A Roller Coaster Ride: Reviewing the Patriots Draft

Welcome to my in-depth draft review for the New England Patriots.  I have already begun writing draft grades for each team (organized by division), but I figured I’d go more in depth for my favorite team.  Plus, I was able to submit this as a critical review for English class.

Read below for my draft grades for the Pats alongside my review.

In addition, I had the chance to catch up with Bob Socci about New England’s draft:

Now, let’s jump right in:

new_england_patriots New England Patriots

Overall Grade: B

Draft Report Card:

 

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Analysis:

Coming off a Super Bowl victory, the Patriots should remain elite in 2019.  However, with tight end Rob Gronkowski hanging up his cleats and multiple receivers leaving through free agency, the Patriots still had a few tasks to accomplish coming into the NFL Draft.  

First of all, they needed to find quarterback Tom Brady some receivers.  Going into this draft, Julian Edelman was the only capable pass-catcher on the roster that Brady already has a strong rapport with.  Their depth behind Edelman was limited to Demaryius Thomas (coming off torn achilles) and Phillip Dorsett (has yet to prove himself dependable).  They also added Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a veteran tight end who was signed to help fill the hole Gronk left behind. But ASJ is no more than a temporary solution.  He has been terribly inconsistent throughout his career, and after playing 5 years on 3 different teams, he has never reached 400 receiving yards or 5 TDs in a season.  The Pats will eventually need to find another option there.

Second, they needed to fill some of their other positional needs.  They lack defensive line depth and are in desperate need of an elite pass rusher.  They brought Adrian Clayborn on board for 2018, but he didn’t consistently produce.  They haven’t really had a consistent one since DEs Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich left a few years ago.  The team could also use help at linebacker and in the o-line. Lastly, Brady’s not retiring anytime soon unless his stats suddenly decline.  But they still need time to start planning for the post-Brady era.

I feel the team worked towards achieving all of these objectives, but still could have done more to achieve them.  

There were rumors that New England would consider trading up to draft an elite tight end.  Instead, they opted to wait on a tight end and draft WR N’Keal Harry in Round 1. At #32, Harry was one of their best options, and he fills a need.  Once he gets into a rhythm with Brady, expect to see him starting and producing across from Edelman, so this was one of their better picks in the draft.

I wasn’t a huge fan of their 2nd round trade up for cornerback Joejuan Williams though.  Round 2 is a bit early for Williams; the Pats had bigger needs at #45. For example, they could have taken Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr.  But if they were going to trade up for a cornerback, it should have been LSU’s Greedy Williams. He ended up going to the Browns at #46. He may be a flawed prospect, as he’s not a very physical player and he opted out of visiting with teams prior to the draft.  But he has insane potential and refuses to leave receivers open.

The Pats redeemed themselves in the 3rd round.  After trading their later 2nd round pick, they managed to snag edge rusher Chase Winovich early in Round 3.  At the age of 24, Winovich is an older rookie, but he should still bring the energy to the locker room that Gronk left behind and make an instant impact in the pass rush where Ninkovich previously thrived.  This was the perfect choice for the Pats.

In this round, they also snagged a running back, Damien Harris and a tackle, Yodny Cajuste.  Harris is one of the better RB prospects in this draft, and he was a steal at #87. He has played in committees, but it’s hard to get a lot of opportunities in New England’s four-man backfield, something established in 2017.  As long as Michel is healthy, I’m not so sure they needed a fourth man. But he’s still a decent investment in my eyes.

Cajuste was one of the best tackles on the board and fills a need for the Pats, so I liked the pick.  Isaiah Wynn has yet to play a regular season game after losing his rookie year to an ACL tear, so the left tackle job is anyone’s for taking.

Though it received mixed reviews overall, one of my favorite picks in this draft was the selection of Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham in Round 4.  Stidham may have struggled at Auburn, but he wasn’t exactly a perfect fit for Auburn’s system, and I trust that he’ll fit better with the Pats and is capable of replacing Brady when he retires.

They also took guard Hjalte Froholdt in this round.  This was a bit of a reach, but he does help fill the team’s need for o-line depth.  

I was a bit disappointed at first when the Pats took DT Byron Cowart in Round 5, when better options were on the board.  But since then, I’ve looked further into this pick, and it actually makes sense. It fills a need, and as a former top high school prospect, Cowart has plenty of potential despite underperforming in college.  

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue in favor of the selection of punter Jake Bailey.  First of all, Bailey is a right footed punter, the first right footed punter on the Pats in a long, long, time.  Plus, they already resigned punter Ryan Allen. In baseball, they put right handed batters in a platoon with left handed batters.  Would the Pats consider something similar with punters? Regardless, the 5th round was a bit early to draft one.

Their drafted concluded with the addition of cornerback Ken Webster.  This pick didn’t make much sense, as they had already added depth at the position by drafting Joejuan Williams.  But it’s the 7th round, so I doubt it’ll have that much of an impact in the long run.

Overall I thought this draft class was pretty solid.  Some of the decisions they made were a bit confusing, but that was mixed in with some amazing picks, and it’s hard to doubt Bill Belichick.  This draft class makes a lot more sense now that the Pats have reunited with TE Ben Watson and LB Jamie Collins in free agency.  So if I had to give this draft class a letter grade, it would be somewhere in the B-range.

Stay tuned for more draft grades soon.

Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

Welcome to my 5th post in my series Super Bowl LIII Preview articles.  Now that I’ve looked back at previous stat nuggets that could be significant to the game and established the keys to victory for each team, it’s time to unveil my official Super Bowl LIII prediction.  Who will win Super Bowl LIII?  Will it be a nail-biter?  A blowout?  Something in between?  What players will have the biggest impact on the game?   Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

February 1: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

The Final Pick

Typically, I just predict the score. But it’s the Super Bowl, so I went a little deeper.  I simulated the entire game based on my basic score prediction.  Below are the final score, scoring summary and stat predictions I came up with.

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Though I don’t see QB Tom Brady matching his Super Bowl LII stats, he will outplay QB Jared Goff, tossing 2 TD and no interceptions while Goff throws more picks than TDs.  But it’s not the stats that matter for the Pats – it’s winning the game.  Expect a close, back and forth match-up, as RB Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson dominate against a weak Pats run defense.  But QB Tom Brady will find open men and put up a quality victory in his 9th (yes, that’s a record) Super Bowl.

Projected Stats and Scoring/Turnover Summary

Note: I showed a projected scoring summary for the purpose of highlighting who makes an impact, not to predict the order of events in the game.

Team   1  2  3  4   TOTAL

NE        3 10 10 3  26                                                                                                                            LAR     3  7    7  7   24

1st Quarter

  • Greg Zuerlein 52-yard FG made (3-0 LAR)
  • Stephen Gostkowski 28-yard FG made (3-3 TIE)

2nd Quarter

  • Todd Gurley for 2-yard rush TD.  Greg Zuerlein PAT made (10-3 LAR)
  • Tom Brady to Cordarrelle Patterson for 9 yard TD.  Stephen Gostkowski PAT made (10-10 TIE)
  • Stephen Gostkowski 37-yard FG made (13-10 NE)
  • Jared Goff intercepted by Devin McCourty (13-10 NE)

3rd Quarter

  • Stephen Gostkowski 51-yard FG made (16-10 NE)
  • Jared Goff to Robert Woods for 9 yard TD.  Greg Zuerlein PAT made (17-16 LAR)
  • Tom Brady to Julian Edelman for 8 yard TD.  Stephen Gostkowski PAT made (23-17 NE)
  • Jared Goff intercepted by Patrick Chung (23-17 NE)
  • Stephen Gostkowski 54-yard FG missed (23-17 NE)

4th Quarter

  • Greg Zuerlein 54-yard FG blocked by Albert McClellan (23-17 NE)
  • C.J. Anderson for 4-yard rush TD.  Greg Zuerlein PAT made (24-23 LAR)
  • Stephen Gostkowski 36-yard FG made (26-24 NE)

Stat Projections

NE

Passing

  • Tom Brady: 33/49, 284 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack (My projected Super Bowl MVP)

Rushing

  • Sony Michel: 17 rush, 64 yards
  • James White: 10 rush, 47 yards
  • Rex Burkhead: 4 rush, 9 yards

Receiving

  • Julian Edelman: 9 receptions, 96 yards, 1 TD
  • Rob Gronkowski: 8 receptions, 56 yards
  • Phillip Dorsett: 5 receptions, 53 yards
  • Chris Hogan: 3 receptions, 31 yards
  • Cordarrelle Patterson: 3 receptions, 21 yards, 1 TD (Will be Unsung Hero)
  • James White: 4 receptions, 21 yards
  • Rex Burkhead: 1 reception, 6 yards

Defense (Best players ONLY)

  • Adrian Clayborn: 2.5 tackles, 1 sack
  • Devin McCourty: 6.5 tackles, 1 INT
  • Kyle Van Noy: 8.0 tackles
  • Patrick Chung: 4.0 tackles, 1 INT

LAR

Passing

  • Jared Goff: 23/40, 234 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack

Rushing

  • Todd Gurley: 22 rushes, 100 yards, 1 TD
  • C.J. Anderson: 17 rushes, 57 yards, 1 TD

Receiving

  • Brandin Cooks: 6 receptions, 86 yards
  • Robert Woods: 7 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD
  • Josh Reynolds: 3 receptions, 31 yards
  • Gerald Everett: 3 receptions, 19 yards
  • Todd Gurley: 3 receptions, 18 yards
  • Tyler Higbee: 1 reception, 6 yards

Defense (Best players ONLY)

  • Aaron Donald: 4.5 tackles, 1 sack
  • Bryce Hager: 8.0 tackles
  • Marcus Peters: 8.0 tackles

That’s all for my Super Bowl LIII prediction.  Stay tuned for a video preview to sum up my takes on the game tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 ‘Football Fast Facts’ That Could be Significant in Super Bowl LIII

Welcome to my 4th of several Super Bowl LIII Preview posts.  Over the last two days, I went over keys to the game for each team.  Today, I will be looking back at previous stat nuggets that could be significant to the game.  What stats could be telling about the results of the game?  What previous happenings will motivate or burden each team? Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

February 1: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

1. Per NFL.com, Tom Brady is the least sacked QB to start 12+ games in 2018 (21, including playoffs)

You have to give some credit to the Patriots offensive line. Four of the five New England offensive lineman are above their positional average in pass block win rate, and the Pats lead the league in this stat. But you also have to give some credit to Brady himself for playing smart football. He judges the defense well and gets the ball out quickly if he needs to. This should help them maintain a rhythm throughout the game, something a sack could significantly interrupt. But it will also help them win the turnover battle, a key piece to victory. Teams who win the turnover battle tend to win about 4 of every 5 games.

2. The Rams offense is averaging 1.5 more points and 3 more yards per game than the 2001 “Greatest Show on Turf” offense.

From a Pats fan’s perspective, it’s scary to see that the Rams offense is not only matching but outdoing their “Greatest Show on Turf” era offensive numbers. Back then, the Rams were the experienced dynasty and the Pats were a team on the rise. Though the opposite is true now, if Brady outplayed an offense like this in 2001, I have confidence he can do it again 17 years later. You do have to consider that the Pats allowed just 334.5 YPG in 2001 compared to 353.9 YPG in 2018. But that’s not a huge difference. Everyone says that the 2001 Patriots had a pretty good defense, while this year’s defense is not great. But in reality, this year’s defense is around average, and they weren’t that much better in 2001 defensively.

3. QBs Tom Brady and Jared Goff are both Top 10 in interceptions thrown this season.

Something tells me this game will have a good number of turnovers.  In addition to the above stat, both these teams have elite secondaries that are 3rd (Rams) and 4th (Patriots) respectively in interceptions. The question is, who will win the turnover battle? As I said, most NFL teams who win the turnover battle go on to win the game. In terms of who wins it, I think it all comes down to the WR-DB match-ups. Compared to New England, the Rams are fairly weak at tight end, and I could see the Pats secondary dominating those match-ups. The Rams have been terrible against tight ends this year, though TE Rob Gronkowski is his own animal. That itself will give the Pats an advantage. Plus, it’s unlikely the Rams are able to contain both Gronk and WR Julian Edelman. If they double up on Gronk, that will allow Edelman to shine.

4. Right now, RB Sony Michel is behind just Terrell Davis and Arian Foster in rush yards/playoff game. Though 2 games is a small sample, what does this say about Michel?

Though Davis is a three time All-Pro first team member, Foster never really established himself as a hall of fame caliber running back and ended up retiring after 8 seasons thanks to an injury-riddled career. But he did have a nice run as an elite RB from 2010-2014. Due to the small sample size, it’s hard to tell how much this means for Sony Michel right now in this game. It’s hard to guarantee a big game for him against a star-studded Rams d-line. But I do believe he has a future as an elite running back and a leader on the Pats, even if injuries or something else limits his career. He did put up an impressive rookie season in the games he played.

5. In 2 regular season games with the Rams, C.J. Anderson rushed for 299 yards. It took Todd Gurley until Week 4 to reach 300 yards on the season.

Anderson was in the right place at the right time. Anderson played the 49ers and Cardinals in the final two regular season games. Sure, Gurley played the Raiders and Cardinals in his first two games, but you also have to consider that Anderson came in late in the season. All the Rams had to do to be in good position for the playoffs was beat their weaker division rivals, but these games mattered more to the Rams than the first two. Gurley did do well against the Raiders, and despite just 42 rushing yards against Arizona, he scored 3 TD. Though it took him longer to approach 300 rushing yards, you could argue that Gurley was as good a running back in LA’s first two games, both easy wins, as Anderson was in the last two, also easy wins. The reason Anderson did so well was because he took advantage of a big opportunity. With Gurley at full health, expect Gurley to lead the backfield, with Anderson playing a significant supporting role. This will make things difficult for the Pats.

At least couple of these stats are a good sign for each team. But in the end, what matters is how these two teams match-up. Who will win Super Bowl LIII? Will it be a nail-biter? A blowout? Something in between? What players will have the biggest impact on the game? Find out what I think in my next article, when I share my score prediction and projected stats for the game.

2018-19 NFL Playoff Predictions: Pats Win it All Thanks to Favorable Schedule

Welcome to my 2018-19 NFL Playoff Predictions.  Today, I will show you my playoff bracket alongside score predictions and analysis for each game.  Next week, I will update you with Divisional Round predictions unless all of this week’s games are predicted correctly.  Below is my official playoff bracket:
I have the Patriots winning it all, though I don’t see them as the most talented team here.  I think a favorable schedule, including home field advantage in the AFC Championship after Kansas City’s elimination will help them to a Super Bowl victory.  The Super Bowl itself will be an epic battle of two aging superstar QBs, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.  It will be close, but I have the Patriots coming out on top.  Check out my score predictions and in-depth analysis for all 11 games below.

Wild Card Weekend

Offensively, these two teams are pretty evenly matched.  The Colts have given the Texans a hard time in the past.  But on Wild Card Weekend, I expect Houston’s defense to step it up and secure the Texans a victory.  While Indy struggles to get into the red zone against a strong Texans D, Houston will score on an inexperienced Colts defense with ease as WR DeAndre Hopkins puts up another huge game.
This will be a high scoring game, and it could potentially end up being a complete shootout.  Both these defenses lack the experience to thrive in the playoffs.  This will allow QB Dak Prescott to find his receivers and lead the Cowboys to victory.  However, QB Russell Wilson and his versatile offense will make it close and come within one possession of the victory.
With TE Hunter Henry back, this Chargers offense will only get better from here.  I think they’ll be able to handle the rising Ravens D this time around.  You know what they say: it’s hard to beat the same team twice.  This time around, the Chargers D will figure out how to shut down QB Lamar Jackson, RB Gus Edwards, and a talented Ravens offense.  It won’t be easy, but I see the Chargers as the only road team to win on Wild Card Weekend.
This will be closer than most people expect. QB Nick Foles has unlocked the full potential of the Eagles offense, and it will not be easy for even a dominant Bears D to contain them.  But I see QB Mitch Trubisky and his receivers stepping it up and leading a late comeback effort.  They will take advantage of the banged-up Eagles secondary and eventually secure the victory in overtime.

Divisional Round

This will not be an exciting one to watch.  The banged-up Houston offense will struggle to put up points, even against a mediocre New England D.  Don’t expect Brady the Pats to score much either against Houston’s strong defense.  But I see the Pats getting by, as Brady and his receivers take advantage of Houston’s defensive weakness: their secondary.  On the other hand, the Patriots’ well-rounded defense will stand strong.
No matter who wins in this divisional rubber match, it will be a complete shootout.  The Chiefs have next to no defense, which will not serve them well against any playoff team.  But will QB Patrick Mahomes II and company put up enough points to get by anyway?  In the playoffs?  I don’t think so.  Mahomes will put up a multi-TD effort.  But the Chargers’ revamped offense will dominate a weak Kansas City defense and outplay Mahomes and his squad.  Even with Mahomes replacing QB Alex Smith, the Chiefs will choke in the playoffs, again, as the Chargers move on to face New England in the AFC Championship.
This will be another close one.  But I don’t see this being as high-Scoring as Chicago’s Wild Card Weekend match-up with the Eagles.  The Rams have one of the most star-studded defenses in the league.  They will severely limit the abilities of a young Bears offense.  But Chicago’s D is up there with LA’s.  QB Jared Goff has had a good season in general, but he has put up a few duds here and there.  After putting up a dud the last time these two teams played, I could see him doing it again.  RB Todd Gurley is not at full health and WR Cooper Kupp is done for the year.  Goff will find himself short of weapons and will fall short in OT, going one and done for the second year in a row.
Dallas will be able to get by in the first round, but wait till they see an elite contender.  The Saints should be able to top the Cowboys with ease, even after their defeat in Dallas.  This game will take place in New Orleans, and it will be easier on the Saints now that they have an idea of what they’re up against.   Brees and his receivers will put up a decent game, but it’s the Saints defense that I could see stepping it up here against Prescott and his young offense.

Conference Championships

AFC Championship
In order for TB12 and the Patriots to take down this dominant Chargers offense, they’ll need to get their own act together offensively.  But at Gillette Stadium, I have confidence in them.  As long as the Chargers or somebody else dethrones the Chiefs before New England has to play them, the Pats will get the opportunity to play the AFC Championship at home, where they are undefeated on the season.  Against a decent Chargers D, Brady will have to use a variety of receivers, and the Pats will have to run the ball occasionally.  But I have confidence that they are capable, especially on home turf, though this will not be easy.  If this was played anywhere but Gillette, the Patriots would likely fall short to LA’s overpowered offense.
NFC Championship
Against a tough Bears D, you cannot expect a huge game out of Brees and company.  But the Saints have made defensive improvements of their own throughout the season, and I could see them holding the Bears to just 1 TD of their own.  The Saints will get by in the end, making the Super Bowl for the first time since 2009.
Fun fact: In 2009, the Saints went 13-3, losing to the same opponents as they did this year.  They went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

Super Bowl LIII

In a battle of two star QBs in Brady and Brees, I have the Pats winning it all. But it won’t be Brady who drives the victory.  The Saints have succeeded in stopping the run for most of the season, but the at times dominant Pats RB trio might overwhelm them.  Meanwhile, Brees will have a strong game here, but I think the Pats’ star-studded secondary will stand strong, holding Brees and his receivers to just 2 TDs.  These two things along with a vintage game by TE Rob Gronkowski will lead New England to a 6th Super Bowl victory.  I think RBs James White and Sony Michel will shine in this game, and I see the future of this team depending on their success.
That’s all for today’s predictions.  Stay tuned for more NFL Playoffs coverage and updates soon.

2018 NFL Week 9 Picks & Previews: Contenders Keep Going with Close Wins

Welcome to my Week 9 NFL Picks & Previews.  Last week I went 7-7, putting my overall record at 68-51-2 (69-51-2 including Week 9 TNF).  I am ahead of 3 ESPN experts and 1 CBS Sports expert.  Look for a lot of the borderline contenders to prove themselves this week with important wins.  I think the Ravens will shut down the Steelers for the 2nd time this year, the Vikings will silence the Lions, and the Chargers will dominate the 4-3 Seahawks coming off the bye week.  The Chargers had put a 4-game win streak together prior to the bye.  Although some of these contenders will win, some will be upset. Who will fall in a shocking upset?  Who will remain elite?  Keep reading to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week

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Expect LA’s explosive offense to embarrass the young Seattle D in a blowout.  With WR Brandon Marshall a free agent, QB Russell Wilson will also struggle to find reliable open men.  Meanwhile, QB Philip Rivers will lead the Chargers to a blowout victory with 4+ TD.  

Upset of the Week

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I don’t think WR Amari Cooper will make much of a difference for QB Dak Prescott and the troubled Dallas pass offense.  Their big week against Jacksonville is a sign of big things to come, but it won’t happen this week as Tennessee’s secondary steps it up.  The Titans will bounce back from a rough October with a triumphant Monday Night victory coming off the bye as they shock the Cowboys in their first home loss of the season.  

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter on Thursday Night; Actual Score: 34-3 49ers)

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Even with their third-string QB starting, I think this young 49ers offense can put together a big game considering how bad the Oakland D has been without DE Khalil Mack.  Oakland’s season will begin to fall apart despite looking okay on offense.  I don’t think they will win many more games with RB Marshawn Lynch out and WR Amari Cooper gone.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Brock Osweiler somehow led for the Dolphins to victory in Week 7.  But I don’t see him winning against the Jets elite secondary.  Expect multiple interceptions here, even on Osweiler’s home turf.  QB Sam Darnold will step it up to secure a Jets victory on the road.  QB Ryan Tannehill spoiled New York’s home opener.  Darnold will look for revenge with Tannehill injured for the third straight game.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for Chicago’s defense to lead them to victory against another banged-up AFC East team in the Bills.  Buffalo will have to settle for Nathan Peterman at QB, although they did add another weapon in Terrelle Pryor Jr. for him.  I think Peterman will look better than usual and make this close, but there’s no way he leads the Bills to victory against this Bears defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Pittsburgh was starting to look alright without RB Le’Veon Bell.  But there’s no way they get past this versatile Ravens run defense without their star running back.  This will make it hard for Pittsburgh to outscore Baltimore.  I don’t see the Steelers defense performing any better than usual against this deep Ravens receiving corps.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Against a rebuilding Browns defense, QB Patrick Mahomes II should be dominant as usual.  I could even see him throwing 4 TD in this game. The Chiefs defense will slip a little against QB Baker Mayfield and an improved Cleveland offense, but Mahomes’ field day will be enough for them here.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for the Redskins to play complimentary football here in an all-around strong game.  They will utilize their versatile roster as they win at home. Atlanta’s washed-up defense will also struggle to contain QB Alex Smith’s deep receiving corps.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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Look for serious regression from Detroit’s offense as they face one of the league’s best defenses without WR Golden Tate.  I have the Vikes holding them under 10 here. QB Kirk Cousins and his receivers won’t look much better, but they should manage to get by.  Don’t expect many more losses by the Vikes either. With RB Dalvin Cook healthy, things should be smooth sailing.  They’ve really only had one concerning loss this whole season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

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QB Cam Newton and the Panthers offense should ride the momentum they gathered in Week 8 to beat the Bucs in Carolina.  They should not be concerned about facing a Buccaneers D that has struggled all season. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be enough to lead Tampa to victory here as Carolina shuts down Tampa’s run game.  That puts a lot of pressure on Fitzpatrick, which could cause him to struggle.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

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Houston will struggle offensively, as WR Demaryius Thomas doesn’t provide much of an upgrade over WR Will Fuller.  Plus, Denver’s secondary knows Thomas very well and will be able to shut him down. The Broncos will edge out a victory in a low scoring game as WR Courtland Sutton steps it up with Thomas flipping sides.  Don’t expect much scoring though. This is a battle of two of the AFC’s best defenses.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

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The Rams will stay undefeated with a road win over New Orleans.  Their elite defense will come ready to shut down QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and the Saints offense.  Even with WR Cooper Kupp back, the Rams won’t be at full speed on offense. But they should get past the Saints thanks to elite defense and a last minute, victory-securing TD.  
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

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If RB Sony Michel and TE Rob Gronkowski are healthy, this will be a blowout.  Otherwise, it could be close.  QB Aaron Rodgers will struggle to find open men here, as the Patriots secondary will keep Rodgers’ small number of dependable receivers well covered.  The Pats offense will be back to dominance if they have Gronk and Michel.  But after New England’s hiccup without them last week, I don’t think the offense would be the same without them.  I think they will be able to play, but I’m not an injury expert. Either way, New England should win and remain undefeated at home.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for more NFL posts soon, including my mid-season report (I usually post it after Week 8, but have delayed it until after Week 9 to the chaotic playoff picture we have right now).  Hopefully, Week 9 will settle some things.

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.