October 18, 2017

Chef Recommends; Piping Hot Link

logoby Patriots Daily Staff
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Believing sincerely that a watched pot never boils, our own Chef has been passing the time in the PD Kitchen (idle this week with a road game on tap) by perusing the Intertubes for choice meat on this Sunday night’s Colts-Pats matchup.

He shoots, he scores. It seems the Pro Football Hall of Fame has designated the game as its Throwback Game of the Week, and with that comes all kinds of cool archival materials from the many memorable battles fought by these two rivals over the years.

We thought you might find something of interest there. Remember to compliment the Chef and tip the waitstaff.


Some more appetizers in the form of NFL.com video clips about Colts/Patriots

Week 9: Patriots vs. Colts Preview

Weather update: Patriots vs Colts

Belichick ready for Colts

Cassel a bona fide starter

Colts’ concerns

Generally Speaking: Bill Polian on Colts

Colts not sharp

In Condi We Trust

logoby Kevin Henkin
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(Editor’s Note: This morning we welcome this guest contribution from old friend Kevin Henkin, who has an idea on how the Patriots can quickly return to the top of the NFL heap. We cannot believe we didn’t think of this first. But that’s Kevin Henkin, folks. A visionary.)

While I may not be a football “expert” along the lines of Tony Kornheiser or Glenn Ordway, I know at least this much: The Patriots need to steal Condoleeza Rice away before the San Francisco 49ers get their grubby little brie-encrusted hands on her.

It’s not all that surprising that the 49ers have Condi Rice in their sights. Perhaps more than any other team in the NFL, the 49ers enjoy a proud tradition of being a great football team a long time ago. That’s why this choice is so savvy for them. Football is, after all, is a game of war and Condi Rice is battle tested in managing two wars at once! Talk about multi-tasking.

Condi also brings a lot of other qualifications to the table. For example, she has been photographed on multiple occasions holding a football during photo-ops. Anyone who brings a football along to a press conference is clearly a student of the game. (Ever see Rich Kotite carrying around a football to press conferences? I rest my case.)

Also, it is said that when Condi served as Provost at Stanford University, she played a large role in landing Dennis Green as Head Coach of the football program. Yes, folks, the same Dennis Green who subsequently elevated the team back to above-average prominence (culminating in an exciting Aloha Bowl loss!). Heady days for the Cardinal football program indeed.

There is also the fact that Ms. Rice has often spoken of her ultimate of goal of one day becoming the NFL Commissioner. Suffice it to say that, considering the robo-nazis who currently occupy the NFL front office these days, the Patriots could really use a friend in the big chair the next time a huge cheating controversy happens.

Also consider the executive experience that Condi Rice can brag about. With her firmly in charge, she wouldn’t be allowing things like having her starting quarterback’s knee being operated on over and over again by some quack hippie doctor using a dirty steak knife out in California. Rest assured that the shenanigans would be over and order would be restored in this once proud Patriots organization.

Lastly, when it comes to “the way things are done” in Foxboro, Condi would obviously fit right in, what with her long track record of denying obvious truths to the press and treating important reporters very rudely.

For the sake of summation, let us recap the Condi situation: Carries football around. Wants to be Commissioner. Hired Denny Green. Takes no mess. Soon to be unemployed. Hates reporters. Wow. Honestly, do we need to hear anymore, folks? This is a win-win for everyone involved (except maybe for incompetent surfer-boy doctors out in California). It is what it is. As they say out in Texas (where people really love football!), let’s get’r done. In Condi We Trust!

Roundtable Moment: Tim Jordan

I am not really happy with the Giants this week.  Haven’t been happy with them for the last 3 weeks, truth be told.  It’s not so much the attitude they’ve displayed this week or the bad judgment they’re guilty of, for showing up to Arizona dressed like pall bearers.  It’s not their lack of respect, it’s their lack of gratitude.  These are the same guys that have been talking all week about the galvanizing effect of playing the Patriots close in the regular season’s final game.  Many of them credited it with giving them the confidence to make their memorable run through the NFC conference.  Three impressive games that allowed them to show their city, and the rest of a doubting NFL, that they were championship timber.  They’re the toast of Manhattan and are the Last Hope for those who do not want to see the Patriots win another Super Bowl.  They are now America’s Underdog.  And they seem to really be enjoying it.  Not just the attention, but the thrill of playing their best and coming together at most important part of the season.  Who wouldn’t, right?

My problem isn’t with any of this, it’s the fact that I haven’t heard one Giant thank the Patriots for any of it.  After all, it’s the historic success of the Patriots that allowed the Giants to share some limelight in what would have been an uneventful evening at the Meadowlands 4 short weeks ago and ride that winning energy all the way to the Phoenix.  If the Patriots weren’t so damn good it’s likely that this week we’d be reading about Brett Favre’s favorite fertilizer, be subjected to Tony and Jessica at the Maxim party, or what it’s like to be reared by a man named Bum.  Instead it’s the shocking revelation that Eli Manning didn’t say a word to the world until he was three years old – a trait that virtually guarantees him Super Bowl glory (this is great news for my neighbor with the 6 year old who loves the taste of paint chips), actual score predictions, and half-hearted trash talk. 

And the Patriots are responsible.  They turned the 10-5 average team with the shaky QB and a bad secondary into the “hottest team in the NFL”.  They are so damn good they forced the Giants into playing inspired football and once they started, they didn’t want to stop.  They’ve taken this precious gift from New England and have cashed it in for a Super Bowl berth.  And not one word of thanks.  Not even an “hey, man, I appreciate it” head nod.

It’s just not right.

This years Patriot team is so damn good that it took two teams to the Super Bowl.  The Patriots made you, Giants, and Sunday they are going to destroy you.

Roundtable Moment: Kevin Thomas

The argument for the Giants winning this game seems to boil down to the fact that they outplayed the Patriots for 3 quarters a month ago, but couldn’t close the deal; now they are playing much better (an arguable proposition), the Patriots are the same or have even regressed a bit (also arguable), therefore the Giants will be able to finish the job this time around.  Even the most ardent Giant partisans seem to concede that at the very best, it will be a close game, and pin their hopes on the Giants making more big plays down the stretch and pulling out the win.  However, what this analysis ignores is that the Patriots are at their very best in close games when the game is on the line.  You can count on exactly one finger the number of big games in which the Patriots were outplayed late in the 4th quarter and let a tight game slip away.  That one time obviously was last year’s AFCCG, and this year’s team was built with the express purpose of not allowing that situation to happen again.  They proved that repeatedly this year–this was probably the best team since the ’03 edition in terms of managing “close and late” situations and doing enough to win.  I do not believe this is entirely luck–I think there is a skill to it–and the Patriots are the best in these situations in today’s NFL.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is probably going to be a real nail-biter (these games just always turn out that way, right?), but again, even if the Giants are able to neutralize the Patriots obvious strengths and keep the game close, they are still going to need to overcome the Patriots’ less obvious but equally important strength of managing the 4th quarter to victory.  It’s just too tall a task. Patriots 31, Giants 28.

Roundtable Moment: Travis Graham

You’ve got to hand it to the Giants. They made it here the hard way, winning all three road games. I still don’t think they are in the class of any of the final four AFC teams, though.

I’ve always been a closet Eli Manning fan. I think it’s because he’s always been crapped on for not caring enough, which isn’t true. I see his disintrest as a positive quality that helps him remain calm when he needs to deliver. He doesn’t have the charisma of his brother, but when all of the chips are on the table, I’d take Eli over Payton and his anxious feet when you have to come from behind in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

I don’t think Eli has the weapons around him to win his next game, though. Burress has come up big in the playoffs so far, but in my opinion the lack of a good check down option for Eli is going to be the Achilles heal for the Giants offense. Despite Shockey’s mouth and antics, his hands are going to be missed when they need to complete a third and seven with Plaxico and Toomer covered. I think the Pats will allow Steve Smith some opportunities to make big catches before they start worrying about a rookie in the Super Bowl beating them.

This time Pats’ will have the right side of their OL back, and we see what that has meant for Maroney in the past two games. They also don’t have to force the ball to any specific receivers in order to break those pesky records. Brady will have the full buffet of receivers to choose from, so I’d be surprised if we see the fourth down kicking units make five appearances like they did in week 17.

Roundtable Moment: Dan Snapp

Take the Over, Not the Underdog.

Everybody loves the underdog, from David to the Little Engine That Could.

Pundits cite the ’01 Patriots or the ’90 Giants as examples that yes, your team too can do the impossible. (Of course, they never mention the one element those teams had in common.)

Why not the ’89 Broncos, the ’92 Bills or ’94 Chargers? They were big underdogs, too, and so good at it, they never broke character through their respective Super Bowls. Updated rule: Everybody loves the underdog, until the underdog loses.

But let’s not insult these Giants. They’re a nice team. They put it all together at the right time, and made a legendary march on the road through the playoffs. They feature an embattled young quarterback, an enigmatic wide receiver, a sack-happy defense, and an NFL lifer at coach.

They’re the ’85 Patriots. What’s not to like?

Roundtable Moment: Greg Doyle

(Editors Note: Throughout the afternoon, we’ll be bringing you last-minute thoughts from the members of our esteemed Patriots Roundtable, as they prepare to watch their team take the field for its fourth Super Bowl of the last seven years.)

I am excited about this game. I have read a lot of the pre-game stuff, and been talking with my friends and family about it a lot. I have gotten my ire up at the surprsingly talkative New York Giants. I’m ready to go. Which surprises me a bit. All the winning the Patriots and Red Sox (who I am also a fan of) have done the past few years spoils you a bit. And as a result, I think you lose the passion as a fan to some degree. Not that I don’t follow it closely and I still attend every game. You never lose your fandom or interest or happiness when they win. But I think that feeling you have, perhaps before the first one, that it would absolutely crush you if they lose and pure joy if they win diminishes when you get into dynasty territory. Then I think it becomes more like admiration or appreciation than pure adrenaline rush. But I think I am more fired up for this Patriots game than I have been for awhile. And more so than before their last Super Bowl win. Maybe its the history they can make by going undefeated. Whatever it is, I’m ready to go and I think most Patriots fans are. This isn’t just a mundane champion of the year that the NFL crowns every year they’re going for here. It’s a chance, as Junior Seau says, to be a part of ever. And that is special. And a great reason to get fired up. 6:18 p.m. can’t get here soon enough.

Patriots Roundtable, Championship Edition

logoby the Patriots Daily Staff
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First, a little housekeeping: we’re having some technical difficulties this morning in posting this week’s Patriots Buffet Table. But please, stay tuned later today for another winning entry from the PD Kitchen Staff.

Edit: And just like that, here it is. With beer cans! Thanks, Kitchen Staff!

The Patriots are poised to entertain the Chargers in the third AFC Championship game to be played in Foxborough, so the Roundtable guys have gathered again for another confab. Let’s listen in.

You are a Patriots fan. Tony Masserotti says you were disappointed that the Colts lost last Sunday. Were you?

Dan Snapp: A little, so it’s sad to say maybe Masserotti speaks for me here. I’ve enjoyed the rivalry, and I’ve always looked ahead to the Colts game on the schedule each year. Plus, I think the way the Patriots played in that November 4th tilt has been vastly underrated. They were gonna kill the Colts in a rematch, so we were deprived of the Peyton face.

Travis Graham: No. It was actually quite the opposite. I don’t know if this is a sign of an “unhealthy” sports fan, but I got more enjoyment out of watching the Colts lose than watching the Patriots win. The path to the Superbowl is a little easier for the Patriots now, but that wasn’t the only reason why I was so happy. I just enjoy watching the Colts lose, especially at home. I have no rational explanation for this.

Bruce Allen: Tony Massarotti (or Dan Shaughnessy) does not speak for me. I also enjoyed seeing the Colts lose, and have no disappointment that they’re not coming to town on Sunday. I think the columnists are upset because they had all their “storylines” lined up in advance and now the Chargers have come and upset the apple cart on them. Happily for the lazy media types, they were handed quite a gift with the Randy Moss story this week. Now they can break out all the character columns and thoughts they had stored up all season without a chance to use.

Greg Doyle: Absolutely not. That is so silly. Why would I care? As a fan, I’m not looking for storylines, I am looking for championships. If the Patriots go on to win one, think anyone will remember they didn’t beat the Colts? Most of these idiots in the media never can seem to keep straight what years they beat the Colts in the divisional round (2004) or AFC Championship (2003) or any of the details accurately of their championship runs and they are going to try to tell us its important now? Too funny.

Dan: A distinction should be made between media reasons and fan reasons. I don’t care about storylines; I want championships, regardless of whom they have to go through to get it. And if they win it without meeting the Colts in the playoffs, there’s no luster lost from the achievement. But fans are gonna feel what they’re gonna feel. I was a little disappointed it wasn’t the Colts because beating them always has an extra oomph to it.

Kevin Thomas: I don’t really buy the idea that it would be a lesser accomplishment to beat the team that was good enough to KO the champs, because frankly, I didn’t think there was any team out there up to that challenge. We knew going in that whoever was coming to Foxborough this weekend was going to be a damn good football team. It will be a moot point after the opening kickoff on Sunday.

In September, the Chargers and Pats had a rematch of their bitter, emotional playoff game last January, and New England won decisively. Is there a difference between the Chargers then and today?

Dan: Adjusting to the coaching changes, the emergence of Antonio Cromartie, the Chris Chambers pickup, and I like Eric Weddle a lot. The team can’t be overlooked, as they have a load of talent on both sides of the ball.

Scott Benson: The first thing that comes to my mind is Cromartie. He was a backup then and now he’s one of their best players. I shudder to think of him with the ball in his hands on Sunday.

Bruce: I think there’s no question that the Chargers have gotten their act together over the course of the season. They’ve gotten stronger as the season has gone along – always a bad thing for playoff opponents. In some ways they’re still the same over-emotional club that explodes at each other as much as at the opposition, and this could be their Achilles heel.

Do the Chargers have a chance to beat the Pats if Phillip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson don’t play?

Scott: Oddly, I can’t imagine any scenario where Tomlinson beats the Patriots. Is he going to run for 150 or hit 200 in total yardage against the Pats? I don’t see it. So Turner (4.2 a carry Sunday) and Sproles (where are these short people coming from?) can cover there. Rivers is freaking me out. How is this sidearm loudmouth completing these passes? So I’m going to say yes, they can beat them without Tomlinson, and no, Billy Volek may not hold up for four quarters against the Pats.

Travis: I’ve been critical of Rivers in the past, but his three quarters of play on Sunday was some of the best passing I’ve ever seen from him. I’d be much happier with Volek taking the snaps and not have to worry about a repeat performance.

Bruce: After last week, you certainly can’t count them out in any situation. While the offense put together some good drives, it was really the defense that won that game for them. With the defense healthy, they can hang in this game.

The Patriots defense gave up 350 yards to the Jaguars, including 270 through the air. The Jaguars possessed the ball for nearly as long as New England did. This performance came on the heels of giving up 35 points to the NY Giants in the final regular season game. Is the Patriots defense good enough to go to the Super Bowl, and win it?

Bruce: Of course it is. They took away the vaunted Jaguars running game, which is what they wanted to do. When they needed to make plays late, they made them. It might’ve been frustrating watching the Garrard throw the ball all over the field on Saturday, but Taylor and Jones-Drew were mostly ineffective. That’s pretty impressive.

Dan: They’re not asked to dominate. They’re asked to take away what teams do best. I think they do that well enough to win.

Scott: I’m resigned to the idea that every single game will be the exact same thing. Get run up and down the field a few times and then dodge a bullet by a sixteenth of a inch. I’m thinking of Dennis Northcutt from last week, as one example. But I do think that they’ll continue to summon the key stops, particularly in the second half, to hold up their end. I do think ahead to the off-season, and wonder about the changes to come. I don’t think the front seven is a particular strength of this team anymore, and it’s no wonder, as some of the most essential members are now 10+ year vets. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, the Patriots will have seemingly gotten everything they could out of this core group. Will they try to wring more, or will this be the off-season they step into the next era?

Dan: There will be a time when we’ll have to face the sober reality of “next year”, and the sadness of the handful of longtime friends who’ll no longer be part of our autumns (an expected retirement or two, I suspect a surprise one, and possibly one with the choice of retirement or a lesser role forced upon him). For now, let’s just drink this up and enjoy it while it lasts.

The Patriots employed their usual spread-shotgun offense on Saturday night, but they also hunkered down for a very productive running game featuring Laurence Maroney. What do you expect to see against the Chargers?

Dan: I can’t imagine seeing much of Maroney up the middle, but I hope we see him in the flat catching screens. I think the Chargers are susceptible to overpursuit.

Travis: I figure we’ll see more of the same. The Pats had a balanced offense working to perfection last week. I think they could have easily put up 50 if they needed to. One of the key contributors for the success of the running game was the (bizarro) Marvin-esque return of Stephen Neal. Neal and Mankins neutralized the Jaguars’ DTs, which let Maroney get a few steps in forward before he had to start making cuts.

A lot will be made of the coaching “mismatch” this week. But the Chargers just got their first two playoff wins in thirteen years, including one that knocked out the defending champs. Is Norv Turner being underestimated?

Dan: They had a great gameplan against the Colts, so good for Norv. He’s got a tough rep to overcome. I still can’t get over what he said back in week two, that he kept the first series script hidden from the team until Sunday morning. Belichick was that much in his head. But he and his coaches beat the defending champs in their own building, despite getting raped by the refs, with key plays from their second string quarterback and third string running back. Norv must be doing something right.

Bruce: Turner is actually getting some criticism for being too conservative after the Colts lost the ball on downs just before the two minute warning, which gave the Colts another shot with the ball. Overall, offense is his strength and he seemed to have a pretty good plan for the Colts defense for most of the afternoon. That being said, he’s a little out of his league in this coaching matchup. The players are a different story, but I don’t think we need to worry about the Patriots being outcoached this week.

Greg: I suppose he is being underestimated, in so far as I do not think Turner is the complete buffoon of a coach he is sometimes portrayed as. He is a decent coach and knows offense. He is not Belichick or anywhere near his level though. I am somewhat more concerned about the weather, truthfully. The cold forecast makes it hard to execute perfectly on offense, so I see that keeping the game close more than the coaching matchups.

Kevin: Do you think there is anything to the idea that the cold weather will negatively affect the warm-weather Chargers? I’m not sure if anyone has ever looked into that question statisticly, but my guess is it would be near impossible to isolate the impact of cold weather over other factors. I do remember that Tampa was winless in cold weather games over a ridiculously long stretch, but of course they almost always stunk until St. Tony arrived. Quickly scanning the box scores, it looks like the last time the Chargers played a game where the game-time temperature was below 32 degrees was in 2004 at Clevelend (a 21-0 win). Before that was at Kansas City in 2001 (a 20-17 loss). So, during the entire Tomlinson era, that’s only two games played in freezing weather. Obviously, not enough to predict one way or the other how it might affect them on Sunday. At the very least, though, it would be a ready-made excuse should things start to turn against them on the field.

Greg: Yes, I expect a lower scoring game than the Patriots have generally played this year. I don’t expect either of the offenses to roll up and down the field. Not to say they’ll be completely ineffective, but I just don’t think the conditions will be condusive to a shoot-out in the thirties. But who knows.

Adding to what I said about Turner, I went back and checked Bill Belichick’s record against Norv Turner. I included any game where Belichick was either head coach or defensive coordinator and any game where Turner was either head coach or offensive coordinator. Their history dates back to when Belichick was head coach in Cleveland and Turner was the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys.

It’s interesting. Belichick initially struggled against Turner’s offenses. Belichick’s team’s lost 3 of the first 4 matchups with Turner’s offenses averaging 26.25 points per game.However, Belichick has turned that around to win 5 straight games against Turner offenses, giving up an average of only 14.2 points per game. Overall, Belichick is 6-3 versus Turner offenses and has given up an average of 19.55 points per game.

Patriots Roundtable, Tournament Edition

logoby the Patriots Daily Staff
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There’s only 36 hours (or so) to go before New England fans see their undefeated Patriots take the field for the first playoff game in what could be the greatest season in NFL history.

Their opponent will be the 12-5 Jacksonville Jaguars, runners of the football, punchers of the mouth, thought to be the perfect adecdote to the Patriots’ perfect spread-em-out air show.

Even worse, they’re supposed to be able to use our own weather against us.

It’s NOT too late to make different plans for Saturday night.

Oh, hell, yes it is….the PD Kitchen Staff has already whipped up this weekend’s Buffet Table, and we are not letting perfectly good Shrimp Skewers go to waste.

Since we’re going ahead with the game, let’s call on the Roundtable gang for a volley of Pats patter.

The Jaguars were among the most outspoken teams when the Patriots were in the Spygate crosshairs. The head coach and a team leader were widely quoted. Do the Patriots have long memories this weekend?

Travis Graham: I’d be suprised if they didn’t. They’ve been pretty creative with much less material (get’cha popcorn?). Plus, I’m sure Brady has a personal axe to grind regarding J-Del’s spearing comments last year.

Bruce Allen: I’m not sure that stuff matters too much when they take the field, but I have feeling that having these things brought up again and put in front of them does do something for them. Whether it makes them focus with a little more intensity during their preparation during the week, or just put a chip on their shoulder, I’m not sure. It just doesn’t seem to me that these comments go unnoticed.

Tim Jordan: I seriously doubt Paul Spicer knows the rule the Patriots broke. Ditto for the advantage gained from it. Plus, he has a gap in his teeth that a Passat could drive through and I was raised never to take gap toothed blowhards seriously. I think the recent comments about the Patriots season will be employed more effectively. Spicer’s comments on the camera controversy just underscore that there is bad blood between both clubs. That’s a good thing for the fans. It usually means a nice post game celebration if they win. This game will be emotional because the loser’s season is over, the quotes will be entertaining material for after the game. A sidelight.

Is it up to David Garrard and the Jacksonville offense to beat the Patriots?

Travis: Only if the Pats decide to put eight in the box. Seriously, if the Pats want to shut down a RB, they will. The only time they weren’t able to stop a RB this season was when Jon Ogden was chaperoning the ball carrier. Addai had a pretty good game against them, but I think job #1 that day was to stop Manning and the receivers. I think the main reason why the Jags won’t score many points won’t be Garrard, but the wide receivers. They stink. The added depth and fresh legs that Merriweather and Wilson now bring to the Pats’ secondary (compared to where they were a month ago) will cause a frustrated Garrard to throw some desperation picks in the second half to ice it.

Scott Benson: I greatly respect what Garrard was able to do this year – only three picks in 325 throws. And Fred Taylor’s always been a good back when he’s been on the field. But the guy I fear on offense and special teams is Jones-Drew. We don’t need him to be pulling a Joe Washington this week. I don’t think they have any chance to beat the Patriots unless he has a big game.

Tim: Jacksonville wins this game with insane special teams play and turnovers on defense. That may not be likely, but it’s got a better chance than Garrard beating them, which is how you’d expect the Patriots to play them. The single most important thing the Patriots need to worry about is containing the stellar Jaguar running game. There is nothing impressive about this offense outside of it.

Bruce: They’re going to need to put up more than the 3 points they did two years ago when they came into Gillette in January. Leftwich was the starting QB that night, but Garrard did see some action for the Jags. The Jags didn’t have Jones-Drew yet, but the Patriots held Fred Taylor to 24 yards on 8 carries. Most of the players on offense are still pretty much the same as from that game. Garrard and Jones-Drew being the only real changes. They’ve shown that they’re a different team with Garrard, and he’ll need to have a big game to keep the Jags close.

The Jags defense is big and strong, but they fall decidedly towards the middle in most defensive categories. Will they be able to slow down the Pats?

Kevin Thomas: “Slow down” is a relative term. Statistically, as you note, they are a good, but not a top tier defense. I would say the Jags defense is probably in the same class as the Ravens, Giants, Cowboys, Chargers, Redskins and Eagles, and a bit below the Steelers and Colts, all teams the Patriots played this year, and who “slowed” the Pats down to the tune of 27, 38, 48, 38, 52, 31, 34 and 24 points against, respectively. I would think that the Patriots will be able to put up 30+ points on these guys. Is this year’s Jaguars defense as good as they were in ’06 or ’05? I don’t think they are, and the stats bear that out. The Patriots were able to move the ball pretty well against those arguably superior Jaguars defenses, and that was without the record-smashing offense they will have on Saturday.

Travis: I think that the Jags DBs aren’t as bad as advertised. The CBs are pretty solid, Knight is their leading tackler and the rookie Nelson has been making some big plays recently. The nickel back Terry Cousin has seen it all and is still productive at age 32. There is no glaring weak link in the secondary for the Pats to go after.  In the games this year when the Patriots offense struggled, the opposing team usually had a solid secondary; Baltimore had both of their starting CBs playing (for once), the Eagles had the CBs to stick with Moss and Stallworth, and Indy’s LBs are pretty much big nickel backs that can cover. I could see this unit being responsible for keeping the Pats under four touchdowns.

Scott: But Ben Roethlisberger had three interceptions against that secondary, one for a touchdown, and still threw for 340 yards and 29 points with no running game. They’ll have to stand on their head against Brady. I would only be slightly surprised to see the Patriots score 40 points in this game.

Tim: They are stout. Big. Physical.The perfect defense to spread out and exploit with 5 wides. The only pressure they generate is primarily from the line. A bad match up for Jacksonville.

Bruce: The Steelers didn’t have Willie Parker last week, and because of that the Jaguars were able to focus on the passing game of Pittsburgh, and Scott mentioned the result. Laurence Maroney should be able to keep the Jags defense a little more honest than the Steelers running backs were able to, and I don’t see Tom Brady having too much trouble find open receivers…as long as he can get the throws off.

What about the coaching matchup? The Jaguars are flying at their highest point of the Jack Del Rio era. They’ve won twelve games already, and including two emboldening wins in Pittsburgh over the last month. They’re clearly one of the four best teams in the AFC, and don’t forget, Del Rio’s Jags gave the Pats a few problems last December.

Kevin: I can’t help but get kind of a Pittsburgh Steelers-type vibe from the Del Rio Jaguars. It could be just the media hype, but don’t expect that they are planning on doing much more than lining up and relying on their “smashmouth” “physical” style to carry the day. I would much rather face that, which is a known commodity, than someone like Andy Reid coming in with nothing to lose and doing the completely unexpected: onside kicks, going for it on 4th down, throwing the ball all over the field, etc. Of course, if the Jaguars are able to come out in their base offense and run up 200-something yards on the ground, then the coaching (mis)matchup becomes kind of moot.

Bruce: Del Rio can motivate. I’m not sure how strong his X’s and O’s are. His teams come fired up to play, and play hard. Not always smart. The Jags are going to be aggressive on Saturday night, and I anticipate the Patriots coaches having some plays in mind to compensate for that style. The Patriots didn’t do a whole lot of crazy schemes this year, simply because the offense was so talented they scored enough points that the defense didn’t need to employ exotic schemes. Might be interesting to see if they break out anything new and shiny for this game.

Tim: That was a very entertaining game last year. Thinking back, it makes me pine for a healthy David Thomas this year. As far as the coaching matchup goes, it’s decidedly in the Patriots favor. That’s nothing new, but the real concern for Jacksonville (besides Jack Del Rio dressing up like Terminator again) is the way they play. They employ basic schemes that emphasize ball control and stopping the run. Teams like this don’t match-up well with any Belichick team, let alone this record setting 07 rendition.

There has been chatter this week coming from the Jax locker room talking alot about the close games the Patriots have played this year. The Giants, Eagles, and Ravens were trotted out as exhibits proving NE’s vulnerability. So, it’s worth thinking about – what did these teams do that the Jaguars can replicate to keep it close (none of them one so we can’t surmise a victory, right?)? The thing that stood out in those games was the way they approached it. They went all out and took risks throughout the game that you normally don’t see (the onside kick in the first quarter against Philly is a great example of this). Jacksonville can try this I guess, but they aren’t a great fit for it. They are disciplined, conservative team and I don’t think they’ll change that in their biggest game of the year.

Another thought would be to have them steal some ideas from the Jets gameplan, but there is no way they could execute it. Again, they just aren’t built for it.

Okay, let’s have your predictions, or any closing thoughts.

Travis: If John Henderson doesn’t play, the Pats may play more clock-control offense and let Maroney do his thing five yards at a time. On paper it won’t look like a blowout, but I see them clinching it in the third quarter with a final score of 27-10…ish.

Bruce: Despite the Jaguars newly-minted status as world beaters and media darlings, I’m not incredibly scared of them. Part of me thinks that they are being hyped as a possible Patriots-beater simply because they haven’t played them yet. The Patriots have played all the other top teams in the league with the exception of Jacksonville and Green Bay. I think the first half will the tight, but the Patriots open it up in the second half.

Scott: I’ve had the suspicion all week that this game will not be close, and that feeling is only strengthened by this AP story from a very confident Jaguars camp. I am, in a word, stunned at the stupidity, though I’m thriled to see it too. As Kevin notes, its Steelers-like, though they do stop short of guaranteeing a win. They should talk to Anthony Smith about what happens when you spend the week before the Patriots entertaining the press. Actually, it’s too late for that now. Patriots roll, 42-17, and the next time we hear from the Jaguars, they’ll be complaining about sideline communications systems and respect for the game.

Patriots Roundtable

logoby the Patriots Daily Staff
[email protected]

The day has arrived. Just one more Giant step to a perfect regular season.

On an occasion such as this, it seemed only right to query our favorite group of yahoos – the PD Roundtable gang – for their thoughts as their team stands at the brink of history.

You’ve all been Patriots fans for a long time. You’ve seen the Pats as the worst team in football, and you’ve seen them as the best. But this Saturday, the Patriots could become only the fourth team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular season, and the first with a sixteen game schedule. As a long time fan, what are your thoughts as the Patriots try to make history tonight?

Bruce Allen: It’s pretty surreal at this point. I’ve followed the team since the mid 1980’s, but haven’t ever been a season ticket holder, as some of you are, and thus wasn’t sitting in the stands for some of those tough seasons over at the old Foxboro Stadium. One of my friends spent his one and only season as a season ticker holder during the 2-14 1992 season of Dick MacPherson and Hugh Millen. He wishes he had hung on for a few more seasons.

The Patriots have had some good teams over the years leading up to the Tom Brady era, but we couldn’t possible be prepared for what this season has brought thus far and could potentially bring over the next 6 weeks or so. When I was a kid, I idolized the Bird-era Celtics. 1986 was the closest to perfection that I had ever seen in a sports franchise as that group rolled through the regular season and playoffs. This Patriots team can surpass all of that and literally be perfect in the end. It’s mind-boggling.

I’m really trying not to get ahead of myself here with this team, as I am under no illusions that the postseason is going to be a cakewalk for the Patriots. They will face some very talented, very motivated squads who are capable of ending the season short of the ultimate goal.

A win on Saturday will mark the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. It’s a first step towards history and something no team has ever accomplished. We should enjoy and recognize just what an amazing accomplishment this would be, but also of course keep mind there is more to accomplish.

Dan Snapp: What does it tell you that the other two teams with perfect seasons (Browns and Bears, right?) don’t immediately roll off our tongues? Other than that both did it half a century ago, the common trait was both lost their respective title games. Sixteen-and-oh means nothing without 19-0. So whatever pause we take after the accomplishment will be momentary.

I really appreciate you guys, longtime fans who know what it’s like to trudge through seasons like the Rust or McPherson years, but also revel in years like ’76 or ’85. Yes Virginia, there was Patriots life prior to 1993. I think that contrast allows us to be all the more appreciative.

I never thought something like this would happen. When Robert Kraft bought the team, he was full of optimistic bromides that we only half-believed. His well-publicized spats with Bill Parcells had us suspecting the worst: that he was a meddlesome owner to whom no real lasting success would come. But everything he promised has come to fruition, and then some. Long live Robert Kraft!

After the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, the standards changed completely. It was Super Bowl or Bust. But it was never multiple, consecutive blowouts, stat explosions or perfect seasons. We’ve already been so spoiled by this franchise, and now this?

2007 is the “Cake and Eat It Too” season. So long as they close the deal.

No wonder everybody else hates us.

Tim Jordan: It’s really exciting, but I will need a truck load of prescription sedatives for any playoff games. This amazing season has raised the stakes for everyone.

Greg Doyle: You know Bruce, Tim and Dan all said it better than I could, but I had similar thoughts after last week’s game but before you even asked this question. And I thought about it in context of my own personal history (which is very similar to every other long time fan’s) of watching this team. And it is amazing, incredible, whatever adjective you want to come up with when considering the ups and downs (many downs) of this very same franchise I have loved following most of my life. I’ll never forget 2001, that was a magic ride I never thought possible. And I admit, though I am still a very big fan and close follower of the team, I could never work up again the passion I felt leading up to the first championship. I just think those feeling are never able to be duplicated by a second or third or fourth championship following shortly thereafter. Not to say one doesn’t appreciate it and the work and skill it takes to be that good. But still, there is nothing like the first time.

But I think some of those 2001 feelings will be rekindled as it sinks in what a special, amazing and difficult accomplishment this is, if they are to do it. And it needs to be followed by a championship if we are to truly remember the accomplishment in its best possible light. But I think the first step, really, on that ride for fans will come in watching something historic and great happen Saturday to their favorite team.

Kevin Thomas: After the ’05 Colts finally lost a game in week 15, I felt that the undefeated NFL season had become one of those accomplishments that belonged to a different era, and would likely never be matched in the modern league–like the 30-win season for a baseball pitcher, or Chamberlain’s 100 point game.

It seems to me that the league is set up to prevent this. No team is that much more or less talented than any other team. Injuries happen. Lapses in focus and concentration happen. Fluke plays happen. And if a team does survive those unavoidable pittfalls, and makes it into December without a loss, generally they will have their playoff seed locked up, and will be left with nothing of real significance to play for. Reading some of the comments from the players this week, it’s clear to me that the chase for the 16-0 season has been a primary motivator for this Patriots team. Good for them. This would be a special accomplishment, and I think it’s great that they can get as excited about it as many of the fans are.

As for the broader historical context as a Patriots fan, I agree with what everyone else has said. I don’t think its necessarily unusual that a team like the Patriots, with their turbulent past, has become the league’s model franchise. That’s not unprecedented. Just look at the Steelers before 1970, or, for recent examples of franchises going in the other direction, look at the Dolphins and 49ers. What I think we should be most thankful for is that the glory days of this franchise are occuring here, in Boston, and not in some other part of the country. We dodged a pretty huge bullet in that respect.
Scott Benson: Exactly, Kevin, and that’s why my mind goes back to the last game of the 1993 regular season, when Bledsoe hit Timpson to beat the Dolphins in overtime to knock Don Shula out of the playoffs. That was at the height of concern that the team would soon move to St. Louis, and as I watched the wild celebration that was touched off by the winning score, I remember a sense of dread that I was watching the last moments of the New England Patriots. It wasn’t more than a few minutes later that – boom – my power went out. An omen? I looked out the window at the rest of the neighborhood and saw nothing but darkness. I felt nothing but darkness.

Then my dad called.

He frequently did in those days, usually right after the game. We’d talk about what the Patriots did right, or more often, what they did wrong. Sometimes we’d get going and I could hear my mother on the other end of the phone telling him to settle down. This from the woman who had to leave the room anytime it was third down because it made her ‘nervous’.

No matter. We’d always finish those calls on an up note, with hope. They’ll be better next week. That was my dad in a nutshell, really. 

I learned to love the Pats from him. He took me to a game, and that alone would have done it, but then the following week he sat me down in front of the television to watch them again, and then again the next week, and then again and again and again, for most every Sunday over the next decade. Me, on the floor in front of the set, and him and my mother, behind me, in the matching chairs they bought from Treworgy’s. You know, back then there was no guarantee that the Pats would even be on TV, but in my mind’s heart, we watched every game there, together. I’ve done exactly what they taught me to do, every week since.

Anyway, there I sat that night in 1993 (actually, January of 1994 to be precise), in the dark, talking with my dad about the Patriots (“I think we’ve really got some receivers now, Dad, between Timpson and Brisby.”), hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be the last time we did so. We talked a bit about a man named Robert Kraft, who had bought the old concrete bowl that was the team’s starter home, and I tried to explain to Dad what I had read in the Globe – that this man, Kraft, might be the only thing standing between St. Louis and us. How the team wouldn’t be free to leave without Kraft’s okay. “He’s just like us, Dad,” I said. “He’s a fan just like us. He doesn’t want them to go any more than we do, and besides, what is the stadium worth with no team? Maybe he’ll do something.”

As usual, we finished on an up note. At least he did, I think – I hung up the receiver and wondered again if I would ever get another post game call from my dad. When the power came back on, I searched out highlights of Bledsoe’s pass to Timpson, watching it on channel after channel, long into the night, in a way holding on to my team, our team, for dear life.

Of course, it wasn’t too long after that Kraft paid the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise, and I remember sitting in the living room of my parents’ apartment, telling my dad that this meant they’re be plenty of football ahead for the both of us.

There wouldn’t be. That spring, on an early evening walk with his wife of more than 50 years, my dad suddenly passed from this world to the next one. Over the next several days, as family and friends came from everywhere to surround us and steady us, we talked about Dad. How fortunate we were, how humbled we were, to have such a man as our father. We talked about all the things he did for us, with his firm hand and soft, sentimental heart. And yeah, we talked about the Patriots, even to the minister who was preparing his eulogy. We couldn’t have talked about my father’s life, about our life, without also talking about his team. Which he made our team, to this day. 

That’s what I think of at times like this. That final post-game phone call in the dark, and all those Sundays, and all those up notes, win or lose. It all comes flooding back, every time, as I watch Adam Vinatieri’s kick sail through the Superdome goal posts, as I hear Gil Santos proclaim “the Patriots…are Super Bowl champions…the best team in the National Football League!”, as I watch confetti rain down on Rodney Harrison, or Gatorade rain down on Bill Belichick and his father. I can’t see those pictures or hear those words, or anything approximating them, without thinking how much they would have meant to my dad.

And every once in awhile, as my wife and I turn off the TV and celebrate another Pats accomplishment that would have been inconceivable on that January night nearly 14 years ago, the damn phone will ring. I smile every time. Still with the up notes.

Enjoy the game, Dad.

Patriots Roundtable

logoby the Patriots Daily Staff
[email protected]

Some housekeeping before we give the Roundtable gang the floor:

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

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

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

Oy. I give up.

Okay, panel, what’s on your mind? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Roundtable

by the Patriots Daily Staff
[email protected]

First, let’s pause and give thanks for that for once, the Patriots are playing a game on Sunday afternoon. I suppose four consecutive prime-time games would have been excessive.

Second, let’s also give thanks that the PD Kitchen Staff is back with a hardworking, straightforward Patriots Buffet Table fit for a steel worker.

With that out of the way, let’s head to the Roundtable and listen in as the boys knock around the latest:  

After tearing through most of their schedule untouched by human hands, the Patriots have now completed two straight fourth quarter comebacks to remain undefeated. How much of these last two games can be credited to excellent game plans and execution by the opponents, and how much has been due to a step back in play by the Pats?

Scott Benson: All due credit to two teams that brought their best game to the Patriots. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the defense isn’t playing particularly well, though I think you have to be heartened by the fact that three times in the last month they have rallied to make 4th quarter stops to give the offense a chance to win the game. To me the question is whether they can keep it up as fatigue and injuries become more of a factor. Probably the best hope they have is for the offense to give them back those big early leads they enjoyed earlier in the season. I’m not sure there’s a necessarily a better ‘fix’ on the horizon.

Greg Doyle: Indianapolis lost 44-17 in week 13 last year and gave up a remarkable number of rushing yards. They were pushed around all over the field. But in the grand scheme of things, it made no difference to what would happen later on. In the same way, it just doesn’t matter what happened last week in Baltimore. In two weeks, something new will have happened, for better or for worse, and that will be everyone’s focus. Two weeks ago they beat Buffalo 56-10. Now they’re supposedly in trouble? And if they dominate this week, they’ll be the greatest team in history again? Does anyone remember that the 1988 49ers lost two consecutive games to the Cardinals and Raiders in weeks 10 and 11, both of whom were 7-9 teams? Of course not, All they remember is the 49ers later went on to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots didn’t lose and yet I sense there is this strange sense of panic among fans and the media. They were tired on the road, with the other team treating it like their Super Bowl, and they still won. Period. I know this, whatever happens….in two weeks the conventional wisdom will be different than it is today.

Bruce Allen: Teams are definitely keyed up each week to play the Patriots, and as the season has gone on, opposing scouts have been able to find ways to attack the defense and keep the offense off the field. It’s a long season, and every team goes through a little bit of a funk during the 16 game schedule. The Patriots haven’t lost a game yet, (Although a caller to WEEI this week did give out his reasons for “why the Patriots are losing.”) but they’re not executing as well as they were earlier in the year. I think we can attribute it to a number of things.

Dan Snapp: I think the manner in which they lost is what’s driving perception here. Wait, what’s that? They won both games? Seriously, though, when your run defense gets beat up as bad as the Patriots did Monday, it leads people to think the team is reeling. As Greg said, think about how vulnerable we thought the Colts were last year after the Jaguars hit them up for record yardage. I don’t care about Philly’s or Baltimore’s records. Both had excellent game plans and great execution, better than what we saw from Dallas.

Travis Graham: In Belichick’s post-game interview I heard him praise Raven’s LT Jon Ogden’s performance and he said that Ogden was “one of the best in the league” and probably the “best ever” to play that position. Last night I was bored, so I watched the game film and focused on Ogden. He really was a beast. Every big running play for the Ravens started with Ogden pushing the Pats DE five yards back and McGahee running right behind Ogden. Every one. Seymour was the one who mostly got schooled and Jarvis Green wasn’t far behind. On passing plays, Ogden made sure that nobody would touch Boller’s blind side, so the Patriots had to become one dimensional by bringing the pass rush exclusively from the right. Ogden was clearly the MVP for the Ravens in that game, and the good news for the Pats is that they won’t have to face him again this year.

Scott: In this morning’s Globe, Mike Reiss has a good article on the Pats struggles in run defense Monday night

This week the Pats entertain their longtime rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the line is New England’s undefeated record, but not its AFC lead, as the Steelers currently trail the Pats by three games in the loss column. How big is Sunday’s game for the Patriots?

Scott: I’m sick of this undefeated stuff already. What does is do for you unless you go undefeated through the Super Bowl? You don’t need to be undefeated to get first seed in the playoff bracket (though it helps), and let’s face it, that’s all you can really do with any regular season. The Steelers can tighten up the race to the first seed a bit with a win, but as noted, one loss wouldn’t kill the Pats there either. Still, it feels like a huge game to me. This type of team is exactly who the Patriots will have to beat in January, so in that sense, its important that they play well against the Steelers.

Travis: If you don’t put much weight in going 16-0, then I don’t think it’s very important at all. I can’t see the Pats losing to the Jets or Miami in the coming weeks, so with those two wins they clinch everything. Personally, I would like to see them run the table, so for me this one’s big. I’m glad they are at home for this one.

Greg: Well, it’s big in that I think a win pretty much ends any shot at all, even a long shot, that they could lose the number one seed. And they need to right the ship a bit in terms of their level of play. I know an undefeated season is secondary. They can still accomplish every goal with or without that. But it is historic and something that will long be remembered if they can pull it off. A win on Sunday may be the last, major obstacle to accomplishing that.

Bruce: It’s a much bigger game for the Steelers, as the Patriots are in very good shape for postseason positioning. If you’re concerned about the perfect record, the Steelers could present a stiff challenge, as they do a lot of the same things that the Ravens did…only better. Whenever these two teams get together there also seems to be a lot of drama, and this week is shaping up as no different. The Patriots could use a good showing this week to give them a little boost and also to shut up yappers who are saying that they’re ripe for defeat.

Dan: The Steelers lost to the Jets and barely beat the winless Dolphins. Where’s the hue and cry about their vulnerabilities? A win here would be big for our own edification, as it would shut up the self-entitled Steelers. Aww, who am I kidding? Nothing shuts those jerks up.