Patriots Week 8 Recap

Patriots destroy Bears
One look sums up Belichick’s opinion of da Bears

Last week, the Patriots barely survived the New York Jets, blocking a potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds to sneak away with a win. This is the same Jets team that was blown away by Buffalo 43 – 23 and saw Geno Smith throw three picks in eight minutes. Smith was benched and back-up vet Mike Vick promptly turned over the ball another three times. How many turnovers did the Jets commit the previous week against the Patriots? Zero.

I called the Pats win over the Jets last week Pyrrhic. Perhaps I was wrong.

This week, New England feasted on Bear, tenderizing the tasty meat to the tune of 51 points. Jay Cutlet, er, Cutler only produced in garbage time, round about the time Brandon Marshall found it acceptable to show up, too. Only Matt Forte looked like he belonged on the field.

Tom Brady was terrific with five TD passes and no picks, giving him 14 passing TDs and 0 picks since the KC debacle. He hooked up with TEs Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright for four scores and Brandon LaFell for another.

Speaking of Gronk, the big man had his best game in years. The Chicago D had to turn to an empty Gatorade bottle to stop him. Seriously. Gronk had to leave the game after suffering from dehydration.

And with all the fretting about Ridley going down, Jonas Gray filled in admirably, rushing for 86 yards on 17 carries. The NFL is littered with former Notre Dame backs these days and Gray may be the most surprising.

The New England D really stepped up its game, too. Despite losing Mayo and Chandler Jones, the rest of the guys pulled it together and played as a unit. Even newcomer Akeem Ayers registered a sack on his second snap. They’ll need a repeat performance next week as the Peyton Manning show comes to town.

It certainly was a great day for football in Foxborough, but the party’s over now. Denver is a real team, with a real quarterback and a stable of stable receivers. And the 2014 version of the Broncos can play some D, too.

For all the happiness and ensuing hype, Patriots fans should exhibit some very cautious optimism heading into week nine.

I know, I know. Peyton Manning is historically underwhelming at Gillette. But the old Manning is far better than the young Manning, and his Denver weapons are far superior to his Indy cache. Even if Browner and Revis shut down Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, what about Wes Welker? Can any of the Patriot linebackers cover Julius Thomas? Plus the Broncos running game actually improved when Montee Ball got hurt.

This could be Welker’s breakout game (like Sanders last week) and Ronnie Hillman could go for 120 and a TD.

The latest incarnation of the O line played amazing against the Bears, but can they hold up against DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller? I doubt Brady will be able to breeze through this game with the same efficiency as the past few weeks. Still, LaFell and Wright are improving by leaps and bounds each week and it’s really opening up the field for the receiving corps to finally get some separation and get open. The running game will have to play even better this week as time of possession is always a factor when playing against Manning. Look for Shane Vereen to be more involved in the screen game.

If the Patriots bring their A game, this could be an epic battle like so many Brady – Manning games of yesterday. But if they slip up at all, it could be curtains early.

With the Buffalo Bills nipping at their heels, the Patriots don’t have the luxury of writing this game off as a tough loss to a great team. They need the win, so let’s hope they play to the gravity of the situation.

On a side note, if anyone spots a mushroom cloud exploding just south of Cincinnati in the late afternoon this coming Sunday, it’s probably just this Pats fan going nuclear. Nothing to see here.

Carry on.

—Ryan Varney

2014 NFL Season Predictions

NFL Logo
Expert predictions for the 2014 NFL season

The 2014 NFL season kicks off tonight with the Green Bay Packers taking on the 12th Man, er, the Seattle Seahawks. Could very well be a preview of the NFC Championship game… No matter what, though, the game is sure to get pro football kicked off with a deafening bang.

Now that all the preseason exhibitions, practices and roster moves are behind us, I’ll give you my expert take on how the season will shape up.

Regular Season Predictions

X = Division Champion; Y = Wild Card

AFC North NFC North
x-Pittsburgh (10-6) x-Green Bay (11-5)
y-Cincinnati (9-7) y-Chicago (9-7)
Baltimore (9-7) Detroit (7-9)
Cleveland (4-12) Minnesota (5-11)
AFC East NFC East
x-New England (11-5) x-Philadelphia (10-6)
NY Jets (9-7) NY Giants (7-9)
Miami (8-8) Washington (6-10)
Buffalo (4-12) Dallas (4-12)
AFC South NFC South
x-Indianapolis (10-6) x-New Orleans (11-5)
Tennessee (8-8) Tampa Bay (9-7)
Houston (7-9) Atlanta (8-8)
Jacksonville (3-13) Carolina (7-9)
AFC West NFC West
x-Denver (14-2) x-Seattle (12-4)
y-San Diego (10-6) y-Arizona (9-7)
Kansas City (8-8) San Francisco (9-7)
Oakland (4-12) St. Louis (4-12)

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card

San Diego Chargers over Pittsburgh Steelers
Indianapolis Colts over Cincinnati Bengals

Divisional Round

San Diego Chargers over Denver Broncos
New England Patriots over Indianapolis Colts

AFC Championship

New England Patriots over San Diego Chargers

NFC Playoffs

Wild Card

Green Bay Packers over Arizona Cardinals
Philadelphia Eagles over Chicago Bears

Divisional Round

Green Bay Packers over Seattle Seahawks
New Orleans Saints over Philadelphia Eagles

NFC Championship

Green Bay Packers over New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl

New England Patriots over Green Bay Packers

In a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI (or 31 as I like to say), I have the Patriots coming out on top this time.

Some people are bold enough to pick actual scores, regular season, playoffs, Super Bowl or all three, but that’s just getting a little too crazy. There is no real sample population yet to help us determine just how potent each team’s offense or defense is going to be. Except that we know Jacksonville’s offense will be anemic.

Other Predictions

Here are some things I will be watching for during the season.

Johnny Manziel – not when he’ll start (week 5, BTW) but when he’ll get hurt (week 9 against the Bucs).
Rob Gronkowski – not when he’ll get hurt (week 5 against the Bengals) but which body part this time (ankle, BTW).
Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick – not which one has the better season (Kaepernick) but which one gets hurt running outside the pocket (Wilson – which is why Kaep has the better year).
Bill Belichick – just the over under on how many times he smiles this season during press conferences (cumulative). I have him at six. Six smiles.
Marshawn Lynch and Pete Carroll – when does Carroll finally realize he should just lead a trail of Skittles from the line of scrimmage to the end zone, thereby ensuring a Marshawn Lynch touchdown on every drive (for a blueprint of this plan see E.T.) and victory for Lynch fantasy owners everywhere.
Dallas Cowboys – Over/under on how many games it takes for a team to put up 50 against that stalwart D (4 games).
Andy Dalton – After signing the big money, does he live up to his salary a la Joe Flacco? What’s that – Joe Cool didn’t live up to his salary? Well then, sucks to be you Cincy.
Michael Sam – Will he or won’t he play in an actual game in 2014 – who cares? When do the nudes get leaked?

Finally, to all you fantasy football players out there, good luck from the bottom of my heart. My only advice: it’s not about the talent of the players, but how the coach’s game plans incorporate them. That being said pick up Tim Wright (TE, New England) now. I have no idea just how good he is, but you can bet Belichick will work him into as many plays as he can.

—Ryan Varney

Christmas Gifts for Patriots Fans

Christmas gifts for Patriots fans

Need a last minute Christmas gift for the Patriots fan in your life? Why not spread the cheer this holiday season with the smash CD “A Very Tom Brady Christmas”! Your Pats fan will love the merry tunes and joyful lyrics, celebrating our boys in red, white and blue. Check out some song and lyric samples below –

Here Comes Belichick

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
Brady and Ridley and Gronkowski
are making all the plays.
Gillette is ringing, fans are singing;
All is merry and bright.
Don your jerseys and say your prayers,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Here comes Belichick!
Here comes Belichick!
Right down Patriot Place!
He’s got a book that is filled with plays
to beat those Jets again.
Hear those Brady passes sizzling by,
What a beautiful sight.
Stand and cheer, guzzle down that beer,
‘Cause Belichick comes tonight.

Playoff Time is Here

Playoff time is here,
happiness and cheer,
fun for all that Pat fans
call their favorite time of year.

Snowflakes in the air,
drunkards everywhere,
Brady finds an open man
with seconds left to spare.

The kick is in the air;
Gostkowski knows it’s fair;
Confetti falls, we’ve won it all
with such dramatic flair.

Playoff time is here;
the Superbowl is near;
oh that we could always see
us win it every year,
us win it every year.

O Little Town of Foxborough

O little town of Foxborough,
Gillette’s lights shining bright;
Above the D, past cornerbacks
The TD pass sails by;
Then in the end zone shineth
Gronkowski’s famous spike.
The hopes and dreams of all Pats fans
Come true for us tonight.

Brady Baby

Brady baby, give the handoff to Vereen,
been an awful good back,
Brady baby, so hand it off for six tonight.

Brady baby, Amendola wants in, Ridley and Gronk, too.
So spread out the cheer,
Brady baby, and let it all fly tonight.

The Christmas Song

Opponents roasting on an open fire
Brady nipping at your D
Forty yard bombs being slung by our hero
All the fans wearing ol’ number twelve.
Everybody knows a touchdown
with an extra point
Help to make the season bright
Pat fans with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Ninky’s on his way
He’s coming with such speed
and power on his sack sleigh
And every quarterback is gonna drop
As five-o comes ‘round the edge
And makes another stop.

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To Pat fans, one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said
many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

Enjoy other holiday Patriot favorites too –

Joy to Gillette
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Another Ring
I Saw Mommy Kissing Brady Claus
Ridley the Rock Hands Fumbler
Buffalo Got Run Over by the Patriots
Chandler the Sackman

—Ryan Varney

This CD is not actually available for purchase.

New England Patriots 1st Quarter Review

The NFL season is officially 25% complete. New England has been 100% successful. With four wins and zero losses, this team has exceeded expectations – well, mine anyway. Games may have been ugly and low-scoring (by recent Patriots offensive standards), but a win is a win.

The team seems to be in a state of continuous transition on both sides of the ball. Players are being rotated in, out and around more than NASCAR tires in a pit stop.


2013 New England Patriots Offensive Carousel
Clockwise from top: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan. Center: Tom Brady. Waiting to ride: Rob Gronkowski.

On the offensive side of the ball we’ve seen Welker out, Amendola in. Amendola out, Edelman in. Rookies Thompkins, Dobson and Boyce all in. The tight end position has featured Sudfeld, Hoomanawanui and Mulligan while waiting for the return of Gronk. And then there’s the running back carousel. Ridley, thought to be the feature back, has been supplanted by Vereen (now out for eight games), Blount and Bolden (returned after missing two games).

The defensive side of the ball has seen more consistency, but the Falcons game dealt the Pats a potentially huge blow with the loss of Vince Wilfork to an Achilles tear. Rookie Joe Vellano stepped up admirably, but it remains to be seen what level of play he can sustain.

I’ve been one of the few critical voices regarding Bill Belichick as a head coach due to the Pats lack of hardware, given all the talent he’s had over the past five seasons. Sure, they’ve been a great regular season team, but that has not translated in the big games. However, up to this point in the season, Bill Belichick should be in the running for coach of the year.

Getting back to a strong, consistent run game has given Brady more time to get his rookie receiving core up to speed and NFL standards, and Belichick’s finally found the right defensive personnel to execute pass coverage without having to loosen up on their tight run D. The linebackers have done an excellent job in pass coverage and the D line has been getting to the quarterback without resorting to all out blitzes. Cornerback play has stopped looking like it belongs in high school and safeties continue to play smart.

Perhaps the lack of superstar egos in the clubhouse has contributed to the team chemistry, but whatever’s going on in that locker room is clearly providing a true team atmosphere. Players are picking each other up and seem to be giving just a little more effort when the chips are down.
I’m starting to think Peter King’s Superbowl prediction may not be as ridiculous as I’ve deemed it. If the injury bug can be stilled for a few weeks, this roster has a real chance to gel into an exciting team on both sides of the ball. The receiving core has made vast improvements each week and the defense continues to make plays when they’re needed. Even the 23 points to Falcons wasn’t as bad as it looked. Twenty-three points to a team with a HOF tight end (still playing at an amazingly high level), two all-pro receivers, a sneaky-fast running back and a stud QB playing at their house is nothing to sneeze at. Especially considering the inability to recover a late onside kick and some truly exceptional catches by Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez – where the defense had the play covered perfectly. Plus they stopped the Falcons four consecutive downs twice, including the game-sealing series with a minute to go (something they haven’t been able to do against any team the last five years).

2nd Quarter Preview

The second quarter of the season has the Pats up against the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Saints at home, the Jets in New York and the Dolphins at home. With four wins already in the bag, the Patriots would do good to end the 2nd quarter with a 2 – 2 record. Ideally, the two wins would be against the division rivals, but I definitely see the Saints as being a little more than the Pats can handle at this point with their surprising defensive play so far.

The Bengals game poses a real problem. I will actually be in attendance at the game (strike one for NE), I’ll be wearing my jersey (strike two) and the Bengals are Jekyll and Hyde at the moment. If this game was in New England, I wouldn’t give the Bengals as much of a chance, but it’s in Cincinnati (strike three). My stupid superstitions aside (like I have any real effect on the game), the Patriots have a better than average shot at winning this game, which would go a long way toward easing the pressure of having to beat a surprisingly good Dolphins team.

If the Patriots stick to and execute their season gameplan on both sides of the ball, they could go into halftime with a 7 – 1 record (4 – 0 in the AFC East). This would be a remarkable feat. However, I suspect they’ll be 6 – 2 or even 5 – 3 at the break (3 – 1 in the division). Still, given the personnel carousel, this too would be pretty darn respectable and leaves them in a good position for making a playoff run.

One thing I’ll say for certain: this team is drilling away at my pessimistic foundation. Even I’m starting to believe in what this team can achieve.

—Ryan Varney