Category Archives: football

The Giants Need to Make a Coaching Change

The New York Football Giants have started their 2017-2018 NFL season, which was supposed to build upon their 11-5 playoff season last year, at a dreadful 0-4. For the second time in two games, the Giants lost on a last-second field goal, something t reminiscent of Tom Coughlin’s last season in charge, in which the Giants lost eight times in one-possession games. For the second time in two games, Ben McAdoo’s play calling and decision making have directly led to the Giants losing. Following the aforementioned 6-10 season, Coughlin was relieved of his duties as the Head Coach. He was replaced by McAdoo, who had contributed a few bright spots to an otherwise bleak season as Offensive Coordinator. However, I believe that most of the problems plaguing the Giants currently have still not been resurrected from that 6-10 season, and I believe that in order to fix those mistakes, McAdoo must either be fired, or at the very least, be relieved of play-calling duties.

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In that last season in charge, there was a lack of quality decision-making coming from Coughlin, which led to his firing. Yet, not even two full seasons later, the same poor decision making is rearing its head. The Giants have left points on the field time and time again in back-to-back games, and this has directly led to their 0-4 start. Take for example, last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Midway through the first quarter, the Giants started a drive with rather good field position, starting on their own 37, when a third down and short came up. On a third and one, McAdoo dials up a toss play for a loss of four. Not very many coaches in the NFL are going to be calling for a toss play to the side of your offensive line that is subpar on a third and short. Furthermore, this play would bring the Giants back from Philly’s 34 to the 38, effectively knocking them out of field goal range, with McAdoo opting to punt rather than attempting a 55-yard field goal. With the game continuing as a low scoring affair in the first half, the Giants found themselves having their game-tying touchdown reversed and facing a third and one from the Eagles’ one yard line. Eli Manning fails to find his target and the Giants have fourth and one, and once again we have a fatal faux pas from McAdoo. Rather than taking some form of points from the drive and going into the half down 7-3, the decision was made to attempt to go over the top of the pile, and, needless to say, things did not go according to plan.

While a 55-yard field goal with an inexperienced kicker is somewhat understandable to not attempt, not taking three points at the half and giving your offense some semblance of confidence is absolutely inexcusable. This play-calling that has exhibited cases of being passive at the wrong times and uber-aggressive at the wrong times led to at a minimum of six points being left on the field in a game which would be lost by two. An inexperienced Philadelphia kicker, Jake Elliot, kicked the longest field goal in the history of Lincoln Financial Field, a 61-yarder which left Odell Beckham Jr. and all of the Giants faithful watching with nothing that could be done. It is worth noting that one could put nearly as much blame on punter Brad Wing in this loss, as he shanked his final punt of the game, only 28 yards, leaving the Eagles with the time and the field position to eventually win the game.

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By some unbelievable stretch of the imagination, things would pick up right where they left off very early in the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the Buccaneers taking an early 7-0 lead at home, the Giants began their drive downfield, which stalled on fourth and four at the Tampa Bay 30. Now, most, if not all coaches in this situation would gladly take three points and answer back to the opposition taking the lead on the next drive. McAdoo does not think like most coaches. So, naturally, instead of taking the field goal, McAdoo leaves the offense on the field, resulting in a turnover on downs for the Giants offense, and a huge stop for the Bucs’ defense. This would again directly lead to the Giants losing the game, as the Buccaneers kicked a field goal as time expired to win the game, courtesy of ex-Jet Nick Folk.

There was one more decision that I could not fathom near the end of the game, and that one revolved around the use of the Giants’ third and final timeout. Going into Tampa Bay’s final drive, the Giants did not have all of their timeouts, so their only option was to hope for a stop and play off of the two minute warning. A stop never came, and facing a third and one with 90 seconds remaining, Jameis Winston found his man in Cameron Brate for 26 yards, effectively ending the game. The Giants did still have one timeout remaining, and instead of saving it to potentially ice Nick Folk prior to his eventual field goal attempt, McAdoo called a timeout with 34 seconds remaining following a Jameis Winston kneel on first down. It is also worth noting that the Giants finally managed to get a rushing touchdown in this game (their first of the season), a 14-yard scramble from none other than Eli Manning, who, despite his team being 0-4, should not be shouldering anywhere near the blame that he is currently being given. Manning is sporting a near 70% completion rate on the season, which is good for third amongst qualified quarterbacks, while also having attempted the second most passes in the league to date. Needless to say, Eli is doing just fine. However, the extreme lack of a running game, along with injuries and struggles with the offensive line, and the offense managing to not stay on the field and exhausting their stout defense is what is ailing the Giants this season.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

While I personally did not agree with Coughlin being fired after coaching the team to two super bowl victories, I do feel that something needs to change this season, and there are no more second chances for McAdoo. That needs to start in week five with McAdoo being relieved of his play-calling duties, and if it seems that this was not the problem, the Giants should bring in a new offensive coordinator. There are simply no excuses for a team led by Eli Manning, with weapons in the passing game such as Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Brandon Marshall, to be averaging a meager 15 points per game. Had the Giants been 2-2 at this moment, then many people including myself, would not be calling for changes in the coaching hierarchy. However, with the season looking all but over sitting at 0-4 in a year in which 9-7 is more than likely not going to win the division, things are not looking good.

Defending Champs Watch: Pats Win Again in Week 3

Positives

Passing Attack

For the second straight week, the passing attack is the highlight of a Patriots victory. Tom Brady finished the game 25/35 for 378 yards and five touchdowns, including the 25-yard game winner to Brandin Cooks. Rob Gronkowski had a second straight big game, despite leaving with a groin injury in last week’s game against New Orleans. He finished the game with eight receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown. After a week one in which he and Brady looked disconnected, it is nice to see Gronk back as an integral part of the offense. With the absence of Edelman, a consistent and healthy Gronkowski is the only way that I see the Patriots hoisting their second straight Lombardi Trophy.

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Brandin Cooks looked like the receiver the Patriots gave up a first round pick for. He led the team in receiving with five catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Not only was he making big plays, but he also created space for other receivers. Cooks was almost solely responsible for Chris Hogan’s two wide-open touchdowns, drawing the defenders away on both plays. Cooks also showed off his speed on a 42-yard touchdown and made an incredible toe-tap reception to win the game. Last week, I wrote that Brandin Cooks was a player to keep an eye on, given his performance in the first two weeks to go along with Brady’s history of having a hard time of integrating new wide receivers into the offense. If he continues to flash like this and draw away defenders on deeper routes, I was absolutely wrong.

Negatives

Devin McCourty

This was the worst game that I have ever seen McCourty play as a safety. He was at least partially responsible for two touchdowns. On the first, Deshaun Watson fired a 29-yard touchdown to Bruce Ellington, who was left in single coverage with Jonathan Jones. On this play, the eyes of the rookie quarterback fooled McCourty. To be fair, Watson looked to star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who got safety help almost all game, on the fake. However, it looked like Gilmore was playing pretty good man-coverage on Hopkins and McCourty did not need to jump the gun like he did. On the second touchdown, McCourty simply got beat in single coverage by tight end Ryan Griffin, who has never been known for his playmaking capabilities. McCourty was symptomatic of issues that the entire Patriots secondary faced against Watson, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions (one came on an attempted hail-mary at the end of the game). Watson had success scrambling, and he was also able to simply drop back and beat the Patriots defense. Being a veteran leader and an established player, I expect McCourty to bounce back next week, but this secondary, which was projected to be one of the best in the league, has raised many questions with no answers through three weeks.

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Offensive Line

Through three weeks, the offensive line has been the biggest issue with the team. I cannot remember a year when the Patriots had a remarkably good offensive line. I can, however, remember years in which the Patriots have had a bad offensive line. Those years, like 2007 when Brady was sacked five times for 37 yards in the Super Bowl, never end well. Last week, I wrote that this game against Houston would be a good test for the offensive line. After allowing five sacks for 41 yards on Sunday, it is safe to say that they failed, and were the reason that the game was much closer than it should have been. The fact that the Texans only recorded five sacks is a product of Brady’s amazing play.

According to Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal, the Patriots offensive line allowed pressure on almost 50% of Brady’s drop-backs. Going up against a Texans defensive front with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney is a tough task, especially when missing right tackle Marcus Cannon who was out with a concussion. However, the biggest issue on the line was not LaAdrian Waddle, who was filling in for the injured Cannon; it was Nate Solder. According to Bedard, Solder was responsible for three sacks on Brady, and did not even touch the pass-rusher on one of them. If the Patriots wish to have success against defensive teams like the Texans, the offensive line will have to do better to protect a 40-year-old Brady.

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Things to Keep an Eye On

Third and One

So far this year, the Patriots are 1-5 on third and fourth down with one yard to go. Last season they were 19-26, boasting a success rate of 73.1%. Up to this point, the Patriots have only attempted a quarterback sneak with Brady once, a play that has been extremely successful in past years. This could be an effort by the Patriots to protect their 40-year-old star quarterback, but such inefficiencies in these short yardage situations may also be due to poor play from the offensive line. The Patriots currently rank 23rd in the league in rushing yards per attempt, which is likely a result of poor blocking. Third down efficiency is extremely important for this Patriots team, especially with the absence of Julian Edelman. They cannot afford to miss out on such short yardage opportunities, and the offensive line must do better to protect in these situations.

Next Week: Home vs. Carolina

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This game should be a big opportunity for the defense to rebound after allowing 26 points to Houston. Cam Newton is not playing well, and the Panthers put up a mere 13 points against an abysmal Saints defense last week. After allowing Deshaun Watson to have a big game, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots defense plays against another mobile quarterback. The Patriots should generally not have any difficulty moving the ball against a Carolina defense which carried it to a 2015 Super Bowl appearance but has since lost its edge. The New England defense should have a field day against a sputtering Carolina offense.

Prediction: Patriots 34, Panthers 16

Defending Champs Watch: Analyzing the Patriots’ Week Two

Sunday’s one o’clock game against the New Orleans Saints featured a far more Patriot-like performance than that of last Thursday’s opener against Kansas City. The 36-20 decisive win featured a clicking offense, an improving defense, and, of course, brilliant play at the quarterback position. The game was effectively decided after a 20-3 first quarter in which Brady completed 11 of his 15 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns. He finished 30 of 39 for 447 yards, the fourth most in his career, and three touchdowns. Despite an impressive start, the Patriots were far from perfect. Here are my positives, negatives, and nit-picks from Sunday’s win.

Positives

The Passing Attack

The Patriots offense in the first quarter was the biggest takeaway from their week two game in New Orleans. They scored touchdowns on all three opening drives pummeling 75 yards down the field twice, and 67 yards once. After an underwhelming performance in week one by Brady and his receiving core, the offense looked to spread the ball around, with nine players recording receptions (compared to six players from week one). Rather than attempting to force the deep passing game, New England moved back to their bread and butter, 10-20 yard intermediate passes and exploiting whatever matchup they saw fit. It was good to see the Patriots distancing themselves from the deep passing game plan that we saw in week one. After a subpar week one from Rob Gronkowski, James White and Chris Hogan, they turned it around to lead the receiving corps in week two. Most importantly, the Patriots were six of twelve on third down, improving on five of fifteen from week one.

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Unheard-of Defensive Players

In the first two weeks, I have seen nothing impressive from the Patriots’ top defensive players, which I will address later. But in their absence, a few surprising players stepped up and turned in big performances. Defensive End Deatrich Wise, the Patriots’ fourth round draft pick this year, led the way for a New England defensive line which allowed 185 rushing yards to the Chiefs in week one. Wise recorded two tackles, a sack, a run stuff, and five hits on the quarterback in a disruptive day on the line for him. Wise’s strong start overshadowed veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch’s poor performance. Against New Orleans, Branch saw his playing time reduced, and failed to record a single tackle. I would like to see an even better performance from the run defense which allowed 4.8 yards per carry this week against the Saints. However, week two was certainly an improvement on the run defense compared to week one, and Deatrich Wise was a big reason why.

The biggest defensive standout from Sunday was cornerback and second-year undrafted player Jonathon Jones. He finished the game with two passes defended, the same amount as big-name corners Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore combined. The highlight from his game was breaking up a would-be touchdown reception from Ted Ginn Jr. and forcing fourth down. If Malcolm Butler continues to struggle, Jones may see an increase in playing time.

Negatives

Big-Name Defensive Players

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It has not been a good couple of weeks for Malcolm Butler. The Super Bowl 49 hero-turned stud cornerback had some offseason conflicts with the Patriots organization over his contract negotiations. The restricted free agent refused to sign his restricted tender, which would increase his salary to $4 million, as he was asking for more. At one point, it seemed as though a trade with the Saints involving Butler was imminent. When talks fell through, I was under the impression that Butler would still be an effective member in the Patriots secondary, especially in a contract year. Through two games, he has been anything but effective. Butler was benched at the start of week two against New Orleans in favor of Eric Rowe (who later suffered an injury which put Butler in the game). It was the first time since the beginning of the 2015 season that Butler did not start a game. However, Butler does more than just start; he plays almost every single down. Since 2015, Butler has been on the field for 98% of defensive snaps. However, his recent poor play earned him a spot on the bench. If Butler fails to improve his play, his name could join Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins on the list of Patriots who were traded in a contract year.

Things to Keep an Eye On

The Brady-Cooks Connection

It is impossible to deny that wide receiver Brandin Cooks has talent. However, earning the trust of Tom Brady is not an easy thing to do. Many receivers have failed to get on the same page with Brady, and never shine in New England. Through two weeks, Cooks has yet to flash the prowess that he showed on the Saints. Despite a couple of big plays, he has not had a few weeks. It may just be an adjustment period, but I’m not too sure that a big-play receiver like Cooks will fit well in the Patriots’ short yardage passing attack. It is far too early to be pressing the panic button, but Cooks may need a prolonged adjustment period, and may not work out as a Patriot.

Second Half Performance

Do the Patriots have an issue late in games? Through two weeks, the Patriots have scored a mere 16 points in the second half, and only three points in the fourth quarter. It is easy to look at the game against the Saints and believe that the game was over after the first quarter, and so the Patriot offense took their foot off the gas. While this may be the case, New England was outscored 28-10 in the second half and 21-0 in the fourth quarter during their week one game against Kansas City. The Thursday night opener was the first game in Tom Brady’s career in which he lost a home game with a lead in the fourth quarter. Normally, I would not worry over a lack of offensive production after a 36-20 win featuring a 20-point quarter, but given the second half of week one, I would say that the Patriots’ second half performances are something to keep an eye on.

Red Zone Production

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So far this season, the Patriots have not had much of an issue with moving the ball. They currently lead the league in total yards, a statistic aided by Sunday’s 555-yard performance. However, New England has struggled to cap off many of their drives once they reach the red zone. In two games, the Patriots have scored touchdowns in six of their thirteen trips to the red zone, ranking twentieth in the NFL. The last time that the Patriots finished the season ranking outside of the top ten in red zone efficiency was 2009 when they ranked twelfth. You don’t win the Super Bowl by kicking field goals, and if the Patriots continue to settle for three points in the red zone, the offense may come up short in the playoffs.

Next Week at Home vs. the Houston Texans

This game will be a big test for the Patriots offensive line, as the go up against J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilous and the rest of that relentless Texans pass rush. Marcus Cannon may miss the game with a concussion, providing even more of a challenge for the questionable offensive line. With some recent turmoil in the secondary, pay attention to who will cover star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Stephon Gilmore is the safe bet, given his height and the poor play of Malcolm Butler. The Texans offense currently ranks 29th in the NFL in both total yardage and points per game. Their two games have featured a 29-7 blowout at the hands of the Jaguars and a 13-9 win against Cincinnati. If the defense has problems in this game, they will likely have problems all season.

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Prediction: Patriots 30, Texans 6

NFL Sleeper Teams for the 2017 Season

The teams that are expected to seriously contend for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in 2018 are not shockers. The New England Patriots, with their brilliant offseason acquisitions of TE Dwayne Allen, WR Brandin Cooks and CB Stephon Gilmore look primed to defend their title, even after a week one loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To the delight of Dallas Cowboys fans all over the country and no one else, the suspension of RB Ezekiel Elliot for his various off-field incidents has been postponed. They also still have the game’s most dominant offensive line, and if QB Dak Prescott is able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, the Cowboys offense will be electric.

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The Green Bay Packers look to make another deep postseason run with their star QB Aaron Rodgers. The Packers retooled their offense with the free agent signing of TE Martellus Bennett from the Patriots and have decided to commit to former WR Ty Montgomery as their primary backfield option. The Pittsburgh Steelers still have QB Ben Roethlisberger and the two most dominant players at their respective positions in RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown in addition to a defense that finished in the top ten for lowest average points allowed per game. Last but not least, with the return of QB Derek Carr from injury and a talented defense led by Khalil Mack, the Oakland Raiders should make serious nose in the AFC as well.

While there are undoubtedly other teams that I am overlooking as Super Bowl contenders, the four aforementioned teams have the best chance to make a deep postseason run based on their roster, and the odds makers in Las Vegas feel similarly. The Patriots open the regular season with 11-4 odds to hoist the Lombardi trophy, while the Packers and Raiders both come in with 8-1 odds to win. The Steelers have 10-1 odds to win the championship, while the Cowboys trail with 12-1 odds.  However, there are certainly quite a few teams that are being overlooked for a chance to make the playoffs. These teams are often referred to as “sleepers.”

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The Steelers return yet again as favorites to make the playoffs.

My first sleeper team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The subject of HBO’s famed Hard Knocks series this summer, the Bucs are a dangerous team that have added some serious firepower this offseason. They signed WR Desean Jackson from the Washington Redskins to complement Second Team All-Pro WR Mike Evans. They drafted TE O.J Howard from Alabama to provide franchise QB Jameis Winston with a reliable tight end weapon to contend in the NFC South, a much-improved offensive conference. The Bucs will go as far as Winston takes them, as their defense still has holes with a below average secondary and a talented, but very young linebacker core.

The Tennessee Titans finished with a solid 9-7 record, and if QB Marcus Mariota had not picked up a substantial knee injury late in the season, the Titans might have been able to make some noise in the playoffs. The acquisition of WR Eric Decker, who the New York Jets released in an effort to save money, and the selection of WR Corey Davis from Central Michigan, has now turned one of the Titans’ weaknesses last year into one of its main strengths. Mariota had very few dependable options to throw the ball to last season, but assuming the health of the Titans receiving corps, their offense will improve a great deal in comparison to that of last season. The Titans also possess a dynamic backfield duo in both Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry. They remain as options to improve on their running game that ranked third in the league last season.

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In addition, the AFC South is a glaringly weak division since the Texans are struggling to find a quarterback to help out JJ Watt and the Texans defense, and Andrew Luck has struggled to stay on the field and is still experiencing shoulder issues. If Blake Bortles can find his form, the Jaguars could be a threat to the Titans’ division chances, but I believe that the Titans have a solid chance of winning a playoff game at the very least. The Jags’ resurgence took a hit in week one when top receiver Allen Robinson went down with an ACL tear. Because of the Titans’ new receivers that will allow their already dynamic running game to become even more of a threat, Tennessee will be able to surprise a lot of teams in the league and become contenders. Once again though, if Mariota is not able to remain on the field, the Titans’ playoff chances take a huge hit

My final sleeper team is the Cincinnati Bengals. Due to the midseason injury of their best player, WR AJ Green, the Bengals failed to meet expectations for their 2016 season. After winning the AFC North division two of the past three seasons, the Bengals finished in third place in their division with a sub-.500 record. The return of Green will help QB Andy Dalton find his form again. However, the losses of guard Kevin Zeitler to the Cleveland Browns and left tackle Andrew Whitworth to the Los Angeles Rams are tough to swallow. If the Bengals struggle again this season, their failure to re-sign these players will be looked at as the biggest reason why, as their offensive line now looks shaky at best. Despite being shut out to the Ravens this past week, look for Cincinnati to regain their footing and fight for a spot in the playoffs.

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On the bright side, all of these teams will undoubtedly be better than the New York Jets, who look poised to be the first winless team since the 2008 Detroit Lions.

What the Julian Edelman Injury Means for the Patriots

It has been a crazy week in the world of Boston sports. The Red Sox, who had a record of 15-4 in August coming into last Thursday night’s game in Cleveland, went on a four game losing skid, including a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. The Celtics pulled off a blockbuster trade that was finally completed after they resolved the concern over the condition of Isaiah Thomas’ hip. However, despite these developments, the Saturday news that Julian Edelman has a completely torn ACL is the lead story in Boston this week. This news did not come as much of a surprise to anyone who heard that Edelman had been carted off the field in Friday night’s preseason game against Detroit with a non-contact knee injury. Later that night, Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots believed the injury to be a torn ACL. Even with Edelman out for the season, anything short of a Super Bowl title for this Patriots team would be a disappointment because of their wide receiver depth to make up for the loss of the Kent State product. Aside from Edelman, the Patriots will have former Saints top option Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan, as well as undrafted rookie Austin Carr who showed flashes of talent in the preseason. Edelman’s injury shouldn’t have much of an impact on the regular season, and this team has enough talent to hypothetically replace his production in the postseason. However, the loss of Edelman has the potential to trip the Patriots up in a big game given his standing and his versatility within the Patriots offense.
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Ever since Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos after the 2012 season, Julian Edelman has solidified himself as a staple of the Patriots offense. Over that time, he has become Tom Brady’s favorite receiver (discounting Gronk because of his tight end status), and his best friend. The go-to factor with Edelman cannot be overstated. He is the best third down receiver in football, leading the league in third down yardage and finishing second in third down receptions in 2016. When the Patriots won their recent championships, they relied heavily on converting in third down situations at a high clip throughout the seasons. In three of their last four Super Bowl-winning seasons (this stat was not recorded in 2001), the Patriots finished top five in the NFL in third down conversion percentage.

In their last two Super Bowls, New England dominated their opponents in third down conversions, largely thanks to Julian Edelman. In Super Bowl 49 against Seattle, the Patriots converted on eight of fourteen third down attempts, while the Seahawks converted three of ten attempts. The story was the same in Super Bowl 51. The Patriots converted seven of fourteen (50%) third down attempts, while the Falcons converted just one of eight (12%). Third down success can serve as a pretty accurate barometer for the Patriots’ success overall, and without Brady’s go-to receiver in the slot, I question how effective New England will be on third down. chris-hogan-tom-brady-nfl-baltimore-ravens-new-england-patriots-850x560

The offense will have to go through drastic changes to make up for the loss of Edelman. There is no player in New England or in free agency that could possibly fill the role of Julian Edelman. Instead, Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to fundamentally change how the offensive is run. Instead of relying on Edelman to move the chains on third and long, the Patriots must perform more on first and second downs to alleviate the pressure. With Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan at the top of the depth chart at wide receiver, the Patriots will try to incorporate the deep ball into their offense. If the Patriots’ offense is centered on the deep ball, they will not win the championship. I do not trust a 40-year-old Tom Brady to deliver deep passes with the same consistency that he did in his prime, even if he is indeed the G.O.A.T. The only year when the offense was centered on Brady throwing the deep ball ended with him recording 50 touchdown passes, but no Super Bowl ring. They are better off relying on Brady to make pinpoint 10-15 yard throws and using his brain to dissect defensive schemes.

Even with a new offensive game plan, I am not sure that the Patriots have reliable weapons to win it all this year. With Edelman out for the year, New England will rely on Rob Gronkowski to stay healthy for the full season, a rarity over the course of his career. In his six years in the NFL, Gronkowski has only stayed fully healthy for two seasons. One of them was his rookie campaign in which he only made 11 starts. I do not trust Gronk to remain healthy for the entire season, and an offense without Gronkowski and Edelman could come to be the nail in the coffin for the 2017 Patriots season. There are other concerns in the Patriots’ offense as well. 2016 fourth round draft pick Malcolm Mitchell flashed talent last season, but also showed some injury concerns and is hurt again this preseason. Danny Amendola would be a potential fill-in for Julian Edelman, but he has injury concerns as well. In his eight seasons in the NFL, he has played 16 games twice. If we were to get the same amount of touches as Edelman, he would likely not last the full season.

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Despite potential injury risks, the Patriots have enough talent in their receiving core to make up for Julian Edelman’s production. Barring another injury, I do not believe that Edelman’s absence will prevent the Patriots from reaching the AFC Championship Game, or even another Super Bowl. However, I have concerns about what will happen in the Super Bowl without Julian Edelman. Out of the five Super Bowls won by the Patriots franchise, every single one has been close. The Patriots’ 34-28 overtime win over the Falcons was the biggest point differential in a Patriots Super Bowl victory. If the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl, it will be close, and this is what scares me. Brady has weapons this year, but we have seen wide receivers get shut out of the offense because Brady does not trust them. With new characters, young players attempting to solidify themselves in the offense, injury risks and no go-to receiver in sight, I am not sure about who will deliver for the reigning champs with the Super Bowl on the line.

Fantasy Football 2017-2018 Surprise Projections

It’s not a dream. Football season is only three weeks away, and with that comes the resurgence of one of the most competitive online sports leagues in the world; fantasy football. Whether it’s for a weekly league or for the full season, it’s always a scramble for team owners who are trying to determine which players will be your savior and which ones will ride your bench. It’s easy to be confident in drafting and starting your all-stars like Aaron Rodgers, Le’Veon Bell or Julio Jones week in and week out, barring injury.

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But what about the players who we inevitably pass over each year, who then go on to exceed all expectations we had of them? I’m talking about guys like Matt Ryan who wasn’t ranked as one of the highest QBs in the 2016 fantasy draft, yet ended up finishing in the top three. I’m talking about Melvin Gordon who had an awful rookie season, but then vaulted into the top echelon in the 2015-2016 season. These surprises happen year after year. It was DeMarco Murray in 2014, Cam Newton in 2015 and as previously mentioned, Matt Ryan in 2016. While these are just a few players to have had incredible seasons, others can come out of the woodwork and lead your fantasy team into the playoffs. Looking forward to the 2017-18 season, we should be expecting to see some more players have breakout seasons.

Tyreek Hill is a name that people should be eagerly watching out for.

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Hill burst onto the scene last year in electrifying fashion, displaying unstoppable speed and agility. While his overall receiving stats weren’t all that impressive, finishing with 61 receptions, 593 yards and six TDs, Hill also showed his explosiveness as a kick returner, punt returner and change-of-pace running back.

Hill is a jack-of-all-trades type of player and a walking highlight reel. Now, with the departure of Jeremy Maclin, Hill shouldn’t have much competition to fill the Chiefs’ WR1 role. Expect Hill to be much more involved in the receiving game and to be a lot more than a utility player, even with Alex Smith throwing to him.

His usage on special plays will take a hit, but he’ll be heavily involved on the offensive side of things. The ceiling for Hill is quite impressive – his mix of speed, strength, agility and vision makes him a threat to score every time he takes a snap.

Robert Kelley is another name that stands out.

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Was his rookie season anything to celebrate? Probably not, but at least it’s nothing to sneeze at. He started nine games, finishing with 704 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and rushing for six touchdowns. He will likely be hungry after coming off of a sub-par 2016 season. He won’t be able to fall into the sophomore slump that Todd Gurley fell victim too.

The Redskins did sign another running back in the fourth round of the draft in Samaje Perine. He was a stud at the University of Oklahoma, amassing 4,122 yards in his three years there. Perine is a strong and fast runner, but there’s a fair amount of adjustment that he needs to make before he’ll be ready for the NFL. We know he’s strong, but he’s also raw and unproven.

Robert Kelley will have the first shot to be the starter for the Redskins, and I expect to see Kelley feel more comfortable in his starting role than he was last year. He has talked about watching film and changing his running style to be more patient like that of Le’Veon Bell. If Kelley can execute, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Finally, enter Terrance West, the running back for the Baltimore Ravens who could be in prime position for a breakout season.

Healthy for all 16 games last season, West started 13 of them. He finished with five rushing touchdowns and 774 yards on 193 attempts, averaging just about four yards per carry.

Going into the 2017 season, West will be the starter from the first snap. Additionally, there are a few other aspects looking up for West. With the recent injury to Joe Flacco – who could potentially miss week one – the Ravens could be looking to run the ball more and be a bit more conservative with their cannon arm quarterback.

Furthermore, Baltimore’s schedule looks very promising for rushers as nine of 16 regular season games will be played against teams who ranked in the bottom ten last season in rush defense. While at a first glance, the Ravens backfield may look crowded especially with the newly signed Danny Woodhead, it’s not as competitive as it might seem. John Harbaugh has a lot of confidence in the 26-year-old and expects him to be the workhorse.

Harbaugh has also mentioned that Kenneth Dixon has the same workhorse potential; however, Dixon is suspended for the first five games – immediately decreasing his value. Woodhead is a nice addition to the Ravens backfield but will ultimately only be used as a change of pace and third down back.

5

Each year, without fail, players surprise us. I guess that’s part of being a good fantasy team owner – looking for value that can exceed expectations. However, we continually follow the draft projections thinking that things will be different. While a lot of the time these players end up working out just fine, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that they don’t always live up to the expectations that we place on them. As we enter the new NFL season, remember to keep in mind that some players will be undervalued and it’s your job as a fantasy owner to find those underrated players and lead your team to victory.

Obviously draft smart and don’t take players in the first round that have a good chance of being available in the fourth or fifth rounds, but remember to keep an eye open for those players that could have breakout seasons and surprise us all. Oh, and don’t take a kicker till the last round. Please.

Biggest NFL Rookie Impacts in 2017-18

Myles Garrett

The first overall pick and the most NFL-ready player in the draft, Garrett will finally provide a spark to the most abysmal franchise in football. There is a sense of belief that he will be comparable to Julius Peppers in his prime and that it will not take him long to get there. Garrett will be the guy to help Cleveland orchestrate its first good pass rush in ten years and make the whole defense better by taking pressure off his line mates as well as the secondary. Garrett is going to bolster the whole Cleveland organization that desperately needs to elevate itself back into NFL relevance.

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Leonard Fournette

Tom Coughlin wanted a pure runner when he and the Jags looked towards the NFL Draft, and he got the best one available in2017. Although the LSU product will have a learning curve to his game and will not be able to run defenders over the same way that he did in college, he should still be very effective. Fournette has a hill to climb to see the same success that Ezekiel Elliot saw last season, but it may not be as steep as people are thinking it will be. Fournette will be primarily a first and second down back to start making third downs more manageable for Blake Bortles and company. He needs to ease into the offense before becoming a three-down force. Fournette may struggle early in the season, but look for him finish strong as a solid, reliable back come the end of the season.

Jamal Adams

The man who thinks that dying on the field would be a perfect death will surely leave everything out there on the field. This is the first time in a long span that the New York Jets didn’t completely botch their first round selection. The best safety in the draft fell right into their lap. Adams will be a leader in gang green’s secondary, and will hopefully take the reins as a future defensive captain. Expect Adams to be heavily favored in the defensive rookie of the year running because he is that good, and his team just isn’t.

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Solomon Thomas

Thomas is strong, fast, athletically gifted and quite knowledgeable of the game. Because of the natural differences between the college game and the professional level, there aren’t many rookies who can come straight to the National Football League and seamlessly make an impact. Thomas could very well be one of them, mostly due to his raw ability. The only knock on Thomas’ game is that he is described as, “hot and cold” (SB Nation), referring to his sporadic nature of bringing effort to the game. This will not fly in an NFL locker room full of veterans, so Thomas may require some guidance and motivation in his first few years in the league. If it comes to fruition, Thomas looks poised for an excellent rookie year.

OJ Howard

Howard will enter the NFL having already played in a high volume pro-style offense at Alabama. This is great news for Jameis Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter, who loves tight ends who can receive the football. In his two seasons as offensive coordinator in Atlanta, future Hall Of Fame-er Tony Gonzalez hauled in 176 receptions, which shows what can be expected of Howard. His 6’5’’, 240-lb frame is coupled with a 4.51 40-yard dash time, already making him a potential matchup nightmare. He poses a huge issue for defenses because of his ability to run the seam, and he is another huge target in the red zone in addition to Mike Evans.

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