Monday, September 28, 2015

Patriots Trounce Jaguars, 51-17

Some things are as predictable as a harvest-moon lunar eclipse; like the Patriots dominating the Jacksonville Jaguars. After yesterday's 51-17 drubbing the Patriots have won seven in a row against the Jags and haven't lost a game to them this century. The victory puts the 3-0 Patriots atop the AFC East all alone. Next week is a bye, so smoke 'em if you got 'em!

I won't go into much detail about this game. It was a laugher from before the half, and the easy answer to why the Pats won is they scored on every single drive they had (save for the kneel downs to end the game). Their nine other possessions ended with six touchdowns and three field goals. Tough to win when you can't stop the other team.

Quarterback Tom Brady was incredible again yesterday, continuing a career streak against Jax where he has 17 touchdowns and 2 interceptions -- oh, and he got to 400 TDs on his career! He was barely touched (two sacks, four QB hits), and ended up with 33 for 42 (78.5%), 358 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 118.1 QB rating. His 2015 rating of 119.6 is third among QBs with enough attempts to qualify (Trivia question: name the other two... Answer below.)

On the offensive line, rookies David Andrews and Shaq Mason are getting multiple blocks on running plays, both at the line and down field. Nate Solder had one bad play yesterday and crushed it on about ten others. The unit is coming together much more quickly than last year's group, and when injured center Bryan Stork returns, it could be dominant.

Among the receivers, Gronkowski and Edelman were their usual impressive selves. But two unexpected contributors were Danny Amendola (5 catches, 39 yards, and 1 touchdown), and Keshawn Martin (3 catches, 33 yards, 1 touchdown). Until Brandon LaFell returns, the team needs contributions from receivers other than Gronk and JE11, and for the time being it appears they have found some players to do that.

Running backs LeGarrette Blount (18 rushes, 78 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Dion Lewis (8-37, 1 TD) carried the load. But the interesting development was the number of snaps James White got. He ended up with 2 carries for 8 yards, but also caught 4 passes for 26 yards. It appears they are grooming him to share third-down responsibilities with Lewis.

This plan makes sense. There are some teams where Blount just isn't the right back to attack that specific defense, where they need more of a scatback. And in those games, being able to split time between Lewis and White is better than overworking Lewis.

On defense, there should be a petition for linebacker Jamie Collins as defensive player of the year. It wasn't the numbers this week; just 5 tackles, 1 sack, and a forced fumble ::yawn::. It was that Collins helped stifle the Jags offense, with good coverage on tight ends and forcing runs where they weren't designed to go. He's having a great year, and I hope he is recognized.

The defensive line was instrumental in stuffing the supposedly stout Jags running game, holding them to just 57 yards on 20 carries (2.9 ypc). Alan Branch played an excellent game, and the outside rushers did a great job forcing runners to make cuts before they wanted to.

Don't get too excited about the secondary; Jaguar receivers dropped at least five catchable passes. Corner Malcolm Butler broke up three passes but gave up the completion that became a 59-yard touchdown when safety Duron Harmon whiffed on the tackle. And corner Logan Ryan was so bad he got picked on in both man- and zone-coverage. No easy trick, and he continues to struggle out there.

On special teams, punter Ryan Allen had the easiest job of the day: not punting. He didn't punt once, the first time in his career that happened. And kicker Stephen Gostkowski remained perfect on the year. He also successfully booted his 425th consecutive extra point, an NFL record that might never be broken now that the PAT is a 33-yarder.

So where does that leave us? 3-0 and in first place is a good start to the season. The bye is this week, and I'll have an update with details on how things look so far.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: It isn't often a team has 20 more first downs than their opponent, but the Patriots had 35 yesterday to Jacksonville's 15.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Too bad Jacksonville won't make the playoffs. They'd make an easy first-round patsy."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 3-0!

PPS. Trivia answer: Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (128.4) and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton (121.0) lead Tom  Brady in QB rating.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Patriots Top Bills, 40-32

The Patriots notched a 40-32 victory over the Bills in Buffalo yesterday. The win puts them a game up on Buffalo and Miami (who lost) and a half-game up on the New York Jets (who play Monday night). Next week the streaking Jacksonville Jaguars come to town, bringing their one-game winning streak, and likely leaving with a one-game losing streak.

As predicted on this blog just two weeks ago, problems along the offensive line wreaked havoc with the offense against a stout front seven. However, it was the Bills O-line that stunk up the joint against the Pats front seven. That is where the game was won/lost; the difference in play between the offensive lines was striking and decisive. Well... that and the coaching, but more on that later.

Rather than test the Bills run defense, the Patriots simply passed instead. They called 61 pass plays and 12 runs (plus 3 kneel downs), over a 5-1 ratio. And with all that passing the offensive line gave up just one sack, a semi-whiff by left tackle Nate Solder (the other was a coverage sack).

Even more amazing was that when Solder went out temporarily with an injury play didn't drop off. Guard Josh Kline played very well, and rookies Shaq Mason and Dave Andrews look like seasoned professionals. Granted they didn't ask them to blow people off the line and run, but all that passing lead to very little pressure on quarterback Tom Brady.

(Note: O-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo deservers a lot of credit here. Granted the team drafted multiple linemen [and some high up].  But with rookies starting against blitzing/pressure teams isn't easy, and DeGuglielmo has done an admirable job putting the players in position to succeed.)

As for the aforementioned quarterback, Brady was spectacular. He finished the day with great numbers: 38 of 49 (64%), 466 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 105.6 QB rating. But his most impressive deeds on the day came in orchestrating pass protection, sometimes moving players multiple times pre-snap to get enough bodies to handle the pressure, which mostly came in the second half.

The receivers played exceptionally well this week. Julian Edelman continues to be mister reliable (11 catches, 97 yards, 2 touchdowns), and tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't see King Kong in coverage, so he torched the Bills for 7 catches, 113 yards, and 1 touchdown. Aaron Dobson also had 7 grabs (87 yards) and is rounding into a nice third option. And Danny Amendola had the catch of the day (at least among the receivers), a twisting, diving 29-yarder to put the game away.

Running back Dion Lewis caught 6 passes (98 yards), and ran 7 times for 40 yards and 1 touchdown. However, the bigger news is that he fumbled again -- and did not see a reduction in playing time. This is unusual, as the Patriots regularly bench players who fumble, except under extraordinary circumstances.

Unfortunately, there is only one way to interpret this turn of events. The Patriots simply don't have another decent third-down back option, so they have to stay with Lewis. Two fumbles in two games, and he continued to play; that means the Pats don't have anyone else they trust in that position, and that is not the regular Patriots way.

Lewis had better get the fumblitis out of the way; because his team and his teammates need him and apparently there isn't any better option on the bench. (Trivia question: In the past decade, six other Patriots running backs have had at least two fumbles in a single season; how many can you name? Answer below.)

The defense did a really good job for most of the game. They gave up a quick touchdown on the first drive, but followed that up with five straight three-and-outs and two interceptions before halftime. They mostly held the Bills in check until the fourth quarter, when they got sloppy and gave up three straight scores to make the game close.

The secondary made some terrific plays; two of the best catches of the day were by corners Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. It wasn't perfect; they gave up two touchdowns of 20+ yards, and several Buffalo short passes came with tons of yards-after-catch. Ryan struggled most of the time he was on the field, and Bradley Fletcher got beaten soundly a few times. But they hung in there and got the turnovers they needed, including the game-sealing pick by safety Duron Harmon.

Note on the safeties: they moved strong safety Patrick Chung to the line after the first quarter, to slow down the run. And the Bills capitalized with long passes that attacked a single-high safety look (with Devin McCourty). This is exactly what the Patriots will face when they play teams with balanced offenses. Thankfully, they don't see too many of them this season.

The two outside linebackers were a wrecking crew. Jamie Collins (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, 3 QB hits, and 1 forced fumble) and Dont'a Hightower (12 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 QB hit) were everywhere. Hightower made a nice play to slow down a screen and then knife through for the tackle (though he did miss on several run blitzes). And Collins came at the QB from all angles, although his run tackling left a bit to be desired (and came too far downfield).

Middle linebacker Jerod Mayo still rotates in and out, apparently still recovering from his injury. When he drops out, the team usually replaces him with a DB in the nickel.

The interior defensive line started shaky, giving up chunk yards on runs by both running backs and the scrambling quarterback. Granted it was tough to contain the QB in the pocket, but that was their mandate and it took a while before they figured it out. The Pats added a third beefy interior lineman after the first drive, and suddenly Alan Branch, rookie Malcom Brown, and even Jonathan Freeney cranked things up.

But the star of the D-line was Chandler Jones. He did an excellent job rushing under control but getting there; 6 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, and 4 QB hits tell the tale. He toyed with blockers when they went one-on-one, using multiple inside and power moves to push the pocket and disrupt the play. His best game since the middle of last year.

The Patriots special teams outplayed their Buffalo counterparts. Ryan Allen punted only once (54 yards), but kicker Stephen Gostkowski gave up minimal kickoff return yards and mostly booted the ball through the end zone. He also hit all is field goals and extra points; something Buffalo's Dan Carpenter can't claim

As for the coaching, it was a monumental mismatch. The Patriots adjusted multiple times, on both offense and defense. While the Bills missed an extra point, then chased that point by trying (and failing) on two two-point conversions. Buffalo didn't bring pressure until the second half, never adjusting to the slice-a-thon going on in the first half.

They also had 14 accepted penalties for 140 yards, including three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for taunting and/or insults hurled from the bench. Rex Ryan is emotional and jazzed up for games, but he and his team need to learn to reign it in, or they'll continue to self-destruct. I've never seen a team get a taunting penalty when the other team made a great play -- so yesterday was a first in that regard. Thank you Bills!

So where does that leave us? 2-0 and alone in first place for the moment. Jacksonville shouldn't be too much of a test next Sunday, and then it's an early bye week. So enjoy things while they last; they can turn around quickly. Just ask Week 1 Darlings, the Buffalo Bills.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Dion Lewis has two fumbles in two games with the Patriots. Rob Gronkowski has two fumbles in his entire Patriots career (5+ years).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Pats don't need help from the other team, but they'll take 140 yards of penalties any time they can get them."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 2-0!

PPS. Trivia Answer: LeGarrette Blount (2013), Stevan Ridley (2012 & 2013), Sammie Morris (2009), Laurence Maroney (2009), Corey Dillon (2006), and Patrick Pass (2005).

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Patriots Handle Steelers, 28-21

The Patriots took it to the Steelers last Thursday, beating them more soundly than the 28-21 final would indicate. The win put the Pats alone in first place for 2.5 days, until the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins all won, meaning that the entire AFC East is tied for first place (and last place). Next week brings a trip to Buffalo to take on the Bills and new coach Rex Ryan.

For the Steelers, missed field goals, blown coverages, and botched time management doomed them in this one. The game started slowly, with a scoreless first quarter. But the Patriots dominated for the second and third quarters, and then cruised to the win, giving up a garbage-time touchdown for the final tally.

Quarterback Tom Brady started slowly, too, missing a few passes and not converting some early first downs. But he finished 25 of 32 (78.1%) for 288 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 143.8 passer rating. His pocket presence was excellent and he set a new team record with 19 consecutive passes completed.

Receiver Julian Edelman did most of the grunt work, converting 8 first downs on his 11 catches (for 97 yards). But the tight ends did most of the damage: Rob Gronkowski caught 5 for 97 yards and 3 touchdowns, and newcomer Scott Chandler nabbed a touchdown on a crossing pattern near the and zone.

Running back Dion Lewis added 4 catches for 51 yards to his team-leading 69 yards on the ground (on 15 carries). He had a fumble when the rain picked up, but Gronkowski recovered it. And uncharacteristically the Patriots went right back to Lewis, so they obviously have faith that the play was a fluke.

Lewis also did a decent job blocking in pass protection. And when suspended back LeGarrette Blount returns next week, Lewis might have won the third-down spot. As for the rest of the running backs; never mind, they didn't do much of anything.

The offensive line is in flux. Center Bryan Stork was placed on injured reserve (can't play until at least week 9), and backup center Ryan Wendell was inactive for Thursday's tilt. That left tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer bracketing three rookies -- center David Andrews and guards Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason -- along with second-year backup Josh Kline.

The three rookies got most of the playing time, and the reviews are mixed. On one of Brady's sacks, all three rookies blocked one man while the other ran untouched to tackle the quarterback. However, on an 11-yard run around right-end, Mason got multiple blocks on one play: one to seal the edge and two more downfield. And for the most part, Brady stayed clean, so they must have done something right.

The veterans were okay. Solder had a rough start with two penalties in the first quarter, but he settled down nicely. Vollmer wasn't mentioned all game, and many of the successful runs went off-tackle to his side, which is a good sign. It will take time to sort all this out. Might not look great next week against the Buffalo pressure defense, but overall it should get better as the season progresses.

On defense it was sometimes tough to tell how well things went. They gave up only 14 total points while the game was in doubt, but the Steelers averaged a healthy 7.0 yards per play. Pittsburgh's incompetence accounted for much of the low score, but some of that can be attributed to decent defensive play.

The secondary plan seemed unusual for the Patriots. Still unproven corner Malcolm Butler covered Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown one-on-one, with predictable results: 9 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown. In the past, the Patriots would put their second-best corner on the best receiver, and give him safety help, freeing their best corner to take on the second-best receiver one-on-one.

Maybe this was a test to see how Butler held up. If so, might be time to switch back to the other plan. Butler was close on a lot of plays, but close doesn't get you much in this league. And when the Patriots play better offenses, they could have trouble using Butler this way.

The rest of the secondary was nondescript; some good, some bad, but nothing that really stood out. Bradley Fletcher got beaten regularly, And for those hoping Tarell Brown will solidify things, probably not -- he was up-and-down with the rest of them.

Given that the Patriots played mostly nickel in this game, the odd man out was linebacker Jerod Mayo. But 'backers Dont'a Hightower (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hit) and Jamie Collins (6 tackles) did an admirable job in his absence, especially given the extra real estate they had to cover. It wasn't perfect; there were a couple of missed run blitzes by Hightower that led to big runs, and the pass coverage on tight end Heath Miller was suspect.

As for the defensive line, Jabaal Sheard played very well, holding the edge on the run and getting 3 tackles and a sack. The rest of the crew was in early season form; that is, inconsistent. Rob Ninkovich gave up the edge on a few runs his way, and the middle of the line didn't do enough to push the pocket.

Special teams were on the field for two missed field goals by Pittsburgh, they recovered an onside kick at the end of the game, but they also botched the return on a squib kick. Punter Ryan Allen did a nice job, with a 42-yard net average and one boomer of 67 yards.

The coaches played it conservative and let their overall talent and home-field advantage win in the end. But it's always interesting to see the contrast -- the Steelers' coaches called an ill-advised flea-flicker on the first drive and totally botched clock management late in the game.

In other words, Pittsburgh coaches cracked under the pressure almost before there was any (first drive), and then followed it up with poor decision-making late. While the Patriots only questionable decision was passing twice with 7:30 left in the game -- when running two plays would have left the Steelers two scores down with about 6:00 remaining.

So where does that leave us? 1-0 gives the Patriots a one-quarter share of the lead in the AFC East, where all teams won on Sunday. It's off to Buffalo next week, and given the pressure defense the Bills showed today, those rookies on the offensive line will have their hands full. Perhaps the return of Blount will allow for more power running to keep the Bills honest. Should be interesting to watch.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Bill Belichick ranks fourth all-time in winning percentage (65.9%) among head coaches with at least 20 years in the NFL. (Trivia question: how many of the coaches ahead of him can you name? Answer below).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Buffalo next week will be a tougher game, but it's nice to start the season off with a win."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-0!

PPS. Trivia Answer:
George Halas (68.2%), Don Shula (67.7%), and Paul Brown (67.2%) have higher winning percentages than Bill Belichick. (Note: Belichick would have to win his next 24 consecutive games to take over the lead from Halas).

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Patriots 2015 Season Primer!

After Roger Goodell tossed up another air ball in court, let's finally get back to what matters: football on the field. There are major questions regarding the Patriots this year:

Does the departure of four cornerbacks deflate hopes for another championship? Is there less pressure to win it all in the wake of the magical 2014 run? And are the Patriots courting disaster by vacating the secondary, or are they appealing to the fan base by pumping up the front seven in hopes of suspending opposition passers with an official push for more pressure?

(/end puns, thanks for letting me get it out of my system.)

A look at the 2015 roster reveals lost depth and experience at two positions: running back and defensive back. It could come back to bite them, just as the inexperienced offensive line did early in the year last season. Oh, and the offensive line is a question mark to start this 2015 season, too.

Here is a primer on the off-season doings, how things looked in the preseason, how the new parts are likely to fit with the scheme, and of course, the annual attempt to predict the outcomes of every game -- before the season even starts!


Hello: TE Scott Chandler, TE/OL Michael Williams, OL Shaq Mason, C David Andrews, G Tre' Jackson, WR Chris Harper, RB Dion Lewis, and RB Tavaris Cadet.

Good-bye: RB Shane Vereen, RB Stevan Ridley, RB Jonas Gray, TE Tim Wright, OL Jordan Devey, and WR Josh Boyce.

1. Line To Be Offensive Again?

If all the signings, trades, and resigning have fans confused, they aren't the only ones. A look at the depth chart at has Ryan Wendell as the starter at two positions: center and right guard:

This temporary glitch in the Matrix is likely due to the recent placement of predicted starting center Bryan Stork on injured reserve (with a designation to return).

This preseason Stork never touched the field, and Wendell barely played. Wendell is a decent player, but Stork's promotion to full-time center settled down the line after last September's problems.

Tackle Nate Solder should be better a year removed from cancer surgery, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer looked decent in the practice games.

The problems come behind the three starters. Will Josh Kline (the listed starter at left guard) play well enough to justify the promotion after only 5 starts in 19 games last year? What will rookies Mason, Andrews, and Jackson bring to the table? And what is Marcus Cannon still doing on the team?

The Patriots face very tough defensive lines in the division this year. The only saving grace is they have just one AFC East game in the first six weeks of the season. But if the offensive line takes time to gel, they could find themselves behind in the division for a change.

2. Two Tight End Offense, Round Three!

Post-Hernandez, last year the Patriots added Wright to the team, hoping he'd provide a better second-tight end option than Michael Hoomanawanui. They were only mildly impressed; five of Wright's six touchdowns came in blowout wins, and he still shared time with the stiffs at that position. Wright now toils for Tampa Bay again.

Enter 6' 6" Scott Chandler, a thorn in the Patriots' side for years in Buffalo. Chandler has the size to be a target in the red zone, and he will take pressure off all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski. Teams can't double Gronk and receiver Julian Edelman without leaving a jump-ball option with Chandler, which is exactly what the Patriots want.

Quarterback Tom Brady threw only one touchdown all preseason, and it was to Chandler. That throw, down the sideline to a spot where the tight end was headed, showed Brady trusted Chandler and that the new target understood the offense well enough to be effective.

Those factors put Chandler ahead of all the receiver washouts over the years. Expect him to catch at least 8 touchdowns this year. And if teams slide their defenses toward Gronkowski and Edelman, Chandler's total could be even higher.

3. Problems At Third Wideout

Brandon LaFell appears to have entered the witness protection program, no one's seen much of Edelman, and Danny Amendola would be Edelman's replacement (even though he'd still be a disappointment at his salary numbers).

Both Harper and veteran wide receiver Aaron Dobson showed flashes in the preseason. If one or both of last year's receivers can't get on the field, it'll be a chance for these guys to shine. It'll also be a chance for them to trip all over themselves -- so if Edelman and/or Amendola can't play, hold your breath.

4. Quarterback On A Mission

I wrote in May (link) that Brady would be supremely motivated to destroy every opponent this year. And nothing that's transpired since then changed my mind.

Brady and Belichick will do everything in their power to win every game in 2015, and savor sweet revenge on any team that disrespected them or was involved in the DeflateGate situation. The line on the Colts game could be Patriots -21.5, and no doubt both the quarterback and head coach will look to embarrass Indianapolis for their childish tantrum after they got destroyed in last year's playoffs.

Oh, and if you don't think this will be a factor, just check the box scores in 2007. In the wake of Spygate, the Patriots beat opponents by an average of almost three touchdowns (average winning score was 37-17).


Hello: DL Jabaal Sheard, DE Trey Flowers, DT Malcom Brown, DT Khyri Thornton, LB Rufus Johnson, LB Jonathan Freeny, CB Bradley Fletcher, and CB Tarell Brown.

Good-bye: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Kyle Arrington, DL Michael Buchanan, LB Chris White, and DL Joe Vellano, 

1. Complete Cornerback Reset

Okay, not quite complete. But four starters from the last two years are gone. One-year wonders Revis and Browner, two-year starter Dennard, and long-time slot corner Arrington all took their talents elsewhere. Their eager replacements are enigma-corner Logan Ryan and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler.

Butler looked great in the preseason, both in pass coverage and run support. He got the starter treatment this August, playing a few series and then heading to the sideline to rest for three quarters. He's no Revis, but he combines good ball skills with relentlessness and attitude you need to play the position.

Ryan was up-and-down in August, showing some nice technique one play and then getting beaten badly the next. Some observers are counting on Tarell Brown to take the second starting position. But even if he does, Butler/Brown is quite the drop-off from Revis/Browner.

All of that said, the team might miss slot-corner Arrington more than anyone. It was no accident that slot receivers had such a tough time against the Patriots; Arrington had the right build to stay with smaller, shiftier receivers, and had the fight to make them earn every inch.

There's no one on the roster who can replace Arrington, and it's unlikely they can replace Revis or Browner. So they better hope they get great play from...

2. Front-Line Monsters

Alan Branch (6' 6", 350 lbs.), Sealver Siliga (6' 2", 325), Dominique Easley (6' 2", 285), Malcolm Brown (6' 2", 325), and Khyri Thornton (6' 3", 315) total 1550 pounds of interior muscle. Should be pretty stout against the run this year.

Against the pass, these brutes need to push the pocket into the quarterback. And that should open up sack opportunities for talented veterans Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, along with newcomers Sheard and Flowers.

All four outside linemen should flourish in the new 4-3 alignment. Jones and Ninkovich will get more one-on-one looks, and both Sheard and Flowers looked surprisingly good in the preseason.

It appears the Patriots will make up for the loss of cornerbacks by trying to collapse the pocket. Siliga looked downright bad in the preseason, but if he rounds into form they should have the personnel to rush opposing QBs.

3. 4-3 or 5-2 Defense?

At least half the Patriots games will be against teams with poor quarterback play and decent running games. So expect more and more of the 5-2 defense, with extra defensive linemen clogging up runs and rising star linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins covering short zones with their superb speed.

The Pats used this alignment to great success against the Jets and Seahawks last year. So don't be surprised to see this formation mixed in against the likes of the Bills, Jets, Washington, Texans, and perhaps even the Eagles.

Special Teams

Hello: LS Joe Cardona and coach Joe Judge.

Good-Bye: LS Danny Aiken and coach Scott O'Brien.

1. Inconsistent Snapping

Cardona had some poor snaps in the preseason. Notably one punt snap that screwed with the timing on coverage and at least two field-goal snaps where punter Ryan Allen saved the attempt with a great hold.

This only becomes a problem if the new guy can't get is straightened out, or if he gets the yips in pressure situations. Oh, and Cardona should watch his back -- Aiken did not sign with another team, so he could always come back if things don't go well this year.

2. Aggressive Returns

In the preseason the team was more aggressive about returning kickoffs from deeper in the end zone. Credit new coach Judge for the new assertiveness. This often happens with new special teams coaches -- in fact, retired coach O'Brien was more aggressive than his predecessor.

The Schedule

And here goes the annual attempt to predict which games the Patriots will win and lose for the season. I nailed 13 out of 16 last season (and that last game against Buffalo just shouldn't count).  But no matter how it goes; take it with a grain of salt. Predicting games this way is a fool's errand, and I'm just the fool to take it on!

As always, the season is broken up into quarters.

First Quarter
  • The Steelers come to town for opening night tonight. With all that's gone on, and with Pittsburgh deep threat Martavis Bryant missing -- which frees the New England to double both Antonio Brown and Heath Miller -- this will be a win for the Patriots. The Steelers just don't have the defensive line talent they used to, which would be the way to attack the Pats offense.
  • The second game is in Buffalo and there are competing histories here. Brady holds a 23-3 lifetime record against the Bills (including last year's no-try loss). But new Bills coach Rex Ryan knows how to give Brady a hard time like almost no other coach. Also, the Patriots have 10 days to prepare, but the Bills strength (front seven) plays to a Patriots weakness (offensive line). This is likely the toughest prediction all season; but I'll go with a Patriots loss, with home field being the determining factor.
  • The Jaguars won't put up enough of a fight in Foxboro the next week, so mark that down as a Patriots win.
  • The bye comes early, and then it's off to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. This is a difficult matchup; balanced offenses often give the Patriots trouble and the Pats don't have a defensive back big enough to tame Dez Bryant. But Belichick's record against the NFC is a stellar 48-17 (73.8%), and that includes 3-0 versus the Cowboys. Their post-bye record is also excellent. Patriots eke out a win here.
Second Quarter

  • A lot of fans don't give the Colts any chance in this game. They suspect the Patriots will pull out all the stops to crush Indy after they whined about deflated footballs. But bear in mind that the Colts will have 10 days to prepare, and the Patriots are on a difficult two-game road trip. Also, the Patriots secondary is less-equipped to stop the high-powered Indy passing game. However, even with all that, the Colts have done nothing to shore up their run defense. Expect a shootout with the Patriots emerging victorious in a close one.

  • The stinky Jets come to town next, and I don't expect them to take the game in Foxboro. Maybe in New York; more on that later.

  • The Dolphins have more defensive firepower but less on offense, so they won't be able to keep up in their visit to Gillette, either. Mark down a win here.

  • Washington needs an overhaul to challenge the Patriots, so this should be victory #7.

Third Quarter

  • There are horses for courses, and some folks think the Giants will always beat the Patriots. But not this year. Something's missing in New York, but I just can't put my finger on it :)

  • Buffalo comes to Foxboro, and they won't beat the Patriots twice in one season, so this should be another win.

  • Factors going against the Patriots in Denver: short week, road game, thin air, Thanksgiving holiday to handle, new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and difficulty stopping the stretch-run concept in the past. A perfect recipe for loss #2.

  • The Eagles come to Foxboro next, and this is the most intriguing matchup of the year. Chip Kelly with 10 days to prepare, Bill Belichick's first look at the fast-break offense, big interior defensive linemen panting for breath, and in-game adjustments by both sides like never before. When all is said and done, this should come down to the health of Sam Bradford. And I suspect he'll play, so it's a Patriots loss.

Fourth Quarter

  • Houston could be a tougher out than people think. The defense is very active up front, which could spell trouble for the Patriots patchwork offensive line. Also, both head coach Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will pull out all the stops to take down their former team. I don't see usually foresee two losses in a row, but it looks that way this time.

  • The Titans roll into New England after that. Sometimes young quarterbacks have success against Belichick's defenses, but after the Patriots have about 8 or 9 weeks of film to study, it becomes advantage New England. This game will be rookie Marcus Mariota's 14th start; so expect the Patriots to be able to handle him.

  • For the second consecutive year, the Pats travel to New York to take on the Jets in week 16. By then, Todd Bowles' system should be fully implemented, which could make the game more difficult. However, expect the New England line should be in good shape by December, so expect them to win on sheer offensive talent (of which the Jets have precious little).

  • The house of horrors that is Miami comes late this year. But weather should not favor the Dolphins, and the Patriots have started to figure out Ryan Tannehill, so expect the Patriots to win this one.


If all those predictions come true, the Patriots will be 12-4 and playing for a playoff bye.

Enjoy the game and the season!

- Scott