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:

 

Screenshot 2019-05-30 at 11.23.01 PM.png

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.

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.

Image result for super bowl liii

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.

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

Related image

It was 31-31 in overtime.  After winning the toss, the New England Patriots had the ball on 3rd down at the Kansas City 30 yard line.  QB Tom Brady had made two straight third down conversions going to WR Julian Edelman, but this time, he looked in the direction of TE Rob Gronkowski.  Gronk had not been himself for most of the season.  But after stating that he would ‘seriously consider’ retirement with the conclusion of the season, he had stepped it up so far in this game, with 5 receptions for 64 yards.  He was tightly covered by S Eric Berry, but it didn’t matter.  He reached up and caught it, keeping the Patriots’ drive alive with a clean set of downs.  After that, Brady handed it off to RB Rex Burkhead three times, and he finished the job.  Touchdown.  37-31, Patriots win!

Image result for pats rams super bowl

The Patriots are now headed to their 4th Super Bowl in 5 years, as Brady looks to ‘Blitz for Six’ and Gronk looks to potentially end his career with a bang.  The best part is, as intriguing as a Brady vs. Drew Brees match-up would be, they’re playing the Los Angeles Rams, taking the Brady-Belichick dynasty back to their roots.  Back in 2001, Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory over the QB Kurt Warner-led St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams.  You could also compare that victory to tonight’s when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

Image result for sony michel afc championship

The Pats set themselves up for success with a strong start to the game where they showcased complimentary football.  The Pats were in no rush in the 1st quarter, so they took their time, running the ball and eating clock on their first scoring drive of the game.  It was important to get into a rhythm early on to keep up with the Kansas City, but keeping the ball for 80% of the first quarter works.  Their opening drive was the longest playoff opening drive in the history of the Brady-Belichick Patriots.  The Pats held Kansas City to under 3 minutes of 1st quarter possession time by sacking Mahomes and shutting down the Chiefs offense quickly.  Preventing the Chiefs from developing a rhythm of their own also works.  In fact, while the Pats had 100+ total yards after one quarter, the Chiefs had negative yardage.

Image result for tom brady interception reggie ragland

New England had another drive going that continued into the 2nd quarter, but things went south when Brady threw an end zone pick to LB Reggie Ragland.  The Chiefs had just successfully pressured TB12 and taken control of the turnover battle in one measly play.  Many people say this was a blatant mistake by Brady, but I saw it as a job well done by an underrated, young Chiefs D.  Though the Pats had lost their rhythm after marching down the field, they did shut down the Chiefs easily after the interception, forcing 3 and out.  With just about 7 minutes left in the 1st half, the Pats had 155 total yards, and the Chiefs still had just -2.

It took a bit for the Pats to get back into the swing of things after the pick, but on a deep throw to WR Phillip Dorsett, they scored again two drives later.  Utilized as a receiver, White led them through majority of the drive, but it was the deep throw to  Dorsett that scored the TD for New England.  After their defense’s big showing in the first half, the Pats held a 14-0 lead at halftime.  The defense had held the Chiefs to just 32 total yards in the half, and this was the first time the Chiefs had been shutout in the first half at home in 51 games

Image result for dorsett afc championship chiefs

However, the Chiefs figured out New England’s formula in their first drive after halftime, marching down the field in 4 plays for a TD thanks to a huge catch by WR Sammy Watkins and a quality TD by TE Travis Kelce in tight coverage.  Preventing big plays is a definitive weakness of the Pats D.  The Patriots needed to extend their lead so they didn’t have to press the panic button when Mahomes and co. started dominating.  They failed to score another TD in the 3rd quarter, but they did add a field goal to their lead, making it 17-7 Pats.  However, Mahomes and RB Damien Williams led the Chiefs on a huge drive to end the 3rd quarter.  This one did end in a touchdown, narrowing New England’s lead to just 3 points after a somewhat questionable pass interference call.  It had been 14-0 at half, but the Chiefs offense had just taken control of the game, outscoring New England 14-3 in the 3rd quarter.

Image result for damien williams afc championship

The Pats tried again to score a TD at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but they couldn’t convert on 4th down.  They forced the Chiefs to punt on the next drive, but initially, the refs called the punt muffed by Edelman when the Chiefs picked up the ball.  However, the call was overturned after instant replay showed that Edelman never touched it.  Edelman ended up costing the Pats the following drive though, as he bobbled a pass, allowing the Chiefs to intercept it and go on to take the lead with a TD the following drive.

The 4th quarter was a back and forth battle with several lead changes.  The Pats and Chiefs each scored a touchdown on their next drives, making it 28-24 Chiefs.  With two minutes to go, the Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  The Pats marched down the field and Burkhead scored the TD, but they scored a little too fast.  They left enough time for the Chiefs to add a field goal to tie it up and force overtime.  It was 31-31.

Image result for rex burkhead 2019 afc championship

After that the Pats won the toss, and though it was a nail biter with many close calls and 3rd downs, the Pats made their way down the field for the TD, winning the game!  This was Brady’s third OT victory in a postseason game, making him the first player to do so.  This was also the first time two playoff games had gone into overtime in one day.

Despite 2 interceptions, Brady finished 30/46 with 348 passing yards and a TD.  Sony Michel rushed for 113 yards and scored two TDs, and Burkhead had two rush TDs of his own.  Edelman and Gronk each had 75+ receiving yards, and James White nearly had 50.

Mahomes threw 3 TDs and 0 interceptions as the Chiefs won the turnover battle despite losing, but Mahomes only threw for 295 yards, partly because the Pats had the ball for much longer.  Though Watkins had 114 receiving yards, Damien Williams caught 2 TDs as well as rushing in one.

Image result for brady vs goff

It’s hard to name one MVP for the Pats in this game, because everyone did their job.  The important thing is, the Pats will travel to Atlanta to take on QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, and the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.  In Belichick terms, ‘We’re on to the Super Bowl’.  The Red Sox beat the LA Dodgers in the World Series just three months ago.  Can Boston teams not only win two championships in a year, but also beat the city of LA twice?

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.

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.

 

Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

The match-up is set.  The Patriots and Eagles will face off in Super Bowl LII.  Today I will address how they got there, and give you your first look at the match-up.

But first here is the official schedule for my Super Bowl LII Preview. This will be part of each Preview article and will include links to the articles that are finished.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29: Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31: The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Thursday, Feb. 1: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

How They Got There

Patriots

 

The Pats won in comeback fashion again, this time against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20.  Early on, Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette, Corey Grant, and the rest of the Jaguars offense dominated, taking a 14-3 lead and challenging the Pats for their chance at making it to their 10th Super Bowl, and their 8th with Tom Brady.  The Pats were unable to stop this powerful Jags offense for most of the 1st half, although they did narrow Jacksonville’s lead with a TD before the half, making it 14-10.  The Jaguars’ powerful pass rush also got on Tom Brady’s nerves in this half.

By halftime, Pats fans were getting worried, and some (but not me) gave up hope.  But the 2nd half brought a turn-around for the Patriots.  In the 3rd quarter, we began to see a better defensive performance by New England, as they held Jacksonville to just a measly 3 points in that quarter.  Lawrence Guy was able to sack Bortles as he led the Pats defense to begin to get pressure on him.  The Jags scored another field goal to begin the 4th and led 20-10.

But better defense set the Pats offense up to come back in the 4th quarter.  Despite TE Rob Gronkowski being ruled out with a concussion, the Pats came back, led by Brady, Danny Amendola (who scored both 4th quarter TDs) and Brandin Cooks.  The Pats came out of nowhere after being down by 10, scoring 14 unanswered points to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl.  But how will they fare against the Eagles, who obliterated the Vikings?

Eagles

 

The Vikings got off to a fast start as Case Keenum connected with TE Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown.  But after that, Nick Foles broke out, leading the Eagles offense to blow away an otherwise unstoppable Vikings defense.  He somehow tossed 3 TDs and 352 yards against the typically dominant Vikings D.  I also don’t know how this defense gave up 38 points.

Not only did Foles do well, but his top four receivers (Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor) all had over 50 yards receiving, combining for 306 of Philly’s receiving yards and all 3 receiving TDs.  The combination of end zone back LeGarrette Blount and lead running back Jay Ajayi also had a big game compared to recent performances.

After that win, the Eagles truly do deserve to fight for that Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis, although it would have been cool to see Minnesota win it at home, or be stopped by the Patriots dynasty.  But will the Eagles put up the same numbers against New England, who has far more experience in the Super Bowl?  Many of New England’s players don’t even know what it is like not making the AFC Championship game.

A First Look at the Big Game

With TE Rob Gronkowski on the practice field as of Saturday the 27th, it’s a good sign that Gronk will be able to clear the concussion protocol and play by Sunday’s big game. Gronk’s status will help determine New England’s offensive schemes against an Eagles defense that can be tricky at times.

Either way, especially with T Marcus Cannon injured, DT Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ defensive line could pressure QB Tom Brady and hit him a few times. But I do think Brady should be able to find his receivers against the younger, but still powerful Eagles secondary. With or without him, Gronk will have to get past Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins among others as they will likely keep the star tight end double covered.

Brady will have to mix it up a little, not only passing to Gronk, and dependable passing backs James White and Rex Burkhead, but also to his wide receivers who helped him win with Gronk and Burkhead out late into last week’s game. Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and/or Chris Hogan could have a big game here. But will we see the Eagles look like their inconsistent selves again, or will we see QB Nick Foles and the Eagles offense pick up where they left off?

If they can, they will significantly challenge the Patriots, whose pass rush has struggled to pressure the QB at times this season.  However, it has gotten better since LB James Harrison joined the Patriots.  Not only has he himself made an impact, but he’s also made an impact on other players’ performances, serving as a veteran influence.  The Pats sacked Jags QB Blake Bortles twice last week.  One was by Harrison, and the other by DT Lawrence Guy.  However, the Eagles give Foles better protection than Bortles gets with their strong offensive line.

This also helps running backs, who the Pats have struggled even more against.  In their Week 7 win against Atlanta, their big flaw was giving up big plays to Devonta Freeman.  It cost them in Week 1 against Kareem Hunt.  Can RB Jay Ajayi be next?  Will end zone threat Blount Force Trauma get revenge on his former team?  Or will it be younger RBs like Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood who thrive?

The good news is, despite their front seven woes, they have maintained a strong secondary all season long, and don’t be surprised if they annoy Foles’ receivers and pick Foles off a couple times. I do think Foles will continue to thrive though, finding his receivers for most of the game, but making brutal mistakes against this strong secondary that cause the Eagles offense to trail a little behind the “Brady Bunch.”

Who will win Super Bowl LII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.

Pats Stun Pittsburgh and Steal Win

With 8 minutes left in the game, the Pats were down by eight points, and I was losing hope.  I don’t know how they won.  They had a nice drive going, but Pats QB Tom Brady was sacked, and they were held to a field goal.  Then they took a 27-24 lead in a 2-minute drill by scoring a TD and a 2-point conversion.  But they left 1-minute for the Steelers.  They almost blew it.  On the first play with 52 seconds left, the Pats couldn’t get their hands on Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster on a short pass over the middle as he escaped tacklers and scurried down the field for 69 yards.  On the next play, TE Jesse James scored a TD on a pass up the middle diving into the end zone.  But video replay reversed the call.  2 plays later with no timeouts left and about 15 seconds left, Big Ben faked the spike and then tried to force a pass up the middle.  Eric Rowe deflected it right into the hands of Harmon, stunning the Steelers, and stealing the win

The Patriots won in comeback fashion in what was arguably the game of the year, as the Pats beat Pittsburgh 27-24.  You could argue that there was no tangible evidence to overturn the Steelers last-minute touchdown but the resilience the Pats showed leading up to the play, they deserved a call in their favor.  It all started on New England’s first drive.

QB Tom Brady and WR Brandin Cooks tried to set the tone early as Brady threw Cooks a 43-yard pass that brought the Patriots into the red zone within the first five minutes of the game.  RB Rex Burkhead ran in for the TD and the Pats took the early 7-0 lead.

Image result for brandin cooks 43 yard catch vs steelers

But the Steelers weren’t about to let New England win easy.  Using the Patriots’ defensive weaknesses to their advantage, they marched down the field and responded with an 18 yard TD of their own, tying the game at 7.

The Steelers didn’t stop there.  In the next drive, their defense thrived, sacking Tom Brady and forcing them to punt.  Led by a 39-yard Martavis Bryant reception, they had another big drive following that.  But after Bryant’s nice catch, the Pats were at least able to hold Pittsburgh to a field goal.  It was now 10-7 Steelers as Chris Boswell made a 51-yard field goal.  But Steelers superstar WR Antonio Brown had hurt his calf, and he was taken to the hospital.

Image result for antonio brown injury

The Pats countered with another big play drive, this time a 31-yard catch by Pats TE Rob Gronkowski and the Pats were able to tie it up again at 10.   This was just one of two catches Gronk made in the 1st half, but he made a huge impact in the 2nd half.  But before the half, the Steelers were able to score 1 more TD, while also preventing a Patriots double score opportunity as their drive burned most of the 2nd quarter clock.  The Steelers clock-eating drives were led by star RB Le’Veon Bell, who dominated against the depleted Pats front seven.  They did not slow down even with Brown out of the game.  The Pats would get the ball in the 2nd half but would have to do so without RB Rex Burkhead who was knocked out of the game with a knee injury.

Image result for leveon bell vs pats

The Pats began the 2nd half with a strong drive as Brandin Cooks scored a touchdown after Gronk began to make a bigger impact.  But they missed the extra point which put them down by one 17-16.  After they shut the Steelers down, the Pats were ready to score again.  But Tom Brady was intercepted early in the drive.  Le’Veon Bell led the Steelers into the end zone quickly, and the Pats were now down by eight, 24-16.

As the 4th quarter began, the Steelers had the ball, and they began to eat up a lot of time as they tried to hold off the Patriots.  They held onto the ball for the first 7 minutes of the 4th quarter, leaving the Pats down by eight with just 8 minutes to come back.  In their first drive of the 4th quarter, they started off strong.  Gronk almost caught a 23-yard pass and the Steelers were penalized for clear pass interference.  However, Brady got sacked on third down after a pair of incompletions, and they were held to a field goal.

It wasn’t over though.  The Pats shut down the Steelers on the next drive with the only 3 and out for either team and got the ball back with a little over two minutes to go.  If they could successfully complete this 2-minute drill for a TD, they could secure a victory.  They marched down the field, as Gronk caught three straight passes for a total of 69 yards.  You could argue that his final catch was almost as good as WR Julian Edelman’s catch in Super Bowl LI.  Gronk just barely saved the ball before it hit the ground.

Image result for rob gronkowski vs steelers 2017

RB Dion Lewis ran it in for the touchdown, but New England scored too fast going 77 yards in 1:10.  They needed to go for the 2-point conversion to take a 3-point lead and at the very least hold Pittsburgh to a field goal and head into overtime.  Brady tossed it to Gronk for the conversion.  Gronk finished the 2nd half with 7 receptions for 135 yards, making a huge impact.  The Steelers had a little under a minute to respond.

The Steelers were confident that they could still win it, and Big Ben completed one 69-yard pass to WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.  As the Pats couldn’t get their hands on Smith-Schuster, the Steelers were able to do what the Pats did in three passes in just one big play.  The Steelers then scored with what was ruled a touchdown by TE Jesse James.  But the call was reversed, giving hope to all the Patriots fans out there, including me.  Two plays later, Big Ben tried to throw a TD again, but this time, he was picked off by Duron Harmon!  The Pats had done it again!

Image result for juju smith schuster vs pats

A couple minutes earlier, I had thought the Pats were done, and I was hoping they could hold on to the 3rd seed.  But now they lead the AFC after a stunning comeback victory.

There were two huge plays that secured the Pats their current #1 seed edge showing #1 seed confidence under tough road pressure in Pittsburgh.  Without the 2-point conversion, Pittsburgh would’ve likely won on a field goal after Smith-Schuster’s catch and run play.  The Pats held on with a great goal-line interception by Harmon.  The Pats lead the league in goal-line stops and today’s play was arguably the most clutch of the year.

This game reminded me of Super Bowl XLIX.  The Pats won in a comeback, a lot of points were scored late in the game, and the Pats secured victory with an interception after the opposing team almost scored.  The one major difference was the time left on the clock.  Super Bowl XLIX ended with a bad coaching decision, but in this game, Big Ben made the mistake forcing a pass instead of throwing it away to give his team a shot in overtime with a short field goal.

With this win, the Pats clinch the division and take the AFC lead.  They control their own destiny and will secure the #1 seed with 2 division wins at home.  Can they do it?