September 28, 2016

Patriots Roundtable

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Some housekeeping before we give the Roundtable gang the floor:

Some technical difficulties prevented us from publishing Bill Barnwell’s Outside Foxborough column this week. Apologies to Bill, who turned in a typically illuminating effort on pro football betting lines, such as the rather considerable one favoring the Patriots this Sunday. Good news, though: the always helpful gang at Football Outsiders pitched in and published it yesterday.

We mentioned it yesterday, but check out the Buffet Table that the PD Kitchen Staff has prepared for tomorrow’s game.

Lastly, Eric Wilbur of boston.com found it first, but in case you missed it, we bring you the official bottoming out of Spygate.

Oy. I give up.

Okay, panel, what’s on your mind? 

Along with trying to become the first NFL team to go undefeated since the 1972 Dolphins, the Patriots are also approaching several other league records, both collectively and individually, as the regular season winds down towards the playoffs. Do these records matter?

Greg Doyle: They will only matter if they win it all. Then it will be a great reflection on what an amazing season they had. I think it will be something both players and fans appreciate, but only if coupled with ultimate success in terms of a championship.

Scott Benson: I know full well that if it wasn’t for Tom Brady, we’d still be waiting for one world championship, never mind three, or a possible four. But I don’t care whether he throws 48 or 50 touchdown passes. I don’t care if Randy Moss catches more touchdown passes than Jerry Rice. While the thought of the Pats losing a game at this late juncture is abhorrent, I don’t care about an undefeated season. You can win a Super Bowl without any of those things. That’s the only legacy that’s worth a damn, and without a championship, I imagine all of that stuff would feel pretty hollow, especially to the players themselves. Ultimately, winning Super Bowl 42 is the only thing that matters at all.

Travis Graham: I agree that the stats records aren’t that important in the big picture, but I have to admit that I really want to keep that goose egg intact. Twenty years from now, any offensive records from today’s game will probably be shattered, but an undefeated season in the middle of the Pats dynasty would have to be considered the pinnacle of NFL greatness.

Dan Snapp: The individual records, those are just gravy. The perfect season, so long as it’s not in conflict with the goal of winning the Super Bowl, I say go for it. It gets dicey after the Pats lock up homefield advantage throughout, because then there may be some desire to give key players time to heal and rest. Scott, I think the “undefeated” legacy is worth something to these players. They’d like to be able to say, long after their playing days are done, “I played on the best team ever,” and there’d be no dispute. I think Belichick (he of the Vinny 20th year with a touchdown pass and the Flutie drop kick) has an appreciation for that legacy as well. The only issue is if going after one sacrifices the other, and I trust Belichick to have those priorities straight.

Scott: There will always be dispute, even at 19-0, which I think says something about the value of this stuff in the first place. It’s all subjective. Like figure skating.

Kevin Thomas: Sure its subjective. And you know going in that the Eastern Bloc judges (Ron Borges, Don Shula, et al.) are in the bag. But it is a significant accomplishment that would greatly inform the debate among rational thinking people. I have no doubt the entire Patriots organization wants this. Is the quest for the 16-0 regular season in conflict with winning the Super Bowl? I don’t think so. I think it has helped their cause that Indy is still nipping at their heels this late in the season. There’s only going to be at most two meaningless games to close out the season, one against winless Miami and the other against a Giants team that will probably be resting for a Wild Card game the following week. On the other hand, we’ve now had two regulars on defense go on IR in successive weeks (Colvin and Mike Wright). You can chaulk up those two losses to regular NFL attrition, but if for example they lose Harrison or Wilfork (or God forbid, the QB) in the second half of the Dolphins or Giants games, you bet there will be some second-guessing. The scedule helps, though, where they’ve got 14 or 15 days from the final regular season game to the first playoff game, a 7 or 8 day layoff before the AFCCG (and presumably no traveling), and then 14 days to the Superbowl. What a difference from the past two years, huh? I think that makes it an easier decision to go full throttle over these final 3 weeks.

Dan: At the very least, they’d go to the top of the heap of the “America’s Game” voting. 17-0 has carried that Dolphins team past a lot of probably more deserving teams in the “greatest ever” debate. How much weight would 19-0, the new scoring record, and touchdown records for both QB and receiver carry?

With their win over Pittsburgh last Sunday, the AFC East champion Patriots clinched a first round bye. Another win this week will ensure them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. What AFC contenders (including the Colts, who have also clinched a spot) pose the biggest threat to the Patriots in the playoffs?

Dan: I’m still shocked at how that Steelers team laid down after not converting the fourth-and-goal at the one. There was still the entire fourth quarter to be played, and they were down 18. I thought they were made of tougher stuff than that.

Kevin: The Colts, the Colts, 1000X the Colts. Do you realize that Indy is #2 in defense in terms of yards surrendered, and just a hair behind the Bucs for #2 in points allowed? And offensively, despite their injury problems, they are right there with the league’s best non-Patriots teams (Football Outsiders has them essentially tied with Dallas for #2 in their DVOA offensive rankings). This may be the best all-around team they’ve had in the Dungy-Manning era. The Pats obviously have a large statistical edge in terms of offensive production (one that should be more than enough to offset their deficiency on the defensive side of the ball), but as we’ve seen in recent years, the Colts tend to bring their “A” game on defense when playing New England. If the game is at Gillette, that should be an advantage for the Pats, but again, it’s been almost 3 years since that mattered. If you look at recent years where they’ve played Indy twice (’03, ’04, ’06), I guess you could make a case that the Pats tend to play them tougher the second time around. But still, just thinking about what AJ Feeley, Willis McGahee and others have been able to do against the Patriots in recent weeks, and then imagining what their Colts counterparts might do in the same position should give any fan a quesy feeling.

Greg: I am skeptical they can win in Foxboro in the playoffs and its even possible they could get knocked off before getting that far. But I have to say, they are the only team I can even envision a scenario of beating the Patriots.

That brings us to this week’s game, and the highly anticipated rematch between the Patriots and their Spygate nemeisis, the New York Jets. Naturally, the focus is all off the field. Are observers overlooking any on-field threats posed by the Jets?

Dan: John Tomase, reporting on the Jets squad, said they already have that “mailed-in” look about them. Kerry Rhodes was quoted as saying hopefully, they don’t get beat too bad. This could be the first game ever at Foxboro where its the opponents hoping the natural elements play a role.

Kevin: I don’t buy it. These guys on the Jets (and indeed every team the Pats play from here on out) are one game away from immortality if they can pull this off and knock off the Patriots. Their disastrous season would essentially become a mere footnote to one of the greatest, most memorable upsets in NFL history. If they can’t get up for this game, frankly I don’t know what they’re doing in life. Here are the things that concern me (at least a little bit) about Sunday’s game:

-it’s a division game, between two teams who know each other extremely well, and not to be too cliche, but anything can happen. The Pats have not turned in their annual dog**** performance against an AFC East opponent yet, and since I don’t see it happenning against Miami, if it’s going to happen it happens this weekend. As we all know, the Patriots have never swept the division before, so if they are going to complete the 16-0 regular season, they will need to clear that hurdle first.

-the adverse weather conditions probably will be something of an equalizer. If you remember, it was the bad weather and muddy track that was perhaps the biggest factor in the Jets upsetting the Patriots last year. Obviously, a lot has changed since then, including the Patriots ripping up the field at Gillette and replacing it with field turf in the immediate aftermath of the Jets loss. (Question: if the Jets upset the Patriots at home again, will the Sarandis Memorial Retractable Roof be built in time for the Divsional Round playoff game?). The teams themselves are vastly different. Still, if the weather conditions take away the Patriots’ deep threat, they become much easier to defend, and we could see a repeat of what happenned last November.

-the possible letdown from the Pittsburgh game. Frankly, I don’t buy that the Patriots players have any special motivation when it comes to the Jets. Sure, there is genuine animosity between the front offices and coaching staffs, but I don’t think it extends to the players much at all. The players have no real beef with Mangini. They know him and remember him as one of Belichick’s underlings. They probably have a better relationship with him, and maybe even like him better, than their own head coach. As far as I’m concerned, the whole “revenge” factor for spygate is a media/fan creation that won’t really impact the players. For the players, I think the important thing is that they are coming off one of their biggest wins of the year, against their last significant test heading into the playoffs, and are now facing a 3-win team in bad weather. All the ingredients are there for a flat, uninspired performance.

Greg: I have thought for awhile now this game will be closer than anticipated. For a long time the conventional wisdom has been this game will be the blowout of blowouts. I say bull. Its hard to crush a division opponent just because you want to. Yeah, I know they did it to Buffalo, but its not that easy. And the Jets know very well that has been the conventional wisdom too. They know the Pats will be ready. That really gives them no choice, it they have any pride at all, to come up here and just go for broke. I don’t think the Jets will get ambushed on this one. They know. The Pats will still win, I’ll say 23-3 with the weather. But it’ll be more competitive than anticipated and maybe even close for awhile.

Comments

  1. If the gentleman from Boynton Beach, Florida who sent me the note this morning would like to provide me an active e-mail address, instead of the inactive one he somehow used, I would be more than happy to answer his question.

  2. Scott:

    I’ve got to say, I really don’t understand your reaction to talk of records, both in terms of the Pats’ setting them and in terms of maintaining an undefeated one. The fervor with which you denounced their importance would make sense coming out of the mouths of a player or coach, but seems a bit much coming from a fan.

    I mean, sure, all of use would take a 15-1 reg season w/ a SB win and no records set over a 16-0 regular season, a bunch of records, and a playoff loss. That would be true any day of the week, and twice on Sundays (and twice on the Saturday we play the Giants, too, and any Saturday playoff games.) But why shouldn’t we admit that we want to watch this Patriots team accomplish everything that it’s capable of?

    The players need to think that nothing matters but the Super Bowl, because any other mindset could be detrimental toward achieving that goal. As fans, however, we have the luxury of not having to keep our eyes on the prize. So why shouldn’t we want our team to run the table, pick up a bunch of records, and essentially cement itself as the best team in NFL history? I’m not so superstitious as to believe that my fan-greed will in any way affect the outcome of the season… are you?

    I guess what I’m saying is that, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe that part of you doesn’t want to see the Pats make history. In fact, you’re a football fan — I think a lot of you wants to see this team not just beat teams, but blow them out, and not just break records, but shatter them, on the way to claiming our 4th Lombardi.

    I just think you’ve had a little too much to drink, kool-aid wise. I think you’ve spent so much time listening to the Pats say the things they need to say to keep themselves focused, that you’ve started to believe the rhetoric. It’s sort of like when fans start talking about how injuries are “no excuse” for a loss. Again, that’s the mindset a player needs to have, but any rational observer knows that injuries play a huge role in the outcomes of games.

    Maybe we should call this type of over-identification with the players’ mindset “Foxborough Syndrome.”

    (If I were Bill Simmons, I’d end with an ill-conceived metaphor in which you’re like a guy at a college party who’s got two hot girls hitting on him — Sure, when you’re at the bar with their ugly friend and she asks you which one you’re interested in, you can’t admit to having visions of a threesome dancing in your pants… but the next day, when you’re hanging with your guy friends, it’s time to fess up, and admit that’s what you were thinking. Good thing I’m not.)

  3. Kevin, Greg:

    Both of you guys refer to the conventional wisdom that division match-ups are less predictable and more prone to be upsets or close games than games outside the division.

    I wonder if you’ve already heard from your colleague Bill Barnwell on this one, as this is just the kind of old NFL saw that FootballOutsiders likes to challenge… which they did, earlier this year. (Click my name for a link.)

    It’s not exactly an exhaustive study, but it is pretty convincing — I think the idea that familiarity makes division games unpredictable is a product of selective memory: we remember all the unusually tough division games, and forget the myriad games w/ predictable outcomes.

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