Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Season Preview and Draft Review: New England Patriots

The other day on Facebook, I suggested to Todd that we change our website’s name from “Almost Sideways” to “Always Seahwaks.”  Two articles on the Sea Chickens in the last month?  Gimme a break.  Godard once said that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another one, and therefore, as the lone writer on Almost Sideways whose team isn’t the Seahawks, I give you my early 2013 prediction for the greatest franchise in all of sports: The New England Patriots.

First, this weekend’s draft.  It was like something out of a movie: Imagine a sketchy coach who wears a cut-off hoodie who may have been involved in some alleged scandals in the past.  Now imagine that coach hiring his own son to go to Rutgers University under the guise of being a “lacrosse player,” but really there to get exclusive scouting access to the mighty Scarlet Knight football team, a program that has finished the season in the Top 25 only once in the last 35 years.  Now imagine that that coach’s son strategically gets hired by his dad to help coach the geographically proximal pro football team, and that son lets dad know who the best players from Rutgers are.  Sounds genius, right?  Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC – infiltrating those schools would be too obvious.  But who would ever think about Rutgers, a team whose most notable alumni in the NFL (besides Ray Rice) include Ray Lucas, L.J. Smith, and someone named Heinie Benkert?  It’s that Belichick genius at work once again, like that time he ran a play in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl because there were 12 men on defense. 

OK, I’ll stop being sarcastic for a second.  The Pats have to know what they’re doing, drafting three players from Rutgers to join Devin McCourty in the defensive backfield.  After all the Scarlett Knights did finish 9-4 last year and almost won the Russell Athletic Bowl!  That vaunted defense did hold South Florida to 13 points and Syracuse to 15 points (although Kent State scored 35 on them).  Can anyone say: defensive talent goldmine???

Instead of the cut-off hoodie, we get unshaven frat boy.

Guy(s) I’m excited about: Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.  It’s hard to find flaws in an offense that has scored 500+ points each of the last three seasons, but if you look carefully, you see that Tom really has lacked a consistent big-play threat downfield all three of those seasons.  Amendola and Edelman are not exactly the best options for being big, open targets downfield.  Now Dobson doesn’t need to put much else on his resume besides this but the truth is he has the size (6’3”, 210lbs) and strength to move past defenders easily.  Boyce was a constant end zone threat at TCU, and was always good for at least 30-40 yard completion per game.  Barring injury (knock on wood), the days of Chad Jackson are over, and these guys are absolutely legit.

Guy I’m upset about (Rai-Dowling/Ron Brace/Terrence Wheatley Award): Duron Harmon.  Who is this guy?  He plays an outside corner, which is what the Patriots certainly need, but there’s so little publicity and, frankly, game film of him that there’s little reliable information about his skill set.  The rumor is he is a “character guy,” which is great and I’m sure he’ll be happy to host Scarlet Knight viewing parties at his pad with McCourtey and the others, but this is not what they need.  By all accounts, Harmon is a “project” who will not see significant time in the next couple of seasons.  Hello?  Patriots scouts?  Tom Brady turns 36 in August.  Better to trade that pick down or hit the free agency market than try to impress with an out-of-the-box fourth round selection.  Even the name Duron Harmon sounds like a perfect draft bust name.

So posted below is my projected game-by-game results for the 2013 Patriots.  Since 2010, we’ve won one fewer game each year, and although some things will always remain the same (beating up on the AFC East, blowing some close early games, a dominant December), other questions still remain.  Will Gronkowski return at 100%, and will he make it through the entire season?  How will Amendola fill the shoes of Welker?  Can Aqib Talib return to stellar form?  Will Alfonso Dennard become the new Ray Smith from The Replacements (prison time for assaulting a police officer – can’t make these comparisons up.)

The truth is that it is stupid to predict the results of a season which doesn’t begin for another four and a half months, especially given that the Pats are likely to sign key offseason acquisitions in the interim.  But on the other hand, there is only upside in participating in such an exercise: If I get these predictions totally wrong, I blame it on the unpredictability of the offseason.  If I somehow get it right, I say I owe all my NFL prescience to the inimitable Kyle Heck.

9/8/13 – at Buffalo – We haven’t lost our opening game since 2003 (forget the fact that it was at Buffalo in the first game featuring Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy in Bills’ uniforms, and the only time in the Brady-Belichick era where the Pats were shutout).  It is maybe noteworthy, however, that the Bills have given us problems in Week 1; in 2006, we beat them by 2 (in one of the few Brady-era games I have absolutely no recollection of) and in 2009 (Brady’s first game back after missing 2008) we beat them by 1.  So maybe it will be closer than it should be. WIN 34-17

9/12/13 – NY Jets – Don’t like the whole “two division games in five days” thing, and the Jets did beat us Week 2 in both 2009 and 2010.  But let’s not forget this team is a mess, and now that Wes Welker isn’t there to make fun of Rex Ryan’s wife feet, there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about. WIN 28-10

9/22/13 – Tampa Bay – I’m happy we get to play the NFC South this year.  In the Brady-Belichick era, the Pats are 10-2 against teams from that division.  Interestingly, this is the Bucs’ first trip to Foxboro in 13 years, and while they are fortunate to draw a September matchup rather than a December one, I don’t anticipate the result to be much different.  However, Revis’ first trip to Foxboro as a Buc could make this matchup slightly more intriguing. WIN 31-24

9/29/13 (SNF) – at Atlanta – Here in Week Four we get our first serious test of the season.  In its last 35 home games (including the playoffs), the Falcons have only six losses.  In fact, Atlanta hasn’t lost a home game to an AFC team since Week 11of 2008, when Jay Cutler and Peyton Hillis took down Matty Ice in his rookie season.  The Pats haven’t been great in domes lately, and haven’t been 4-0 since The Undefeated (Asterisk) Season.  The Falcons take this one with the nation’s eyes on the Georgia Dome. LOSS 26-21

10/6/13 – at Cincinnati – I really think Cincinnati is becoming a talented team with a great defensive line.  The Bengals also are 0-4 vs. New England in the Brady-Belichick era, with the average score being 36-19.  But this has all the makings of a trap game, and the Patriots, once a team which never lost two games in a row, has had two-game losing streaks in both 2011 and 2012.  I worry about this one. LOSS 21-17

10/13/13 – New Orleans – We begin a three-games-out-of-four homestand with the Saints Week Six.  Even with the return of Sean Payton, I don’t expect New Orleans to have solved all of its problems and they will be coming to Foxboro after a tough matchup in Chicago.  We got blownout by them in 2009 but that Saints defense gave up 7,042 yards last season.  In the infamous words of Bart Scott, can’t wait. WIN 42-17

10/20/13 – at NY Jets – Last year, we beat the Jets by 30 in the Meadowlands, but the real joy of that game was a single immortal play that will live in our memories forever.  The best news of this game?  This seems to coincide precisely when Mark Sanchez will be benched and Rex Ryan will put in Geno Smith as a starter for the first time.  Or Rex can leave Sanchez in.  Doesn’t matter.  Ha ha ha. WIN 38-7

10/27/13 – Miami – Brady is 10-1 vs. Miami in Foxboro, with the one loss being a meaningless Week 17 game in 2006 where the star of the game was Doug Flutie’s foot.  Sorry Dolphins fans, enjoy your bullshit 2013 Heat championship because this game is not happening.  WIN 30-14

11/3/13 – Pittsburgh – Here it is.  The game of the season.  Good vs. evil.  Luke vs. Vader, Butler vs. Duke, Neo vs. Agent Smith, Jennifer Aniston vs. Angelina Jolie.  A major part of the reason I started loving New England was their remarkable ability to make Pittsburgh look terrible (two AFC Championship victories over the Stealers on their home turf).  Two seasons ago, however, my worst nightmares came true and for the first time ever, Pittsburgh came to Foxboro and beat us 25-17 (sadly, the score was closer than the game actually was).  Will they do it again?  I think Pittsburgh will be improved in 2013 (two straight seasons missing the playoffs seems like too much to ask) but this will be the fourth road game in five games for the Evil Empire.  Meanwhile, my team will come through like they always usually do.  WIN 37-24

11/18/13 (MNF) – at Carolina – Remember Super Bowl 38 when we played this team?  Cam Newton was 14 years old.  Yikes.  Anyway, the Pats never lose after bye weeks and this seems like it will be the game to put the Panthers at 2-7 before they win 5 of their last 7 to barely keep Ron Rivera’s job.  WIN 24-14

11/24/13 (SNF) – Denver – In Brady vs. Manning Vol. 14, we have Peyton coming to Foxboro, where he hasn’t won since 2006.  The last time Brady and Manning played on Sunday Night Football, this happened.  I worry about this game because, I don’t know, it feels like the Pats have had Peyton’s number too much lately.  This series has gone decidedly back and forth, from Brady dominating from 2001-2004, to Manning from 2005-2009, and Brady 2010-2012.  Manning gets at least one more victory against us. LOSS 31-28 (OT)

12/1/13 – at Houston – You don’t think this Texans team wants a piece of us?  After scoring an average of 41.5 points in the two games against Houston last year, we will face a motivated Texans squad eager to finally put the clamp down on us.  And as Peyton Manning has taught us, someday the Patriots will get beat.  Also, how is this (along with the Pittsburgh game) not nationally televised?  LOSS 24-17

12/8/13 – Cleveland – A home matchup against the Browns is just what the doctor ordered after a (potential) two game slide.  Since 2003, the Patriots are 22-1 at home in December (their one loss came last year vs. the 49ers on a memorable Sunday night game). On the flip side, the Browns are 1-8 in their last nine road December games.  WIN 34-7

12/15/13 – at Miami – The Dolphins are 3-1 against us in December games in Miami.  Their one loss came last year, when we could only muster to beat them by a touchdown.  While it’s a tough matchup down in South Florida, can I really pick against my team with the playoffs on the line?  Not happening. WIN 24-20

12/22/13 (SNF) – at Baltimore – I’m not gonna lie, this matchup sucks.  We’re now at the point with the Ravens where the Colts were around 2006ish, when they felt confident they could beat us any time we squared off (and they usually did).  Those Ravens fans are going to be rabid, and it will probably be a must-win game for Baltimore, who may be a game within Pittsburgh or Cincinnati for the AFC North lead.  I see Joe being Joe (picking apart our D effortlessly with long bombs) and Tom being Tom (interceptions) and the Ravens probably getting the best of us at the end of the day. LOSS 28-20

12/29/13 – Buffalo – Bring on the snow!  This will be one of those games where most of Buffalo’s starters will be on injured reserve and the Pats will play carefully to avoid injury heading into the postseason.  We’ve lost our regular season finales only twice in the Brady-Belichick era, and the third time ain’t happening against the Bills (our past three season finales were victories by the combined score of 115-28).  WIN 45-13

That puts us at 11-5 and probably the 3 or 4 seed in the AFC (and for those of you stat nerds out there, PF: 470, PA: 297).  And this is where I predict things get whacky: Right before the Wild Card matchup against the Bengals, Tom Brady takes a page from the Jerome Bettis-Michael Strahan-Ray Lewis playbook announces his retirement at the end of the postseason, no matter the outcome.  Suddenly, the Pats beat the Bengals, and stun the Broncos and Stealers on the road.  And then, in the Super Bowl against the NFC Champion Seahawks, the Patriots shock the world again, Brady gets his fourth ring and proves he is universally the greatest quarterback who ever lived (for the few rational NFL fans who don’t already know this). 

"No replacement refs in Super Bowl 48, bub."

Now, the real question: Could the friendship of Terry, Todd, and I survive a Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl matchup?  I think so, especially when the Brothers Plucknett consider that, even in defeat, Russell the Muscle will only be 25 and probably make the Super Bowl again at some point in his life (though they did say the same thing about Matt Hasselbeck).  The only way to get over the inevitable pain and hurt of someone’s team losing the Super Bowl will be to swallow our misery over some tasty Birr Beer.  I’ll gladly volunteer to finish the last bottle.

Thoughts? Comments? Somehow shocked that I didn't pick Pittsburgh to beat New England? Was Heinie Benkert your great-grandfather? Write me below.


  1. The thing that you gotta know about those Rutgers defenders is that they are turnover machines. I may only know this because of how many times I banked on them playing College Football Challenge (you definitely need to get in our league this year), but they are crazy. They were good for at least one defensive or special teams TD each week. You got three really good ones, even Duron Harmon. Oh, and Josh Boyce is a total Patriot. I saw that pick, and I rolled my eyes because I didn't see it coming before. He will be another glorified slot guy who will be another 80+ catch guy in a few seasons.

    Your predictions seem pretty sound, except there is no way that the Saints are going to be that bad again. 42-17 is ridiculous. A Hawks-Pats Super Bowl would be amazing. As long as Bill Leavy isn't reffing the game, it will likely be a classic. CAN'T WAIT!

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