Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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2018 NFL Week 8 Picks & Previews: Could be Exciting Sunday with Many Close Games

Welcome to my NFL Week 8 Picks and Previews.  Last week I went 8-6, putting my overall record at 61-44-2 (62-44-2 including Week 8 TNF).  I’m hoping for at least 9 or 10 wins this week to get ahead of the ESPN and CBS Sports experts I am trying to compete with.  I am ahead of just 1 expert from each website.  This week, expect a lot of close, exciting games.  Even Vegas is predicting this, as many of their NFL point spreads this week are under 4.  But with lots of close games comes lots of surprises.  Who will pull a shocking upset?  Who will stand strong and win as expected?  Read below to find out what I think.

Lock of the Week (MNF)

Stay tuned for a potential video preview closer to the game!

There are not many locks this week, but the Patriots should be able to take down the QB Josh Allen-less Bills with ease.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in Buffalo, and it doesn’t matter that it’s Monday Night Football.  Expect QB Tom Brady and the Pats to dominate here, taking an early lead and running with it.  The Patriots defense isn’t going to go from shaky to shut down in a week, but it should hold a struggling, banged-up Bills offense to 20 or less points. One thing this offense does have on the New England is a strong run game.  New England has continued to struggle against strong run games this year.  But I don’t expect much else from the Bills offense, and the Pats should end up winning by 10 or more.

Upset of the Week

This would be a shocker given Kansas City’s performance in Denver and Denver’s tendency to perform far better at home.  But it’s hard to beat the same team twice, especially when they are riding the momentum of a 45-10 victory including a spectacular defensive game.  I understand that it was the Cardinals, but momentum is momentum. Thanks to this momentum, I think Denver’s D will do surprisingly well in stopping Kansas City’s dominant offense.  This all-offense Chiefs team will struggle against a Broncos offense that has improved from 2017. TE Travis Kelce will catch Kansas City’s lone TD as the rest of the offense is overwhelmed by the Denver D in an upsetting loss.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night)

Expect a low scoring game as the Texans shut down defense overwhelms QB Brock Osweiler and the young Miami pass offense.  Expect the Dolphins backfield to struggle as well, with Houston’s defense holding them under 50 yards combined. I don’t see the Texans dominating on offense, but it will be enough thanks to a strong game by WR DeAndre Hopkins and the front seven’s performance.
Sunday, 9:30 AM EST (Posted to Twitter before the game)

I don’t think Jacksonville’s defense will look as sharp as usual in London, especially after 4 Jaguars defenders were arrested last night.  But they will improve from the surprising struggles of the last couple weeks.  Look for QB Blake Bortles to regroup and rebound after being replaced last week, leading the Jags to a surprising London victory.  But Philly should keep it close with strong run defense against the troubled Jags run game.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

In this battle of two of the league’s rising defenses, don’t expect much from either young QB.  QB Mitch Trubisky and his receivers will put up a dud against New York’s amazing secondary. But the Jets offense won’t be looking any better with RB Bilal Powell and most of their best receivers hurt.  Chicago’s defense should come up clutch, holding the Jets under 10 and saving Chicago the game.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Browns tied the Steelers in Cleveland, but don’t expect as close a game in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers will make up for RB Le’Veon Bell’s continued absence with a dominant day by WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.  Pittsburgh’s D should also appear surprisingly better, holding the Browns young offense under 20.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Jameis Winston and his TE duo to lead Tampa to victory against a Bengals defense left with holes after losses in free agency.  QB Andy Dalton and his receivers should make this close, but the defensive problems will begin to stab them in the back. The Bucs will win on the road thanks to another big day on offense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect a strong game out of QB Cam Newton and the Panthers offense.  But the Ravens versatile defense should slow them down significantly.  However, Baltimore’s receivers will still struggle to keep up as Newton’s multi-TD game is enough to lead Carolina to victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

I know most people would call me crazy for expecting 34 points out of the Giants.  But this is a team that beat the 5-3 Houston Texans.  I don’t think the G-Men are really as bad as they seem.  Even the GM has given up.  But I think the Giants will turn it around and win a few games before the season ends.  They have a talented, star-studded offense.  All they need is a QB who can manage that.  If QB Eli Manning cannot, maybe another QB on the roster is the answer.  WR Odell Beckham Jr. will be kept busy against CB Josh Norman, but you can expect strong games out of RB Saquon Barkley and New York’s other offensive weapons. The Redskins will make this close with a clutch offensive performance, but I have them falling just short.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Matt Patricia’s Lions to win another one on home turf as they begin to look like legitimate contenders.  The Seahawks should be able to overwhelm the Lions D, one of Detroit’s biggest flaws this year.  But QB Matthew Stafford’s 3 TD game should be enough for a Lions home victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

The Colts should make this close with a surprisingly strong offensive performance led by QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton.  They will take advantage of a weak, rebuilding Raiders D.  But expect Oakland to shine on offense against Indy, who has one of the worst defenses in the league.  It doesn’t matter if WR Amari Cooper is here or not. The Raiders will miss Cooper and injured RB Marshawn Lynch, but should still manage to win. If they can beat the Browns in Oakland, they can do the same to Indy.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST
I was tempted to pick the Packers in an upset as the Rams offense struggles without injured WR Cooper Kupp.  But this versatile Rams defense is just too good to allow 20+ points to a Packers offense that lacks WR depth despite an amazing QB in Aaron Rodgers.  Defense will win the Rams this game as they remain undefeated.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Arizona’s only win so far this year was in San Francisco.  I think they can beat the QB Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers again in Arizona.  They will be led by strong games out of young QB Josh Rosen and RB David Johnson.  The Niners should look decent on offense and make this close.  But I think the Cardinals will hold on on home turf.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

 

I think Minnesota’s offense will be slowed by a young Saints D that just added CB Eli Apple.  But the Vikings defense should look even better, holding the Saints under 20 points and to just 1 TD.  This shut down defensive performance should lead the Vikes to victory.

That’s all for my picks and previews this week.  Stay tuned for more NFL posts soon, including my midseason report next week.

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.

NFL Playoff Picks: Wild Card Weekend

4 non division winners will challenge the teams the edged a division win.  First, which teams are more of super bowl threats?  Second, who will win?  Let’s start with a look at my straight up playoff bracket.

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I have the Seahawks knocking out the top 3 NFC seeds and losing in the Super Bowl, and the Steelers upsetting Cincy in the wild card round but losing to Denver.

Here are my picks:

Texans, 23, Chiefs, 20: Saturday, 4:35 PM EST

Both of these teams are on fire.  Kansas City has clearly shown themselves by winning 10 straight.  Houston struggled for a longer period of time, but have bounced back with 3 wins in a row.  This will come down to every last second.  The Texans have DeAndre Hopkins at his prime, who has broken out this year, and the Chiefs have Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin who will make an impact.  But one thing that will surely impact this game is defense.  In my opinion, both teams have a top 10 defense in the league.  They both have extremely powerful pass rush and good to decent secondaries.

I don’t think this will be very high scoring, and I think it will come down to a field goal.  Neither of these kickers, Nick Novak and Cairo Santos, are that good, but Santos has been streaky in good and bad ways.  Novak once was very solid.  I think Novak still has some of that consistency in him and that he can save the Texans’ butts in this game.

Steelers, 34, Bengals, 26: Saturday, 8:15 PM EST

I think that Pittsburgh’s run game will really miss DeAngelo Williams, not to mention Le’ Veon Bell.  But the powerful pass and a solid QB in Big Ben should make up for it as he throws four TDs in this 8 point upset win.  Ben Roethlisberger will go to his favorite trusty receivers, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller, maybe Darrius Heyward-Bey, Matt Spaeth and Jacoby Jones for a bit.  But the point is, Ben Roethlisberger and the pass will make a huge impact.

The Bengals on the other hand, have just mediocre receiver depth with a QB that’s a novice to the playoffs.  Their run game trumps Pittsburgh as it’s at full health, but passing and QBs, along with experience are very important in the playoffs.  Despite a much better defense than Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ offense will pay off.

 

Seahawks, 30, Vikings, 24: Sunday, 1:05 PM EST

Despite missing Marshawn Lynch this week, Seattle still has a shot to take down the Vikes on Sunday.  The Seahawks are starting to discover a decent pass game, and the defense has been awesome.  The pass rush should be good enough to limit AP, especially if he’s still a little banged up.  The secondary should help limit Teddy B’s new receivers as well.

The Vikings defense is still young and developing, and should be able to limit the Seahawks, but not as much as they limit Minnesota.  Seattle has edge in that way, and they should win, despite a weaker, more injured offense.  They have great sleepers that haven’t come out of their shell yet this season.

Packers, 34, Redskins, 27: Sunday, 4:40 PM EST

I think this is a game that will be surprisingly high scoring due to bad defense.  Aaron Rodgers is finally starting to throw the ball around a bit, and Eddie Lacy has begun to return to full form. James Starks has done well too.  This team has gone a little bit young, but is growing power once again, power that may be strong enough to take out a top seed team after this.  But Kirk Cousins will provide a challenge.

He has found his guys that he needs to win games and the Skins’ offense works very well together as a team.  They’re good too.  They’re o-line is much better, they have some reliable young receivers and the whole team is beginning to re-develop.  But in the end, the Washington secondary is just too empty to stop the Packers in their reign and they will win by a touchdown or so.

So those are my picks for the week.  Comment what you think will happen in the games.