November 28, 2014

First Impressions – Kansas City Chiefs

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Kansas City Chiefs travel to Foxboro Monday Night for the their first appearance here since 2008 when they ended Tom Brady’s season that year in the opener blowing out his knee on an attempted tackle. That lead to the Matt Cassel season in Foxboro and, ironically, Cassel was then traded after the season to the Chiefs. There will be no homecoming, however, as Cassel is out for the game and possibly the season. There are plenty of Patriots connections to this game such as former Patriots Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli is the Chiefs’ Team President. Romeo Crennel is the Chiefs defensive coordinator, the same position he held with the Patriots during their Super Bowl winning years.

Nobody is giving the Chiefs much a chance. The Patriots definitely could take a huge step towards securing their division with a win here and the Jets and Bill struggling. So, they can’t afford to take this game lightly. Lets take a look at some key Chiefs:

Tyler Palko, #4, Quarterback: Palko is a 28 year old quarterback who’ll be starting his first NFL game this Monday night versus the Patriots. A former Panther from the University of Pittsburgh, Palko beat out Joe Flacco at Pitt and Flacco ended up transferring to Delaware. Palko, who is left-handed, went on to have an excellent college career, and came within 254 yards of tying Dan Marino’s record for yardage at Pitt. After leaving Pitt, Palko has bounced around. He originally spent some years at New Orleans off and on their roster and practice squad. After being waived by Arizona prior to the 2009 season, Palko signed on with the California Redwoods of the UFL, who also waived him out of their camp. So, the Patriots will be facing a guy making his first NFL start Monday who once couldn’t make a UFL team.

Palko is a bit mobile. He was a gutty player at Pitt. But he isn’t real talented and it’ll be a challenge for him Monday. He is perhaps best remembered for saying “I’m so f***ing proud of this team” live on NBC after Pitt beat Notre Dame his senior season. If he can pull off a remarkable cut by the UFL to victory on Monday Night Football in 2 years, he’ll have another reason to be f***ing proud in a few days.

Jonathan Baldwin, #89, Wide Receiver: Baldwin was the Chiefs first round pick this year and he also hails from the University of Pittsburgh. He is a very talented, tall, big receiver who can run and has displayed excellent hands. Injured early in the year, he’s only played in four games so far this season but his playing time is picking up and he’s made some highlight reel type catches already. Baldwin grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania which is a football factory of sorts, producing numerous excellent NFL players such as Ty Law, Tony Dorsett and Darrelle Revis.

Amon Gordon #99, Defensive Tackle: Gordon is a reserve defensive tackle who is seeing his first extensive playing time this year. He was actually with the Patriots for a time in 2010. Gordon, who went to Stanford, has bounced around a bit similarly to Palko. Since 2004, there are three full seasons he wasn’t in the NFL at all. He had never played more than 6 games in any one season since he was drafted and that came in his rookie season of 2004. This year, however, he has played in all 9 of the Chief’s games and averages 15-20 snaps a game. He has played well, finally getting an extended chance at age 30. Its always nice to see a guy who stuck with it for this long, without much success, and finally finds a niche in the league.

Derrick Johnson, #56, Linebacker: Johnson was the 15th pick overall back in 2005 and played decently, though not quite about to his draft status, thru the 2009 season. But when former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel took over the Chiefs defense in 2010, Johnson really seemed to take to it and his played jumped. He had over 120 tackles last season as the Chiefs won their division and he’s playing at a Pro Bowl level this year, taking it up even another notch. Johnson has an ability to make big plays, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and if the Chiefs are going to pull an upset turnovers are probably the key. Johnson could be a game changer if he is able to disrupt the Pats offense and cause some of those big plays he has a knack for.

Chiefs Fans:Having attended a Chiefs-Patriots game in 2005 in Kansas City, I can attest Chiefs fans are some of the nicest opposing fans I have met. They know how to have a good time, they tailgate with the best in the NFL, they’re loud and they love the Chiefs. Lets check a popular Chiefs message board Arrowhead Club, to see what they think of their chances in this game:

busterdiggs2000 thinks the Chiefs will struggle with their backup QB:

It’s likely going to be a long long day for Palko and the Chiefs. But i’m interested to see what Palko does that’s good or bad, he’s probably going to have a bad game, probably will get murdered. BUT, does he know how to read a blitz? Can he lead his wr’s so they can make a play and get yac ? I’m more interested in the small things.

RIChief3 is also feeling very pessimistic:

I say 40 – 14 Patriots. Only 40 as Brady sits out the 4th. This game has disaster written all over it. No handshakes after the game.

That seems to be a habit with Todd Haley, doesn’t it? I’m sure the Boston media would blame Bill Belichick’s “arrogance” though.

FOBLCrow similarly doesn’t see much hope for his Chiefs:

Final Score: New England wins 33-3

Chiefs D will give up over 475 yards
Chiefs O will gain less than 200 yards

Chiefs will have another season ending injury

Haley shaves at halftime

Prediction: I tend to agree with the Chiefs fans here, though I don’t think it’ll be a complete blowout. Romeo Crennel will find a way to hold the Patriots offense down at least a little. And the lack of film on and mobility of Tyler Palko could give the Patriots at least some problems. I’ll say it’s competitive through three quarters and the Patriots pull away in the fourth for a 30-13 Patriots win.

First Impressions – The New York Giants

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The New York Giants.

The very thought of them on the same field as the Patriots brings me back to the 2007-2008 season. It was so close for the Patriots. So close to 19-0 and probably being considered the greatest team of all-time. Even had they won by a mere 14-10, the consensus historically probably would have included that moniker. And yet a dropped interception, a missed sack, a fallen on fumble that wasn’t, a bizarre, circus catch and the whole scenario changes. Now instead of the greatest NFL team ever assembled, the greatest single season ever, those few plays turn the Patriots into worthy of being mocked by idiots who can’t see that was an incredible, hell of a team. You absolutely have to hand it to the Giants. They played, on that one day, one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen a team come up with. But the fact is, they lose 9 of 10 matchups to that year’s Patriots squad. Not on that day. They didn’t when it counted. That was the 1 in 10 and they did it when needed. No doubt about it, they deserved it.

But the memories of how close the Patriots came to immortality come back with this matchup. Oh well. On to the present day. Lets take a look at this matchup and key players and stories:

Eli Manning, #10, Quarterback: If you look back on the Super Bowl versus the Patriots, Manning came very close on several occasions to going down in NFL lore as a goat in the game. Instead, he ended up as MVP. It took an amazing sequence of events for that to happen. An Asante Samuel dropped interception. Missed sacks by Adalius Thomas, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green. Rodney Harrison unable to knock a ball down and, instead, David Tyree making the most improbable catch in Super Bowl history on top of his helmet. Another missed interception by Brandon Meriweather. And more. Finally there was the TD pass to Plaxico Burress and Manning went from zero to hero just like that. From loser to victor. And the Patriots perfect season ruined.

Moving forward to present times, that game was supposed to propel Manning into the elite among quarterbacks. But despite his claims to the contrary, it hasn’t happened. He has been up and down since the Super Bowl and the Giants have, like the Patriots, not won a playoff game in the years since that game. But this year, Manning is having probably statistically his best season. His completion percentage, yard per attempt and TD/INT ratio are all at their highest career levels. Given the Patriots struggles in the secondary this year, that can’t be good new for the locals.

Victor Cruz, #80, Wide Receiver: Cruz attended the University of Massachusetts, so this is something of a homecoming for him. He ranks 4th all-time on the school’s all-time receiving lists and made all Colonial Athletic Association Honors both his Junior and Senior years. Despite that, Cruz went undrafted when he came out last year. He had a huge preseason in 2010, leading the NFL in preaseason yardage. That lead to him surprisingly making the Giants final roster out of camp, but a early hamstring injury put him out for the year. This season, with injuries striking the Giants’ receiving crew, Cruz is getting his opportunity and producing. Thru 7 games, Cruz has 28 catches for 497 yards and has become a big weapon for the Giants. A big receiver at 6’0″ 204, Cruz figures to be difficult for Patriots corners to handle Sunday.

Justin Tuck, #91, Defensive End: I gotta admit, I never saw it coming. I never thought that Tuck and the Giants could disrupt the Patriots record-setting offense that season. I knew Tuck was a pretty good pass rusher and the Giants had others. But never did I think they could totally throw off the rhythm and timing of that prolific offense. I never thought they could win the game. There was actually some pre-game chatter Tuck was doing special things and I remember dismissing it. Wouldn’t happen this game, I thought. I was wrong. Tuck had two sacks and forced a fumble versus Tom Brady. The Giants d-lined pressured and pounded him all game. And in the end, that alone was probably the single biggest factor in pulling off the monumental upset of the undefeated Patriots. It wasn’t long after that Tuck signed a large contract extension with the Giants and he has been very good, if not great, since. This year, he’s been very limited by groin and neck injuries. He’s only played in 3 games. But he is practicing this week and it looks like he’ll play versus the Patriots. If he’s anywhere near healthy, it would be wise for the Patriots to pay a lot more attention to him this time around.

Greg Jones, #53, Linebacker: Jones is a rookie linebacker who inherited a starting role in the middle of the Giants defense almost by attrition. Injury after injury decimated the Giants crew early this season and now its Jones’ job. A 6th round choice out of Michigan State, Jones has played competently. Still, the lack of solid play at linebacker is a big reason the Giants have struggled versus the run. They’re 28th in the NFL defending the run and give up a whopping 4.7 per carry. This would seem to be an area the Patriots would want to exploit.

Injuries: It seems very likely the Giants will be without starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw as he has a cracked bone in his foot. In addition, Hakeem Nicks hasn’t practiced yet this week due to a hamstring injury. Other significant injuries include center David Bass, defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul with a neck injury. All could miss the game. It does appear Tuck is progressing, however, as he is practicing without limitation. For the Patriots, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Shaun Ellis, Kevin Faulk, Sebastian Vollmer and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are among the more significant Patriots nursing injuries. This time of year, its always a matter of attrition as every team is going to be limited or without some guys. Its usually the deepest teams that come thru it the best.

Pre-Game Chatter: There have been many questions put to both teams about the Super Bowl rematch from four years ago. For the most part, both teams have preferred to focus on this year’s game and teams. That isn’t to say there hasn’t been a little bit of trash talk. Eli Manning spent the week telling reporters he feels the Giants can operate very efficiently on offense versus the Patriots defense. He also spent time proclaiming himself an elite Quarterback in Tom Brady’s class. Brandon Jacobs, a Giants running back, told the media he was on the verge of scoring a lot of touchdowns. Victor Cruz felt after watching the Patriots defense on tape he saw a lot of holes and was excited about playing their defense.

On the Patriots side, they had a week with the distraction of Wide Receiver Julian Edelman being arrested. They’ve largely strayed away from talking about that. And is their way, they’ve largely strayed away from talking about, well, anything. Mostly the focus has been on themselves and how they’re coming off a very bad game.

Giants Fans:

Giants fans feel pretty good, but are cautious, about this game. Here is a sampling of thoughts from their official website forum:

barran21 sees the Giants with their own defensive problems:

People keep talking about there defense being horrible, but with our run defense being garbage, I think it will open the passing game with a lot of play action from Brady, it might be Eli Manning sitting on the sidelines watching Brady eat the clock away Sunday…

BK07071 feels the Giants will be just fine without Ahmad Bradshaw and will catch the Patriots off-guard:

After hearing the news about Bradshaw being out, I bet the Patriot”s fans are jumping for joy thinking that it’s a big blow to our game. Little do they know what’s waiting for them in the wings with Jacobs, Ware, and Scott. They won’t know know what hit them!!!

GIANTSACK is feeling confident Sunday is a money making opportunity given the Patriots are favored by 9

Im putting some dough on giants.. Why not.. Going to break the bank on this

Prediction: Well, yours truly got the first one wrong last week. At least it was called to be a close game and the “Patriots own the Steelers” hype wasn’t bought into. This week, the Patriots will rebound. Both teams are fairly injured but it’ll be the Patriots run game that surprises and takes pressure off the defense. They’ll control play throughout and win 30-16.

First Impressions – The Pittsburgh Steelers

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Steelers have shown an ability to persevere this year and its somewhat surprising. Called old by many experts, ridiculed and dismissed after their 34-7 opening day loss to the Ravens and riddled with injuries, somehow they find themselves at 5-2. And now they play the 5-1 Patriots at home with a chance to take over the number one spot in the AFC, at least in a tie. It should be an excellent game.

Wide Receiver Mike Wallace, #17: Wallace is a threat for 60 minutes every week (bad pun intended). Seriously, Wallace has become one of the top deep threats in the NFL and with the Patriots struggles in pass defense this season, that has to be a top concern heading into this game. The Patriots pass rush looked better last week and that could be a key to not allowing Wallace to get deep on them. Safety James Ihedebo also has offered some stability to the middle of the defense which was a definite problem early on. In any event, the Patriots like to try to take away things offenses do best and in the Steelers case that is throw to Wallace. Easier said than done.

Steeler’s Offensive Line: One of the main reasons for the Steelers struggles in recent years, when they’ve struggled, is continued injuries and poor play among their offensive line. This year is no different. In the opener, they lost Tackle Willie Colon for the season who was their second best lineman after Center Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey is still there, but the rest of the line has been like a revolving door. Guard Doug Legursky is likely out for the game, while the other Guard Chris Kemoratu has been in and out of the lineup. He will likely play this week, but is still bothered by arthritic knees. Its gotten so bad for the Steelers they re-signed Tackle Max Starks, who they unceremoniously had cut in camp, and he has proceeded to start all three games since returning. At the other tackle spot the Steelers are starting rookie second round pick Marcus Gilbert, who has been inconsistent. With all the lineup changes, aging on the downside players and injuries, if ever there was an opportunity for the Patriots to become the attacking, more aggressive defense this should be it.

Nosetackle Steve McLendon, #90: With Steelers regular and long-time nose tackles Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke out last week, McLendon made his first NFL start. This observer happened to have the chance to view much of that game and McLendon performed quite well. Just 25 years old out of Troy State and having played just 4 games in the NFL before this season, exploiting McLendon seemed to be an area the Cardinals could exploit. But it never really happened and if anything McLendon was disruptive in the run game and a presence in the middle of the Steelers defense. Hampton could return this week, but probably only in a limited role. Hoke is likely still out. So, the Patriots may have better luck against McLendon. It was only one game, but the early results seem to suggest the Steelers found another good lineman thru their player development system.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, #56: Woodley may be the best player on either side of the ball for the Steelers. James Harrison (who is almost certainly out this week) has gotten a lot of the accolades in the past, but his play has slipped and Woodley has surpassed him. Originally a second round pick out of Michigan, Woodley racked up 35 sacks the last 3 seasons and has 7 this year 7 games in. A true playmaker, the Patriots have done a decent job against him in 3 games. He only has one sack against them and that came in 2008 when Matt Cassel was quarterbacking for an injured Tom Brady. This week, the Patriots will want to have a good game plan to contain Woodley. If there is any area that has slipped on offense from last year for the Patriots its ball security. They’ve turned it over a bit more often than last year, including two games of four turnovers. If they allow Woodley to create havoc, that issue could rear its head again for New England.

Injuries: As mentioned above Hoke, Harrison and Legursky are all likely out for the game. Also not practicing on Wednesday for the Steelers are Wide Receiver Hines Ward and Linebacker Jason Worilds. Ward would be a big loss as, while not the player he used to be, he is still an effective third down and red zone weapon for the Steelers, as well as being a team leader. One suspects he’d play, however, given his durability and toughness over the years. Worilds is a role player for the Steelers, but a loss given that he is a backup to Harrison and a top special teams player. The Patriots seem to have gotten relatively healthy over the bye. Corner Ras-I Dowling and Tackle Sebastian Vollmer returned to practice on Wednesday. Only Linebacker Dane Fletcher was a surprise absentee for the Patriots. Also, PUPers such as Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace on the Defensive Line and Running Back Kevin Faulk could make their season debuts this week and have begun practicing. QB Tom Brady recently called Faulk the most clutch player he has ever played with.

Steelers Fans: Despite being 5-2, a review of the Steelers message board Stillers.com has Steelers fans talking very unconfidently:

Pommah says:

“The Pats will send somebody out to tie up Ike, and then dink and dunk in the 5-10 yard range and make our linebackers look like a bunch of sniveling idiots, not allowing Troy to get into the action. When we try to adjust, look for some pinpoint 20-yard outs by Brady and some dumpoffs to the running back and/or sweeps. We are toast.”

Over on steelernation.com Southern Steeler is feeling the same way:

“I’ll believe that we can beat them when I see it. Until then………

Pats-34
Steelers-20″

Well Southern, that has been the trend.

HeinzMustard says the opposite however:

“The Steelers are better than what we think and the Patriots are worse…..

Patriots 27
Steelers 45″

Mustard or Ketchup on your crack Heinz?

Prediction:

The Patriots have basically owned the Steelers during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady years. They seem to have figured out how to spread out the Steelers normally tough defense and beat it senseless. And its true, the Steelers have no beat a good team this year and lost to the only two winning teams they’ve seen. Yet, somehow, I think this will be a close game. Call it the Steelers are due versus the Patriots feeling. Especially at home. You can’t just spread a team out and expect its always gonna work, no exceptions (though it seems to so far). I think the Steelers should be able to score some points on the Patriots and if the Patriots turn it over as they have at times this year, they’ll lose. I’ll call for a close Pats win on a last second field goal 23-20.

First Impressions – Dallas Cowboys

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

Dallas visits Foxboro Sunday at 4:15 PM for its once-every-eight-years appearance there sporting a 2-2 record and ready to take on the 4-1 Patriots. Both teams have excellent offenses. Mistakes are likely to be the key to this game. Lets take a look at some important angles heading into the game and find out which team is likely to make more mistakes and lead to the other prevailing.

Tony Romo, #9, Quarterback: Its been said this season that the Cowboys could be 0-4 without Romo, but they also could be 4-0 but for him. And, really, its true. There is no better statement on the inconsistency that is Tony Romo than that. Playing currently with broken ribs, Romo has gacked away a couple games this year, first the opener versus the Jets and in the Cowboys last game being largely responsible for blowing a 27-3 lead versus the Lions. He reminds a bit of Brett Favre, but not as consistent. At least Favre, the poster child of reckless, undisciplined, inconsistent, gunslinger football, managed to play at a MVP level for a few years under Head Coach Mike Holmgren and win a Super Bowl. Romo never has and never will reach that type of success. Will the Patriots see the good Romo or bad Romo Sunday? Its anyone’s guess, but if I had to venture one, I’d say they’d see some of both. He can vary from quarter to quarter, series to series. And in the end, that probably dooms Dallas’ chances.

Dez Bryant, #88, Wide Receiver: Bryant is an explosive player who the Patriots will have to contain on Sunday. He can hurt you catching, running or returning the football. He, too, has been a bit inconsistent early in his career, but he is a true weapon and given the Patriots struggles in passing defense this season, a huge challenge on Sunday. He has been a bit injury riddled his first two years in the league. He has missed time this year, as has his wide receiver running mate Miles Austin. The two look on pace to be back together this week, however, after participating fully in practice on Wednesday. Interestingly, it was a trade with the Patriots that allowed Dallas to take Bryant as they traded up to get the Patriots 24th pick in the 2010 draft. The Patriots received picks in return that resulted in their drafting of Devin McCourty and Taylor Price.

Jason Witten, #82, Tight End: Witten is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL and a 7-time Pro Bowler. While the Patriots held the Jets tight end Dustin Keller, also an excellent receiver, to a mere one catch for seven yards last week, Witten is at a higher level than Keller and will be a bigger challenge. Focus on Witten and the Patriots could open up other Dallas weapons. It’ll be a huge challenge for them.

DeMarcus Ware, #94, Outside Linebacker:
The 29-year-old Ware is probably the top pass rusher in all the NFL. When he came out of college from small school Troy State, Ware was a bit raw but incredibly athletic. Over the years, he’s learned more about playing his position and rushing the passer. He has racked up double-digit sacks in each of the last five years and is well on his way again this year with 5 thru 4 games. Ware has played versus the Patriots once, in 2007. That game Ware managed 10 combined tackles and a sack. The Cowboys move Ware around a lot so its hard to project just one lineman on him. But rest assured, stopping him and giving Brady time will be the key to the Patriots being able to outscore Dallas and taking advantage of Dallas’ weak secondary.

Injuries: The Patriots have Mike Wright back on the injury list as not participating in practice, along with Jerod Mayo who is out this week, and Josh Barrett. The good news for them is Tackle Sebastian Vollmer is back participating, as well as Kick Returner Julian Edelman and Running Back Danny Woodhead, all of whom were out last week. As mentioned earlier, the Cowboys had both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant practicing which has to be considered great news for them. Defensive Lineman Jason Hatcher is still out and likely to miss the game, along with guard Derrick Dockery.

Cowboys Message Board: Cowboys fans seem cautiously optimistic for Sunday. Here are some examples from the True Blue Message Board. the turk says physical play is the key to the Cowboys winning:

The Jets Eliminated the Pats from the play offs by knocking the decals off their head-gear each time they touched the ball

“They were not as PHYSICAL yesterday and LOST

The COWBOYS MUST BE PHYSICAL AGAINST THE PATS TO WIN !!!

your thoughts ??”

The turk may be right, but the Cowboys are about the least physical team I can think of. Not a good recipe for them.

Mike88Irvin wants to know if the Cowboys will bump Wes Welker:

Thats the only way to slow this guy down, we just need to knock him off his route a little bit to disrupt their timing. If we dont bump Welker then we might as well not come to play on Sunday.

That never stopped you, Mike.

08blueblood08 says The Patriots present a chance for the Cowboys have to put up or shut up:

I am not saying we will beat the patriots or we wont, but we darn well better play with a purpose. No more of these senseless penalties, underachieving, foolish turnovers, not knowing the plays, and making excuses. This team needs to come out and play to their capabilities.

These things have been The Cowboys trademark for the last several years at least. It won’t change Sunday.

Prediction: We don’t see Dallas matching up with the Patriots very well. They’re not a physical or disciplined team and will be playing on the road. They do have the benefit of coming off a bye week and should be up for the game given the blown lead against Detroit two weeks ago. They have many weapons on offense, albeit in a mistake-prone attack. Defensively they have some playmakers in Sean Lee, Ware and Gerald Sensabaugh. But the Patriots offense will score. The defense will take advantage of enough Dallas mistakes to help out And the Patriots will walk away with a 34-17 victory.

First Impressions – Oakland Raiders

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The 2-1 Patriots, off a loss to Buffalo, travel to Oakland to take on the revitalized, 2-1 Raiders who’ll be playing their third consecutive AFC East opponent. The Raiders are more confident than they’ve been in years after knocking off the Jets last week. The Patriots are very banged up with injuries and reeling a bit with a poor performance that featured very, very sloppy and uncharacteristic play by them in Buffalo. So lets take a look at some of the players and stories surrounding this matchup.

Jason Campbell, #8, Quarterback: Campbell was drafted #25 overall out of Auburn by the Washington Redskins back in 2005. He hasn’t been horrible, but certainly has been a disappointment. At times, he is a decent game manager and has played that role adequately for the Raiders so far this year. He hasn’t made major mistakes, throwing only 1 interception and taking 2 sacks thru 3 games. But still, with a career starting record as a quarterback of 29-38, he has to be considered somewhat of a first round bust. The Raiders remain a bit one-dimensional. There is a way the Patriots can pretty much guarantee a victory in this game. And that is by getting an early lead, which their offense is certainly capable of doing to a lot of teams including the Raiders. If they do that, Campbell simply can not match scores or throw effectively from behind. If the Raiders can run the ball and get some stops on defense, sure Campbell can make a few plays here and there. Get behind and it’ll be a long day for the Raiders Sunday.

Darren McFadden, #20, Running Back: Of course the number one way the Raiders can stay in this game is to get McFadden going early and effectively. If they can establish their power running game, they can avoid falling multiple scores behind and can keep the Patriots fast-paced offense from establishing too much of a rhythm. Drafted at age 20, McFadden struggled his first two years in the league. However, last year, he began to blossom and ran for over 1,100 yards, averaging 5.2 per carry. He also caught passes for over 500 yards. His play has gotten even better this year as he has nearly 400 rushing yards already, including a monster 190 yard game versus the Jets last week. He is averaging 6.4 per carry this year. The Patriots have their hands full, but focusing on stopping McFadden will be their number one priority this week as they try to force Campbell to beat them.

Patriots – Raiders History: The Patriots have had a colorful, and on one occasion tragic, history with the Raiders. All the way back to 1976 a young, improving, Chuck Fairbanks coached Patriots team dominated the 1976 Raiders in Foxboro during the regular season, winning in a rout 48-17. It would be the only regular season blemish for the ‘76 John Madden coach Raiders. In the playoffs, the 11-3 Patriots met the Raiders again, this time in Oakland. The Patriots lead 21-10 late only to see the Raiders come back on the strength of several questionable referee’s calls, including the infamous late hit call on Sugar Bear Hamilton by referee Ben Dreith to keep the winning drive alive  (The Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl.)

In 1978, during an exhibition game, the despicable Jack Tatum paralyzed for life Patriots wide receiver Darrell Stingley.  Tatum never apologized for the hit and never saw or spoke to Stingley afterwards. Instead, he wrote a book called “They Call Me Assassin” and tried to profit off it. In 2010, suffering from chronic diabetes and having lost a leg of his own, Tatum died three years after Stingley had succumbed due to complications from his paraplegia.

And of course every Patriots fan remembers The Tuck Rule Game. Now a decade later, tin-foil hat wearing Raiders fan ramble almost as incoherently as their senile owner, Al Davis, that the NFL is out to get them and the play is proof. What gets lost on forever stuck in adolescence Raiders fans, in between dressing up as Darth Vader, is the play was properly called. You can disagree with the rule, but there was nothing really controversial about the call. Just a lot of confusion initially propagated by the media that a. didn’t know the rule and b. didn’t care to know it, really, because controversy is good for them. But that’s all ancient history anyway. The Patriots were a better team than the Raiders that year and the better team won. The Patriots then, like the Raiders in ‘76, went on to win the Super Bowl. There are some present day connections to the game. Tom Brady is still quarterbacking the Patriots and Bill Belichick is still coaching them. Richard Seymour, then a rookie with a Patriots, is still playing defensive line but now for the Raiders. And finally, Greg Biekert, who “recovered” the incomplete pass, is now coaching linebackers for the Raiders.

Pre-Game Chatter: In an interview with the Contra Costa Time, Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain stated the Patriots were “just a finesse team.” That undoubtedly will be repeated loudly and often behind the walls of Gillette Stadium this week. But the bottom line is, at times the Patriots have been that in recent seasons. Not always. There were certainly times when they were very physical and could play with physical and mental toughness on the level of any NFL team. But there have been other times they haven’t. Definitely not in the way the Patriots did in the Super Bowl winning years. Its not just the offensive or defensive philosophy either. At times its the players. Some of it is youth and inexperience. Not being big game tested plays into it. But perhaps the words of McClain will ring true and the anger will be used productively. The Patriots need to be tougher than the team that lost in the first round of the playoffs to more physical opponents the last two years. Take McClain’s words to heart. Prove him wrong. But then after they do, they need to keep remembering it all season long right into January.

Running Back McFadden has hit on the physical theme recently too. “Coach Hue always tells us we’re building a bully,” McFadden said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against. That’s what we’re trying to do bully them”

Former Patriot Richard Seymour feels the same way “Because we’re pretty physical up front on the offensive and defensive lines. Any time a team wants to come in and play that type of game with us, I like our chances all the time.”

Raiders Fans: Raider fans don’t exactly have a stellar reputation. They even shot a 49er fan during an exhibition game between the two teams this year. Generally, they’re buffoons in their costumes, hyping a team that won two championships in their city over 30 years ago as if they’re one of the great franchises in sports. They’re not. Not even close. A full quarter of NFL franchises have more Super Bowls than the Oakland Raiders two. And that isn’t even bringing up other sports and the many other far more successful franchises than the Raiders. Heck, they got a 2-1 team and haven’t even sold out this game yet. But delusion is Raider fans specialty. Well after costumes, black leather and makeup I suppose. Lets take a look at “Raider Nation” thoughts on the game thru the popular Raider message board Raiderfans.net:

One cthomp5753 sees ties in to 9/11, government conspiracies and global injustice 10 years later when talking about The Tuck Rule Game:

The NFL is a huge multi billion dollar enterprise almost on par with a lot of countries governments. Like our government they know how to manipulate the masses. The stupid Tuck had nothing to do with this, they just knew they had to throw a buzzword out there for the people. The issue was, that ” YOU F/?KING NEED 100% INCONTROVERTIBLE F/?KING EVIDENCE TO OVERTURN THE F/?KING CALL MADE ON THE F/?KING FIELD . You cannot ever tell me they had this evidence. Plain and simple, and I do believe it was a conspiracy to get the PATRIOTS to the SB after 9/11

NossieRaider has actually caught up to the present day and sees an easy Raider victory:

the Pats secondary is HORRIFIC. Just…disgustingly bad.

This isn’t the same Pats’ defense that dominated over the past few years.

I highly suspect McFadden will have a highlight-filled game, and for Campbell to throw the ball very well, too.

Raiders will win and I feel confident in that statement based on what I witnessed today. The Pats are not winning the division.

mranquales says conspiracies are still plaguing the Raiders to this day, victims of flukes and phantoms, but that shouldn’t stop an easy Oakland victory Sunday:

Patriots have no “weapons”. All you have is Tom Brady, an undersized Wes Welker and your offensive line (that’s not healthy). The Raiders have a very good chance at winning this game. We won’t get the turnovers that the Bills did but we can stop the Pats defensively better than most in the league. Our defense is better than people give it credit for, the Bills barely beat us with phantom touchdowns and flukes AND our D was tired. If the Jets couldn’t stop us from running the ball– the Pat’s won’t either, with or without Haynesworth.

Although a quick perusal of Raiders Fans shows confidence is running at remarkably high levels, there is still a few who suggest some potential downside to this matchup, like toobs cruiser:

I doubt our defense will be much help. Gonna have to keep pace point for point and hope for some turnovers.

Prediction: We’re 3-0 so far calling these things in this space and the pressure is on to keep that streak going. So, what will happen? Well, the Raiders are much improved. And like their coach, players and fans say, they can be a very physical team. Darren McFadden is on the verge of becoming a true NFL superstar.

But this is a very bad matchup for them. Their offense is designed to slug it out with teams and run the ball. Campbell is a game manager, but can’t win games if he has to. Their defense, particularly in the secondary isn’t good enough to stop the Patriots from scoring a lot. Forced into a passing game to catch up, the Raiders would be thrown out of their strengths. This is just a very bad opponent for their style and the way they want to try to win and the Patriots should expose them easily.

Patriots 38 Raiders 16

First Impressions – Buffalo Bills

The 2-0 Patriots travel to the 2-0 Bills up in Orchard Park, New York for a division game that features two prolific offenses. This is going to be one of the better Bills teams the Patriots have seen in years. And we homers here at Patriots Daily have a surprising prediction for this usually one-sided matchup. The Bills are good. The Patriots are good. In the end, the Patriots are probably better and should have a better season. But this Sunday, it just may well be the timing is perfect for the Bills pulling off a win against division bully New England for the first time since 2003.

One-Sided Rivalry: Last week the Patriots honored their former Quarterback Drew Bledsoe as he was elected to the team Hall of Fame. Its amazing to think Bledsoe has been retired now from the NFL for 5 seasons. And he is 8 seasons removed from beating the Patriots 31-0 as the starting Bills quarterback in a game that opened the 2003 NFL season. Its really is crazy to consider that the last QB for the Bills to beat the Patriots was last week standing on the field retired in a red blazer and has been out of the league for half a decade. But its true. Since that time, the Patriots have gone 15-0 against their division rivals to the north. Of those 15 wins, eleven have been by double digits or more. Nearly half, seven games, have been by three touchdowns or more. Only twice have the Bills even cracked twenty points in any of the 15 games. The aggregate points for the last 15 matchups favors the Patriots 435 to 163, which means the average game has been 29 to 10.8. That is as dominant a stretch you’ll ever see in the NFL by one team over another, particularly a division rival.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, #14, Quarterback: The Harvard grad has played so well most of last year and early this year (Throwing 7 Touchdowns to only 1 Interception) the Bills are in serious talks with him about a high paying contract extension.. Fitzpatrick is a wicked smahhhhht, as we say here in Boston allegedly, quarterback with a very strong arm and his accuracy has improved. He seems to work well in Head Coach Chan Gailey’s offense. Gailey himself is an excellent offensive mind and that has no doubt helped Fitzpatrick improve greatly. One thing Fitzpatrick can do is scramble a bit and can even throw on the run, so that is something the Patriots will have to look out for. The Patriots have usually contained Fitzpatrick pretty well. He had a big game early last year, but in the rematch in Buffalo, the Bills’ offense was held to 3 points and Fitzpatrick committed some of his worst turnovers of the year. We’ll see if the Pats had figured something out or it was just a bad game Sunday.

Fred Jackson, #22, Running Back: Jackson bounced around for years playing in the United Indoor Football League and NFL Europe before finally establishing himself with the Bills a few years back. He’s become one of the more respected players on the Bills. The Patriots players and coaches in particular have always been complimentary of Jackson, who obviously gives a good, tough, physical effort when he is in the game. This year Jackson merely leads the NFL in rushing thru two weeks, putting up 100 yard games both outings. He as much as anything makes the Bills offense, and Fitzpatrick, better by creating a difficult to defend balance. The Patriots seem more committed to a pressure attack and less about stopping the run when they really want to. That could be the formula the Bills need to try to score with the Patriots and beat them for the first time since 2003.

Injuries: The Patriots are coping with a lot of injuries, but the Bills have some of their own. Wide receiver and kick returner Roscoe Parrish was placed on injured reserve this week and will miss the rest of the year. He was one of the few Bills whose played well at times in recent years versus the Patriots. They’ve also lost for the season other guys that figured in their plans such as wide receiver Marcus Easley and linebacker Reggie Torbor. Another important player Stevie Johnson, their best receiver, is questionable and did not practice on Wednesday with a groin injury. He insisted he’d play, however. Cornerback Terrence McGee and linebacker Kirk Morrison also sat out practice on Wednesday. Both teams could have their depth tested as they’ve been dealing with a run of injuries recently.

Bills Fans: Bills fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years in this series, or in general for that matter. I suppose they’re lucky they even still have a team, though it remains to be seen how long that will be true. Nevertheless, they seem enthusiastic, even confident, about their 2-0 Bills chances. Lets take a look at the popular Bills message board “Two Bills Drive

DrDareustein says:If we sack Brady and they call a weak Roughing the Passer call, then I hope on the next play Merriman/Dareus purposely knock him out of the game and take another 15 yards.

If we’re going to get penalized for hitting him, make it count. Take him out.”

Sage football minds like The Big Cat question how good Tom Brady really is:

I’m with you Clippers. Brady walks around the field like he owns the place, but he’s the classic little guy chirping while the big, scary army stands behind him.

I’ve said it once, I’ve said 1,000 times since, without that line in front of him, he’s a worthless, ineffective garbage quarterback.”

Intriguing insights, TBC. So, should the Bills reconsider that “take him out” thing then?

There are a few Bills fans, however, who seems a bit shell-shocked and lacking in confidence after fifteen straight beatings at the hands of the Patriots:

Clippers of NFL says the way for Buffalo to win is simple:

pay them under the table to throw the game

Prediction: It has to end sometime. It just does. Fifteen games of one team winning against another is like a millennium in the NFL. And this year, the Bills have a good offense, good schemes, good coaches and are playing at home. With the Patriots missing big weapon Aaron Hernandez and banged up in the secondary, this is the weekend the Bills end eight years of frustration. Bills 30 Patriots 27

First Impressions – San Diego Chargers

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Chargers, one of 2010’s most disappointing teams, got their season this year off on the right foot with a 24-17 win versus the Vikings opening weekend. While the win wasn’t particularly impressive, the fact that they held Minnesota to only 36 yards offense in the second half was pretty encouraging for San Diego. Last year, what was thought to be a potential Super Bowl season, melted away for the Bolts beneath a steady stream of poor execution, questionable coaching, injuries and horrendous special teams play. And at the end, they fell short of the playoffs. Now they’ll visit the Patriots this weekend in week 2 action in a matchup that has been quite spirited recently, but usually has the Patriots coming out on top.

The theme for the Chargers so far in 2011 is that this isn’t last year’s team. They’re different they say. And they’ve been willing to let anyone who’ll listen know that things have changed. Its a different squad. To hear them tell it, we’re gonna see a tougher, smarter, more disciplined Chargers team this year. One that fights thru adversity. They claim they have already faced adversity, pointing to five hot, boring days in Dallas when they had to ride buses to practice in sweltering heat. And to a bad start in a preseason game versus San Francisco. And finally, redemption in coming from behind in an exhibition game versus Arizona to win during the preseason. These are things the Chargers point to as adversity they’ve overcome that proves this is a different powder blue team this year than the soft, choking one from years past. “I think it was good we were able to have a few adverse situations (in the preseason)” said linebacker Shaun Phillips. “That’s what I think was most important and what were trying to get out of it. Being faced with adverse situations, make the most of it.”

I hate to be cynical, but long, hot bus rides and overcoming preseason deficits versus Arizona doesn’t sound very much like adversity to me. It sounds like, well, the same old soft Chargers if they think it is. But hey, if it works for them whatever. I guess we’ll find out. Lets take a look at some of the key players for the Chargers in this week’s game.

Phillip Rivers, #17, Quarterback: Rivers has to be considered one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He has a tendency to pout and occasionally has extended stretches of non-production, but he is also capable of getting as hot as anyone and putting up a lot of points in a real hurry. Rivers was once a guy who didn’t seem all that respected by the Patriots. But in the 2007 season AFC Championship Game while the face of the Chargers at the time, LaDanian Tomlinson, sat out most of the game, Rivers played and fought hard with a torn ACL and a grudging respect was forged. This season, he has a wide variety of offensive weapons to work with and with the Patriots defense still a work in progress, another shoot out is a distinct possibility. Rivers isn’t very mobile and, while he’ll make his plays undoubtedly this week, if the Patriots can muster a pass rush to disrupt his rhythm it should cause just enough bad plays to almost guarantee the Patriots prolific offense the room they need to win the game.

Mike Tolbert, #35, Fullback: Tolbert comes off a career game in their opener last week in which he scored all three Chargers touchdowns, one rushing and two receiving. But, late in the game, he also got banged up injuring a knee . Tolbert was originally an undrafted free agent from Coastal Carolina University, hardly a hotbed of football talent. But he’s worked hard and become an effective inside runner, pass catcher and all around leader for the Chargers. The 247 lb. Tolbert can be a load to bring down and dangerous on short yardage. That may be where he is most a factor in this game as the Patriots generally otherwise handle this type of back well. He’s not going to run much out of spread sets with the Patriots in sub-defense, but in short yardage, that is where he excels and where the Patriots will need to focus on stopping Tolbert and stopping the chains from moving.

Antonio Gates, #85, Tight End: Gates is one of the better tight ends in all football and presents a very tough match up problem for the Patriots. He’s strong and physical and can out-position corners and safeties. Yet he’s fast and agile and can generally outrun linebackers. Many teams have struggled with Gates. His issue in recent years is nagging injuries which at times have slowed him significantly. He played hobbled last year with a foot injury versus the Patriots and was noticeably less effective though he still manages a touchdown. He’s been slowed a bit by a variety of injuries this year too, but is healthier than he was last year when he faced the Patriots and among the most needed to be accounted for players on the Chargers offense.

Vaughn Martin, #92, Defensive Tackle: Luis Castillo is the Chargers best defensive lineman and after getting hurt in the opener he’ll be out for this game and for several games thereafter. That means young player Martin will be getting extended playing time. Along with rookie first round pick Corey Liuget, who is also starting, it leaves the Chargers young and inexperienced up front. Martin was raised in Toronto, Canada and is the first underclassman ever drafted from a Canadian university. He hasn’t had much playing time in the NFL, but did show potential in preseason compiling two sacks. Given the youth and lack of depth at the Chargers d-line, you probably will see the Patriots try to run it a bit more this week than in the opener.

Nick Novak, Kicker: Nate Kaeding, the Chargers excellent regular kicker, was injured on the opening kickoff last week, a 103 yard touchdown return by Percy Harvin and he’ll miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. In place of Kaeding, the Chargers signed Nick Novak who was with the Jets in preseason. Novak hasn’t kicked in the NFL since 2008 when he was with Kansas City for 6 games. He’s only made 11 out of his last 20 field goals while in the NFL. He was with the UFL last season for the Florida Tuskers and did nail 15 of 18 there. He was 2-2 with the Jets in preseason, converting a 30 and 35 yarder. An interesting stat is in preseason with the Jets he only had 1 touchback in 7 kickoffs, so Patriots returners should get opportunities to make some plays this week.

Chargers Special Teams: The Chargers had historically bad special teams play last season and hoped in preseason to change things around. Their hopes had to be deflated and the nightmares of last year remembered when their opening kick was returned 103 for a touchdown last week. It couldn’t be the start new special teams coach Rich Bisacci hoped for. The remainder of last week’s game against Minnesota, the special teams issues didn’t show up again which has Charger fans hopeful. But given the horrific season they had last year and the start to the season this year, special teams is an area to watch and an area the Patriots could make significant hay in.

Chargers Fans: Chargers fans seem confident they can beat the Patriots. Despite facing New England in Foxborough for the Pats home opener, a victory seems all but assured for the men in powder blue. Lets take a look at recent postings by Chargers fans on the official Chargers website forum.

Someone name IlladelphiaBolt says “Pats D was worse than the Phins. Brady’s good, Henne blows. Henne had 100 less yards than Brady. I’m not worried.” Sound like Mr. Ill will fit in well intellectually in his move to the City of Brotherly Love.

BlueBloodedFan sees the banged up Chargers d-line as far superior to the Dolphins: “It was like the Phins DL were just happy to be in the presence of greatness, and wouldn’t think about messing up ‘ol Tom’s hair. Liuget, Garay, Barnes, Phillips, and company will not be so enamored. Tom will not have all day in the pocket like he did.” Okay Blue, Phillips is a good player but “Liuget, Garay, Barnes”????…sober up by Sunday would ya?

The Moekid sees no problems for the Bolts “the patriots are one-dimensional. we will smoke them” says he. And if the Patriots could only develop another dimension Moe, they’d get 1,200 yards in a game instead of a mere 600 right?

Fortunately, some Chargers fans do show some solid analysis skills. In this case, its old friend “marion butts” (or his imposter….either way) who says “It will be an entirely different game plan against us. I’m sure new England was trying to force henne to beat them. I don’t think the same strategy will be employed for rivers.” Good call four four.

Prediction: The Chargers have some weapons. They also have an excellent QB who can utilize them and one of the best offensive lines the Patriots will see all year. So they’ll likely put up some points and yards. I don’t see their defense slowing down the Patriots much, though. I’ll call it New England 41 San Diego 20.

First Impressions – Miami Dolphins

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots travel to South Florida on Monday night to face AFC East rivals Miami and to open the 2011 NFL season for both franchises. Miami is not an easy place to play for the Patriots, nor a lot of other NFL teams, and Monday should be no different. Any division team is tough, to have to open on the road against one is as difficult an opening as the Patriots could have received. Figuring in additionally that play can be sloppy on opening weekend and this all could be to Miami’s benefit. The Patriots no doubt have a more talented offense overall, but whether they’re hitting on all cylinders from the opening gun or not remains to be seen.. The sloppiness, which may be even more pronounced given the off-season lockout, may prevent the Patriots offense from showing its full potential early on.

For the Dolphins Tony “Shades” Sparano is still at the helm as head coach, but on the hot seat. Since a good debut season in 2008 in which the Dolphins won the division, they’ve slipped to 7-9 each of the last two years. Sparano probably has to make the playoff this year to save his job. He’ll go into the season with the same defensive coordinator as last year, the respected Mike Nolan, but with a new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll. Beating the Patriots Monday night would be about as good a start to the season as they could dream of and it certainly is not going to be an easy game for the Patriots.

Lets take a look at some of the key factors/players, or just interesting stories, for Miami as we get this season rolling:

Sun Life Stadium: This will be the Patriots 12th time playing here during the Bill Belichick years and its one of the few venues he has a losing record in having gone 5-6 his first 11 years with New England. They have won 3 of 4 down there since a 21-0 drubbing in 2006 and, while it’s nowhere near the house of horrors the old Orange Bowl was to the Patriots franchise, still its been an exceedingly tough place to play. Even 2 of the 3 Super Bowl winning teams under Belichick have fallen in Miami. On opening night and on national TV, the crowd should be very loud and disruptive. An early lead for the Patriots would go a long way towards taking those factors out of the game and a long way to evening up the record down there for Bill Belichick.

Brian Daboll, Offensive Coordinator: Daboll is a former Patriots assistant under Bill Belichick from 2000 thru 2006 when he went to the Jets to coach quarterbacks for good friend Eric Mangini. When Mangini got gassed in New York and moved to Cleveland, Daboll went with him, this time as offensive coordinator, for two 5-11 seasons there until Mangini got the axe there. Daboll was let go as well and now has resurfaced in Miami as their new offensive coordinator. Of the mere ten wins Mangini and Daboll managed to put up in two seasons in Cleveland, one was a memorable 34-14 thrashing of their former mentor in New England, Bill Belichick, last season. It was towards the end of that game that Daboll, less than two months from being fired for the second time in three years, arguably showed up his former team and coach with this over-the-top display. While I suppose one can understand the excitement, given how often he was on the losing end of things after leaving New England, it could also be something the Patriots remember as well as they travel to take on his new team in Miami. Without a full off-season to learn Daboll’s offense, how the Dolphins O fares about what is thought to be a newly aggressive Patriots defense could prove to be a key to the game.

 

Rookie RB Daniel Thomas

Daniel Thomas, #33, Running Back: The Dolphins let both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams walk away after drafting Thomas in the second round of this past spring’s draft. This preseason, Thomas had mixed reviews, rushing 31 times for 109 yards and a TD. He’s a big kid at 230 lbs with average speed, but above-average power. Thomas, before he went to Kansas State, was a quarterback at junior college so the Patriots should be aware of the halfback pass. Thomas can throw a little. He’ll split time with Reggie Bush at tailback.

Chad Henne, #7, Quarterback: Henne was predicted by some to be on the verge of coming into his own as an elite QB last season. It didn’t happen. Henne threw 15 Touchdowns versus 19 Interceptions last season and had a mediocre QB rating. Early in camp this season, with rumors swirling the Dolphins were looking to acquire Kyle Orton from Denver to be their QB, the fans caused quite a stir by chanting “We want Orton” at practice and within earshot of Henne. This was something Dolphins Coach Tony Sparano didn’t take too kindly of and lead him to publicly criticize the Miami fans. Now rumors are swirling the Dolphins may be interested in signing recently cut Jacksonville QB David Garrard, something that could further undermine Henne’s fragile confidence. Its imperative for him to get off to a good start on Monday if he hopes to keep his job.

Cameron Wake, #91, Defensive End: Wake, a former Canadian Football League defensive player of the year, has become a terror in the NFL since coming over in 2009. Last season Wake racked up 14 sacks and gave all teams, including the Patriots, fits. Wake is the type of speed rusher that traditionally gives Patriots tackle Matt Light trouble. With Light advancing in years and coming off an off-season that included surgery and limited work in camp, accounting for this player has to be a key to a successful game plan for the Patriots Monday.

Vontae Davis, #21, Cornerback: Davis has become one of the better young corners in the league the last few seasons and certainly ranks with Darrelle Revis of the Jets and Devin McCourty of the Patriots as one of the three best corners in the AFC East. The younger brother of the 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Vontae could be on the verge of getting all-pro type recognition now headed into his third season. Davis has picked off five passes his first two years despite many teams choosing to largely stay away from him. On Monday, it would be no surprise to see him matched up often against the Patriots new acquisition at wide receiver, Ochocinco. Success by Ochocinco against this corner could indicate he’s not as far behind in his progress as has largely been assumed.

Jimmy Wilson, #25, Cornerback: With Davis, Sean Smith and Benny Sapp ahead of him, the rookie Wilson is likely to see most of his action on special teams. Afterall, he was just a 7th round choice out of Montana this past draft and showed just enough in camp to barely make the team. However, we mention him due to his interesting back story. You see, Wilson spent 2007-2009 in jail awaiting trial for shooting and murdering his aunt’s boyfriend. Two trials, the first of which ended in a hung jury, were held. Finally, in 2009 Wilson was acquitted when the jury in the second trial found he had acted in self-defense. Two years later, the Dolphins drafted him. Amazing. No word yet if Roger Goodell will suspend him for the hung jury. Yeah, yeah innocent until proven guilty schmilty, right Sheriff?

Prediction: We’ll add a prediction segment to the column this year and give you readers a chance to smile over our lack of ability to pick these things. That being said, we’ll forecast that the Patriots offense is the difference and the defense chips in with a few turnovers as New England wins a tough, close game 27-20.

First (Third?) Impressions – New York Jets

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

So here the Patriots go again with the Jets.

One would think after the absolutely thoroughly embarrassing mauling they took just a month ago on December 6th, the Jets would come in quiet and unassuming in trying to pull off a victory this Sunday in Foxboro, but that isn’t the case. Apparently not even 45-3 humbles this team. Rex Ryan has been in full throat this week, dissing everyone from Tom Brady to essentially the entire Patriots team by claiming that it was only Bill Belichick who was the difference last time. Meanwhile, he gives himself credit alone for beating Peyton Manning last week. The man is bizarre even beyond his fetishes. The Jets players seem to play happily along, loudly telling the press they’re going to get revenge as Dustin Keller did. Or that the Patriots ran it up last time but the Jets are still the better team as wide receiver Braylon Edwards publicly claimed. Or LaDanian Tomlinson, who always has been self-proclaimed “classy”, complaining about trash talk. These people have no shame.

The bottom line is the Patriots are a better team. Upsets can happen. If the Patriots play an off game, turn it over and the Jets execute, sure there is probably some percentage chance of winning. But its unlikely. The Patriots have weapons the Jets can’t handle. The Jets defense hasn’t really played up to last year’s unit and has been at least semi-exposed this season. The Jets offense can run a bit. They can occasionally hit a pass. But they’re inconsistent and far from efficient. Its just a tremendous stretch to envision them putting up more points than the Patriots. Anything is possible, but its just not likely.

So, I suspect the Jets will be comfortably vanquished this Sunday. Maybe not 45-3 thrashed, but comfortably. The Patriots will move on to AFC Championship game, perhaps the Super Bowl and maybe, just maybe, a championship.

The Jets will move on to commencing an off-season filled with more talk. Because that’s what that tiring team is good at.

Mark Sanchez (#6), Quarterback: Sanchez became the Jets all-time leading playoff winner at quarterback this past week with his third playoff win. That tells you something about the general success of the Jets franchise over the years. There are a number of questions surrounding Sanchez heading into this game. First, since starting out the season with an 8-0 TD/INT ratio, he has fallen back to a 9-14 ratio if one counts the playoff game over the last 11 games he has played. And while the Jets managed to win that playoff game last Saturday versus the Colts, Sanchez wasn’t exactly impressive with a 62.4 QB rating. That despite a strong running game. After his miserable performance in fairly cold weather versus the Patriots in a 45-3 loss on December 6th, another question arose about the California-bred Sanchez’ ability to deal with cold weather. He followed it up the next week with a 45.3 rating in a loss to Miami on a blustery day. There was somewhat a rebound in cold weather when he put up an 81.1 rating in a win versus Pittsburgh and an 84.2 in a loss to Chicago. But still, neither of those games was he better than average when one actually looked at his play closely. So, Sanchez has a difficult task. He’ll be in a hostile environment in elements he generally doesn’t handle well against an opponent that knows his weaknesses well. If he can overcome that and put up a great game, that would be very impressive. I wouldn’t hold your breath though.

LaDanian Tomlinson (#21), Running Back: Tomlinson had a decent game against the Colts Saturday with 82 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Colts defense was banged up, but still it was a surprise performance for the man known as “L.T.” given how badly he struggled down the stretch for the Jets. It was his first game of better than 55 yards since week 5. What’s more, L.T. had averaged a miserable 3.3 per carry since week 5. The 31 year old seemed worn down the end of the season. He received a week off the last week of the season in a meaningless game versus Buffalo and that no doubt helped re-charge his batteries. But now after a 16 carry game, a burden he was only given twice since the start of November, he undoubtedly will feel some bumps and bruises which slow him down again. The Colts game also marked a decent playoff performance for the notoriously un-clutch Tomlinson. While one could point to a game here or there that was good in the post-season….lets say by disingenuously going back five seasons to find one…the fact is until last week Tomlinson had put up historically bad playoff performances in his last five games there. The totals are ugly. Over those last five playoff games Tomlinson rushed 47 times for 124 yards or 2.6 per carry. Amazingly, Tomlinson couldn’t even quite crack 25 yards per game in the biggest games he’s played in. That is incredibly bad. To ignore that would suggest either one doesn’t know what they’re talking about or simply has an agenda. L.T. came into the last Patriots game screaming “We’re physical, they finesse!!!“. There’s plenty of evidence that will be how he plays Sunday as the games get bigger.

Dustin Keller (#81), Tight End: Keller is a good player who has had some nice games against the Patriots in the past. But he’s been a bit inconsistent this season. He’s had his big games, like the 115 yard effort he had in the first game against the Patriots. But he’s also been shut down and had less than 30 yards receiving in 7 of the 15 games he played this season. Some of that may be a function of the poor play of Sanchez. And its probably no coincidence those games are games Sanchez has some of his worst QB ratings putting up 3 of his 4 worst of the seasons in those games. But there is also a sense Keller just hasn’t been as good as past seasons too. The Patriots will likely focus on taking Keller away as they did the last match up when he had only 3 catches for 27 yards. Doing this forces Sanchez to throw deeper, outside routes that he struggles more with and is indecisive performing. That can lead to overthrows or even worse for the Jets turnovers and sacks. So Keller, in many ways, is the key to Sanchez having good games and getting in rhythm. And if the Patriots do as good a job as last time its likely the Jets and Sanchez will struggle.

Sione Pioha (#91), Nose Tackle: For the second straight year, Pioha has filled in admirably for the Jets for injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins. And he’s done it so well, Head Coach Rex Ryan has argued Pioha is deserving of a Pro Bowl selection. I tend to agree. Pioha is not much of a pass rusher, but he is a stout run defender who clogs up the middle better than most defensive tackles in the NFL. And he does it quietly, efficiently, without any public comment or recognition or self-promotion. That’s a rarity, but something to be admired, for a Jet player. Last game, the Patriots ran fairly effectively, but at times Patriots center Dan Koppen has struggled against run defenders like Pioha who are physically stronger than him. Koppen at least holding his own against Pioha will be a big key to the game because if the Patriots can run effectively, it’ll make Tom Brady even more deadly to the Jets on the play-action passes.

Nick Folk (#2), Kicker: Here is a move that has to be considered one of numerous recent bad moves by Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. Last year he let very consistent kicker Jay Feely walk away and signed on Nick Folk as his replacement. All Feely did was rank 6th in the NFL with an 88.9 FG success percentage, including nailing 10 of 13 beyond 40 or 50 yards. Folk meanwhile was down towards the bottom of the NFL in the same percentage and only his 3-6 between 40-49 yards and 2-5 beyond 50. Yes, he did nail the game winner last week versus the Colts, but at 32 yards indoors that was a kick any NFL kicker would hit almost 100% of the time. He hasn’t been really tested and he could get that this week in the swirling cold of Foxboro. Folk struggled down the stretch, missing 6 field goals after November 1st. If the Jets get in a close game, its questionable whether Folk can hit a difficult kick for them as the pressure and weather ramps up on him this week.

First Impressions – Miami Dolphins

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

Meaningless game? Not quite. In fact, it has potential to “mean” more to the Patriots than any other game if things go badly when the Miami Dolphins come to Foxborough this Sunday. Of  course, we all remember Wes Welker twisting about on the Houston turf, last year, injured badly and out for the year. That had meaning. That game actually meant more than this one in terms of playoff standings. That one seeding still conceivably was at stake. In this one, nothing is. The Patriots have wrapped up the bye and #1 seed throughout the playoffs. As I recall, I was in favor of the Patriots playing to win last year. I felt the seeding was worthwhile. This year? I don’t want Tom Brady to see the field. Or Welker. Or anyone for that matter. Hell, can we just call the damn thing off? How about a forfeit?

In all seriousness, I think the Patriots should play as few regulars as possible. You just don’t have the room on your roster to completely sit down every significant player for the whole game, but I hope they limit it as much as possible. And I’ll be holding my breath until about 4PM Sunday hoping the game really does have no “meaning.” If so, the Patriots will have walked off the field injury-free or nearly injury-free. The score won’t matter. Only getting through what amounts to a glorified exhibition game in one piece. And it could be a good chance for some younger prospects who don’t play, like wide receiver Taylor Price and running back Thomas Clayton, to gain some experience. Lets take a look at a few Dolphins hopefully the reserves will be competing with on Sunday:

Brandon Marshall (#19), Wide Receiver: So what was all the fuss about? Its not that Marshall has been bad, but to hear the ridiculous pronunciations when the Dolphins acquired him, it just goes to prove an old point. And that is, just because someone is paid to report on football or write about it doesn’t mean they know a heck of a lot about it. All offseason, we heard what “talent” the Dolphins have, the centerpiece of which was the Marshall acquisition. “They’re a wagon, ‘bro” is what they’d say. And what sometimes gets lost as these guys are no more qualified to evaluate the “talent” they was so prophetic about than they are to give you stock market advice. Either is fairly likely to be bad and based on poor judgment. In any event, as we said, Marshall hasn’t been bad. He’s been decent. He has 900 plus yards, but only 3 touchdowns. But the thought he was going to show up in Miami and make a difference when he never really did in Denver was ludicrous. There are 21 other guys on his team who start. One good player can be so severely overrated as indicating a talent-lade roster if they happen to play a skill position it borders on absurd. For what its worth, Marshall is of course a weapon. He can do damage. And he could hurt the Patriots Sunday. But come a week from Sunday, he and the rest of the Dolphins will be sitting on the sidelines and not in the playoffs because despite what the media sells, he alone is not a difference maker.

Koa Misi (#55), Linebacker:

Rookie LB Koa Misi

A rookie second round choice for the Dolphins, (and a Patriots Daily interviewee last spring) Misi has had a very good year. Through 15 games he sits with 36 tackles and 5 sacks and has done an admirable job sealing the edge versus the run for the Dolphins. Along with Cameron Wake, he makes a dangerous edge rusher on passing downs and for that reason alone, it would be wise for the Patriots to sit Tom Brady with nothing to play for. Misi is one of a core of Dolphins young players on defense, along with Wake, injured defensive lineman Jared Odrick and defensive backs Vontae Davis, Sean Smith and Nolan Carroll who could help the Dolphins defense improve going forward and make them the main threat in the division over the next few years to the Patriots. Misi is a big kid at 251 lbs. who comes from a football playing family, his dad played at Hawaii, and if you watch him on Sunday, you’ll see a good player who will become one of the better outside linebackers the Patriots will be facing in the division for the foreseeable future.

Vontae Davis (#21), Cornerback: Davis, the Jets Darrelle Revis and the Patriots Devin McCourty are the top 3 corners in the AFC East and all three are young players who have many great years in front of them. The brother of San Francisco 49ers tightend Vernon Davis, Vontae is on the verge of the same Pro Bowl recognition as Revis and McCourty are getting. One thing that has hurt his cause this year is he only came up with 1 interception, though teams do tend to avoid his side. Davis’ name was brought up this week in connection with the University of North Carolina football scandal when his brother Vernon was named as one of those providing improper benefits to UNC players in an attempt to place them with agents. Vontae’s name was also mentioned as possibly being involved. No matter, on Sunday he’ll be looking for a big game versus the Patriots to show his Pro Bowl snub was an injustice.

Nolan Carroll (#28), Cornerback: Carroll was the rookie corner Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripped on the sidelines during a punt a few weeks back, causing a major scandal in the NFL. For what its worth, Carroll mostly kept his mouth shut about the incident and didn’t get involved in the back and forth regarding it, probably a smart move for a rookie. The 5th round choice out of Maryland has had a solid rookie year as an extra defensive back and special teams player. In that Jets game he was tripped in, Carroll grabbed his first NFL interception. He didn’t play much early in the season on defense but that has been increasing in recent weeks. Interestingly, his mother Jennifer Carroll is the Lt. Governor-elect for the State of Florida. She’ll be taking office in January. Carroll should get a chance for extended playing time in what amounts to a meaningless game and no doubt the Patriots will try to take advantage of his inexperience when they get the chance.

College Scout – QB and RB Review

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
As the Bowl season gets under way, lets take a look back at our rankings back in September of quarterbacks and running backs who could be in the 2011 draft. Some guys, like Case Keenum, would have fallen off a lot. In his case, its due to injuries. Others lived up to the hype and in some cases have moved way up the draft charts. We’ll also take a look at some players at both positions who have moved into the top 10 and up in the draft.

Quarterbacks:

Washington QB Jake Locker

September College Scout Rankings:
1.) Jake Locker, Washington
2.) Christian Ponder, Florida State
3.) Andrew Luck, Stanford
4.) Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
5.) Case Keenum, Houston
6.) John Brantley, Florida
7.) Greg McElroy Alabama
8.) Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
9.) Jerrod Johnson, Texas A+M
10.) Adam Weber, Minnesota

Analysis: Locker had a decent, but not great, year and Luck has clearly surpassed him and is the number one quarterback in the draft if he comes out. You can watch highlights of Locker and see how he athletic he is in this video clip. Mallett probably surpassed him as well with an excellent year. Locker is a good athlete but may have slipped down to the bottom of the first round or even second round. Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck, could go number one overall if he comes out, though if Carolina has the pick perhaps they stick with Jimmy Clausen and look elsewhere. You can get a look at Andrew Luck highlights here. Ponder had a good season and at times looks terrific. He can be a bit inconsistent. It seems unlikely Pryor comes out. Keenum got hurt with a torn ACL and only played in 3 games. He tried to get another year of eligibility but was denied. His draft stock has been hurt, but he would be good late value for an NFL team willing to wait while he rehabs his knee. McElroy is a winner who will make a nice third round pick to develop for some team. Johnson got benched late in the year and Texas A+M got hot afterwards. Reportedly he took it well and is a team player with good character. He also is a top-flight athlete so is still draftable late.

If we had to do the list again, Rick Stanzi from Iowa would probably creep into the list and is certainly draftable. He’s smart, only threw 4 INTs all year and there is a tie to the Patriots as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is a close friend of Bill Belichick and former assistant to him. Delaware QB Pat Devlin will likely be a mid-round choice and has lots of potential. He was originally at Penn State before transferring to Delaware. You can watch some highlights of Devlin in this video link. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton is a winner with limited skills, but smarts and could make a good NFL backup. Of course Cam Newton from Auburn has to be mentioned. The Heisman Trophy winner could come out with all the controversy that swirled around him. And we do know being paid to be football would please his family. He has tremendous skills. The running, size, arm and strength are all top notch. But he could use another year of experience. If he comes out, his talent will get him drafted high.

Running Backs:

September College Scout Rankings:
1.) Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
2.) Mark Ingram, Alabama
3.) Evan Royster, Penn State
4.) DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
5.) Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech
6.) Brandon Saine, Ohio State
7.) John Clay, Wisconsin
8.) Roy Helu, Nebraska
9.) Derrick Locke, Kentucky
10.) Noel Devine, West Virginia

Analysis: Thomas is not the top runner according to many, though in the top 5 in most opinions. I like him because his size-speed combo translates to the NFL, along with his excellent power. But there is some bust potential there as he disappears at times. I chalk that up more to playing for a middling team. You can see some excellent highlights of Thomas in this clip. Ingram had an up and down year and started out injured. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner remains a great prospect, but is perhaps towards the back end of the first round now. Some have Murray as the top back in the draft and he is perhaps the most well-rounded. He’s a good player. Saine had a very disappointing year and didn’t even get the majority of snaps for OSU. He’s a late round project despite great talent. Something is missing. Many like Devine more than me and while he is electrifying, I see him as a third down back and perhaps not even as good a one as Locke.

Others who’ve slipped into the conversation are Mario Fannin who is a big, talented back from Auburn who had limited playing time as the Tigers used a younger, top recruit as their main back. Fannin has played some receiver and is good in the passing game, but also has great power and running skills as a back. Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State is a bit undersized, but has good speed and elusiveness. You can see some sweet highlights of Hunter here.

First Impressions (Second Time Around) – Buffalo Bills

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots travel to Buffalo having won now an amazing fourteen consecutive games against the Bills. They have every reason to be fired up, if they win they’ll clinch both the AFC East and the #1 seed and home playoff games throughout the playoffs. In other words, its yet another “hat and t-shirt game.” Back during the midst of the Patriots glory days, Tedy Bruschi said “We don’t lose hat and t-shirt games.” This Patriots team is a lot different than the Super Bowl winners of several years ago. Its younger and much of the cast of characters have changed. Do they still not lose hat and t-shirt games? We’ll find out Sunday. For what its worth, Buffalo has played a lot better of late. Early in the year they lost a remarkable number of close games. They played the Patriots decently in losing 38-30 in Foxboro in September. They’re 4-2 in their last 6 games. They should provide a good test. But with so much at stake, one would expect the Patriots to come out very motivated and put together one of their better efforts of the year. We’ll find out how much they may be like those championship Patriot teams starting Sunday

Ryan Fitzpatrick (#14), Quarterback: When we last saw the pride of the Harvard Crimson football program, things were a lot more uncertain for Fitzpatrick. He was making his first start of the year versus the Patriots. His career, to that point, had been mediocre at best. And, yet, this year it all seems to have come together for him. He started with a rather good game versus the Patriots in September and has continued along with generally good showings all year. For the year, Fitzpatrick has completed almost 59 percent of his passes, he’s tossed 23 touchdowns versus only 12 interceptions and has a respectable 85.9 quarterback rating. Its far and away the best season thus far for the 28 year old. Fitzpatrick’s strengths are a good arm, solid weapons and an improving ability to avoid the rush. He still throws the occasional dumb pass and he’ll likely give the Patriots an opportunity for a few Sunday. But he’s in a good offense for his skills and his head coach, Chan Gailey, has found a comfort level in calling plays that don’t put him in difficult situations. The Patriots have won fourteen games in a row. But perhaps Fitzpatrick is at the best place right now of any quarterback they’ve faced during that time. And that alone may give Buffalo the best chance its had in quite a number of years versus New England.

Steve Johnson (#13), Wide Receiver: Similar to Fitzpatrick, Johnson was sort of meandering along in his career when he and the Bills visited Foxboro in September of this year. He came into that game with 23 career catches in two plus seasons. But since then, he’s become the Bills go to receiver. He had a touchdown that day versus the season and he now stands on the cusp of a 1,000 yard season with 943 with two games to go. He’s scored 10 touchdowns on the season, which places him among the league leaders for a wide receiver. Johnson has good speed, he can catch the short routes, he’s big and physical and he can occasionally get deep by usually relying on his strength to outfight defenders for the ball. A former 7th round choice, Johnson has become a great steal from the 2008 draft for the Bills. Also, just not to be confused, for whatever reason since he’s begun playing well its become common to hear him called “Stevie Johsnon” rather than the former mundane “Steve Johsnon” when he was just another player.

Moats Ended Brett Favre's Streak

Arthur Moats (#52), Linebacker: A rookie 6th round choice out of James Madison, Moats has really come on in recent weeks. Loyal readers of Patriots Daily will recall our interview with Moats prior to the NFL draft last season. Back then, he noted in the interview the Bills were interested in using him as an inside linebacker. They did initially, but in recent weeks they’ve switched him to outside linebacker which could be a good move for him where he’ll be able to utilize his 4.64/40 speed. Moats will likely forever be remembered as the guy who ended Brett Favre’s consecutive start streak as his hit knocked Favre out for a week for Minnesota. The last two weeks, Moats has had 2.5 sacks so he is definitely a threat to Tom Brady in the backfield. The Patriots spent some time with Moats last spring, so they were clearly interested in him, but ultimately it looks like Moats is a late-round keeper who will go down as a Buffalo draft find.

Leodis McKelvin (#28), Cornerback: McKelvin is a very inconsistent player. Supremely talented, at times he costs the Bills with untimely penalties or lapses in coverage. On special teams, he can be explosive as a returner, but also prone to fumbling. The Patriots found this out last year when he cost the Bills the 2009 opener with a late fumble. Watching McKelvin, it almost seems he loses concentration at times. While he has the ability to make excellent plays, the Patriots undoubtedly will find times they can beat him Sunday too for big plays. In the end, despite his talent and stretches of solid play, McKelvin is now in his 3rd season and has to be considered a disappointment as a first round pick if he can’t begin to play more consistent football.

Brian Moorman (#8), Punter: The weather report for Buffalo, as one can expect this time of year, is looking treacherous for Sunday. Moorman, who is arguably the best punter in the NFL, could prove a major factor. Games in Buffalo this time of year often prove to be field position battles in the rocky weather. Win that, you can many times win the game. Moorman who excels in both distance and hang time could prove a major weapon in helping the Bills win the field position battle if the Buffalo defense can slow down the Patriots offense and get some stops. Moorman, now in his 10th season, may have lost a bit off his leg slightly at age 34 but is still an excellent punter who knows how to deal with the Buffalo weather. He could be a major factor Sunday.