problems (as evidenced by their struggles against Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati). Due to the forecast, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tennessee opts to feed Henry early and often, which could wear out the Patriots’ defense and keep Tom Brady on the sideline.
One of the most surprising stories of this season was the reemergence of Ryan Tannehill as a viable starting quarterback, as he led the Titans to 7 wins after replacing Marcus Mariota as the team’s starter. Similarly to his head coach, Tannehill is familiar with playing in Gillette Stadium, due to his years in Miami, which could indicate that he won’t be as intimidated as your typical quarterback making their first career start in the postseason.
Stopping AJ Brown will need to be of the utmost importance, as the rookie receiver has flashed his big play potential all throughout this season. Stephon Gilmore and the other cornerbacks will need to bounce back with a vengeance to stifle Brown, Corey Davis and the rest of Tennessee’s receivers.
The Patriots’ strength has been their defense, and they will need to find their rhythm once again if they hope to advance to the next round.
Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee) – Questionable
Terrence Brooks (groin) – Questionable
Jamie Collins Sr. (shoulder) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee/shoulder) – Questionable
Jonathan Jones (groin) – Questionable
Jason McCourty (groin) – Questionable
Adam Humphries (ankle) – Out
Kalif Raymond (concussion) – Doubtful
Cody Hollister (ankle) – Questionable
Dane Cruikshank (illness) – Questionable
Here are my picks for the rest of the Wild Card Weekend.
Yet again, the Patriots’ defense and special teams led New England to victory, as they prevailed 13-9 over the Dallas Cowboys (6-5) during a wet and cold afternoon in Foxborough.
This victory improves the Patriots to 10-1 on the season and keeps them atop the AFC through 12 weeks.
Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game.
1. A defensive masterpiece
Bill Belichick’s defense came to play yesterday, as they absolutely stifled the NFL’s top offense and kept them out of the end zone. Dak Prescott entered this game with 3 straight 400 yard performances, but was held to 212 yards, without any touchdowns. The weather obviously had an impact on Prescott, as he was seen changing his gloves on several occasions, but the Patriots were able to take away his top weapon in Amari Cooper. Stephon Gilmore continued his campaign for Defensive Player of the Year by blanking Cooper, who was targeted only twice. Cooper’s first target resulted in a Gilmore interception that set up the Patriots’ second score.
Other than a 59-yard catch and run by Randall Cobb, the Patriots were able to limit big plays and mostly held Dallas’ secondary receivers in check. Due to the inclement weather, most analysts expected the Cowboys to utilize Ezekiel Elliot early and often, which was evident, as he averaged 4.1 yards per carry during a 86-yard performance. The Patriots will need to shore up their run defense, as rushing the ball will likely be a point of emphasis for opposing offenses.
2. The offense was efficient, if not explosive
In the eyes of many “experts”, yesterday’s game adds to the narrative that Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense are no longer elite. Of course, these people won’t mention that Brady outplayed an MVP candidate in inclement weather, and did so without two of his top targets in Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett. The offensive line was fortified by the return of Isaiah Wynn, who shook off a rough start (which included a strip sack of Brady), en route to a group performance that was a far cry from the debacle in Philadelphia.
For the first time in several weeks, the team eclipsed 100 rushing yards, as Sony Michel accumulated 85 yards off of 20 carries. With the absence of Sanu and Dorsett, the Patriots got a major contribution from Jakobi Meyers, who had 4 receptions for 74 yards. Julian Edelman was his usual self, with 8 receptions for 93 yards, including a huge catch on 3rd & 20 that helped extend a drive in the second half. N’Keal Harry had his first professional touchdown on a fade route in the red zone, with his athleticism on full display. At the same time, Harry still has room to improve, as evidenced by a couple of dropped passes.
The Patriots’ offense still has a long way to go, as they cannot continue to depend on their defense and special teams to win them games as the season progresses. If Brady continues to build chemistry with Meyers and Harry, the Patriots should be able to have a solid 5 receiver rotation that helps take pressure off of Julian Edelman. In addition, Michel’s performance is something to build upon, as having a balanced attack will open up the field through play action.
3. Special teams was game changing once again
Throughout this season, the Patriots’ special teams unit has been able to make momentum shifting plays, and yesterday was no different. Perennial All-Pro Matthew Slater added to his stellar season with a blocked punt in the first quarter that led to Harry’s touchdown. Jake Bailey wasn’t as effective punting the ball, as he did shank some punts, but he was able to pin the Cowboys on his last attempt.
As I mentioned earlier, special teams shouldn’t have to elevate the Patriots on a weekly basis, but it is definitely appreciated by Bill Belichick and the coaching staff when it does happen.
Passing: Tom Brady – 17/37 for 190 yards, and 1 touchdown
Rushing: Sony Michel – 20 carries for 85 yards
Receiving; Julian Edelman – 8 receptions for 93 yards
Defensive: Jamie Collins – 10 total tackles
Passing: Dak Prescott – 19/33 for 212 yards, and 1 interception
Rushing: Ezekiel Elliot – 21 carries for 86 yards
Receiving: Randall Cobb – 4 receptions for 86 yards
Defensive: Jaylon Smith – 8 total tackles
What’s next?: The Patriots head down to Houston to take on Deshaun Watson and the Texans (7-4) on Sunday Night Football.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to call tomorrow’s matchup with the Dallas Cowboys (6-4) the ‘Game of the Year’, as it pits the NFL’s best team against its most popular team in a nationally–televised game.
Here are some things to consider entering this Week 12 game.
1. Can the banged-up offense deliver?
The Patriots’ offense was shaky at best during their win against the Eagles, with a porous offensive line making it hard for Tom Brady to find any sort of rhythm. Tomorrow’s task won’t be any easier, as the team is likely to play without receivers Mohamed Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion), which will thrust N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers into larger roles. Meyers had some clear miscommunication with Brady during the game against the Eagles, which they have hopefully been able to iron out throughout the week at practice. Dallas’ secondary has struggled in recent weeks, so it will be imperative for the Patriots’ receivers to find separation
The X-factor for this game should be the return of Isaiah Wynn to the lineup, as he replaces the struggling Marshall Newhouse as the protector of Brady’s blind side. Wynn will be tested right away, as the Cowboys have an incredibly talented defensive line, with pass rushers such as Demarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn. Michael Bennett will also be making his return to Foxborough after being traded to Dallas a few weeks ago, following a disagreement with the Patriots’ coaching staff. Wynn’s return should help fortify the offensive line, and help boost the offense as a whole, as his agility will be useful in run-blocking and setting up screen passes.
The team’s running backs will also be essential, as the forecast is calling for rain throughout the game. Look for Sony Michel and James White to be involved early and often as Josh McDaniels looks for ways to take pressure off of Tom Brady.
2. Can the defense lockdown the NFL’s best offense?
The Cowboys’ offense has been humming lately, with Dak Prescott solidifying his place amongst the favorites for MVP, due to a handful of dominant performances. Prescott has been able to silence the narrative that he’s reliant on Ezekiel Elliot and the running game, as the passing game has carried Dallas as of late. Prescott is protected by one of the league’s best offensive lines, and has a bevy of weapons at his disposal, including Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, and Jason Witten. The main matchup of this game may be Cooper vs Stephon Gilmore, as Cooper has been Prescott’s top target throughout the season. If Gilmore is able to lock up Cooper, it would go a long way in helping the Patriots stifle Dallas. In addition, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones will need to be able to limit Gallup and Cobb, as the two are capable of lifting Dallas when Cooper isn’t as successful.
Even though Ezekiel Elliot hasn’t been as effective this year, he is still capable of shredding the Patriots’ defense if he has lanes to run through. Due to the rainy conditions, it wouldn’t be overly surprising to see Dallas try to get Elliot going, either as a rusher or a pass catcher. Hence, the Patriots’ defensive line and linebackers will have to be alert if they want to slow him down.
Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee) – Questionable
Tom Brady (elbow) – Questionable
Marcus Cannon (illness) – Questionable
Patrick Chung (heel/chest) – Questionable
Phillip Dorsett (concussion) – Questionable
Nate Ebner (ankle/back) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (shoulder) – Questionable
Damien Harris (hamstring) – Questionable
Jason McCourty (groin) – Questionable
Mohamed Sanu (ankle) – Questionable
John Simon (elbow) – Questionable
Matthew Slater (hamstring) – Questionable
Leighton Vander Esch (neck) – Out
Joe Thomas (illness) – Questionable
Donovan Wilson (illness) – Questionable
Connor Williams (knee) – Questionable
Prediction: Patriots27, Cowboys23
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 12 games (excluding Thursday Night Football).
Throughout the season, the Patriots have unquestionably been led by their defense, who have been able to stifle opponents and force them into making costly mistakes. Yesterday’s game against the Cleveland Browns (2-5) was no different, as a dominant start by the Pats’ defense gave the team a lead they would not relinquish, en route to a 27-13 win in sloppy conditions. This victory improved New England to 8-0 on the season, and gives them a 2.5 game cushion in the AFC.
Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game.
1. The Pats’ defense came to play
As I mentioned in the preview for this game, the utter dominance of Bill Belichick’s defense has been questioned by many due to the supposed weakness of their opponents. This media narrative unfortunately took a hit yesterday, as the Pats were able to rattle Baker Mayfield, and neutralize Odell Beckham Jr (due to an incredible performance by Stephon Gilmore). Even though Nick Chubb was able to gash the Patriots for over 131 yards on the ground, the defense was able to force two crucial turnovers that halted any chance of Cleveland gaining momentum. The first turnover took place deep in Cleveland’s territory, when the ball was kicked out of Chubb’s hands by an offensive linemen and returned for a touchdown by Dont’a Hightower. The second turnover occurred when Chubb outmaneuvered most of the Pats’ defense and appeared to be on his way to end zone, when Jonathan Jones caught up to him and punched the ball out of his hands, forcing a fumble that was ultimately recovered by Devin McCourty. Mayfield also threw an interception, which occurred when Lawrence Guy broke through the line of scrimmage and caught a shovel pass that appeared to be intended for Jarvis Landry. Guy’s interception has to be one of the most bizarre plays of the year, and was also the first interception of his career.
Ironically, these three turnovers happened on consecutive plays in the first quarter, which helped give the Pats a 17-0 lead.
Even though the Pats did emerge victorious, they need to work on their rushing defense, as Cleveland’s offensive line was able to effectively clear paths for Chubb to run through. If New England wants to make a deep run this year, they will need to shore up the line of scrimmage to prevent opponents from running through them, which could wear them down, and keep Tom Brady & the offense off the field for long periods of time.
2. Another inconsistent performance by the offense
Through 8 weeks of the season, the story for the Patriots’ offense has been upheaval and inconsistency, and yesterday’s game was more of the same. The offensive line once again struggled to protect Tom Brady effectively, which can be linked to injuries at center, left tackle, and right guard. Brady was efficient when he needed to be, but he did appear to be jittery at times, which is understandable due to the pass rushers on the Browns’ defense. Yet again, Julian Edelman (8 catches for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns) and James White (4 catches for 75 yards) were Brady’s top targets, and came through when he needed them. Edelman was the only Pats’ receiver who appeared to consistently get separation, as evidenced by his two touchdowns in the red zone. White gained most of his yardage on a 59 yard screen pass that came on a crucial third down when Cleveland had cut the lead to 7 points. White’s long catch-and-run got the Pats into the red zone and set up Edelman’s second touchdown. In his debut for the Pats, Mohamed Sanu had 2 receptions for 23 yards, which is not surprising as he has only been with the team for 5 days.
Sony Michel had an efficient day of rushing, as he totaled 74 yards off of 21 carries. Michel was able to find holes to run through, and ran hard for first downs when necessary. Michel’s performance drew criticism from prominent ‘analyst’ Skip Bayless, a frequent critic of Bill Belichick, who opined that the Pats probably regretted picking Michel after seeing what his former teammate Nick Chubb did on the same day.
I really like Sony Michel. I love his former Georgia teammate Nick Chubb, who went 35th overall to Michel’s 31st overall. It’s looking like Belichick made a mistake.
People like Bayless are nothing more than talking heads who try to gain attention by saying controversial things, but all I have to say to him is that without Michel’s performance in the 2019 playoffs, there is no chance that the Pats win Super Bowl LIII.
I believe that the Pats’ offense will be fine over the next few weeks, as they’ll receive reinforcements with the return of Shaq Mason, N’Keal Harry, and Isaiah Wynn. According to NFL insiders, the front office is still looking to add playmakers, so there is always a chance that Belichick finds another offensive weapon before the trade deadline.
1. Belichick gets to 300 wins
With the victory over Cleveland, Bill Belichick earned his 300th win as a head coach in the NFL. Ironically, he earned his first win when he brought his Browns to play the Pats in Foxborough back in 1991.
Here is a video of team owner Robert Kraft presenting Belichick with the game ball.
Yesterday’s win also marked the Pats’ sixth win in their Color Rush uniforms, bringing their record to 6-0 in their mono-navy alternates. The Pats will break out this combo one more time this season when they face off against the Chiefs in Week 14.
Leading up to the game, Odell Beckham Jr. promised to give Tom Brady a pair of Nike cleats made of goat hair, due to #12’s status as the GOAT. Beckham lived up to his word, as he presented Brady with the cleats after the game, which was a gesture that New England’s QB appreciated.
Over the last few seasons, the most talked teams in the AFC have generally been the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. The topic of conversation shifted entering this season, due to the aggressive moves made by the Cleveland Browns (2-4) to improve their roster. Cleveland added mercurial wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. along with other stars such as Kareem Hunt, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson to complement their young core of Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Myles Garrett, and Nick Chubb. Cleveland has fell short of their title expectations thus far, but their talent alone should make the Patriots worried about their matchup this Sunday.
Here are some things to consider entering this Week 8 contest.
1. Can Belichick’s defense outwit Freddie Kitchen’s offense?
Despite what Bill Belichick’s defense has achieved over the past seven weeks, there are still pundits who choose to dismiss their greatness due to the perceived weakness of their opponents thus far. Hence, playing the Browns’ talented offense should provide the Pats’ defense with a chance to silence their doubters. Following a dominant second half to his rookie season, Baker Mayfield has struggled to begin this season, as he leads the NFL in interceptions through seven weeks. The Pats will need to focus in on Mayfield’s top two weapons, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who have the potential to wreck the game if given an opportunity. It will be interesting to see how Belichick opts to match up against Beckham and Landry, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the Patriots double-teaming Beckham with a cornerback and safety, while matching Stephon Gilmore against Landry.
Facing Nick Chubb might be worrisome for the Pats’ defense, as they have been ever so slightly pervious against the run this season, with Frank Gore and Le’Veon Bell achieving success against them. Chubb has effective during Cleveland’s wins (such as their win in Baltimore a few weeks ago), and would help Freddie Kitchens take pressure off of Mayfield. The Pats’ defensive line and ‘Boogeymen’ linebacking corps will need to neutralize Chubb if they want to be successful.
I believe that the key to victory will be getting after Mayfield with an effective pass rush, which could force him to turn the ball over. Just this past week, the Pats intimidated a young quarterback in Sam Darnold with their pass rush and coverage, which caused him to “see ghosts” on the field. At the same time, limiting Cleveland’s weapons will put the Pats in a great position to remain undefeated.
2. Can Brady overcome Garrett and the Browns’ defense?
On paper, Cleveland’s defense promises to be the most talented unit the Pats have played since struggling against Buffalo in Week 4. The Pats’ offensive line will have their hands full against Myles Garrett who is tied for the league lead with 9 sacks. Brady’s performance has dipped when faced with consistent pressure, which could play into Cleveland’s hands if the offensive line cannot protect #12.
The Pats’ receiving corps underwent some upheaval this week with the addition of Mohamed Sanu, and the subsequent designation of Josh Gordon to the injured reserve (with the expectation that he will be waived as soon as he’s healthy). If Sanu does play, he should be a good addition to the normal lineup of Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett, with Jakobi Meyers also serving as a complementary piece. The Pats will face a good pair of cornerbacks in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, who haven’t been healthy at the same time since Week 3.
I think that it would be smart for Josh McDaniels to target Cleveland’s porous rushing defense which is amongst the NFL’s worst. If Sony Michel can get going, the Pats should be able to milk the clock and limit the number of possessions for the Browns’ offense.
Bonus: Color Rush!
The Pats will be suiting up in their popular Color Rush alternates for the second time this season when they take on Cleveland on Sunday. Hopefully they will be able to improve to 6-0 all-time while wearing these uniforms.