Is Josh Allen an Elite QB?

On Saturday night, led by an amazing performance from QB Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills embarrassed the New England Patriots in their AFC Wild Card matchup. While the Patriots were clearly outmatched in the contest in all aspects of the game, Allen was the star of the show for the Bills and once again beat the Pats with his arm, legs, and decision-making. In his 4th year in the league, Allen has now had 2 consecutive really strong campaigns with 4,400+ yards and 35+ TDs to go along with a career high 763 yards rushing this season, with a staggering 6.3 yards per carry average. Allen has led the Bills to AFC East dominance with 2 consecutive division titles and now has delivered 3 playoff victories and counting for Bills Mafia. Allen certainly seems to be beloved in Buffalo and the future is bright for the Bills fanbase.

A big question for me is whether Allen has maximized his talent yet or will continue to get even better. He is certainly surrounded by some really nice receiving weapons, including WRs Stephon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and TE Dawson Knox. The depth of fast and talented pass catchers make a QB’s life a lot easier because they can create space and open passing lanes. As a defense, you have to respect each receiving option because Allen has done a solid job of spreading the ball around. When you add in a solid run-game, it makes the defense open up even more for Allen. The biggest growth I’ve seen from Allen the last few seasons has been his decision-making. Overall, he’s been slightly more careful with the ball this season and is making less egregious mistakes while using his legs more when no receiving options are open. He did have more interceptions this year than last (5 more), but he also had 74 more passing attempts and an extra game on the schedule. He doesn’t lack confidence that definitely edges into the cocky-territory, which sometime hurts him, but also allows him to shake off mistakes and keep going.

For me, the most dangerous part of Allen’s game and the piece that improved the most this year is his rushing ability. He’s not a typical QB when scrambling, he is a big and strong runner who is tough to take down and has some burst speed and elusiveness defenders don’t see in QBs very often. While his primary weapon is his arm, his ability to rip off a 10-15 yard run when all his receiving options are covered will keep drives alive and makes the offense significantly harder to defend (just as the Pats defense). This season, he averaged just under 45 yards per game on the ground, 18.6 yards more per game than 2020 when he made the pro bowl. His average per rush jumped over 2 yards compared to 2020 and was the best of his career by a large margin (6.3 yards per carry). His rushing numbers put him in the top 3 for QBs in total yards on the ground and rushing TDs, which is impressive for a pass-first QB. Down the stretch this year, he converted countless 3rd and 4th downs with his legs, both designed runs and improvised scrambles that helped to keep drives moving.

You’d be hard-pressed to find many other QBs that have the skillset of Allen and I believe he is still getting better and will improve over the next year or two. He passes the eye test and his numbers support that he is an elite QB right now and has the potential to get even better. The other teams in the AFC East are going to have to compete with the talented QB 2x a year for the foreseeable future and that’s a scary thought. The Buffalo Bills AFC East dynasty is in full swing, but how long will it last?

Patriots Embarrassed in Buffalo

For the first time in a long time, the Patriots looked absolutely over matched in Saturday night’s AFC Wild Card loss to the Buffalo Bills. There wasn’t a single person, position group, or coach that looked good against the Bills in the worst playoff loss of the Bill Belichick era as the head coach and one of the worst losses for the franchise. The loss was a really sour note at the end of a surprisingly enjoyable season for the Patriots who were led by a rookie franchise QB.

After a 1-year rebuild, the Pats returned to the playoffs again thanks to a 7-game win streak in the middle of the season. They surprised a lot of people and turned some heads during the win-streak and made many fans believe a deep playoff run was possible. Unfortunately, the team lost all momentum the last several games of the season and forgot how to play disciplined, smart football, a Belichick staple. Mistakes became the story of losses to Buffalo and Miami and as the Patriots played their way out of the AFC East title and into a wild card game on the road. Limping into the playoffs is rarely a recipe for success and boy was that true this year.

My biggest issues down the stretch with this team were discipline and play-calling (along with about a dozen other things). The most baffling to me is the complete lack of discipline. From penalties to missed assignments, the mistakes were plentiful down the stretch and exaggerated in the playoff loss on Saturday night. Most of the mistakes were mental errors such as too many men on the field and false start penalties and lapses in coverage that are mind-boggling. I don’t understand what happened to this team in the final portion of the season to completely forget how to play within themselves and within their position. Despite discipline ultimately resting on the players shoulders, it’s a terrible reflection on the coaching staff and their inability to prepare their players. All of it was very un-Belichick like and makes me wonder what’s happening behind the scenes.

My other main issue that was amplified on Saturday is play-calling. Josh McDaniels seems lost in what to call and when to call it the latter part of the season. On Saturday night, the first drive had a few rushes, but featured the passing game from Mac. He had one wide-open pass dropped by Brandon Bolden and the drive ended with an incredible interception by Micah Hyde, but overall looked like he could exploit the defense a bit. The following drive, McDaniels called 3 straight rushes by Damien Harris and the Patriots had to punt without even trying to look at the short or medium passing game. Later in the game, there were a number of odd calls that just didn’t fit the situation, including a fake spike at the end of the half that resulted in a terrible sack. Also, what happened to the hurry up offense that Mac looked so strong in earlier in the season? It disappeared.

The list of other issues is long, but I’ll save that for the long offseason. Based on what I saw down the stretch, I’m not sure all the Patriots positional coaches deserve to keep their jobs for the 2022-2023 season. Change is needed, whether it’s directed by the Patriots or because they lose someone to a head coaching offer elsewhere.

Saturday night was rough and will take time to get over. Take a day off and get right back to work for next season.

What is Wrong with Bill Belichick’s Coaching Tree?

Bill Belichick has been in the NFL in one capacity or another since 1975 and has been a head coach for more than 25 of those seasons. Over that time, he’s been a mentor to hundreds of coordinators and assistant coaches, many of whom have moved on to be head coaches of their own. You would expect some members of the Belichick coaching tree to be successful head coaches in time, but as a group, they have overwhelmingly been underwhelming.

In the last few days, the two remaining active head coaches in the NFL from the Bill Belichick coaching tree were fired (Brian Flores – Miami, Joe Judge – Giants). As of this moment, that means that there are no longer any Belichick disciples leading NFL teams, which is hard to imagine given his career. While I fully expect Brian Flores will get a head coaching job this offseason and linebackers coach Jerod Mayo has been getting some attention as a candidate, it’s still a bit surprising how mediocre the group of former Belichick coordinators have been as head coaches.

Over the years, 19 members of a Belichick coaching staff have become head coaches in the NFL or college. While the NFL tenures have have been short and uninspiring, there are a few college coaching careers that are noteworthy. The most obvious and clearly the strongest to date is Nick Saban at Alabama. While he lost in the National Championship game to Georgia this week, he is the gold standard of sustained success in college, basically the Bill Belichick of the NCAA. Three other coaches in the tree lasted more than 4 years at a college: Pat Hill (Fresno State 1997-2011), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa 1999-present), and Al Groh (Virginia 2001-2009).

Looking to expand the Belichick tree slightly, there are two former players who are head coaches, both currently in the NFL: Mike Vrabel (Titans) and Kliff Kingsbury (Cardinals). Vrabel is in the running for Coach of the Year and has brought the Titans to the top seed in the AFC this season while Kingsbury led the Cardinals to an 11-6 record and a #5 seed in the NFC, following a strong career at the helm of Texas Tech. While Vrabel played 8 seasons in New England and clearly learned from Belichick, Kingsbury never saw the field in his one season with the Patriots thanks to an arm injury (although he did get a super bowl ring). Both coaches have proven that they know how to coach in the NFL and likely will last longer than basically all members of the “official” tree.


While I don’t have an answer for what is going on with the Belichick coaching tree failures, I have a few thoughts.

  1. Bill Belichick has a very specific system and style that work for him because of his past successes. He handles the media and dissemination of information unlike any other coach. Most members of the tree either try to copy the persona (to some degree) and fail miserably because it’s not replicable (::cough:: Matt Patricia ::Cough::) or they try to make it clear they are NOT like Bill and struggle to build completely different culture of winning when all they have known is the Patriot way.
  2. Because Belichick and the Patriots have won a lot, coordinators get opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise. When a team wins the super bowl, the coordinators immediately become hot coaching candidates whether they deserve it or not and it’s impossible to place credit effectively on the head coach vs coordinators. I’m sure several of the coordinators who got opportunities to be head coaches in the tree were not yet ready to lead a franchise and thus didn’t succeed. Unfortunately, most people without a lot of experience don’t get multiple chances to be an NFL head coach.
  3. There is no question who is in charge in Foxborough. Belichick steers the ship and no doubt has control over the weekly game plan and decisions around personnel groupings. While I don’t know for sure because I’m not in the meetings, I’m guessing his coordinators don’t have as much leeway to be creative and make independent decisions within the system and it takes awhile for Belichick to trust their decision making. As a head coach, you need to be able to be creative with the game plan and adapt on the fly, something that is learned through experience.

Whatever the reason(s), the Bill Belichick coaching tree has continually not lived up the hype and this week’s firings put an exclamation point on it. If I’m a GM, I’m taking a pause before jumping on a former Belichick coordinator as my next hire just because he is a former Belichick coordinator. Although, I may be more willing to take a chance on a former player under Belichick.

Third Time’s a Charm – Patriots vs Bills Playoff Edition

As playoff scenarios began to play out during the inaugural week 18 in the NFL, it was clear to everyone that the Bills and Patriots would meet for the third time this season in the playoffs. Even as the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers game crept into OT and the Pats vs Bengals scenario was still alive, it just felt like the Raiders had to win so the Bills and Patriots could play once more this season. The matchup is everything the NFL could want in a #3 vs #6 matchup on wild card weekend and they put the rivalry game in primetime on Saturday for all to witness.

The previous two matchups this season between the Bills and Patriots have been, well, interesting. The first was the “wind-game” where the Patriots went into Buffalo and ran all over the Bills. Mac Jones had exactly 3 pass attempts and the Patriots managed a 14-10 victory on the road thanks to 41 rushes. Damien Harris had 11 yards rushing on just 10 carries and a TD, while Rhamondre Stevenson rushed 24 times for 78 yards. Mac completed 2 of his 3 passes to Jonnu Smith and Brandon Bolden and the Pats relied on a strong defensive presence to grab the road victory. The game was far from pretty, but a W is a W and led to some sour grapes from Bills coach Sean McDermott who said after the game, “Let’s not give more credit than we need to give Bill Belichick in this one.”

The rematch two weeks ago was a completely different game (not just because there wasn’t a ton of wind). The Bills came into the game looking to punch the Pats in the mouth with their aggressiveness and it worked beautifully. From aggressive play-calling to big plays when they needed them the most, the Bills took it to the Pats. The Bills converted 3 of 4 4th downs and trusted Josh Allen to make the right decisions and in this instance, he did with his arm and legs. The Bills got a massive game from virtually unknown WR Isaiah McKenzie while the Pats mostly shut down WR Stephon Diggs in the first half. To the Patriots credit, they fought back and didn’t give up, but were completely flustered on a picked-up unnecessary roughness penalty in the last minute of the first half that led to other penalties and likely took points off the board.

Prediction

Round three should be another thrilling chapter in the AFC East rivalry. Based on past success, I expect the Bills to come out on fire Saturday night with aggression as their mantra. It worked in their second match-up vs the Patriots and really put the Pats players back on their heals. I would be surprised if McDermont doesn’t try to score quickly and take chances on 3rd and 4th down throughout the game. On December 27th, WR Isaiah McKenzie caught the Pats off-guard while the secondary did a nice job on Diggs and TE Dawson Knox and I expect something similar will occur on Saturday, but with the other receiver options, mainly Emmanuel Sanders and/or Gabriel Davis. The Pats secondary depth is of definite concern right now and the Bills are smart enough to unleash Josh Allen to attack on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th levels. I also expect a fair amount of passes (mostly screen-type routes) to RB Devin Singletary to get the playmaker the ball in space and keep the defense off balance. If the Bills can exploit the Pats secondary, it could be a long night for the Pats.

On the other side, the Pats have some work to do this week to prepare in all three aspects of the game. The #1 issue they have had over the past month is mistakes. Between bad penalties, turnovers, and mistakes in coverage, the Pats have been uncharacteristically the sloppier team. In almost all of their losses this season, the Pats have been in contention with a chance to comeback or win, but there is usually at least one mistake you can point to after the game that prevented the W. The ability of the Pats offense to move the ball downfield with balance is key to keeping the Bills defense at bay. If the Pats get down early, it makes them more predictable and easier to play against. A balanced run/pass attack will allow Mac to make more comfortable reads with space and allow the offensive line to hopefully hold up a bit better. On the defensive side of the ball, they need to get pressure on Josh Allen and contain him. If they can get pressure on Allen, he will make mistakes eventually, but the inherent risk is that you flush him from the pocket and he takes off for a 20-yard run. When playing well, the Bills offensive weapons are near impossible to cover, but when Allen feels the pressure and is forced into quick decisions, he has a tendency to make mistakes.

When all is said and done, I think the Patriots squeak out a really intense, close game 27-24. In general, I think it’s a pick’em game that could go either way. The team with the most mistakes losses and has all offseason to wonder what-if. I think the Bills options on offense are so strong and deep for the weak Pats secondary to handle, but Allen will make one too many mistakes or McDermott take one too many chances on 4th down and allow Mac Jones to drive down field and win on a late K Nick Folk field goal. I don’t feel even a little confident in the prediction, but in a toss-up game I’m picking the Pats every time.

Another Pandemic-Filled Sports Season for Most

The majority of sports-related headlines over the past month have been connected in some capacity to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s cancelled games due to outbreaks, falsified vaccination cards, or closed borders for major international tournaments, almost every major sport (and most minor sports) have been impacted, from youth sports to the professional level. After it appeared things were calming down over the summer, the most recent surge has thrown everyone into reaction/panic mode and the sports world is no exception.

There is no better example of the struggles with the pandemic on professional sports than the NHL. The NHL was seeing waves of outbreaks in mid-December where 5+ members of several teams were testing positive or close contacts and forced to enter health and safety protocols. The rash of cases grew so rapidly, the league decided to take drastic but necessary action when they halted all games days early for winter break beginning on December 19th and resuming on December 28th (with an already scheduled few day break for teams in the middle). Prior to the forced break, 44 games had already been rescheduled due to the pandemic, including 39 in just the week before the stoppage. At any moment during that week, around 15% of all players in the league were in COVID protocols.

Since returning to play, there have been another rash of postponements and players entering protocol and while more games are being played as planned, the league is far from out of the woods (along with North America as a whole). The hope of a cleaner, more normal season in 2021 and 2022 has been thrown out the window and it’s a day-time decision whether we will have hockey to watch or whether our favorite players will miss a few games due to a positive test or close contact. The NHL is obviously not alone in this scheduling battle, the NBA has also taken a major hit with dozens of games being played with skeleton rosters due to protocols and exposures. The NFL has also been forced to move the schedule around to fit in games with team outbreaks, along with a number of teams playing with their 3rd or even 4th string QB thanks to a wave of positive COVID cases on the roster.

Collegiate sports have seen a major hit to scheduling and playing as well. Most NCAA basketball teams have had at least some small outbreak on their roster or had games cancelled/postponed due to an outbreak on the opponent’s roster. There are a number of teams who haven’t played since well before Christmas and are still having their games postponed and cancelled. The UConn women’s basketball program has had 4 straight games postponed or cancelled and last played on December 19th. They currently have a game scheduled for January 9th against Creighton and if it isn’t postponed, would be their first live action in 21 days. The UConn men’s basketball program last played a game on December 21st against Marquette and have had 2 games postponed since.

The hope of a more normal sports calendar all around in 2021 and 2022 has unfortunately not come to fruition. There is always next year, right?

Chaim Bloom Impact Apparent with Latest Rankings

When the Red Sox decided to hire Chaim Bloom as their new GM, they made a choice about the future. The minor league system had been depleted and was one of the worst in baseball under the previous leadership. The ownership wanted to reverse that pattern and build the system back up, while hopefully still putting a competitive product on the field. After a rough and odd 2020, the Red Sox were very competitive in 2021, reaching the ALCS while also taking care of the minor league system. In MLB’s system rankings released in December, the Red Sox jumped 12 spots, to the 12th best system in baseball.

The 12 spot jump from preseason to now was the largest of any team and is a true testament to Bloom and his staff. Bloom didn’t make the big trade deadline moves many wanted despite feeling the pressure to complete for a title this year. Instead, he made a few moves that didn’t dramatically impact the work being done to build the future pipeline within the organization. He proved that you can be competitive at the highest level while also focusing on the future. The breakout of Tristan Casas and Jaren Duran have boosted the system’s depth and have given the Red Sox something they haven’t had in awhile: prospect talent close to being major-league ready.

Assuming the 2022 season gets underway, it will be a pivotal campaign for the Red Sox. The rapid growth of prospects in the system is great, but the big question for me is whether they continue the upward trajectory or plateau after such a rapid rise? If the top 10 prospects continue to grow, then Bloom will either have some MLB talent to fill out the roster or some really strong trade bait to keep the Red Sox competitive at the trade deadline and even use the assets as needed to make a deep run into October. No matter how you look at the growth it is a positive rebuild from the Dave Dombrowski era of selling out for a title.

As I look at the top 25 prospects in the Red Sox system, the thing that jumps out at me is the middle infield depth at the top. The top pick this past year and the #1 or #2 rated prospect in the system (depending on the list), SS Marcelo Mayer, is an interesting unknown with such little professional experience. He was a high schooler when drafted #4 and many believed at the time of the draft that he had #1 talent. The left-handed bat is only 19 and will need to develop for a few years before having a look at the top level, but could be a huge asset in the infield in the future if he pans out. Both SS/2B Jeter Downs, who is closer to MLB ready, and 2B Nick Yorke provide some interesting future options in the infield as well, whether they end up at SS, 2B, or even 3B eventually. With some uncertainty around the future of Xander Bogaerts and his contract along with a long-term hole at 2nd base, this group could be critical to the future for the Red Sox.

The other obvious prospect to keep an eye on is 1B Triston Casas. He rose rapidly later in 2021 and proved he can play against solid competition by crushing the ball playing for Team USA at the Olympics. I wrote more about him in August, so don’t want to rehash my love for him, but by all accounts, he is close to MLB ready and could provide a nice left-handed power bat in the lineup. With Bobby Dalbec as a strong righty bat, a Casas/Dalbec platoon at first could be an incredibly powerful young tandem. While one starts, the other could get a few looks at 3B (both have experience at the hot corner), DH, or provide a strong pinch-hitter off the bench late in games. If Dalbec has a stretch during the season where he is struggling like in 2021, Casas can step in and carry the load.

Overall, Bloom has to be happy with the impressive turnaround of the Red Sox prospect system from a liability to an asset. The job is obviously not done, it never ends, but the upward trajectory of the system is exciting.

The Revenge Tour of Antonio Brown

Ever since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown took off his jersey and walked out of MetLife stadium during Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets, social media has blown up with theories, stories, and rants. The millions of tweets and posts about the incident snowballed after the game when Bucs head coach Bruce Arians stated that he “is no longer a Buc”, but as it turns out, that was just the tip of an ugly iceberg. As the hours passed, more information was revealed about Brown’s ankle injury and then the next morning, Brown told his side of the story.

It was at this point that my opinion began to shift. Brown has a checkered history on and off the field (to put it nicely) and frankly hasn’t earned the benefit of doubt that others with cleaner histories might have received in this situation. My initial reaction to Brown stripping and leaving the field mid-game on Sunday was to say “well, it was only a matter of time”. This is not the first organization he left under bizarre circumstances and it may not be his last, but his clearly-written-by-someone-else side of the story was compelling and completely believable.

Brown claimed, among other things, that he was given dangerous painkillers and forced to play on Sunday despite a serious ankle injury. During the game, there was a confrontation with Arians and Brown in which, according to Brown, the coach told him that “if [he] didn’t play hurt, then [he] was done with the Bucs” and when Brown refused to go back into the game, Arians told him “YOU’RE DONE”. Brown then left the field (in the most Brown-like way, half-naked and riling up the fans). His description of the events struck a chord with me and screams old-school football. Professional football for decades was a place where players were forced take shots of painkillers and sacrifice their long-term health for the betterment of the team on any given Sunday. While it’s still a part of the game, there have been a lot of health and wellness policies in place over the last decade or so that prevent some of the abuses of old.

Bruce Arians has been a coach in some capacity since the mid-70s and grew through the ranks of football when the consideration for a players body wasn’t even on the radar. While I believe the truth is somewhere between Brown’s statement and Arians’ statement, Brown’s statement is both believable and potentially seriously damaging. If he was in any way forced to take painkillers and play through a chipped bone in his ankle, then Arians has no place in the NFL as a coach. That’s a big if, but still. The main issue preventing us from learning the truth and believing his story? Brown himself.

If Brown had left his initial statement as is and just moved on from Sunday, the narrative would be very different today. Instead, he decided to use the opportunity to scorch the earth and make everyone around him pay (or so he thinks). In a fit of anger or delusion, Brown chose to post pictures of text conversations with Arians and trainer Alex Guerrero while also calling out Tom Brady for his connection with Guerrero. Oh yeah, and he accidently put an image with his bank account information in it for all to see (he later deleted it, but not before a ton of people saved it). Anyone who was sympathizing with Brown, myself included, is now left to once again question their own feelings on the clearly mentally unstable receiver.

And did I mention he dropped a new song, “Pit Not The Palace” just after he grabbed headlines by running off the field mid-game? It’s getting hard to find redeeming qualities about Brown and I’m already regretting sympathizing with the man on Monday. For his sake, I hope he is getting the support he needs and that the network around him is strong.


The story is clearly not over and I’m guessing we won’t ever have the true version of what happened, but as of Thursday, Brown is officially no long a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and is headed for ankle surgery with the intent, it seems, to return to the NFL next season. Regardless of how you feel about Brown, Arians, or the Bucs, this story has been drama-filled and exhausting to follow. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Is Wilkerson the Patriots Secret Weapon?

After watching Patriots WR Kristian Wilkerson make some really nice grabs in the pre-season, it seemed that he might be in line to get some regular season playing time. The weeks passed as Wilkerson sat on the Patriots practice squad and didn’t get the call-up, even as WR N’Keal Harry struggled. Week 9 against the Panthers Wilkerson was activated, but didn’t see any action and then the same thing happened again last week against the Buffalo Bills. Finally, in week 17, we got to see Kristian not only get on the field, but show why he could be a key piece moving forward for the Pats.

Despite not playing much together in an NFL game in several months, the chemistry between Mac Jones and Wilkerson was evident against the Jaguars. Mac looked his way on 27% of this pass attempts (8), tied for the most targets in the game with WR Jakobi Meyers and was able to connect with him on 4 passes, including 2 TDs. He almost hit him for a big TD in the 2nd half, but the defender on Wilkerson hit his helmet breaking his concentration and the ball fell through his hands. For a receiver to get very few reps with the first team offense and then come out and have the performance he had against the Jaguars is impressive and makes you wonder what he could do with more time on the first team.

I understand it’s the Jaguars and they, well, aren’t good, but Wilkerson showed an ability to pull in some big catches and get some separation when needed. When you compare his performance with that of Sunday’s healthy-scratch WR N’Keal Harry, Wilkerson looked much more dangerous and able to make the crucial play. I’d much rather have Wilkerson on the field in almost any scenario. To Harry’s credit, his blocking has been his biggest asset this season, but when you need to gain yards and rely on a receiver to catch the ball, Harry has failed time and time again. If the Pats get a healthy WR Nelson Agholor back, the addition of Wilkerson actually make them a pretty deep group. With Meyers, Agholor, Bourne, and Wilkerson, they can move the ball around in lots of different ways and have different guys step up depending on coverage in the playoffs. When you add in TE Hunter Henry and RB Brandon Bolden as pass catchers, it’s a much more solid group with Wilkerson in the mix (TE Jonnu Smith intentionally left out).

After witnessing the performance of Wilkerson this week, there is now no excuse to continue to ride the painful-to-watch Harry week-in and week-out. Wilkerson gives you another dynamic piece you can integrate into the offense more thoroughly as the playoffs approach, now that a playoff berth has been locked-up. He’ll most likely match-up against a 3rd or 4th cornerback, which gives him a really good chance to make a handful of catches per game and maybe even be the primary target at times. On top of it all, he already has a deeper chemistry with Jones than Harry, so you certainly aren’t losing anything on that end.

With the high likelihood the Pats will play in a Wild Card game, having an additional x-factor will be huge in getting into the Divisional round. Even better, there is very little professional tape on Wilkerson, so it’s hard to fully scout him and understand all of his strengths and weaknesses. Now is the time to unleash another classic Bill Belichick undrafted free agent find, Kristian Wilkerson.

Revisiting the Cam Newton Decision for the Patriots

One of the biggest storylines during the preseason for the New England Patriots was about the QB position. The Pats had re-signed Cam Newton to a 1-year deal and also drafted the heir apparent, Mac Jones, at #15 overall. The question wasn’t if Mac would be the starter, but rather how soon he would be handed the reigns. The Pats obviously made the decision to go all-in on Mac and released Newton to the open market. It took 9 weeks, but Cam found himself back in Carolina as their starting QB after an injury to Sam Darnold.

In his first start with the Panthers less than a week after signing, he played just 9 snaps and had a significant impact. He completed 3 of his 4 passes, including a passing TD and a 14-yard rushing TD. After his first touchdown he yelled “I’m back!” and instantly became a meme magnet. In his first game back as a starter in Carolina, he lost to the Washington Football Team, but put up strong numbers (21 of 27 for 189 yards and 2 TDs as well as 10 rushes for 46 yards and a TD). It seemed like Cam was comfortable and had a chance to resurrect his career back where it started. Then, as quickly as it began, the tires began falling off.

Since his strong performance against the Football Team, Cam has plummeted back to earth and looked exactly as expected, if not worse. In his last 4 games, Cam has gone 45 of 95 (47.3%) with 1 TD and 5 INTs, with 3 rushing TDs and 4 fumbles. The “I’m back!” memes aren’t exactly aging well these days. Cam is clearly past his prime and there are very few people, if anyone, who still think Cam should have been the Pats starter this season, but with Mac’s recent struggles, it was worth checking in on the former Pats QB. For those jumping on the “Mac is over-rated train”, let’s see what Mac has been up to over the last 4 games.

Over his last 4 games, Mac has gone 65 for 112 (58%) with 773 yards and that includes the 3 throw wind-game in Buffalo (19 yards). This stretch of games has been fairly pedestrian and the worst of his young career with only 4 TDs and 4 INTs and a 2-2 record. Despite the struggles, Mac has been better than many other QBs in the NFL, including Newton. Mac has 286 more yards and 11% higher completion rate over that span.

I know it’s a bit unfair to compare the two when the teams around them are very different and the situations are very different, but it’s a kind reminder to Pats fans that even a mediocre performance from Mac Jones, is still miles ahead of the alternative this year. Rookie QBs will all go through struggles early in their careers, it’s one of the disadvantages of young talent, but overall, Mac has been stellar in his first year in the league. At 23 years old, Mac has amassed 3,313 passing yards, 18 TDs and 12 INTs in his first 15 games as a professional, including an impressive 67.2% completion percentage and 7.2 yards gained per pass attempt. Rookie or not, that’s an incredibly strong season thus far.

The standards are sky-high in New England and expectations are a deep playoff run or heads will roll. While I’d love to be surprised, I don’t think this team is talented enough for a deep postseason run in 2021, but it’s not because they have a rookie QB at the helm (hint: it’s the defense). One thing I can say with almost absolute certainty: if Cam was the QB instead of Mac, this team is not even in a position to think about the postseason. Take the good with the bad, but overall, life is still good in New England.

Patriots Coming Back Down to Earth

After an understandably slow start, the Patriots went on an amazing run to put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the AFC East, sitting at 9-4. They convinced many that a deep playoff run was possible, but after dropping a stinker last week against the Colts, the Patriots got outplayed from start to finish on Sunday by the Buffalo Bills and now no longer control their own destiny in the AFC East. The Pats were beat in all aspects of the game on Sunday and now look like the team we expected: competitive, but don’t have enough talent for a deep run.

One of the most concerning aspects of this team from the offseason until now was their cornerback depth. After the expected, but ugly breakup with #1 CB Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots were left with an improving and impressive J.C. Jackson as their #1 and then a group of average or below players. They combination of Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant is frankly just not very good. The next on the depth chart, Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade, have barely seen the field as healthy scratches several weeks. The Pats elevated D’Angelo Ross from the practice squad yesterday instead of Wade and Williams, which is pretty telling. They are basically left with Jackson to cover the opponents #1 with no help and then a bunch of nothing to cover every other receiver. They have made it by with support from their safeties, but 1-on-1 coverage against even decent receivers is a struggle.

The Bills intelligently (you won’t hear me say that often) exploited the Pats biggest weakness and threw to Isaiah McKenzie what felt like 49 times. McKenzie had a total of 7 receptions on the season prior to Sunday, when he hauled in 11 receptions for 125 yards in a dominating performance. While he was impressive, the coverage was absolutely pathetic. While Jackson was busy covering Stephon Diggs, the rest of the secondary looked lost trying to cover the McKenzie and as a result, the Pats were forced to play a lot more zone to try and compensate. Josh Allen showed his improved awareness and was able to identify zone vs man seemingly a lot easier than in the past and was in turn able to exploit the matchup. The passing attack opened up running lanes, primarily for Allen if he didn’t see an open receiver (with some designed runs mixed in as well).

The game plan was the opposite of the Colts last weekend, because the teams are built in the opposite way. Last week, MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor did what he’s done to a lot of teams this year and just ran over the defense. Carson Wentz only attempted 12 passes (completing only 5) but that was enough with a superstar running back. The Bills are built as a pass-first team and that showed on Sunday. The Pats got beat in two dramatically different ways in the course of two weeks. Now opponents, if they didn’t already, have a clear blueprint to exploit the Pats defense.

Now let’s give the Bills credit where deserved. They came into the game wanting to be aggressive and with revenge on the mind. From the opening kickoff, they were playing at an extremely high level and took a lot of risky chances, almost all of which paid off. If they are aggressive and aren’t able to convert a few of their 4th and shorts, the makeup of this game could have been very different. It was clear that seeing the Pats a few weeks before helped them put together the perfect game plan to fool Mac and take advantage of the Pats secondary.

The Bills also caught a substantial break before half. With the Pats driving down 10, the refs magically picked up a clear unnecessary roughing penalty that would have put the Pats in field goal range. Mac Jones got pulled down from behind with two fistfuls of jersey, which in the modern NFL is as clear a penalty as possible and has been called that way all season (an for the last number of seasons). Apparently, refs now judge the intent of a hit out of bounds, rather than just following the rule, claiming there was no intent to harm and thus no penalty, which is ridiculous. It is clearly a penalty regardless of intent and the resulting meltdown led to no points for the Pats before half. David Andrews was called for a taunting penalty for yelling at a Bills player in the resulting play, which was just an exclamation point on another embarrassing episode for NFL refs. What should have been a first down on the edge of field goal range for the Pats, turned into being backed up to their own 32 yard-line and essentially ending their chance to swing momentum. Even worse, it gave the Bills all the momentum going into the locker room.

There is a lot to process with the last two games for the Pats, including offensive line struggles, Mac Jones looking like a rookie, and Jonnu Smith and N’Keal Harry still sucking (other than Harry’s blocking), but the embarrassment of the secondary doesn’t seem to be fixable and will likely be the achilles heal other teams will attempt to exploit. While a deep playoff run is likely out of the question now, the Pats will probably have to play on the road if they make the postseason. The good news? The Pats are 6-1 on the road in 2021.