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Who Should the Patriots Keep? Part II

Our article series continues with who the New England Patriots should keep and let go for next season.

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Alan Branch – Branch has become an important piece in the Patriots front four during his time in New England. To me, his ability to rush and take on double teams is essential and I don’t think there’s another DT on the team who can do it. Hopefully he isn’t offered a lot of money elsewhere, but as a veteran tackle at a role player position I highly doubt it. Belichick likes him enough to pay him fairly. Stays.

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Chris Long – Chris Long was fun to have this season, providing depth with an adequate pass rush attack. Still, Long isn’t important or memorable enough to keep, especially with a budding Trey Flowers waiting to take on the pass-rush role full-time. If I were New England, I’d thank Long for his time and work and kindly show him the door. Leaves.

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Logan Ryan – Like him or hate him, Logan Ryan proved himself as a solid #2 cornerback in the NFL this season. He’s come a long way, but he finally has an opportunity to make some serious dough in the NFL. If I were him I’d look for the money, so I can’t blame him for leaving, but I really hope he stays. I believe the Patriots also think of Ryan as important for the defense, but it’s likely based on free agency climate that this Super Bowl Champion #2 corner gets offered a large amount of money. Leaves.

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James Develin – A literal cornerstone for the Patriots. In a league that has completely dismissed the Fullback position, Bill Belichick has found a way to make the position crucial for his offense to function. Now, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, because we DO function without him, but notice how much smoother things flow with Develin healthy. There’s literally no way he plays on another team next year. He’s too valuable and the position is so underutilized that signing Develin to a luxurious fullback deal is still a steal. Stays.

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Jabaal Sheard – See: Chris Long. Sheard didn’t step up to the plate this season like expected, as he was given a chance to take over the D-line and instead was used situationally. With a young stud on one side of the line and Rob Ninkovich on the other, I doubt Sheard is spoken to by New England for negotiations. Leaves.

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Michael Floyd – It’s a no-brainer for Floyd to stay on the Patriots, but honestly, I’m not even sure we will want him. Floyd was inactive in the playoffs, which proves he was really only brought in for depth during the playoffs. This doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t return with a bigger role after learning the basics of the system and playing with Tom Brady. His value must be low after his DUI, so this one is a true toss-up if you ask me. Leaves.

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Duron Harmon – This guy is the true underrated player of the Patriots. Harmon’s always making big plays in big moments, and he’s always the next man up when we use three safeties. He’s great in coverage, and could easily be a starter somewhere and begin to make a name for himself. I really hope he stays, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a team that needs safety depth gives him money. Leaves.

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Breaking Down Patriots Free Agents

Now that the Super Bowl has been decided, it’s time for free agency. The time of the year where every team is looking to build up their rosters, and the current Super Bowl winner is just looking to hold onto what they have.

As for the Patriots this year, it’s a big free agency year. The Patriots traded away Chandler Jones and Jaime Collins, two players that are sure to reel in a lot of cash. Although the Patriots have around 60 million dollars of cap room, it’s going to be tough to re-sign everyone they would like to keep. Let’s look at some players and my predictions.

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Malcolm Butler – Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent, which means that the Patriots can counter any offer that is made for him. In these situations, restricted free agents are likely to stay with the team. I doubt this one goes any different. Mac loves New England, and New England loves him. Belichick has proven that he can succeed without a top-dollar cornerback, but I don’t see this being a factor here. Malcolm will be playing in New England next year. Stays.

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Martellus Bennett – Martellus Bennett, in his one year with the Patriots, helped bring back the dual TE threat, became a more important player when Gronkowski went down for the season, and has embraced the Patriot way like few other first-year players have. I have little doubt Bennett loves the Patriots, and I have little doubt that the Patriots would love to have him back. Sadly, things aren’t this simple. Put plainly, Martellus is going to get offered a fat wad of cash, and this is likely his last big paycheck in the NFL. He’s already stated that there’s more to his life than just football, as he has a budding children’s book company. Expect a team with a lot of money and few weapons to shell out until they reel him in. Gone.

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LeGarrette Blount – The scenario here is the same as Martellus Bennett’s. This dude loves the Patriots, and the Patriots love him. He was crucial to the success of the Super Bowl season, and there’s little doubt in my mind that another team is going to offer him a lot of money. Still, I see this one going the other way. Blount knows what it’s like leaving the Patriots, I doubt he wants to play in another jersey for the rest of his career. Stays.

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Dont’a Hightower – If there’s a world where the Patriots absolutely nose dive next season and become the laughing stock of the league, Donta Hightower is still playing linebacker for the Patriots. That’s how crucial he is to this team’s success. There’s no way he isn’t on the roster next season. Belichick will pay this man, he values linebackers highly. Stays.

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Sebastian Vollmer – This one’s a no brainer. The starting tackle lost his spot while injured all season to the emergence of Marcus Cannon, who was re-signed during the season. There’s not a lot of purpose in re-signing this veteran while the Tackle position is one that needs no improvement for the Patriots. Gone.

Stay tuned next week for Part II!

The Juice on Jimmy

After a sweet Super Bowl victory against the Atlanta Falcons, the dust is beginning to settle for the cast of Super Bowl 51 Champion New England Patriots.

On the roster there’s a lot of questions and a lot of people to retain. Defensive studs like Donta Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, and Malcolm Butler are all free agents. Safety-blanket tight end Martellus Bennett is likely gone via the highest bidder as well. Yet, the most talked about story lies within the fate of New England’s backup quarterback Jimmy Garapollo.

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Garapollo started 2 games at the beginning of the season during Tom Brady’s suspension; narrowly escaping with a win against the always-dangerous Arizona Cardinals to start the season and later smoked out the Miami Dolphins before getting injured for the remainder of Brady’s suspension. Jimmy G looked like an absolute stud on the field even though every fan had their doubts before his first start. It became clear Jimmy was the future QB of the Patriots if and when Brady decides to retire.

But then the Patriots announced they were shopping him around. In fact, they’re looking for a first round draft pick for the young quarterback. There’s a lot of opinions here as to what the Patriots actually should do, and every option has a case as to why it’d be good and why it would be a bad decision. Let’s begin.

First, let’s look at if Garapollo was to actually be traded. I’m working with the assumption New England gets a first round pick like they have vocalized, but it’s just as likely they could receive a package of lesser-round picks instead and be just as happy.

Jimmy’s Likely Trade Destinations:

Cleveland Browns – Let’s be real, Cleveland owes us one. Trading away star linebacker Jaime Collins for a mere third round pick was a steal. They should be willing to be a little thankful if a trade is pursued. Cleveland has two first round picks in this years draft, including the first overall and the number 12 pick. It’ll be hard to part with the first, so the 12th overall pick for Jimmy Garapollo seems to be the kind of reward the Patriots would love to walk away with. It’s kind of a win-win-win scenario, right? The Patriots get another first round pick, the Browns KEEP their first overall pick AND get a very young and NFL proven quarterback in a very QB-weak draft.

Lastly, Garapollo gets to be the starter on a team with a lot of young talent and a locker room with energy that could lead to the next Oakland Raiders situation (quote me on that – playoff team soon!). As Michael Scott once said, everyone loves a win-win-win.

San Fransisco 49ers – I truthfully don’t believe this trade will actually happen. Coach Kyle Shanahan is looking for some sort of rebound after a devastating Super Bowl loss, so maybe he will call the people that just embarrassed him and try to snag their backup QB? For this to work, the 49ers will have to part with their 2nd overall draft pick, which just seems absurd. A Top 5 pick is precious, it’ll be tough to sell this trade in the 49ers office. For the Patriots, a 2nd overall pick would be fantastic, but it just doesn’t seem realistic.

Lastly, this is the worst option for ol’ Jimmy G. The 49ers offense has nothing. Zip. Nada. Instead, look for Clemson QB Deshaun Watson to get drafted here, even if I think they should go with a less-attractive pick like defensive lineman Jonathan Allen.

Chicago Bears – The Chicago option is very interesting. Because I don’t personally believe a team with a top-5 first round pick is actually willing to part with said pick, I doubt this will happen (see above). The Patriots could receive a package of later round picks, and I think the Bears would probably pull the trigger on that seeing as they are notorious for not having a franchise quarterback.

Personally, Jimmy to the Chicago Bears is my favorite option of the three because it is likely the best option for Jimmy Garapollo to succeed. The Bears have a top wideout with Alshon Jeffrey (if they retain him), a breakout running-back in Jordan Howard, and a surprisingly stellar offensive line. They could easily spread the field and be able to attack with an already solid running game and an actual threat as a passer. It’s an exciting option to fantasize about.

If the Patriots stick to needing a first-round pick option, then knock it off the table. The Bears simply can’t give up the #3 overall pick for a QB who’s only played a handful of games.

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Jimmy Garapollo Stays With the Patriots

It’s possible the Patriots don’t receive the trade offer they’re looking for and instead hold Jimmy for the final year of his contract. This option is attractive for Jimmy because he gets to stay on a winning franchise and learn from the greats, and it’s attractive for the Patriots because they get to keep a starting-caliber quarterback as a backup option. In case Brady goes down or somehow declines (although he seems to get better with age like a fine wine), they have Jimmy G waiting to take over the game.

Once the season is over, they need to figure out if they want to let him walk, franchise tag him, or sign him. Weighing those three options seems like something to discuss in another article a year from now if they pursue this course.

The dominoes will begin to fall very soon for every team in the NFL. This deal is likely one of the bigger roster moves of the offseason, so the final decision is impactful on where every other free agent and trade ends up. Perhaps next Tuesday we will have an answer.

Another One

The New England Patriots will be entering their 9th Super Bowl. The opponent is the often-overlooked and underrated Atlanta Falcons. ATL Quarterback Matt Ryan may be the favorite for the league’s MVP award, but when it comes to winning, nobody is better than Brady.

Both Super Bowl-bound teams put on a display in their respective Conference Championship Games. The Falcons destroyed the Green Bay Packers by a score of 21 to 44 that was really a far greater blowout than the score would lead you to believe and the Patriots had the Steelers beaten from the get-go with a final score of 36-17.

Seriously, both teams were dominant in every aspect of their game. These victories are certainly huge confidence-boosters for both teams, especially going into the biggest game of the year.

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For Tom Brady and the Patriots it’s hard to ignore the storyline. They may never address it, but everyone knows what this game means for the Patriots. Its the redemption of Tom Brady, it’s his one moment to silent the critics for good. “Deflategate” would be erased, it’d be eliminated for good.

As many New Englanders know, opposing fanbases still wave around “Spygate” wisecracks every now and again. Tom Brady was hung out to dry, turned on, and labeled a villain by the NFL. He’s had to endure media and nation-wide criticism and hate since, and February 5th is his chance to erase the detrimental “Deflategate” demons forever. It will no longer be a headline, but a mere footnote. Make no mistake, Tom knows this is the case.

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I’m not saying that the storyline is greater than that of Super Bowl 49. Both that Patriots roster and that Seahawks roster will be remembered as historic, I’m not sure about the Falcons. This could be the start of a great team for years, but it’s far more likely the NFC South continues to cycle through their top teams as they have the past 15 years. But for the Patriots, this game is everything. It’s a defining moment. It’s the period at the end of a statement that has been 16 years and 4 Super Bowl victories.

It’s the punch to remind you how legendary this dynasty has been. This Super Bowl puts the Belichick-Brady era over any other in the NFL, if that wasn’t already the case.

6 Times A Charm

For the 6th time in as many years, the New England Patriots will be in the AFC Championship Game.

This year they will face the troubled but always dangerous Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that is also no stranger to success in the playoffs.

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The Patriots took care of business last Saturday night against the Houston Texas, but with a solid victory their were also many issues facing the team. The Patriots played downright sloppy in many instances, especially on offense. With that being said, the team still managed to put up 30 points, and the Houston Texans defense is a squad worth applauding to as they’ve shown before they are no easy match.

Dion Lewis has 3 touchdowns: one rushing, one receiving, and one kickoff return. The shifty running back was responsible for 18 of our 30 points (excluding field goals), and running back James White has a touchdown as well. Although Blount didn’t make it into the end-zone, the running back corps managed to carry us in for some scores.

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The defense had a good game, managing 3 interceptions. It’s not too hard when the Houston offense is so predictable, as Brock Osweiler is really only capable of handing the ball off to Lamar Miller and throwing to a tight-end. If Houston can figure out their quarterback situation, which really to me only means upgrading slightly over Brock Osweiler in the off-season, they will be in the playoffs yet again. They really are a great team once they have a quarterback who can, you know, make passes. Even just some of the time…

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Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be a much greater threat in the passing game, and from here on out there is no easy game in the Super Bowl race. Big Ben, potential MVP Matt Ryan, and the somewhat god-like Aaron Rodgers will all be tough to face, but the Patriots defense has improved drastically since their midseason woes after trading Jaime Collins. Although the opposing quarterback may get tougher, the opposing defense will only get easier. The Houston defense is by far the greatest in comparison to the remaining opponents. Although Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta are all good and decent, Houston has playmakers in every grouping on the field, where these teams make it easier to find mismatches and weaknesses in the defense.

Here’s a few simple keys to the game this weekend:

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1. Limit the running game. This one has to be most important. LeVeon Bell is an absolute machine and may be the most well-rounded running back in the NFL. Against a solid Kansas City defense he managed 170 yards on 30 carries. He will be getting the rock, and he will be dangerous.

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2. Making plays in the running game. Blount and the boys need to run the rock. The Steelers secondary has improved drastically this season, and although they’re no Legion of Boom they are certainly a strength for the Burgh. Not that I think Brady can’t handle it, but I think it would be much easier for New England if Pittsburgh needs to start watching out for the run first and foremost, opening up the passing game a bit easier later in the game. Plus, Blount has reason to be fired up (if he isn’t already for playing in the AFC Championship). This is the team he walked out on for not getting enough playing time, might as well use that as motivation.

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3. Special Teams. Just don’t make mistakes! It doesn’t matter if we can’t force them to make errors on special teams.. just don’t mess up! This has been a strange season for our special teams. Although there was a return for a touchdown last week, there was also a fumble for Houston. That can’t happen against an offense that WILL find ways to put up points.

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4. Make Boswell put up points! On Sunday night, all 18 points came from kicker Chris Boswell. Kansas City allowed 0 TDs. The Patriots offense is much better than KC’s, I don’t care how many points Boswell puts up: if he’s the only one scoring we have a great chance of walking away with a win.

The Divisional playoff round is a bad time to start making mistakes. Let’s hope that was a testament to facing a great defense and not a sign of struggles to come. Go Pats!

Texans @ Patriots Preview

The Patriots appear to have an easy schedule in the playoffs as their first matchup will be home against the Houston Texans, a team that the Patriots were able to route 27-0 in their regular season game this year.

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Back in week 3, the Pats didn’t have Brady or Jimmy Garapollo, instead rookie Quarterback Jacoby Brissett took the helm and played in his first win in the NFL. Of course, this game is much different than the one in week 3. Both teams are very much better than they were at the start of the season.

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For Houston, their defense is filled with studs that have emerged this season with Bernard McKinney, A.J. Bouye, and the monster Jadaveon Clowney. The offense is, dare I say, starting to come together? Perhaps, we only really saw one half of the offense in actual motion against the Raiders with Brock Osweiler’s second stint as their starting quarterback. In the second half of that game, the offense played it safe and was able to hold onto the game against a Raiders team that really couldn’t put anything together. Still, from what we saw Brock is having trouble reaching wide receivers and will tend to let Lamar Miller carry the offense with an occasional pass to a tight-end.

There’s this tendency I have as both a writer and a person which I use almost everyday. It’s called playing devil’s advocate. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Yeah, I’m that guy. I love to find ways to make things fair. I love to look the opposite way. So, with this matchup that’s what I’m going to do.

I’d like to be a fair reporter and make a case for the Houston Texans, but it’s tough. They’re a really well-put together team, but with atrocity from the quarterback position there’s just no way for them to get past the Patriots. New England is clicking and firing on all cylinders. They’re coming off a big divisional blowout win as well as an all-around well-played game against a rival and playoff team. They’re feeling good. Still, I hate to call it such a shoe-in. If I know the Patriots like I think I do, they’re not calling it a shoe-in either. They’re preparing the same way they do every single week, and that’s the beauty of this team.

Houston CAN fins ways to win this game. The difference maker is at the quarterback position in this one. Houston’s offensive line can hold and it won’t matter. Their defense can play phenomenal and it won’t matter. Hopkins can run perfect routes with hands of gold and it still won’t matter. If Brock Osweiler doesn’t play well, the Texans simply don’t stand a chance. That’s pretty intimidating for a guy who got benched both this season and last season, and who some are calling the biggest Free Agency bust of all time.

The Top of the AFC

Sunday proved to be a big day for the Patriots organization as they defeated the Miami Dolphins in their stadium and advanced to a 14-2 record and clinched home field advantage throughout the road to the Super Bowl.

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There were some big achievements Sunday; Brady has surpassed the great Nick Foles for the best TD-INT ratio in a season, he passed Dan Marino as 4th all-time in Passing Yards within NFL history, and the Patriots marked the least interceptions thrown in a season by a team (between 3 Quarterbacks nonetheless). Meanwhile, running back LeGarrette Blount ran for his 18th touchdown of the season, a number that hasn’t been reached since Adrian Peterson did so in 2009.

The game wasn’t a very close one, as Brady managed to throw 3 Touchdowns in the game and finished with a final score of 35-14. Even though the score wasn’t close, the game felt much closer. Miami came out with plenty of attitude and something to prove, and although the score didn’t represent it I think seeing them again in the playoffs would provide fans with an electric and intense game that’s worth watching.

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Julian Edelman provided a majority of the offense for the Patriots, as he had 8 catches and over 150 yards receiving. Aside from that, the next best receiving stat-line was 3 catches. Newly acquired wideout Michael Floyd showed intensity throughout the game, with multiple hustle plays to help out his teammates as well as on a receiving touchdown. Floyd’s coming back with a vengeance after being cut by the Cardinals and being passed on in the waiver wire by every team in the NFL. It seems someone wants to prove their worth in the playoffs.

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Speaking of playoffs, the Patriots get to kick back for a week and see who wins in the Wild Card round. The Steelers (3 seed) will play the Miami Dolphins (6 seed) and the Texans (4 seed) will play the Oakland Raiders (5 seed). If the Steelers win, New England sees the winner of the Texans v Raiders game. Neither of these teams seem too troubling. New England shut out the Texans this year with Jacoby Brisset playing quarterback instead of Tom Brady or Jimmy Garapollo. The Raiders, although exciting on offense, have a porous defense and have lost their starting quarterback likely for the remainder of the season. If Pittsburgh is to lose against the Dolphins, then we play the Dolphins. I touched on this earlier, but the Patriots just toppled the ‘Phins on Sunday. Nothing here sounds too concerning. The road to the Super Bowl seems to be a breezy one.