New England Patriots 2017 NFL Draft Profile

By: Jonathan Reiter

Happy 32nd Day of Draftmas! To conclude our NFL Draft breakdown, we turn to the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Summary

The New England Patriots finished the season with a league best 14-2 record. Even with Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games of the season, the Patriots did not falter. The Patriots’ stellar season culminated with the raising of the Lombardi trophy after a 25-point comeback to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.

Tom Brady (Photo courtesy: abcnews.com)

The Patriots are setting their sights on another title run this upcoming season, but there have been a few key departures which threaten the chances of defending their crown. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots saw Jabaal Sheard leave for the Colts and Chris Long went to the Eagles. Their defensive line is not getting any younger either with Rob Ninkovich entering his 13th season.

LeGarrette Blount still finds himself without a team. Patriots are still considering the possibility of bringing Blount back, but it would have to be at a discount rate with James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead already formulated into Brady’s offense.

The Patriots also may be looking into the possibility of an addition to the secondary. The Patriots resigned Super Bowl 49 hero Malcom Butler after he shopped around his services as a restricted free agent. Malcom Butler is still at the center of trade rumors, and he could be Bill Belichick’s ace-in-the-hole to trade into the first round.

New England also recruited some new faces to their title defense. Most notably, the Patriots traded for Brandon Cooks this offseason to add speed to Tom Brady’s spread offense. Rob Gronkowski found a new partner in crime in the veteran tight end Dwayne Allen. Martellus Bennett took on the work load at the tight end position after Gronkowski’s injury, but he will find himself playing at Lambeau Field with the Green Bay Packers next season.

Luckily for the Patriots they were able to re-sign Dont’a Hightower to lead the linebacker core for the defense. New England was also able to trade for Carolina’s DE Kony Ealy to help with the pass rush burden.

The Patriots fulfilled many of their key needs in offseason trades and free agency signings, but the kings of the NFL could use this 2017 NFL draft to solidify their spot as the Super Bowl 52 champions in 2018.

THE DRAFT:

New England’s draft plan will have to wait until the third round this year unless they trade up into the first two rounds.  Most teams’ plans would be hindered by such a late start in the draft, but the Patriots’ ability to find great, late round talent is unparalleled.  The Patriots find themselves with less picks due to trades and sanctions of the “ridiculous” Deflategate.

PICKS:

Third Round: 72nd and 96th Picks

Fourth Round: 131st Pick

Fifth Round: 163rd and 183rd Picks

Sixth Round: 200th

Seventh Round: 237th Pick

NEEDS:

Defensive End

The top priority for the Patriots is to solidify the defensive line. The Patriots will most likely find a player who works opposite of Kony Ealy at the defensive end position. New England’s rush defense was tied for 3rd best in the league last season, and an addition to the defensive line is key to keeping a top tier defense intact.

Cornerback

The Patriots also need to focus on a secondary option with the question surrounding Malcom Butler. A young cornerback is never a bad idea for a team with the youth needed at the position today. Even with the possibility of Butler staying on the roster, developing a rookie cornerback this year would be a great investment into the future of the defense.

Tight End

Rob Gronkowski has a new counterpart in Dwayne Allen, but both tight ends have been prone to injury. Tight end by committee could be an option for this upcoming season if the Patriots take a tight end with a mid-round.

Offensive Line

The Patriots do not have many needs on the offensive side of the ball with the trades and free agency signings, but they should invest for the future with a pick on the o-line. New England’s blind side tackle is in the last year of his contract, and the Patriots do not have anyone to fill his role after the 2017 season. The Patriots need to find someone in the draft to be groomed for the 2018 system. They need to find a reliable player in this draft to take over the role because protecting Tom Brady’s blindside may be the most important job in the NFL.

 

THIRD ROUND BREAK DOWN

72nd Pick: Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic

Hendrickson comes from a small school, but he turned heads at the NFL combine. He had 51 tackles last season with 13.5 of them being sacks.

96th Pick: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Sidney Jones (Photo courtesy: cbssports.com)

Jones, who was considered the top corner in the draft, tore his Achilles during his pro day with NFL scouts watching. Jones’ ability to be ready for this upcoming season is unlikely, but he could be the investment into the secondary the Patriots need for the future.

Conclusion

The Patriots are not in the ideal drafting scenario for 2017, but they will still be a top team for the upcoming season. If they can find the right players in the mid to late rounds of the draft to solidify the defense, the New England Patriots will be on pace for a second straight Super Bowl victory.

You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas here!

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Marshawn Lynch is Going Home

Marshawn Lynch is going home to play for the Oakland Raiders. According to Michael Silver, the source who broke the news, Lynch and the Raiders have agreed to terms on a deal for the 30-year-old running back. Lynch is a native of Oakland, California.

Silver said the Seahawks were shocked and unaware the two parties were in agreement. The Raiders now must put together a trade with the Seahawks to officially finish the deal.

Trading for a 30-year-old running back should be relatively easily. The trade will likely come in the form of conditional draft picks, meaning the pick they get depends on how Lynch performs. The picks will likely come from either the third or fourth round with the possibility of being an earlier round if Lynch has a certain amount of carries.

 

Raiders Favorites?

What does this mean for the Raiders, The AFC, and the rest of the NFL? The Raiders aren’t going to be the favorites in the AFC by solely acquiring Marshawn Lynch. New England is still the favorite but the gap has closed significantly.

Lynch’s last full season as a full-time starter came in 2014 in which he had 280 carries for 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns. Lynch played in 2015 but only appeared in seven games due to injuries. He has spent the last season retired from the game, meaning he has fresh legs.

Marshawn Lynch Oakland Raiders

(Photo Credit: https://www.fanragsports.com)

This gives the Raiders an offense with no weaknesses at all. Derek Carr is entering the top five of quarterbacks in the NFL. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are one of the best receiver duos in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked the Raiders line as fourth best in the NFL. All that was missing was a workhorse running back.

Because their offense will be so potent, they will be able to score with any offense in the league, including New England’s. Not to mention they traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks as well.

This move allows the Raiders to focus completely on their defense in the draft to try and close the gap even more. If the Raiders can make moves to build the depth of their defense, they will have just as much as a shot at winning the AFC as the Patriots.

Buckle up Oakland, the last few years in the city may lead to parades.

 

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Houston Texans

How The Houston Texans Can Win The Super Bowl

The AFC South has been one of the worst divisions in football for two years now. The Houston Texans have won the AFC South both seasons with back-to-back 9-7 records.

The biggest problem for the Texans is the lack of consistent quarterback play. The Texans started four different quarterbacks in 2015: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. They started two more quarterbacks last season: Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage.

Starting six quarterbacks in two years is not the formula to winning the Super Bowl, but they are really close.

Super Bowl Defense

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle )

Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. The Seahawks’ defense was so dominant four years ago that it led them to a 43-8 Super Bowl victory. The Patriots came up with a goal-line interception three years ago to the win the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos had one of the best defenses in the NFL two seasons ago and shut down the top scoring offense to beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl. The Patriots came back down from 28-3 this past February to win the Super Bowl. That could not have happened if their defense didn’t shut down the high-flying Falcons offense.

The Texans have a defense capable of playing to the level of all these other defenses. Houston allowed the fewest yards in the NFL last season at 301 per game. They also allowed the second-fewest passing yards.

Houston also has the best defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt. He only played in three games last season, which makes what Houston’s defense did more impressive.

Watt is a four-time Pro Bowler and a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which is tied for most all-time with Lawerence Taylor. Adding him back to the mix makes them an elite defense.

The Texans also finally saw the emergence of former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who had six sacks last season. Clowney’s amazing play doesn’t show up in the stats. He constantly received double teams without Watt in the lineup, but still made plays. In the Wild Card game against the Raiders, he made an incredible interception that took over the game.

These two great defenders will make one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. The Texans also have one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, headlined by Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus. If the secondary can make up for the loss of A.J. Bouye, they could contend for the best defense in the NFL.

What Is Missing?

It is no secret that the Texans need to improve offensively. Houston’s offensive line ranked 18th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. They must improve both guard positions if they want to improve the overall line play.

Running back is not an issue of concern. Lamar Miller finished 10th in the NFL with 1,073 yards in just 14 games. Alfred Blue is also a solid backup to Miller.

The receiving corp is solid with Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller, but headlined by DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has 189 receptions, 2,475 yards and 15 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Those stats are impressive with six different quarterbacks over two years.

It all comes back to quarterback play. The Texans are a quarterback away from being the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. There is one quarterback perfect for the Texans that they need to get.

The Missing Piece

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: http://boltbeat.com)

Houston threw millions at an unproven Brock Osweiler and it failed miserably. Osweiler has since been traded to the Browns and the only quarterbacks on the Texans’ roster are Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. These quarterbacks won’t even win the division, let alone a Super Bowl. So what should the Texans do?

The Texans could find a quarterback in the draft, but most analysts feel there are no NFL-ready quarterbacks in this draft. Free agency is always an option and Houston was hoping to get Tony Romo, but he retired. Jay Cutler is available, but that option could be just as bad or worse than what they already have.

That leaves only one option, a trade. The Houston Texans should go all in for a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers for Philip Rivers. The Chargers are nowhere close to contending for a championship and Rivers is 35 years old.

Rivers has accomplished a lot in his time in the NFL. His career record is 97-79. Rivers has 314 touchdowns, 156 interceptions and 45,833 yards.

By most comparisons, he is the AFC’s Tony Romo. Everything he has done of significance has come in the regular season. His playoff record is 4-5 and couldn’t get to the Super Bowl with Hall-of-Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates.

This narrative could change with a trade to Houston. His career would be revitalized and he would have a three to four years to win the Super Bowl. He would have the necessary weapons to succeed; such as a running game and a top 10 receiver in the NFL. The Texans would have a top five defense and an offense capable of keeping pace on the scoreboard with any team in the NFL.

Houston, if you want to win the Lombardi Trophy, trade for Phillip Rivers.

 

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Marshawn Lynch Return? Intriguing, but not Impactful

The Raiders on field product is in position to be a force for several years to come despite growing turmoil off the field. Oakland may have been the stiffest obstacle between the Patriots and another Super Bowl if MVP candidate Derek Carr didn’t get injured late in the regular season.

Derek Carr

Photo: heavy.com

However, there is one offseason rumor surrounding the Raiders that will not seem to go away: The possible return of retired running back Marshawn Lynch to join his hometown team in Oakland. Lynch reportedly visited team headquarters on Wednesday.

The Raiders have operated unconventionally throughout their history with mixed results.  This particular out-of-the-box move is a bad idea. Here is why.

Oakland Has Bigger Needs Elsewhere

Oakland’s defensive unit ranked outside the top 20 against both the pass and run last year. Their total defense ranking followed suit. The Raiders were quite fortunate that Carr and the offense were so good last year.

The offense will be very good as long as Carr is healthy. Last year’s starting running back Latavius Murray is now with the Vikings, but the Raiders still have two talented young running backs on the roster.

With an above-average offensive line, bringing in another running back should be way down on the Raider’s list of priorities. It is somewhat surprising that linebacker Jelani Jenkins is Oakland’s only defensive free agent signing to this point with their defensive rankings. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that all of their football related resources need to be dedicated towards building the defense in the draft. Any time spent on Lynch is a waste.

Spell Out the Specifics, It Makes No Sense

The Raiders suddenly find themselves trying to make the jump from good to great after over a decade of futility. This is the toughest jump to make in the NFL. Lynch’s power running style and outlandish personality made him one of the best and most memorable running backs of his era.

Beast Mode run

Photo: sportsworkout.com

In nine seasons, Lynch averaged over a thousand yards per season. A return would be interesting to see, but he will turn 31 later this month.

Ask yourself the following question: When was the last time an NFL team went from good to great by acquiring a 31-year-old running back who has not played in two years? One of Oakland’s decision makers needs to ponder this question before this flirtation goes any further.

 


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Buffalo Needs Stability

Buffalo Needs Stability

Buffalo needs stability to end their longtime playoff drought. 1999. What is the significance of 1999? It was the last year the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs. 17 NFL seasons have passed without the Bills having a chance at the Lombardi Trophy. The Bills were one of the greatest teams in the 90’s. From 1990 to 1999 the Bills made the playoffs eight out of 10 seasons.

Buffalo Needs Stability

(Photo: nfl.com)

They also appeared in four straight Super Bowls and even though they didn’t win any, it is a phenomenal accomplishment. Since the new century started, there hasn’t been much to cheer for. The franchise went from glory and one of the most successful, to a team who could be in the same category as the Jaguars, Browns or Lions.

Since their last playoff appearance in 1999, the Bills have had eight head coaches in 17 seasons. On average that is a new head coach every 2.1 years. Stability is on of the biggest keys to success. The proof is in the pudding. Look at the most successful franchise in the NFL.

New England has had Bill Belichick for 16 seasons. Green Bay has had Mike McCarthy 11 seasons. Pittsburgh has had three coaches in the last 50 years. All three of these examples are teams with a shot every year to win the Super Bowl. All three of these franchise have also won a Super Bowl in this time. This proves that stability and longevity mean success. The Bills are giving up too easily on their coaching hires.

Coaching Roulette

Wade Phillips was the head coach the last time the Bills made the playoffs. He lasted three seasons but made the playoffs in his first two years with the team. Phillips was fired after a subpar 8-8 season in 2000. Rumors say he was fired for failing to dismiss his special team’s coordinator.

Buffalo Needs Stability

(Photo: buffalobills,com)

Then came the Gregg Williams era and that lasted only three seasons. Williams went 17-31 in his time as the head coach. Three years is considered enough time to turn a franchise around, but this is where the Bills became impatient because at this point they have gone four straight seasons without a playoff appearance. Gregg Williams eventually went on to win a Super Bowl as the defensive coordinator for the Saints. There was controversy about his coaching and was suspended from the NFL for his role in bounty gate.

The Bills brought in Mike Mularkey for the 2004 season. Mularkey would only last two seasons going 9-7 in his first season and 5-11 in his second season. Yes, he had a less successful second season, but two years is not enough time to evaluate a coach’s ability to improve a franchise. Mularkey is now the head coach of the Tennessee Titans where he went 2-7 as the interim coach but followed it up with a 9-7 season this past year. The future in Tennessee looks bright with Mularkey at the helm and had the Bills rode it out they might have become a playoff team by now.

So after a two-year experiment with Mularkey, the Bills hired Dick Jauron. Jauron was the coach they were the most patient with but still could have tried him out a little longer. Dick Jauron finished three consecutive seasons with a 7-9 record. In his fourth season, he started 3-6 and was fired midseason. Interim coach Perry Fewell went 3-4 but was not hired to replace Jauron.

Chan Gailey was hired as the Bills coach in 2010 and he also got a three-year trial period. He went 16-32 in those three years. Now after allowing two coaches to have three years to prove they could do the job the Bills went back to a two-year window. At this point, it had been 13 seasons without a playoff appearance.

Buffalo Needs Stability

(http://giphy.com/search/rex-ryan)

In 2013 the Bills took a chance on Doug Marrone who went 6-10 in his first season. He followed that 6-10 season with a nine-win season. He had shown signs of improvement from year one to year two and there was a chance that he would lead the Bills to the playoffs in his third year. Marrone unexpectedly opted out of his contract and left Buffalo.

This time the Bills were searching for a new head coach after one left them before they cut him loose. That coach was none other than Rex Ryan. Rex didn’t even get to coach the end of his second season and was fired after compiling a 15-16 record with the team. Impatient management means failure and the struggling Bills franchise will need to give their new head coach, Sean McDermott, at least four years to build the team. They need a coach who can create stability within the franchise. If they cut him loose early Buffalo will continue to miss the playoffs and the drought will continue to grow.

A Franchise Quarterback

Buffalo Needs Stability

(http://www.buffalobillsalumni.com/Jim_Kelly_Buffalo_Bills_s/73.htm)

The success of a franchise is directly connected to having a franchise quarterback. The Bills haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly. Buffalo have started 16 different quarterbacks since Kelly was the man. They have had no luck finding a quarterback to lead the team and now that they have, they aren’t fully committed to him.

Some will argue that Doug Flutie could have been a franchise quarterback but the truth is that Flutie was a bit of a journeyman. He played for five teams in 11 NFL seasons. He had some talent and was the last Bills quarterback to lead them to the playoffs, but there is a reason he didn’t stay with teams longer.

As mentioned above, the Bills have had 16 different starting quarterbacks before they stumbled upon Tyrod Taylor. Taylor spent his first four seasons in the NFL as a backup to Super Bowl Champion quarterback Joe Flacco. He learned the ropes from the sideline. It allowed him to develop and grow before throwing him to the wolves like most young quarterbacks in today’s day and age.

Taylor finally got his opportunity to start when he won the job in 2015. In his first season as an NFL starter, Tyrod Taylor played 14 games and went 7-6. Taylor completed 63.7 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,035 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. He also added 568 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

In his second season, he started 15 games and went 7-8. In two seasons as a starter he has thrown for 6,257 yards, 37 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions. He ran for 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns. These are great numbers but the best thing is that he has gone 14-14. He is still growing and just about to enter his prime.

Buffalo Needs Stability

(http://onsmash.com/sports/sammy-watkins-44-yard-touchdown-bomb-from-tyrod-taylor/)

These numbers and wins are much better than the other quarterbacks the Bills have had recently. He has won 50 percent of his games while quarterbacks E.J. Manuel (6-11 won 36%), Thad Lewis (2-4 won 33%), Ryan Fitzpatrick (20-33 won 38%), Trent Edwards (14-18 won 44%), and J.P. Losman (10-23 won 30%) have all done much worse.

The Buffalo Bills have a franchise quarterback sitting in their lap and they need to stick with him. 17 seasons is a long time to not make the playoffs. The way to end that is to stick with McDermott for longer than three years to allow him enough time to build the program. They also need to stick by Tyrod Taylor. Finding a franchise quarterback is difficult and giving up on Tyrod Taylor will spell doom for Buffalo. If they move on from Taylor, McDermott will be fired after two years and the Bills will continue down the path they have been stuck on the past 17 seasons. It isn’t difficult Buffalo, let Tyrod Taylor lead you to the promised land.

 

 

John Lynch

Lynch Trying not to Join Infamous List of NFL Head Scratchers

The San Francisco 49ers raised more than a few eyebrows at the end of last month when they hired John Lynch as their new general manager. Despite a borderline Hall of Fame playing career, Lynch has no relevant front office experience to speak of. In fact, he is coming straight out of the television broadcast booth.

While it is much too early to pass judgment on Lynch’s hiring, there have been a few other peculiar NFL coaching and front office hires in recent years. For the most part, they have not worked out.

Art Shell: Raiders head coach (2006)

Art Shell

Photo courtesy of USA today

Raiders fans will not enjoy the first part of this article. Up until very recently, Oakland spent almost a decade as the NFL’s top dumpster fire. For some reason, late owner Al Davis thought it would be a good idea to bring Art Shell back as head coach after a 13-year hiatus.

The game changes in 13 years and it left Shell behind. Shell was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Raiders, but his second tenure as head coach is best left forgotten.

His first big hire to his staff was offensive coordinator Tom Walsh. Walsh had been out of football for six years and was running a bed and breakfast.

Walsh is also infamous for saying that the skills of wide receiver Randy Moss were “diminishing.” After being traded to the Patriots, Moss had a record-breaking season in 2007.

Unsurprisingly, Shell’s Raiders stumbled to a 2-14 finish and he was let go after a single season. Somehow, Oakland’s next head coaching hire was even worse.

Lane Kiffin: Raiders head coach (2007-2008)

Lane Kiffin

Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

Lane Kiffin is well known to football fans now. When Davis first hired him to resurrect the Raiders in 2007, Kiffin was a 31-year-old who had never been a head coach at any level of football.

The friction between Davis and Kiffin was almost immediate. The Raiders still had virtually no talent on the roster. To make matters worse, they drafted quarterback JaMarcus Russell who went down as one of the most spectacular draft flops in NFL history.

Davis fired Kiffin during the 2008 season in an epic press conference that resulted in Kiffin taking legal action against the Raiders. He posted a record of just 5-15 and has since bounced around the college ranks.

Matt Millen: Lions President and General Manager (2001-2008)

Matt Millen

Photo Courtesy of Seattle Times

This is the story that makes 49er fans most nervous. Much like Lynch, Millen was hired straight from broadcasting after a really good playing career in 2001. The result was disastrous. Under Millen’s direction, the Lions best single season record was 6-10.

While no one in the NFL fails all on their own, Millen’s biggest gaffe was using a first-round pick on a wide receiver three straight years. Moreover, the Lions passed on guys like DeMarcus Ware to draft Roy Williams, Mike Williams, and Charles Rogers.

After years of losing and fan protests, Millen was put out of his misery in September 2008. The Lions had just begun what would become the only 0-16 season in NFL history. Millen has since returned to broadcasting.

Paul DePodesta: Browns Chief Strategy Officer (2016-present)

Admittedly, the jury is still out on this one. However, that does not make hiring a former MLB analytics guru for a major executive role in the NFL any less odd. The Browns have been a laughing stock since returning to the league in 1999. Maybe they know something the rest of the world does not, but I doubt it.

A 1-15 debut was not encouraging for DePodesta and the rest of the Browns revamped front office, but next year will tell the tale. The Browns have five of the first 65 picks in the 2017 NFL draft and are among the league leaders in salary cap space. That should mean a significant improvement. If not, it may well be back to the drawing board yet again in Cleveland.

What you do not see in this article is as important as what you do see. Generally, the teams who make these type of moves are bad for a decade or longer. Teams like the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Seahawks and Broncos do not go outside the box very often. Those are the teams in contention year in and year out.

Given the current state of the 49ers, Lynch will be fighting the odds not to join the likes of Millen, DePodesta, Kiffin and Shell.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

We Just Witnessed the Greatest Sports Year Ever

Sports are cool, and they’re even cooler when a season ends with fireworks. Thankfully, in the last cycle of season championships, we were able to witness the greatest sports year ever.

From the 2016 college basketball National Championship, to the latest Super Bowl, none of the championships have disappointed. Each of them saw incredible comebacks or last-second scores. As fans, we are blessed to be able to watch all of these games unfold.

That said, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce in the previous year’s amazing culminations.

*Of the four major sports in the United States, and the two major college sports, only one doesn’t make the list. Sorry, NHL fans, the 2016 Stanley Cup was good, but not great enough to be mentioned on the list.*

Super Bowl LI

It seemed as though the states to the most northeast in the U.S. were rooting for New England, and the rest of the population became Falcons fans for one day.

Maybe it’s because Atlanta was foreign to the big stage. It seemed so weird seeing a team like Atlanta playing in the Super Bowl since we had become accustomed to seeing either Seattle, Green Bay, or New York represent the NFC for more than half of the Super Bowls played since 2006.

Greatest Sports Year

In Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does- win Super Bowls. (Photo: Getty Images)

Maybe Atlanta became America’s team for one day simply because of the hatred spewed towards New England. The Patriots have made seven Super Bowls since 2001, and won five. New England has also been to the AFC Conference Championship game 11 times since 2001. Picking New England to make it to the Super Bowl has become routine for many NFL pundits because that’s just what they do.

Nevertheless, this Super Bowl just felt different. New England was the heavyweight that everyone had seen win before. Atlanta was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and the popular vote was in favor of the newbies.

No one saw Atlanta jumping out to a 21-3 lead at the half and a 28-3 lead as the third quarter waned. At this point, many fans just wanted to see a close game.

We should be careful what we wish for.

The Patriots scored a touchdown late in the third, and continued to mount a comeback in the fourth.

The final quarter was the equivalent to slowly watching a bottle of soda being shaken. The game continued to feel closer and closer, and before long, New England put so much pressure back into the game that the contest exploded to help make the greatest sports year we’ve seen.

In overtime, it was inevitable. Not only did the Patriots have momentum, but they also had history. It felt impossible for New England to lose the game. Coming back from a 25-point deficit and pushing the game into the Super Bowl’s first ever overtime? That’s just not a game New England loses.

Because of the incredible comeback by those darn Patriots, Super Bowl LI capped what was the greatest sports year of all time.

2017 College Football National Championship

In a narrative much the same as the Super Bowl, Alabama took on Clemson to be called college football’s undisputed champion. In this game’s case, there was no insurmountable lead that ended up being toppled. The game was tight the whole way, and was never separated by more than two possessions.

Clemson found itself down by two possessions twice, and each time it seemed like Bama was gonna keep Bama-ing. At one point, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave Alabama over a 90 percent chance to win the game.

But this is the greatest sports year we’ve ever seen, so hopefully you’re sensing a theme.

Clemson came back, led by crisp drives from Deshaun Watson. Watson may not have won the Heisman, but at least he got himself a ring. Watson completed a two-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in the game to clinch a victory for the Tigers.

2016 World Series

Where do we start in this event? So many storylines developed by the time the series was all finished. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. Once the Cleveland Indians went up 3-1 on the Cubs, there was no way that would be blown, right?

Maybe Cleveland fans got what they deserved for making fun of the Warriors. #WellActually when a city has to root for the Browns, it deserves no other bad omens. The Indians didn’t catch that vibe.

Greatest Sports Year

Rajai Davis hit the most memorable home run in recent years. (Photo: FX Tribune)

Sure, our very own Matt Hagan knew the Cubs would win it all. However, since no one else did, the 3-1 series lead all but wrapped up the World Series.

The Cubs almost lost it. They had a 6-3 lead with less than two innings left to play. With the lead cut to two, Rajai Davis sent the world into hysteria with the craziest turn of events the World Series had ever seen.

Chicago had it all but won, yet in two seconds Cleveland was right back in it. A ball traveled faster than offseason Rob Gronkowski on the way to the club into the left field seats, while it seemed like it was in slow motion, even as slow as Tom Brady running the 40-yard dash in fashionable yet exotic khaki shorts.

Every baseball kid dreams of coming to bat in the tenth inning of the World Series game seven, and the Cubs had that chance. Chicago scored two, and took an 8-6 lead to end the top half of the inning.

Rajai Davis came back up in the tenth, and even delivered an RBI. The Indians didn’t have enough in them, as they fell short, 8-7. However, it still was one of the greatest World Series of all time.

2016 NBA Finals

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, and that remains a joke on social media to this day. When you think of Steph Curry, you think of triples galore, an outspoken wife and the fact that he was the MVP on a team that for the first time ever blew a 3-1 lead.

LeBron James put on the greatest performance of all time in a Finals series in the most historically-charged Finals series of all time. Kyrie Irving hit the most clutch shot of his life to clinch the win for Cleveland- in Golden State.

The 2016 NBA Finals will be a landmark for the NBA’s modern era. With super teams becoming more and more evident, this series will forever be known as the time the NBA’s Goliath was taken out.

2016 College Basketball National Championship

Marcus Paige was supposed to be the hero. He hit one of the greatest three-pointers you will ever see. Double-clutch layups are hard enough, but a double-clutch three is just stupid good.

With Paige’s shot, North Carolina tied Villanova, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds left. At that point, viewers of the game had to pick their jaws up from the floor. The shot was incredible.

But what Kris Jenkins did carried more water. A deep triple as time expired sent Villanova into absolute elation.

The Greatest Sports Year

Who knew that game would turn into the precursor to what was to come? With all the great games that happened in the past year, college basketball’s National Championship was my favorite. Everyone has their own favorite, and the games are probably split pretty evenly across the board.

This was a year that we will tell our children and grandchildren about. It was a year that probably will never be topped. We should all feel fortunate that we were alive to take it all in.

If anyone can make a DVD of all these games in it’s entirety, I will throw my money at you. So someone please do that.

 

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Green Bay Packers and Pittsburg Steelers: What Went Wrong?

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

Today is Super Bowl Sunday and there has been plenty of talk about the Falcons and the Patriots. They have fought hard to get to this magnificent day. The game will be entertaining and a champion will be crowned. Since there has been so much talk about the Super Bowl, it is permitting to look at the two teams who came up just a game short and ask, what went wrong?

 

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the Packers organization. Because of that, he causes the most problems for the Packers. Rodgers is both a blessing and a curse. Before diving into the player personnel for the Packers, let’s look at the front office.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(MARK HOFFMAN)

Ted Thompson has been the general manager for the Packers since 2005 and has done an outstanding job. His philosophy of building through the draft, rather than through free agency, has created a team capable of contending every year. Thompson has provided plenty of consistency and longevity, both of which are required to be considered one of the best franchises.

Thanks to Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy has also been able to maintain longevity. Thompson hired McCarthy in 2006 and has remained comfortable in his position as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. In his 11 seasons as the Packers head coach, he has gone 114-61-1 with nine playoff appearances.

McCarthy’s career playoff record is 10-8. He has led the Packers to four NFC Championship games and won Super Bowl XLV. There are few coaches who have had the amount of success McCarthy has had with the Packers.

When one looks at the Packers’ roster, the problems can be found. Pro Football Focus ranked the Packers offensive line as the fifth best in the NFL. They have few holes along the line and don’t need to improve there.

They have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but the Packers need playmakers. In the backfield, the Packers had to settle for moving former wide receiver Ty Montgomery to running back. The Packers must find a running back in the draft or in free agency if they want to take another step.

Aside from Jordy Nelson, the Packers are inconsistent in their receiving corp. A solid and consistent number two receiver could take this offense to new heights. On offense, the answer to improving the team is to add more playmakers.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(http://deadspin.com/tag/nfl-playoffs)

Defensively is where the biggest problems lie. As a unit, the Packers ranked near the bottom of all major defensive categories. They were 21st in points allowed (24.2 ppg) and 22nd in yards given up (363.9 ypg). The Packers could use players at every level on their defense, but their secondary needs the most work. If the Packers can improve their secondary, they will become a much better defense.

To simplify, the Packers need to develop a running game to take pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. Defensively, they need to beef up every level of their defense. If the Packers can fix those issues, they could be heading to a Super Bowl berth as soon as next season.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The list of problems the Steelers face is much smaller than the Packers’. They have done a great job in the front office with the draft and head coach Mike Tomlin has also been outstanding.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(http://nesn.com/2013/11/steelers-coach-mike-tomlin-nearly-collides-with-ravens-jacoby-jones-during-73-yard-kickoff-return-gif/)

Mike Tomlin has been the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 seasons. In those 10 seasons, Tomlin has a 103-57 record. Tomlin has made the playoffs seven times in those 10 seasons.

He also has a playoff record of 8-6, made it to the AFC Conference Championship three times, and won Super Bowl XLIII. Just as McCarthy has been one of the best coaches in the NFL, so has Tomlin. Coaching is not an issue that needs to be addressed.

Offensively the Steelers are absolutely loaded. Their offensive line was ranked third by pro football focus. There were no weaknesses on the line. With guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, the Steelers will continue to have one of the best offensive lines in the game.

Continuing on offense, Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the NFL. He is not just a great runner, he is a great receiver as well. In the past, the league has seen similar running backs like Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. That is the path Bell is on and will be an all-time great barring injury.

The Steelers receiving corp is extremely versatile and full of playmakers. Antonio Brown is virtually unguardable and has put up gaudy numbers throughout his career. There is no indication that will stop anytime soon.

Along with Antonio Brown, Sammie Coats, and Eli Rogers provide big play ability. Rogers showed flashes of greatness this season and if he develops further he could become a dangerous weapon. Don’t forget that Martavis Bryant, who is one of the best number two options in the NFL, should be coming back. If he can stay out of trouble off the field, the Steelers will have one of the best sets of receivers in the NFL.

That leaves one position to talk about on offense: the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is contemplating retirement. Few believe he will actually retire and why would he? Big Ben threw for 3,819 yards while completing 64.4 percent of his passes. He added 29 touchdowns and threw just 13 interceptions. He is still playing at a high level and the Steelers shouldn’t be majorly concerned at the quarterback position.

One thing the Steelers must do this offseason, and moving forward into next season, is find the replacement for Big Ben. If he is thinking about retirement now, he will be thinking about it next season as well and the franchise must be prepared for that.

Big Ben also has had plenty of injuries in his career. If he goes down, Landry Jones is not the answer. Age is also an issue for Big Ben and his play may start to diminish. For all these reasons, the Steelers need to use a third or fourth-round pick on a future franchise quarterback.

Defensively is where the Steelers could use the most help. In the game against the Patriots, the Steelers weakness showed upfront. They did a good job in the regular season getting sacks, but in the postseason they didn’t have that guy who could get a sack. Tom Brady sat in the pocket and picked apart the young secondary. If the Steelers want to take that next step, they need a dominant pass rusher.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Pittsburgh’s linebacking corp is extremely solid. Ryan Shazier can flat out fly all across the field. Bud Dupree is also a stud. He has a lot of speed to make plays all over the field, similar to Shazier.

The secondary is probably Pittsburgh’s weakest area on the entire team. The secondary had a total of six interceptions. Part of the problem is they are young and inexperienced. Signing a free agent corner or drafting one is the biggest priority for the Steelers’ offseason. If they get a pass rusher and beef up the secondary, the Steelers will make the Super Bowl next season.

 

 

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Hagan’s Haus Super Bowl LI Prediction

Two weeks have passed since the conference championship games. The biggest surprise wasn’t that Atlanta won, but how they won. Atlanta blew out Green Bay 44-21 in the final game ever at the Georgia Dome. Few could have predicted this annihilation, but I’ll do my best to give a good Super Bowl LI prediction.

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: NFL Spin Zone)

On the other side of the NFL, the Patriots did the same to the Steelers. The game wasn’t close and Tom Brady punched a ticket to his seventh Super Bowl with a 36-17 win.

For the most part, the playoffs this season have been extremely dull. There haven’t been many close games leaving fans on the edge of their seat.

The playoffs are supposed to provide epic battles and last-second wins. The Super Bowl is the last chance to live up to the hype of the playoffs. It has been a great season in terms of predicting how the games will turn out.

Just as the NFL is hoping the Super Bowl ends the season on the right note, predicting the game needs to end this year’s picks on the right note. For the final time this season, here is Hagan’s Haus predictions.

Championship Sunday: 1-1

Regular Season:148-103-2

Playoffs: 6-4

Overall: 154-107-2

Super Bowl LI Prediction

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff)

Hoston plays host to the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons this Sunday for Super Bowl LI. This is one of the most intriguing Super Bowls in recent memory for a couple of reasons.

First, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Patriots are a 55.6 percent favorite in this game. Many of the polls on twitter have been close to 50/50 as well.

The betting world also has the Patriots as three-point favorites. In summary, this game is 50/50 and everyone seems to be split on who is going to win.

Secondly, this match-up pits the number one scoring offense (Atlanta with 33.8 ppg) versus the number one scoring defense (New England with 15.6 ppg).

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: Daily Mall)

Atlanta has actually been scoring more in the playoffs averaging 40 points per game. New England is still first in the playoffs giving up 16.5 points per game. In the past five occasions in which the number one offense has gone up against the number one defense, four times the number one defense has won the game.

Another reason Super Bowl LI is intriguing is that Tom Brady is going for his fifth Super Bowl ring, which would be the most in NFL history by a quarterback.

Many people believe Tom Brady is already the greatest player of all time but a win here would cement it in most minds. There will be many people rooting for or against this achievement providing plenty of entertainment.

Lastly, many people are looking forward to seeing what happens if the Patriots win and Roger Goodell is forced to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Tom Brady after suspending him for four games for deflate-gate.

Goodell is one of the most hated commissioners among the fans in all of sports and there will be a lot of fans who would love to see Goodell forced to give Brady the trophy.

With all that said, it is time to predict a winner and why they’ll win.

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time and his Super Bowl experience gives the Patriots a huge advantage. He won’t make the mistakes Atlanta will need to win this game.

Also, do not be surprised if the Patriots come out and pound the rock on Atlanta. The Falcons are a middle of the road run defense and LeGarrette Blount could be the x-factor.

The saying will forever hold true that defense wins championships. Atlanta has a high powered offense, but its defense is not a championship defense yet.

The Patriots have proven to have the best defense this season. They bend, but do not break. Matt Ryan is going to struggle in this game and be forced into two or three turnovers. New England will capitalize and win the Super Bowl yet again.

 

New England 27 Atlanta 17

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Player Skill Be Damned! RNG is a Critical Part of the Pokémon Formula

RNG Is All Around Us… But What Is It?

Pokémon Pokéball shakes using RNG to capture

Image courtesy of Game Freak

RNG, or Random Number Generator, is a term used to describe a background process for decision making. Much the same as luck, it is used in games such a Pokémon to determine things like critical hits and status effects. In other types of games, such as MMOs, RNG is used to determine what monsters drop from their loot pool. Think of it like the result from the flip of a coin, or roll of the dice.

RNG is a controversial topic when it comes to eSports, and in particular competitive Pokémon. One of the main critiques of competitive Pokémon is its reliance on RNG. There are many that feel that due to the fact that these elements are not affected by players skill, they have little to no place in competitive sports/eSports. However, others feel the inclusion of RNG tests a competitors risk management.

So which side is right? While reliance on player skill is an important factor in all competitive sports and eSports, so is unpredictability. It is when both skill and luck come together that a truly great competition is born.

 

Milotic Goes for the Scald on Celesteela, HE GETS THE BURN!

Pokémon Milotic uses Scald and RNG grants a burn

Image courtesy of Make A Gif

There is no doubt that RNG plays a large roll in all Pokémon matches. Critical hits and Status effect are the two biggest examples of RNG altering matches. It is also true that in some cases, no matter the skill of a trainer, RNG will lead to their defeat. This does not mean that each match is won by the flip of a coin though. The fact you see many of the same great trainers winning tournaments over and over again is proof that skill is the ultimate deciding factor in win-rate.

Sure, a Trainer can’t force a critical hit to kill that Celesteela, but they certainly can predict a Leech Seed and swap a Sap Sipper Goodra into it. This type of play only comes with lots of training and practice. Understanding the meta, observing your opponents play style, and getting into their head are huge parts of competitive Pokémon. The best players are reacting to what their opponent will do before they even do it. This is the level of play that separate the good from the great.

At the end of the day, even the best Trainers will inevitably lose matches that they have no business losing due to RNG. Normally though, this is not enough to prevent great Trainers from winning consecutively. Official matches are even structured in a way to prevent the influence of RNG. Rather than each match ending with a winner and loser, all matches are played in a best of three series. This not only helps to prevent RNG from determining winners and losers, but also allows Trainers to get a feel for each other as the series progresses.

 

Do You Feel Lucky? Well Do Ya Punk?

Let’s be honest, RNG or luck influences many of the sports and eSports that we know and love also. Actually if you step back and look at all of these activities, you will see they all fall on a continuum. On the left is pure luck, like playing the lottery, and on the right is pure skill. Chess would be the best example of purely skill based gameplay. Every other sport or eSport falls somewhere on this continuum.

Think about things like weather and coin flips. These are excellent examples of RNG at play in popular sports. Baseball has variable field sizes, Basketballl has game winning shots from half court; the list goes on and on. Then look at eSports. League has crit chance, DOTA has crit chance, accuracy penalties, and much more. Even CS:GO has shot variance, creating some situations where a long range shot is missed simply due to luck. Yet all of these games are leading the charge in the eSport market.

Going even further, even the Super Bowl’s outcome can be determined by luck. Think back to Super Bowl 46 when Wes Welker dropped an easily catchable ball that would have won the game and the Super Bowl for the Patriots. There is not even a best-of series for the Super Bowl, so if luck is the deciding factor, that is it. This has not stopped the popularity however, and very few games have come down to pure luck.

Patriots Tight End Wes Welker drops game winning pass in Super Bowl 46. Demonstrating lucks influence in traditional sports.

Image courtesy of NBC

At the end of the day, the best way to think about it is great competitors create their own luck. This is, in essence, the risk management of competition.

 

Luck vs Skill: The Ratings

Looking at ratings alone, luck is actually the more important factor for spectators. Consider the continuum, while very luck-based games such as Texas Hold’em have aired all over ESPN and cable television, you would be hard pressed to see a Chess Tournament in primetime. The fact is, unexpected results create drama, and drama is good for viewership. Some of the most memorable sporting moments have been upsets that were part skill and part luck, but amazing television.

This is why the focus on the influence of RNG on not just Pokémon, but eSports in general is misguided. Rather than making RNG the end all be all, it should be another element that adds to the fun. Great competitors will understand RNG, and even bend it to their advantage. This will lead to those “Oh My God” moments, and who doesn’t want more of those in their sport?

For Pokémon this means learning to blend the elements of range subtly into the playing experience. If something like burns or critical hits seems to be too powerful, tweak it until you get the right mix. However, you can never forget the three dimensional game that Pokémon is. Between subtle things like team building and dynamic actions (like masterful switches), Trainers have a multitude of methods to tip a match in their favor.

Pokémon VGC world championship 2015 Wolf Glick shows expert prediction during finals match

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Full Stop. Pure Skill Based Gameplay is Boring

RNG or luck makes for excitement, and observers like excitement. It keeps competitors on their toes and keeps games from getting stale. While taking all reliance on skill out of a game is a terrible idea, so too is removing all aspects of luck. Finding the perfect formula of gameplay, skill, and luck should be the ultimate objective of aspiring sports. While Pokémon by no means has the mix perfect, TPCI should not let the critics convince them RNG has no place in an eSport.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @aeroashwind

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