2018 NFL Week 2 Picks & Previews: QB Carousel Leads to Surprise Winners

Welcome to my Week 2 NFL picks.  Last week, I went 9-6-1, putting me ahead of 4 of ESPN’s 10 pick’em experts, and 2 of CBS Sports’ 8 pick’em experts.  This off-season, many quarterbacks changed teams as usual. Patrick Mahomes II was named Kansas City’s starter as Alex Smith was traded from the Chiefs to the Redskins.  Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Redskins signed with the Vikings. Case Keenum, Minnesota’s 2017 starter, is now starting in Denver.

I thought that Keenum and Cousins would thrive with their new teams, while Smith struggles without his offensive weapons and the Chiefs offense struggles without Smith.  But all four of those teams succeeded thanks to strong offense in Week 1. Mahomes just made the Chiefs offense look better, and the Redskins just might be better off with Smith than they were with Cousins. Does this have to do with the QB carousel, or is it what surrounds these quarterbacks that leads them to thrive?  Either way, the Chiefs and Redskins could be two surprise teams to watch out for, and the Vikes and Broncos look to stay elite. Will all four win again this week? Read my picks below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week (MNF)

I thought the Seahawks offense would struggle last week, but things actually turned out alright for them despite a loss.  However, they will be without WR Doug Baldwin this week, so don’t be surprised by a dud out of Seattle’s offense. Plus, the Bears defense looks much better with everyone healthy and Khalil Mack on board.  Expect a strong week by QB Mitch Trubisky as well as the Bears running backs. However, it will be Mack and the Bears D that holds Seattle under 10 and leads the Bears to victory.

Upset of the Week

I learned one major lesson about the Chiefs in Week 1: QB Patrick Mahomes is not a bust, and he is capable of becoming an elite NFL starter this year.  Expect him to lead a talented Chiefs offense to victory despite some iffy defense by Kansas City.  The Steelers offense will begin to miss RB Le’Veon Bell, and their mediocre defense won’t be enough to stop the Chiefs.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted on Twitter on Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-23 Bengals)

I don’t expect more than 30 total points in this game.  Both these defenses are arguably Top 10 in the league.  They should be successful in pressuring each other’s quarterbacks and shutting down each other’s running backs.  But the Bengals will edge out the victory at home thanks to a strong game by WR A.J. Green.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Jets strong defense and a good day by rookie QB Sam Darnold led the Jets to victory in Detroit.  Expect more of the same in Miami, and watch for an especially strong game out of New York’s secondary.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think QB Josh Allen will lead the Bills to a closer game than they had last week.  But I see the Chargers having a better offensive day and winning this one.  They will rebound from their struggles against Kansas City last week.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Saints QB Drew Brees to excel against a young Browns defense.  But you should expect the Browns to make this a close offensive shootout, even without WR Josh Gordon.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With TE Delanie Walker on IR, I don’t expect a very strong game by the Titans offense, especially against the elite Houston D.  I think the Texans will be able to squeeze by despite a banged up wide receiver group.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I do expect QB Andrew Luck to look good in his second game back.  However, expect the Colts weak defense to give up 30+ points again in a loss.  They will especially struggle at containing the Redskins receivers.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This is a battle of two capable backup QBs and two strong defensive fronts.  With QB Carson Wentz and WR Alshon Jeffery hurt, I don’t think the Philly offense will be able to handle this strong Bucs D.  The strong defense will lead Tampa to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST (OT)

Expect the Packers to pull off another last minute comeback here, this one extending into overtime.  It just shows how clutch QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense are.  I do expect strong games by the Vikings receivers that keep this close and give the Vikings an early lead.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for a strong game out of WR Julio Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s receivers against a young Carolina secondary.  This will help lead Atlanta to victory as the Panthers receivers struggle.  However, Carolina’s strong run game will lead the way and make this close.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST (OT)

Expect both teams to rebound from offensive struggles last week.  The Lions have a veteran QB and strong receiver group that may very well be the highlight of this team.  But I think QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the young 49ers offense will look dominant against a below average Lions D.  The 49ers will edge out an overtime victory at home.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

I don’t expect the Rams to have a field day here.  The Cardinals defense is much improved from last season.  But the Rams will edge out a victory as their own defense holds QB Sam Bradford and his receivers below 20 points.  
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Stay tuned for a game preview before the game begins!

 

Expect a lot of passing, as this will be a close game and running backs on both sides are injured.  I think the Jaguars will struggle to find ways to score without RB Leonard Fournette, but the Jags defense will lead them to victory.  As a fan, I really want to see TE Rob Gronkowski prove CB Jalen Ramsey wrong and lead the Pats to victory, and I think he will prove Ramsey wrong.  But as an unbiased reporter, I see this as one of the toughest games on New England’s schedule, and I can’t see them winning with WR Julian Edelman suspended and multiple RBs banged up.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect the Raiders to struggle at scoring against the stellar Broncos defense.  Strong offensive line play by Oakland will be key to protect QB Derek Carr, and I expect to see that at the very least.  But I think Denver’s offense will repeat what they had going last week to pull off another home victory.
Sunday, 8:30 PM EST

I think this is going to be an offensive shootout.  Cowboys QB Dak Prescott will find creative ways to score at home and RB Ezekiel Elliott will have a strong game. Meanwhile, I think the Giants will take an early lead against a young Cowboys D. But I see Dallas pulling away with a victory in the end thanks to a choke by the New York defense.

That’s all for this week’s NFL picks and previews.  Stay tuned for more NFL articles coming soon.

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2018 NFL Week 1 Picks and Previews: Every Win Counts

It’s that time of year again.  Football is finally back!  Today, I will share my predictions for each of the Week 1 games, and I have included a video preview for the Patriots game.   In the future, I may include 2-3 other game previews in addition to a Patriots preview.  I think the NFL is going to be especially competitive this year, so every win counts, even if it’s against a below average team.  Comment with your thoughts and I hope you’re all as excited as I am to watch some regular season football.

Lock of the Week

The Broncos are coming off a really strong draft that helped revamp their offense alongside the signing of QB Case Keenum.  I think the Broncos young pair of running backs will flourish against a declining Seahawks defense.  I don’t think Case Keenum will ever repeat his spectacular 2017, but I do see him having a strong game and taking advantage of the newfound WR depth in Denver.  In the 2017 draft, Denver finally found a third receiver to play alongside Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, and I see him playing a significant role right off the bat.

This Broncos defense is also nearly as strong as it was last year.  Considering Seattle’s 2017 offensive struggles, I think Denver could easily hold the Seahawks under 20 points.  This will allow Denver to blow Seattle out and get revenge on Seattle for routing the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Upset of the Week (MNF)

I think this will be a close call, but I can’t see this stacked Raiders offense losing to the Rams in Oakland.  They have a trio of talented receivers, a good mix of long-time veterans and younger guys in the backfield, and a decent QB and tight end group.  They also have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.  The Rams are one of my two overrated teams of the year.  Sure, they made some exciting moves this off-season, but they lost a lot to free agency in the process.

The Raiders defense may not be looking so good after losing DE Khalil Mack, but their secondary isn’t as bad as it seems.  I see the secondary keeping QB Jared Goff’s receivers well covered, leaving Goff struggling to find open men.  Meanwhile, I don’t see the Raiders offense putting up 30+ points against a relatively strong Rams defense.  But I do see them getting by with just enough to pull off the upset in this one.

TNF (Posted on Twitter on Thursday – Actual Score: 18-12 Eagles)

QB Carson Wentz may be out, but backup QB Nick Foles can still lead teams to victory when it matters.  I don’t see Foles playing quite at Super Bowl level in this one, but competition motivates him.  I think Foles will throw for 2 touchdowns despite being slowed down by the Falcons front seven.  Look out for a big game out of WR Mike Wallace as well.  With WR Alshon Jeffery injured, coverage will be drawn towards TE Zach Ertz and WR Nelson Agholor, Philly’s next two best pass-catchers.  For the Falcons, I think veteran WR Julio Jones and rookie WR Calvin Ridley will have a strong week.  But it won’t be enough for a victory with QB Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s RB duo struggling against the Eagles defensive front.

Sunday’s Games

It’s sure to be an intense game with two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks facing off.  I think both QBs, Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson, will have strong games.  But they will be held back by their lack of wide receiver depth, especially Houston, who will be without WR Will Fuller (hamstring).  However, this opens up an opportunity for a strong game by WR DeAndre Hopkins.  I also see RB Lamar Miller having a strong game with sophomore RB D’Onta Foreman injured.  Meanwhile, as the Patriots typically do, expect Tom Brady to find creative ways to score despite the lack of WR depth with Julian Edelman suspended, and that will lead them to a Week 1 victory.

The Ravens have one of the stronger defensive fronts in the league, and I can’t see QB Nathan Peterman having a strong game against Baltimore after his regular season struggles in 2017.  I don’t see Joe Flacco doing much better, but I think veteran WR Michael Crabtree will find a way to produce against the strong Buffalo secondary, and I think WR John Brown will begin to look like his old self, leading the Ravens in receiving while Crabtree is facing heavier coverage.  I don’t think the Bills stellar run game will be enough to outdo the Ravens, but I do think they will force overtime.  From there Baltimore will secure the victory with strong defense and a well-crafted winning drive.

This will be an interesting game.  We have a match-up between two younger quarterbacks looking to take it to the next level.  I think both Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill and Titans QB Marcus Mariota will have promising showings in a close one.  Even without WR DeVante Parker, I think the Dolphins wide receivers will step it up in this game to make it close.  But I think the Titans receivers are ready to tear apart Miami’s secondary.  Expect a big game from veteran TE Delanie Walker, even against S Reshad Jones.  You also could see a very strong game out of WR Corey Davis.  This is only the beginning of what I think will be Corey Davis’ breakout year.  Walker and Davis will lead the Titans past Miami in a close one.

I think the Steelers will manage a victory here.  But the Browns will make it closer than we’ve seen in a game between these two teams in a long time, with a strong offensive showing.  I don’t think QB Tyrod Taylor will look that good against the Steelers D.  But I think he’ll manage to find open receivers such as WR Jarvis Landry and TE David Njoku for portions of the game.  With RB Le’Veon Bell likely out, expect RB James Conner and RB Stevan Ridley to step it up against the Browns D in Bell’s place.  I think the Steelers offense will just be too much for Cleveland’s rebuilding D, especially with a strong game from WR Antonio Brown and a strong debut from rookie WR James Washington.

Andrew Luck is finally back.  I think he’ll look like his old self, but I see him struggling to find reliable receivers.  Besides T.Y. Hilton, Luck doesn’t have many of them.  Meanwhile, I think the Bengals offense, led by WR A.J. Green will dominate a Colts defense that isn’t looking great.  I think Cincy’s defensive front will look good and shut down the Colts’ young run game.  But I don’t think the Bengals secondary will look much better than Indy’s without S George Iloka.  That will at least allow T.Y. Hilton to have a strong game and make this a little closer.

I don’t think Jaguars QB Blake Bortles will be especially strong against the Giants D, but he’ll find enough open receivers to edge out a victory.  Meanwhile, the Jaguars stellar defense will help secure Jacksonville’s lead by holding the Giants under 20 points and 2 touchdowns.  However, I see WR Odell Beckham Jr. outplaying Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey and scoring New York’s only TD in an epic WR-CB match-up.  But I think rookie RB Saquon Barkley and the Giants run game will be shut down by the strong Jacksonville front seven.

I think QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers receivers will have a decent game here.  But the Vikings defense will limit them significantly, allowing the Vikes to blowout the Niners with Minnesota’s offense outplaying a mediocre 49ers D.  I think QB Kirk Cousins will find plenty of open men to throw to in the end zone, and I expect a strong game out of the Vikings RB duo (Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray) with Cook healthy.  I think the one Vikings receiver that will struggle is Adam Thielen, who will likely be matched up against star corner Richard Sherman.  But Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell will show promise after a slow start to his NFL career and play a role in Minnesota’s victory.

This Buccaneers front seven is extremely underrated, and I don’t see the Saints run game thriving against them with RB Mark Ingram suspended.  But with Bucs QB Jameis Winston also suspended, I don’t think Tampa Bay will put up enough points to outdo the Saints in New Orleans.  The Saints are the other team I see as overrated, but I still cannot see them losing to a Winston-less Bucs offense at home.  I think the Saints defense will play well enough.  Offensively, Drew Brees and Michael Thomas will work together to secure the Saints a victory.

With QB Patrick Mahomes II starting for the Chiefs, I don’t think the offense will look as good as it did last year.  But I do think RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill, and TE Travis Kelce will help Mahomes and the Chiefs keep this game close.  However, I see the Chargers offense looking pretty good in this game.  WR Mike Williams will look strong at full health, and QB Philip Rivers and RB Melvin Gordon will also put up strong performances, leading the Chargers to victory despite sloppy defense by both teams.

The Panthers had a very strong pre-season, and I think they can carry the momentum into the regular season against the Cowboys.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Panthers QB Cam Newton throw 3-4 touchdowns in this one.  Cowboys QB Dak Prescott will keep this interesting as I expect him to throw at least 2 touchdowns.  However, I think RB Ezekiel Elliott will have a tough time against a really strong Panthers front seven.

I don’t think Cardinals QB Sam Bradford will quite look like his old self.  But I see him staying healthy and tossing a couple touchdowns in his first start since early last season.  I expect QB Alex Smith and RB Adrian Peterson to have strong days as well, making this close.  But I think the Cardinals win in the end, led by a dominant day for RB David Johnson in his return, and a strong performance by CB Patrick Peterson in man-to-man coverage against Redskins WR Jamison Crowder.

SNF

With QB Aaron Rodgers back at full speed, expect a strong game by the Packers offense.  I see Rodgers tossing at least 2 touchdowns, and TE Jimmy Graham having an especially strong day.  Graham was a great signing, and Rodgers and Graham will make for an amazing QB-TE combo.  Rodgers hasn’t had that for a long time.  The Bears offense will look strong in this game as well.  But I cannot see them putting up as many points as Green Bay does with Rodgers at full health, making the Pack victorious in Rodgers’ return.

MNF

I expect QB Matthew Stafford to look sharp in prime time against a mediocre Jets D.  His receivers should have a strong showing as well, with WR Kenny Golladay showing flashes of dominance, and veteran WR Golden Tate looking better than he was last year.  I also think RB Ameer Abdullah will step up his game this season, starting with this prime time match-up.  Meanwhile, the Jets offense will look revamped with WR Quincy Enunwa healthy and RB Isaiah Crowell and WR Terrelle Pryor Jr. on board.  But I still don’t think it is going to be enough.

That’s all for my NFL Week 1 picks and previews.  Be sure to comment with your thoughts, and enjoy the first Football Sunday of 2018.

Texans @ Patriots Preview: Getting Creative

Below is my preview for the Patriots Week 1 game against the Houston Texans as well as the voice-over script used in the video.

The Patriots open their season today against the Houston Texans. With Deshaun Watson healthy, this is bound to be an exciting game between two of the league’s top quarterbacks. The Texans and Patriots are arguably two of the AFC’s best teams this year, but we’ll have to see how they do down the road, because it’s only Week 1, and anything can happen from here.

With Julian Edelman suspended, the Patriots are left with just 3-4 reliable receivers, if they even have that. Brady and the Pats are going to have to do something they’ve done very well at in the past: finding creative ways to score. Whether this means throwing to running backs or putting your 3rd string tight end in the starting lineup, the Pats will do what it takes.

Before Bill Belichick, it was common practice for teams to receive when winning the coin toss. When Belichick started deferring, people wondered why. But Belichick chooses what he thinks is best for the team and always sticks to that even if some think it may not appear as best. He sets the standards and players who don’t buy in are cut.

The Texans have a tough game ahead, especially with WR Will Fuller and RB D’Onta Foreman injured. However, they have star players in WR DeAndre Hopkins and RB Lamar Miller, so the Pats will have to keep them covered and prevent them from leading the Texans to victory with big plays. Defensively, the Texans will have to keep Tom Brady under pressure and TE Rob Gronkowski well covered. I think the Texans strong D is up to the challenge. However, New England will have a game plan to counter and it will come down to which team executes better.

For injuries, the Patriots have RB Sony Michel out and T Marcus Cannon and TE Jacob Hollister Questionable. The Texans have it off worse: WR Will Fuller, a key player on this offense, is out, and RB D’Onta Foreman is on the PUP list. In the end, I have the Patriots working around Houston’s shut down D and winning, 30-23, with Phillip Dorsett stepping it up and leading New England in receiving yards.

 

Patriots Training Camp with Bob Socci

Today, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Patriots training camp as a member of the press, shadowing Patriots radio play-by-play announcer and Patriots.com Beat Reporter Bob Socci.  I first met Bob at the NFL Kickoff event with the Patriots broadcast team, held at Mr. Sid last year.  (Note: I will be going back to a similar event on September 6th).

Bob learned about the work I had done as a sports blogger and offered to help me by inviting me to Patriots training Camp with him.

Before Practice Began:  “Pre-Game” Videos and Fan Experience

I arrived a little bit early so I could do a live stand-up in front of Gillette Stadium and also conduct some interviews with fans.

First, I interviewed a long-time Pats fan named Jan.  She meets a friend at Gillette every year who gives her the insight on the players at Patriots training camp.

After that, I interviewed Arjun, a 6th grader from Philadelphia who likes the Patriots so much that his parents decided to make the trip north this year.  He was very excited to see the team live for the first time.

Many young fans like Arjun also had the opportunity to take advantage of Fan Experience activities held around the practice fields.  My Dad further explored some of the activities while I was with Bob and the rest of the media.

They had football activities where they tracked your performance and created a Player Profile.  Jimmy from the Patriots staff was really nice and created my card with Pat Patriot’s stats.

Training Camp Profile Card

There were also a number of booths with give-aways for participating in small games like mini-golf skee ball and photo opportunities like the one with my dad.

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Becoming Official Pats Media Member for the Day

Bob Socci met me soon after my interviews in front of the stadium.  I said goodbye to my dad and Bob took me to go get my press pass.

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We walked to the other side of the stadium and went through media security there.  After I gave them my name and affiliation, they handed me my press pass.

My press pass from training camp

All media members received a detailed Patriots preseason roster and media guidelines from the media security table to help us learn about who we were covering and what coverage was permitted and when.

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On my way to the media tent, Bob explained a few things to me about the training camp roster:

  1. Since there are many players on the roster and the roster is not finalized, there may be pairs of players who share a number
  2. Rookies wear numbers based on when they were drafted during training camp and their camp numbers do not usually correspond with their position.  The team’s first draft pick, T Isaiah Wynn wears #50, their second pick, RB Sony Michel wears #51, their third pick, CB Duke Dawson wears #52, and so on.  For the regular season they receive new numbers.
  3. During training camp, quarterbacks wear red while the rest of the offense wears white and the defense wears blue.  On the roster, offensive players who share a number with defensive players (and vice versa) have (o) for offense or (d) for defense next to their name.

Bob also mentioned that during camp, there would only be a 10-20 minute session for media to take photos and videos, and that no tweeting was allowed during camp for media members.  We were allowed to take notes during the no photo/video portions of practice.

Bob told me that after practice the media guidelines would be more flexible.  The only major rules were to stay within certain interviewing boundaries and not take any photos or video of players with their families without permission.

Before practice began, Bob introduced me to the vice president of media relations at training camp, Stacey James, as well as fellow media member Jim McBride.  I also had time to catch up with ESPN Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss, who I had met earlier in the week at Sports Broadcasting Camp.   I also met a friend of Bob’s, Steve Yood, along with his sons Alex and Josh.

Watching Practice from the Media Tent

Practice started about 5 minutes after we arrived at the media tent.  During practice, I also met Marc Cappello of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Josh Brogadir of WCVB, and Steve Atkinson of Boston Sports Extra.  They were surprised to see someone my age in the media tent.  Some of them told me what they did at my age and how they wished they had started earlier.

The Patriots practice began with some warm-ups.  The team stretched, jogged a little bit, and threw the ball around.  Afterwards they began a walk-through of some plays they would use later in 11 on 11 drills.

Positional drills began after the walk-through portion practice.  This was the portion of practice when the media photo and video session took place.  Offensive lineman competed 1 on 1 against defensive lineman, wide receivers caught balls from a receiving coach, and quarterbacks stayed together as well to take practice throws.  During this time, PK Stephen Gostkowski practiced field goals.  Here is some of my video coverage.

After the photo and video session ended, positional drills continued.  The QBs began throwing to the receivers directly.  Soon after that, they had the Pats secondary go 1 on 1 against receivers catching passes from QBs Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Danny Etling.  The Pats ran a few more offense vs. defense practice plays before starting the 11 on 11 drills.

The Patriots alternated personnel during the 11 on 11 drills with quarterbacks Brady and Hoyer getting most of the reps at QB .  Before practice ended, the Pats held a few more running drills on the hills around the field.  Then, for most of the team, practice ended.  A few guys, including Danny Etling, put in a little extra work after the full team practice.

Some of my Observations from Day 4 of Patriots Training Camp

Keep an eye out for Phillip Dorsett and Jacob Hollister

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WR Phillip Dorsett (#13) after catching a ball from the coach during positional drills

I kept a tally of Brady’s ball distribution during a couple of his drills, and his most frequent target during those drills was Dorsett.  Dorsett had an especially strong catch on a deep pass from Brady during the offensive walk-through.  Hollister had a nice jumping catch in the end zone that Brian Hoyer threw to him during 11 on 11 drills.

Patriots RBs could be a big part of the offense again this season

Brady wasn’t just throwing to receivers and tight ends today.  Brady, Hoyer, and Etling all participated in a drill where they threw short passes to RBs including James White and Pats 2018 2nd draft pick from the first round, Sony Michel.  Michel caught a short pass at the 30 yard line and took it to the house during 11 on 11 drills.

After practice, I was happy to see Meredith Gorman who I worked with last summer at the Boston Herald.  Meredith, now with Patriots.com, conducted a 1 on 1 interview with Michel.

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Meredith Gorman, who now works for patriots.com, interviewing rookie RB Sony Michel after practice

Great to see Julian Edelman back on the field

I enjoyed seeing Tom Brady connecting with WR Julian Edelman for the first time since Super Bowl LI.  Even though he is suspended for the first four games, Edelman missed the entire season last year and now he is back and seems ready to play and make more amazing catches like the one that most remember as “the catch” from the Pats 5th Super Bowl win.   Edelman looked like his old self out there making some good plays along with Pats newcomer WR Jordan Matthews.  Other pass catchers I liked seeing were TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Chris Hogan.  Gronk had a catch deep up the seam even though he was tightly covered, which is one reason Pats fans love watching him.

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Super Bowl LI “the catch” by Edelman

Brian Hoyer had some good end zone connections

I watched all 3 of the Pats quarterbacks perform today but the QB I was most impressed with was Brian Hoyer.  Hoyer made successful end zone connections on his first two passes, including a great throw to Jacob Hollister in the corner of the end zone.

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QBs Hoyer (2) and Etling (58) during practice
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Brian Hoyer after practice

 

Don’t Discount New England secondary

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Stephon Gilmore being interviewed after practice

Even though one of last year’s starting CB and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler signed with the Titans in the offseason, I still believe that Pats will have a good secondary.  For example, today I saw CB Stephon Gilmore break up several pass plays in 1 on 1 coverage against Julian Edelman, nearly intercepting one pass thrown by Tom Brady.  Rookie and Pats 2018 #3 draft pick CB Duke Dawson also came close to picking off Brady while covering Phillip Dorsett.

Trey Flowers was back at practice with bandage on forehead

Flowers returned to practice after leaving yesterday with an ice pack on his head.  In other injury news, Jordan Matthews left today’s practice with an unknown injury, and CB Keion Crossen (back) and RB Mike Gillislee (unknown) did not practice.  Bob Socci told me that WR Kenny Britt, CB Cyrus Jones, CB Jonathan Jones, and WR Matthew Slater were on the PUP list.  However, I did notice Britt participating in warm-ups.  According to the official training camp roster, WRs Darren Andrews and Cody Hollister are on the Reserve/NFI list.

After Practice: Media Session and Tour

After practice ended, Bob and I headed to the designated player interview zone.  I watched some of the interviews.  Bob Socci conducted a stand-up recap with Megan O’Brien as they discussed their own observations from the day.  Some of the topics he mentioned in the interview were things we talked about in the media tent together during the practice:

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Bob Socci and Megan O’Brien Day 4 Recap

James White, Sony Michel, RB Rex Burkhead, T Trent Brown, DE Derek Rivers, and QB Brian Hoyer were among those interviewed.  Although he didn’t stop for interviews, I did see Gronk walk by, as well as a few other players like Phillip Dorsett and Dont’a Hightower.  I also saw the McCourty twins with all their family on the field.  I think it is really cool that after many years on different teams they will now play on the same team and they seem to be enjoying camp together.

Nobody was interviewed at the podium today like Tom Brady was yesterday.  This area is primarily used for interviews with star players like Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

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The empty podium at practice today

In between and after the media interviews, I met some media members including Levan Reid of WBZ, Joe Gallant of WNRI (a radio station in Providence), and Megan O’Brien of Patriots.com.   I also said hello to patriots.com’s Meredith Gorman and the Boston Herald’s Meghan Ottolini.

After the post practice interviews were over, Bob took me inside Gillette Stadium so I could see the media area.  He showed me the TV studio where Patriots All Access is aired.  The studio was filled with football helmets on the shelves and Patriots logos all around.  Bob mentioned he hosts a show with Scott Zolak in the studio next door.  We also walked by the game day media workroom, the writing rooms for various newspapers and blogs, and the weekday press conference room which was the biggest room of them all.

In total, I spent about 4 hours with Bob today and feel like I learned so much about covering the Patriots.  In addition, I saw so much from the media’s point of view.  It was truly incredible and surreal at times.

I’d like to thank Bob Socci and Stacey James for making this experience possible for me.  I’d also like to thank all the media members who spent the time to talk to me and give me tips on sports reporting.

Brady vs. Manning: The End of an Era: AFC Championship (Patriots at Broncos) Preview

This is the 17th time Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will face off, possibly the last.  Between the Colts and the Broncos, Manning knows are team too well.  He knows Brady, he knows Belichick, so we have to play are game, but run a couple plays that we don’t normally do.  The New England Patriots take on the Denver Broncos at Mile High.  In November, we went to Denver and they came back to win 30-24, but it was Brock Osweiler under center last time, Manning was out with plantar fasciitis.

NFL Roundtable: The Best Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning Game
Tom Brady face off for the 17th time in the AFC Championship but this might be the last if Manning retires.

My Prediction: Patriots, 27, Broncos, 23

So, who has the advantage in this game?  You saw in Week 12, it will be a close game, tough match-up and very physical game.  So, lets break it down.  Injuries had way more of an impact in Week 12 than now, Edelman was out, DeMarcus Ware was out, Gronk left, Hightower, Collins and Amendola sat too.  Now, we have a team at decent health, so does Denver.

Denver has a dominant front seven: Sylvester Williams, Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Brandon Marshall, Danny Trevathan and Shane Ray.  That’s EIGHT GUYS, you can only start 7!!  Their secondary also includes star corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. plus T.J. Ward and Bradley Roby.  Steven Jackson, Brandon Bolden and James White better be ready to bull through the defense and find space between the stars, and I trust that they can.  I also think that the secondary isn’t strong enough to guard Gronk, Edelman, Amendola, Chandler, LaFell and Keshawn Martin.  I think 2 of these 8 will score: Jackson, Bolden, Edelman, LaFell, Amendola, Gronk, Chandler.  My original prediction was Gronk and Chandler but now I’m thinking maybe Jackson, Bolden or a receiver will score.

Now Denver’s offense.  The Broncos even without Peyton Manning would have an overpowered offense.  C.J. Anderson usually really shows up this time of year, while Ronnie Hillman continues to do his thing.  Plus the receiving game didn’t just use DeMaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders last time.  They used Vernon Davis, Owen Daniels, Cody Latimer and Andre Caldwell, who had a TD, too.  But the young Patriots secondary will have to try and stop Denver’s pass, they should be able to double cover Thomas, and contain Sanders and Daniels on one man coverage.  Vernon Davis, Virgil Green and those sleep receivers, may let loose.  They also need to do a better job containing the running game.  But in the end, despite facing to more overpowered defense, and being the road team, I think the Pats have the edge with their offense’s match-up and will win by a nose.

 

Keys To The Game

Patriots

  1. Even against a ferocious front seven, the Patriots run game needs to keep it up.  Tom Brady might not have the protection he needs, and he’ll have to depend on his backfield. They have the individual players to do it, the questions are: Do they work together enough to?,  Is the match-up against the defense in their favor?
  2. The Broncos run game is revamped too with CJ Anderson at his best.  The Patriots have struggled to stop the run all year.  This game, they need to excel at it.
  3. The young Patriots secondary needs to contain a large number of Broncos receivers that make up its offense’s core.  Last time, sleep receiver Andre Caldwell caught the TD that brought the game to overtime, where CJ Anderson had a long run for a touchdown.

Broncos

  1. The Patriots have just as good of receivers when healthy.  The Broncos secondary isn’t quite as good as their pass rush, and they might have trouble keeping the receivers from doing much.  Between Edelman, LaFell, Amendola, Keshawn Martin, Gronk and Chandler, there’s plenty of guys to cover.
  2. CJ Anderson needs to pick up the pace.  Between some big games, he’s still been somewhat consistent unlike late last year, even when Manning’s super bowl hopes got crushed in the Divisional Round last year Anderson made an impact.
  3. The Broncos need to use their receiving depth to their advantage.  Unleash all their sleep receivers and play like the Pats haven’t seen them play yet.

Injury Report

New England Patriots (13-4)

 

Out

​G Tre’ Jackson – Knee (LP)
OL LaAdrian Waddle – Shoulder (LP)

 

Doubtful

NONE

 

Questionable

WR Danny Amendola – Knee (LP)
TE Scott Chandler – Knee (LP)
LB Jamie Collins – Back (LP)
DB Nate Ebner – Hand (LP)
WR Julian Edelman – Foot (LP)
LB Darius Fleming – Back/Shin (LP)
LB Jonathan Freeny – Hand (LP)
TE Rob Gronkowski – Knee/Back (LP)
LB Dont’a Hightower – Knee (LP)
DE Chandler Jones – Abdomen/Toe (LP)
DE Rob Ninkovich – Shin (LP)
WR Matthew Slater – Shin (LP)
C Bryan Stork – Ankle (LP)
OT Sebastian Vollmer – Ankle (LP)

 

Probable

QB Tom Brady – Ankle (FP)
S Patrick Chung – Foot (FP)
OL Josh Kline – Shoulder (FP)
WR Brandon LaFell – Foot (FP)
S Devin McCourty – Ankle (FP)

 

Denver Broncos (13-4)

 

Out

NONE

 

Doubtful

NONE

 

Questionable 

NONE

 

Probable
S Josh Bush – Shoulder
TE Owen Daniels – Knees
ILB Todd Davis – Shoulder
G Max Garcia – Groin
CB Chris Harris Jr. – Shoulder
QB Peyton Manning – Foot
ILB Brandon Marshall – Ankle
QB Brock Osweiler – Knee
S Darian Steward – Hamstring
S T.J. Ward – Ankle
OLB DeMarcus Ware – Knee
CB Bradley Roby – Quadricep

Gronk and Edelman Rebound, Patriots Trump Chiefs

It has been a roller coaster ride, this week, this season, and this 2015 for the Patriots.  From DeflateGate, to the Super Bowl.  From the suspension to the banners revealing.  From a crazy week to an awesome win in the Divisional Round.  The Pats outscored the Chiefs 27-20.  The game broke many records.  Gronk now leads all tight ends in playoff touchdowns, and all Pats players in playoff receptions.  He has never been on a team that has not advanced to the AFC Championship.  It’s also Tom Brady’s 30th playoff game, the most by any NFL player in history!!  This is also only the 2nd time a team has gone to 5 straight conference championships, tying the record set by a 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers squad.

 

Now let’s talk about the exciting ending first.  The Pats led 27-13 after 2 30-40 yard field goals by Stephen Gostkowski.  The Chiefs had difficulty managing the clock.  They blew about 5 minutes.  They were hesitating, taking their time on play after play.  They had blown it with 1 minute to goal on 3rd and goal when there was a flag.  Pass interference on the Pats.  It reset to 1st and goal.  On 2nd down, they scored.  It was now 27-20.  The Pats just needed one first down.  2nd and 12.  Brady threw.  The ball bounces of a defender’s hip.  Tamba Hali misses it and Edelman makes the first down catch!!!!  All TB12 had to do was take a knee 3 times and it was over!  Well, how did we get there.  It all started opening drive.

It was 3rd down.  Brady had struggled on 3rd down conversions ever since Edelman got hurt.  But he was back.  He proved it.  Brady threw to his favorite receiver, and Edelman, he caught it, for a first down!  Next play went to Edelman for 13 yards again!!!!  Then 16 yards to Amendola the very next play!!!   They were doing hurry-up offense, just pass after pass after pass to Brady’s best slot receivers.  Healthy and dominant as they could be.   Then he got to third down again, and got to Gronk for 32 yards!!!   He jumped over defenders and broke tackles, but he got there.  Two plays later, touchdown Gronk!!!  That was all on the 1st drive.  5 minutes, 11 plays, 80 yards and a touchdown!!!!

The following drive ate up 8 minutes of clock, and ended with a 34 yard field goal.  7-3 Pats.  It ended the 1st quarter at that score.  The 2nd quarter started with 3 short drives, ending in punts.  After a quick first down to Edelman, then a 5 yard penalty.  Brady threw an amazing pass, Edelman bobbled it, but lost it!!!  But Keshawn Martin was wide open right in front of him and he caught it!!!!  A 42 yard pass!!!  The offense was booming!!!  They slowly got through to the red zone from the 50, and it was first and goal.  Tom Brady ran it in for 10 yards and thought it was a touchdown but it was called out of bounds at the 1!!!  Belichick challenged, but lost as the call stood.  No worries, he had a QB sneak up the middle for a TD!!!  14-3. The following drive was a field goal again.  14-6 Pats.  The pattern was, touchdown Pats, and the next drive, the Chiefs would score a field goal.  “If they keep scoring touchdowns, and the Chiefs keep scoring field goals, you know who will win”, I said to my dad right then.

“I can live with that”, he said.  The half ended soon after.  The Chiefs got the ball, they had won the toss and deferred.  They were marching down the field, but on 2nd and 8, Knile Davis fumbled and Dont’ a  Hightower got it!!!  The offense did its thing.  Gronk for 18 yards.  Edelman runs for as many yards as his own jersey number!!!  14 yard pass to Edelman!  10 yards to James White.  Then Gronk scrambled for his second TD of the night, this time for 16 yards, double the yards of #1.  That’s when he broke the record.  He didn’t spike it, he was so happy, he just danced.  But next drive, things changed.

The Chiefs went to Jason Avant for 26 yards!!!  This is a former Eagles second-string who is now and old and washed up Chiefs sleep receiver.  He had 2 receptions for 69 yards.  Then 13 yards to Kelce.  They were slowly marching down the field, Alex Smith doing his usual thing of lots of short plays for big total yardage.  He went for it to Chris Conley, but was incomplete.  But after a 5 yard penalty on the Pats, they easily went to Albert Wilson for a touchdown.  They had broke the pattern.  It was now 21-13 Pats.  Next drive though, James White caught a 29 yard pass.  Then he went to Edelman for 14.

The quarter ended, and they lost their momentum but managed a 40 yard field goal, a solid one.  24-13.  After a quick Chandler Jones sack, the Pats got the ball back at like the 30.  On 4th down, Duron Harmon’s so-called interception was called back for an incomplete pass and turnover on downs, but thankfully it saved us 30 yards.  Keshawn Martin got a 15 yarder, but they had to settle for a 32 yard field goal.  27-13.  We led by two touchdowns.  Then the Chiefs scored their TD after horrible clock management, and Brady finished the game.

Tomorrow the Broncos and Steelers play.  The winner plays us.  What do you think.  Will we host a banged up Steelers team or go to Denver against the dominant Broncos, where we lost in Week 12?  Comment what you think.  Whoever we play, “We’re on to the AFC Championship.”

Star Of The Game: Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski scoring his 2nd TD in a nice win over the Chiefs.

Of course Gronk earned this.  Two touchdowns, eight total in the playoffs any year, most by a tight end in playoff history.  Also, Gronk leads the Pats in playoff receptions ever.  Gronk had several deep passes, which he is not known for and despite back trouble and knee troubled, he also caused Chiefs trouble.  He also had some good blocks to help Edelman star in his return.  He led the Pats to revenge for an ugly game.

Revenge: Patriots-Chiefs Preview

Week 4, 2 2014.  The Chiefs blow out the Patriots, 41-14, dominating the ball.  The Patriots fell to 2-2, and the Chiefs rose to it.  That is what happened the last time these two teams played.  This time around, our roster is younger and better and the Chiefs’ is more banged up.  The weather will be colder, which is good for the Pats, and the game is at Gillette.

Image result for chiefs at patriots

Also, Bill Belichick had the backups mimic the Chiefs’ stars play style.  Plus, Belichick showed the tape of 2014 to the current players and told them what they need to do differently that can really help.  The environment is also different.  It was a Monday Night Football game early in the regular season.  This is a 4:30 playoff game on a Saturday.   The Patriots have done plenty to prepare.  Plus, none of the coaches have interviewed for jobs for us, put Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson interviewed for and got the job as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach.

Now here are the keys during the game to the Patriots winning.

  1. The Patriots need to do better on third down.  The return of Julian Edelman will really help with that, but he is still hurt, they have to be careful and have other guys ready to make third down conversions.
  2. The offensive line needs to do a better job protecting Tom Brady from the great Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.  Despite LaAdrian Waddle and Tre’ Jackson being out, Sea Bass’ return will really help with that
  3. The run needs to continue to make an impact.  Weren’t you jumping for joy when Steven Jackson scored his first Patriots touchdown 2 weeks ago?
  4. The defense needs to contain the Chiefs offense.  Maclin, Albert Wilson and Travis Kelce will all be playing, other dangerous names are running backs Charcandrick West and Knile Davis, so the Chiefs offense is at a high point.  But they need to contain them, no matter who’s playing.

My pick is that the Patriots win 30-23.  I’m a little worried about players re-njuring themselves or the offense continuing to struggle regardless of Edelman’s return, but I think the o-line and defense have enough guys active to contain the Chiefs.  Here’s the projected starting o-line today

LT: Sebastian Vollmer

LG: Shaq Mason or Bryan Stork

C: Bryan Stork or David Andrews

RG: Josh Kline

RT: Marcus Cannon

 

Not bad, but still not ideal.

 

Surprise Stars: My predicted stars of the game are Steven Jackson,Brandon Bolden, James White, Julian Edelman, Keshawn Martin, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins and Malcolm Butler.  Butler has top 5 league CB potential, Collins and Nink could continue what they did against the Jets, Keshawn Martin and Edelman are primed to breakout as they lead the team in 3rd down conversions, and Steven Jackson is ready for an encore of both last week and previous years after being team-less most of this season.  Bolden and White should have good runs too.

Inactives

 

Chiefs

Marcus Cooper CB Inactive  Decent Corner
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif OG Inactive  —
David King DE Inactive  —
Mitch Morse C Inactive  Good Center
Aaron Murray QB Inactive  Need QB Depth
Rakeem Nunez-Roches DT Inactive  —
Ramik Wilson ILB Inactive  Decent Pass Rusher

Patriots

Jon Bostic OLB Inactive
 Need The Extra LBs
Geneo Grissom OLB Inactive  Need The Extra LBs
Chris Harper WR Inactive  —
Tre Jackson OG Inactive Made Impact on Line
Ishmaa’ily Kitchen NT Inactive  —
LaAdrian Waddle T Inactive Made Impact on Line
Tavon Wilson SS Inactive  Helped Secondary