The NFL Draft Combine is still in the throes of devouring its young, with linebackers and defensive linemen going through drills today. Defensive backs will take the field Tuesday. But in the week of buildup toward the combine’s conclusion, more than a few names have been tossed about with relation to the Patriots. Here’s a rundown of who has been mentioned, as well as any pertinent information.
1. Florida safety Matt Elam — The hard-hitting safety is one of the best rated defensive backs on the board, so it’s no wonder his name has been connected with the Patriots after the team finished a paltry 29th in pass defense. As a Florida football player, Elam has connections with former Gators Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, and Jeff Demps. But his game speaks for itself. He tallied 76 tackles, 2 sacks, and 11 tackles for a loss. He was first team All-SEC and first team AP All-American. It’ll be tough if he makes it to No. 29, but he’s definitely on the radar. We’ll see more details on Elam when he works out on Tuesday.
2. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin — What’s the likelihood that there are two guys named Tavon on the Patriots? After the way Austin’s name was thrown around by mock drafters and media folks, you’d think it was a done deal. Austin ran a 4.34 40-yard dash Sunday. In his senior season for West Virginia, he was all over the field as a returner, receiver, and in the back field. He caught 111 passes for 1,287 yards, ran for 652 yards on 73 carries, and averaged 25.1 yards on kickoff returns. He totalled 17 touchdowns on the season. He’s only 5-feet, 8-inches and weighs 174 pounds. So he fits the mold of another slot-like wide receiver. But he has the versatility to be moved around, an attribute Bill Belichick thoroughly values.
See more of my original post on Boston.com: Five draft prospects that keep popping up – Extra Points – Boston.com.
The big hubbub over Brandon Lloyd, which boils down to whether or not he’s pesty enough to jettison, is far too premature and underdeveloped to seriously consider.
We can ask, in essence, what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior for an NFL player? And does being moody reach the barometer for unacceptable?
Without answering those questions, it’s impossible to gauge whether the Patriots should cut the cord on Lloyd. But you already know the answer to both questions and it has everything to do with star status, contract dollars, productivity, and — until recently — perception with the public, at least around these parts.
In colleague Greg Bedard’s expanded thoughts on Lloyd Tuesday, he included this damning note:
You just never know what you’re going to get with Lloyd, and either you can deal with it or you can’t. For example, talked to one player a few weeks ago that said he was talking to Lloyd about something and suddenly Lloyd said in mid-sentence, “I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” and put his headphones on.
Call it anecdotal, but it’s damaging nonetheless to Lloyd’s standing in the locker room and a personal problem he’ll have to address on his own. But if that’s the extent to which the anecdotes run (there are plenty more this reporter and others can summarize in dealing with Lloyd), it’s hard to imagine this passes the smell test for a team problem. However, it would also not be surprising if there were more incriminating examples of his surly behavior. He fits the type. But there have been worse characters in the NFL.
See more in my original post on Boston.com: Should the Patriots drop Brandon Lloyd? You already know the answer – Extra Points – Boston.com.
My latest on the Patriots. With 18 free agents, including three starters, I break down why the Patriots should attempt to re-sign right tackle Sebastian Vollmer first before dealing with Wes Welker and Aqib Talib. Thoughts, comments, critiques welcome.
Betting is a huge part of sporting events and there’s nothing like it when it comes to the Super Bowl.
For Super Bowl XLVII, there are numerous proposition bets, also known as prop bets, that can spice up the betting climate with wagers that have little to do with the play on the field, draw upon historical games, and cross sport and pop culture barriers.
See the top 10 prop bets I found on Boston.com.
The universe became a little more screwy when little brother Harbaugh opened up as a favorite. It’s like we all have been transported into the Gronkowski household.
Jim Harbaugh, little brother to John Harbaugh, leads the San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl XLVII as 4-point favorites against big brother John’s Baltimore Ravens. We all get to witness the Brothers Harbaugh out grimace each other on the sideline as the 49ers and Ravens play out a title game that will be 10 times more about each team’s defense than about the guy who is under center. Or wearing a headset.
It’s the smash mouth defense of the twenty-teens, versus the old(er) smash mouth defense of the two thousands. It’ll be peachy.
I’m 8-2 in the playoffs against the line and straight up. But neither of my Super Bowl picks are still playing. Sadly, the Patriots and Seahawks have more time to enjoy Mardi Gras and warm weather than prepare for a championship. So with one more pick to make, a year in which I went 169-83-1 during the regular season and picked the 49ers to win in 17 of their 18 contests, I have to go with little brother Jim and his 49ers once again.
Why? Simply put, the 49ers are loaded. From a deep and dependable offensive line, a secondary that is arguably tops in the NFL (despite a porous playoff stretch), and a linebacker corps that is second to none. Then add in an offense that is hitting its stride at the right time, quarterbacked by the speedy and hard-throwing Colin Kaepernick, and position players that are top notch throughout. The Ravens don’t compare in that regard.
This is the 11th ranked offense versus the 16th ranked offense. The 3rd ranked defense versus the 17th ranked defense. The 4th best rushing team versus the 11th best rushing team. Only in the passing game do the Ravens take an edge. And even there, the pendulum could swing in the 49ers’ favor with Kaepernick at quarterback. We don’t know what kind of performance we’ll get.
The X-factor here is whether or not the 49ers will show the same inconsistency they’ve shown in the past month. In Week 15, they went on a tear to beat the New England Patriots. The next week, they were in the dumps after getting blown out by the Seattle Seahawks. In each of their two playoff games, they allowed early leads against the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, the latter of which went up 17-0 before they woke up.
That’s where this game is dangerous, where expectations and numbers and matchups don’t relate to the stun of the bright lights and the inspiration as well as emotive draw that takes place with more than 100 million people watching. That’s a place where the Ravens thrive, both as underdogs and as veterans of big games that have a new-found rallying cry in the soon-to-be retirement of Ray Lewis.
This is going to be close, but I don’t think it’s going to be as close as Baltimore (and maybe Patriots fans) want it to be.
The key matchup will be how the 49ers handle the Ravens’ passing game, orchestrated by the deft Joe Flacco. Torrey Smith is a deep threat and combined with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have a layered passing attack that requires attention up and down the field. Nickel corner Carlos Rodgers has to be solid against Boldin while he’s in the slot and you’ll likely see 49ers LB Patrick Willis bodied up against Pitta at times while he keeps an eye on fullback Vonta Leach coming out of the backfield. Who wins in these one-on-one matchups should very well determine the dynamic and outcome of the game. I happen to think the 49ers are favored here.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 35, Ravens 27
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots were beaten handily by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, losing, 28-13, in the AFC Championship game. But one could still argue that the game would have turned out dramatically different had the home team capitalized on some key plays and executed better down the stretch.
There were numerous plays left on the field. There’s no going back now, but let’s highlight a few things that went wrong in this week’s takeaways.
1. Time management was an issue — Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did their best to deflect the issue, but they had a problem toward the end of the first half managing the clock and burned all three timeouts at the end of the game, much too soon for any comeback effort. But the events at the end of the first half were particularly troubling. The Patriots were driving down the field, only 10 yards away from the end zone, with 26 seconds left. Brady couldn’t find a receiver, so he scrambled for 3 yards and then tried to gather his teammates to attempt another play before realizing too much time had passed. He had to use the Patriots’ final timeout of the half with only four seconds on the clock. Either Belichick or Brady should have immediately called a timeout after the play to preserve an opportunity to take a shot at the end zone. With only four seconds on the clock, they were forced to take the field goal. A touchdown would’ve changed the dynamic of the game and given the Patriots more confidence going into the second half.
2. Wes Welker’s drop deflated a perfectly good drive — The second half wasn’t kind to the Patriots. They were outscored, 21-0, a remarkable display given the team’s standing as the top offense in the league. Drive after drive, the Patriots were stumped by their own ineptitude. In the third quarter, they had a particularly good stretch that was mucked up by an all-too familiar episode of Welker’s dropsies. (Forgive him, he was getting knocked around pretty good out there.) The Patriots had drove 57 yards to the Baltimore 34 and were facing third and 8 when Brady threw a pass that hit Welker in the hands and face mask. It would’ve given the Patriots a first down and possibly the opportunity to extend their lead. Instead, because of the fourth down and the windy conditions, they elected to punt. Which brings me to my next takeaway.
To see all of my takeaways, view the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points.
Last week was bittersweet for me. I went a sterling 4-0 against the spread, but my Super Bowl pick, the Seattle Seahawks, lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the team’s NFC divisional bout.
It was a stellar game with the Falcons edging the Seahawks 30-28 on an inspiring game-winning drive by former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan certainly lived up to his nickname, Matty Ice, completing two passes with 31 seconds left in the game to get his Falcons down to the Seattle 31-yard line, setting up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Bryant was clutch, nailing the 49-yard attempt after getting a practice kick courtesy of Pete Carroll.
Atlanta won the game, Seattle covered the spread. It was a small victory and a huge loss that has me re-thinking the whole Super Bowl dynamic now that the final four is set to kick off on Sunday. I’ve been fairly good at picking games. I’m 7-1 against the spread and 7-1 picking straight up winners during the postseason, but this week feels different. There’s a lot of talent in Atlanta that I underestimated, namely the next-level worldly play of Ryan that the entire south has come to expect. But I have my doubts.
Meanwhile, we have two spreads that are virtually unbelievable. And that makes for this week’s picks to be a little more hairy than usual.
49ers (-5) at Falcons (+5) — When Jim Harbaugh installed Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, it was with the understanding that the second-year pro’s performance would come with high risks and high rewards. Kaepernick proved as much against the Green Bay Packers, throwing a first quarter interception before literally running away with the game. His playoff-record 181 yards rushing (in addition to the 263 yards passing) buried the Packers in a 45-31 win at Candlestick Park. The onus is on Harbaugh and Kaepernick to replicate the effort at the Georgia Dome, proving the option is viable in the NFL once again. The Falcons got a taste of the option last week, clamping down on the Seahawks’ powerful running game before eking out the win thanks to Ryan’s heroics. One key I noticed in the Falcons’ matchup with the Seahawks, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson failed to keep Atlanta on its toes by taking the option. He kept feeding Marshawn Lynch (16 carries, 46 yards) to no avail. I doubt the 49ers’ young quarterback, who has seemingly grown up overnight on the football field, would be so hesitant to take advantage of the opportunities a leaky Atlanta defense will provide. The Falcons surrendered 491 yards against the Seahawks and were the No. 24 total defense during the regular season. Ryan will be facing a 49ers team that has a significantly better defensive line with Justin Smith leading the way. It won’t be easy, but with the possibility of another breakout game from Kaepernick and an already shaky defense in Atlanta, I see this breaking for the 49ers. Matty Ice can only do so much.
Straight up winner: 49ers
By the line: Falcons
Ravens (+9.5) at Patriots (-9.5) — Joe Flacco is a much better quarterback when the pressure is on the line. But what’s more, he has enough moxie about him to throw the deep pass with regularity. And lucky for him, he has the talent to come up with the passes in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Add in a steady dose of Ray Rice, who ran for 131 yards on 30 carries in the AFC divisional round, and the Ravens are the most balanced team the Patriots have faced this season. Also taking into consideration the Ravens’ Week 3 win against the Patriots, a game in which Flacco completed eight passes of 20 yards or more, and fans in Baltimore are probably hyped at the possibility of taking down the Patriots again. The Ravens did it on the back of Rice in 2010 and by Flacco’s arm in September. But I don’t see that happening this time around. The Patriots have made the necessary adjustments on defense, particularly in tightening up the secondary, to fend off another upset. Devin McCourty has yet to take the bad angles we saw from Patrick Chung in Week 3 at safety. And Aqib Talib is a quality corner that can battle one-on-one with bigger receivers like Anquan Boldin. I fully expect to see McCourty playing over the top of Smith looking for those deep passes Flacco favors, and the game to be won in the trenches. The Patriots’ run defense (No. 9 overall in the regular season) is my small cause for comfort. But I do expect this one to be close.
Straight up winner: Patriots
By the line: Ravens
I went a perfect 4-0 over the wild card weekend, picking straight up winners, and 3-1 against the spread. Someone in Las Vegas apparently knew that Joe Webb was a crap quarterback and was likely to tank the game for Minnesota, hence my bungling of the initial 9-point spread (updated to 7 points later in the week) favoring the Green Bay Packers. Who would’ve thunk it that the Packers would cover after losing in a shootout to the Vikings a week prior?
The funny thing is we’ve got two more ridiculous spreads for the divisional matchups, but I actually think at least one of the teams should cover. The Patriots are 10-point favorites over the Houston Texans. No one seems to have forgotten the Patriots’ 42-14 drubbing over the Texans on Monday Night Football in Week 14. The Texans certainly haven’t forgotten. And then the Broncos are 10-point favorites over the Ravens. Which brings me to my first upset pick.
Ravens (+10) at Broncos (-10) — The Ravens ground game is special because Ray Rice is phenomenal between the tackles. But now add Bernard Pierce (103 yards last Sunday) to the mix and you’ve got two talented runners the Broncos have to be weary of this coming Saturday that are good inside and outside. The Broncos are on an 11-game winning streak thanks to the mastery of Peyton Manning and one of the league’s best defenses (No. 2 overall). But I’m hardly impressed with their body of work. Since they lost to the Patriots, the Broncos have beaten up on some poor teams. But one of their quality wins did come against the Ravens in Week 15. It was one of those typical bad Joe Flacco games (20 of 40 passing overall and an interception returned for a touchdown along with a fumble in the first half). I know this may seem like a stretch of the imagination, but I think Flacco will have a much better game this week and that will go a long way for a Ravens team that will have to emphasize the run. I’m taking the upset and I’m definitely taking the Ravens with the spread. The Ravens just seem more equipped to handle Manning and the threat that the Broncos provide.
Straight up winner: Ravens
By the line: Ravens
Packers (+3) at 49ers (-3) — These two teams played so long ago and have changed so much, I think it’s safe to say they’ll each throw out that Week 1 game film in which the 49ers pulled out a 30-22 win. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, on the bench in that Week 1 win, brings an entirely different dynamic to the 49ers offense. The second-year quarterback out of the University of Nevada is much more confident throwing the ball down field than Alex Smith, the veteran backup, and he complements the team’s No. 4 rushing offense well with his ability to run the option and scramble when plays break down. The Packers haven’t seen a quarterback like that — matched with a defense of the 49ers’ caliber — since the team’s infamous Week 3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the “Fail Mary.” But the 49ers have been shaky in the past month, rising to the occasion against the Patriots and then falling hard the next week against the Seahawks. They’re lucky to be the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Packers will certainly put the game on Aaron Rodgers’ shoulders. If 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith (triceps) is even at 75 percent capacity for the game, Rodgers is certain to have a much tougher night. And as of this writing, Smith looks like he’s going to play. This will be the game of the week.
Straight up winner: 49ers
By the line: 49ers
Seahawks (+3) at Falcons (-3) — If Seattle’s defense has a better start than it did against the Washington Redskins in the wild card, this could be a cake walk. I’m definitely high on the Seahawks right now and looking at the matchup with the Falcons makes me even more confident in the pick. The Falcons are the No. 24 defense in the league, going up against a team that has consistently been able to run the ball well with Marshawn Lynch (132 yards, 1 TD against the Redskins) and has able to shut down the best receivers in the game. Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman (8 interceptions, 24 passes defensed) and Brandon Browner will have to put their best effort forward against receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. And it’ll take a team effort to account for tight end Tony Gonzalez. Each are among the best in the business at their respective positions. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns, 99.1 quarterback rating) is playing out of this world right now. But the last time he saw a top-5 defense like the Seahawks’ (No. 4 overall) was in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos. I don’t think Atlanta is ready.
Straight up winner: Seahawks
By the line: Seahawks
Texans (+10) at Patriots (-10) — It’s not hard to be so down on the Houston Texans after watching their 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card. One might argue that the Bengals lost, rather than the Texans won in an ugly, ugly game. Matt Schaub, who had his best outing in a month against Cincy, comes back to Gillette Stadium where he was basically rendered useless. The Patriots took away the dump off passes over the middle of the field that he likes to tight ends Owen Daniels and James Casey. The Texans ended up 4 of 14 on third down and fell into an early hole before losing all fight in them. The Patriots won 42-14. Schaub will have tight end Garrett Graham back to target as well this time around. But if Houston focuses on running the ball with Arian Foster (they’re 8-0 when he has 100 or more yards) they have a shot to keep it close. But they have to keep up with Tom Brady and the No. 1 offense in the NFL. A hot start by the Patriots will all but doom the Texans. And after watching the film of the Texans defense — the number of miscues against the Patriots was plentiful — they’ll need to play much better to keep this close. It doesn’t help Houston’s cause that Rob Gronkowski is back, Rob Ninkovich appears to have benefited from the bye week, and Aqib Talib has been able to rest for at least three weeks. Houston may be seeking revenge, but the stars are aligned for the Patriots.
Straight up winner: Patriots
By the line: Patriots
Last week: 4-0 (3-1 by the line)
Postseason: 4-0 (3-1 by the line)
FOXBOROUGH — The season has come to a close and the Patriots are the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
After a 28-0 pillow fight with the Miami Dolphins, I think we’re all ready for a little better competition. But before we move on, let’s looks at some of the key sticking points from Week 17′s matchup and in extension the season in review.
1) Rob Gronkowski’s return reminds me of … — Super Bowl XLVI. If you recall, Gronkowski returned from an ankle injury suffered in the third quarter of the AFC championship against the Baltimore Ravens. He left the game, and afterward the status of his right ankle was the most guarded secret in Foxborough. Two weeks later in the Super Bowl, he was a shell of himself. He was targeted three times, catching two passes for 26 yards. By all means, he was a decoy. But even as a decoy, he was a worthy adversary. On Sunday, Gronkowski caught two passes for 42 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Gronkowski was again a shell of himself, hesitant to use his big left club when engaging defenders, running around holding his arm low to his body as if it were some billy club he was trying to protect. And yet he still was able to get open across the middle and catch a couple of passes. With a couple of weeks to get healthy, we only suspect he’ll be tad less shy to get tangled up. But until then, the status of that left forearm will be the most closely guarded secret in Foxborough.
“It felt good,” Gronkowski said of getting hit for the first time. “I mean, I haven’t got hit in awhile. It’s been a couple of weeks, about six weeks since I got hit. It’s football. I was ready to get hit, I was ready to get knocked down. So you just gotta get back up and get back in the huddle. It felt good to be back out there.”
Thank goodness nothing bad happened.
2) Patriots defensive line shows its depth — It may have felt like garbage time against the Dolphins Sunday, but we all actually got to witness the depth the Patriots have on their defensive line. They picked up a season-high seven sacks against the Dolphins with undrafted rookie Justin Francis leading the way with three. Brandon Deaderick, a backup defensive tackle, got his first sack of the season in the finale. Trevor Scott (1 sack) got in on the action, as did Vince Wilfork (1 sack). The output was a welcoming sign considering one of the most consistent pass rushers, Rob Ninkovich, left the game with a hip injury. Francis has been working hard to get to this point, impressing early in training camp and then continued to work hard after being inactive for the first four games of the season.
“It’s just a blessing of God,” Francis said. “It’s been a long journey and the journey continues.”
The Patriots have to account for the loss of Ninkovich, which will certainly be a blow. But with Scott, Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, and now Justin Francis emerging, the Patriots appear to be in good hands.
“I think we have a lot of depth defensively, on the d-line,” Scott said. “We have a lot of different things we can do. And that’s why we’re so deep, because everybody is a little bit different. So we just try to put everyone in a situation to make plays.
“We don’t know what’s going on with Rob yet, but it’s definitely a big loss. If I am that guy that’s going to be going in, then I’m going to take it full steam ahead.”
For all of my takeaways, view the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.
I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced. The Seattle Seahawks are the real deal. And while they seemed to be just another fledgling team a month ago, going into Week 17 team they appear to be Super Bowl favorites. I’d pick the Seahawks in any dogfight after they beat the living crap out of the San Francisco 49ers last night. With a final score of 42-13, everyone who watches the NFL is either marveling at the parity in the league or are totally confused after three weeks of upsets.
It started when the Patriots blew out the Houston Texans, the last 1-loss team in the league. Then the 49ers took a sledge hammer to the Patriots’ pride in a 41-34 win. Last night, Pete Carroll let Jim Harbaugh know what’s the deal. It was the kind of comeuppance that resets the playing field across the league.
If you’ll excuse my mixes sports analogy, this reminds me quite a bit of the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series run. The Giants were a fledgling team during the season, but turned it on in late August and September before running the tables in October. The Seahawks are running the tables in December and they have the hot hand in Russell Wilson. Seattle is on a four-game winning streak, last losing to the Miami Dolphins, 24-21, Nov. 25. Next week, they have an opportunity to split their season series with the St. Louis Rams after a Week 4 loss. If Wilson continues to play like he has (15 of 21, 171 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT against the 49ers), and their defense stays consistent (No. 3 overall in the league) they’ll be playing in New Orleans in February. January will be cinch.
With that said, here are my picks for the last week of the NFL season. A day early, of course. But that’s because it Christmas tomorrow and all the games were wrapped up yesterday.
Enjoy the holidays folks.
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