April 20, 2014

Pats Draft Review: No Rush To Judgment

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Okay, kids. A quick review of this year’s draft haul.

ROUND ONE: (17) Nate Solder, Colorado OT

Second Round Pick Ras-I Dowling (#19)

ROUND TWO: (33) Ras-I Dowling, Virginia CB; (56) Shane Vereen, Cal RB

ROUND THREE: (73) Stevan Ridley, LSU RB; (74) Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB

ROUND FIVE: (138) Marcus Cannon, TCU OG; (159) Lee Smith, Marshall TE

ROUND SIX: (194) Markell Carter, Central Arkansas OLB

ROUND SEVEN: (219) Malcolm Williams, TCU DB

WHAT’S GREAT: In and of itself (a phrase to remember), the drafting of Solder can help the team for years to come. He’s huge (over 6-foot-8) and has the athleticism of a former hoops player. If he can pick up the offense and strengthen his upper body, he’ll prove himself as the right pick.

We’re also high on Vereen. He’s compact and strong (31 bench reps at the combine). During interviews, he said he prides himself on his pass protection, which we’re sure Tom Brady enjoyed hearing. Though he projects as a third-down specialist, his versatility makes him a threat on every down.

WHAT’S GOOD: New England needed another big back, and – even if he was taken a round or two higher than expected – Ridley fits well in a complementary role. We worry about his limited carries at LSU before 2010, but we can’t argue with a 225-pound back who gained 1,147 yards this past season vs. SEC defenses.

Dowling fell down draft boards due to an injury-prone 2010. Again, in and of itself, getting a top DB with the 33rd pick seems like a solid move. We also know Bill Belichick got the ultimate scouting report from his pal, former Virginia coach Al Groh.

Though it might take some time to witness Cannon’s on-field ability before he addresses his medical concerns, we like drafting him for myriad reasons. The Brobdingnagian brawler (6-5, 358 pounds) should be able to make a path through opposing defenses. His current situation (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) stinks, but he has a 90 percent chance of recovery. The Patriots did the proper thing here.

MEH: We don’t know how much Smith can bring to the team, unless Belichick is subtly encouraging veteran tight end Alge Crumpler to explore other NFL cities (a plan we do not endorse). Smith might end up as a contributor, but we’d hate to mess with the best tight end combo the Patriots have had in recent memory.

Williams is a clear case of the Patriots wanting to get a potential rookie free agent into camp because the lockout prevents them from signing undrafted players. He has been described as “another Matthew Slater.” We’re not sure how to feel about that.

Carter did some damage as a defensive end in college (19 tackles for loss in 2010). We like his size (6-4, 252) and his production for the Bruins; we’re just not sure how it translates to the NFL level. It does give us a bit of hope that Central Arkansas alum Jacob Ford has had some success with the Titans (15.5 sacks in three years).

Hey, who knows? Carter could become the best pass-rusher on the team. Speaking of which…

WHAT’S CONFUSING: Hmm, let’s see. I knew there was something I wanted to… HOW ABOUT DRAFTING A TOP PASS RUSHER? HUH? WHY NOT DRAFT A PROVEN SACK GUY FOR ONCE? WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO?

HELLO? IS THIS THING ON?

Sorry, sorry. Had to get that out of my system. Let’s just say that if Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, Jabaal Sheard or Brooks Reed end up with double-digit sacks this season, the words “value” and “draft” should only be used to promote two-for-one beer night.

We’re also confused by the Mallett selection. With his past drug use and rumors of poor behavior, he doesn’t seem like a Patriots guy.

We’re not saying he can’t be a good player or that he can’t turn himself around; we’re just pointing out that it seems weird.

WHAT’S TERRIBLE: Actually, nothing. Nothing looks terrible in this draft. From top to bottom, it’s fine. Perfectly fine.

And there lies the problem.

This was the year where the Patriots seemed lined up to wheel and deal for the now; instead, they prepared for 2012 and beyond.

By doing so, they raised questions about 2011.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

 

 

Pats Draft Scenarios: Day One Reaction

By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Well, if it’s any consolation, this is how we felt after the Pats drafted Devin McCourty.

Patriots First Round Draft Pick Nate Solder

Instead of going with the one glaring need of pass rusher at 17 and thrilling fans in the process, Bill “Ebenezer” Belichick got Nate Solder, a big offensive tackle who will probably need a year or two to become a solid starter.

Watching a Patriots draft feels like eating those super sour candies: it takes a second for the full effect, and you want to like it, but you’re not quite sure if you do.

Fans hoped the team would use the first round to fill a need they’ve had for years. With defenders like Adrian Clayborn (Tampa) and Cameron Jordan (New Orleans) still available, that looked promising. Nope.

At 28, the Pats had a shot at a D-lineman like Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets) but traded that pick to New Orleans for a second-rounder (56 overall) and a 2010 first-rounder.

Ah, another first-rounder next year. We wonder what they’ll get in exchange for that pick?

At the end of Day One, it looks like this draft will provide some solid game day contributors and extra trades in 2012. Too bad they need help in 2011. Here’s hoping they get results on Day Two.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

 

Patriots 2011-2012 Schedule

Here is the Patriots’ complete 16 game schedule for the 2011-2012 regular season*, with links to the NFL.com game center and the opponent’s team website (home games in bold).

Regular Season

  1. 7:00 PM, Monday, September 12, 2011 at Dolphins (ESPN)
  2. 4:15 PM, Sunday, September 18, 2011 vs. Chargers (CBS)
  3. 1:00 PM, Sunday, September 25, 2011 at Bills (CBS)
  4. 4:15 PM, Sunday, October 2, 2011 at Raiders (CBS)
  5. 4:15 PM, Sunday, October 9, 2011 vs. Jets (CBS)
  6. 4:15 PM, Sunday, October 16, 2011 vs. Cowboys (FOX)
  7. BYE – Sunday, October 23, 2011
  8. 4:15 PM, Sunday, October 30, 2011 at Steelers (CBS)
  9. 4:15 PM, Sunday, November 6, 2011 vs. Giants (FOX)
  10. 8:20 PM, Sunday, November 13, 2011 at Jets (NBC)
  11. 8:30 PM, Monday, November 21, 2011 vs. Chiefs (ESPN)
  12. 4:15 PM, Sunday, November 27, 2011 at Eagles (CBS)
  13. 8:20 PM, Sunday, December 4, 2011 vs. Colts (NBC)
  14. 1:00 PM, Sunday, December 11, 2011 at Redskins (CBS)
  15. 4:15 PM, Sunday, December 18, 2011 at Broncos (CBS)
  16. 1:00 PM, Saturday, December 24, 2011 vs. Dolphins (CBS)
  17. 1:00 PM, Sunday, January 1, 2012 vs. Bills (CBS)

Playoffs

  1. Wild Card Playoff Saturday January 7 or Sunday, January 8, 2012
  2. Divisional Playoff – Saturday, January 14, 2012 or Sunday, January 15, 2012
  3. Conference Championship – Sunday, January 22, 2012
  4. Super Bowl XLVI – Sunday, February 5, 2012 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana

*Assuming of course, that there IS a full 16 game schedule.

Around The League – Week 17

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Wild Card weekend starts tomorrow so here’s a few predictions for you. These picks are for recreational purposes only. I pity anyone who actually takes my word for it.

New Orleans over Seattle – The Seahawks have a big home-field advantage at Qwest Field and the Saints are banged up. But Seattle is also exceedingly lucky to be in the playoffs and has dropped each of its last six losses by at least 15 points. Oh, and the Saints are the defending champs. Mark it, dude.

Former Patriot Matt Cassel Faces The Ravens This Weekend

Indianapolis over New York Jets – If there’s ever been a year the Colts are vulnerable, this is it. There’s a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball and they seriously underachieved earlier in the season, particularly Peyton Manning. But they’ve won four in a row, are running the ball extremely well and are playing at home. That, and the Jets are are weaker than they should be on defense and have a major disadvantage at QB. It’s actually going to be somewhat of a shame to see the Jets lose; a win brings them back to Foxboro which would give the Pats another chance to humiliate them on national TV. Maybe Rex Ryan, who wrote a couple more priceless chapters of his upcoming book, “Coaching for Dummies,” this past week, including taking an unsolicited swipe at Tom Brady regarding his work habits, didn’t learn his lesson the last time.

Baltimore over Kansas City – Arrowhead Stadium is a hellish place for visitors to play, but this game will mark a case of experience over inexperience. The Chiefs seem to suddenly be in some disarray (see below) perhaps due in some part to offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’s impending departure. And the Ravens know how to win on the road in the playoffs. Kansas City can probably score against the Baltimore D; the question is whether their own defense can slow down Ray Rice and all those Ravens receivers. Probably not quite enough.

Philadelphia over Green Bay – This is the Coach Who Can’t Get Out Of His Own Way Bowl. Philly’s Andy Reid wrote the book on puking all over himself in big games but the Packers’ Mike McCarthy seems to be star pupil in that school. This game could really go either way; both teams are hugely talented and hugely flawed. The Packers enter on a high, while the Eagles have been experiencing a little turmoil the past couple weeks. This one feels kind of like a pick the home team and cross your fingers sort of situation.

After this weekend, just for shits and giggles, let’s go with the Saints over Atlanta, the Bears over the Eagles, then the Saints making a return trip to the Super Bowl. In the AFC, it’ll be the Pats over the Ravens, the Steelers beating the Colts and then, in a bloodbath, the Pats making it 2-for-2 over Pittsburgh on the year. And on Feb. 6, in Dallas? Take a wild guess.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: It’s not like anyone doesn’t already know this is where the Pats belong (well, maybe except for Rex Ryan) but 38 points and 502 total yards in Week 17 while playing the whole game without three of their top five pass catchers and just two-plus quarters with their MVP quarterback should be enough evidence for any doubters left out there.

2. Pittsburgh: Good for the Steelers. They desperately needed to beat Cleveland on the road last week to ensure a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game and they did it and then some, rolling the woeful Brownies, 41-9. This week of rest should make these guys a pretty difficult matchup for any of their possible opponents (Indy, Kansas City, Baltimore) in the divisional round next weekend.

3. Atlanta: The Falcons took care of business against the Panthers, earning themselves the No. 1 seed in the NFC and putting the previous week’s loss to the Saints behind them. Still, it will take a lot more than a good effort against a team as terrible as Carolina and a scared one against a team like New Orleans to ensure more than a one-and-done for this team, especially if it gets the Saints or Packers next week.

4. Baltimore: The Ravens just keep winning ugly, barely hanging on against the Bengals last week. But wins are wins and with the Steelers beating the Browns, Baltimore will now go back on the road for the postseason, where its achieved a lot of success lately, winning three playoff games away from home the past two years.

5. (tie) New Orleans/Green Bay: The road to Dallas got a lot harder for my NFC Super Bowl pick last week, with running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas now out for the year, and star defensive back Malcolm Jenkins seriously banged up. Luckily, the Saints get the happy to be here Seahawks this week, so any issues they may have won’t necessarily hurt them for another round. As for the Packers, they nearly puked away the playoffs at home against a Bears team playing for nothing. They have so much talent, it’s hard to believe their only a 6-seed for the second straight year. Maybe it’s time we start looking in the direction of their coach, Mike McCarthy, as the reason.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: And so it ends for John Fox in Charlotte, done after nine seasons, the most recent being a 2-14 catastrophe. He leaves behind the worst ranked offense in the league in both yards and points allowed along with the sixth worst defense. Yet he seems to be a lock to take over one of the several coaching vacancies in the league next season. Why? Does no one pay attention to this sort of thing? Or the five other years he didn’t lead his team to the postseason?

2. Arizona: After the Cardinals were demolished by the rudderless 49ers last week, third-stringer John Skelton actually said he believes he’d done enough over the final month of the season to warrant a shot at the starting QB job next year. Forgive Skelton if the last time he was in the film room, someone accidentally loaded some Cards footage from the last month of last season and he temporarily thought he was Kurt Warner. Hey, everyone else on the team (except Larry Fitzgerald) sucks, why shouldn’t the film room guy too?

3. Cleveland: Was highly entertaining to read all the quotes from Browns players last week discussing how much they love Eric Mangini and didn’t want to see him lose his job, then go out and fall behind by four TDs to the Steelers at home in what seemed like the first 26 seconds of Mangini’s final game in Cleveland before getting the axe on Monday. Way to back it up, fellas.

4. Buffalo: The Bills showed a lot of promise this season, absorbing one massively tough loss after another yet still playing hard and with heart and character before winning a few. There certainly seems to be something there on which to build. Hopefully, coach Chan Gailey will erase the tape of their last two games, though. Buffalo lost those to the Pats and the Jets by a combined 72-10.

5. Cincinnati: And after all that, Marvin Lewis is coming back? Why would he even want to? It seems he’ll get to do so without either Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco, and that may well have been all he needed to hear to agree to it.

What’s Trendy

- The Bucs: Kind of a shame these guys were edged out of the playoffs despite a shocking 10 wins, including a must-have last week in New Orleans. Their Week 15 home loss to Detroit in overtime doomed them, but there was so much to enjoy about this team in 2010, from the seven-win improvement to QB Josh Freeman’s rise to coach Raheem Morris’s ascension from in over his head to Coach of the Year candidate to the emergence of LeGarrette Blount as a top level back, and more. It will be interesting to see how this young team responds some actual expectations next season. Will they take a step back or forward? They seem to have a lot of the right looking tools for it to be the latter.
- Jim Tomsula, 49ers: San Francisco’s interim head coach presided over a rousing, 38-7 blowout of Arizona in what will almost certainly be his only game at the top of the totem pole. When the Niners hire a full-time guy and Tomsula goes back to coaching the offensive line or elsewhere, he will be tied with a handful of other dudes for the highest winning percentage in league history at 1.000. Way to go, Jim!
- The Seahawks: With their so-bad-it-ached-to-watch, 16-6 win over the Rams on Sunday night, Seattle became the first team in NFL history to win its division and make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9). Actually, that isn’t trendy at all, but I had to put something in the this space.

What’s Not

- The Dolphins: As if their 1-7 home mark this year or their no-show in Foxboro last week in their final game of the season weren’t bad enough, now owner Steve Ross is flying all over the country trying to make Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh Miami’s head coach at what would be the highest salary in the league. Oh, did I forget to mention, he’s doing this even though he hasn’t let go of his current coach, Tony Sparano. What a disgrace. How can Sparano just sit there and watch all of this happen and not quit? There was a time when the Dolphins were considered one of the model franchises in the NFL. I can barely remember it.
- The Jaguars and the Texans: After a three-game losing streak to close out a season in which they controlled their playoff destiny, the Jags will now not be in the tournament for the third straight year. Did they fire coach Jack Del Rio? Nope. And the Texans, who won on Sunday over (ding ding ding!!!) the Jaguars, finished 6-10, making it now nine years without a single playoff appearance, including the last five under Gary Kubiak. Did they fire him? Nope. It’s painful to witness the amount of sheer incompetence that runs amok in the NFL at the highest levels. I can’t imagine being a fan of either of these teams, and so many others, who run around in circles year after year after year without the first clue about how to be successful. Then I remember that the team I am a fan of does everything the right way and knows exactly what its doing, and then I feel better.
- The Chiefs: Wow, was this the same team that did such a stellar job in surprising everyone all year en route to a division title? Not only were they blown out at home by hated rival Oakland in a game they really could have used to improve their playoff draw, but QB Matt Cassel was just 11-of-33 for 115 yards and two picks, and their much improved defense allowed over 200 yards rushing. Yuck. It may be a quick end to the renaissance season in KC, especially with the tested, proven Ravens in town on Sunday.

And finally…

With that 31-10 win over the Chiefs, the Raiders finished 8-8 (6-0 in the AFC West), barely missing the playoffs and registering their first season with fewer than 11 losses since 2002. So naturally, they fired their coach Tom Cable. Oakland must have felt uncomfortable not being an utter and complete embarrassment this season; it’s hard to fathom any other reason why decrepit owner Al Davis would make such a decision. Punter Shane Lechler, who’s been on the team since 2000 and has thus seen now six coaching changes over that stretch, said (courtesy of Pro Football Talk) that he knows of multiple free agents who now won’t return to the team next year, called it a, “huge setback,” referred to Cable as “awesome” and “exactly what we need,” and added, “I’m not so sure this isn’t a terrible decision,” and that after trying and failing to get in touch with Davis or any other team executives he, “just wants to know what the hell is going on. How do you justify firing someone after going 6-0 in the division and 8-8 overall? How do you just go ahead and whack this guy with no reason?”

The Raiders signed another punter the next day. This despite Lechler leading the league in punting every year of his career and being first team All-Pro six times. Ladies and gentlemen, the Oakland Raiders. Same as it ever was.

Around The League – Week 16

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

A not so mournful RIP to the San Diego Chargers 2010 season, as they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005 on the heels of their brutal, 34-20 loss to the Bengals of all teams last week. The Chargers pulled their annual act of not bothering to show up for the season until November but unlike the past three seasons, in which they could get away with that thanks to the disintegration of the Broncos, the rebuilding of the Chiefs and the ineptitude of the Raiders, there was another team in their division that was able to stay ahead of them long enough to provide a much slimmer margin for error in their attempt to rebound from a lousy first half of the season and make the playoffs.

Seyi Ajirotutu

A rash of injuries plagued the Chargers on both sides of the ball for most of the season. All-World tight end Antonio Gates had major foot problems and missed games down the stretch. Their top two receivers at one point were Patrick Crayton, who they signed off the street after he was cut by Dallas, and the immortal Seyi Ajirotutu, who came up from the practice squad to catch 12 passes for 245 yards and two TDs. Rookie running back Ryan Mathews, who was drafted in the top 15 of last year’s draft to replace franchise icon LaDanian Tomlinson, couldn’t stay healthy, missed four games and has only managed 558 yards and four scores. On defense, stalwarts Luis Castillo and Stephen Cooper each missed multiple games and on special teams, the Chargers were victimized by a truckload of mistakes in the first half of the season, from blocked punts to missed kicks to long returns given up for scores. The Chargers problems ran the gamut this year and in the end, they couldn’t dig themselves out of the hole they’d created.

But despite all this, they were still alive headed into December, which has been their best month over the past few years, as it also has for QB Philip Rivers. Then, a home loss to Oakland the first Sunday of the month dropped them to 6-6 and even though they won their next two after that, the Cincinnati game sealed their fate. Although they were crippled by the injuries and the incompetence of their special teams through September and much of October, a lot of blame must be laid at the feet of coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith. Turner dragged out making a move with his special teams coach early on even though for a stretch, his team was sunk by mistakes on that unit every week (as opposed to the Dolphins, who made a change after one awful game against the Pats in Week 4 and barely had another problem in that phase of the game for the rest of the year). Turner, an excellent offensive coordinator, also has never exactly lit the world on fire as a head man – in 13 years with San Diego, Washington and Oakland, he’s seven games under .500, has made the playoffs just four times (including the past three seasons) and won just four of eight postseason games. And Smith, one of the more autocratic executives in the league, robbed Rivers of his top offensive weapon in Vincent Jackson for the season’s first 10 games, ostensibly over a couple million dollars. For whatever reason, Smith didn’t provide Rivers, or Turner for that matter, with the kind of depth to better weather the storm brought on by all the injuries. And thus, the Chargers will be home for the postseason.

There seems to be a somewhat passive attitude permeating the organization, from Smith (who needs to pay our best offensive player, we’ll work it all out on the field), to Turner and the players (ahh, so we suck for the first two months every year, we can get away with it and then we’ll be fine when it matters more). And all of this as Rivers enters his prime and develops into one of the best QBs in the league. If it happens like this again next year, combined with the fact that the team needs a new stadium and may move to L.A. if they can’t/don’t get one in San Diego, don’t be surprised to see some major changes for the Chargers at every level.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: Bill Belichick once famously said that stats are for losers. That may or may not be true, but regardless, here’s a few that are definitely for the league’s best team. Through 15 games, the Pats are first in the NFL in scoring (32 PPG), third in the NFL on third down (46.7 percent) and third in the NFL in red zone offense (TDs scored 63.9 percent of the time). Not too shabby.

2. Baltimore: Suddenly, the Ravens look playoff ready which a lot of folks seem to think may not bode too well for the Pats if the two teams are to meet up in the divisional round. In order for that to happen, though, Baltimore not only has to beat Cincinnati this week, they have to pray the Steelers lose to the now also-ran Browns. If that doesn’t happen, the Ravens are staring down a first round meeting with the Colts in Indy. The last two times they’ve visited Lucas Oil Stadium, including playoff games? Two losses by a combined 51-6.

3. Pittsburgh: Despite all their travails (and whines) this season, the Steelers are in at No. 2 with a bye and at least one home game if they can win in Cleveland on Sunday. That will likely happen, but then what? Kansas City? Another bloodbath with the Ravens? And the Steelers haven’t exactly protected their turf well this season; three of their four losses have come at Heinz Field.

4. New Orleans: Huge win for the Saints in Atlanta the other night. It was a classic case of a team that had been there before overcoming a team that hadn’t, regardless of the circumstances. It wasn’t the Saints best effort, but they made all the plays on both sides when they needed to which is why they’re still my pick to go to the Super Bowl, even if they have to win three road games to get there.

5 (tie) Chicago/Atlanta: The Bears rolled up 38 points against the fraudulent Jets defense last week, giving them 78 in their last two games. This bodes well going forward, especially now that they have a bye and a home game thanks to the Eagles annual choke job on Tuesday night. As for the Falcons, they played and coached like they were afraid in their biggest game of the year against New Orleans on Monday night. They’re still in the driver’s seat for home-field throughout the NFC playoffs, but they better get over what ailed them in the Saints game or it won’t wind up mattering much.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: Not terribly surprising that the Panthers managed just 119 total yards in a waxing at the hands of the Steelers last week. What was slightly surprising was Sports Illustrated shill Peter King, in listing soon-to-be ex-coach John Fox’s accomplishments this week, noted his whopping three playoff appearances in nine years. Way to embarrass the poor guy even more, Mr. King.

2. San Francisco: In their biggest game of the season, the Niners screwed up their QB situation for the 436th time this season, had to deal with another sideline confrontation between a player and his coach, lost the game to the Rams and finally fired Mike Singletary on the plane ride home from St. Louis. Singletary probably never should have had the job in the first place but the whole scene, the whole season, was just another reminder that this once gleamingly proud organization is a complete shambles.

3. Cleveland: Another woeful loss for the Brownies, who have pissed away some mid-season good will in a swirling shitstorm of a three (soon-to-be) four game, season-ending losing streak. The saddest part is that we will likely no longer be treated to the high comedy of seeing Eric Mangini looking more like a UPS driver than a football coach on Sundays next fall.

4. Houston: Another utter collapse by this pathetic defense, to Tim Tebow in his second-career start of all people. So naturally, all the scuttlebutt is that owner Bob McNair will still not fire coach Gary Kubiak after the season, with his feeling that a good defensive coordinator is all his weak, soft, perennially underachieving team needs. Must be a real treat to be a Texans fan, eh?

5. (tie) Seattle/Arizona: The Seahawks were naturally blown out again last week, this time by the Bucs, and haven’t even been within 15 points of an opponent, save for once, in six weeks. Of course, if they beat the Rams at home on Sunday night, they win the pukefest known as the NFC West. Yullchh…. As for the Cards, their dramatic win over the Cowboys on Christmas was probably the highlight of their season. I wonder if coach Ken Whisenhunt edited out the part of the film in which the team blew an 18-point lead at home to a third-string QB named Stephen McGee.

What’s Trendy

- Tim Tebow, Broncos: It may have been against the worse than awful Texans, but Tebow’s electric, come-from-behind performance. 308 yards, two TDs (one rushing) and two TD drives in an eight-minute span in the fourth quarter were what did it. Whether or not he plays well again this week against the out-of-it Chargers, whomever coaches the Broncos next year may want to give him a long look.
- Josh Freeman, Bucs: Freeman continued his breakout season and kept his team alive for a playoff berth with a five TD onslaught against the Seahawks. With one game left, the second-year man has 3,106 yards, has completed 60 percent of his passes, has thrown 23 TDs against just six picks and has a 93.6 passer rating. Not only is Freeman an absolute keeper, he’s an outside MVP candidate. Good work.
- The Lions: I know, I keep giving this spot to those lovable felines from Detroit, but you would too! They’ve now won three in a row, the last two on the road, and can close it out with the unlikeliest of four-game win streaks with a win on Sunday at home against the Vikings. Great, great job by coach (and former Belichick assistant) Jim Schwartz, who looked pretty, ahem… challenged earlier this year.

What’s Not

- The Giants: 73 points allowed in their last 68 minutes of game action. A 45-17 loss to Green Bay with 500 total yards allowed in a must-win game last week. Four more picks by the rapidly regressing little Manning, giving him a league-leading 29 on the year. It’s hard to believe, but the Giants can still make the playoffs with a win over Washington and some help this weekend. Just can’t see it happening though; these guys have made their collective bed.
- The Jaguars: A possible playoff berth on the line and Jacksonville loses at home to… wait for it… the Redskins??!! Once again this season, the Jags have proven that with Jack Del Rio and David Garrard at the helm, it’s just good enough to not quite win.
- Andy Reid, Eagles: You won’t believe this. The Eagles had a big game last week that they needed to win to vastly improve their playoff situation, it was against an inferior opponent and it was at home… and they got rolled, looking woefully unprepared and outcoached in the process. Wait, you do believe this. Of course you do. Because if you’ve paid attention to this team at all over the past 10 years, you know that this is Reid’s MO. Never mind the postponement of the game from Sunday to Tuesday, or the opponent having nothing to lose, or Michael Vick’s thigh bruise. The only thing that matters is that Reid is notorious for stinkbombs like this, particularly when the stakes is high. If you had one game to play, for all the marbles, and you could handpick any coach out there to lead you into it, I hope you’d stay as far away as possible from Reid, without a doubt the most overrated coach in all the league not named Shanahan.

And finally…

Pro Bowl selections were announced the other day. I didn’t bother to look at any other team’s except for the Pats, and I only did that because I felt obligated to do so as someone who writes about the team. Now would be a great time to rail against the Pro Bowl, and every major sports league’s all-star game for that matter, as glorified popularity contests, made so because of the emphasis on fan voting. But I won’t do that. These games are for the fans so why shouldn’t they get to vote for who they want to see, even if those players aren’t the best or most deserving?
What I will do, though, is point out that Pats safety Brandon Meriweather was selected to his second Pro Bowl, or the same amount that Rodney Harrison made in 15 years. And that should tell you all you need to know about the Pro Bowl.

Around The League – Week 15

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

If you missed Sunday’s Giants/Eagles clash at the New Meadowlands, or at the very least, the fourth quarter, you missed what was likely the game of the year. The Eagles trailed 31-10 with just over eight minutes to play, had been completely bottled up by the resurgent Giants all day long and were staring down the barrel of a loss that would cost them a shot at the NFC East crown and at least one home playoff game. But Michael Vick took the game over, mostly with his legs, and Philly shockingly rallied to a 38-31 win when Giants rookie punter Matt Dodge failed to punt the ball out of bounds in the waning seconds of a 31-all tie, instead booting it right to DeSean Jackson, only one of the two or three most dangerous, open field players in the league. Naturally, Jackson picked up the ball after initially dropping it, made a quick move and was off the races, scoring the game-winning TD as time expired and single-handedly causing the chunks to stir in the gullets of every Giants player, coach and fan in the stadium and beyond.

It was a stunning collapse on several levels, not the least of which was the fact that the Giants, who had so thoroughly dominated up to that 8-minute mark, collectively went to sleep. It’s easy to understand the thought process behind moving your defense way back with a 21-point lead in the late stages of a game – the last thing you want to do in that situation is give up a long pass play (although that’s exactly what happened on the Eagles first score of their comeback when Vick found tight end Brent Celek on a deep slant, Celek’s man fell down and there was no one left downfield to stop him). But against a quarterback like Vick, a guy much more prone to run around and try to get outside under such circumstances, leaving that much space in the middle of the field for him to make a play running with the ball may not be the best plan. He wound up with 130 yards rushing on just 10 carries. The Giants had held the Eagles to 198 total yards for the game’s first 52 minutes. Why change what was working so well for you?

It didn’t help the Giants at all either that their offense completely stagnated. Eli Manning passed for nearly 300 yards and four TDs but four of the Giants last five possessions ended in punts, including their last, which was a miserable, three-and-out right on the heels of the Eagles tying the score at 31 and led to the fateful Dodge punt. Maybe the Eagles defense was so fired up by what the offense had wrought throughout that final quarter that they were suddenly impenetrable. Or, maybe the Giants took too much comfort in their big lead and stopped doing what had worked so well for them up to that point in favor of a more conservative approach. I’m going with the second option there. Add to that the home team’s total surprise when the Eagles went for an onside kick after cutting the lead to 31-17, an attempt that was of course successful and further fueled the Philly comeback, and it’s clear that enough people on the Giants sideline had packed it in with that big lead that it may have been impossible to avoid their disastrous fate.

Dodge’s kick got most of the press, probably because a game had never ended on such a play in NFL history prior to the Jackson return, it was a spectacular run and Giants coach Tom Coughlin actually came out on the field as the Eagles were celebrating to yell at the shell-shocked rookie punter. He should have; Dodge has had a litany of issues this year from fumbled snaps to shanked kicks and so on. If you are punting in the NFL, your coach says, “whatever you do, don’t kick it to that guy, just knock it out of bounds,” and you then go out and do exactly what he told you not to do, you deserve for him to humiliate you on the field in full view of the cameras. What will be the most interesting aspect of this incredible game, though, will be how the Giants respond. They now have to win their final two games just to make the playoffs, and this week’s test is a road game against a similarly desperate Packers team that will be playing at home with its starting QB returning from a week out thanks to a concussion. There are rumors swirling that Coughlin’s job is now in jeopardy, a theory that doesn’t make much sense given how they were eight minutes from a division title after playing their best football of the season over the past month right up to that 8-minute mark. Whatever happens, it was a phenomenal finish to what would otherwise have been a rather ho-hum kind of blowout. Just another example of why the NFL is so fantastic.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: Not interested in any more dissection of the near disaster against the Packers so here’s another absolutely outstanding stat regarding the best team in the NFL. Over the course of the Pats current, six-game winning streak, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have combined for 29 catches, 369 yards and eight TDs. Boing.

2. Atlanta: The biggest question regarding whether the Falcons are contenders or pretenders has always been if they can win on the road. Well, they’ve played four of their last five games away from home and won all of them, by an average of 12 points. They’re 6-2 out of Georgia and will be hosting playoff games in January.

3. Philadelphia: The biggest headlines surrounding the Eagles monumental, comeback, 38-31 win over the woebegone Giants last week focused on Jackson’s punt return and Dodge’s inability to kick the ball out of bounds. But Vick was the real story, leading his team to 220 yards and three TD drives of 75, 57 and 85, respectively over the final eight minutes of the game. Hate the guy if you want, but man is he an unbelievable player.

4. Baltimore: The Ravens defense (prevalently featuring loser/Brady-hater Terell Suggs) blew another fourth quarter lead last against the Saints, but was bailed out by the offense, primarily Ray Rice. Rice had 31 rushes for 153 yards, caught five passes for 80 yards and scored two TDs. His big runs salted the game away late for Baltimore, which will need more performances like Sunday’s out of him if Suggs and the defense continue to sputter down the stretch.

5. (tie) New Orleans/Pittsburgh: Not a very inspiring sight for Saints fans to see their D gashed so thoroughly by Rice and Co. But the offense is fully healthy and really clicking at the right time, which should be easing to any worried, New Orleans minds. As for the Steelers, they lost another home game to an AFC East foe, this time the Jets, though they had a great chance to take it in the end thanks to some more woeful,l in-game coaching by Rex Ryan and crew (see below). In keeping with other season-long patterns, safety Ryan Clark was flagged for yet another illegal hit delivered by a Steelers defender, then naturally whined and cried about how unfair it all is and how he “can’t play properly” if such hits are continued to be found illegal, fineable offenses. I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the Pittsburgh organization is over the age of 8. Hey Ryan – it doesn’t matter what you think, how much you and your teammates whine like little babies or whether the world is just an unfair place. The rules say those hits are illegal. It may be dumb, but those are the rules, like em or not. If you want to stop getting flagged, fined and made an example of, why don’t you just stop hitting like that? Wow, what a novel concept!

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Denver: Get a load of this – in two games against the Raiders this year, both losses, the Broncos defense has allowed 98 points and over 1,000 total yards. Worst in the league? Yep, Tim Tebow or no Tim Tebow.

2. Arizona: The Cardinals pathetic season just got worse as they lost to Carolina in a game they never even came close to leading. Again, they got terrible quarterback play and again, they had no running game. Looking at this team in relation to the past two seasons, I’m starting to wonder if Kurt Warner actually was the second coming.

3. Carolina: Hooray for the Panthers, getting John Fox one last win in Charlotte and QB Jimmy Clausen his first (and possibly only) one before they draft Stanford star Andrew Luck next year. And hooray for the Panthers also for not being No. 1 on this list for yet another week.

4. Cleveland: Well, it sure was fun while it lasted, eh Browns fans? There was a stretch earlier in the year when it looked like your team might actually be turning the corner. Then they remembered they’re the Browns, lost in consecutive weeks to the Bills and Bengals, are destined for yet another double-digit loss season and will now almost undoubtedly have to start over with a new coach next year for the fifth time since the turn of the century.

5. Cincinnati: The Bengals won a game! After 10 straight losses! Can you believe it? Interesting how it came with Terell Owens getting hurt early and Chad Ochocinco basically being benched while Cedric Benson had his best game of the season (31 carries, 150 yards, 4.8 YPA, one TD). They’re a little slow on the uptake in Cincy.

What’s Trendy

- Jason Garrett, Cowboys: Dallas is 4-2 since Garrett took over for Wade Phillips and has scored at least 27 points in all six games. They scored 27-plus once this year under Phillips. It seems they’re responding to Garrett, no?

- Donald Brown, Colts: Pretty much a complete bust since Indy took him in the first round out if UConn last year, Brown went off in last week’s huge, 34-24 win over Jacksonville. Brown’s 129 yards (on just 14 carries, a 9.2 YPA) was by far a career high and his TD was just his second of the season. With all of the injuries on the Colts offense, if they can get a consistent running game going with Brown as the lead back, watch out come playoff time.

- The Lions:
Major congratulations to the Lions, who one week after snapping their 19-game divisional losing streak, beat the Bucs in Tampa to snap a jaw-dropping, NFL record 26-game road losing streak with a 23-20, overtime win. Their last road win before Sunday? October, 2007. Amazing.

What’s Not

- Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks: A very good career for the former Xaverian and BC product is coming to a close and if you don’t believe me, just look at the numbers. Hasselbeck has 17 turnovers this season, 10 in the past three weeks. In Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, he was 10-of-17 for just 17 yards and three picks before getting yanked. Ouch.

- The Texans: Now, instead of just losing games in humiliating fashion, they’re humiliating themselves in a different way. Linebackers Brian Cushing (who was suspended four games earlier this season for steroids) and Antonio Smith actually got into a fight with each other on the field during Sunday’s loss to Tennessee. If Houston owner Bob McNair brings coach Gary Kubiak back for yet another season, he is either stupid or just doesn’t care. This team is toxic in so many ways and something near to the top is the only thing that can save it.

- The Jets Coaching Staff:
Yes, the Jets won, ending their two game misery streak. And yes, it was a big one, on the road against a very good team. But for all his motivational hoohah and macho, braggart crap (not to mention his predilection for foot fetish home videos) Rex Ryan and his minions are lousy in-game coaches. With a 20-17 lead, three minutes left and the Steelers with just one remaining time out, the Jets called two straight pass plays, both of which were incomplete, thus stopping the clock. They got the ball back after a safety with another chance to salt the game away and of course, threw another incomplete pass, this one after Pittsburgh had burned its final TO. Two possessions, less than one minute spent. And that’s without even mentioning Braylon Edwards and LaDanian Tomlinson going out of bounds (Edwards twice) down the stretch with that lead and the clock running. It would have served the Jets right if the Steelers comeback attempt hadn’t stalled out all the way down at the 9-yard line. The fact that Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who loses more and more credibility with each passing week, named offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer the coach of the week in his Monday column speaks hilarious volumes not only about King but about how inexplicably overrated Ryan and his staff really are.

And finally…

It would be easy to use this space to take some more shots at some of my favorite targets, like BrettFavre, who again made it all about himself last week in playing against the Bears at the last second on Monday night, got hurt again and subsequently subjected all of us to still more “will he or won’t he,” garbage primarily sponsored by his house network, ESPN. Or Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who continues to be the biggest fraud in coaching as well as coming off as someone who has little regard or respect for his players in the wake of his handling of the Donovan McNabb benching, and who will now have five straight years of not taking his team to the playoffs. But I’ll take the high road, it being the holidays and all. Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and thank you so very much for reading Patriots Daily!

Around The League – Week 14

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Excuse me for gloating, but man do the Jets suck something fierce. The “better team” prior to last Monday night’s showdown with the Pats according to ESPN’s Tom Jackson, has now lost two straight and scored nine points combined in doing so. The vaunted defense returned to form against the Dolphins this past week, but couldn’t make enough plays to cover for the atrocious offense. Now, the loud mouths are pointing fingers at each other, whether it’s Rex Ryan and the defense, Rex Ryan and the quarterback, Rex Ryan and anyone who will listen to him drone on endlessly about himself, etc. And to top it all off, an indelibly stupid act by the team’s strength and conditioning coach has opened up a whole, new can of worms that have cast the Jets in a very negative light, provoked cries of cheating and basically transformed all of the self-indulgent blowhards in the organization from the refreshing, light of the league they used to be into the spawn of hell. And man, is it awesome.

In case you haven’t heard, this strength and conditioning coach, a fellow name Sal Alosi, stood foot to foot in a line along the sideline with the team’s practice squaders on a punt return in the Dolphins game and stuck his leg out when Miami gunner Nolan Carroll ran by, tripping him and knocking him out of the game with a leg injury. The Jets, naturally, played dumb, waited for the league to discipline this idiot, then a day later, claimed they had “new information” incriminating Alosi and thus suspended him indefinitely. Oh and also, they claimed he acted completely alone in lining up with the players and tripping Carroll, stressing that no one else in the organization had any knowledge of any of it prior to it happening. Guess what? That’s bullshit.

Then, as if the story couldn’t get any better, special teams coach Mike Westhoff, one of the most respected at his post in the game, humiliated the organization even further, as well as himself, when he went on the radio and arbitrarily accused the Pats of also committing such heinous acts, all the while contradicting himself over and over and over and over regarding his role or lack thereof, in the proceedings. Even ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, one of the most level-headed, even-keeled football types out there, devoted an entire blog post to Westhoff’s nonsense, calling it “pathetic” and wondering if we were all suddenly back in elementary school.

It’s been a major hoot, watching all these jerks lose their grip in the face of a little adversity. There is no institutional control from the top on down with the Jets, which no one notices when the team is winning but gets magnified times 1,000 when it isn’t. The culture of being chest-beating, look-at-me bullies, cultivated from day one by Ryan, is backfiring. Suddenly, the self-appointed Super Bowl champs might not even make the playoffs and what’s more, they must try to right their ship on the field while controversy swirls all around them off it. This a group in dire need of some serious reflecting. But are they capable of it? Can the same neanderthals who behaved like horny, pimple-faced, 16-year olds when a hot, female reporter came to their training camp find in themselves the ability for introspection? Who knows? After they lose again this week at Pittsburgh, perhaps we’ll find out.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: With all of the astounding numbers that have accompanied the Pats to the top of this, and many other, lists, this one is among the coolest. With last Sunday’s win in Chicago, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick earned their 108th victory as a QB/coach tandem, surpassing Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll – four-time Super Bowl winners – of the Steelers.

2. Atlanta: The Falcons rolled on in stomping hapless Carolina on Sunday. Now, it appears they’ve set themselves up to win the AFC South and capture a No. 1 seed and first-round bye even if they lose to the Saints next week. All they have to do is beat Seattle on Sunday and the Panthers again in Week 17 and due to a couple tiebreaker scenarios, it’s all theirs.

3. New Orleans: The Saints have won six in a row and scored 30-plus points in their last five. Given the ongoing struggles of the Ravens defense (see below), look for that streak to continue this week, even outdoors in Baltimore. Oh and also, don’t be surprised to see them back in the Super Bowl either.

4. Pittsburgh: Since getting bombed by the Pats on their home field to the tune of 39 points back in Week 10, the Steelers defense has allowed just nine points per game over a four-game winning streak. With the Jets and all of their struggles on offense (and everywhere else) coming into Heinz Field on Sunday, it’s safe to assume that Troy Polamalu, Lamar Woodley and company will keep up the good work.

5. (tie) Philadelphia/New York Giants: The Giants have ripped off three straight wins since losing in Philly, each more dominant that the last, thanks to a reinvigorated running game and some stellar defense. The Eagles don’t look quite as good as they did a month ago, but are still managing to post some impressive results despite a truckload of injuries, especially on defense. The winner of Sunday’s matchup this weekend will in all likelihood win the NFC East. Take the Giants, at home.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: Anyone think John Fox has started cleaning out his office at Panthers team headquarters yet? You think anyone there cares if he has? And will some other team really pony up the big bucks to bring him in and run their operation next year? After taking less than two seasons to go from 12-4 to the worst team in the league? And three playoff appearances in 10 years? How do you sell that to your fan base? And isn’t it fun to have one of these blurbs be entirely comprised of rhetorical questions?

2. Denver: So much for interim coaches finding success once they get their hands on the job. Not following in the footsteps of Dallas’s Jason Garrett and Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier was Denver’s Eric Studesville, who watched his team lose 43-14 to the… wait for it… ahem, Arizona Cardinals last week. Hey Coach Eric, hope you’re renting out there in Denver.

3. Cincinnati: Since the Bengals tumble back down to the level of inconsequence is hardly surprising, let’s examine something that is; the fact that Carson Palmer is easily one of the worst QBs in the league. How did that happen so fast? I guess, from what I gather, it’s been an ongoing process over the past couple years. But with the skill talent on that team, there’s no way he should be as lousy as he is. 10 picks in his last five games, two gimmes returned for TDs last week in Pittsburgh and two games with a passer rating higher that 80 since Week 7. Hard to believe he’s the same guy who was so, so good just five seasons ago.

4. Tennessee: This may be a little harsh, but it feels a lot with the Titans like it did last year when they started out 0-6, especially considering they’ve now lost six in a row. I read a quote this week from tight end Bo Scaife essentially saying that the locker room in Nashville is spilt 50/50 in the Vince Young vs. Jeff Fisher battle. Whether that’s true or not, it’s hard to fathom the Titans not finishing at 5-11 with a nine-game losing streak.

5. (tie) Detroit/Arizona: Arizona gets points for blowing a team out (even if it was the Broncos) with yet another rookie/unproven QB with a 43-point outburst last Sunday. Two weeks ago against the 49ers, the Cards didn’t look as though they were capable of scoring 43 points the rest of the season. And big ups to kicker Jay Feely, who booted five field goals and ran for a TD in that game, the first kicker to run in a score since 1990. As for the Lions, their 7-3 win over Green Bay was mostly hideous. But it was a win and a division win at that, their first of the kind in their last 19 tries.

What’s Trendy

- Alex Smith, 49ers: It seemed odd that Niners coach Mike Singletary re-named Smith his starter this past week especially considering Smith’s replacement, Troy Smith, had been playing well and doing some winning. But everything Singletary does/says is at least a little odd so the odds are that at some point, the oddness will work out in his favor and in the case of Alex Smith, it did. Smith was 17-of-27 for 255 yards and three TDs, his best day as a pro, in San Fran’s 40-21 win over Seattle.
- Matt Cassel, Chiefs: The Chiefs had 67 total yards and five first downs all day in last week’s 31-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Chargers. So what does this have to do with Cassel? He didn’t play, thanks to a midweek appendectomy. It’s safe to say on the heels of that game that if Cassel doesn’t play, the Chiefs are finished. Wonder if that’ll warrant any MVP votes for him.
- Brandon Fields, Dolphins: It’s typical of the Dolphins wildly up and down season that in their huge win over the Jets, their best player was their punter. Fields punted 10 times in the 10-6 slopfest and averaged 56.4 yards per punt. That’s pretty good, a lot better than regressing QB Chad Henne who completed just five passes for 55 yards all day but still got the win.

What’s Not

- The Texans: Ready for the one of the most jaw-dropping stats of the year? Houston has trailed four games by at least 14 points this year, come back to tie or take the lead in all of them but wound up losing each one of them. The fourth one was Monday night against Baltimore. Tough team, just not tough enough. Amazing.
- Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings: So BrettFavre sits out for the first time in 297 games (and if you didn’t know that, you don’t have his house network, ESPN) and the guy who replaces him, Jackson, first stinks to high heaven in a brutal Vikings loss to the Giants, then leaves the game with turf toe and winds up on injured reserve. Where was all the coverage on Jackson’s streak ending at one??!!
- Mark Sanchez, Jets: Here are the Sanchize’s numbers in December: 34-of-77, 380 yards, 44.1 percent completions, 0 TDs, 4 INTs, 36.something passer rating, two losses, zero wins. Ryan can talk about how Sanchez gives his team the best chance to win and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer can keep devising game plans that require him to throw and throw and throw some more all they want. He’s not up to it or good enough yet to be able to handle it and these past two weeks are all the evidence necessary to prove it.

And finally…

They’re almost definitely going to make the playoffs but the Baltimore Ravens are somewhat a shell of themselves, even with nine wins. On Monday night, their no longer even good defense allowed a 95-yard TD drive and a 99-yard TD drive to the Texans in giving away a 15 point lead in the fourth quarter alone. That defense, once as ferocious as any, is now very good according to the numbers (10th in total defense, eighth against the run, 14th against the pass) but pretty mediocre when you look at the actual games. That fourth quarter meltdown in Houston was hardly the first one of the season, just the most recent. Starting with their fall-from-ahead loss to the Pats in Week 6, the Ravens have blown five fourth quarter advantages in their last eight games.

Some of the problems likely have to do with age. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed aren’t exactly young anymore. And with the exception of nose tackle Haloti Ngata, there aren’t really any other playmakers there (and that includes loud mouth Terrell Suggs, who when he isn’t ripping Brady and the Pats is busy being one of the most inconsistent, overrated linebackers in the league). It seemed earlier in the year that their offense, which is stacked with big names, would be able to compensate for the aging D. But other than the first half on Monday night, QB Joe Flacco has appeared tentative and maybe even a bit regressed, a far cry from how sharp and polished he looked in his first two seasons. He seemed to shy from the moment a couple of weeks ago against the Steelers which was one of those fourth quarter choke job games, a loss that likely cost the the Ravens a shot at winning the AFC North and getting to host a playoff game for a change (their last five postseason games have been on the road).

Baltimore gets Cleveland and Cincinnati to close out the season following this week’s matchup with the Saints, which means most likely hitting the playoffs on a roll and with at least an 11-5 record. But still, this team is far from the Super Bowl favorite it was pegged as prior to the season and even further from the elite team many in the media seem to still think it is (Sports Illustrated had the Ravens No. 5 in its weekly power rankings, ahead of Philly, the Giants and other better looking outfits). Right now, it feels like one and done for them, which would not only be a huge disappointment but also the third straight year in which they failed to get as far as they did the previous season. That’s a long way off, but it’s not remotely out of the realm of possibility, especially considering the results of their past couple months.

First Impressions – Green Bay Packers

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Packers come to town 8-5 Sunday night versus the Patriots in a game that suddenly may not be as difficult as it initially looked. Aaron Rodgers suffered his second concussion of the year last Sunday and may not play. Even before he went out, the Pack had been struggling. Meanwhile, the Patriots are hitting on all cylinders. It’ll be their second NFC North opponent in a row and so far they’re 3-0 versus that division winning by an average of 20. Last time they saw the Packers was 2006 at Green Bay and that was a 35-0 Patriots whitewash. A win could clinch the division and a bye for the Patriots if the Jets lose at 4:15 PM at Pittsburgh. If so, a crowd approaching the fired up crowd that saw the Patriots crush the Jets two weeks ago could be in display once again. And at the end of the night, with or without Rodgers playing, the Patriots could possibly have achieved their first goal for the season…..winning the AFC East.

Aaron Rodgers (#12), Quarterback: Rodgers has clearly become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL right up there with Tom Brady in the discussion. But his career certainly didn’t get off to that kind of start with Green Bay. Rodgers was originally drafted with the 24th pick in the draft by Green Bay in 2005. 24 was considered a “slip” for Rodgers, who leading up to the draft was considered to be a higher rated prospect. He then proceeded to sit for three years behind Brett Favre with little playing time. When he did get into a game, such as in 2006 when the Patriots knocked Favre out of the game, he was generally unimpressive. That appearance in the Patriots game remains his only appearance against them. In that game, a 35-0 Patriots win at Lambeau Field, Favre was hit with just under 2 minutes left in the first half with the Patriots already leading 21-0. Rodgers played the rest of the game and was 4-12 for 32 yards and took 3 sacks in just over a half of play. It was performances like that before he became the starter that lead many to wonder if he’d ever be a good NFL quarterback.

But beginning in 2008, Rodgers got his chance as the Packers starter when Favre was let go and then moved on to the Jets. And he’s steadily improved to become one of the elite quarterbacks. Last year he had an excellent 103.2 QB rating. This year he got off to a slow start, but had been great of late and his QB rating is up to 98.5. Against Detroit this past Sunday, however, Rodgers suffered his second concussion of the year leaving his status for the game against the Patriots in doubt. Having just had a concussion two months ago and not missing a game, the Packers will likely be under a lot of pressure in both directions regarding Rodgers. Those who are worried about the Packers playoff chances will push for Rodgers to play. Medical concerns will push the Packers legitimately in the other direction. Will he play? We likely won’t know until at the earliest 24 hours before game time. Perhaps right before the game. And having or not having an elite quarterback will be a major factor in what kind of test the Patriots will face Sunday night.

Matt Flynn (#10), Quarterback:

Will We See Matt Flynn At QB Sunday Night?

If Rodgers doesn’t play, it’ll be Matt Flynn. Flynn is a former 7th round choice out of LSU. Most Patriots fans are probably quite unfamiliar with Flynn, who has limited playing time in the NFL. I happen to have the chance to have watched him quite a bit, at least in college, being a LSU alum and fan who catches most of their games. And I’ll say this, Flynn is one of the smartest quarterbacks I have ever seen play. He is Tom Brady level in terms of intelligence, game management, leadership and smart play. What he lacks, however, is Brady’s talent and obviously NFL experience.

At LSU, Flynn got his first significant experience as a Sophomore when the starter was hurt for the bowl game versus Miami. And all Flynn did in his college start was lead LSU to a 40-3 win and earn player of the game honors. His junior year, Flynn went back to being a backup but finally earned the starters position again his senior year of 2007. And Flynn had an excellent year, playing smart, efficient football and not making mistakes. It culminated with Flynn leading the Tigers to a National Championship game with a 38-24 win over Ohio State in which Flynn earned player of the game honors.

Since coming to the NFL, Flynn has impressed in earning backup duties to Rodgers beating out some higher draft picks. But he’s only thrown 46 career passes in three years. As I said, he is smart, can scramble a bit, has nice touch and is a good game manager. He lacks a big arm though and is inexperienced. He can’t make huge throws with velocity into tight coverage. But he will take what is given to him and usually avoids mistakes. He throws on the run well. He is just one of those players who wins and at the end of the game you wonder why he is always on top as he doesn’t appear to have great skills. But if he does play Sunday night, look for the Packers to play a conservative game with Flynn avoiding dumb mistakes and taking what the Patriots give them. If the defense can slow the Pats offense down, Flynn is perfectly capable of keeping the Packers in the game and pulling a stunner.

Greg Jennings (#85), Wide Receiver: Jennings is an explosive, dangerous receiver and one of the best receivers in the NFL. Originally a 2nd round choice out of Western Michigan, Jennings has it all for a receiver: speed, moves, quickness, hands and toughness. He is a definite deep threat but also a threat on slants and shorter inside curls. On tough third and longs, the Packers look for him first. The Patriots best corner, rookie Devin McCourty, was injured this past Sunday versus the Bears but it uncertain how seriously. The Packers aren’t great at running the ball, so will have to throw. They’ll likely look for Jennings a lot and if McCourty isn’t there the Patriots could have a lot of trouble with him. He’s a game changer who despite his smallish frame, has put together 12, 9, 4 and 11 touchdown seasons the past 4 years. He averages over 16 yards per catch for his career. If early in the game you know McCourty is out and the Packers throw successfully to Jennings, its a cause for concern the Packers could pull the upset.

Clay Matthews (#52), Linebacker: There has been a lot of consternation amongst Pats fans they did not draft Matthews in 2009 despite opportunities to do so. There was a lot of thought at the time he’d fit perfectly at outside linebacker in the Pats 3-4 defense. And he was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2009. His father Clay Sr. played for Bill Belichick back in Cleveland. It seemed a natural. But for whatever reason, the Pats went in a different direction and Pats fans have been questioning it ever since. In any event, Matthews will be on the other side this Sunday and is a game changing disruptive force. After a 10 sack rookie season, he’s followed it up with a 13 sack season this year thru 13 games. There are some reports out there Matthews is playing injured and his effectiveness is down. But no matter, the Pats will have to account for Matthews and not allow him to constantly disrupt Brady’s timing.

Charles Woodson (#21), Cornerback: The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has had a good season, but not quite as dominant as his 2009 campaign. After 9 interceptions last season (and 7 in 2008), Woodson has a mere 2 this year. With Tramon Williams a good corner on the other side, you really can’t ignore Woodson and pick on one side. So you’d have to conclude he has slipped slightly. Still, he’s capable of big plays and Tom Brady nearly had a few picks this past week against the Bears. Brady wasn’t quite as sharp and had more bad throws than he had the previous 3 games. If that trend were to continue, Woodson (Brady’s former Michigan teammate) is a guy who could take serious advantage (as could Williams). This will make only Woodson’s second return to Foxborough since the Snow Bowl when Woodson sparked one of the most talked about plays in NFL history when he hit Brady (it should be noted in the head) in a play that lead to the “Tuck Play.” His first return in 2005, Woodson was unable to get revenge with the Patriots winning 30-20 in that season’s opener. This time the weather is likely to be more similar to the Snow Bowl and the Patriots will be hoping the result will be the same over Woodson’s team.

Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers: Capers coached with the Patriots as Secondary Coach in 2008. There have been some rumors he did not get along well with Bill Belichick and he was allowed to leave for Green Bay (and a better position) last year. He immediately switched the Packers to a 3-4 defense and an excellent turn around has resulted. Last year he helped turn around the Packers defense and it went from 21st in 2008 to 2nd in the NFL in 2009. This year, they’ve only allowed 183 points through 13 games despite a ton of injuries for Green Bay on that side of the ball. He’ll have a huge test this week trying to slow down the Patriots, the hottest offensive team in the NFL right now and could be without another top player in Cullen Jenkins. Capers grew up as a coach in the Pittsburgh Steelers blitzing style 3-4, so that’s what the Patriots will see Sunday. They like to try to spread those type of defenses out so we’ll probably see a lot of that. It should be a big game for Danny Woodhead. If Capers learned anything regarding how the Patriots like to attack this style defense from his year here, it could help the Pack counter this strategy. Either way, it should be a great chess match between two top notch units, the Patriots offense and Packer defense.

(UPDATED 12/13) Pulling Your Hair Out Over Tiebreaker Formulas?

By Chef

(Editor’s note: You might think that Chef spends all his time tasting beers and coming up with great menus for tailgating, well, this week, we let him out of the Kitchen, and had him figure out the various tiebreaker recipes for all remaining scenarios. The result is this post.)

Where do we stand?

The Patriots win and Jets loss on Sunday makes the playoff picture much clearer.

With an 11-2 record the Patriots have a magic number of 2 to clinch the AFC East over the Jets, and also a number of 2 to clinch the 1st seed over the Steelers/Ravens.

The Patriots can clinch the 1st seed with 2 wins.

They can clinch the AFC East and the second seed with any combination of 2 wins, Jets losses and Jets ties.

They can clinch the 1st seed with any combination of 2 wins and Pittsburgh losses. If the Patriots beat the Jets for the AFC East.

Obviously they win both of those scenarios by winning 2 out of their remaining three. But there is some breathing room built in because the Steelers and Jets play next Sunday.

Rooting interest depends on what you find more important.

If the Steelers win, the Patriots only need to win 1 game, or have the Jets lose 1 game to take the AFC East and the second seed.

If the Jets win, the Patriots still need to win 2 games, or win 1 and have the Jets lose 1 to take the AFC East. However if the Patriots take the AFC East they will also take the 1st seed.

Checking the schedules, this is the only game the Steelers should have a chance of losing

  • The Patriots play Green Bay, @ Buffalo and Miami
  • The Jets play @Pittsburgh, @Chicago and Buffalo
  • The Steelers play Jets, Carolina, @ Cleveland

So if you want the Steelers to beat the Jets on Sunday, bear in mind the Patriots will need to win 2 games. The Steelers won’t be losing a game to help them out.

On the other hand, if the Jets win on Sunday, they could lose in Chicago the following week.

Either way, on Sunday night, when the Patriots play Green Bay if the Pats win they will clinch either the AFC East or they will clinch a higher seed than Pittsburgh.

Here’s a detailed rundown of the tiebreaker scenarios at play:

The Patriots stand at 11-2, 3-1 versus the AFC East and 8-2 against the AFC.

The Jets stand at 9-4, 3-2 versus the AFC East and 7-3 against the AFC.

If the Patriots and Jets should finish tied, then they will be tied on the third tiebreaker. Win-Loss-Tie percentage in common games. As the Patriots and Jets are in the same division they only play 4 games that aren’t in common. The Patriots beat Indy, SD and the Jets, and lost to the Jets for a 3-1 record. The Jets beat Houston, Denver and the Patriots, and lost to the Patriots for a 3-1 record.

With identical records in the 4 “uncommon” games, if the 2 teams finish tied then they must have identical records in the remaining 12 common games. So we can ignore the 3rd tiebreaker. We can also ignore the 1st tiebreaker as they finished 1-1 Head to Head.

In a tie it will come down to the 2nd, 4th or 5th tiebreakers. AFC East record, AFC record or Strength of Victory.

The Patriots play the Packers, Dolphins and Bills. The Jets play the Steelers, Bears and Bills.

So given their records the Patriots have 2 games to give right? Yes and No.

The Patriots can lose against the Packers and one of their AFC East opponents. They cannot lose to both AFC East opponents.

Here is why:

If the Patriots lose 2 games they’ll finish 12-4. If the Jets win all three of their games they will also finish 12-4.

For the Jets to finish 12-4 they will have won against the Steelers, Bills and Bears.

Their AFC East record will stand at 4-2.

If the Patriots lose to the Dolphins and Bills, their AFC East record will stand at 3-3.

The Jets would win on the 2nd tiebreaker AFC East record.

If the Patriots lose to the Packers and either the Dolphins and Jets, then we go deep into the tiebreakers.

Both teams would finish 12-4. They would also finish tied at 4-2 against the AFC East. And they’d also finish tied at 9-3 against the AFC.

So we go to the strength of victory tiebreaker.

As laid out last week, this is an advantage for the Patriots, and it got even better this week.

As a refresher strength of victory is the winning percentage of the teams you beat. Because the Patriots and Jets play such similar schedules there are only a few teams that make up the difference in their strengths of victory.

And remember we only get to this point if the Jets win all of their remaining games.

Eliminating the victories they have in common

Pats will have Indy (7-6), San Diego (7-6), Baltimore (8-4) and Dolphins (7-6) or Bills (3-10) 29-22 with a win against the Dolphins, 25-26 with a win against the Bills.

Jets will have Houston (5-7), Denver (3-10), Cleveland (5-8) and Bills (3-10) 16-35

With only 3 weeks remaining it is clear that this tiebreaker goes to the Patriots.

So what happens if the Jets lose to the Steelers:
The Jets could then only finish 11-5 at best, with a 4-2 AFC East record, 8-4 against the AFC

The Patriots could lose any 2 games, including losing both to their remaining AFC East opponents. Because the Patriots would still finish 12-4 and win outright..

The Patriots could NOT lose all 3 of their remaining games. Although this would tie them with the Jets at 11-5, the Patriots would finish 3-3 against the AFC East and the Jets would finish 4-2. The Patriots would lose on the 2nd tiebreaker.

So what happens if the Jets lose to the Bears:
Again the Patriots couldn’t lose both remaining AFC East games, due to that 2nd tiebreaker; but they could lose against the Packers and one AFC East opponent.

As far as it matters, that takes care of the Jets. So what about the 1st seed.  That comes down to the Steelers.

The Steelers stand at 10-3 only one game behind the 11-2 Patriots and have games against the Jets, Panthers and Browns.

Because the Patriots hold the 1st tiebreaker against the Steelers it is only necessary to finish tied with them.

And looking at their games, lets just say the only one they should realistically have a chance of losing is to the Jets.

We also know the Patriots have 2 games in hand against the Jets, as long as they are the right 2 games.

So the Jets losing to Steelers doesn’t necessarily help the Patriots, but the Steelers losing to the Jets does help the Patriots.

So the answer is clear, hope for the Jets to beat the Steelers, because that brings the ‘lose to the Packers and either Dolphins/Bills for both the AFC East and 1st seed’ situation into play.

Around The League – Week 13

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

The Broncos fired Josh McDaniels on Monday night, an act that was more than likely a fait accompli, but came about four weeks earlier than was widely expected. Everyone involved was very nice and civilized in the aftermath but Denver owner Pat Bowlen has to be kicking himself, not just because he now will have to pay three coaches next year (McDaniels, Mike Shanahan, who was fired after the 2008 season with multiple years still left on his contract and whomever is hired as the next full-time coach), but because he probably gave McDaniels the keys to the car a little too soon.

The McDaniels Era In Denver Is Mercifully Over

When McDaniels was hired to replace Shanahan, it was shocking, both because Shanahan was still seemingly living a teflon life off of the two Super Bowls John Elway won him 10 years earlier and also because McDaniels was just 32 when Bowlen gave him the job. McDaniels was coming off three massively successful years as the Pats offensive coordinator, one of which was the record breaking 2007 season and another that saw him develop Matt Cassel from an unknown, seventh-round backup into a legitimate, front line, NFL starting QB. In the beginning, it looked like a masterstroke, as the Broncos won McDaniels first six games as a head coach, including a major upset of the Pats. But then, the wheels fell off the wagon.

Denver would go on to lose 17 of its next 22 games. The defense completely fell apart as McDaniels tried to shoehorn a bunch of guys who either were senior citizens or weren’t necessarily the best fit, into a Pats-style, 3-4 alignment. He mostly botched all of the personnel responsibility he received with the job, the most egregious error being trading Peyton Hillis to Cleveland for third-stringer/bust Brady Quinn. Stories emerged regarding his poor treatment of staff and employees working under him. And of course, the Broncos videographer, a close friend of McDaniels, was caught filming a 49ers practice prior to their meeting with the Broncos in London a few weeks ago.

If the Broncos had been able to win here and there throughout all of this, McDaniels may have survived. But outside of a blowout over the Chiefs in Week 10, they lost seven of eight and sit buried in last place of the AFC West at 3-9. In the end, the most logical analysis of the firing is that McDaniels simply wasn’t ready for all of what he was given. He’s universally respected as an excellent offensive coach and from what’s been written in the aftermath of his undoing is that somewhere down the line, when he matures and figures some stuff out, he’ll be a very good head coach if someone else gives him a chance. He just needs a little more seasoning. Maybe he’ll come back to Foxboro and get it here.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: I hope anyone who may have considered leveling an accusation of homer-ism when I had the Pats in this spot on this list previously was watching on Monday night. And I wonder what ESPN’s always hilarious Tom Jackson (who, for a refresher, said the Pats, “hate their coach,” the day after they cut Lawyer Milloy in 2003, and praised BrettFavre for, “having the courage to throw an interception,” after he selfishly torpedoed the Vikings in last year’s NFC Championship game) thought of that game. In the pregame, he said, “I know the Patriots have the better quarterback and the better coach, But I’m taking the better team and that’s the Jets.” Sound logic there, TJ.

2. Atlanta: The Falcons did it, winning a big game against a good team (and a division rival fighting for playoff position at that) with a 28-24 comeback win in Tampa. Matt Ryan did his usual fourth quarter comeback thing but it was more the special teams (an electrifying, 102-yard kick return for a TD by Eric Weems right after the Bucs had taken a 24-14 lead) and defense (corner Brett Grimes made one of the prettiest INTs you’ll see all year to stop the Bucs from making a late comeback of their own). With two of their remaining four games against Carolina, if the Falcons can somehow get by the Saints in New Orleans next weekend, they have to be the favorites out of the NFC.

3. Pittsburgh: Huge, come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter for the Steelers, who got the snot beat out of them by Baltimore but managed to hold up long enough to win 13-10 late on an amazing TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Isaac Redman. Of course, it wouldn’t be another week in Steelers Country without yet another bitchfest from the bitchier by the week James Harrison, who complained that a couple of Ravens linemen were trying to injure him with some extracurricular activity after the whistle a couple times. Hey James, you ever watched yourself or your defensive teammates on film? You have? Good, now shut up.

4. New Orleans: The Saints escaped Cincinnati with a 34-30 win mostly due to the fact that they were playing the Bengals, who may just be the dumbest team ever assembled. It was a classic case of playing down to your competition on the road against a lousy team with nothing to lose. They better get serious now though, with the Rams and Falcons on the docket this week and next.

5. Green Bay: Good bounce back from their near-miss in Atlanta by the Packers, who overwhelmed the 49ers after a slow start and won easily, 34-16. The spectacular Aaron Rodgers was huge for Green Bay again, with another 300-yard, three TD game. But the play of the day and maybe the year was Donald Driver’s 61-yard TD catch and run on which he seemed to escape, break away from or dodge every single 49er defender. Can’t wait to see these guys in Foxboro next Sunday night – that should be a great, great game.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: When he was asked about the level of effort put forth by his players in the second half of last week’s loss to Seattle, in which they turned a 14-3 lead become a 31-14 defeat, Panthers coach John Fox said, “I don’t think our team’s results have been related to effort at all.” Translation: these guys I’ve been saddled with just suck.

2. Arizona: The Cardinals revolving door at QB continues with someone named John Skelton expected to be thrown to the wolves, er.. I mean, start this week against Denver (ouch, what a shitty game that’s going to be, eh?). Last week, the humorless Derek Anderson put up another gem to the tune of 7-of-20 for 93 yards and a pick. And somewhere in suburban Houston, Matt Leinart sits, practices with the third-stringers, works cheerleaders, cashes his paychecks and probably laughs hysterically.

3. Cincinnati: When was the last time you saw the “line up, call signals and try to draw the defense offsides,” trick actually work? If you said last week, when it naturally happened to the Bengals, and led to New Orleans scoring the game-winning TD on the very next play, you’re the big winner in the casino tonight. I didn’t think it was possible for the Bengals to embarrass themselves any further than it already has this season… until they did.

4. Buffalo The Bills were finally blown out, 38-14, last week after a string of oh-so-close calls. The fact that it was at the hands of the Vikings without BrettFavre had to have been particularly galling to coach Chan Gailey and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. If they’d only not knocked him out with a shoulder injury (which he says he’s not sure he’ll be able to play with this week – SURPRISE!!!), he probably would have handed them their third win of the year.

5. (tie) Denver/Detroit: Poor McDaniels. The week his pathetic defense actually plays well, his QB, Kyle Orton, reverts back to his Chicago days with a pitiful, 9-of-28, 117 yard, 0 TD performance in a 10-6 loss. As for Detroit, they were competitive against a good team again, taking the Bears into the fourth quarter with a league before folding after a controversial, unnecessary roughness call. If the Lions are ever to be good, they need to show better resolve when bad things like that happen. After that play and several times on Thanksgiving against the Pats when things looked bleak, they completely went in the tank.

What’s Trendy

- Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: The human bowling ball rolled for a career-high 186 yards in a big, 17-6 win over Tennessee. Overall, the Jags pounded out 258 yards on the ground on a team record 53 attempts. That’s commitment to the running game.

- The Raiders Running Game: Speaking of which, in their surprising beatdown of the Chargers, the Raiders outrushed San Diego 251-21. The Chargers didn’t make a single first down on the ground while the Raiders, still somehow alive in the playoff hunt, got 97 and 95 yards and a TD each from Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, respectively.

- Sidney Rice, Vikings: Finally healthy after missing Minnesota’s first nine games, last year’s best receiver Rice caught five balls for 105 yards and two TDs in the Vikes’ big win over the Bills. Not only were both TD grabs of the jaw-dropping, holy shit variety, Rice made them despite three other Vikings receivers, including Percy Harvin, being inactive.

What’s Not

- The Ravens Offense: They were playing the Steelers, but the Ravens looked particularly inept on Sunday night, surprising considering all the stars/big names (Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, Todd Heap, Joe Flacco, etc.) they have on offense. They managed just 266 total yards, prompting Mason to say afterward, “We’re not a good offense at times. For whatever reason, I don’t know. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody because I’m part of the equation but we’re just not good at times and it showed up today.” Yikes.

- Chad Henne, Dolphins: Miami’s starting QB, who has been shooting himself and his team in the foot on and off all year, did it again on Sunday in a tough loss to Cleveland. He completed just 16-of-32 passes for 174 yards and three picks, the last of which came at his own 25 and cost the Dolphins the game and any possible chance they may have had to make the playoffs. Miami is now 1-5 at home, which is one of the more bizarre stats of the season.

- The Redskins:
A team that is seemingly only ever in the news for the wrong reasons, Washington finally, mercifully banished the awful Albert Haynesworth this week, suspending him for the rest of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. Apparently, Albert routinely refused to do what the coaches told him both in practices and games and Redskins grand poobah Mike Shanahan finally had enough of having a pissing contest with him so he just sent Haynesworth home. I hate to agree with the fraudulent Shanahan on anything but he was right with this one (one could argue that he should have done what he did sooner but given the massive financial investment owner Daniel Snyder made in Haynesworth, it’s understandable that Shanahan tried to get something, anything out of him). If the Redskins are ever going to be relevant again, they need to shed the image Snyder has cultivated of them as a living, breathing fantasy team. Haynesworth is/was the poster boy of that image which makes getting rid of him and his lazy, sorry act a very smart move.

And finally…

Since it’s yet to get old, and probably never will, here’s some more fun facts from the Pats 45-3 destruction of the Jets on Monday night.

  • The Pats win marked the ninth straight season they haven’t been swept by a division opponent. The last time one of their division rivals beat them twice in a year? 2000, Bill Belichick’s first season in Foxboro, the year before the first Super Bowl win, when they fell to both the Jets and Dolphins twice en route to a 5-11 mark, their last losing season.
  • Brady won his second consecutive AFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his 21-of-29, 326 yard, four TD performance. In his last four games, his passer rating is a lofty 138.6. In his last six games, he has 16 TD passes and zero picks. He has now thrown 228 straight passes without an INT and has 27 TD passes against four picks all year, and again, one of those was on a Hail Mary.
  • Randy Moss not only had no catches against the Colts last night, he wasn’t even thrown to. Danny Woodhead, aka Rudy 2, caught all four passes thrown his way on Monday night, for 104 yards. He now has 28 catches for 334 yards this season, or 10 more catches and 98 more yards than Moss since the trade to the Vikings after Week 4.
  • The Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for his 10th and 11th TDs of the season on Monday night. The most rushing TDs in a season by any Pat since Corey Dillon’s 13 in 2006? Laurence Maroney’s nine last year. Not too shabby, Benny.
  • Deion Branch scored his fourth TD on Monday since returning from Seattle in time for Week 6. In his last 18 games as a Seahawk, he had three.
  • With his seven receptions against the Jets, Wes Welker now has 72 on the year, a 96 catch pace. Not quite the 123 he accumulated in 14 games last season or even the 111 or 112 he racked up the two years prior to that. But for a guy who’s spent pretty much all season playing on a not-yet-fully-healed, surgically repaired knee, it’s pretty good.
  • The win was Belichick’s 122nd in the regular season as Pats head coach and gave him his ninth double-digit win season in Foxborough. When you get done with your next snack, Rex, why don’t you eat that?

Around The League – Week 12

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Now that we’ve reached the final month of the season, let’s do a little fortune telling. The real scuttlebutt regarding postseason awards is underway so it’s time to throw in a couple more cents. The following predictions are for recreational purposes only.

MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots – Nine wins in 11 games despite a major personnel change on offense and the overall scheme thus changing dramatically over the course of the team’s Week 5 bye. Add to that 66 percent completions, 2,703 yards, 23 TDs against just four picks, one of which came on a Hail Mary and none of which have occurred since Week 6, and it’s pretty obvious. As great as Brady was in his other MVP year of 2007, he’s even better this year, especially considering how little assistance he’s gotten from his defense..

Offensive Player of the Year: Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers is on pace to pass for 4,890 yards, just over 200 short of Dan Marino’s all-time record for a season. He’s been magnificent this year, shrugging off an injury to his favorite target Antonio Gates and the ugly contract dispute that kept his other favorite guy, Vincent Jackson, out until this past week by throwing for huge yards and a ton of scores to immortals like Legadu Naanee and Seyi Ajirotutu. Last week against the Colts was his first game of the year without a TD pass; the two weeks prior, he had eight. The reason Rivers won’t win MVP is because the Chargers sucked for the season’s first two months as they always do, and are only now getting in gear. It will be hard to keep away from this award, though.

Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews, Packers – After rolling up 8.5 sacks in his first five games, this second year demon linebacker has slowed down a bit, notching just three in his last five. But the impact he made early on and the subsequent fact that he’s the main focus of every opposing offensive coordinator’s game plan when they get ready for the Pack makes him the choice here, just ahead of Chicago’s Julius Peppers.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mike Williams, Bucs – The Bucs are such an amazing story, being 7-4 and in the thick of the playoff hunt despite winning just three games last year and having the youngest roster and coach in the league, someone needs to be recognized. Why not Williams, the rookie receiver out of Syracuse who’s probably been Tampa’s most consistent performer other than QB Josh Freeman. Williams has 45 catches for 701 yards and six TDs, has caught at least four passes in eight of 11 games and has put up 85-plus yards four times. The Bucs still have to play Atlanta and New Orleans again this year and may just miss the postseason thanks to being in the same division as those two powers. But they still make for great copy and Williams is a big reason why.

Devin McCourty For ROY? He Should Be In The Running.

Defensive Rookie of the Year (tie): Devin McCourty, Patriots; Ndamukong Suh, Lions – McCourty gets major props here for being the only real playmaker on the lousy Pats D and showing signs of being the kind of shutdown corner that can potentially take away an entire side of the field already. Suh, the mammoth defensive tackle out of Nebraska, has eight sacks, scored a TD in a win over Washington on which he literally shooed away Redksins receiver Santana Moss, who was trying to make a tackle, like Moss was a mosquito, and has shown the athletic ability to line up both at end and linebacker in certain situations. Either of these two future stars would make a worthy choice.

Coach of the Year: Todd Haley, Chiefs: See below for more on KC’s great story but as far as Haley is concerned, he’s on the verge of doing something no Chiefs coach has done since Dick Vermeil – make the playoffs. Kansas City had eight wins in its previous three seasons. It has seven this season and will likely win at least three more. Haley has a ton of experienced folks helping out in a major way (again, see below) but someone has to captain the ship and he’s done it in outstanding fashion. Honorable mention to the Bucs Raheem Morris and the Pats Bill Belichick.

Bad Coach of the Year: Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals – It’s not Whisenhunt’s fault the \kurt Warner retired. It is his fault that he, a) didn’t have a viable substitute for Warner, and b) allowed the entire rest of the team to completely and totally collapse in Warner’s absence. The Cardinals defense, which was very good two years ago when they got to the Super Bowl and pretty good last year when they won the NFC West and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs, has most of the same guys this year but are atrocious (they made the 49ers offense look like it was 1989 on Monday night). Warner didn’t play defense last I checked. This team is hideous and it’s a miracle they’ve won three games. They look like a college team. That’s on the coach.

Least Valuable Player: Randy Moss, Pats/Vikings/Titans – Three teams, 11 games, 26 catches, 352 yards. If anyone has any suggestions as to a single player whose had less of a positive impact anywhere than Moss has (or hasn’t) had this season, let us know.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: It does kind of feel like the glory years of 2001-2004 around here these days. But it’s hard to truly channel that great era knowing that those teams had defense ranging from good to exceptional. Someone, anyone not named McCourty or Wilfork has got to step up and lead that group and he has to do it soon. Obviously, Monday night’s game is for all the regular season marbles making that seem like a good time to start.

2. New York Jets: Hey, have you heard Rex Ryan this week? I know, that’s a silly question since it’s impossible to ever turn on the TV or a computer without seeing or hearing something that he’s said to call attention to himself. The most recent is that he wants to “kick (Bill) Belichick’s ass.” Not literally, one would hope, but still, what’s the point of saying something so ridiculous? People keep saying this week that Ryan’s way of doing things works just as well as Belichick’s, it’s just vastly different. Really? It works just as well? How many championships has Rex Ryan won? The guy is 18-9 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs. As a wise, former Pats (and Giants and Jets and Cowboys) coach once said, “let’s not send him to Canton just yet.”

3. Atlanta: More impressed with the Falcons this week in light of their enormous win over the Packers. They managed three scoring drives of at least 11 plays in that 20-17 victory against a top-flight defense, and my buddy Matt Ryan completed 24 of his 28 passes, including the first 14 he attempted in the second half. Still, it’s going to take a big win on the road to truly convince me they’re for real. Sunday in Tampa is their next shot.

4. New Orleans: The Saints probably should have lost to Dallas on Thanksgiving but the fact that they got a huge play out of their defense (Malcolm Jenkins’ 25-yard chase down of Roy Williams and subsequent robbery of the ball, which by the way may have been the greatest defensive play I’ve seen all year), then went the length of the field to win the game in the closing minutes spoke volumes about where they’re at. Probably safe to say that there isn’t a single team in the NFC that wants to see the defending champs right about now.

5. (tie) Chicago/Baltimore: Break up the Bears. Chicago’s fourth straight win, a not as close as the score might indicate, 31-26 stomping of the Eagles, was not only convincing and playoff-esque, it was by far the best game Jay Cutler has ever played. 14-of-21, 247 yards, four TDs, no picks, no fumbles, no pouting. Could the league’s favorite frat boy finally be figuring it out? As for the Ravens, they keep finding ways to win despite not playing their best, as last week’s 17-10 decision over the Bucs attests. If they beat the Steelers at home on Sunday night, they win the AFC North.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: How bad is it to be a Panther fan? After watching the horrible Jake Delhomme do for another team what he’d been doing to you for years in last week’s game against Cleveland, which is to say, throw a couple of awful picks and allow the opponent to hang around in a game it probably had no business being in, your kicker, the estimable veteran John Kasay, snap hooks a 42-yard field goal at the final gun that would have netted you your second win of the season. Oh, the humanity.

2. Arizona: If anyone had the misfortune of watching last Monday’s suckfest between the Cardinals and the 49ers, you saw a team that barely looked like it belonged in the UFL let alone the NFL (hint: it wasn’t San Francisco). In addition to making just eight first downs all night, getting carved up by a running back (Brian Westbrook) who hadn’t played all year, making a quarterback (Troy Smith) making his fourth start in four years look like Joe Montana or Steve Young then having to sit back and watch their own QB have an epic, postgame meltdown in front of the media in the aftermath, the Cards racked up a whopping 13 yards rushing. Or, their fewest total since 1953, spanning 845 games. Nauseating.

3. Cincinnati: After the massive display of sucktitude put up by the Bengals on Thanksgiving night against the Jets, I didn’t think it would be possible to see anything worse, at the very least in the same weekend. These guys should call up any buddies the have who play for Arizona and thank them personally.

4. Denver: Never mind that Josh McDaniels has completely blown his first chance at coaching in the NFL pretty much every which way, with all of the recent dredging up of Spygate the latest in a long line of enormous fuck ups on his part (and, if you believe what you read, probably also cost him a chance at coming back here after he gets fired thanks to what he allegedly said about the Pats). Let’s pay attention to the Broncos defense, which is historically awful. They’ve allowed 184 points in their last five games, 95 to the Raiders and Rams (??!!) combined. That, dear readers, isn’t very good.

5. Detroit: The Lions deserve credit for coming out so tough against the Pats and playing really well for a half despite starting their backup QB and tailback. It shouldn’t be too surprising that they got themselves in trouble in the second half and were thus completely swarmed under. If they ever get healthy and stay that way, it will be interesting to see if they can be any good. Some of a foundation seems to be there.

What’s Trendy

- Sam Bradford, Rams: Another Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate propelled his team to its first road win in over two years last week at Denver. Bradford was 22-of-37 for 308 yards and three TDs with no picks, the first 300-yard game and three score game of his career. He’s averaging 249 yards over his last four games with eight TDs over that stretch and has 11 TDs vs. just one INT with while completing 64 percent of his passes and posting a 94.1 passer rating over his last six. Not too shabby for a rookie and probably the biggest reason the Rams are staring down an unlikely playoff berth.

- Peyton Hillis, Browns: This guy’s dream season kept on rolling last week against the Panthers when he scored three more TDs, giving him 11 on the season. The last two Browns to rush for 11 scores in one year? Leroy Kelly and some dude named Jim Brown. He added 131 yards on 26 rushes (5.0 YPA) in Cleveland’s 24-23 win and now 905 yards on 199 rushes through 11 games.

- The Chargers defense: San Diego is doing it’s usual late season thing thanks in no small part to its great QB, Philip Rivers. But the defense looks outstanding in its own right, especially last week in another win over the Colts. The Chargers had five turnovers and ran back two picks for scores in their 36-14 rout of Indy.

What’s Not

- Peyton Manning, Colts: Sure, there have been some injuries, but Manning doesn’t look himself this season, especially lately. he has seven INTs in his last two games and nine in his last four, three of them losses. If the playoffs started today, the Colts would be out. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King even took Manning out of his weekly Top 5 MVP countdown, surely weeping while doing so. What’s this world coming to, anyway???

- The Titans – Yuck. Tennessee has now lost four straight to wind up in the AFC South basement. No offensive TDs in nine quarters. Nine first downs and just 162 total yards last week against the Texans and their high school defense behind rookie, sixth-round QB Rusty Smith. Jeff Fisher received a hearty defense in this space last week but if he calls many more games like the one against Houston, in which Smith attempted 31 passes while Chris Johnson, only the best back in the NFL, had just seven rushes, he may be the one who has to go.

- Everyone associated with the Steelers who won’t just shut the fuck up: Really, it’s beyond silly at this point. James Harrison continuing to bitch and whine after every illegal hit he makes and the subsequent fine, that the league is out to get him, he’s not doing anything illegal (note to James – yes, you are) and that he’s going to keep playing the same way (another note to James: great idea, now get ready to write some more checks). Coach Mike Tomlin undermining his own credibility and embarrassing himself by actually saying that all of Harrison’s fines might affect his ability to send his kids to college (by the way, Harrison signed a $50 million contract this past off-season). Hines Ward getting into the act with complaints about the league’s greater priorities during which he contradicted himself at least four times in about 10 sentences. It’s really, really boring at this point. Maybe if the Steelers started playing better instead of getting blown out at home by a major rival and needing a minor miracle to beat Buffalo, they’d not feel the need to continue their constant, unending whining.

And finally...

They may wind up in direct competition with the Pats for a playoff berth somewhere down the road, but even so, it’s hard not to at least sort of root for the Kansas City Chiefs as they continue their out-of-nowhere run toward the postseason from the top of the AFC West. The Pats Midwest affiliate is 7-4 following last weekend’s thrashing of Seattle and have four very winnable games of the five remaining on their schedule and with next week’s battle with the Chargers in San Diego, which may well decide the division, looming.

It’s hard to imagine any of the so-called experts having the Chiefs anywhere near the playoffs this late in the year when all the pre-season picks came out, but thanks to an extremely well-balanced offense and a young, maturing defense, they’ve done just that and former Pats players and staff have their fingerprints all over it. Matt Cassel, who cashed in after a very good year in place of Tom Brady in 2008, looked like he was stealing money last year and even earlier this season. But he’s coming into his own under the tutelage of the guy who had the most input in making Brady great, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Cassel, who threw 16 TDs but had 16 INTs last year, has 18 TDs against just one pick over his last seven games, with a 22/4 ratio for the season. Young running back Jamaal Charles is already over 1,000 yards with 1,021, and has done it on just 161 attempts, which is only 6.3 YPA. And Charles is spelled by veteran bruiser Thomas Jones, who has a tidy 712 yards on 176 carries. No wonder they’re first in rushing offense. They’re also fourth in scoring offense (25.9 PPG) and sixth in total yards (375.2 YPG). Why can’t the Pats get guys like that? And we didn’t even mention receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had a monstrous 13 catches for 170 yards and three scores against the Seahawks. 13 of his 14 TDs have come in the past seven games and he’s on pace to finish the year with 20.

Romeo Crennel runs the defense, which is only allowing 21 PPG, good for 14th in the league. He’s got Mike Vrabel leading the troops and one of his old bosses, Scott Pioli, supplying him with players. Hard to argue with those kinds of pedigrees, eh?. And even though coach Haley never worked in Foxboro, again, he’s probably as good a bet for Coach of the Year as anyone. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the Chiefs will meet up with the Pats some time in January. That scenario would provide the ultimate measuring stick for this exciting, surprising team.

Tiebreaker Overview (Or, Why This Game Is Important)

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

We know that Monday night’s Patriots/Jets game means a ton in terms of playoff and division positioning. Even radio talk show hosts who don’t have the slightest idea of the actual tiebreakers involved know that this is a very important game for both teams. One says it gives him an ice cream headache. Let’s look at some possibilities.

To review, here are the official NFL Tiebreaker rules in play here:

TO BREAK A TIE WITHIN A DIVISION

If, at the end of the regular season, two or more clubs in the same division finish with identical won-lost-tied percentages, the following steps will be taken until a champion is determined.
Two Clubs

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in common games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss

If we start with the first tiebreaker, it is easy to see that this game is much more important to New England. If they win, they will tie the season series with the Jets. A Jet victory means they have swept the two regular season games, and the Patriots will need to finish a game ahead of them in order to win the division and a probable first-round bye. A Patriots loss puts them a game behind the Jets, meaning they’d have to make up two games over the last four in order to win the division. Very tough.

Moving on to the second tiebreaker. At the moment, the Jets are 3-0 in the division, while the Patriots are 2-1. A Patriots win ties them in terms of divisional record. Each team has a game with the Bills and Dolphins remaining on their schedule – the Jets have both of those games at home, while the Patriots still have to go to Buffalo and host Miami in the season finale. A win by the Patriots on Monday night does not help them all that much if they end up losing one of those remaining AFC East games.

If the Patriots win on Monday night, the season could come down to the third tiebreaker, which is common games. Here are the games the two teams have in common:

Buffalo – both teams have beaten the Bills once, and have one more game to play with them.

Miami – both teams have beaten the Dolphins once and have one more game to play with them.

Baltimore – The Jets lost to the Ravens, while the Patriots beat the Ravens.

Pittsburgh – The Patriots have beaten the Steelers, while the Jets play them on December 19th in Pittsburgh.

Green Bay – The Jets have lost to the Packers, while the Patriots play the Packers at home on December 19.

Minnesota – Both teams have beaten the Vikings.

Detroit – Both teams have beaten the Lions.

Chicago – Both teams have yet to play the Bears, The Patriots on December 12th and the Bears on December 26th, both at Soldier Field.

Cleveland – The Patriots lost to the Browns while the Jets beat the Browns.

Cincinnati – Both teams have beaten the Bengals.

Patriots 7 wins, 1 loss.

Jets 6 wins, 2 losses.

Remaining to play:

Patriots – Bears, Packers, Bills, Dolphins

Jets – Dolphins, Steelers, Bears, Bills.

So even though the Patriots have a slight edge at the moment in common games, every game remaining on the schedule for each team is also a common opponent game.

Could they end up tied through that? If the Patriots win on Monday, and the both the Patriots and Jets win their remaining divisional games, and the Patriots lose to the Packers (Rodgers is gonna hang on that D, bro) while the Jets sweep their remaining games, the teams would both be 13-3 and tied in the division and in common games. That would lead to the fourth tiebreaker – conference record. Other scenarios could happen, of course, if the Jets lose to the Steelers while the Patriots lose to Bills, the Patriots win with a 10-2 common opponents record to the Jets 9-3.

In the first scenario in the previous paragraph, both teams would then be 10-2 in the AFC.

That brings us to the 5th tiebreaker – strength of victory. That would take some figuring. Remember, this isn’t strength of schedule, that’s #6, this is strength of victory. So that means margin of victory? No. (See the first comment below for a good explanation of strength of victory vs strength of schedule. ) The remaining games will have a lot to say in determining strength of victory.

Confused yet? Let’s just say Monday night is a pretty big game, and then we’ll go week-by-week from there.