Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Super Bowl LIII Audibles
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Vincent Verhei

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Aaron Schatz: Hello from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, or as nobody calls it, "The Merc." This place might be 10-to-1 Patriots fans tonight. When the Patriots came out of the tunnel in pregame there was a distinct, loud cheer. When the Rams came out, there was a very loud booing. In fact, any time they show Rams on the big scoreboards, there are boos. It's basically a Patriots home game here.

Rivers McCown: Does anybody have a strong Rams lean? My homework on this game essentially led to me thinking the Patriots would need to get outcoached, and my confirmation bias eyes haven't seen a lot of pieces that seem to outright favor the Rams.

Bryan Knowles: I think a Rams win would have to come on the backs of a dominant game by the interior pass rush -- Donald and Suh and company. Blow everything open, get Brady pressured and stop Sony Michel from running over everybody. Couple with some new wrinkles on offense -- and while I've begun to have my doubts about Sean McVay's in-game decisions, his play design ability may well be unmatched -- and I could definitely see a Rams victory here.

I'm picking the Pats, though, at least in part because I had Pats over Rams back in our preseason predictions. Never mind that by midseason I was convinced we'd get Saints-Chiefs.

In an unrelated note, thank goodness the Rams are allowed to wear their throwbacks for this one, rather than the mismatched "normal" monstrosity they've tried so hard to hide this year. It makes them, technically, the second team ever to play in the Super Bowl in throwbacks, after the 1994 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX.

This one, uh, hopefully will be a little more competitive than that one.

Tom Gower: Yeah, maybe if Suh and Brockers and Fowler and Ebukam and whoever join Donald in an overwhelming performance, and if McVay schemes up enough man- and zone-beaters that the Patriots aren't prepared for, this can be a good game. Or maybe Brady and company just throw up a stinker and play badly. I mean, Clemson ended up blowing out Alabama, so it's not impossible. Right?

Aaron Schatz: I think a big thing is Goff reversing the decline of the last seven games. And he's reversed it a bit in the two playoff wins. They need to keep him clean, and he needs to play well. But he had strong numbers this year against the Patriots' favored man coverage, especially in that first half before he declined.

Vincent Verhei: I think the Patriots will win, but it's close. With the crowd, will this really be a "home" game for New England? If not, that's a huge difference. Aqib Talib makes this a better Rams defense than what we saw for most of the year. And the biggest edge New England has is their rush offense vs. L.A.'s run defense, but even with that, they'll need to string a lot of good plays and third-down conversions together, then execute in the red zone to score. Of course, that's exactly what they have been doing in the playoffs for years.

I also may be reading too much into my own research here, but I think the first quarter is critical. The Rams' best bet is to play from ahead. This is going to be a big, big first quarter.

Rams win the toss, but elect to defer. Clearly, they're not as concerned with a first-quarter lead as I am.

Andrew Potter: Horrible decision by Brady on that interception. Poorly thrown too, which didn't help, but the decision was worse than the throw.

Bryan Knowles: Defense in 2018 hasn't really been about reducing yardage; it has been about making big splash plays to provide sudden flips. The Patriots were moving the ball well, but Brady makes an ill-advised throw, the ball's tipped, and the Rams come down with it. That's not what we're used to seeing from Brady, especially not in critical moments like this.

Vincent Verhei: On Brady's interception: the ball came out of his hand funny. As Tony Romo pointed out, Brady realized mid-throw he was making a mistake, which affected the delivery and only made it worse.

Aaron Schatz: Pats force three-and-out after the interception. Best play was on second down. Josh Reynolds was the intended receiver on a play-action pass and the Pats just SLAMMED him within a yard of the LOS. Goff had to run out of bounds, throwing the ball away as he did.

I'm surprised but early it looks like Stephon Gilmore is on Brandin Cooks, not Robert Woods as I expected.

Vincent Verhei: Video of Josh Reynolds getting wiped out:

Huge call goes against the Rams there. On second-and-long, Nickell Robey-Coleman tackles Rex Burkhead behind the line -- but he gets called for a helmet-to-helmet to hit, so it's first-and-10 instead of third-and-20ish. (Refs called the wrong number, but I'm pretty sure that's what they were calling.)

Bryan Knowles: OK, that personal foul on Dante Fowler for a hit on a defenseless player?

Wasn't on Fowler. Wasn't on a defenseless player. Terrible call.

Vincent Verhei: What a weird drive. After that penalty, the Patriots blow a couple of timeouts, then run a give-up draw on third-and-8 to play for the long field goal, and then Stephen Gostkowski pulls it left. Neither team playing well so far.

Aaron Schatz: Pats have now burned two of their timeouts and they burned the second one so they could ... call a draw on third down? For 3 yards? Then Gostkowski goes wide left on a 46-yard field goal try. Still scoreless.

Carl Yedor: New England has been hurting the Rams with short passes and runs, and they tried to work in a jet sweep on their first drive as well. That could be a function of trying to take Donald and Suh out of the game.

An uncharacteristic Gostkowski miss keeps this one scoreless.

Andrew Potter: What is it with the Patriots and terrible Super Bowl first quarters? Another bizarre sequence of bad decision-making and poor play means the Patriots have been in solid field-goal range twice and have nil points. They've totally dominated the game otherwise.

Bryan Knowles: Frankly, I would have just lined up and gone for it on that fourth-and-3, rather than doing a little dance to draw the Pats offsides. Conservative play calling, which McVay has fallen afoul of in recent weeks. I'm not sure you can afford to let situations like that go by the wayside.

Vincent Verhei: First quarter ends with no score, which I'm pretty sure the Rams would have taken going in. However, the Patriots have already run 22 plays; the Rams have only run nine. There have been a looooooot of big New England playoff wins that were keyed by that kind of ball control.

Bryan Knowles: A scoreless first quarter, just like Pats-Falcons. And Pats-Seahawks. And Pats-Eagles. And Pats-Panthers. In fact, we haven't had a Super Bowl with a scoreless first quarter that DIDN'T involve New England since Super Bowl XXVI. The Pats really ARE bad at first quarters.

Andrew Potter: Brady's first sack of the postseason is all on him. He had forever to do something with the ball. He held, and held, and shuffled, and then tried to tuck and still managed to fumble. This is as poorly as I've seen him play in any quarter this season.

The problem for the Rams at this point is that they haven't done anything at all to take advantage of New England's poor start.

Carl Yedor: This shouldn't come as much of a surprise but Aaron Donald has been a major nuisance in the backfield thus far. He has been penetrating like crazy and forced the throwaway on that third down.

That said, relying on explosive plays from your defense is tough when your offense isn't really doing anything, and New England quickly forces a three-and-out to get the ball back.

Vincent Verhei: Three drives, three punts for the Rams. Only one first down. They've spent so little time on the field it's hard to tell if Goff looks jumpier than usual or if New England is making plays. But it's not good either way.

Derrik Klassen: A little surprised New England hasn't really tried to attack deep yet. I get Tom Brady doesn't have the juice he used to, but this Los Angeles defense is generally susceptible to play-action and big plays. Want to see the Pats open it up and get the scoring going.

Bryan Knowles: I've been really disappointed in the Rams' offense so far. With two weeks to prepare, I would have thought Sean McVay would have installed SOMETHING new, to counter just how good the Patriots have been at recognizing things off tape. So far ... nothing. Maybe they haven't been in the greatest situations, but there have been a lot of give-up runs and things on third downs. Not impressed with him at all so far.

Still early.

Derrik Klassen: New England's offense also has to up the ante on third down. They seem all too comfortable punting/kicking field goals vs. a team that, in theory, could rip off a couple of touchdowns in an instant.

Tom Gower: 3-0 Patriots with 10:29 to go in the second quarter. New England has been inside the Rams 30 three times and just got on the scoreboard. They have been conservative on third-and-long, between that earlier draw play out of a timeout and Brady throwing to Gronk at the line of scrimmage on that one. What happened downfield? How'd they take away Edelman? Maybe Tony Romo will tell us after the commercial.

Los Angeles tried to get the outside zone run game and complementary boot action going the first two drives, but the Patriots by alignment are taking away the double-teams and setting a hard edge, making it difficult for Goff to set up easily in the boot pass game. They brought in C.J. Anderson to run inside on the third possession, and didn't find any running room. I thought for the Rams to win they/Sean McVay would have to win a lot on normal downs, and that hasn't come close to happening so far.

Aaron Schatz: Is Todd Gurley still alive?

Bryan Knowles: I think Malcolm Butler is shadowing Gurley.

Vincent Verhei: Another third-and-long, another failed completion for Brady. He's doing a great Derek Carr impression today.

Jared, Jared, Jared. Two Gurley runs set up a third-and-short, and the Rams go for play-action and the kill-shot. Goff has all kinds of time ... but freezes, panics, and takes a horrible sack despite plenty of time to throw it away. That takes away the fourth-and-2, which I think the Rams would have gone for, and leads to yet another punt.

Bryan Knowles: Terrible sack taken by Goff there -- fourth-and-2 on the New England 47 could have been four-down territory. You can't take a 14-yard sack there!

Carl Yedor: Bad sack Goff took there. I get that he's trying to make a play, but your distance to go is so short that you can go for it on fourth-and-2. You haven't gotten much of anything going all day, and you need your high-powered offense to step up eventually.

Aaron Schatz: Pats go for it on fourth-and-1, and fail. They go empty spread shotgun. I just don't understand not having a run threat; fourth-and-1 seems like the perfect time to go 21 personnel, even if you want to pass it. Trick them into thinking run, and then pass. Or run!

Carl Yedor: Not to mention Brady is absolute money on QB sneaks. Didn't see how the Rams had their defensive linemen positioned but he's basically automatic.

Vincent Verhei: What a bizarre game. I'm now confident that the Patriots defense is doing nothing special, Goff is just crapping the bed. And yet, thanks to the missed kick and the failed fourth-and-1 play, they're only down 3-0, and getting the ball to start the second half.

Total plays: New England 40, Los Angeles 22. One way or another, the Rams need a long drive coming out of halftime. I'd almost take a 10-play field goal drive over a touchdown on a kickoff return here. New England has won too many playoff games by beating worn-down defenses in the fourth quarter.

Bryan Knowles: The Rams' previous low for first downs in a first half was six, in their loss to the Bears. This lack of production is just amazing.

Full credit to the Patriots defense. It looks like they've been running less man-to-man, more zone and more quarters coverage to shut down the Rams' offense, and it's really, really working. I'd say that's not like the Pats -- they're a man-to-man defense first and foremost -- but really, the Pats' philosophy is "we'll do whatever you're least comfortable with," so this makes total sense. Jonathan Jones playing safety -- I think that's a first for this season -- helps them have extra coverage back there, too. It's just a complete and total shutdown of the Rams offense.

And yet, they're only down 3-0, and get the ball to start the second half. The play of the game so far is probably the Patriots failing on that fourth-and-1 at the end of the half; yes, the Rams were unable to respond, but a 3-0 lead is nothing. If the Rams can figure something, anything out, this is still for the taking. They've got to figure SOMETHING out.

This has not, uh, been an exciting first half.

Rivers McCown: Feels like the Rams have utterly shut down every non-Edelman player and they're still going to lose because they can't score.

I figured if the Rams couldn't run it would be a major issue for their offense. But I also thought that they'd get blown out if that happened. And so far...

Tom Gower: Commercial ranking:

Vincent Verhei: Agree 100 percent.

Andrew Potter: Halftime show ranking:

  • Every other halftime show.
  • (Huge gap.)
  • Maroon 5.

Bryan Knowles: Sit through Elvis Presto and THEN tell me that, Andrew.

Maroon 5 is the Jason Garrett of rock, though.

Dave Bernreuther: I have no signal and no battery but just wanted to chime in to point out that not only has Jared Goff taken terrible sacks and thrown passes into the ground on makeable third downs, but he also missed on that one deep shot -- to Reynolds, I believe -- where a throw deep and outside would have led him to space. And now his opening pass of the third quarter should have been picked. His stat line is abysmal -- 5-of-13 now I believe -- but it is still better than he has played.

Bryan Knowles: Alright, so Gurley starts the second half with a couple of strong runs. What on Earth have the Rams been doing with him this postseason?

Aaron Schatz: Looks like Patrick Chung broke his arm on the tackle of the second Gurley run.

Bryan Knowles: In a year of offensive records, we've set another one -- the Rams are the first team in Super Bowl history to punt on their first seven possessions.

Vincent Verhei: And now it's eight -- but the eighth one goes for a Super Bowl-record 65 yards. Hekker is having a monster day -- eight punts, 47.3-yard average, five inside the 20, no touchbacks, only allowed 2 yards on returns.

Dave Bernreuther: So Patrick Chung goes out and Harmon comes in ... and on third down, Goff goes after ... Stephon Gilmore, naturally.

Right now Hekker is their best weapon. Which isn't even meant as a sideswipe after that near-70 yard punt. Damn.

Bryan Knowles: I am now rooting for a 7-3 Rams victory, with the only score being a Johnny Hekker touchdown pass. Hekker for MVP.

Andrew Potter: It's incredible that the Rams have played this poorly and are only trailing 3-0. It would be a relief if they were only trailing 9-0. 3-0 is absurd.

Dave Bernreuther: Cheers to that, Bryan.

The only player in this game besides Hekker to do much of anything is Edelman, who you'd think that at some point the Rams might decide to cover or hit within 5 yards. But no, Donald makes his way into the backfield again, and an under-duress Brady still sees Edelman in the middle of the field, sitting between defenders a solid 5 yards away.

Vincent Verhei: Well there's the best Rams drive of the night: Goff stands in the pocket and makes a laser-beam throw for a big third-down conversion, but the Rams are caught so off guard by this success that they have to call timeout. Then Brandin Cooks is wide open in the end zone but Goff's throw is an hour late and Jason McCourty is able to break it up. Then Goff takes another giant sack on third down, but Greg Zuerlein bails him out by hitting the 53-yard field goal, and we're tied at 3-3.

Bryan Knowles: Oh my, what a defensive play by McCourty. Brandin Cooks was standing all alone, wide open in the end zone -- whoever replaced Patrick Chung just got lost there. McCourty runs halfway across the field to break up the play at the last moment. And then a huge sack makes things a tricky, 50-plus-yard field goal (stop taking sacks, Jared!).

We have a tie game!

Aaron Schatz: We finally had a big-time throw by Goff, too, the 18-yarder to Woods on third-and-6 on the play before the play where Cooks was wide open.

Dave Bernreuther: The throw to Cooks was late, which let McCourty get there. But that sack was not on Goff, for once.

I thought it'd be a longer attempt than it was, not that it mattered for Greg the Leg. The Rams are on the board!

I fully expect this to start to open up, but wouldn't it be something if the indoor Super Bowl between two efficient and clever offenses in the year of offense ended up being among the lowest scoring Super Bowls in history.

(For the record, I'm not rooting for that. But it would be something.)

Aaron Schatz: How Cooks got so wide open -- looks like quarters coverage and Devin McCourty jumped ahead to get Robert Woods and nobody went with Cooks until Jason McCourty noticed he was wide open.

Rivers McCown: Austin Blythe has been a turnstile.

Aaron Schatz: Neither team has run a play in the red zone through three quarters.

Vincent Verhei: Still 3-3 at the end of the third, though the Patriots are starting to string some runs together.

Some stats through 45 minutes:

Julian Edelman: nine catches, 128 yards.
L.A. Rams: nine catches, 95 yards.

New England: 53 plays
Los Angeles: 39 plays

Aaron Schatz: Sean McVay just called a run on third-and-22. Egads.

Tom Gower: Eh, third-and-22 is a "we're not converting" situation and, though Goff has been better lately, I don't blame him for giving up.

Aaron Schatz: Third-and-22 is the perfect time to call "throw it deep and hope we get a DPI flag."

Bryan Knowles: It's the Super Bowl! Maybe you get a DPI, or maybe someone falls down. You've got to at least give it a shot.

Aaron Schatz: ACTUAL TOUCHDOWN!

Patriots get Gronk against a linebacker and he physically muscles a 29-yard grab away from Littleton. Then Michel in from 2 yards away and this game is 10-3.

Dave Bernreuther: Yeah, even at this offensive pace, it's the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. You have to try.

Speaking of which, the Pats just put the pedal to the metal and scored as easily as I expected them to all game. What changed? Where the hell was the for the last two hours?

Tom Gower: Both completions to Gronk that drive featured excellent placement by Brady. I'm probably forgetting a throw or two, but I don't remember thinking that tonight.

Bryan Knowles: Naturally, Gronk comes up with huge plays on the first touchdown drive ... a 69-yard scoring drive.

It was written in the stars.

Carl Yedor: Some raucous cheers went off at the party I'm at for the game. Not because there are a bunch of Patriots fans, but at least two people had Sony Michel scoring the first touchdown on a prop bet. Quick summary of how this game has gone right there.

Vincent Verhei: Goff makes his best pass all night for what should be a game-tying touchdown, but the Patriots knock the ball out of Cooks' hands at the goal line and it's incomplete. Next play, Goff reverts to rookie form, lofts up a rainbow for an easy Stephon Gilmore interception. Still four-plus minutes to go so the Pats can't just run three times and punt, but a couple of first downs here could wrap things up.

Aaron Schatz: Goff gets a really good drive going with a third-and-9 conversion to Reynolds and then a 17-yarder to Robert Woods. Then he goes to Brandin Cooks twice. First, Cooks has the ball in the end zone but gets it knocked out by Duron Harmon. And then the Patriots pressure Goff with a Cover-0 and he throws a rainbow to Cooks. Too short, Gilmore camps under it for the pick. Pats get the ball back with 4:17 left.

Bryan Knowles: Wow, the Rams have their most impressive drive of the game, pick up yards in chunks, and move the ball down the field quickly. Then, the Patriots bring a ton of pressure, and Goff just throws it up for grabs. INT, Gilmore.

Game's not over yet, but you can see "over" from here.

Bryan Knowles: Rex Burkhead just ran the ball into scoring range, and that should be just about that. The Rams are now out of timeouts, and any score ends this one here. What a disappointing performance from Los Angeles.

Aaron Schatz: The Rams' run defense reverted to form at the worst possible time.

Rivers McCown: This is gonna be a game where a lot of people dump on Jared Goff. While he definitely missed some throws, I think we are losing just how conservatively McVay coached today. He didn't really give much of a new look to Belichick until halftime. They have barely threatened downfield at all outside of Goff's late throw to the wide-open Cooks.

Doug Pederson crushed those fourth-down decisions last year and attacked and adjusted on the Pats tendencies. McVay wilted.

Bryan Knowles: Well. Fourth-and-inches. First down wins the game. Field goal PROBABLY wins the game. Getting stuffed might not win the game.

What do you do?

Vincent Verhei: That seemed like a very obvious decision to kick for me, and I hate settling for long field goals. But 41 yards isn't THAT long.

Aaron Schatz: We'll see what the EdjSports numbers say but I'm going to guess that kicking the field goal was the right decision.

And here's the crazy thing. Unless the Rams score on this drive, this will be the biggest Patriots Super Bowl win. They've never won by seven points, let alone ten.

Tom Gower: 41-yard field goal is, what, 85 percent? Even if you miss it, Goff has to go 68 yards in 76 seconds with no timeouts. 10-point lead is basically unbeatable. I'd kick it.

Vincent Verhei: Rams missing a makeable field goal is the perfect way to end this game. Just an utter collapse on their part. Only four offenses failed to score in double digits against New England this year: Sam Darnold's Jets, Derek Anderson's Bills, a Dolphins team led by Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler, and Jared Goff's Rams. Goff officially finishes 19-of-38. He's just the third quarterback this year who didn't complete more than half his passes against New England -- the others were Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen. They picked the worst possible time to play their worst possible game.

Bryan Knowles: The Patriots win. Six titles. Congratulations, yet again, to the title-starved Boston fanbase.

I don't even know what to say at this point. Pretty much any storyline involving the Patriots has been used at this point. It has just been an incredible period of dominance for them; even when they haven't been the best team in the league, they've found ways to win time after time after time.

It's not thrilling, and this is going to go down in the bottom quartile of Super Bowls from an excitement standpoint, but it's just utter and complete dominance year after year. The monsters at the end of the book.

I presume Edelman is about to be named MVP, right?

Tom Gower: Lame game. Least interesting since, oh, maybe Ravens-Giants, though granted it was much more competitive than Seahawks-Broncos or a number of others. As Vince noted, it took the Rams way too long to adjust to Belichick's defensive look. They finally went to more 12 personnel to out-leverage the 5-up defensive look in the second half and started to move the ball a little bit because of it. But ultimately, they didn't do nearly enough, and just how much they relied on their base look and lacked changeups when teams took that away was revealed in this game. Kudos to Bill Belichick and Brian Flores for their work.

I didn't have nearly as good a feel for what and how the Patriots offense was doing against the Rams defense, but Wade Phillips and company did enough to win a game had their offense done its job. Yeah, they had problems covering Edelman. But you'll win a lot of games giving up 13 points in 11 non-kneeldown possessions.

Dave Bernreuther: I'll agree with the above comment about McVay really coming up lame. Goff was certainly terrible. Bad enough, in fact, that I'll still say that a good quarterback game would've been enough to win, all else being equal ... but damn. At least we know Goff isn't that good. He didn't really let us down. McVay, though? Even accounting for the plays that may have been great design but players just got whupped ... he just didn't have any answers.

Congrats to the Patriots, though. I kind of hate saying that, and I'm as sick as anyone of the Tom Brady narrative and the extra luck they often seem to get, but there's a reason they succeed even when they're not dominating or catching every break. They're the best organization, top to bottom, always prepared for everything, always have someone step up even if their stars have an off day, and say what you will about their fans or the media, they're really impressive and worthy of admiration, not jealousy. Do they benefit from a weak joke of a division? And lately, even the conference? Yes. Do they get lucky sometimes? Yes. But they're smarter than everyone else, cover their bases better, and can never, ever be counted out. Even after being blown out by the Lions. (Speaking of which ... damn what a difference in run defense tonight vs that game!) That's six titles in a career. In a salary-capped league full of teams with arguably more talent. That's amazing.

Anyway ... 13-3. Lowest scoring Super Bowl in history. Fitting end to the year of the offense. And just what we all saw coming, right?

Aaron Schatz: It turns out that the fourth-down decision for the Pats at the end of the game barely mattered. EdjSports had the difference in Game-Winning Chance as 0.2 percent, although they have going for it as the better option than the field goal. But it's basically a rounding error. The Pats were far enough ahead at that point, and the chance of the Rams coming back to score a touchdown so small, that the difference between a 7-point lead and a 10-point lead was negligible.

That's from the analyst in me. The Patriots fan in me needs to process things a little bit before I sum up my feelings about another championship.

Some more thoughts.

It's hard to know how much of the defensive game plan belonged to Bill Belichick and how much to Brian Flores, but Dolphins fans have to be feeling pretty good about their new head coach after this one. The Patriots' game plan was phenomenal. They essentially used a five-man front all game, with Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower blitzing the quarterback often along with three defensive linemen. They used a lot of stunts and games to get free pass-rushers. On the back end, they switched to playing a lot of quarters coverage instead of the man coverage that Goff did so well against during the regular season. So they're giving Goff a ton of pressure, and then when he tries to throw the ball, he doesn't see what he was expecting. But even still, he had a couple of throws that were awful. He should have seen Cooks open in the end zone much sooner, which wouldn't have given Jason McCourty time to break that pass up. And the throw to Cooks that ended up an interception just didn't have enough arm strength.

I'm also not going to claim responsibility for this insight, but I've seen a couple of people mention on Twitter that the way to counter the Patriots' pass rush should have been to go to more 12 personnel. That's what the Rams did near the end of the game when they were finally moving the ball. That being said, there were a couple of big connections to Josh Reynolds, and if they're in 12 personnel, there's no Reynolds on the field, so you gain protection but lose an important weapon. Anyway, I think what we had was a combination of a great defensive game plan and performance with offensive conservatism and some bad quarterback play.

On the other side, you've got to give it to Wade Phillips too -- keeping the Patriots to 13 points is impressive. The Patriots ran against a lot of stacked boxes, but they were still succeeding with those runs, so I was a bit surprised how much the Patriots went to the spread in the second quarter. They also didn't do what I recommended in the preview, which was passes out of the 21 personnel set.

I'll fully admit that I didn't think the Patriots were going to do this again. By DVOA, this was the weakest Brady/Belichick team since 2005. And yet here we are again. They pulled it off. Once they beat Kansas City, well, they really weren't that far below the other teams, especially in weighted DVOA. And as I talked about on a lot of radio interviews over the last couple of weeks, the Patriots just seem to treat September differently than other teams.

I've written something about how great it feels to be a Patriots fan after every Patriots Super Bowl win, going back to 2003 in the first year of Football Outsiders. I don't know, this one feels a little different. Back in 2003 and 2004, it was so exciting just to have the team I rooted for enjoying so much success. In 2014, they hadn't won in a decade, and you had the frustration over Deflategate, and then the insane ending. In 2016, you had yet more frustration over Deflategate and the greatest comeback ever. Those wins felt so good. Tonight, they won a surprising defensive battle that just wasn't that exciting a game. And the feeling is more just quiet satisfaction. Hey, we won another title. Maybe it's because I honestly wasn't anywhere near as scared about them losing tonight, even when it was 3-3. It didn't feel like Seattle or Philadelphia or Atlanta or the Giants, because it just felt like Goff didn't have it tonight. The Rams weren't going to win.

Robert Weintraub: Let's just say I'd feel better about Flores coming in than I do about Zac Taylor for my Bengals right about now...

Comments

233 comments, Last at 13 Feb 2019, 12:08pm

1 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I believe this is the last Pats sb win of this dynasty. I saw a sense of finality in this run in a way I didn't see a year ago.

Hard to believe. Every decade has had a dynasty. 70s Steelers, 80s 49ers, 2000s Patriots, and 2010 Patriots.

A double dynasty. Brady deserves a lot of credit, but bb deserves a lot too. The greatest coach of all time. Not a half bad QB either.

Living through this moment it's hard not to have a sense of envy / disdain for the team that has outsmarted its peers for so long.

But what the Patriots have done is special. Enjoy it pats fans. Who would have imagined after the 2009 season when the Ravens destroyed them that the Patriots would be the team of the next decade. Not I certainly.

18 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

This is kind of interesting; On one level what your saying makes intuitive sense - Gronk & Edelman are really their best receiving threats by a fair margin and are both at or very near the end, on defense the McCourty twins, Hightower, & Chung are all done or very close. That's a ton of holes, and particularly the safety & slot receiver positions are really difficult to fill in the Pats system.

From an alternate perspective - the Pats have a really excellent group of young CB's, a ton of depth on DL, and a great offensive line that isn't going anywhere. Brady's arm might not be what it was, but he maintains really excellent decision-making which is probably the most important attribute for a QB (as long as his arm doesn't do a Payton Manning). The Pats should be able to recover lots of cap space by getting out from under the Hightower deal, and despite getting a good playoffs out Devin McCourty, moving on might be a blessing in disguise. The Pats strength along the lines should allow them to win 10+ games next year - whether the dynasty continues will really come down to whether they can wring some success out of the 2018 & 2019 drafts next year (after a couple years of pretty bad draft results, partly connected to trades and penalties depleting draft capital). I'd be surprised if the Pats don't end up back in the AFCCG next year, but like all NFL teams their long term prospects are wrapped up in the draft.

20 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Plus the Pats have a ton of draft picks this year, a 2018 1st rounder who never played due to injury, 2017 and 2018 2nd rounders who didn't play/barely played because others were playing too well to get into the lineup.

32 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Farve still had the arm in his 40's, but was beat to crap at the end due to ineffective line play/scheme. Brady was not hit much this year and he wasn't exactly throwing to All-Pros, except Gronk and Edelman. If he could get some major talent at receiver that team could be scary.

35 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Agreed with the comment about Farve. Just because Payton Manning's arm seemed to fall off overnight doesn't provide meaningful evidence that that's the likely path for Brady's decline. Payton Manning had a severe injury that was an intervening act in the decline of his arm talent - most athletes in both football and baseball have maintained great arm talent as long as they have played (in baseball that's been into the mid-late 40's on several occasions with only pretty minor declines in velocity). There is no reason beyond blind hope that so many people assume it will happen to Brady. For my part I continue to assume that Brady's career will end with an injury - on the timescale of 3-4 years it would be hard to believe that it won't happen (despite Brady pretending to be able to make himself injury-proof) - until that time I think you'll seem performance similar to this year as long as Brady remains motivated. Honestly, Farve could have played till he was 50 in a system like that.

36 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

If the Patriots keep getting superior o-line play, and their dbs continue on their current trend, I think Brady has at leastt two years left. If he doesn't get hit much, and doesn't need 5 tds a game, he'll be well above average.

I dearly wish Darth and Dante would write a book about how they have approached managing the Psts oline for the past two decades. Fat chance.

40 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Scar is an old dude - a genius with the O-line - but old. He already retired once - and look what happened. Brady was battered.

- Anything is possible when you have no idea what you are talking about.

103 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"the Pats have a really excellent group of young CB's, a ton of depth on DL, and a great offensive line that isn't going anywhere."

The Patriots have 20 free agents next year, and about 18 million dollars to sign them with. If they cut Dwayne Allen, that goes up to 26 million, but then they need to sign Gronk's back-up. If Gronk retires, they get 9 million more, but then they don't have Gronk. Cutting Hightower would leave them with almost as much dead cap, 5 million, as cap space freed, 5.9 million. There are guys the Patriots can cut to free up cap space (Kyle Van Noy, Devin McCourty, Adrian Clayborn), but at that point, you are merely opening holes on the roster to fill holes elsewhere. They don't have the young guys to replace them yet, because the last 3-4 drafts have been weak.

Here is a list of notable Patriots free agents:

Their left tackle (no, the offensive line won't stay intact),
Every wide receiver on the roster except Julian Edelman,
Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown, their top 2 Left Defensive Tackles,
Their best Edge rusher, Trey Flowers,
Cornerbacks Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones (RFA). Basically all the corners on the team but Gillmore (who is in his prime), K.C. Jackson, Deon Crossen and Duke Dawson. who were all rookies. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jackson is the only one who saw the field much this year.
I'd also like to point out that the Jets and the Bill have tons of cap space and would love to sign either Trenton Brown, the left tackle, or Trey Flowers, or several of the Patriots receivers reaching free agency. The Patriots roster is going to be raided this year, so I would expect a lot of changeover. Brady will be back with Edelman and Gillmore, and probably Gronk, Devin McCourty among others.

2 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I have been a Patriots fan since 1996 or so, when I first began watching football. Tonight's game was a thoroughly satisfying win, and it felt somehow appropriate that the team should win a defensive struggle with a mixture of thoughtful game plan and wonderful execution--as a way of coming full circle.

Brady was assuredly mortal in this game, but the obstinacy and inflexibility of the opposition was on full display, just at it was back in 2001. It remains mystifying to me that after all these years of Belichick's dominance, that there are still teams that leave CBs on their sides and play the same offensive personnel each week, as if football is a religion instead of a game. The coaches and teams that play intelligently, I salute, and when New England deserves to lose, as I felt the team did last year in the Super Bowl, and back in 2007, when the Giants' defensive line was truly transcendent, I applaud.

Alas, for two decades New England has been schooling the NFL in the art of football, and far too few teams have taken the message to heart. This is a thinking sport that depends upon flexibility and adaptability in scheme and personnel, and those who won't change based on situation and opponent must assuredly lose.

9 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

McVay is a good young coach, but he got seriously outcoached by the master yesterday. Belichick does what few other coaches can do: devise a completely new game plan every single week. For example, the choice to go with nearly exclusively with zone coverage, which the Pats do not use very much. That shouldn't have been a surprise for anybody who knows Belichick. Given Goff's measurable superiority vs. man coverage, of course the Pats use zone!

My other main question is: what is wrong with Todd Gurley? I don't believe he's 100% healthy, no matter what the Rams are saying publicly. If he is healthy, then McVay was badly outcoached for using CJ Anderson so much.

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I am almost 100% certain Gurley is hurt. As to Belichik outcoaching McVay, unless McVay has said he was surprised that Belichik played so much zone, I think it is just as likely that McVay wasn't surprised, but was simply saddled with a qb who doesn't execute well.

I think it is distinctly possible that McVay's coaching performance to date has been underrated, as strange as it may sound, in that he has squeezed every last ounce of utility from a qb who simply isn't very good.

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I agree with the read on McVay; The Saints and the Pats strategy was focused on moving decision making out of McVay's hands and into Goff's hands, with disastrous results for the Rams. I don't think that's something you can stop as a coach when the book is out on your QB; equally, you can't fix stupid. I really wonder how much what the Saints & Pats did to Goff influences how teams play the Rams in the future - obviously it's better if Goff can check into a run with Gurley, but it still doesn't seem like that demanding a plan to execute.

27 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

During the resurrection of Goff's career via McVay, I kept watching, and asked myself what Goff does consistently well, besides throw well to an open first read from a clean pocket? The answer is "not much".

33 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

My feeling is that Gurley is hurt, more than they’ve let on, but that they haven’t been willing to say much because it hasn’t been on the injury report, and the Rams don’t want to get in trouble with the NFL for not reporting the injury on the injury sheet. Maybe they thought it was better after his late season injury and it turned out it wasn’t fully healed and wanted to just go with it; not sure, but he clearly hasn’t been himself and the Rams certainly seem to all be on the same page with their story of “He’s fine, we just decided to call the game that way for no real reason, ignoring a perfectly healthy highly-paid player who was quite the force for the first three quarters of the season.”

3 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I’ll say that while I enjoyed winning, the Rams (and especially McVay) coming up lame even after they were in a game they really had no right to be in causes it all to feel a bit off.

Wish the Saints had been there, even though I suspect the Pats’ chances of winning would have been reduced.

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I agree. I guess we Pats fans are really spoiled. I feel unfulfilled. We just won the Superbowl and I'm not excited about it.

- Anything is possible when you have no idea what you are talking about.

4 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Last year I was like "Ok, offense is doing great and if the Patriots' D stops the Eagles once, they'll win it" and they never did.
Tonight I was "Ok, defense is doing great and if the Patriots'O gets a drive to the endzone, the'll win it", they finally did it in the 4th.

Thoughts on the Romo's (and McVay's) reasoning on the last Patriots scoring drive?

I disagreed with him and I have taken the penalty. You lost the seconds, but you are putting the Patriots out of FG range and in a possible passing situation, so chance of higher variance and hopefully a turnover.

By declining it, you are accepting a double score to comeback (40-45Y FG in a dome are almost a given, forget the previous error from 46), so you are betting on an onside... good luck on that.

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My instinct was that taking the penalty and pushing the Pats out of FG range was the thing to do.

But of course it also gives them an extra down which takes another 45-secs off the clock. So I think the Pats would have been able to run the clock down to 30-secs in a 10-3 game.

Being backed out of FG range they punt and then Goff starts with the ball on say his 10-yd line with about 30 seconds to try and tie the game. I'd say the odds are slightly higher than getting the TD, onside kick + FG in 1min15 but neither is desirable.

I'd say the big benefit of declining the penalty is that by leaving the Pats in FG range, if they miss their FG attempt you get it at the spot of the kick which would have been about 30, game still 10-3 and you have 1min15 to tie it up. And that was probably the most likely way for the Rams to win.

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Easy decision that got screwed up: you absolutely take the penalty; you cannot leave the Pats in FG range and go down 2 scores.

Does highlight how easy it is to screw up end of game decisions when the factors of score, clock, and down-and-distance all have to be accounted for in a hurried decision.

12 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It wasn't an easy decision. Romo was in favor of declining the penalty, for one.

All paths to victory are extremely unlikely at that point. Driving 90 yards in 30 odd seconds with no timeouts might feel more likely than relying on a missed/blocked field goal, but it probably isn't, especially the way the Rams offense was playing.

71 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Romo was only considering the clock and not considering (a) how 10 yards would change the likelihood of a FG miss, and (b) how 10 yards would change the likelihood of converting a 1st down. Given that a 1st down would have ended the game (no more Rams timeouts), Romo didn't even consider how much easier it is to convert 2nd and 6 vs 1st and 20. He only cared about the 30 seconds on the clock.

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We don't necessarily know what else Romo might have been considering, but that 40 seconds (not 30) plus the time taken to run the play was huge and the overriding factor, so it made sense for Romo to focus on it. The extra play would have taken the clock down to about 30 seconds, and at that point I don't think you're even much concerned about making the field goal. I think the Rams made the right decision. A whole lot of things had to go right for them with not much time left to allow that to happen, and a stop and a missed FG might as well be two of those things, at the price of 45 seconds. As it happened, the Rams made the stop and Gostkowski did almost miss the kick, actually.

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Accepting the penalty would have been a terrible move. As has been mentioned, the realistic best-case scenario for the Rams in taking the penalty is driving the length of the field in under 30 seconds with no timeouts. Also, it still would have been first down and the ball would have only been moved eight yards from where it was, the Patriots still could have gotten in field goal range.

Hoping Gostkowski misses a 41-yarder and having a minute or so to score a TD was pretty much the best the Rams could do in that desperate situation.

6 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I didn't care who won, but was annoyed at the predictability of the outcome, because I said a week ago that Goff would be easily confused and thus the game would be boring. I hate being right sometimes. What was especially irritating was that just a little better performance by Goff would have given us something a lot more interesting in the 4th quarter.

To be fair to him, the Rams oline was pretty thoroughly whipped by the Patriots' defensive front, which didn't surprise me either, since the Rams oline has been pretty overrated all season. I'd also say the ball was more dropped in the end zone than knocked away just prior to the very ugly int. Still, just a wholly predictable miserable performance by Goff, and I really am not trying to short change the quality of the Pats performance. I just actually think the Rams performance on defense was every bit as good, once it is factored that the Rams were facing a qb who knows what the hell he is doing. The Rams performance on defense will now be completely forgotten, of course.

In the end, all credit to The Dark Lord and his minions. They just continually are better organized on a yearly basis, and thus give themselves a better chance to win than their opponents. The only reason I don't want them to win is just out of a desire for more novel outcomes, but if I'm going to be annoyed, the annoyance is directed at the Pats' opponents, for not playing better. Oh well, at least the game didn't feature a verv late high leverage play where some idiot lined up offsides.

49 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Yeah, I agree - I was saying that to my kids two weeks ago in the conference championships, which is why I was rooting for the Saints (ugh) - once it was Patriots-Rams, I was immediately "well, this game is going to suck." Think about it - you basically had the entirety of the game story told in the first two drives. Patriots move the ball pretty well but struggle with consistency, preventing them from scoring. Rams can't run the ball and Goff is just wildly inconsistent.

Worst thing about it is that it was the kind of game you know the *story* of the game but not necessarily the *outcome* because one freaky play could change the entire thing. Think about it - that first interception could've easily turned into a pick-six with a more fortunate deflection, and then the Rams could've been just as inept the whole game on offense and they *still* could've won. But no "freaky play" actually happened, so you just end up watching a game you already know the likely outcome for.

"The Rams performance on defense will now be completely forgotten, of course."

Short version of Wade's career.

52 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It wouldn’t have even needed a ‘freaky’ play. Had Goff not been woefully late in recognising a wide open receiver in the end zone on the pass Jason McCourty broke up, or had Cooks reeled in the catchable ball the play before the Gilmore pick, we would have at least been looking at overtime.

It really was a tremendous defensive effort wasted by the Rams.

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Good grief I was irritated by Romo's commentary on Goff's slow recognition of a wide open receiver in the end zone. He's yapping about Chung being off the field, thus allowing McCourty's greater speed to make a difference, instead of focusing on the primary element, that freakin' Goff processes information at the speed of pouring molasses on a cold February morning. I usually watch the last three games of the year in a much larger crowd, and thus have the volume up, and am reminded why I usually keep it muted. Yeah, I know Romo may be the best at this task, but that's a pretty low bar.

95 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"instead of focusing on the primary element, that freakin' Goff processes information at the speed of pouring molasses on a cold February morning."

I was *really* disappointed in Romo for the entire game, actually, but you're right, that play was just ridiculously bad. I was expecting Romo to do *at least* the simple thing in pointing out how long it took Goff to reset his feet to target Cooks, and he didn't talk about that. I mean, a really good announcer would've pointed out that Devin McCourty screwing up there is a flat out sign that Goff hadn't been coming off his first read enough for the Patriots defensive backs to have to even second-guess following Goff's eyes. But that's expecting way too much.

That's the part that was really surprising, that there was so much fawning over the tight coverage of the Patriots, rather than pointing out that it's partly Goff's *fault* that the coverage was that tight - he was just making it too easy on them. They never had to worry about misreading him.

78 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"Had Goff not been woefully late in recognising a wide open receiver "

So this bugs me a bit. You're right, but it's a bit more complicated than just "Goff didn't see him until late" (which I know isn't exactly what you said). The problem was that Goff didn't recognize that McCourty screwed up the coverage way before that. McCourty never turned to run with Cooks - McCourty's eyes are straight on Goff, who's probably looking over towards Woods because that's his primary read, and thinking about whether to go there. A more experienced and confident quarterback would've seen McCourty looking at him, looked towards Woods to freeze McCourty, and come off of Woods *knowing* that Cooks was open and *knowing* where Cooks would be, and *that's* the time difference between McCourty getting there and not.

You can see that in the replay in Goff's footwork. To me that still would've been a freaky play, because it would've been Goff playing with confidence and anticipation that he didn't show at all during the game. And to be fair, probably the reason why McCourty screwed up that coverage is *because* Goff had been playing that way all game.

Obviously you're right in that that play was just a half-second away from being a touchdown, but I'm not actually sure that play was more likely to turn into a touchdown than the interception. The only way that play becomes a TD is if Goff plays better than he had been playing, whereas the interception could've turned into a TD if Brady had realized he made a mistake a quarter-second earlier or later and the ball is rotating differently.

224 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Yeah, you're probably right, it might've been Gilmore who screwed up, he's at least turned in the right direction to run with Cooks. Doesn't really matter though, same basic mistake - in that case he would've had to recognize that Gilmore was playing way too far off from Cooks to make a play.

*Both* Gilmore and (D.) McCourty break on Woods when it's clear what's going on (and they're both staring at Goff), and obviously one of them shouldn't be.

Edit: Yeah, on looking at the play more, they both screwed up. Gilmore *definitely* did, but even if Gilmore follows him Cooks has inside leverage and is full-speed. McCourty bit too hard on Woods in the beginning - it was obvious that Cooks had the post open. Goff should've been reorienting to hit Cooks even before Cooks raised his hand - especially considering he should be reading McCourty to see what he's going to do on Woods anyway. Add in the fact that they ran this play previously, too, and it's even worse.

8 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"Speaking of which, the Pats just put the pedal to the metal and scored as easily as I expected them to all game. What changed? Where the hell was the for the last two hours?"

According to the Boston media, what happened is the Pats went to 21 personnel but with an empty backfield. Which is a bit of a weird combination. Who brings in a RB _and_ a FB and then empties the backfield? The personnel forced the Rams to use larger defenders, and they didn't match up well to cover all the passing routes.

Credit to Wade Phillips for consistently stifling the Patriots' offense yesterday. But the Pats kept trying different things until they finally hit a matchup that worked.

10 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It was actually 12 personnel, with two tight ends. But it did do the same thing as the passing from 21 that I was suggesting. Force the Rams into base, because Robey Coleman as NB is much better than playing both Littleton and Barron at ILB.

Edit: my mistake. It was 22 personnel, but spread out.

11 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Dave B:
Do they benefit from a weak joke of a division? And lately, even the conference? Yes.

Division? True this year, but false for the previous decade. The Patriots generally do no better against their division than against the rest of the league. Considering the scheduling system, that makes the AFCE better than average.

And lately, the conference? False. The AFC went 34-30 over the NFC this year.

It’s Audibles. You react in the moment. I get it. But try to react to the game you see, not tired false narratives.

14 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It's funny how those straw men linger even with people who obviously know better. It's human nature: when you're in a hurry, you rely on stereotypes (from necessity - you can't process every new situation from the ground up or you'd never get anything done). The mind is indeed a terrible thing.

46 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

This has probably come up a few times and I just missed it - If NE was swapped with Cleveland, how would that affect the AFCE and N? NY, Buf and Mia would definitely benefit from a few more expected wins and NE would have a definite effect on the ACFN, having to fight with the Steeeeelers and Ravens twice each would take a toll on the Pats over the season. Not the right location for it, but a hypothetical question that has intrigued me for a few years.

- Anything is possible when you have no idea what you are talking about.

75 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

If you wanted to go by geography, we'd see
Dolphins -> AFC South
Colts -> AFC North
Ravens -> AFC East

Based on recent history the AFC East would get tougher, the AFC North would stay roughly the same, and the AFC South would get weaker.

But the NFL really loves the AFC North rivalries along with the AFC East rivalries, so we won't see that change.

98 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I believe the current AFC alignment has a lot to do with maintaining the old AFL rivalries, with the Oilers/Titans being the odd-man out and Bengals lacking much AFL history. It made "sense" in that respect, not in a geographic way.

178 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Ah, Patriots fans....

This is not a false narrative, stereotype, or straw man. Just look at the front offices, coaching, and quarterbacking that have inhabited that division and the mistakes that they make time after time. It is a parade of buffoons with a ceiling of mediocre, and this is obvious to anyone with eyes and ears.

Or as pointed out in every other response in this thread, it's also obvious using most of the available statistics. There are a few that can be crafted to support the opposite position too, but that takes a bit of an effort.

This is the problem people have with Pats fans. You can't even compliment them without getting insulted. It's worse than politics. Look: the Patriots are the best team, and they'd be the best team in every division. Only a fool would say otherwise. But given one extra divisional challenge even just once per year in some years, they might actually have had to play three games to reach the Super Bowl more than once a decade. It is not a *huge* edge, for the reasons you and nat mention, but it is an edge, and to deny it is foolish. They have had a bye for NINE straight seasons. The NFC East is probably the only other division in football over that span that wouldn't have had at least one team luck into a division title over them once or twice, or at least offer the *possibility* of 3 divisional losses once in a while that might let another team sneak into that bye week.

As for calling the AFC weak, well, it was less true this year than we expected, due to Mahomes. And I take nothing whatsoever away from the quality of the three teams they beat en route to the title this year. But in recent years it has had *a lot* of bad football even among playoff teams. (And of course there's also the circus environment on the one team which it could be argued has had the greatest overall talent level.) I'm not really concerned with the overall record of the entire conference vs the other; there are a lot of meaningless Raiders-Cardinals games among those. But how many non-Patriots teams have we really seen in the AFC in the last 5-6 years that you'd really call a reliably great team? In the last few years the AFC has been so weak that we've had to suffer through wild card games between Bortles and the Bills, Connor Cook and Brock Osweiler, and Brian Hoyer and Andy Dalton.

Now... understand that I am a very demanding and critical fan (this should be obvious from anything I've written about any QB short of the top tier guys). I measure everyone against the Bradys, Mannings, and Belichicks of the league. They're the gold standard and they show us what's possible, so that's what I would want of my team as well, and it's what every team should strive for rather than hiring retreads and buffoons. Furthermore, I understand very well that the last CBA has been pretty horrible for the overall level of play, given the limited practice time, and of course these rule changes and flip flopping up top aren't helping either. So I'm aware that you could even point to the last 5 years of Patriots teams and easily find weaknesses or reasons to say that even they weren't reliably great (perhaps "they were still vulnerable" is a better phrasing). But even in the years with the biggest NE vulnerabilities - how often were you ever worried, as a fan, that a divisional or conference opponent was truly a threat to your top-2 seeding or path to the Super Bowl? Aside from a few games against Peyton Manning, which recent teams have been even remotely as well coached, prepared, and deep as yours?

None, right? OK, let's say the 2018 Chiefs, as it's a reach to make the case that they were unprepared or undercoached 2 weeks ago.

90% of the reason for that is that your team is the best, from top to bottom. But this is the problem. I can publicly say that and it's still not good enough. It's not allowed to even admit that SOME of their success should also be attributed to the good fortune of spending a decade getting six games a year against teams with a QB ceiling of Ronnie Brown running the wildcat back when it was a surprise. (And of course, it's not in any way whatsoever an insult to point out that your team was STILL so freaking good that they won 11 games with Matt Cassel that year and only missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker, while seeing an 8-8 team get in ahead of them, but any time anyone ever mentions that they get attacked, so...)

The Patriots are the greatest team of all time. The rest of the AFC East has also been reliably and consistently bad. Both can be true.

183 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Long winded. Boring. A bit defensive...

You were wrong that the AFC was the weaker conference this year. Just admit it and move on. Don't rationalize. It wasn't "less true". It was simply wrong. Man up.

You were wrong about the Patriots benefiting from a weak division before this year. You might say some stats show the division was weak. But the reality is that wins and losses show that supposed weakness resulted in no benefit to the Patriots' record. Just admit that no benefit was realized and move on. Don't rationalize. Man up.

As a side note, something to think about, how much of the AFC East team's statistical weakness is due to playing the Patriots twice each year? Could Aaron run an "alternate universe" DVOA that excluded all games involving the Patriots? It would be a big project, since it would affect both the team stats and the baseline averages. But it's what you'd have to do to confidently say that the AFC East was much weaker than its non-divisional W-L record says it has been. And then, you'd really have to ask if the problem was with DVOA, since it's intended to correlate with winning.

That's all hypothetical, of course. Most likely, a Patriots-free DVOA would show the AFC East teams with DVOAs in line with their non-divisional W-L records, give or take a few games over a decade. But who knows? Maybe you've uncovered a hidden flaw in FO's core stat.

188 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Don't just say I'm wrong. Show me - using any stat that you choose, or even an anecdote - why I'm wrong.

Go on. Man up!

Now... With regards to your third paragraph - there is some merit to that, just as there's merit to the idea that schedule strength is necessarily a tad lower when it excludes yourself... but even if you give each AFC East team a 2-0 record against the Pats every year since there were 4 divisions.... you have EXACTLY ZERO teams that would've won the division (2008 excepted) or even qualified for a bye in the AFC. The 2009 Jets would've tied the Pats, lost on the tiebreaker, and still have played WC weekend even if they won. Same for the 2005 Dolphins. And those 3 teams never once played the 1st place schedule and thus 2 other division winners.

I'll give you a minute to go back and look, but I assure you that it's correct. Even if we reverse the near-certain 1.5-2 losses per year against the Patriots, and even without facing two other division winners, the last year that the AFC East would've produced a team good enough to even contend for a first-round bye in the AFC was 2001. Nearly two decades ago.

But OK, sure, let's continue to make the case that the AFC is just as good and hasn't given them just a tiny leg up on getting a bye, which gives them a tiny leg up on reaching the Super Bowl, which gives them a tiny leg up on winning the Super Bowl.

You call me defensive yet it's you that insulted me based on one throwaway line you cherry picked from an entire paragraph in which I complimented your team. This is EXACTLY why people can't fucking stand the Pats. It's not even because they're good. That well-run organization/dynasty is built on everything everyone should want from their team (Hell, even Ian O'Connor is writing pieces genuflecting to them now) and I even said as much, and you insufferable idiots still can't help yourselves from creating some stupid inferiority complex and taking offense to anything we say that doesn't fit your own internal narrative.

189 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

This is infuriating. I'm not even trying to take a contrarian position here or give the Pats shit. They're awesome. But I've now been sucked into an argument and am angry, and it doesn't even have anything whatsoever to do with the actual game of football. Now for all I know I'm a target for an army of people to go out and try to get me fired for dumb shit I said when I was a kid.

Agree to disagree. I wish you the best, and enjoy your parade.

198 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I am a Pats fan, and I agree with you Dave. In my view, other than maybe the couple of Rex Ryan years with the Jets, I've never felt like the Pats have had a serious challenger for the division crown. Yeah, every once in a while one of the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins have things break their way, they go 9-7 or 10-6, squeak into the playoffs and immediately lose, but they were never going to win the division barring something catastrophic happening.

It does seem that for most other divisions, there have been other challengers that have stepped up and had really good years, forcing a really good team to play in the wildcard round. For example, in 2015 when the Bengals rose up and went 12-4, forcing the Steelers into the WC. That same year, the Cardinals rose up to 13-3 and pushed the Seahawks into the WC. There hasn't been an AFC East team that's done that, except maybe the 2010 Jets, who went 11-5 if memory serves correctly. But even that year the Pats went 14-2, so the Jets weren't really a threat to win the division.

We do have to acknowledge that part of the reason the Pats haven't been challenged in the division is because they've been so consistently good. Most good franchises have the occasional down year, but for the Pats a down year is 11-5 or 12-4 and the 2 seed. But it is also true that no team in the division has stepped up and won 11 games in a year in which the Pats were a bit down.

I think it's also true that while the Pats haven't had any serious challengers for the division title, the division as a whole has just been mediocre rather than bad. Sure, there's been a few 3-13 and 4-12 clunkers in there, but more often than not the other teams are hovering somewhere between 6-10 and 10-6, so not pushovers, but not true challengers either.

201 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

From 2002 to 2018:

Indy has faced in the division (by DVOA): 2 teams in the TOP4; 6 in the TOP8; 12 in the TOP12, 17 in the TOP16
Green Bay has faced: 1 team in the TOP4 (Vikings 2017); 5 in the TOP8, 10 in the TOP12, 21 in the TOP16
New England has faced: 3 teams in the TOP4; 5 in the TOP8; 11 in the TOP12; 19 in the TOP16.

I don't see any significative difference.

If Indy avoided Peyton and Luck injuries, and had a better FO and coaching staff they would have a similar dominance, with the Texans and Jaguars having 9/10 wins seasons too. The almighty Jaguars were 8th in DVOA last year. 2015 Jets were 9th. 2014 Bills were 9th too. Houston was 5th when Indy had no QB in 2011, but after that year, never better than 11th.

If GB avoided Rodgers injuries and seasons collapses like this year, they would have a similar dominance. Lions reached PO but they were a lot AFC East-likish. Vikings and Bears were one-season wonders that took profit from Rodgers and Packers being so-so. If GB did a better job, maybe MIN and CHI never be relevant in these 2 last years.

Pats never dropped below 12th in DVOA in this timeframe. That's insane.

203 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

As an anti patriots fan - I am not a big believer in the story of divisional weakness. Yes, the three below them have never found a credible qb, but they've never been so abjectly terrible for so long a period of time like say the Browns, or Jaguars. They've been obvious second class citizens, but not in any extreme kind of way. The division in that sense reminds me a lot of the NFC North - a bunch of mediocre teams forced to deal with one franchise with an awesome qb at the helm. Yes, Chicago and Minnesota have had their moments and at their peak have been better than the motley AFC East crew, but they've also been at their worst so bad that its laughable.

The AFC South during the Peyton Manning era was also pretty lousy, with an occasional challenger here and there.

I think the Colts with Manning make a perfect counterpoint to the Patriots in every way. Both have had great qbs and lots of success, but how they'e gone about it show just how much better NE is. The colts had all of their talent concentrated at premium places - receivers, pass rushers, left tackle(for a while). Everything else was sacrificed to the bone. The patriots, meanwhile, essentially spread their spending all over the roster - making them far less resistant to upsets and top heaviness. And when the Indy star power got old, Indy simply could not replace them(Idk why they let Jerry Hughes go).

Its NE's ability to replenish, coach, and play consistent football that should be the hallmark of this dynasty. It saddens me tremendously that the story here is - Brady has 6 rings, is he better than Michael Jordan. Yes, thats the most obvious storyline to grab views, but its the intellectually lazy take and one I gripe about the most and why I will have a hard time stomaching NE's run.

215 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

The AFC South during the Peyton era was actually surprisingly stout, including placing three teams in the playoffs and having years where nobody was below .500 (not that being .500 is some point of pride... in fact, the year where the other three teams all did reach that barrier was probably among the easier years the Colts had in-division.). But see, it's perfectly acceptable to call that division a joke, even though it produced other champions and a few bye-holders, one of which forced a really damn good 12-4 team on the road a week early to face an 8-8 and their robo-punter... but it's apparently intellectually lazy to say anything mildly derogatory about the AFC East.

(Even though going back to 2001, the only teams never to get a playoff bye are Cleveland, Jacksonville, Washington, Detroit, ... and all three other AFC East teams. And that would STILL be true if you could wave a magic wand and eliminate the Patriots, handing each of them those 2 victories per season. Heck, I'm anti-AFC East strength and that exercise still floored me.)

So that's kind of my point. Maybe they've avoided the true bottom-dwelling 2-14 territory... but when did any of us ever think of a single one of those teams as a real threat to win a title? The 09-10 Jets are the closest anyone ever got, and even then they still had Sanchez. (Which is a real damn shame. Rex had his faults but holy hell were those two defenses capable of amazing things. Which we did see in the '10 playoffs for about 6 quarters.)

I don't even have a hard time stomaching the run, just the fact that even when it seems like there ought to be a hole in their armor, no other team is well-coached or well-prepared enough to step up and exploit it. Due to all the close games, a lot of people love to point at their now 6-3 record in Super Bowls and say "they could just as easily have lost 3-4 more of those" or "Vinatieri is the real MVP!" but the way I see it, it took a serious outlier of a performance for each of the three teams that beat them to do so. Play the 07, 11, and 17 games 10 times, and I still think the Pats win 7-8 of each of those. (!)

I could go on for days about the point you make about premium talent/positions. Until recently, I agreed with that philosophy, especially as it came to Grigson's approach of surrounding young Luck with weapons (rolling ball of butcher knives excepted)... that's a different discussion, though, and I still think that for all of his strengths, Tony Dungy was still rather stubbornly old-fashioned about a lot of things and that hamstrung Manning and the team. (You can also see evidence of this in certain other positions he has publicly taken, but I digress.) But that's a good way to think about just how much coaching matters, even from one hall of famer to the next. Nevermind the "if Manning got to play with Belichick" angle some like to take (heck, it's possible that for as great as both are, the fit would've been poor and lacked synergy); what I want to know is what it'd look like just if instead of getting to play WITH Belichick, Brady had to play AGAINST him. This whole argument over the relative value of one win here and there vs division opponents is of similar weight to what might be the case if Brady had had to go up against the hoodie once a year. (That's a fun hypothetical to imagine.)

233 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It's also not that unusual for dynasty teams to come from weak divisions. The NFC West was a crap division when the 49ers were on their run in the 80s. The NFC East was crap when those Dallas teams were so good in the 70s.

205 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Jeez. Chill, man. You want specific stats. They've been beaten to death in the past. But here you go.

You were wrong about the AFC being weaker this year.
Supporting Stat: AFC vs NFC inter-conference play this year: 35-30.

You were wrong about the Patriots benefiting from playing a weak division before this season. They have gained zero benefit (in terms of winning percentage) in the full decade prior to this season.

Supporting Stat: Patriots divisional record 2008-2017: .767
Supporting Stat: Patriots non-divisional record 2008-2017: .770

That's right. Despite being forced to play the other division winners in the AFC almost every damned year, the Patriots found the competition a tiny bit tougher in the AFC East.

Now you could argue that wins and losses have nothing to do with DVOA. That would be very bad for FO, since the whole point of DVOA is to indicate skill in winning. You could argue that the AFC East's ability to play the Patriots as tough as the rest of the league is a fluke. If you were right, it would still mean the Patriots got no actual benefit from playing them. You could argue that the Patriots won a lot of blowouts and lost close games against the AFC East. (I have no idea) If you were right, all that means is they got no benefit from the easy schedule.

This is not hard stuff, unless you're pushing a pre-set agenda. Nobody is saying that the AFC East has good QBs, or that they compete for the division championship effectively. But, however they did it, they were as tough as the rest of the league (tougher, actually) against the Patriots in terms of their impact on the Patriots' records, and thus their ability to earn byes.

This year is a different story. But so what? The Patriots beat the best the AFC had to offer, and won the Super Bowl. They beat every playoff-bound team they faced. The AFC East had nothing to do with that.

Is that clear and specific enough?

218 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Supporting Stat: AFC vs NFC inter-conference play this year: 35-30.

I've already explained why this is a really stupid way to compare the two, AND I've allowed that regardless, that didn't turn out to be the case in 2018. The only conference vs conference stat that matters is that the Pats were 1-0 against the Rams.

That initial comment was more in reference to the fact that recent AFC playoff fields have featured several less-than-replacement-level QBs, only one of which was due to late injury (Cook; and yes, I know that the Vikings once started Joe Webb and I remember the Ryan Lindley game, before you mention them). The 2018 Pats shut out the two best offenses in football in successive first halves, and beat another all-time underrated QB badly in their other playoff game. That doesn't change the fact that the only decent QB that the 2017 Patriots had to face was Roethlisberger. And if you don't see that as slightly enhancing their shot at a title, well...

Likewise, showing me that an all-time great team wins at a really high rate regardless of who they play does nothing whatsoever to refute the contention that their division mates have never played at a championship level (or even close to it).

Don't call me out on using stats to fit a pre-set agenda when you're doing the exact same thing, swapping between records and DVOA when it suits you.

Nobody is saying that the AFC East has good QBs, or that they compete for the division championship effectively.

And yet, when I say that they don't, you get all offended and go after me.

Since 2001. Or 2008, or whatever the hell year you want to use, not one other team in the AFC East has been a true threat to win a title. If you want to pretend that having 6 games a year against that isn't a tiny advantage (and for the fifth time, let me shout at the top of my lungs that THIS IS MERELY ONE TINY ADVANTAGE AMONG MANY), I don't know what else to say to you.

But whatever. Keep talking down to people and chanting "Yankees Suck" at hockey games if it makes you feel better. Apparently the 12 titles your local teams have won in recent memory aren't enough for some reason.

219 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Ah, crap, I know you'll jump on this one regardless of what I say, but yes, I got 2016 and 2017 mixed up, and thus forgot they beat Newton and Brees early last year. And it was in fact 2016 (Russell Wilson excepted) where they got to play JAG-level QBs in all but two games en route to the Super Bowl.

Regardless, I already conceded on 2018 AFC vs NFC. If you want to argue about the previous several years, go ahead.

220 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"Since 2001. Or 2008, or whatever the hell year you want to use, not one other team in the AFC East has been a true threat to win a title."

(I am going from 2002)

But was it any of the AFC South teams other than the Colts?

The Texans were never a real threat.
The Jaguars had a good defense last year, but only 8th in DVOA and Bortles at the helm. Still, not better then the 2010 Jets.
The Titans were good in 2002 but got obliterated by the Raiders.

I count 2 realistic chances.

But was it any of the NFC North teams other than the Packers?

Yes, the Bears made the SB with GROSSMAN and were badly beaten.
Vikings had a couple of good teams. Same as the Jets.
Lions LOL.

I count 3 realistic chances.

AFC east had 1 (2010 Jets), but there was a weird 2002 season where three teams killed each others for a good seed (#3-#4-#6 IN DVOA, all finishing 9-7).

---

These 3 divisions are the ones were one team could have established a 17 year dominance, but Packers and Colts fall short for several QB injuries and so-so coaching tenures.

222 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I agree about the Texans, but I have a much lower opinion of Bill O'Brien and especially Gary Kubiak than most...

and that team STILL got themselves a bye and a few division titles. Although it still took the nerve injury to Peyton to do it. (Since they were so horribly coached in 2008-10 that they couldn't close them out despite having more talent....)

The Titans were also 13-3 in 2008 with Kerry Collins.

The Bears and Vikings have each had multiple division titles with playoff byes in that time frame.

(I will join you in LOLing the Lions and Jags. Although the Jack Del Rio Jags may be the poster children for the idea that divisional familiarity makes those rivalry games tougher, regardless of total wins... even those total crap Jags teams were a tough out for Manning's Colts in some of those years.)

Again, nobody is claiming that those divisions were juggernauts. Or even that there aren't up and down years for all divisions on the whole. Literally the only point at all was that for a very long time, the entirety of the AFC East has not been a real threat, and that that presents at least a slight edge in terms of playoff seeding.

And even when firmly believing that, I still remain astonished by the fact that you can go back to 2001 before you find an AFC East team that would've gotten a bye, even if you turn every Patriots game to a W for the Jets/Bills/Dolphins.

223 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"and that team STILL got themselves a bye and a few division titles."

Texans have started 5 times from the Wild Card. Their DVOA was 5th; 11th, 18th, 29th (!!!) and 11th when winning the division.
Titans 2008 is a good example, 5th in DVOA; along with Titans 2002 (2nd) and Jax in 2007 (3rd).

But you can find similar examples for the AFCEast; I posted about 2002 but 2004 was even better: 2nd, 3rd (Buffalo), 4th (NYJ) all in the East!
Later you have the Jets' stretch from 2009-2011 (9th, 6th, 10th... one very good team and two quite good).

" the Jack Del Rio Jags may be the poster children for the idea that divisional familiarity makes those rivalry games tougher"

But you can make the same argument in the East, with Miami almost always winning at home, and the Jets/Bills playing their Super Bowl during the Ryan's gigs.

."for a very long time, the entirety of the AFC East has not been a real threat, and that that presents at least a slight edge in terms of playoff seeding."

I am ok with this if we talk about 2011-2018, even better for 2016-2018. Not so much before.

But I am also stating that Indy and GB have had an identical luck in divisional foes, and if they were better coached/more consistent/protect better Luck and Rodgers, they would have an identical stretch.

Pats never dropped below 12th in DVOA in 2005, and the other years they were 9th or better.
Indy went 16th and 20th during Peyton's era, and a couple of below 20th with Luck and Pagano.
GB have been 21th and 19th with Favre, 20th and 19th with Rodgers,

The average Divisional DVOA opponent of Pats has -3,31% and a rank of 18,69.
The average Divisional DVOA opponent of Colts has -6,69% and a rank of 19,84.
The average Divisional DVOA opponent of Packers has -6,85% and a rank of 19,80.

I already posted the splits for Top4, Top8, et cetera... so that's my case.

232 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

No, Nat, we've had this conversation before, using out-of-division records as evidence of team strength. It's been decades since the AFC East provided a team (besides the Patriots) that consistently had good out-of-division records. AFC East teams (besides the Patriots) with out-of-division winning records can almost be counted on one hand.

184 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Some of the Pats' fans being insufferable comes from people who claim that the ONLY reason for the team's sustained dominance is the wretchedness of the rest of AFC East, or the tuck rule, or whatever. That happens far less at FO than elsewhere, so your essay is probably justified.

190 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

In that sense, his defensiveness is as well. Same as how I'd get triggered by "Peyton Manning is a choker" CHFF type folks a decade ago when he'd routinely leave a game with the lead and still lose through no fault of his own.

But I'm quite certain that I never made that implication. Nor has anyone - ever - with half a brain.

212 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

This post, and, even moreso, the two later ones, are more than a bit of an over-reaction, don't you think?

I am sorry to put it so bluntly, but it is intellectually lazy to generalize about "Pats fans." They are a diverse lot. Some are decent, hard-working people. Some are drunken buffoons. Some are likely hardened criminals. Some are the salt of the earth. Generalizations such as this one - "This is the problem people have with Pats fans. You can't even compliment them without getting insulted. It's worse than politics." - are simplistic at best and really just simply wrong. It rather depends on the Pats fan, doesn't it? Some Pats fans argue through resort to "Just ringgzzz baby," and some are rather sophisticated in their reasoning. We should all aim higher here, especially as for you as a staff writer, I would think. I get that you likely feel a sense of loss and a sense of anger about Scott Kacsmar. I don't condone the actions of "Pats fans" who trolled him, but I and others like me, and, I suspect that nat is one of this latter group, had nothing to do with that sad series of events.

Part of the challenge in discussing this issue if that it is very broad and so very contingent. The Patriots have not faced a series of tomato cans year after year in the AFC East as many writers lazily claim. They have faced some very good teams over the last eighteen years in the AFC East and in the AFC as a whole. Nat is right. This year, the AFC won more games and had an aggregate DVOA better than the NFC. It's close though, and very close to a toss up.

This year, however, Dave is also quite right - the AFC East really were 6 tomato can games for the Patriots (even though they managed, again, to lose to Miami). All three teams were struggling to achieve mediocrity. That pattern has been fairly consistent over the last decade. Going back to 2010, the AFC East has had relatively few good teams to challenge the Patriots - 2010, 2011, 2015 Jets, and 2014 Bills are the only teams I could find with a significantly above average team DVOA. None of those teams were truly excellent. That said, however, those teams were actually pretty good - it's just that the Patriots were better in each of those years. The Patriots have not had sustained dominance over the entire league for years, at least not according to DVOA. Instead, they position themselves to make a playoff run every year as one of the top 5 or top 7, and only occasionally as the best team.

But Dave is entirely wrong when he suggests that the AFC has been particularly weak. Look at the challenges to the Patriots from the AFC over the past few years: Pittsburgh, 2010, 2011; Denver, 2012-4; sort of Cincinnati, 2015; nobody really in 2016 (Pats #1 in DVOA with only 24.9%); Pittsburgh, 2017; and KC and LAC in 2018. Looking at the NFC doesn't provide any significantly tougher slate of opponents on a consistent basis for a lengthy time period, outside of, perhaps, Seattle.

So, both nat's and Dave's arguments have elements of truth and both are incomplete. I don't get the level of vitriol with which a staff writer at FO escalated the temperature of the discussion.

****

But I think it goes deeper for the poor, long-suffering teams of the AFC East. I am reminded of a discussion long ago in Bill James's Baseball Almanac about the problem of a good team in a division with a perpetual powerhouse (this pre-dated the wild card system). Bill James made the argument better than I will here, but here goes. A team in a division with a team like the Patriots can't merely aim to be good. Good gets it to a certain level - in baseball, 90 wins and another runner-up position. It finds itself forced to make decisions that other teams might not have to make. For other teams, 90 wins might get a pennant, or with a little luck might turn into 95 next year that could win a pennant. If you need 103 wins, though, then management knows that the team is not good enough and that it has to make risky moves simply in order to be able to compete with sustained excellence. In the case of, say, the Bills, you have an arguably competent quarterback in Tyrod Taylor (and I know that that argument is certainly an intense one). You know with absolute certainty, year after year, that simply competent is not good enough. Therefore, simply aiming for competence cannot be enough. You have to take greater risks than other teams do. You dump Tyrod Taylor because he is not and never will be good enough - even though you do not have an adequate replacement for him. Instead, teams have to do weird things: swing for the fences, trading up to get that hot pass rusher or that quarterback prospect who shows potential. It must be crazy making for management in the AFC East. Yes, drafting Josh Allen might very well have been a bad move, but moving on from Tyrod Taylor was almost certainly the right one, even if it made Buffalo worse. At least it shows that they were trying something. The problem for everyone in the AFC East is that that proposition potentially turns into a syllogism.

We must do *something* to break the Patriots stranglehold on the division.
This is something.
Therefore, we must do this.

By the same logic:
Cats have four legs.
Dogs have four legs.
Therefore, dogs must be cats.

In part, the AFC East is weak in past because those teams have faced an unprecedented run of eighteen years success in a league whose rules are supposed to prevent that run of success. They make risky moves again and again because making unrisky moves won't get them far enough to compete. Just a thought ....

In any event, making comments about how bad "Pats fans" are is akin to labelling people as liberals or deplorables in American politics. It is just silly and cheapens and prevents reasoned debate. So, why don't we abandon those tropes and actually focus on the arguments, backed by evidence, and accept that a game as highly variable as football is complex, and hard to figure out, and cut the other guy some slack.

214 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Seconded. Reasoned debate is almost always preferable though part of sports fan-hood is that irrational rooting behavior that we all have exhibited at one point or another. But I digress, let's chill and have a fun off-season thinking of ways how to dethrone and break the stranglehold of the Patriots over the NFL.

216 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Great post.

A very minor nitpick: I never said this year’s AFC East wasn’t weak. I think I led with that as a given. They are each 3-7 or 4-6 outside the division. So none of them were horrible at winning games. But none of them were good at it either.

And a follow on: The AFC beats the NFC at W-L and DVOA (I’ll take your word on that). For net points they also have the advantage... by one point.

To me, it looks like the two conferences are pretty much even strength, with the AFC doing slightly better either by luck or better game management.

221 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

FWIW I salute this post as well.

I think we all know, even if we get triggered, that for the most part it is always a vocal minority that gives any subset a bad name. Hell, with the exception of this past Sunday, I watch my games at a table of Pats fans that I'm proud to call friends. (They're also quite reasonable and self-deprecating though. One even criticizes Brady from time to time.) Of course I know that plenty of Pats fans are great people. But heck, even saying what I did doesn't betray that admission; it's that people are going to latch on to the over-sensitive types that will pick fights, even in victory, even with people who were PRAISING them, are going to be more noticeable and draw scorn than others.

(Scorn on top of the scorn you just naturally draw from jealous fools, of course. No matter what the Pats did or their fans said, half of America would still hate them just for winning, of course.)

I get the Bill James quote, but I can't really point to any personnel or hiring decisions made in the past 2 decades by the other three teams that even point to being high variance David strategy type plays. With the exception of pair Rex Ryan with a ton of talent on D in New York for a few years, they were almost all really dumb low-ceiling moves.

Well, I guess the Favre gambit fits that mold...

Anyway, the broader point was never to disparage the Pats. I was praising them. You can still get a tiny bit of luck along the way too. (Just about every champion has!) All it might've taken was one year with a really top-quality team in their division to knock them down one more win and out of that bye, which would've greatly increased the variance within the small sample size of a playoff run. They're a great team, so maybe all it would've meant would be one more playoff win on their resume; but we can't know that, because it never happened. And that extra playoff game per decade certainly wouldn't INCREASE their chances of success.

23 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

By DVOA, New England has had an easier than average schedule for seven of the last eight seasons. The last four years have been particularly friendly, with the fifth, first, tenth and eighth easiest schedules. For a team that faces a first-placed slate of opponents every year, that's very agreeable.

Prior to 2011, that wasn't the case at all. But for me, that's the frustrating part of watching these not obviously extraordinary Patriots teams gaining at least a bye week year after year. My impression is that the Pats had proper rivals in the AFC in the 2000s, ie the Colts and Steelers, plus the Ravens and even the Jets gave them a scare a couple of times. But for this decade, especially the second half of it, there's been no equivalent. Perhaps the Chiefs will step up. But the Texans, Steelers, Chargers etc just don't ever seem like they'll face up, and certainly not in Foxborough.

80 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It's basically impossible to avoid having an "easier than average" schedule when you're consistently in the top 6 teams. The disadvantage of playing two other division winners is counter-balanced by not having yourself on the schedule.

The Pats were certainly vulnerable to not getting a bye. But the Steelers collapsed and neither Indy nor Houston had the tiebreaker. The Pats had a very weird season in that they only lost games to non-playoff teams (though, really, the Steelers have only themselves to blame for that point. How do you have a 5-game stretch where the only team you beat is the Patriots?)

The bigger issue is that the other AFC franchises have not been able to put up high quality teams consistently over several year stretches. In the past few years we've been able to count on the Chiefs for the regular season, but before Mahomes they were a terrible playoff team. (I think they are correctly favored for 2019 to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.) The Steelers are falling apart as a locker room - blame Tomlin or the front office or the players? It's a mess there. The Colts appear to be a team on the rise and could well content seriously next year. The Texans are always good but never great. The Chargers are often very good but I just don't see Philip Rivers as the kind of QB who can win multiple playoff games at once. The Titans and Jaguars need better QB play.

During the Belichick era, we have seen serious competition, esp. from 2008-2013. The Ravens, the Steelers, and the "whatever team Peyton Manning is on" were always serious threats. Right now the only real serious competition in the AFC is the Chiefs, who might well have won the Super Bowl had their OT coin toss come up 'tails'. I'm assuming their defense will improve.

153 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It's basically impossible to avoid having an "easier than average" schedule when you're consistently in the top 6 teams. The disadvantage of playing two other division winners is counter-balanced by not having yourself on the schedule.

That's not been the case for, say, the AFC West champion during these last few years, and it wasn't the case for New England during the first decade of the century.

180 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Odd to follow my previous comment by agreeing with RickD, but yeah.

The bigger issue is that the other AFC franchises have not been able to put up high quality teams consistently over several year stretches.

This was really the main point. The Pats were more vulnerable than ever this year to lose that bye, but the other teams still found a way to suck and hand it to them. (I'm looking at you, Mike Tomlin.)

As we saw in the Pagano playoff years, the Colts will never be a real threat until they get a real coach and a real pass rush. The former appears to have been accomplished, which is exciting. We have very few reasons to doubt the Chiefs for next year. (I agree about Rivers - though hugely underrated, he has slipped enough that it'd be tough to bet on him to win three playoff games, no matter how talented the roster at this point.) I still believe in Mariota, although his luck has been very poor to this point. And who knows what they might be able to turn the 2019 Jaguars defense into.

But... here we sit, discussing other contenders... and none of them is an AFC east team. The Bills will have a good D, but still have Josh Allen. The Dolphins seem to already be setting themselves up to tank rather than shoot for a ceiling of mediocre. And the Jets, who may at least have finally found a decent QB (emphasis on the word may), just hired a Dolphins retread whose only real success came when he worked with Peyton Manning. (I actually like Gase, but I see almost no hope for him, especially in New York, and really just don't understand that hire at all.) And in two months we'll probably all be laughing at them for overpaying for Leveon Bell too, because let's be honest, they're still the Jets.

And that was kind of the point. Thank you, Rick, for at least acknowledging that in some years the deck hasn't exactly been stacked AGAINST the Pats.

(Not that it even matters if it is!!! I mean, look at what happened when they suspended Brady.)

41 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Regarding the division, it is particularly true in these last years, but there are luckier teams.

This is the rank NE's divisional schedule (by DVOA and by DVOA RANK) (bigger number = easier schedule)

2002: 7; 6
2003: 11; 10
2004: 6; 6
2005: 26; 27
2006: 19; 18
2007: 28; 30
2008: 19; 19
2009: 14; 17
2010: 17; 20
2011: 17; 19
2012: 27; 29
2013: 24; 27
2014: 19; 19
2015: 21; 18
2016: 29; 27
2017: 31; 31
2018: 31; 32

Who was #32 this year? The Rams.
Who was the "luckiest" since the 8-division format? On average, the Seahawks. However, the Colts never had a Divisional DVOA schedule worse than 7th (or 9th, by DVOA rank average).
Also, Green Bay had ONE top 4 DVOA opponent in the division in the last 17 years.

(Last week I also submitted a tentative article on this to FO, so one day you'll might see all the numbers)

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Great numbers. The really striking thing is the difference between the decades. Once the pats got rolling in decade #2 I think they really started messing with other teams' decision making. Why else would Buffalo draft Sammy over their own Khalil Mack? It's stuff like that

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There are a few different ways to look at the division strength.

You're correct, that based on the Patriots' record within their division vs. outside of it, the division hasn't really helped them to get to 11+ win seasons.

That said, what the division has lacked is any other teams that are capable of winning 11+ games.

So it's fair to say that a weak division is not really helping the Patriots make the playoffs. They have been good enough to get there very year on their own, without a doubt.

However, lacking that other competitive team - which every other division has had, at least for a few years at a time(*) this decade - definitely helps the Patriots get a bye. They don't have any 11- or 12-win seasons where they've had to go on the road in the playoffs because another team forced them to second place. So I think there is a legitimate argument that the Patriots are set up for easier paths to the Super Bowl by the fact that their division produces no other top-end teams(**). Once the playoffs arrive, the Patriots still have to win those games, and they do with stunning regularity, but not having to go on the road in the divisional round is a huge advantage that they consistently take advantage of.

(*) Just off memory, you have had in each other division:

AFC North: Ravens / Steelers / Bengals all winning divisions and making wildcards with strong teams
AFC West: Chiefs and Broncos have both been good at the same time for several years; Raiders and Chargers both had 12-win seasons produce wild cards in the last three years
AFC South: less recently, though the Manning-era Colts had the Titans steal the division at least once

NFC East: generally has been more competitive top to bottom, though there aren't any strong examples of multiple 11+ win teams
NFC North: Packers were forced into a wild card a few times during the peak Rodgers years
NFC West: Seahawks/49ers for a three year stretch; Cardinals forced the Seahawks to a wild card game when both were top five teams
NFC South: just last year, Panthers and Falcons had to play as a wild card; Saints in the Beast Mode game

(**) An easy argument to make here is "the Patriots are one of the main reasons other teams in their division fail to win 11+ games", but as you've often cited, the Patriots' intradivisional record isn't actually that great, so it's not the Patriots beating up the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets that keeps them from making the playoffs.

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Add to your point, that which was made in the Audibles: the Pats seem to treat early-season games differently than other teams do. The lack of credible in-division threat(s) affords them that luxury, to an extent.

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The Pats also often have to face teams that view their regular season matchup with the Pats as akin to a Super Bowl. Certainly the Jags and Titans both felt that way this year. The Steelers had extra motivation from the Jesse James non-catch game. This extra motivation is less present in divisional games, usually, but Rex Ryan used to save plays specifically for the Pats. It's hard for the Pats to bring that level of intensity for 16 regular season games. This year was notable for just how many games they seemed poorly motivated. Only after the debacle in Miami did they really seem to get their focus back for good. (Yes, they lost in Pittsburgh, but their effort level was competitive.)

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Someone on the postgame said that last night....and I don't know what that means. Treat the games differently than other teams?

I'm certain Belichick does the best he can to win every game on the season. He says many times that there's only 16 of them, and they all count the same in the standings. He's also fond of saying that the easiest way to make the playoffs is to win your division, so he certainly doesn't take games against Buffalo, Miami, or NY as dress rehearsals.

Maybe the idea behind that line is that Belichick doesn't know how his team is going to perform until October, and then make adjustments -- whether personnel or scheme, and be a better team in December and January?

I certainly wouldn't disagree with that, but hell -- it would seem to be a strong indictment against any coach that didn't act that way.

I guess having the GM and HC contained within the same person does help in those matters, though.

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"I certainly wouldn't disagree with that, but hell -- it would seem to be a strong indictment against any coach that didn't act that way."

Not necessarily. There is a bit of competing priorities there. For instance, in the offseason the Patriots were gambling a bit going light at receiver with Edelman out (as was made obvious by the trade for Gordon), and it's probably not a stretch to say that it cost them a game, maybe two. But it's different when you're the Patriots and you probably can afford to give up a game or two early on to avoid having to overspend to fix a temporary problem.

In the end those two games didn't actually cost them a ton, but they came *very* close to costing them a bye, which is a *much* bigger deal. That *is* another way that you can talk about "treating September differently" - don't necessarily try to build the strongest roster you can at the start of the season, but just trust that you can plug things along the way once it's clear they're a problem.

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Right. Like you say, it came close to costing them a bye. It did in fact cost them HFA in the AFCC, which is a huge opportunity lost, regardless of actual outcome.

But is this really unique to the Patriots? There are probably coaches that stick with their roster and/or their scheme even when it's obvious they can't win that way. But those are generally the guys we laugh at.

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"But is this really unique to the Patriots? There are probably coaches that stick with their roster and/or their scheme even when it's obvious they can't win that way. But those are generally the guys we laugh at."

No, that's not exactly what I'm saying: I'm saying the Patriots start off with a roster that they *know* they probably can't win with (saving money either in the future or the present) and rely on the fact that they'll adjust in season with free agents/trades/whatever once they know what the limitations definitely are.

That's a bit different than what the Eagles did, for instance - once they lost Patrick Robinson in free agency, they traded for Daryl Worley, who never made it out of April with the team. Now, granted, they didn't exactly lose much there - they traded Torrey Smith for him, and they were going to cut him anyway - but *maybe* you could argue that they could've gotten, say, like a 7th round pick or something (or possibly another position, who knows). So maybe they would've been better off just saying "yeah, we're thin at corner for a while, we'll manage it and figure it out."

Now, that's obviously a pretty minor cost, but in a salary-cap league, little costs like that can add up over time.

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I am sure that they are trying to win the games. It's not that they don't care about those games.

But, when I look at the last five years, they have 18 regular season losses. 39% of those losses came in the first 4 games of the season. Yes, it is a pretty-damned-good 65% win percentage, but the rest of the years' rate has been 82%.

Could be just random chance, but their playoffs successes suggest to me that they really do seem to be better later in the year than at the start. I don't know why that is, but that they somehow approach those games differently than later feels plausible. Tinkering more? Less willing to play through injuries? Giving more plays to backups than other teams do early? Dunno.

167 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

A big part of the early-season 'struggle' is that the player learning curve for the Patriot system is steeper than it is on other teams. A big topic after the SB was the Pats shifting to zone when they'd played mostly man throughout the year. On most teams, player responsibilities remain fairly static throughout the season, while Belichick is of course heralded for changing his approach from week to week. Being able to shift your role and even your playing philosophy has to be tough to handle. It certainly effects Belichick's approach to drafting and free agency. Belichick probably feels that it's better to risk a few extra early-season losses than to simplify a system that, as we've seen, pays off in January. That applies to the high-roster turnover as well - the Pats incorporate mid-tier free agents, UDFA's and later-round draft picks into important roles with the expectation that they'll figure things out. The bottom of the roster matters to the Pats in ways I don't think it does to the majority of other teams.
Something I haven't seen mentioned much is that the Patriots were unusually healthy this year, although they did lose some major pieces early. Winning the SB may well rest on the fact that their o-line didn't lose a starter all season.

170 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

But you can get away with using the first month of the season to teach your complicated system and evaluate where players work best when you're in a division with The Three Stooges. An extra loss there is unlikely to harm your ultimate chance of winning the division, as we've seen.

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The Titans won twice the AFCS during the 8-divisions era.

That happened in 2002 (11th in DVOA versus Indy's 20th... NE never dropped below 16th) and 2008 (5th). Colts faced 2 Top4 teams in the division these 17 years against 3 top4 for the Pats.
Same for Top8 teams. 6 against 5.

The Patriots also had a crowded 2002 (3rd Miami, 6th NYJ) but also n.4 NYJ in 2004 and n.6 in 2010.

Also the Packers had no serious and costant challenges. The Lions have been just above average sometimes, the Vikings had their moments but never put two consecutive years together. Bears they had the SB appearance but come on...

231 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

No, you can show that the AFC East is a weak division in the sense that it provides very few challengers to the Patriots for the title. Average ability of those teams might look so bad, but there have been very few AFC East teams (besides the Patriots) that have gotten above average. The only team to do that in recent memory with any consistency was the early Rex Ryan Jets back around 2009-10.

Why are AFC East teams (besides the Patriots) always consistently mediocre to poor? One argument is that they have to play the Patriots twice a year. If you look only at out-of-division games, though, the teams in the AFC East that have a winning record are few and far between.

This generalization about the AFC East being a weak division isn't lazy. Well...it's lazy in the sense that it's easy to prove true.

13 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

A few takes:
- 2nd best Wade Phillips defense? Boy, they are good, and at all levels. They, for the most part, shut down a very good Saints offense on the road and did a pretty good job shutting down NE, until they kind of ran out of gas.
- Best NE offensive line in the Brady era? They kept the edges quiet, for the most part and were able to run block effectively when it counted.
- The NE DBs are really, really good and if they had them last year they would have won the SB by 20.
NE is going to be even better next year: They had a 1st Rd pick who never play due to injury, a 2 Rd pick who never played because the guys in front of him didn't get hurt and were playing too well and then they have A TON of draft capital in the 2019 draft.

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All true but beside Edelman, they lack talent at WR and at very least, Brady's age means he can't do it anymore with the Reche Caldwell's of the world. Gronk was never right this season which suggests he'll never be right again, and that's if he even decides to return. They'll probably lose Flowers to free agency, while the McCourtys, Chung and Hightower aren't spring chickens (although there is youth and quality in the secondary).
Belichick's strategy against the offensive explosion is simple in theory - take as much time and run as many plays as you can on offense. It worked out pretty well this year.

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As I posted above contradicting a very optimistic post about the Pats' chances next year, the wr corps isn't weak; it only consists of Edelman until the Pats fill it out with draft picks/low to mid tier signings. They don't have the money to go on a big spree next year without opening holes on the rest of the roster.

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Fwiw I suspect Mr. Gordon struggles with something a wee bit stronger than a weed addiction, which is likely the symptom of bipolar disorder or similar. That crazy 14 game stretch of pure dominance could have been the hypomanic phase before the wheels came off... it's just not that hard to get away with smoking weed and it would explain a lot of what came later

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What changed in the secondary from last year? From a personnel standpoint, they brought in Jason McCourty and JC Jackson, and Jonathan Jones returned from injury. Butler was allowed to leave without any complatin, Eric Rowe went down to injury, and Bademosi left, too. Both McCourty brothers are showing signs of age, but JMac plays with intelligence and was a hero on the play when he realized just how open Brandin Cooks was in the end zone and that he really needed to stop whatever else he was doing and get over there.

The O-line might well be the best in the Brady era. Trent Brown is probably going to get a big payday somewhere, and Cannon is getting older, but I think they'll hold together as long as Scar is around.

The RB corps is strong, but the WR corps remains weak.

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Had to handle some family business so was travelling during the game, and several family members were telling me they felt bad about me having to miss the game. Following via Twitter and catching moments in airports did not seem like I missed anything scintillating.

Kind of amazing that the Packers defensive game plan was what was replicated to some degree. GB showed how Goff struggles with pressure. And I keep reading/hearing about the impact of Cupp being out. That happened in that GB game. That is forever ago.

Taking a timeout to run a draw play was classic McCarthy at the end. So this game would have caused too many horrible flashbacks if I had watched live. Kind of glad I missed it.

Congrats to NE. Just amazing organization.

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I think it was among the least interesting Super Bowls in a long time. Even the Seahawks crushing the Broncos may have been more attention grabbing, because the sheer physical superiority of the Sehawks defense was something to behold.

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For the first time in ten years I decided not to stay up all night to watch the Superbowl because I was unexcited by the matchup. Sounds like I made the right decision.

Ty Montgomery's brainfart aside, the Rams game was the highlight of the Packers' season for me. The difference between the organizations can best be summed up by the argument that the Packers had a better defensive game plan than the Pats did against the 2018 Rams and the 2014 Seahawks, yet 'offense-driven' Green Bay lost both their games while New England won theirs.

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On the plus side, a friend of mine that had the "3-0 halftime" square in his office pool won $500!

Pity the rest of us had to suffer for it. There was a fair amount of good defense, but a lot of crap offense on the part of the Rams. The plays were there for the taking, but Goff was hesitant - exactly what you would expect for a young QB against a BB game plan.

The Rams D played very well, but the "Brady is on the downside" narrative isn't going away because he made some terrible throws. At least there was only one bad call, which was a nice switch.

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He's 40 years old. Of course he's on the downside. Unless he has the most miraculous steroids and performance-enhancing drugs known to man that could beat a drug test, human beings physically decline from their 20s to their 30s to their 40s. It's a part of nature.

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"the 'Brady is on the downside' narrative isn't going away because he made some terrible throws

The "Brady is on the downside" narrative isn't going away because he's 41 and clearly on the downside. The question isn't whether or not he's past his peak, or declining - the question is, at what point does he decline sufficiently to no longer be an above-average NFL quarterback? That day is coming; we do not know when. It wasn't 2018. Will it be 2019? 2020? It's definitely coming, but it's conceivable - not likely, I think, but conceivable - that it's still 3-4 years away.

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I don't know about "clearly on the downside". His stats from 2018 weren't very different from his 2017 stats, and he was pretty close to his historical norms. He had much worse seasons in years past, including 2006 and 2013. He's a bit dependent on having receivers getting open, and the WR corps was very down this year. Gronk was not as productive as in years past, but OTOH his RB production is good. The Pats really need to find another real WR option in the off-season. And if Gronk retires, that's really going to test the offense.

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Based solely on comments seems like LA would have benefited from going to some 1974 style offense running on early downs to make playaction legit. Seems as the season wore not just with the Rams but in other matchups where offenses employed heavy playaction teams chose to flat out ignore the fakes and accept a team running the ball more.

But I am bleary eyed so probably am not understanding correctly

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As my handle suggests, I'm primarily a Hamilton fan. So for me, the only wins that truly count are the ones where your defence beats up the opposition and steals the QB's lunch money.

Understanding that I view games from that perspective, it won't be a surprise that I found this one of the best championship games I've ever watched.

I feel bad for Wade Phillips and the Rams' D, who played a stellar game. Vincent nailed it in the audibles above ("First quarter ends with no score, which I'm pretty sure the Rams would have taken going in. However, the Patriots have already run 22 plays; the Rams have only run nine. There have been a looooooot of big New England playoff wins that were keyed by that kind of ball control.") The game was tied going into the fourth quarter, but the Pats had won the first three quarters, regardless of what the scoreboard said. They still needed to close it out, but their success when running it on their final possession after the INT, when the Rams knew the run was coming, was as much a result of how the first half went as it was Scarnecchia's blocking schemes.

On the Pats side, wow. That was a heck of a performance by what DVOA and any other decent metric graded as a so-so defence at best. I think we can park the Sean McVay, Boy Genius narrative for a while. I disagree with the takes that suggest this just shows what he's been able to do with a poor QB. I'd suggest it showed an inability to make timely in game adjustments. With two weeks to prepare, McVay's side had nothing to counter a Pats front seven that had their ears pinned back and just got after it.

Hightower and crew now have Goff's lunch money and another Super Bowl. For me, it was the most deserving of the Pat's SB wins, as this one was all on the defence.

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What adjustment is there for "QB is two seconds late in identifying the right receiver to throw to, when the right receiver is identified at all, and when the oline isn't getting whipped"?

If anything I am more impressed with McVay's schemes. , and while Belichik is due huge accolades, I don't think he consistently gets the right accolades. This is a complex game, but it isn't like trying to master String Theory. There really is nothing new. What Belichik is great at, pethaps the best ever, is roster building with players who do multiple things well, giving him much more flexibility than his opponents, with players that don't make stupid mistakes.

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It's not really provable either way, but I disagree that Belichick's genius is in roster building. (Although he is good at identifying mistakes in that department quickly and fixing them.) I think it's in teaching -- giving every guy a job he can do well and making sure each guy almost always does it right. Unfortunately for everybody else, that ability is the hardest thing to identify in prospective coaches. I'm trying to think of guys that played more effectively for other teams then they did for Belichick's Pats. Adalius Thomas is one for sure. But there aren't many.

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Case in point:

Special Teams subpar. Sign proven ST aces Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber off the street in November. The very first game they played in the each made a huge play on Special Teams, and the units greatly improved between then and now.

Nobody patches holes like Belichick. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of virtually every player in the league and those on the street, and whether or not they'd be an improvement on the status quo.

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Belichick is great at finding UDFAs and veteran journeymen who can come in and fill roles. For example, he got Trent Brown cheap from the 49ers, and the guy played great at LT all season long.

He gets a lot of criticism for his drafts, but I think a lot of that comes without any real comparison to how well other franchises are drafting. It's very easy to look bad at the draft when a prospect busts and some guy taken later turns into Russell Wilson.

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The criticism for BB's drafts is pretty stupid. Because of winning, and the stupid NFL penalties, they've had substantially less base-line draft capital to work with than any other franchise over the last decade. There results are middle of the pack - since 2010 they've drafted 20 high quality starters by my count (including Gronk, Hernadez, Soldier, McCourty, Hightower, Jones, White, & Collins, who have all been genuine stars in the league for a meaningful period of time). Does he whiff some times, of course, but that's the draft; Sure you can fairly argue that some others have been better (e.g. Ozzie Newsome), but that's like criticizing a QB for not having Aaron Rogers arm talent.

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Here's a good NYT article about whether Belichick finds or creates good players. The answer: it's really both. His main skill appears to be communication. He finds a player with a skill, then clearly defines a role for that player, and the player understands their role. Seems simple, but how many NFL coaches can communicate clearly? Not many.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/sports/new-england-patriots-belichick.html

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BB is the last of his breed - he has a system, but he tailors it to what he has. Most coaches whine about not having the personnel, yet NE keeps winning games with Edelman and a bunch of inanimate carbon rods at WR.

I remember the shock of Don Shula going from defense-first to lighting it with Marino. He knew where his talent was.

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This is a great comment. I also think his and his staff's teaching ability has to be a big part of why the Patriots seem to be the only team that can vary their gameplan so much and run totally different schemes week-to-week. There's a lot of coaching that goes in to making specific blocking schemes, coverages, routes, etc. effective, even beyond what players are naturally good or skilled at. It's not just impressive that the Patriots are willing to do something completely different game-to-game, but that they have the ability to pull it off with the same players.

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I agree that it's the Patriots' versatility, which I attribute to Belichick, that has been the key ingredient to their success. And that comes down to preparation. How he does it is such a mystery to me because (a) other teams surely aspire to do it and none are that good at it, and (b) Belichick's assistants have not come close to replicating this quality when they've gone elsewhere. How he keeps 60 players coached and prepared and ready to know their assignment when it can change is really impressive. It often seens to me like the Patriots have had 3-4 weeks of prep for every game.

One quality that I don't hear discussed as much is that the preparation and execution we've all observed and commented on would not be possible without motivation. How the hell does Belichick keep all these guys focused and willing to put in the work week after week, year after year? In the salary cap era, that is really something. Particularly after all the success they've had, you wouldn't be surprised to see some loafing or even just some overconfidence from time to time, but with them it's very rare.

Overall, on the Belichick v. Brady debate about which one is more important, I'm firmly in the Belichick camp and I don't think it's even close. (Happy to be convinced otherwise.) I do think Brady is a great player, of course, but to me, I think Belichick wins a number of titles if Brady had never appeared in New England.

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One thing to note is the benefit Belichick derives from Brady’s work ethic and willingness to be coached hard. When the best, most famous player on the team is so focussed and driven, there is no place to hide for less good, less senior players.

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I would argue Brady's best non passing game contribution is his willingness to take less money. That's asking a lot for a guy who should be the highest paid player in the NFL. It allows the Patriots cap flexibility and serves as a great contract negotiating tool. Even with all of that, the Patriots are notoriously tight fisted with cash even with savings they accrue from Brady.

Note how Dion Lewis scolded them for being cheap. Hard to blame the Patriots, they keep winning and they have never been guilty of overpaying a veteran. But still, if BB wasn't such a voodoo coach, such tight fisted behavior would lead to a sieve in the secondary or offensive line.

It's the latter two that I simply shake my head at. How many teams feel like their offensive line and secondary are perennially a weakness and it takes a damn near stroke of amazing fortune to get one not to be a proverbial neck-weight. And yet, the Patriots competency is somehow maintained. I just don't get it at all.

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Patriots are 21st in total cash spent in 2019 according to Over The Cap. That's ahead of the Chiefs, Packers, Ravens, Broncos, Cowboys, Cardinals, Colts, Raiders, Seahawks, Jets, Bills, in that order.

So the "Patriots are cheap" thing is not really a thing. Kraft is not just trying to skate by as close to the cash floor as he can, like I think Mark Davis is trying to do with the Raiders. I bet the Patriots are spending at least mid-pack for the coaching staff, for instance (because of Belichick and McDaniels, and probably Scarnecchia, although the lower level coaches don't make anything).

What Belichick seems to have is salary slots for different positions and different performance levels at those positions. At corner, they paid a premium for Revis' contract when they traded for him in 2014 and paid Gilmore a premium when they signed him. I think they would have paid Jamie Collins if he didn't freelance and get caught out of position so much. They won't pay pure pass rushers (Chandler Jones) or running backs (Dion Lewis). I like Lewis, and I've no issue with him or any other player getting paid as much as they can, but his comment is because the Patriots wouldn't pay him. It doesn't provide any insight into the Patriots team building approach.

Now, there's no question that their team building benefits from Brady's below market contract.

But they spend on the middle class rather than on "difference makers" to use the Polian term. Can't remember the exact range, but the Patriots had more players in something like the $3-$7 million range than any other team. This drives some Pats fans crazy, because they're paying guys that have obvious limitations: Hightower (too slow, injured). Gostkowski (misses kicks in the playoffs). Devin McCourty (too slow). And don't get them started on Dwayne Allen.

The other thing is, since cap space can roll over now, there will always be a window-oriented or out-and-out boom-and-bust team that is willing to pay a player more than the Pats are for a given level of performance at significant positions. For instance, Trey Flowers is gonna be the latest one to get paid, but likely not by the Patriots. I think that's what happened with Nate Solder, Logan Ryan, Lewis, and of course Chandler Jones.

Belichick's patient, long-term approach can drive fans crazy, compared to the "chase the window" approach. And it could easily break down once Brady retires. But it's the best approach for how Belichick coaches and of course in a season like this, he gets the last laugh.

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Possibly true. Polian on SiriusXM criticized the move because pass rusher is one of his premium positions (along with QB and RB) and the Pats were letting go a "difference maker". He just won't spend as much as other teams on that position. But he will spend it, he will just spread it around.

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Probably a nitpick, but they didn't "let him walk." They got a high draft pick plus an OL who was drafted high. The latter didn't work out, so the Pats ended up giving more than they got, but I think Chandler J had some of the same issues that sent Jamie to the Browns. (Albeit he was/is a much better player than Collins.)

187 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

If I remember correctly -- and you'll never go bankrupt on betting that I don't -- Both Jones and Wilfork were coming up on free agency, and the Pats decided to show Wilfork the money.

I'm also betting that the Pats had talks with Jones's agent regarding what it would take to re-sign him, and the money came in welll north of what Belichick thought he was worth to the team, in the context of cap dollars allocated.

192 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Nope.

Wilfork left after 2014, Jones after 2015.

They signed Chris Long, Chris Hogan and McLellin (all useful players in the 2016 SB run).
They also got 2 draft pick out of Jones (plus OG Cooper, that was a bust before, during and after the Pats), which turned to be starting LG Thuney and SB LI hero Malcolm Mitchell (AWESOME WR in Pats' world, but injury plagued).

193 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Jones is also well outside the mold of what the Pats seem to want for an edge player. To illustrate the point compare him to Trey Flowers - Jones was (and is) a great pure penetrator, but would often get behind the QB, break lane integrity, and wasn't able to play off a stood-up tackle. One of the things that is most impressive about how the Pats played yesterday is they never once gave Goff free yards on a scramble (and only once allowed him to complete a meaningful pass as a result of a threat to run when rolling out). between that and showing up at a police station in the middle of the night like a crazy person, I think Jones might as well have not bothered to talk contract with BB. At the time I thought the choice to keep Hightower out of that group of FA was a mistake - I still think Collins had/has a much higher ceiling than either Hightower or Jones if he could play with discipline - but a couple years later were talking about a dominant performance out of the Pats front 7 through really the whole playoffs, so I think it's foolish to be overly critical.

195 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Yeah, I forgot the off-the-field event of Jones, which surely does not fit well with Belichick MO.

Regarding Hightower, the only concern about him was the injury-proneness. If you removed that, he is the LB that BB would create with a real life Madden editor.

171 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

The rest of you post notwithstanding, Devin McCourty was clocked as the fastest player in the league -- on-field -- this season. I'm not aware of any Patriot fan frustrated with his lack of speed.

168 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

The Brady contract issue undoubtedly provides a competitive advantage for the team. However, as you note, it doesn’t not necessarily mean they are splashing out on the rest of the team. (Which makes the whole issue very, very strange indeed - a separate topic we could discuss at length elsewhere.)

Regarding the Belichick “voodoo” comment, I don’t really agree. He hasn’t always put out good secondaries - some of the units from the early part of this decade were flat out bad. The consistent offensive line play is impressive no question, and there is clearly some excellent coaching going on. But a good share of the credit there must also go to Brady.

Belichick is great without question, but I don’t think there’s much mystery there. He’s just better at most of the key stuff than almost everybody else, like roster building, game planning and in-game management. And he’s got arguably the GOAT QB playing for him, which masks many deficiencies across the rest of the team.

196 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

On the topic of secondaries - I agree, some have been flat out bad. But look at the perpetual roster turnover and think about just how many probowl players hes truly had back there. The 2nd corner spot and slot corner spot in addition to the roll of strong safety have been perpetual revolving doors. Even the number 1 slot has been a revolving door, albeit hes had good corners there before - like Law, Revis(one year), Gilmore , Samuel. But even still, he's had many many seasons with leigh bodden types manning those spots.

I would also add - they've been bereft of pass rush most of this decade and it hasn't hurt them. This fact is kind of taken for granted around here(oh, he doesn't value pass rush), but what other teams could be so cavalier about ignoring such a vital unit. There is a reason pass rushers get paid a premium and are drafted so high. I doubt everyone is just too stupid to realize the truth and its belichick who is having the last laugh. I think its his ability to mask stuff in the secondary that is compensating for the lack of pass rushers.

On the comment about Brady - he definitely helps, but I think its oversold. The run game for NE has been dominant seemingly forever and thats not a function of Brady. Run regressions on passing offense with rush offense and you find virtually 0 correlation. It just doesn't show up in the data. Is he helping the pass protection? No question, but then this is a thorny issue and I think most pats fans agree that the line quality is a hallmark of either BB or Scar.

As to your latter point, again, I'm unconvinced. Manning, Rodgers, and Brees have all been terrific players but that didn't stop fissures from opening up all over the rest of the team. No amount of passing brilliance could paper over weaknesses on the o line, receiver, special teams or defense. Brady might be the best of that group(its debatable), but he's not so much better that his presence brings additional benefits in ways those other players did not.

So yes, Brady has helped BB immensely. They don't sniff 9 superbowls without Tom Brady. Saying BB can do this with anyone is an overstep that's plainly wrong. I can see why Pats fans bristle. That said, I am a firm believer that if Brady had been put on the Lions or Redskins or some middle of the road franchise, he'd have a career arc very similar to Brees or Rodgers. Great players make teams great, but they alone do not make a dynasty. Let alone a double dynasty.

And given that no one who has left NE has come close to replicating any of this, I'm inclined to give the lion's share of the credit to Belichick.

199 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Agree with pretty much all of this, but especially the last 2 paragraphs (though Chandler Jones appears to be "close to replicating.") Most of the "Smurf" WRs of the early SB years chased money elsewhere and basically disappeared, though an older, slower Branch had a rebound once he returned to NE. More recently, compare Pats' LeGarrette Blount to what he did elsewhere.

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I'd highly recommend you go the Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton route. True Argos fans are great, but Toronto's a finicky sports market, and BMO Field might be packed or dead, depending on the flavour-du-jour in Toronto. In Hamilton, you know you're going to be surrounded by football fans who'll be tickled pink to welcome a visitor checking out "their game."

37 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It's hard to imagine McVay having so few tricks up his sleeve, and being so caught unawares of NE's defensive strategy. Maybe that was a part of it, but OTOH, we did see Goff make some terrible decisions, and fail to see several open receivers.

Brady was overwhelmingly mediocre. Several poor throws, only a few really good ones.

Anyone know what was up with the phantom (?) holding call on the Rams offense in, I think it was the early 4th quarter? A big run got called back, and the replay showed 65 . . . was not holding, and he and his assignment weren't particularly near the play. Did they call the wrong number? Also, immediately after the play, a couple Pats pointed at a spot, and it seemed it was outside the running lane, rather than inside.

39 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I don't agree with the idea that the Superbowl was a boring game because it was a defensive struggle. It was tied at the end of the third and to me the boring superbowls are the one sided ones.

I was on the edge of my seat most of the game. The fewer the points the more every point matters.

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It was a boring game to me because I thought a week ago that one qb was way too mentally limited to excel in the environment he was going to be working in, and I was unfortunately right.

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Will-that is an excellent point you are making and I agree 100%. My buddies and I in Miami years ago thought about that very same thing after our guy (Marino) played yet another bad Champ. game (the Conf. Champ. game in '92) but naturally we would never had said it. You did and I applaud you for it. It certainly applied to more than Goff and Marino however.

55 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

My assessment of Goff is based on his complete sample of play, which is the opposite of your approach to Marino. Look, we aren't going to agree. You think there is utility to seperating out a tiny subset of a player's performance, from a much, much, much, larger sample, and then making confident pronouncements based on that relatively tiny sample. I think that approach is very poor.