|5 mostly Patriots-related thoughts on Sunday’s divisional playoff action: If you don’t have an elite QB, you’re out of luck||01.16.17 at 12:05 am ET|
1. So the NFL’s Final Four is set, with the Packers meeting the Falcons in the Georgia Dome Sunday at 3:05 p.m., and the Patriots and Steelers squaring off at 6:40 in Foxboro. In the NFC, it’ll be a four seed (Green Bay) and a two seed (Atlanta), while the No. 1 seed in the AFC (New England) will host the third seed (Pittsburgh). But more importantly, it’s simply the latest reminder that in a quarterback-driven league, if you don’t have a signal-caller who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field, you’re pretty much going to be out of luck. It’s hard to look at this group of quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisbeger, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan — and not include them in some sort of combination of the NFL’s top 5 QBs, at least at this point. (What does it say about the field that the guy who now appears to be the odds’ on favorite to win the MVP has the thinnest resume of the bunch?) Anyway, keep that in mind when the next round of team-building commences shortly after the end of the postseason. (Oh, and for what it’s worth, I’d still be shocked if Roger Goodell was in Foxboro this weekend. That dude is headed straight back to Atlanta.)
2. These quotes from Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler will be fun to revisit this week. Prior to the October game between the two teams in Pittsburgh, Butler was interviewed for the “Coordinators Corner” podcast on the Steelers’ team website, and was asked about Brady and Bill Belichick and if they study harder than other teams, or if they’re doing something special? “I don’t think they’re doing anything special,” Butler said, via MassLive.com. “I think they do things outside the box sometimes, you know, that might be on the edge of being legal or not legal. They’ve done a couple of things in the past — putting an offensive tackle out as ineligible but he’s not really. Sometimes the emphasis by the NFL in terms of what they call and what they don’t call, [the Patriots] use that a little bit. They’ve been accused of doing a lot of things. But the thing we’ve got to do is ignore that and play.”
For what it’s worth, Brady has faced the Pittsburgh defense twice since Butler took over as defensive coordinator prior to the start of the 2015 season:
9/10/15 in Foxboro: 25-for-32 for 288 yards with four touchdowns, no picks and two sacks in a 28-21 win
10/23/16 in Pittsburgh: 19-for-26 for 222 yards with two touchdowns in a 27-16 win
3. Travis Kelce wants to be Rob Gronkowski the same way that Bon Jovi wants to be Bruce Springsteen. The Kansas City tight end was underwhelming on the big stage Sunday night against the Steelers, committing a dopey penalty while finishing with five catches for 77 yards in the loss. On a night where the Chiefs needed Kelce to be a difference-maker, he and the rest of the Kansas City offense came up short. Consider this NSFW locker room video of Kelce a fitting postscript to the season:
Kelce goes off on refs pic.twitter.com/QJMLB82Nqb
— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) January 16, 2017
4. The Steelers are a far more appetizing opponent for the Patriots to consider than the Chiefs for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Pittsburgh does a better job stirring the emotion in the New England fan base than Kansas City. Who can get upset with Kansas City? It’s Andy Reid in a big red jacket. Meanwhile, the Steelers are still worthy of a spot among the Patriots’ chief rivals. There’s so much terrific history to consider between these two teams. The names and faces have changed along the way, but this week promises to be a lot more fun — at least from a hype-driven perspective — than last week against the Texans.
5. We covered our feelings about Rodgers and the Packers’ wild win over the Cowboys here, but it’s safe to say, the NFC title game should be a compelling contest in the Georgia Dome. Can Ryan rise to the challenge and advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in his career? Can Rodgers keep his remarkable streak rolling? From this viewpoint, we’re in completely uncharted waters when it comes to Rodgers and what he’s doing. Despite the fact that they’re on the road, our first inclination is to go with the Packers. No one else has been able to slow down Green Bay quarterback over the last month-plus. Why should Atlanta be any different?
|Scouting report: What you need to know about Chiefs-Patriots||01.15.16 at 11:48 am ET|
Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium between the Chiefs and Patriots:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
Let’s be honest here. In this one, New England’s fortunes aren’t going to rise or fall on the running game. Steven Jackson (21 carries, 50 yards, 1 TD in two games with the Patriots) now is the primary between-the-tackles back, and while he was able to get some good yardage in his chances at the end of the regular season, no one is expecting a LeGarrette Blount-type postseason performance out of the veteran. He’ll run the ball just enough to keep the Kansas City defense honest — in an ideal world, that’s somewhere around 15 carries a game, tops. Meanwhile, expect the Patriots to lean on Brandon Bolden (63 carries, 207 yards) in a relief role, as needed. (James White is now a running back in name only, as his 22 regular-season carries trailed even quarterback Tom Brady.) Overall, the Patriots ended the regular season 30th in the league in rushing offense, averaging a total of 87.8 yards per game on the ground. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs finished the regular season eighth in the league in run defense, having yielded an average of 98.2 rushing yards per game. The educated guess here is that when it comes to the New England offense, the run-pass splits won’t be as dramatic as last year’s AFC divisional playoff game against the Ravens (when the Patriots ran the ball 13 times and attempted 51 passes), but they’ll still skew sharply toward the passing game.
|Andy Reid talks challenges of facing Tom Brady: ‘He’s playing out of his mind’||01.12.16 at 2:03 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has coached in the NFL for 17 seasons, so he’s had to face plenty of great quarterbacks.
No one may be better than who he will face Saturday afternoon in Tom Brady.
Brady has 21 career playoff wins, the most in playoff history. He also has the most postseason touchdown passes (53) in NFL history. Reid knows his team will have its work cut out this weekend.
“He’s playing great football,” Reid said on a conference call with the New England media Tuesday. “He’s playing out of his mind. He’s done a great job. He’s done it with a variety of guys too. Tremendous year for him.”
The quarterback finished the regular season with 4,770 passing yards to go along with 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The interceptions were the fewest in the league. Along with being a great quarterback, Brady is among the best in the league at making adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
“That is a tough thing. That is why he’s won so many games,” Reid said. “You have to come up with a good game plan and try and execute it against a future Hall of Famer.”
New England is expected to get Julian Edelman and Sebastian Vollmer back on the field this weekend, which would be the healthiest its been since Nov. 15 when Edelman broke a bone in his foot against the Giants. Prior to that game, the Patriots were averaging 34.5 points per game, the most in the NFL.
Reid is fully aware of just how dominant the Patriots offense can be when they have all of their players on the field together.
“They are very good, he said. “It’s a great system and they have good players. I don’t use the word scary, but it’s very good.”
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|Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: Chiefs ‘a very, very dangerous team’||01.11.16 at 8:40 am ET|
ESPN’s Tim Hasselbeck made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan with Minihane on Monday morning to discuss the NFL playoffs and explain why the Chiefs are a tough matchup for the Patriots. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Following Saturday’s 30-0 victory over the Texans, the Chiefs head to Foxboro having won 11 consecutive games.
“They’re a unique team,” Hasselbeck said. “They’re not your standard team that you kind of have similar issues in terms of defending them, how you get ready for them. One of the things that’s probably really widely unnoticed is how well this group is coached. Andy Reid was run out of Philadelphia, and a lot of people try to beat him up about clock management and things that are viewed as blunders throughout his career as a head coach. But I can tell you, and I was with him for just under two years, the guy is an amazing football coach. And the other thing he does is he surrounds himself with tremendous assistants.”
Added Hasselbeck: “Alex Smith — you can say what you want about Alex Smith, but he basically, playing for Andy Reid, throws 20 touchdowns, throws less than 10 picks, and he’s insanely efficient, and extends a lot of drives running the football. So I think they’re a very, very dangerous team. It’s hard to argue with the success they’ve had on this run they’ve been on.”
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin injured his ankle Saturday and it’s not clear if he’ll be able to play against the Patriots. However, Hasselbeck said it won’t be as difficult to make up for his absence based on the way the Chiefs play — and based on the presence of talented tight end Travis Kelce, who has drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski.
“It’s a number of different ways that they get to this stuff,” Hasselbeck said. “So if Maclin’s out, what you’ll see is somebody like Albert Wilson, who’s a decent returner, or Frankie Hammond, who’s a decent returner as well, finding ways to manufacture those guys getting touches where they’re not running an in-cut, where they’re not running a comeback. Like, finding ways to get guys the football in ways that they’re comfortable getting it, and you have the ability to get it to them. So I think that ends up being the tricky part about defending them.
“As it relates to Kelce, he in a way is a little bit like Gronk in a sense that you have a hard time figuring out how you’re going to really defend him, because he’s lined up as an in-line tight end, and they’ve got an extra offensive lineman in there with him, and so you think, ‘Am I defending the run here? Am I doubling Kelce? What am I doing off of this?’ So I think it presents some troubles kind of formationally and personnel-wise in terms of how you defend a guy that’s good in the running game but then also has got very good speed once he gets rolling. That ends up being the trick with Kelce.”
|Andy Reid on Jamaal Charles: ‘We’ll see how he does’||09.25.14 at 4:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Chiefs coach Andy Reid sounded an optimistic note about the health of running back Jamaal Charles on Thursday, saying there’s a chance he’ll play Monday against the Patriots.
“He’s going to practice [Thursday],” Reid said of Charles, who suffered a high-ankle sprain in a Sept. 14 loss to Denver and sat out Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. “We’ll see how he does.”
Charles is one of the most impressive multidimensional threats in the game. Last season, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder had 1,287 rushing yards on 259 carries, and added 70 catches for 693 yards on top of that. (He finished the year with a whopping 19 combined touchdowns.)
Against the Dolphins, Knile Davis started in his place and had a very productive afternoon, finishing with 132 yards on 32 carries. (The Chiefs also got some good work from backup running back Joe McKnight, who moved up the depth chart when Charles went down. Used mostly as a third-down option against the Dolphins, he caught six passes for 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns.)
|Bill Belichick is getting his team ready to face an ‘explosive’ 1-2 punch in Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis||09.24.14 at 9:07 pm ET|
Bill Belichick was paying close attention to the back who picked up the slack.
With Charles sidelined by a high ankle sprain, Knile Davis ran 32 times for 132 yards and a touchdown.
“I think they’re different skill sets, but they do the same things with them so the same plays look different depending on who is carrying the ball,” Belichick said of Charles and Davis. “Davis is strong — they’re both very fast — Davis is strong, 230 pounds, whatever he is and he breaks tackles, he’s got good lower body strength, hard guy to bring down. You see that on some of his kickoff returns from last year, too, where he just runs through arm tackles and all that.
“Charles has good playing strength, too, but he’s more elusive, great quickness, acceleration. They’re different, but they’re both very good. They both can hit the homerun ball. They’ve both got great long speed, they have that in common, but their styles are a little bit different but they’re both very dangerous — strong guys, strong runners.”
If Charles doesn’t go, Belichick will also have to be ready for former Jets tailback Joe McKnight, who chipped in with six catches and 64 yards. There’s also veteran receiver Dwayne Bowe and explosive tight end Travis Kelce.
|Bill Belichick finishes third in AP Coach of Year voting||02.01.14 at 7:18 pm ET|
Rivera won the award for the first time after leading the 12-4 Panthers to the NFC South title. He’s the second Carolina coach to win the award — Dom Capers won it in 1996, leading the Panthers to a 12-4 mark in their second year of existence.
Rivera received 21½ votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. That was enough to beat out Reid, who got 13½ votes. Belichick got seven votes for third place, while Philly’s Chip Kelly got four votes for fourth. Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Arizona’s Bruce Arians got two votes each to round out the group.
Belichick has won three Coach of the Year Awards, taking home the hardware in 2003, 2007 and 2010. (He only trails Don Shula, who has won the award four times.)
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
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