Best and Worst-Case Scenarios: New England Patriots

The Patriots came within eight points of becoming the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since… the Patriots in 2004 and 2005. Following the loss, their offseason suffered a little more turbulence than usual. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s relationship was called into question over reports that indicated that Brady was feeling underappreciated, top receiver Julian Edelman got hit with a four-game suspension for PEDs, they lost their longtime starting left tackle Nate Solder to the Giants and their leading rusher Dion Lewis and Super Bowl XLIX (2015) hero Malcolm Butler left for Tennessee. But, this is a team that hasn’t suffered a losing record since 2000, with the greatest quarterback-head coach combo in history. Unless one of the other three teams has a breakout year, they will not be threatened at the top.

Best case:

The drama between coach and quarterback fizzles out once the games begin. In his age 41 season, Brady defends his 2017 MVP campaign with another brilliant one. He brings the best out of veterans Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt while Edelman serves his suspension. Edelman comes back in week five, healthy and motivated to step into that top receiver role once again. Rob Gronkowski stays healthy this year and records double digit touchdowns for the first time since 2015.

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The first-round selection of Georgia’s Sony Michel pays off as New England finds their running back of the future. He averaged 7.9 yards per-carry in 2017, and broke out for 181 yards and three scores on just 11 rushes during the Rose Bowl Game. The depth at halfback with newly acquired Jeremy Hill from Cincinnati (led NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2015), James White and Rex Burkhead help the Pats break into the top-seven in the league rushing yards. The last time they did that was in 2016, their Super Bowl winning season. Having a solid running game also takes pressure off of Brady.

Defensively, Dont’a Hightower returns strong after missing 14 games (including playoffs) last season due to pec and shoulder injuries. He sets career highs in tackles (65) and sacks (six) and competes for comeback player of the year. After a rough year, Stephon Gilmore settles in and shows why he was a pro-bowler in 2016 for Buffalo. The Patriots gave up just the fifth-most points last year, and they stay in the top-five once again.

On the schedule, the Patriots sweep through the division for the first time since 2012 and win 13 or more games. They haven’t gone worse than 12-4 since 2009. They get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and make it back to the Super Bowl for the third straight year, where they win their sixth title in the Brady-Belichick era.

Worst case:

Their worst-case scenario is that Brady’s play dips as Peyton Manning’s did at a similar age. But, Manning showed decline prior to his fall. He had his lowest recorded QBR since the stat began to be tracked in 2006 the year prior to his last. Brady continued his dominance in 2017, so his fall seems much less likely to occur than Manning’s was.

Around him, Edelman returns from his suspension rusty after missing over a year. He doesn’t look like the same player who caught 98 passes for 1106 yards in 2016. For the third time in six seasons, Gronkowski misses half of the year (or more) with an injury. Dion Lewis’ dynamic play as a halfback, receiver and returner are sorely missed. Behind the youngest offensive line in the division, none of New England’s current running backs break out. Michel needs time to develop his cuts and vision. Hill battles injuries for the second straight year, and there really isn’t a true identity for the Patriots rush attack, just various players being plugged in based on who plays well recently.

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With Malcolm Butler gone, the secondary struggles as they did in the Super Bowl when Coach Belichick controversially benched his top corner. They gave up 373 yards and three touchdowns to Philadelphia backup quarterback Nick Foles. The Pats now have the oldest starting defensive backs in the AFC East, with both of their safeties, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, set to turn 31 before the season starts. With an older, slower secondary, New England struggles against the pass even more than in 2017 when they gave up the third-most yards through the air.

With their woes, the Patriots only win 10 games, and fail to earn a first-round bye for the first time since 2009.

Final prediction: 12-4

 

Draft Grades: AFC East

Buffalo Bills: C+

Round 1, Pick 7: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Round 1, Pick 16: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech download

Round 3: Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford

Round 4: Taron Johnson, CB, Weber St

Round 5: Siran Neal, CB, Jacksonville State

Round 5: Wyatt Teller, G, Virginia Tech

Round 6: Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Clemson

Round 7: Austin Proehl, WR, North Carolina

Tyrod Taylor took the Bills to the Playoffs for the first time in 17 years, but nah, they threw him out and took a gigantic risk on Allen; the third best QB in the Mountain West. Edmunds was a steal at 16, and Buffalo’s best pick. It will be interesting to see how Ray-Ray McCloud plays out.

New England Patriots: B-

Round 1, Pick 23: Isaiah Wynn, T, Georgia DbwrzbGWsAARPRQ.jpg

Round 1, Pick 31: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Round 2: Duke Dawson, CB, Florida

Round 5: Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue

Round 6: Christian Sam, LB, Arizona St.

Round 6: Braxton Berrios, WR, Miami

Round 7: Danny Etling, QB, LSU

The Patriots own the greatest draft pick of all time, and will still be good in 2018, so none of this really matters. I love Michel at No. 31. He’s an upgrade from Dion Lewis and it might be beneficial for him to run behind his college teammate. Berrios provides a potential Danny Amendola replacement. Trading back a few times prevented New England from taking a more reliable linebacker.

New York Jets: B+

Round 1, Pick 3: Sam Darnold, QB, USC DSqAJwHVQAE3bLb

Round 3: Nathan Shepherd, DE, Fort Hayes State

Round 4: Chris Herndon, WR, Miami

Round 6: Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane

Round 6: Foley Fatukasi, DT, UCONN

Round 6: Trenton Cannon, RB/KR, Virginia St.

New York’s B+ grade is propelled by Sam Darnold. It was the right pick to make after he ended up being available. The Jets also made the necessary moves to begin replenishing their defensive line, which took a hit with the departure of Muhammad Wilkerson.

Miami Dolphins: A-

Round 1, Pick 11: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama COxAQDAa_400x400.jpg

Round 2: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn St.

Round 3: Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio St.

Round 4: Durham Smythe, TE, Notre Dame

Round 4: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona St.

Round 6: Cornell Armstrong, CB, Southern Miss

Round 7: Quentin Poling, LB, Ohio

Round 7: Jason Sanders, K, New Mexico

Yeah, it’s kinda suspect that I gave my favorite team the best grade in their division. Get over it.

The Dolphins had one of the best drafts when it came to addressing their needs. They added two linebackers (by far their weakest position) and two tight ends — one who can catch and one who can block. The combination of Fitzpatrick and Reshad Jones at safety is good one.

 

 

Danny Amendola expected to sign with Dolphins

Wide receiver Danny Amendola is expected to leave the New England Patriots and sign with the Miami Dolphins, according to reports.

The 31-year-old Amendola caught 61 passes for 659 yards and two touchdowns in 2017. His best game of the year was the Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, when he hauled in eight catches for 152 yards.

His signing comes just days after the Dolphins dealt Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns.

 

 

Trying to explain the Josh McDaniels debacle

New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was set to become the next coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but backed out just hours after the Colts announced the hire on Tuesday.

It was rumored that McDaniels might have been scared off by Andrew Luck’s injury anomaly, or owner Jim Irsay’s tendencies to do as he pleases with the team, limiting what McDaniels could control.

On Wednesday afternoon, ESPN reported that control was a large reason for McDaniels’ decision to stay put in New England. Patriots coach Bill Belichick reportedly told his offensive coordinator that he could begin taking on more duties with the team, including roster decisions and salary cap management. New England already lost defensive coordinator/ rocket scientist Matt Patricia, who will be the next coach of the Detroit Lions.

McDaniels deciding to return to the Patriots sparked conspiracy theories suggesting that Belichick was retiring sooner than expected. While highly unlikely, it does make sense that Belichick is preparing McDaniels to be his successor, if the report of increased control is true.

The Colts were expected to hire McDaniels several weeks before they announced him as the coach, but were prohibited from officially doing so because he had yet to coach in the Super Bowl, which the Patriots lost to the Eagles.

Many potential replacements around the league took other coaching jobs during that duration, leaving the Colts with limited options. They are expected to request an interview with Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich.

McDaniels’ agent Bob LaMonte dropped him as a client on Wednesday.

Sideline Intel Staff Super Bowl Picks

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The game is near. Here’s what we think:

Ryan Ladika: Patriots 30 Eagles 27 

I’m picking the New England Patriots. While the Philadelphia Eagles are coming off of an absolute dismantling of one of the NFL’s top defenses in the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, they were also going up against a lesser quarterback, compared to newly-minted 2017 NFL MVP Tom Brady, in Case Keenum. Brady has shown us time and time again that he has the expertise and execution to engineer scoring drives whenever he’s on the field. I don’t realistically see Nick Foles standing toe to toe with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Graham Foley: Eagles 29 Patriots 20

While Brady and Belichick vs. Foles and Pederson seems like a no-brainer for the GOATs, look closer.

The Eagles defense gets incredible pressure by rushing just four, making it difficult to find an open receiver with seven in coverage even for Brady. And don’t forget that No. 1 ranked rush defense.

The Eagles’ offensive line dominated a Minnesota front seven that is far superior to New England’s. With protection, and an incredible run-game going against the 29th-ranked rush defense in yards per attempt, Foles should be able to do enough for a win.

Brady will be Brady and make it close. But Philadelphia has the better team.

Ryan Sharp: Patriots 30 Eagles 16

Last year, the Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. Everybody knows what followed. Two weeks ago, the Patriots turned the ball over down 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship. Everybody knows what followed.

If Carson Wentz were in this game, the score would be closer, but the result would be the same. Nearly the entire Patriots roster has played in a Super Bowl and they are led by the greatest coach and quarterback of all time. In a game like this, experience can mean a lot. An inexperienced team led by Nick Foles is not an ideal game plan going against the NFL’s most dominant team.

Their roster may not be deep, but with the leadership of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, New England can beat any team in any game. I’m convinced it takes luck to beat them. The motivation of winning a sixth championship certainly helps as well.

Jeff Griffith: Patriots 24 Eagles 17

Nick Foles was outstanding against the Vikings. 22-of-36 for 352 yards and three touchdowns is no stat line to scoff at. That version of Nick Foles can beat anybody, in my opinion. We conveniently forget, though, that his performance in the NFC title game could still be considered a major outlier based on his stats from the three previous games — never eclipsing 200 yards or two scores in a contest aside from a home defeat over the New York Giants. With that being said, there’s much more to this game for the Eagles, of course, and I do think a battle in the trenches favors the NFC champs. But until I see a concrete reason on the field as to why Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can’t get it done on the biggest stage — which we very well could see tomorrow night — I have to go with Dynasty over Destiny. In my mind, it’s going to be low scoring, which can favor Philadelphia, but I think a late touchdown drive seals Brady’s sixth ring.

Jacob Rosenfarb: Patriots 31 Eagles 24

Super Bowl 52 comes down to a matchup between football’s best player and football’s best roster. The Philadelphia Eagles support one of the deepest rosters in the game, with standout players at almost every position. The New England Patriots on the other hand, have Tom Brady and come Sunday that may be all they need. Nick Foles has filled in admirably for the injured Carson Wentz, but he is no match for the defensive genius of Bill Belichick. Defensively, the Patriots will put pressure on Foles and force him into quick decisions, while offensively the Pats will pick on the Eagles corners with quick routes that negate Philadelphia’s ability to get pressure.

Josh Zaklis: Patriots 27 Eagles 21

Both of these teams have the talent to win.

For the Eagles that talent is spread out throughout their team. The Philly defense has played out of their minds the past few weeks and for most of the year, but they will be facing the most dominate quarterback of all time.

In order to slow down Tom Brady, the Eagles must take a page out of the Giants playbook and pressure Brady with their front four. If Brady sees the Eagles pulling defenders out of coverage to pressure him then it is all over for the Eagles as he will be able to identify the weaknesses within seconds and put the ball in a receiver’s hands.

If the Patriot defense can stifle the Eagles on offense then it is up to Brady to find a way to put up points on the Eagles defense which is no easy task. Just ask Case Keenum. He can beat the defense by establishing the run and throwing a lot of quick passes throughout the game to keep the Eagles pass rush off of him.

As for my pick; my heart says Eagles but my brain says never bet against Brady and Belichick.

 

Why both teams deserve to lose the Super Bowl

 

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The New England Patriots will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday night. Many previews have been written. You’ve likely read something about how “The game will be won by -insert non-skill positions-”, or “What the -insert team name- need to do to beat the -insert other team name.”

Here’s one about why both teams deserve to lose the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia Eagles

-They are wearing green.

This one is actually out of their control, but still deserves mention. The AFC and NFC rotate being the home team in each Super Bowl. This year was the AFC’s turn, and the Patriots picked white. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the team in white has won the past six Super Bowls, and 12 of the past 13. Philadelphia also wore green in Super Bowls XXXIX and XV, losing both.

-There will be blood.

The Philadelphia Police Department sent a notice to businesses near Lincoln Financial Field saying they couldn’t guarantee safety if the Eagles won the NFC Championship. Fans immediately took to the streets after the victory over Minnesota. Imagine if they actually won the Super Bowl — chaos.

There’s still a chance fans riot if the Eagles lose, too. Oh well. At least we’ll get some funny videos of guys falling off light posts.

-It’s funny.

They’re not quite on a Cleveland Browns level, but the Eagles are on of the most snakebitten franchises in NFL history. People love seeing them come ups short. Let’s name a few incidents…

  • Losing 3 straight NFC Championships
  • Donovan McNabb breaking his ribs in the third NFC Championship
  • Finally winning an NFC Championship, then losing the Super Bowl
  • Donovan McNabb going down in 2006, leaving Jeff Garcia to lead the team through the playoffs
  • Losing another NFC Championship
  • Chip Kelly trading every good player
  • Carson Wentz getting injured, leaving Nick Foles to take on the Patriots in the Super Bowl

Ha.

New England Patriots

-Tom Brady won MVP

It’s pretty amazing that Brady put up the numbers he did at age 40. But last four quarterbacks to win MVP and play in the Super Bowl all lost. Most recently was Matt Ryan, who got to experience the comeback from down 28-3 first hand.

-Nick Foles is the opposing quarterback

The only quarterback ever to beat Brady in a Super Bowl is Eli Manning. Above average at best, Manning has strong shot at the Hall of Fame simply because he beat the GOAT in not one, but two Super Bowls. How funny would it be if Nick Foles of all people joined this club exclusive club?

-It’s someone else’s turn.

Do Tom Brady and Bill Belichick really need to play in an eighth Super Bowl? Do Tom Brady and Bill Belichick really need to win a sixth Super Bowl? Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever, and Bill Belichick is the best coach ever. We’ve seen enough.