Apologies to readers on the late Jets review. Its been a hectic week at this address with the holidays. But, with that game firmly in the rearview, it does not require a thorough review anyways. Suffice to say, I thought the ABC Monday Night team of Al Michaels and John Madden had a rare cogent point when they talked about the methodical domination the Patriots were displaying over the Jets. With those comments, they were right on point. The Patriots did little spectacular in the game, but they dominated every inch of it. It was death by 1,000 paper cuts for the Jets, with the Patriots a little at a time inflicting all the wounds.
There were some areas that caused a bit of concern. The running game, while steady and mostly productive, still seems to be missing that explosiveness and the ability to rip off occasional long gains it had last year. It has been exceedingly good in short yardage and goal line situations of late, but one wonders if the lack of…..I don’t know, something…..perhaps big play capability, will hurt them down the line. It would be nice to see them rip off a few more twenty plus yard gains come this week and the playoffs.
I also felt the pass protection was less than stellar at times against the Jets. John Abraham is without a doubt tough to handle on the pass rush, but some of the other lesser Jets players were putting pressure on as well. It could have merely been an off game, as the protection has been in general good this year with an occasional exception like the Kansas City game.
The defense was pretty much dominant for 2 quarters and 10 minutes. After that, they gave up a few plays, but it was mostly garbage time. Mainly the offense was so dominant the first three quarters, the defense didn’t have much to do most of the game. But when they were called upon, they shut the Jets down cold. One clear revelation that has occurred to me these last four games or so is how valuable Richard Seymour is. Sure, we say it all the time. We all know how good he is. We all know what he adds to the defense. But I think the point has really been hammered home what a special, unblockable, dominant player he has this season in particular. Its clear he makes every single guy around him better and that was on display again Monday night.
So that brings us to the Miami game. There has been considerable debate about how the Patriots will approach this game. I think they’ll play it to win and only get the starters out if they have a comfortable second half lead (or trail substantially in the second half). The only thing to gain is the difference between being the three seed and the four seed in the playoffs. There is a significant element of fans and media people out there who feel the Patriots are actually better off with the four seed. The main underpinnings of this theory is that Jacksonville is the easiest team in the playoffs to beat and every precaution possible is required to make sure the Patriots win that opening playoff game at home.
I personally feel the Patriots should beat at home any of the possible home opponents that opening week, Kansas City (which will likely be out anyways), Pittsburgh or Jacksonville. In some ways, I feel Jacksonville is actually more capable than Pittsburgh of hanging around in a close, conservative game and beating the Patriots at the end. And its been proven the Patriots can beat Pittsburgh, having done so on all but one occasion in the Belichick era. Pittsburgh has shown zero ability to stop the Patriots when the Patriots spread the field, the Patriots will be at home and Pittsburgh is an exceedingly one dimensional team that will likely get exposed as the Patriots feast and having been feasting on teams like that, like Tampa Bay, when you take their strength away. Either way, if the Patriots can’t beat either Pittsburgh at home or Jacksonville at home, well they weren’t going anywhere anyways.
So I feel the better option for the Patriots is to get the three seed. The NFL playoffs aren’t played on paper. As Forest Gump once said “*&%^ happens”. And should it come to pass the Patriots end up playing Cincinnati in the final game for the AFC, well, I’d prefer it to be in Foxboro over Cincinnati. This would require really only one upset. The Patriots should take care of Pittsburgh if they’re the three seed and Cincinnati would beat Jacksonville at home, you’d have to think. The Patriots are going to have a hell of a tough game, if they get there, the second round whether its against Indianapolis or Denver, but in this scenario its Denver. If the Patriots are going to do anything these playoffs (and I am still not convinced they will get by the second round), they’ll have to take out one of those tough teams on the road. In the three seed scenario, that’s Denver.
So that leaves Cincinnati playing Indy. Is it that improbable the Bengals could pull the upset? One single game? One single upset? I don’t think so. It was a one score game last time these two teams matched up earlier this year and I think the Colts have been somewhat exposed since then. They aren’t invincible. The Bengals will certainly put up points and are very balanced with two 1,000 yards receivers and a 1,400 yard running back. Throw in the typical Peyton Manning choke fest in the playoffs possibility and, yeah, I give the Bengals a puncher’s chance in that game. Obviously the Colts would be favored, but its not beyond the realm the Bengals could pull the stunner. If that plays out, the Patriots need the three seed to have the Bengals at home the next week. Given the tough match the Bengals gave a better Patriots team last season, and they’re better themselves, the home field could make all the difference. I’ll take the three seed.
For this Sunday, I expect the Patriots to play it pretty straight up. Without the dominating defense from the Dolphins of past years, the Patriots should be able to move the ball. They should score somewhere between 20 and 27 points you’d think at home against a decent, but no longer great defense. Meanwhile, the Patriots on defense will be put to the test with a revitalized Ricky Williams running the ball. Predictions of Williams’ demise seem to have been greatly exaggerrated. All around the media this offseason, his return was largely dismissed as a farce to simply get money and pay his bills by the so-called experts. Little chance of him returning as a productive back was seen. I recall in particular local media personality, Bill Burt, who regularly appears on WEEI’s “Big Show” predicting he would be cut by the Dolphins, end up out of the NFL, had lost too much weight to be effective and was merely showing up at camp to avoid forfeiting his signing bonus. Listening soothsayer’s such as this, one could lose a fortune in the stock market in a hurry.
Williams ran for 172 yards last week, finally back in his old starting role. He appeared every bit the dangerous runner he was in his prime, carrying the offense on his back and running hard. If anything, he appeared quicker than his old self, probably the result of the lost weight, and was making some tremendous cuts. He’ll be the stearnest test for the Patriots defense to stop since they faced Larry Johnson in Kansas City and how well they do it should say a lot about how real this defensive turnaround has been for the Patriots.
In the end, the Patriots should do a decent job against Williams. With Seymour in the lineup, their defensive turnaround I believe is more real than mirage. They may give up some plays, but they can probably force some turnovers too. Particularly from Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte if they pressure him as they have other quarterbacks in recent weeks. In the end, it’ll be enough in a game that ends up harder fought and played more straight up than many expect to see before hand. The Patriots win 24-16.