Here’s my contributing post to The Boston Sports Review. Figured I’d share it here with all of you at The Sports Headquarters.
With two weeks remaining in what has been another overachieving act by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, the Pats will look to wrap up their 8th division title in 10 years since the Brady/Belichick combo has joined as well as clinch home-field advantage throughout the entire AFC playoffs. What better way to prepare for this than to take a look at the potential opponents for New England and how they stack up against New England. First off, lets take a look at the list of candidates for the playoffs, and what characteristics would be best for any team looking to dethrone the greatest dynasty since The Boston Sports Review at a pitcher drinking contest following a radio show. (Ok, I kid, we’re not really that bad). Nonetheless, here are your teams in the AFC still alive for the playoffs:
Pittsburgh Steelers 10-4 (clinched playoff spot)
Baltimore Ravens 10-4
New York Jets 10-4
Kansas City Chiefs 9-5
Indianapolis Colts 8-6
San Diego Chargers 8-6
Jacksonville Jaguars 8-6
Oakland Raiders 7-7
Tennessee Titans 6-8
Now with that out of the way, lets look at some traits that are imperative to any team who has intentions of knocking off the New England Patriots. These are not in order, but rather as they come to me, so there could be a good half hour break in thought process as after a while, this old Irish drunken mind tends to run like that 1992 Ford Taurus your father gave you for a car freshman year of school, which is slow, maybe a little rusty, and certainly not reliable when pushed to deal with tough conditions. So away we go:
1. A strong passing game that can stretch the field and has play-makers over the slot
The New England Patriots rank 28th in the league in yards allowed as well as 30th in the league in passing yards allowed. While players like Devin McCourty, Brandon Meriweather, and Patrick Chung make names for themselves in households across America as potentially the next great defenders under Bill Belichick, the fact remains that the way to beat the Pats is through the air. And that’s part of the reason the Pats are one of the leading teams in the National Football League in INT’s, because teams throw against them more than every team in the league except Tennessee. Their run D, when healthy, is pretty good in the front 7, led by Vince Wilfork. As much as teams will want to control the clock, you have to match the Pats scoring.
Teams that fit this bill: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Diego, New York Jets (to a lesser extent)
2. Pressure on Tom Brady while possessing Corners who can cover Man 2 Man
One of the toughest challenges against teams trying to play the Pats. Because of the variety of options Brady has at his disposal, as well as a strong O-Line, the way to slow the Pats is to get pressure on Brady and be able to match them in the secondary with Man 2 Man. One of the teams that comes to mind when you think of pressure is Pittsburgh. Yet, Brady consistently kills the Steelers when he squares off against Dick LeBeau’s defense. Why? Because the Steelers like to run zone coverage when they bring pressure and Brady can pick that apart all game either by hitting a slot receiver short or hitting a WR on an out or over the middle. Its almost pitch and catch at that point. Even the Giants in the SB in 07′ weren’t a great coverage team, but their corners held up long enough to make their pressure cause problems for Brady. If you can’t get pressure on Brady then its over. Barring misthrows, he is going to shred your defense all game. Want proof? Think about the 07′ Divisional Win over Jacksonville where he set the single-game record for completion percentage. Jacksonville sat back and gave up the short passes, keeping Moss from catching the bombs and the Pats still won that game comfortably. Unless you possess a combination of these two, then its going to be tough to stop this Pats offense if the playing conditions aren’t on your side (and as we saw in Chicago, even that isn’t enough sometimes).
Teams that fit this bill: Baltimore, Oakland, San Diego
3. Limit the turnovers and don’t rely on FG’s
This may sound pretty simple and you could argue it qualifies against any team, but its magnified for any team when you go into Foxboro. You simply can’t kick FG’s in situations where your in the Red Zone. It came back to bite Green Bay this weekend. It hurt Baltimore against us. It killed Indianapolis with Peyton’s choking late. Sanchez’s 4 picks gave them no chance, regardless of how great the Pats O was that day. The Pats defense, regardless of how much the show’s members may disagree with me, is not very strong. If they aren’t forcing turnovers they are vulnerable. Teams can score 20+ on this D. And they will likely have to in order to win. The Pats offense this year, though not as dominant as the 07′ record-setting offense, might in fact be tougher to stop. So you can’t settle for FG’s. You have to score TD’s. Because the Pats have kicked fewer FG’s than all but 5 other teams. Of those 5 that have kicked less, 3 of them likely wont make the playoffs, and the other two, though potential playoff teams, have scored 12 and 17 less TD’s than the Pats respectively so its not as if they are scoring TD’s like NE either.
Teams that fit this bill: San Diego, Indianapolis, Baltimore
So with that said, lets classify the current AFC teams who unlikely or not the Patriots could play when they open likely in the Divisional Round at home. To add a little flair to the segment, we’ll categorize the opponents into 3 categories: “The Bradford Kron’s”, “The Dan Warfield’s”, and “The Matthew “Barnabus” Lee’s”.
The Bradford Kron’s
These AFC opponents are relatively harmless. Much like our own Chief Meteorologist at The Boston Sports Review, these teams aren’t going to hurt many people. Push their buttons and you may get a rise out of them but 99% of the time they are merely just happy to show up to the postseason this year and really won’t give the New England Patriots any problems….if they even get in.
Tennessee Titans- Lets dismiss this team relatively quick. As I said before, any team who is mathematically alive, I will consider them because I’ve seen crazier things happen, but this team really has almost no shot at the playoffs. Only way they get in is to win out, and have Jacksonville and Indianapolis both lose each of their last two games. This week they go to Kansas City, a team fighting for the AFC West Crown and owning a very strong homefield advantage. If they are somehow still alive the week after, they go to Indy who will have a “win and your in” game. Does anyone out there really think the Titans are going to win out while Jacksonville and Indy lose out. If so raise your hand….(waiting, waiting)…..Nobody? Ok, thank you. The Titans are merely worth watching to see if Randy does ANYTHING to earn his paycheck and if Fisher keeps his job, but otherwise have no purpose. O and if they do make it and somehow win a game to play the Pats, Tom Brady will be licking those sizzling lips Bradford likes to pucker his lips to at the prospects of facing the one of the worst Pass D’s in all of the NFL.
Oakland Raiders- Another team who needs divine intervention if they’re going to be playing postseason football. Oakland must win out, have SD lose once (to Cincy or Denver), and have KC lose this weekend to Tennessee at home (since Oakland would beat KC under this scenario, also at KC). Not to mention they get Indianapolis this weekend. The Raiders have had a good season in their standards (too good for the Pats standards who own their 1st-rounder), but the odds of them playing into January are slim. If they got in, Oakland could do some things to bother New England. Their coverage is pretty strong and they were one of the best teams in the NFL at recording sacks. The only issue for me is could they score enough? And I think that’s a no. It’s very doubtful they make it, but if they did, they might be the most formidable of all the “Bradford Kron’s” that are on this list.
Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jaguars had a chance to clinch the AFC South this past weekend and slipped up. Fortunately for them, they have two very winnable games left, home vs. the Redskins this week, and at Houston next week whose pretty much quit it seems. They’ll need a Colts loss in one of their next two (at Oakland, home vs. TEN) as well as win out to get in as the Colts own the tie-breaker right now. I can’t see Indy losing at home to end the year vs. Tennessee. So Jaguars fans are banking on an Oakland team who even if its slim hopes, still has something to play for this weekend, and has a run game and secondary that could perhaps knock Indy off. If they do get in, they probably aren’t much of a threat to New England as it is. If they even beat the Jets or Ravens/Steelers (2nd place AFC North team, so yes as you can tell Im not picking SD or IND as WC’s if they don’t win their divisions), then what would they bring to New England? A secondary who isn’t very good, doesn’t force many turnovers, and doesn’t record many sacks. Show me where we should have any concerns about the Pats offense putting up 30-40 in this one? Because I can’t see anything about this team that would make me think they could slow New England. Offensively? Well as good as Maurice Jones-Drew is, this isn’t a Ray Rice situation where if he gets hot the Pats could be screwed. The Jags D as we already covered isn’t likely to stop New England much. So they’re likely going to need 25-30+ points to win. David Garrard will have to make plays through the air and I don’t see Lewis at the TE spot over the middle or their WR’s presenting many problems. I feel the Pats would welcome this matchup pretty quickly if they could get it.
Kansas City Chiefs- Another team who has a decent shot to make the playoffs and actually controls their own destiny. Win your last two home games against Tennessee and Oakland and you go to the playoffs Kansas City. It’s that simple. New England-West would provide for an intriguing storyline as former Pats fill-in Matt Cassell returns with Mike Vrabel, Romeo Crennell, and Charlie Weis to take on their former employers in what would be perhaps the most awkward playoff game in NFL history. How do they stack up? Well that’s where it gets interesting. I was tempted to push this team up to the “Dan Warfield” level, but honestly, I can’t see them coming to Foxboro and beating the Pats knowing how humiliating that would be for Brady, Belichick, and the whole Pats fanbase and organization. Passing-wise they aren’t very strong, ranking very low in yardage per game, and though Dwayne Bowe is a strong WR, they don’t have the depth at wideout to give the Pats a ton of problems. Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones though do provide a solid running tandem that could perhaps give the Pats some problems. The Chiefs I would have to say, I take back what I said on Oakland, would give the Pats the most problems of any team in the Bradford Kron level. They are a highly penalized defensive unit, though they are decent both against the pass and run, plus you know Crennel and Vrabel would have SOME insight on what the Pats strengths are. Still, this wouldn’t be the scariest matchup you could see as a Pats fan.
The Dan Warfield’s
A little more fiesty than Bradford Kron, contributing analyst Dan Warfield isn’t one to poke the fire but if you get him riled up he’ll put up a fight with no issues. Always bringing the goods to the show, you can count on a solid effort from him each week. The “Dan Warfield’s” are teams that have the ability to cause the Patriots some problems and could possibly pull an upset, yet they’re better matchups than the Matthew “Barnabus” Lee’s that follow.
New York Jets- One of the two teams who can claim a win over the Pats this year, the thrashing of this team at Gillette just a few weeks ago makes me more comfortable seeing this team again. Defensively, Rex Ryan is as good as almost any in the business and will have the entire last game dissected for a rematch. My issue with this team is offensively. They just can’t score TD’s. The Pats hung 45 on them last meeting. If they can even get HALF of that in a potential playoff matchup, I’m not sure the Jets can win. Mark Sanchez has faltered each of the last two years down the stretch and unlike last year where their run game carried them to wins in the playoffs, Sanchez won’t have that luxury this year with an older, burnt out LT and a regressing Shonn Greene. Defensively, they won’t get burnt by the Pats the same way they were, but what changes. In coverage they are as solid as any team out there. Cromartie and Revis make up perhaps the best tandem of corners in all the NFL. With that said, they simply could not get pressure on Brady last meeting and unless that changes, than Brady will just sit back and pick their defense apart again. Their run defense has been elite this year, but the Pats have run the ball effectively against every elite run D they’ve played this year (Pit, Bal, Chi, NYJ). Their offense does that to teams when they consistently hit them with short passes. They have the type of passing attack that I talked about before with Edwards possessing the skills to make plays downfield with Holmes and Keller over the middle can make plays. But the Pats seemed to have them figured out last time. If they played in New York or on a neutral field, I’d give the Jets a respectable chance (25-30%), but in the confines of the Razor? Well that’s not something I think Mark Sanchez and the Jets are ready to do. Wouldn’t mind missing this team in the playoffs though.
Indianapolis Colts- It is the Colts, and Manning. Some (like our very own Matthew Lee) are terrified of Peyton and even call him better than Brady. “He’s the best ever and I’ll never change my mind on that”, Matt Lee stated a few shows ago. But this is the playoffs. Peyton’s kryptonite. It’s the cloud to his sunny day. The last call to his drinking night. The one thing he can’t handle more than anything else: PRESSURE. So am I afraid of the Colts? Hell no. Bring them on. I would love to add to Brady’s H2H domination of Peyton. With that said, a loss to the Colts to me would be more intolerable than a loss to any other team. I couldn’t take it. They will likely be down Austin Collie for the playoffs (if they get in), as well as Dallas Clarke whose done for the year. Joseph Addai is a question mark. This offense is banged up. They also have no run game. One of the worst in the league and they don’t try to hide it. If they come to New England and have to play in the elements, do you really think their passing game, at 60% health, can win? I don’t. Their defense is also pretty feeble. The odds of them being able to slow Brady and co. is minuscule. The only thing the Pats have to do different from about the last 3 times they’ve played them is close the game. The Colts haven’t beat the Pats of recent. The Pats have lost themselves the games. It’s the postseason. It’s Brady vs. Manning. The sun already shined on the dog’s ass once in 2006. I’m not worried about it happening again.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Brady’s bitches. Ooops. Can I say that on here? O well, Chris can fire me if not. Honestly, Brady OWNS the Steelers. So much so that I almost put them in the Bradford Kron level. They’ve had two chances this past decade to beat us on THEIR field in the AFCCG and couldn’t do it. You really think they’ll come into New England and win? Hell no. Defensively Dick LeBeau is one of the best in the business at confusing QB’s and getting pressure. But as we’ve already talked about earlier, Brady has figured this D out. When they blitz, he gets rid of the ball on time to a WR. When they sit back, he picks them apart. Their zone D that messes with other QB’s isn’t a problem for him. He destroys it. Honestly, the only thing that could even possibly derail a Pats offensive explosion again vs. Pittsburgh is terrible rain or wind that makes it tough to throw. Even in the snow I have no concerns about him throwing vs. that D. Offensively, they do have some talent that meets criteria #1 I described. Mike Wallace is a big-time deep threat who probably would be the fastest player on the field. Mendenhall is a decent back though the Pats bottled him up pretty good last time. Hines Ward is a good slot WR who makes big plays when the Steelers need him. The Steelers O-Line is awful though and a Pats D who isn’t great in pass rush has already gotten to Big Ben relentlessly this year. They can’t block for him and I think the Pats would generate enough pressure to force Big Ben into mistakes. They’re a good football team who is probably the favorites in the AFC if they avoid New England and get someone else to do their dirty work for them, but if they have to play New England, I’m one whose a fan of history and history tells me the Pats will roll in that matchup that at this point looks like it would have to come in the AFCCG.
The Matthew “Barnabus/The Babe” Lee’s
Never know what your going to get from Barny on The Boston Sports Review. Some weeks he brings the goods, other weeks he is out of it. Nonetheless, he is an immovable force and when angry is not a fun challenge to take on. These teams in this category are teams the Pats would prefer to avoid. Are they beatable? Of course. But you give me the choice of who I’d want to play or avoid and these teams are at the bottom of my list. Talented, match up well with New England, if someone knocks the Pats off, these two would be my two most likely.
San Diego Chargers- WTF Little B? I know, I know. Calm down. Let me explain. Are the Chargers 8-6? Yes. Do they do this every year and fall in the playoffs? Yes. Have we beat them with Brady and Belichick everytime we’ve played them in the playoffs? Yes. And despite all that, I’d prefer like hell to not have to play this team again. Philip Rivers leads what is maybe the toughest aerial attack we’d have to play, with only Indy in the discussion. Vincent Jackson is rested having sat out 9 weeks and so his fresh legs will be a big part of the equation. Antonio Gates gives defensive coordinators nightmares, and Sproles out of the backfield is their Danny Woodhead, a little mother-****er that is tough to tackle and squirts through the holes before you can blink. If any team could really give our secondary problems, to me its this team. They are so sound and Rivers has been pretty good all year at not turning the ball over. Add in their defense which is elite and they have one of the more complete teams in all of football. They have the best pass D in all of football. More INT’s on the year than passing TD’s allowed. They have the most sacks of any team in football. They fit to a T the #2 criteria I stated a team should possess. If any team can bother Brady and really hurt the passing game of New England, it’s this team. That’s alright, we’ll just run it. O the Chargers also rank 2nd in the NFL against the run? Hmm…lets face the facts New Englanders, this defense is possibly the best in the league and with an offense that can put up points, they are a team I would absolutely prefer not to see come January. So lets pray like hell that our former associates in Kansas City can win their last two games at home and take the AFC West which is pretty much the only way the Chargers will get into the playoffs. Go Chiefs!!
Baltimore Ravens- You know the Halloween series started by John Carpenter where Michael Myers always seems to die, only to comeback in some form. That’s the Ravens to me. While everyone in that little Illinois town was content and without worry about Michael Myers, Jaime Lee Curtis always knew the truth on Halloween and was always scared about the possibilities. Well when it comes to the Ravens, I’m Jaime Lee Curtis….minus the breasts, about 30 years, and millions of dollars…..BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS, back on track people. The Ravens are a scary team. The team I fear probably most of any team. Though SD is a brutal matchup to face, they’ve never won in Gillette and Norv Turner’s never seen a playoff game that’s unchokeable to him. But Baltimore is different. They came here last year and won. “But this is a different Pats team Little B”. You don’t think I know that people? Come on. I don’t get invited to The Boston Sports Review for my charming personality and willingness to drink with everyone after the show each week. I actually have to back up my presence with some sports knowledge. Baltimore isn’t the same team either. Offensively they are much tougher to defend with the acquisitions this offseason of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmanzadeh. Ray Rice has had a down year but anyone who doubts his abilities, just turn on the playoff game last year. They are a tough team to defend and won’t lack any confidence coming into New England. They have the ability defensively to pressure you with only a 3-4 man rush, something most other teams can’t do. Terrell Suggs is a tough matchup on the outside and Haloti Ngata (a Tongan version of our own Matt Lee) makes running against them a tough task, especially when you add in Ray Lewis. The return of Ed Reed in their secondary marks a feature that Tom Brady didn’t have to deal with last time we played them in Week 6. The Ravens possess the corner skills to match the Pats on the outside and the slot. If all goes well, Pittsburgh will get Baltimore and take them out, a team they’ve played well the past few years, and we can roll Pittsburgh in the AFCCG.
That’s what I’m hoping for.