Josh McDaniels Burns the Colts

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This was a fun experience for me when the news broke. I had just gotten done with a workout and I checked my phone and saw that Josh McDaniels, whom everybody assumed was going to be the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, had backed out of the agreement they’d had in place in order to return as offensive coordinator of the Patriots. I told my Colts-fan buddy that I’d been working out with “hey, McDaniels rejected the Colts” and he was incredulous and didn’t believe me. I showed him my phone and he went on a tirade that lasted through our post-workout dinner, which accumulated to about an hour of rage. Plus a large portion of my Twitter feed is Colts fans who were irate about the decision so that gave me even more pleasure, which was huge for me because the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles still stings a bit. But here’s a live look at how I’ll be arriving to classes tomorrow:

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That would be dancing on peoples’ graves. But that’s the asshole Pats fan in me. Here’s what we know about the McDaniels situation.

The Things We Do Know

From what I’ve gathered, Kraft reportedly “sweetened” McDaniels’ contract to entice him to return, which obviously worked. I wonder what the added stipulations must have been. From what I’m reading from Adam Schefter’s ESPN article about it, apparently the late push the Patriots made to retain him was very aggressive. It was also a better decision for McDaniels from a family perspective, as he doesn’t have to uproot them and move them out to Indianapolis as he’s had a few weeks to think over the decision since interviewing for the job during the Wild Card Round. Ultimately, he felt uncomfortable with moving his family out of New England. We also know that the Colts had already hired McDaniels’ assistants who are now under contract. Whether or not they can be fired right away is unknown to me, but if not, that puts the Colts in a REALLY bad position. It’s interesting to me, though, that the Colts hired the assistants McDaniels wanted before actually inking McDaniels to a deal. You would think they’d have their guy set in stone like all the other teams do before going out and hiring the people he wants.

What We Don’t Know

The biggest question for me is whether or not Andrew Luck’s health played a factor in backing out of the Colts job. Luck missed the entire 2017 season after having offseason shoulder surgery and according to Chris Mortensen, there are doctors who aren’t sure that Luck’s shoulder is totally healed and that he may need more surgery done on it. But if the Colts’ franchise quarterback is having shoulder issues that could derail his career, that seems to be a pretty legitimate reason to back out of the job. He’d be setting himself up for disaster, especially considering this will be his second gig. The first was such a failure that another failure would likely prevent him from ever getting a third chance. I also think it’s possible that working under Jim Irsay wasn’t ideal for McDaniels. Irsay’s history with drugs and alcohol have been well-documented and perhaps McDaniels wasn’t comfortable with a loose cannon like him being his boss when he’s been so used to a guy like Robert Kraft all this time. But the biggest thing that we don’t really know that intrigues me is what this means about Bill Belichick’s future in New England. McDaniels has stated before that the ideal situation for his next head coaching gig would be as Belichick’s successor with the Patriots. Is it possible that Belichick may be gone soon? His contract is up after 2018 but given his success with the Patriots, if wants to keep coaching he’s going to get an extension. So perhaps McDaniels may be aware that Belichick is considering calling it a career after next season and doesn’t want to burn the opportunity to replace him by taking the Colts job. There’s a lot to digest here.

So What Do the Colts Do Now?

Well there are a few options on the table here. Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is an option, as the Eagles’ defense has been terrific since he took over and he’s had moderate success as a head coach with the Lions in the past. I’ve also heard that Leslie Frazier could be a candidate. Frazier was on the Colts’ staff when they won Super Bowl XLI and also has head coaching experience with the Vikings. I’ve heard that several Colts fans want Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub. I really don’t know anything about the guy but the Chiefs’ special teams have been really good these last couple years, particularly in the return game. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich could also be a potential candidate after how successful his RPO’s were this season as well as the development of both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles leading them to a Super Bowl win. There are plenty of other options out there so just because McDaniels is out of the picture doesn’t mean the Colts are royally screwed.

So we really don’t know for sure why McDaniels changed his mind about becoming the Colts’ head coach except that Kraft sweetened his contract and he wasn’t comfortable uprooting his family from New England. Other than that we can only guess until people with more intimate knowledge of the situation step forward. But as a Patriots’ fan, this was very welcome news, especially after some of the crap that’s been coming out since they lost the Super Bowl. From the Malcolm Butler saga to the fact that Rob Gronkowski’s not only considering retirement, but his house was broken into and he was robbed of safes and guns. But getting to gloat around this Indiana University campus is something I’ll never take for granted and you can bet I’m going to get myself punched in the face before the day is out. That’s going to do it for this blog, let me know what you think about McDaniels punking the Colts in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

 

Super Bowl LII Recap

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The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33. Nick Foles was Super Bowl MVP after a very entertaining game in perhaps the greatest shootout in postseason history as records galore were set in this game. I have a few thoughts, though keep in mind, I’m a very emotional Patriots fan so forgive me if I get a little intense.

-I’ve got to write stuff for the winners first. The Philadelphia Eagles were the better team and Doug Pederson wore his big boy pants. He seemingly made every single correct call imaginable. That play call shortly before the half that everybody is raving over was nothing short of ballsy.

Who cares that it was an illegal formation that didn’t get called (only 6 men were on the line of scrimmage, need to have 7)? That’s what it takes to beat the Patriots.

-Have to give a ton of credit to Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. He played the game of his life. He went 28-43 with 373 yards, 3 TD’s and 1 pick that wasn’t really his fault. It was more Alshon Jeffery trying to make a one-handed grab that snuck out of his grasp and into the waiting arms of Duron Harmon. Now the question is what becomes of him because he certainly can’t be their backup after what he did this postseason. They’re either going to have to trade him or trade Carson Wentz so that he can start. Either way, they’re getting a huge haul.

-Corey Clement was a surprise star for the Eagles in this game. Now yes, the undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin was having a nice season leading up to this game, but he had 4 catches for 100 yards, including this questionable touchdown.

He was bobbling it as he was going out. Based on the way the game gets officiated nowadays, that should’ve been an incompletion. That’s 2 TD’s by the Eagles that the officials botched, the first coming on a 4th down play on an illegal formation, the other coming on third, which essentially put 8 points on the board that shouldn’t have been there. And I hate to be that salty asshole, but look at the score differential.

-Zach Ertz’s touchdown was about as clear as day and the fact that we went through so much trouble debating whether or not it was a catch is everything that’s wrong with the catch rule today. How could this possibly be misconstrued as not being a catch, he took about four steps after gaining possession before he dove into the endzone.

-The play of the game though was the strip sack by Brandon Graham. Both offensive lines played out of their minds in this one and Shaq Mason honestly didn’t do a bad job on Graham here. It’s Graham making that extra effort to stick his arm out there and he managed to get the football in a play that a lot of people are calling a reverse of fortunes to what happened with the Tuck Rule 16 years ago and quite frankly, it’s hard to argue with them.

-The fact that the Patriots still had a chance after that play is just amazing to me. For a moment, when Brady chucked this Hail Mary, I thought it might find a Patriots player’s hands. But alas, the ball hit the turf and I was stunned to see that the clock had hit zero. That play did not feel like it lasted 9 seconds.

-The Eagles are fortunate that they were able to make the plays they did because they needed literally every single one of them to beat Tom Brady, the way he was playing. 28-48, an NFL playoff record 505 yards and 3 TD’s. The great ones don’t lose, they just run out of time and that seems to be what happened in this game with Brady. Father Time is not a factor to the 40 year-old Tom Brady and neither really is the Madden Curse because it wasn’t Brady that lost the game, it was the defense. The NFL MVP curse is alive and well, though. Since 2001, the NFL MVP has played in the Super Bowl the same year 9 times (Kurt Warner 2001, Rich Gannon 2002, Shaun Alexander 2005, Tom Brady 2007, Peyton Manning 2009, Peyton Manning 2013, Cam Newton 2015, Matt Ryan 2016, Tom Brady 2017). They all lost. In fact, the NFL MVP has not won the Super Bowl in the same year since Kurt Warner in 1999.

-Epic rant coming. I’m not going to sit here and say I know more about personnel strategies than Bill Belichick because I obviously don’t. This is more just coming off what I see on the surface. But what the fuck was so bad about Malcolm Butler that he didn’t see a single defensive snap?!?! Now from what I know as of this writing, Butler wasn’t benched for disciplinary reasons, rather it was performance-based. Now yes, Butler was having a down season overall, but you’re going to bench him now? Or was his two weeks of practice leading up to the Super Bowl just so bad that he wasn’t worth playing? Because I can’t imagine that Johnson Bademosi was a better option to have in the critical stretches of the game. The way quick guys like Nelson Agholor and Corey Clement were burning Rowe and Bademosi all game, don’t you think a guy who can run like Butler would be a solid replacement? Again, I’m not Belichick and I’m not an insider with the Patriots. But this just seems like a horrible oversight, especially considering how poor all the corners not named Stephon Gilmore played all game. This basically guarantees Butler won’t be returning to the Patriots next season. He’s quoted as saying “they gave up on me,” after the game. No chance does he return, even if he does get franchise tagged.

-I just got an update on my phone that says Rob Gronkowski won’t commit to playing next season. As if I needed more of this shit piled on. If he does retire, he will be in the discussion for greatest tight end of all time. He vanished in the first half but was terrific in the second, including these two touchdowns.

Overall, Gronk finished with 9 catches for 116 yards and 2 TD’s in the big game after only having 1 catch for 9 yards at the half.

-We also got amazing games out of both Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan. Amendola continued his playoff mastery with 8 catches for 152 yards while Hogan recorded 6 catches for 128 yards and this TD grab.

-Losing Brandin Cooks early in the second quarter was a huge blow to the Patriots offense as they lost a guy who could really stretch the field. You saw how well Brady threw the ball all game, imagine if he had Cooks as well. Here’s the hit from Malcolm Jenkins, which would’ve definitely been targeting and an ejection if this were college.

-Special teams for both sides got off to an ugly start. Al Michaels did note that apparently there were some complaints about the paint job on the Super Bowl LII logo, which was located right where the kickers had to kick. Perhaps it was too slippery? Whatever the case, Jake Elliott and Stephen Gostkowski both missed extra points while Gostkowski also missed a field goal, as not great snaps played a factor for both. Also, that end-around try on the kickoff return on the Patriots final drive was fucking stupid. Don’t get cute, that’s the quickest way to lose games. If you’re going to do that, it had better work otherwise you’re going to look as stupid as the Patriots did on that play.

-Alshon Jeffery dominated Eric Rowe for the first quarter or so of the game including this beautiful touchdown grab in the first quarter.

You can’t teach that. Jeffery just used his size to bully Rowe and Foles put the ball in the absolutely most perfect spot possible. The caption the NFL’s twitter page put on this pretty much sums it up. However once the Patriots made the switch that I felt like they should have done from the very beginning by putting the bigger Stephon Gilmore on him, he was shut down.

-The Eagles’ clock management was also tremendous. They killed over 6 minutes on their opening drive, telling the world what type of game this was going to be, then killing about 7 minutes on the drive for the game-winning score. It just seemed like the Eagles had an answer for everything the Patriots tried defensively.

-I thought Pink gave a tremendous performance in the National Anthem and it’s made significantly more impressive by the fact that she currently has the flu. Michael Jordan has his flu game, Pink now has hers.

-Not sure which commercial was my favorite, there were some pretty good ones. I particularly liked the Danny DeVito M&M’s commercial because any day I can see him on my screen is a good day, regardless of what’s in store for my Patriots. The Giants Dirty Dancing commercial was also cute. I also saw teasers for the Han Solo spinoff and Jurassic World 2. Both are probably going to suck but I’m going to see them at least twice in theaters anyway because both franchises have me by the balls.

That’s going to do it for my recap of what was really an excellent football game that did not go the way I had hoped it would. But such is life. The Patriots have been playing with fire with all these close Super Bowls, it was only a matter of time before they got burned. Let me know what you thought of the game in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10. It’s baseball season now, bitches.

Super Bowl LII Preview

So it’s all come down to this. Super Bowl Sunday. The Eagles and Patriots took very different routes to get to this point. The Eagles were running roughshod over the league before losing their potential MVP quarterback in Carson Wentz to an ACL tear. He gets replaced by Nick Foles, who had been inconsistent up until the NFC Championship game, where he absolutely lit up the NFL’s #1 defense in the Vikings. Meanwhile the Patriots got off to a rough start and everybody wondered if this was the beginning of the end of their dynasty. Then they remembered they were the Patriots and proceeded to collect win after win en route to another AFC Championship game appearance, where they had to overcome a 10-point 4th quarter deficit to defeat the upstart Jaguars. So lets do what I always do with championship games and go position-by-position to see which team has the advantage.

Quarterback

Patriots: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Eagles: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Advantage: Patriots

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Was there really ever any doubt? Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time whether he has protective bandages over his throwing hand or not. While Nick Foles played extremely well in the NFC Championship game, he’s too inconsistent for me to really give him a chance here. And as much as I love Nate Sudfeld, him being the previous Indiana quarterback, he can’t hold a candle to Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was the 49ers starting quarterback to start the season and how many guys can say they have a winning record as a starter for the reborn Browns? Just Hoyer. So this was a pretty easy choice here.

Runningback

Patriots: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Patriots

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While I do think that the Eagles runningbacks are better rushers, the Patriots runningbacks are far more dynamic and versatile. Ajayi and Blount are good running the football, but they have bricks for hands out of the backfield. They usually have Clement receiving the passes. Lewis, White, and Burkhead are all not only good rushers, but they’re good receiving out of the backfield as well, which is why they’re getting the nod over the Eagles backs.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Patriots: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Advantage: Patriots

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A healthy Julian Edelman would’ve made this an easy choice, but alas, we take what we get. This is probably one of the most balanced receiving groups the Patriots have had since the Moss-Welker days as they have a speedster who can take the top off (Cooks), possession receivers that can move the chains (Hogan and Amendola) and a huge red zone threat (Gronkowski). The Eagles have a similar group of guys (Agholor moving the chains, Smith the speedster, Jeffery the huge red zone threat), but I think the Patriots have utilized them most effectively this season.

Offensive Line

Patriots: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, La’Adrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Eagles: Hal Vatai, Stefen Wisniewski, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson

Advantage: Eagles

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Finally, the Eagles are on the board here and it’s thanks in large part to probably the best right side of an offensive line I think I’ve ever seen. You can make an argument for all three of Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson being the best at their respective spots on the offensive line in the entire NFL. While the Patriots’ O-line is solid, they don’t have nearly enough talent to contend with the Eagles. And imagine if Jason Peters were healthy on the left side. Vatai is the weakest link on either of these offensive lines, but his teammates are so good they make up for his shortcomings.

Defensive Line

Patriots: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Alan Branch, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois, Eric Lee

Eagles: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Vinny Curry

Advantage: Eagles

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There’s just too much talent on this Eagles defensive front. In fact, I think Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, the starting DT’s, are going to be the most critical pieces if the Eagles hope to beat the Patriots. Brady does pretty well when there’s pressure coming from the tackles but he’s like a deer in the headlights when there’s pressure coming up the middle. Cox and Jernigan are one of the best DT duos in the NFL and they’re going to need to get lots of pressure to stifle Brady. For the Patriots, their defensive line is a patch-up job as they lost a lot of their guys to either free agency in the offseason or to injury and it’s resulted in them being possibly the weakest unit on this team.

Linebacker

Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, James Harrison, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, David Harris

Eagles: Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode, Dannell Ellerbe, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Advantage: Eagles

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This was probably the closest one to choose from and I debated calling this a tie. But I hate ties so I decided to go with the pure talent aspect and that’s where the Eagles won out. Both teams lost their star middle linebackers midway through the seasons (Dont’a Hightower for the Patriots, Jordan Hicks for the Eagles) and they’ve both been trying to get by with the pieces they have. While Van Noy is having a career year, the talent around him in Elandon Roberts and a 39 year-old James Harrison doesn’t quite stack up to what the Eagles have in Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham.

Secondary

Patriots: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Johnson Bademosi, Brandon King, Jordan Richards

Eagles: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Rodney McLeod

Advantage: Patriots

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It was a tale of two halves of the season for the Patriots’ secondary and no better was it personified than in the play of Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore looked lost in Matt Patricia’s system his first few weeks, as he would blow coverage after coverage while the Patriots would get lit up by quarterbacks that probably shouldn’t be doing so. He suffered a concussion midway through the year and after he returned, he’s been his old Pro Bowl-caliber self, locking down any receiver that he’s matched up on. Eric Rowe has also been a bright spot in this secondary as well and it’s interesting to note that the Patriots acquired him from the Eagles in a trade a couple years ago after a poor showing to start his career in Philly. For the Eagles, their secondary is considered their weak spot as their cornerbacks in particular have been very inconsistent this season.

Specialists

Patriots: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jake Elliott, Donnie Jones, Nelson Agholor, Rick Lovato, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Eagles

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I’d probably give this a tie to the kickers and punters, as both units for both teams have been very solid this season. The thing that puts the Eagles over the top is Kenjon Barner as their return man. While he isn’t Devin Hester by any means, Barner would definitely be an upgrade over Lewis and Amendola as returners.

Coaching

Patriots: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia

Eagles: Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, Jim Schwartz

Advantage: Patriots

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Got to go with the Patriots here for obvious reasons. While it can’t be overstated the job that Pederson and company have done with this Eagles team, it’s Bill Belichick for Christ’s sake. Plus, he’s got two head coaches serving as his coordinators in McDaniels and Patricia, who will be taking over the Colts and Lions respectively after this game ends.

Scoreboard: Patriots 5, Eagles 4

No need to even watch the game now, congratulations to the Patriots on their sixth Super Bowl victory. As a Pats fan, I pray I don’t regret that sentence. This will be my third championship prediction segment, first time around I picked the Dodgers to win the World Series (I was wrong) then I picked Alabama to win the CFP National Championship (I was right). So really there isn’t anything to suggest how this is going to go based on my picks. Let me know who you think is going to win the Super Bowl in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Wild Card Round Picks: Day 1

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Last Week: 8-8                      Season Record: 144-81

So first I want to address the story everybody seems to be talking about with the whole “there’s drama in the Patriots organization” story that ESPN published at 1am yesterday. That’s about as exaggerated a piece as I’ve heard in my life. People are really digging for things to knock the Patriots down a peg at this point. While I do think that Brady is terrified of his career’s mortality and Alex Guerrero may have a bit more real estate in Brady’s head than some may care to admit (some of the stuff in the TB12 Method is a bit ridiculous), the idea that there’s some kind of power struggle between him, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft is just ludicrous. It ends with a line that suggests that Belichick won’t return after this season to coach somewhere else. For a guy who has written as many hit pieces about the Patriots as author Seth Wickersham has (and there have been a few), this seems to be a pretty uninformed statement. Every single source he had in that paper was anonymous, which harms your story’s credibility. Believe it or not, if you request to remain anonymous or want to say something off the record, there is nothing that holds the journalist back from using that stuff. That’s all fair game to use and a reporter can say “no” to anonymity. There are no legal grounds for any of that so the fact that not a single source was named puts things into question for me. But it’s not like anything was that damaging, either. It suggested that Brady was basically a 40 year-old child, saying that he never won “Patriot of the Week” from the coaching staff during the 2017 season, which is about as preposterous a gripe as I’ve ever heard in my life about Brady. The guy has 4 Super Bowl MVP’s and 2 regular season MVP’s, you think he gives 2 shits about “Patriot of the Week?” Get the fuck out of here. Now that that’s done, I’m going to get to my first set of Wild Card Round picks then I’m going to have a Wachusett Bella Czech Pils in support of the Patriots. That’s not a plug, I promise. If it were, I’d be using it a lot more frequently. But just look at this can:

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I feel a strange urge to cut off half of each sleeve on my sweatshirts, scowl at everyone I come across and give one word answers to every question. That’s a very odd buzz. Enough rambling, Wild Card picks time.

Tennessee Titans (9-7) vs Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

I was pretty disappointed to see the Titans make the playoffs. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more undeserving 9-7 team in league history. Offensively they were 23rd in total yards and 19th in points scored (they scored fewer than the Texans for Christ’s sake). Defensively, they were 13th in total yards and 17th in points allowed. Their turnover differential was -4 on the season. So how the Hell is this team 9-7 and not 6-10 like they statistically probably should be? Marcus Mariota regressed in a big way in 2017, as he threw for just 3232 yards with only 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. This is the same guy that had a touchdown-turnover ratio of 42-4 in his final year at Oregon. I have a strange suspicion that if the Titans get blown out of the water in this game, then the front office may make some changes to the coaching staff because Mariota is too skilled a player to be putting up a garbage stat line like that. Nevertheless, the Titans are in the playoffs for seemingly doing the bare minimum to get by. That’s going to hurt them when they face the Chiefs. Nobody started the season better than the Chiefs did. Their first two games they beat up both the Patriots and Eagles, the two 1-seeds in the NFL playoffs, en route to starting out 5-0. But that’s when the roof seemingly caved in on them. They became predictable offensively and teams were able to snuff them out. They lost 6 of their next 7 games before Andy Reid relinquished playcalling duties. They won their last 4 to close out the season. They seem to be back on the right track, looking more like the early season world-beaters vs the pathetic midseason team each day. Kansas City’s main strength is that they don’t turn the ball over, as they only did so 11 times this season for a turnover margin of +15, second best in the NFL after the Baltimore Ravens at +17. If the Titans are going to have any chance of beating the Chiefs given the talent on each roster, they’re going to need to get takeaways and that’s just not going to happen. I’ve got the Chiefs winning pretty easily and will take on the Patriots if the Jaguars beat the Bills or the Steelers if the Bills beat the Jaguars.

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Projected Score: Chiefs 38 Titans 14

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) vs Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

The last time the Falcons were in LA, they steamrolled the Rams in what proved to be Jeff Fisher’s final game as Rams head coach. This year will be COMPLETELY different circumstances, as the Rams have been amongst the best teams in the league this year. They did a complete 180 offensively, as in 2016 they were the worst scoring offense in the league but the best in 2017. Defensively, the Rams were pretty good in their first year with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, though I felt they were capable of much better. They were +7 in turnover margin, which really helped because they ranked just 19th in total yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. There are some fantastic players on the Rams defense, particularly Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Alec Ogletree who can really take over games if you let them. Jared Goff’s development was HUGE for their success and it didn’t hurt that Todd Gurley had an MVP-caliber season (as you may have read, I picked Gurley for MVP in my awards blog). The Falcons barely made it into the playoffs after barely losing Super Bowl LI after at one point holding a 28-3 lead over the Patriots. Defensively, Atlanta continued to make strides in the right direction, as they were 9th in yards allowed and 8th in points allowed. Not bad for a team that didn’t crack the top 20 last year. However they did struggle to get turnovers, as they ranked 27th in that category, falling behind the likes of the Colts and 49ers of all teams. Offensively they took a step backward, however that’s to be expected when you’re coming off a season where you scored the most points in the league and lose your offensive coordinator to a head coaching position elsewhere (Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers). They were still very good offensively, though, as they finished 8th in total yards but 15th in points. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they were -2 in turnover margin, which will hurt your total output. But Todd Gurley did lead the NFL in fumbles and we saw with Deion Jones in Super Bowl LI that he’s more than capable of ripping that ball out to create turnovers. I think if the Falcons’ defense is able to step up and create turnovers, then they will win this game. If not, then the Rams are going to have their way with them. This is probably the hardest game to pick in Wild Card weekend, though I guess I kind of deserve it considering how easy a pick I think Chiefs-Titans is going to be. I think I’m going to give the edge to the Rams just because I think they’ve got more guys having breakout seasons than the Falcons do and will face the Vikings in the divisional round.

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Projected Score: Rams 27 Falcons 24

Those are my thoughts on the Patriots “bombshell” and the first two games of the Wild Card round. Tune in tomorrow when I do Sunday’s set of games. You can leave a comment below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

 

The Martellus Bennett situation is a little…odd

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Martellus Bennet’s falling out in Green Bay has a lot of people scratching their heads (photo credit: Madison.com)

It was reported earlier last week that the Green Bay Packers had waived prize free agent tight end Martellus Bennett, which seemed to come out of nowhere at the time. Bennett had signed a 3-year $21 million deal with the Packers shortly after winning a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, where he was an integral part of their success, especially after the team lost Rob Gronkowski for the season midway through the year. He hadn’t been having the same success this season as in years past, as prior to being waived by Green Bay he only had 21 catches for 195 yards in 7 games played, failing to score a single touchdown. Bennett also announced over an Instagram story that he was probably going to retire at the conclusion of this season. When Bennett was waived, the Packers cited “failure to disclose” as their reasoning because it turns out that Bennett’s rotator cuff required surgery. Shortly after, Bennett explained on another Instagram story that he had been having issues with his shoulder for a while, which came to a head in the Packers’ October 8th win over the Dallas Cowboys (which was actually his highest yardage output all season at 53 yards). Bennett claimed that Packers team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie was pressuring him to play through the shoulder injury, something Bennett was wary of doing. He then said the Packers tried to “fuck (him) over” and tried to get out of his contract by waiving him because of the injury. He was then claimed by the Patriots and played in Sunday night’s game against the Denver Broncos, not even a week after his release. So what gives?

Bennett has never struck me as the type of guy who would fake an injury to get off a team. Quite the opposite. He’s a very moral dude who writes children’s books and is a big advocate for players using their platforms as professional athletes to do some good in the world. He’s been one of Colin Kaepernick’s most outspoken supporters and, from what I hear from teammates, is a pretty stand-up guy. But you have to admit, this does sound strange. As a Patriots fan, I am very excited to have Martysaurus Rex (that’s his Twitter handle, not a nickname I’m trying to invent) back on the team. He’s a world class tight end who was an integral part of the team’s championship run last season. Ignore his stats on the Packers, tight ends have never done great under Mike McCarthy, just look at the uber-talented JerMichael Finley, who was about as gifted a tight end as I have ever seen (short of Gronk) but never seemed to put it all together. Or Bubba Franks, who was a pro bowler before McCarthy and Rodgers got there and fizzled hard after their arrival. He can still contribute, and he had 3 catches for 38 yards in the Patriots 41-16 win over the Broncos.

But I still find it odd that this guy is playing for the Patriots right now after it was speculated that his season (and possibly career) was likely done. Hell, Dr. McKenzie, whom Bennett said was pressuring him to play through the injury, has a reputation for being overly cautious about letting players return from injury, often to the point of resentment from the players. Everyone in the Packers’ organization came to the defense of Dr. McKenzie after Bennett’s Instagram story, such as Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson. Rodgers has had several injuries in his career and is currently nursing a broken collarbone and Jordy Nelson missed an entire season to a torn ACL a couple of years ago and both of these guys deny that Dr. McKenzie ever tried rushing them back. A lot of conspiracy theorists believe that Bennett and Patriots coach Bill Belichick colluded to get him back to Foxboro and if you didn’t know Bennett’s character, this would seem very possible, if not entirely probable. I’m not going to sit here and say I know Marty, all I really know about his character is through following him on social media and from what I hear from people who do know him. But if this is the case, some repercussions will be coming New England’s way.

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Bennett was back contributing for the Patriots mere days after it was thought his career might be over (photo credit: USA Today)

The penalty for tampering, which is what this situation is, typically comes at the price of a mid-round draft pick and/or a fine. When the Jets were found guilty of tampering to sign Darrelle Revis away from the Patriots after the 2014 season, their punishment was a $100,000 fine. When the Chiefs were found guilty of tampering to sign Jeremy Maclin away from the Eagles in the 2016 offseason, their punishment was the loss of a third round pick in 2016 and a sixth rounder in 2017. Fines were also handed out to the Chiefs ($250,000), head coach Andy Reid ($75,000) and GM John Dorsey ($25,000). Not very consistent in their punishments, but that’s Roger Goodell’s NFL for you. The league has said they are not investigating the Bennett situation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other owners try and force their hand. So if they do change their minds and find the Patriots guilty of tampering with Bennett, then I have to imagine the penalty will be on the severe side like it was with Kansas City, given the Patriots’ history of issues with the league (whether they were warranted or not).

So what do I think happened? I would find it surprising if Bennett actively forced his way out of Green Bay because that’s just not the type of person he is. However I do admit that there may be some elements of this story that haven’t been made public because this whole thing sounds rather suspect. It would be a real slimy move on Bennett’s part if he did fake an injury in order to get himself out of Green Bay to play for a Super Bowl contender in the Patriots, which the Packers no longer are after losing Rodgers for the season. Quite frankly, I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this saga.

NFL Midseason Awards

It’s Week 9 and that marks the official halfway point of the NFL regular season so I thought it was high time I got to prematurely handing out awards I have no authority to give. These are my thoughts on who I would vote for if the NFL season were to end today. I’m going to touch on the major awards as well as a few made up ones. So without further ado, here are my midseason awards.

NFL MVP: Carson Wentz-QB-Philadelphia Eagles

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photo credit: Philadelphia Sports Nation

Wentz has taken a HUGE step forward in his second year in the league, leading the Eagles to the NFL’s best record at the season’s halfway point while also being third in passing yards and first in passing touchdowns. His elusiveness in the pocket has been the talk of the league as day-in and day-out he makes plays that are just shocking to behold. This was a tough choice because there are two other really legitimate candidates: Tom Brady and Alex Smith. Brady leads the NFL in passing yards by almost 400 yards despite not having safety net Julian Edelman and Alex Smith has yet to throw an interception this season. But I think I’m going to go with Wentz simply because I think the Eagles would absolutely IMPLODE without him, whereas I think the Patriots and Chiefs would remain afloat without Brady or Smith (that’s more a credit to the coaching than anything).

Others receiving consideration: Tom Brady-QB-New England Patriots, Alex Smith-QB-Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown-WR-Pittsburgh Steelers

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photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I want to set one quick ground rule about my edition of this award. I don’t consider quarterbacks mainly because the MVP is basically already a quarterback’s award unless a runningback has a mind-blowing season (each of the last 3 runningback MVP’s have set a major record in the season they won the award or at least approached one). So you won’t be seeing Brady or Wentz or Smith here. I’m going with Antonio Brown mainly because of how far ahead of other receivers he is right now. His 835 receiving yards leads the NFL, next closest is Adam Thielen with 627. His 57 catches lead the NFL, next closest is Jarvis Landry with 50. His 287 yards after catch is 5th, however everybody else in the top 10 on that list is a runningback, whose yards after catch are pretty much all of their receiving yards because of where they typically catch the ball. So not a difficult decision for me here.

Others receiving consideration: Kareem Hunt-RB-Kansas City Chiefs, Toddy Gurley-RB-Los Angeles Rams, Le’Veon Bell-RB-Pittsburgh Steelers

Defensive Player of the Year: Calais Campbell-DT-Jacksonville Jaguars

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photo credit: Big Cat Country

Not only is Calais Campbell a terrifying physical specimen (6’8 300 pounds), he’s also a damn good football player. After the Cardinals didn’t resign him in an effort to get younger defensively, Campbell signed with the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars and he has been a leading catalyst in this “Sacksonville” revolution. He’s tied for second in the league with 10 sacks and he’s doing it from the interior of the defensive line, where he faces constant double teams. The potential knock against Campbell would be that perhaps his numbers are so good because opposing offensive lines have to deal with Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr, and people who argue that would have a point. But I present a counter point: why didn’t Ngakoue and Fowler have great production until Campbell got to Jacksonville?

Others receiving consideration: DeMarcus Lawrence-DE-Dallas Cowboys, Marcus Peters-CB-Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kareem Hunt-RB-Kansas City Chiefs

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photo credit: Fake Teams

I want to give a quick shoutout to Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, who may have won this midseason award had he not just torn his ACL as I was starting this blog (seriously, I had my opening paragraph written when a buddy of mine texted me the news). Watson was tied with Wentz for the most passing touchdowns in the NFL with Wentz and his insertion into the starting lineup for Tom Savage changed the Texans from an absolute joke to a juggernaut. Now that I’ve given Watson his due, it’s time to talk about the insane season Kareem Hunt is putting forth. Hunt leads the NFL in rushing at 763 yards. Le’Veon Bell trails him by just 3 yards, however Bell needed 48 more carries and Hunt still leads. Since fumbling his first career carry against New England, Hunt has arguably been the best runningback in the league. Not bad for a third round pick from a mid-major school. I feel ashamed for having 8 runningbacks ahead of him in my NFL Draft rankings.

Others receiving consideration: Deshaun Watson*-QB-Houston Texans, Leonard Fournette-RB-Jacksonville Jaguars

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore-CB-New Orleans Saints

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photo credit: The Advocate

I really wanted to consider Browns DE and #1 overall pick Myles Garrett for this, as he has 4 sacks in 4 games played, but he’s missed too much time for me to consider him. There really aren’t a whole lot of other defensive players who stand out outside of the cornerback position, which has been really good for rookies. Bills and Cowboys rookies Tre’Davious White and Jourdan Lewis have been excellent in their roles but I think Marshon Lattimore has been the absolute best of the bunch. Lattimore is already the top corner for the Saints and has been a major factor in this defense’s turnaround. He typically follows the opposing team’s number 1 receiver and can keep up with any receiver in the NFL with his 4.36 speed.

Others receiving consideration: Tre’Davious White-CB-Buffalo Bills, Jourdan Lewis-CB-Dallas Cowboys, Jarrad Davis-LB-Detroit Lions, Carl Lawson-DE-Cincinnati Bengals

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick-New England Patriots

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photo credit: Patriots Wire

The league almost has to cast Belichick aside because otherwise he would win this award every year. The Hoodie is arguably the greatest coach to put on a headset and he continues to do great work this season. The Patriots have dealt with a number of injuries to key contributors, such as Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower as well as down years from guys like Malcolm Butler but the Patriots still find themselves at 6-2 heading into their bye. The defense also struggled MIGHTILY to start the season but since the Tampa Bay game this defense has gone from embarrassing to very competent and even held the high-flying Falcons offense to 7 points. There’s nobody better in sports today than Bill Belichick.

Others receiving consideration: Andy Reid-Kansas City Chiefs, Sean McDermott-Buffalo Bills, Sean McVay-Los Angeles Rams, Doug Marrone-Jacksonville Jaguars

Comeback Player of the Year: Keenan Allen-WR-Los Angeles Chargers

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photo credit: Chargers Wire

Keenan Allen tore his ACL and lost his season in Week 1 of the 2016 season, devastating Chargers fans and me, having drafted him in the fourth round of my fantasy draft. The loss of Allen was a huge blow to the Chargers but he returns this year healthy and is 8th in the NFL in receiving yards at 548.

Others receiving consideration: Julius Peppers-DE-Carolina Panthers, Rob Gronkowski-TE-New England Patriots

Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Alex Collins-RB-Baltimore Ravens

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photo credit: Field Gulls

Alex Collins was a guy I liked coming out of the 2016 NFL Draft from Arkansas. He reminded me a little bit of a poor man’s Marshawn Lynch but my main knock was he had bricks for hands. Nevertheless, I thought of him as a third round pick. The rest of the league disagreed with my projection and Collins wasn’t taken until the 6th round by the Seattle Seahawks. He bounced around from practice squad to active roster before getting cut before the 2017 season and claimed by Baltimore. All he’s done for Baltimore is win the starting job and lead the league in yards per carry (6.0). Meanwhile, Seattle struggles to find a runningback that sticks.

Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Dante Fowler Jr-DE-Jacksonville Jaguars

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photo credit: Sports Illustrated

Dante Fowler Jr was a borderline bust entering this season, who was more known for “savage” moments off the field rather than his performance on it. However this season, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft looks like a completely different player, as he is constantly getting pressure in the quarterback’s face and is on pace for a double-digit sack season.

All Pro Teams (First player listed is First Team, second player listed is Second Team)

QB: Tom Brady-New England Patriots, Carson Wentz-Philadelphia Eagles

RB: Kareem Hunt-Kansas City Chiefs, Le’Veon Bell-Pittsburgh Steelers

RB: Todd Gurley-Los Angeles Rams, Jordan Howard-Chicago Bears

WR: Antonio Brown-Pittsburgh Steelers, Adam Thielen-Minnesota Vikings

WR: DeAndre Hopkins-Houston Texans, Brandin Cooks-New England Patriots

WR: AJ Green-Cincinnati Bengals, Tyreek Hill-Kansas City Chiefs

TE: Zach Ertz-Philadelphia Eagles, Travis Kelce-Kansas City Chiefs

OT: Tyron Smith-Dallas Cowboys, Taylor Lewan-Tennessee Titans

OT: Trent Williams-Washington Redskins, David Bakhtiari-Green Bay Packers

OG: Marshall Yanda-Baltimore Ravens, Shaq Mason-New England Patriots

OG: Zack Martin-Dallas Cowboys, Trai Turner-Carolina Panthers

C: Alex Mack-Atlanta Falcons, Travis Frederick-Dallas Cowboys

DE: DeMarcus Lawrence-Dallas Cowboys, Joey Bosa-Los Angeles Chargers

DE: Everson Griffen-Minnesota Vikings, Yannick Ngakoue-Jacksonville Jaguars

DT: Calais Campbell-Jacksonville Jaguars, Geno Atkins-Cincinnati Bengals

DT: Fletcher Cox-Philadelphia Eagles, Akiem Hicks-Chicago Bears

LB: Justin Houston-Kansas City Chiefs, Ryan Kerrigan-Washington Redskins

LB: Bobby Wagner-Seattle Seahawks, CJ Moseley-Baltimore Ravens

LB: Von Miller-Denver Broncos, Chandler Jones-Arizona Cardinals

CB: Marcus Peters-Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

CB: Richard Sherman-Seattle Seahawks, Jalen Ramsey-Jacksonville Jaguars

S: Earl Thomas-Seattle Seahawks, Devin McCourty-New England Patriots

S: Glover Quin, Detroit Lions, Micah Hyde-Buffalo Bills

K: Greg Zuerlein-Los Angeles Rams, Kai Forbath-Minnesota Vikings

P: Bradley Pinion-San Francisco 49ers, Pat O’Donnell-Chicago Bears

Those are my midseason NFL Awards picks. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.