The Patriots 5 Biggest Threats To Another Superbowl Appearence.

NEPD Staff Contributor: Jeff Fidler

 

The Patriots are the clear favorite atop of the AFC mountain but if Belichick preaches anything, it’s what happened last week/year, doesn’t matter. Here is an early look at the 5 biggest roadblocks in the way of New England’s quest to another Superbowl.

5 Biggest Threats

  • Pittsburgh Steelers – The Patriots have owned the Steelers during the Brady & Belichick era. And there’s been one constant throughout that stretch. Tom Brady eating up the Steelers defense like alkaline fruits for a snack. Before last year the Steelers haven’t INT’d Brady since 2005 & just haven’t found a way to stifle Brady no matter who’s calling the shots defensively. Pittsburgh is once again trying to fix their defense or at least part of it. This time with Tom Bradley. He’s hoping to alleviate some of the pain fans get in their eyes from watching the secondary forget to cover Gronk, give Edelman 15 yards of cushion off the line & leave acres of yards uncovered in their zone scheme. The Corners are set in Haden, Burns & Mike Hilton in the slot. It’s the safetys that are being looked at & possibly tinkered with. Morgan Burnett was brought in, seemingly to replace Mike Mitchell at FS but Bradley isn’t writing anything in stone just yet in terms of set positions, which might be a good thing. You need interchangeable players back there regardless of scheme & it looks like the Steelers are committed to that approach with the pick of Terrell Edmonds. You can expect him in Nickel/Big Nickel packages this fall. From the outside looking in, it looks like the Steelers might be due for slight regression. Is this the year Big Ben’s road nightmares catch up to the team? It’s night & day, especially in the red zone where they throw far less & shockingly have trouble scoring TD’s. Things weren’t always roses with Haley & Ben but at peak, that offense was legit. How will the departure of Haley effect the offense? The defense hasn’t inspired fear or carried it’s fair in some time & the ball might roll the other way in terms of winning so many close games like they did last year. Still, you have a respect a team with their talent on offense, across the defensive line & last years game was a dog fight. Regardless if we see them in Jan, that reg season matchup will have a big impact on the playoff picture.         (Key Player: T.J. Watt looked like a young Bosa brother out there with his well placed strikes, strength & motor. The Wisconsin product also did a great job of covering space & dropping in coverage. His numbers would have looked a lot better if he just rushed the QB. Pittsburgh has been desperately trying to find that outside rusher to complement that great DL & it looks like they found it. If Watt continues his rise it could be just what the defense needed while figuring out their secondary.

 

 

  • Tennessee Titans – I can’t say how impressed I am with the Titans. Jon Robinson & co are building something special down there. If I was to point to a team (besides New England) on what approach to take or how you build a team it would Tennessee. Tampa Bay, being the Bucs, helped them out by selecting Winston over Mariota but the Titans have been hitting home runs all over the place across that roster. From drafting Conklin & Lewan & building inside/out. To the acquisitions of Ryan, Butler & Lewis. Tennessee got their QB, protected him by building a line. Gave him an array of weapons to work with & focused on the defense this past draft by selecting Eagles alum Harold Landry to rush the passer & Bama product Rashaan Evans to man the middle of that defense. The biggest move was at Head Coach though. With all due respect to Mike Mularkey & the “Exotic Smashmouth” this was the right move to make. Tennessee was predictable & at times one dimensional on offense. Not quite Gary Kubiak level where you’re literally calling out plays before the ball is napped but it was bad. Vrabel is a no nonsense coach that can also relate to players on a personal level. You saw it from his first moments on the sidelines & in the locker room. Players respect him but can also relate considering Mike isn’t that far removed from his playing days. Who knows if this is the year it all comes together but I expect this team to be in the SB/AFCCG in the next 2-3 years. Theres a perfect storm of talent, hunger & youth in Tennessee. There just aren’t many teams out there that are as talented & balanced on both sides of the ball.                                                                                                                                                                      (Key Player: Corey Davis took a while to make a real impact in an actual game last year but he arrived vs New England & showed exactly what he’s capable of. Davis is a great route runner with super quicks & excellent footwork. Tennessee needs him to be a true #1 WR to help take some pressure off Mariota)

 

  • Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jag’s have been at the bottom of the league for years but are firmly entrenched among the top teams in the AFC going forward. Last year the team was playing with house money but this season they have a big bullseye on their back from day 1.  The defense might be the best in the league again. Their just dripping with talent. From the rotation up front to the all star secondary & speed demon backers patrolling the middle of the field. Jacksonville is one of the few teams in the league with the personnel to matchup against anyone. Whether their in base or sub packages they have the ability to stop the run/pass from both which is rare in todays game. The story hasn’t changed that much in Duval though. Blake Bortles is still the biggest obstacle to the team’s immediate success. Bortles isn’t as bad as some make him out to be but he is who he is. Which is a QB that struggles to complete 60% & throws double digit INT’s every year. It’ll be interesting to see how defenses play him considering he lives off play action & the big play. The Jaguars formula (great D, t.o.p. offense w/ big plays mixed in) is one that has worked at times but in reality it’s incredibly difficult to win it all that way. Still in one game elimination matchup they deserve everyone’s full attention & respect.                                                   (Key Player: D.J. Chark is exactly what the Jaguars offense thrives off. A big, deep threat with legit 4.3 speed to take advantage of on play action. There are common denominators in Jaguar wins & this is a big one. Limit the big play & force Bortles to look around for other options)

 

  • Houston Texans – When you talk about talented teams you can’t leave out the Texans. Bill O’Brien deserves a ton of credit for how he’s managed Deshaun Watson (My QB3 from that class), the offense & team in general. Especially when you consider he was almost handcuffed because of the last GM there. O’Brien did a great job at making things easy for Watson from day 1. He didn’t change & throw his system out the window because of a new QB. Or try to fit a square peg in a round hole. He took what Watson did best at Clemson, adapted it to his system & played to his QB’s strengths. Sounds obvious but the league is littered with examples of coaches doing the exact opposite, probably because they don’t know any different & were taught that way. If you’ve watched the Patriots over the last decade or so you’ll notice they run a ton of the same plays but “dress them up” different pre snap to confuse the defense. This is exactly what O’B did in Houston & you can expect more of the same going forward. It places a lot of trust & communication between the QB/WR. They truly have to be on the same page because of the options available in the passing game. The scary part of the team is the potential on the other side of the ball if everyone stays healthy. Jadeveon Clowney played like DPOY in 2018 & was all over the field. If Watt & Mercilus can stay healthy, Houstons DL could be the best in the league to really balance out the team.                                                 (Key Player: D’Onta Foreman is a beast of a back at 6’/230 & runs a 4.45. Foreman didn’t need many touches to show he belongs in the league (87/411 yards) but suffered a torn Achilles in week 11 last year. I suspect Houston will wait until he’s completely healthy before bringing him back, which is the smart play. That offense has plenty of firepower to sustain the injury)

 

  • L.A. Chargers – Like the Texans, San Diego has dealt with its fair share of issues & injuries the past few years. As a football fan I can’t wait to see what they look like *if* healthy. As a Pats fan I wouldn’t want to see them, *healthy* in Jan. They have quietly put together a very potent defense. Again, if they can stay on the field that unit should be deadly. Up front you have Bosa, the powerful, technician with violent hands & motor. Paired with Ingram, who has a great jump off the line & ability to get under anyone’s pads. Those two alone can ruin your day but the group as a whole is much more than those two. The biggest piece for them is a healthy, functional Jason Verrett. He’s one of the best in the league but just can’t get on the field. If he does come back the Chargers would have a lockdown duo in Hayward & Verrett. Add in Derwin James, Uchenna Nwosu roaming the m.o.f./shallow zone & you have you enforcers in the 2nd level. The Chargers might not inspire a ton of fear because of our past run-in’s with them but that doesn’t matter going forward. 2018 is a new year, the division is winnable & the team is very potent all over. Forrest Lamp is another guy that should also give them a huge boost up front on the OL if he’s on schedule for this fall.                                                                                                                                                   (Key Player: Forrest Lamp & Jason Verrett could easily take this team to the next level if healthy. Verrett is a versatile water-bug that competes for everything & Lamp was one of the smartest, versatile OL’m to enter the draft in 5-10 years)

 

  • K.C. Chiefs – Again this might be a lil’ surprise for some but I’m all in on Mahomes (My QB1 from that class) He will surely have growing pains but this player has some special traits about him. The biggest being his arm talent, Mahomes has a Rodgers-like arm & as much confidence to go with it. K.C. had to go with Smith last year because continuity & the team being so close but they made the right move in picking Mahomes & trading Smith a few months ago. I’m actually a big Alex Smith fan but he had serious trouble beating man & pushing the ball down the field at times over his career. Mahomes will have no such problems after he gets a few games under his belt. His whip is special. From the strength & placement to changing up the tempo on his passes, Mahomes really was blessed in that area. He can flick it 60+ on the move & reportedly impressed coaches with his ability to pick up the playbook after getting drafted. That offense is all rev’d up & ready to go. Think about defending Sammy Watkins as a 3rd or 4th option on offense? That’s actually what many DC’s will be facing this fall. You have Hunt, a balanced bowling ball, who can make an impact in the air or ground but also have to stop Kelce, Hill & Conley out wide. For the first time in a while, the spotlight is on the defense to see if they can keep up their play over the last few years without pieces like Hali, Peters & other departures.                                                                                                                           (Key Player: Dee Ford will be looking to take over Hali’s spot on defense but that won’t be an easy task. Hali was a great run defender with an arsenal of moves to get to the QB. The players couldn’t be more different. Ford is all about that burst off the line & dipping around/under his opponents, a finesse guy. Hali was a powerful run stopper with violent hands & a motor that didn’t quit. Big shoes to fill for Ford)

 

Next up, 5 “Sleeper” teams that could surprise some people this year & a look at some new faces in the AFCE.

21 Responses to “The Patriots 5 Biggest Threats To Another Superbowl Appearence.”

  1. steve earle says:

    Well Dez Bryant is a free agent but I’m not expecting BB to try to sign the guy because he would come with a big price tag and we already have an abundance of WR’s. I could be proven wrong but thinks are different then when Bill signed Randy Moss so any thinking along those lines doesn’t seem relevant to me. Anybody have any thoughts on this?

    • macspak says:

      Moss was great and still in his prime. Bryant, above avg, past his prime. Moss was reasonably priced. Bryant would not be. Once Moss became a problem he was gone. Bryant not worth a try due to problems.

  2. GM-In-Training says:

    JE 11 might miss the first 4 weeks of the season on a PED violation.

    While I’d like to see him play, there could be some upside to him missing the first 4 weeks.

    –He gets longer to recover from his injury
    –Opens up a spot for 4-weeks on the 53, which that Pats can use to stash some depth
    –Other WR get more time to come up to speed on the offense, gel with TB12, get some stats, and either prove their worth or become more valuable for early-season trade.
    –Tiny bit of cap space opens up (~$800K).

    I particularly intrigued by how this affects the WR depth, because the Pats have 8-9 guys that are probably too good for the PS, and was hoping they’d find a way to get value from the 7-9th guys. This could help with that.

    • steve earle says:

      Good points GM and it takes the sting out of the penalty. I’m not hopeful at all about Mitchell, already missing time so he’s one less I consider as in the mix.

  3. macspak says:

    Shaq Mason – will he be traded before the season begins? Seems to fall into that too expensive and we will never resign him for $10M – $12M a year, or more, category. Trade him now rather than wait for a 3rd round comp pick.

    Are there any positions of value anymore?

    • steve earle says:

      That’s a dire prediction Mac as it would further disrupt continuity up front. Yes we could likely cover his loss but with a player of less starting experience and ability or by dedicating Wynn to the position. Either one of those solutions likely would negate the hoped for O-line improvement over last year. I might also suggest given the number of high draft picks BB acquired for next year we could afford risk exposing Mason and setting for that comp pick then use one of the high picks on a top OG for 2019 to replace him. Just my thoughts, what do you think?

      • macspak says:

        I think the history or Lawyer Malloy, Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins and most recently Brandin Cooks etc. point to trading Mason as a very distinct possibility. Maybe even a probability. I’m not advocating it and I didn’t agree with the prior cuts/trades though ultimately the return on Seymour, which I believe, was Solder, and the return on Cooks, which is Wynn, seem to justify some of the moves.

        • GM-In-Training says:

          The difference between then and now is that now compensatory picks are tradeable. That 3rd or 4th rounder they might get for Shaq Mason has more use.

          Mason is still pretty young, so that might up his value to a 2nd round pick, but in a year when Brady needs all the talent on the O Line he can get, I think 30-40 places in order may not be worth losing a year of Mason’s services.

        • steve earle says:

          Loosing Mason for that year as you say not possibly being worth it was what I was considering too. Thing is unless some team wanted him so badly they would give up a 1st or some form of multiple picks, which I think unlikely, then your point the difference in the trade compensation to a comp pick could make the deciding factor I think. Great thought to stir conservation though Mac, good one.

        • macspak says:

          I agree it would take a 1st or multiple picks or pick with a player. The difference between Mason and the others I referenced is Mason gets them a likely 3rd round comp pick. The return on the others was only coming through trade or salary cap savings. Would somebody pay a 1st and then pay Mason $12 M a year or so for five years? Unlikely. He has promise but still is not proven.

        • steve earle says:

          Well I think he has proven himself pretty well but not attained his peak quite yet but yes agree teams unlikely to give a 1st or multipals and a big 5 year contract. I expect best we could do is maybe a low 2nd/high3rd (just my guess) but that depends on who the trade partner would be? That begs the question, is that worth the years loss of a highly effective, experienced OG vetted in Scar’s system? If I had a vote it would be no. But Bill has yet to consult me on anything so there you go, just my thinking.

      • Buddy says:

        That’s what I was looking for 😀 . First time on your blog and I admit that it is brilliant, although few photos admits. As for the subject, the difference between Mason and the rest mentioned above is that Mason, in my opinion, gets a third round for the bank while the rest do not. A colleague above is absolutely right;)

  4. GM-In-Training says:

    What’s the deal with the Pats and hybrid LB/SS?

    For years the Pats seemed to like their LB 6’3″+ and 250# + and good against the run and the pass.

    Then, the Pats seemed to be early on this hybrid trend a few years ago, taking late-round flyers on guys like

    2015-rd5 Matt Wells 6’2″ 222
    2016-rd6 Kamu Grugier-Hill, 6’2″ 210

    These guys seems like box safety/coverage LB guys who could go sideline to sideline, but neither stuck with the Pats.

    Wells now plays in Canada and Grugier-Hill plays for the Superbowl Champion Eagles.

    In the meantime, the Pats use Patrick Chung in the box, but seem to need more coverage depth in the LB corp. You would think Nate Ebner and Brandon King (both about 220# ST/SS) could perform this role based on traits.

    I don’t know what to make of this role. The obvious thing is to attack with RB/TE routes if the defense is “heavy,” and FB-supported running plays if the defense is “light.”

    I think the hybrid role really needs to be a guy 6’4″ 240# with a better 3-cone than most TE to be able to play in all defenses…but, short of converting some fast TE (Will Tye?), I don’t see a lot of guys like that.

    • macspak says:

      yes, that height and size with speed, quickness and athleticism, not to mention top football instincts, would be the ideal. But those ideals, like a Gronk, are an almost impossible find.

  5. macspak says:

    Houston with Watson and that D scare the heck out of me. Not a believer in Andy Reid or Mahomes. Same for Rivers. Most over rated QB of our time. Jax has top D but will Bortles get better or worse? TN had promising off season, how will it translate? I expect Pitt to be there again just like the Pats.

  6. TommyG says:

    Truly the only threat to the Patriots is… The Patriots!!! If the Pats can get through all the bs (contract disputes, hurt feelings,etc) and avoid major injuries. No one is stopping this team!!! Call me crazy but I really feel like this team can go undefeated. The key is Bill and Tom getting on the same page. They have the motivation especially with the butthurt Eagles running their mouths. Can someone let them know they won the Super Bowl???

    • @j_fid says:

      Agreed overall. A healthy, complete New England should beat anyone the AFC has to offer. That said, I think a peak Tennessee, Houston or Jax deserves our respect & could actually beat us.

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