The New England Patriots’ quarterback search

As Tom Brady keeps beating time, it seems like the same debate comes every off-season. Who is the heir to the Tom Brady legacy. Names like Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallet, Brian Hoyer and even Jimmy Garoppolo have had their names mentioned, but no one has been worthy so far and no one has out lasted Brady.

Now they enter another off-season, one with a high draft pick and a 32-year-old back up quarterback and it seems like a 2018 draft class member could be the future for the New England Patriots.

Why it makes sense now:

I feel like I’ve been saying this for years, Tom Brady is turning 41 this off-season and father time is undefeated. With the recent trading of Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots have essentially received a serviceable backup in Hoyer and a second-round pick.

Hoyer has been studying the Patriots playbook for 3+ seasons. He understands it and can teach it to a younger guy getting drafted. Brady is under contract until 2020 with the possibility of restructuring a deal. He would be 42 at the beginning of the 2020 off-season.

That would give a quarterback drafted this season at least two seasons to learn under both Brian Hoyer, who knows Josh McDaniels’ offense, as well as the ability to learn under Tom Brady.

Who would work for the Pats:

New England Patriots

Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith).

By no means am I saying the Patriots should reach in the draft to draft a quarterback, but in recent history they have drafted their guy when he is their at the position. Lets throw two prospects out there the Patriots could possibly draft this season.

The first option could be Luke Falk. Luke Falk is a 6’4″ 205 pound Washington State product. He’s a quarterback who may be a few years away from performing (like many thought Garoppolo would be when he was drafted).

Like mentioned previous, Brady isn’t exactly slowing down and with Garoppolo especially, they have given backups a few years to mature and grow up behind Brady. Falk doesn’t have to come in and perform right away, he just has to learn the system and perform a little more under center.

The second guy could be Riley Fergusun out of Memphis. Obviously teams are fans of not turning the ball over, Fergusun had a 4.1-1 touchdown to Interception rate his senior season at Memphis. He comes in at 6’4″ and weighs around 200 pounds.

He completed 299 of his 474 passes for over 4200 yards. He threw for 38 Touchdowns and nine interceptions in his senior campaign.

Two of Furguson’s biggest strengths are that he has a strong arm and is relatively accurate which can be said about former back up, Jimmy Garoppolo. The two biggest knocks on him are that when he forces throws they tend to be very inaccurate and like Falk he is primarily out of the shotgun.

With 2-3 years I think that both of these quarterbacks can become great quarterbacks. They will thrive in a situation with an established quarterback and an experienced head coach.

To continue the dynasty:

Many people don’t want to admit it, but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can’t stay around forever. Coach Josh McDaniels has stressed his interest as a head coach and then declined to do just that all at once to come back to the Patriots which means, something is up.

The most important position for an offense winning games is the quarterback and even though Patriots fans haven’t had to worry about who has been under center for the last 18 years it seems like there has to be a younger backup around waiting.

By no means do I think Brady’s numbers will completely drop off a cliff, but there has to be some regression sometime. His body has been taking a beating for over 200 games and it’s fair to assume someday soon he will step away.

If the Patriots turn one of their picks this season into an upper tier quarterback they will be able to prep him for that moment when Brady steps away. Even though it might not be for a few years, father time is undefeated.

 

Featured image from SF Gate.

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Detroit Lions coaches

Detroit Lions: Coaches breakdown 2018

Does coaching matter? Pose that question to Detroit Lions fans.

The Lions have been around the coaching carousel more times than their fans care to count. Since the team’s previous championship in 1957, Wayne Fontes is the longest tenured coach.

No offense to Fontes, but his performance in Detroit would not earn him a spot in the debate of greatest coach in team history for most teams in professional sports.  The fans in Detroit have long been waiting for a great group of coaches. Time will tell if Matt Patricia is the answer to Detroit’s prayers.

Wayne Fontes

Detroit Lions coaches

Wayne Fontes (Photo by Jeff Kowlasky, Associated Press)

After taking over for Darryl Rogers 11 games into the 1988 season (4-12 overall, 2-3 under Fontes), Fontes led the Lions to a 12-4 record by 1991. He also won a division title and achieved the only playoff win since the Beatles came to America in 1964. This is still the only playoff win to date.

Fontes departed in 1996 with a 67-71 record (1-4 playoff record). This firmly plants him in the top spot as the greatest coach in the Super Bowl era of Detroit Lions football.

Coaching Turmoil

In the last 20 seasons, the Lions have been through eight head coaches, compiling a combined 127–209 record with zero division titles or playoff wins.

To say it has been a rough 20 years would be a major understatement. It goes without saying, Lions fans are dying for a winner and a team to help bring the fan base and the city back to its feet. That starts and ends with coaching.

Coordinators

Offensive Coordinator 

Detroit Lions coaches

Jim Bob Cooter (right) with Matthew Stafford (left). (Photo by Mike Mulholland, mlive.com)

The news of Jim Bob Cooter being retained as the offensive coordinator has had mixed reactions among fans as some viewed his play-calling as too inconsistent and predictable while others believe Jim Caldwell was the reason for this.

Nevertheless, the possibility of molding Cooter’s coaching prowess with a New England mentality breeds a high level of optimism and intrigue in Detroit. Remember, not too long ago, Cooter was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel and many dubbed him as a great coach of the future.

Prior to last season, he was put into the same class as Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams.

Defensive Coordinator 

Detroit Lions coaches

Paul Pasqualoni during his head coaching tenure at UConn. (Photo from CBSsports.com)

Paul Pasqualoni has been hired by Patricia to call the defense. He has amassed 46 years of coaching experience and previously hired Patricia as an offensive assistant at Syracuse in 2001.

Pasqualoni was the head coach at Syracuse from 1991-2004, with a 107-59-1 record. He has coached in a myriad of positions and for many teams in the NFL since he left Syracuse.

In Dallas, he coached the tight ends, linebackers and defensive line. He stayed in the role of defensive line coach in Chicago and Houston. He was the defensive coordinator for a year in Miami before returning back to college as the head coach at UConn.

When asked about what his relationship with Pasqualoni would bring to Detroit, Patricia stated in a press conference, “…there’s a lot of common ground from what we believe in, how defense should be played, how it should be run, the fundamentals behind it… a huge comfort level for me to have him on board and to be able to entrust him to handle.”

Notable Assistants

Other assistants hired by Patricia include Brian Stewart (defensive backs), David Corrao (director of football research), Chris White (tight ends) and Jeff Davidson (offensive line).

Arguably, the most important of those is Davidson. He takes over a group that led an offense to a ranking of 32nd in rushing and allowed 47 sacks in 2017. Davidson previously worked with New England until 2004 (one year with Patricia). Most recently he was the offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos.

PROMISING FUTURE UNDER PATRICIA

Detroit Lions coaches

New head coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia. (Photo by Mike Mulholland, mlive.com)

The Detroit Lions are in a great spot as I am sure many teams are envious of quarterback Matthew Stafford. The promising front office, combined with the character and experience of Patricia, bodes well for Detroit.

When building from the ground up, why not copy a dynastic legend? See the New England Patriots. Short of coaxing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to the Motor City, the Lions have made strong moves to bring men over who can begin to build “The Lions Way.”

With Bob Quinn in the general manager’s office and Patricia on the sidelines, one can only wonder how many players may see Detroit as a viable option in free agency. There have been rumors among hopeful fans of Malcolm Butler following Patricia. Imagine him across from Darius Slay and/or Dion Lewis lining up in the backfield with Stafford.

No one can predict how this hire will play out for the Lions. However, one thing is for sure: Matt Patricia and his big-bearded, pencil-behind-the-ear, backwards hat wearing persona will fit in perfectly within the state of Michigan.

 

Featured image from USA Today Sports

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49ers lock up Jimmy Garoppolo on record-breaking deal

The 49ers have locked up Garoppolo with a five-year, $137.5 million contract, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. This is the largest contract on an average-per-year basis.

After witnessing QB Jimmy Garoppolo lead the 49ers to five straight wins to conclude the 2017 season, GM John Lynch knew he found his franchise QB.

Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates a touchdown during the 2017 season (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

Garoppolo was originally shipped out to San Francisco, who surrendered a 2018 second round draft pick, in a trade with the New England Patriots in October 2017. Garoppolo was in the final year of his rookie contract at the time.

While Garoppolo has only started a total of seven games, two for New England and five for San Francisco, he remains undefeated. Garoppolo energized a 49er team that seemed destined for a top-five draft pick, leading them to a 5-0 record to conclude the season. This includes two fourth quarter comeback victories against the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans in 15-14 and 25-23 wins respectively.

During that stretch, Garoppolo completed 67.4 percent of his passing attempts for 1,560 yards. He threw seven touchdowns and five interceptions while maintaining a 96.2 QB Rating. Per NFL Network, Garoppolo has steered his team to more average points per game, 28.3, than any other QB in the NFL in the past 25 seasons, aside from his mentor, Tom Brady who has 28.3 as well.

 

 

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5 things to watch for in Super Bowl LII

The Super Bowl is fast approaching and will feature an underdog team going against the best franchise of the 21st century. With every game in the NFL there are a lot of things to watch for, but with the Super Bowl there are even more things to be aware of. Here are the top five things to watch for in Super Bowl LII.

1. Brady And Belichick could cement their statuses as the best

Last season Tom Brady won his fifth Super Bowl, with a dramatic comeback win over the Falcons. At this point he has proven all of his doubters wrong and has claimed his spot among the all-time greats. With the win last season, Brady has the most Super Bowl wins ever by a quarterback. He is currently tied with Charles Haley for the most Super Bowl wins by a player regardless of position. A win this year puts him in a class all by himself.

Belichick has had a great 20 year run that ranks him among the best coaches of all time in any way you measure it. His five Super Bowls are the most by a head coach and a win in this Super Bowl will put him in a tie for second with six NFL Championships with George Halas and Curly Lambeau. Only Paul Brown has more with seven. Belichick is only behind Halas in winning percentage of the four coaches named, sitting .3 percent behind him at .679.

2. Chris Long and Legarrette Blount against their former team

5 things to watch for in Super Bowl LII

LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long (Photo by usatoday.com)

There is a short list of players who have won consecutive Super Bowls with different teams. No one significant has won a Super Bowl one year and then beaten that team while a member of an opposing team the next.

Long was cut from the Rams in 2016, mulled retirement and then joined the Patriots before last season. He recorded four sacks in the regular season for New England that season and got his first Super Bowl ring. After the season he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and has now helped lead them to their first title game since 2005.

Blount started his career with the Bucs, but then landed with the Patriots, which led him to more success. After a short stint in Pittsburgh, Blount returned to New England for another stint. He too was on the Super Bowl team last year, but also was on the team that beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

Both Long and Blount say it’s all business when they hit the field against their former friends, but it should be fun to watch.

3. The commercials

Almost every Super Bowl party has some non-sports fans that are just there for the party atmosphere and the chance to watch some new, highly-funded commercials. Last year advertisers paid $160,000 per second on average for commercials.

While the commercials aren’t a part of the game, they are a huge part of the event that is the Super Bowl. Some of the most memorable ads have come from the Super Bowl. Whether it’s the Apple 1984 commercial or the Budweiser “Wassup” commercial, fans often relate to the ads for years after their completion.

This year, there are many possibilities, but most fans are probably waiting to see what Bud Light does with their “Dilly Dilly” commercial series.

4. Betting

The Super Bowl is a time where fans of all ages like to gamble. Whether it is a cool board at the Super Bowl party that allows people to put a dollar on the total number of points in the game or betting the over/under, it has a place in a lot of peoples’ lives.

There are many different types of NFL bets that can be placed and that includes prop bets.. Virtually everything in the Super Bowl is bet on. These bets include: what color liquid is dumped on the winning coach, heads or tails on the coin toss, who scores the first touchdown etc.

Casual fans should place some prop bets to make the game a little more interesting, while avid fans can really dive into the more traditional bets.

5. The holding of the Lombari Trophy

5 things to watch for in Super Bowl LII

Tom Brady (Photo by yahoo.com)

Every year after winning the championship, there are some magical moments of watching players celebrate their great accomplishment. When the clock hits zero the confetti starts to come down and the looks of joy start to appear on the faces of the winning team.

Once that settles down, a temporary stage is put on the field to officially award the trophy. Once players and staff get a chance to hold the trophy, it signifies a validation of their life’s work. It also signifies the end of another great season of football and the start of the offseason.

 

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A tale of the tape: Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles return back to the Super Bowl after their last appearance in 2005. Back then, the team was led by a gritty defense and a showtime offense with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Hall Of Fame hopeful Terrell Owens.

Despite the amazing stardom surrounding that team 13 years ago, they suffered a heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots. A 24-21 loss behind an Adam Vinateri’s field goal that cemented the game in the fourth quarter. With a city that starves for a championship, the Eagles seemed like they couldn’t quite get over the hump.

A prior Super Bowl appearance that amounted to the latest, the Eagles have made strides to change the tides of the culture of Philadelphia football. After a spectacular season going 13-3 for the year, the Philadelphia Eagles return to the Super Bowl. This time, the pot is even heavier with the chance of getting back at the New England Patriots. There have been a couple of bumps in the road, but Eagles have been the best team this year by far.

For all the boxing fans out there, it doesn’t matter how many punches you throw if you don’t land any. Also, there has to be power behind those punches to make a difference. The strength of the opposing fighter is how much more damage he can withstand than his opponent. The Eagles looks as if they are In the first round of a title fight, even though it’s the fifteenth.

No team has been able to bounce back like the Eagles. No team looks as fresh and composed this late in the season. Despite, numerous injuries this year, the Eagles have bounced back immensely. With injuries that created holes in the defense and limiting a backfield to only one able running back, the Eagles have sustained more damage than any team.

This damage was especially true for their starting quarterback Carson Wentz. An MVP was in the sights for Wentz after a stellar performance this season. After suffering an LCL tear, questions mounted around the league wondering how the Eagles would replace Wentz.

For some teams that lack camaraderie, effort and confidence, a setback like this would be an end for that team. Not for the Eagles. Actually, despite a couple of adjustments, the team hasn’t missed a step. Fortitude from a great defense, a mid season addition in Jay Ajayi and the subtle, but great play from Nick Foles,  has helped the team transitioned seamlessly.

Another Super Bowl brings another underdog. Unfortunately, this year it maybe hard to decipher. The Patriots are a great team, but they are beatable. A steady attack by Foles and Ajayi with the team’s tuned offense can make things difficult for the top defense. Last week, when the running game was stifled, Blake Bortles threw for almost 300 yards in the Jaguar’s loss to the Patriots. In the loss of Carson Wentz, Nick Foles’ play has been spectacular and historic. The idea of Foles doing the same or more is not so far fetched.

Foles is actually one of the most efficient quarterbacks in history this run. With three touchdowns last week against the Vikings, Foles should be as confident as ever.  He has to and should have a phenomenal performance.

The New England Patriots are titans in this league. Their dominance has been defined over the course of sixteen years. Under the lights of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, it looks to continue . The legacy of this ball club has casted a cloud over the league. Good things it’s always sunny in Philadelphia!

We need baseball back

We need baseball back ASAP

Alabama football just won its fifth National Championship in nine years. The New England Patriots have been to seven straight AFC Championship games and are favored to win its third Super Bowl in four years.

In 20 of the last 21 seasons, Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils have earned a four seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. This season, they are off to an 18-2 start, and when it comes to next year, the Blue Devils will have the nation’s top three recruits all wearing blue and white. That’s right, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish, the three highest recruited players in the country, have all committed to Duke. UConn women’s basketball has been to 10 straight Final Four’s and have won four out of the last five NCAA Tournaments.

We need baseball back

In the last three Finals, we have seen these two square up. (Photo from slamonline.com)

Barring an epic collapse, the Golden State Warriors will win its third championship in four years. Despite what the media says, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, in all likelihood, will face the Warriors in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season. This would mark LeBron’s eighth straight Finals appearance.

In October, the Warriors opened as a -240 favorite to win the title. The best odds given to any 2018 MLB team to win the World Series is +525.

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins went 59-103, which was good for the worst record in baseball. A year later, with virtually the same roster, they were competing against the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. From 2011-13, the Houston Astros averaged 54 wins per year. In 2017, they won 101 games and were World Series Champions.

Translation: baseball is the most competitively balanced sport, and it’s not even close. Sure, dominance like Brady and Belichick, Nick Saban, LeBron, the Warriors, Coach K and Geno Auriemma is awesome to see, but as a fan, isn’t it better to have more parody and uncertainty when it comes to sports?

Systems

Not only is baseball the most competitively balanced sport, but it is also the only sport in which we can accurately critique someone’s skill level on a yearly basis. We know college is all about recruiting. The best coaches recruit the best players.

Last season, in the NFL, we saw the Rams finish 4-12 under coach Jeff Fisher (4-9) and John Fassel (0-3). Quarterback Jared Goff went 0-7 as a starter, and Todd Gurley rushed for under 890 yards and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.

Now was this because these players were bad? Of course not. They were just in a garbage system, and an offense that, according to Gurley, “looked like a middle school offense.”

We need baseball back

Gurley averaged less than four yards per carry a season ago. (Photo from CBS Sports)

This season, with head coach Sean McVay, the Rams looked like a completely different team. They beefed up the line, and Goff threw 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Gurley had 19 total touchdowns and over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 15 games. He became one of 11 running backs in the history of the sport to accomplish these two feats in the same season.

Tom Brady is widely considered as the greatest quarterback of all time, but have you ever seen Aaron Rodgers throw a football? Do you know how many top-10 defenses, in regards to scoring, Aaron Rodgers has played with in his 10 seasons as a starter? Only two. One of them being the time Rodgers helped them win the Super Bowl, and another when they won 11 games.

Since Brady took over as the starter in New England, the Patriots have had 12 top-10 defenses. If Rodgers played with a better coach and personnel, we would probably be telling a different story in regards to the best quarterback.

Case Keenum and Blake Bortles just brought their respected teams into Championship weekend. They were behind center for two of the final four teams, and now the sports media is questioning if any team should pay them “starter” money next season. You know why? Because they are both in good systems with top defenses, and coaches who did a great job hiding their flaws.

Basketball too?

In the 2016-17 season, Victor Oladipo was a solid player for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged about 16 points and four rebounds per game.

After being dealt to the Indiana Pacers in the Paul George deal, Oladipo is now an All-Star. He is averaging 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He is also shooting a career-best field goal percentage, as well as 3-point percentage. Oladipo is playing the same minutes he did last year, except on the Pacers, he does not have to play alongside Russell Westbrook, a ball-dominant player.

As a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Love was a monster. He was a three-time All-Star, and averaged 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game over six seasons. He is the only player in NBA history to have multiple seasons with averages of at least 26 points and 12 rebounds, while shooting over 80 percent from the free-throw line. In 2010-11, he became the only player to ever average 20 points and 15 rebounds, while shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line.

Since being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Love has made just one All-Star game (soon to be two) and averages less points and rebounds. Of course, this is because he has been the third option in the offense for essentially all of his four seasons in Cleveland.

America’s Pastime

In 57 games as a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2017, J.D. Martinez hit .305 with an OPS of 1.018. In the last 62 games of the season after being traded to the Diamondbacks, Martinez hit .302 with an OPS of 1.107.

Justin Verlander was dealt to the Houston Astros, and he continued to be the same old Justin Verlander. In fact, he was even better than we expected.

Even though they joined new teams, which meant new coaches and new teammates, these players continued to excel. This is because baseball is the purest sport, and the only sport we can examine someone’s statistics, and without hesitation, declare if they had a good season or not.

We need baseball back

No matter the coach, teammates or system, good MLB players produce. (Photo from Over The Monster)

The point is this. In the NBA and NFL, blaming the system, coaches and teammates can all be valid excuses, to an extent, as to why your production is not where it could be. In the MLB, this is not the case. As a starter, you are given the same amount of chance to succeed as any other starter in the league.

A player cannot blame his batting average on the coach, or his teammates. A pitcher can’t tell the media that “the system” is the reason he walked all those batters. As an MLB player, you are either good or you are not. You had a good hitting season, or you didn’t. You either pitched well, or you didn’t.

Luckily, we are a month away from Cactus League and Grapefruit League games. 2018 will be another unpredictable season. The New York Yankees picked up Giancarlo Stanton, which means they have arguably two of the best four right fielders in baseball.

Once Kevin Durant moved to the Warriors, it was obvious they would win the title. In the MLB, big moves like this do not guarantee anything. Baseball will always be America’s pastime, due to its batter vs. pitcher, “You vs. Me” style of play.

 

Featured image from Grantland

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Super Bowl LII preview

Super Bowl LII preview

After an epic championship weekend, which included a come-from-behind victory from Tom “The GOAT” Brady, as well as a flawless performance from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, we are set for a Super Bowl XXXIX rematch between New England and Philly.

In that game 13 years ago, the Patriots defeated the Eagles 24-21. With a chance to win the game, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was picked off by Rodney Harrison with less than 20 seconds to play. This was one of three interceptions that McNabb threw. Eagles star wide receiver, Terrell Owens, who was dealing with a severely sprained ankle and fractured fibula, had nine catches for 122 yards.

Super Bowl XXXIX preview

Patriots celebrating during Super Bowl XXXIX (Photo from Patriots Life)

Tom Brady threw for 236 yards with two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Patriots receiver Deion Branch was rewarded Super Bowl XXXIX MVP after an incredible 11-catch, 133-yard performance.

Now, in 2018, Tom Brady remains behind center for New England, and the Eagles are the biggest Super Bowl underdogs since 2009 in Super Bowl XLIII, when the Arizona Cardinals were seven-point underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Philadelphia opened as a 5.5-point underdog at The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. Keep in mind that the betting favorite has won 33 of the previous 51 Super Bowls.

This will be New England’s 10th Super Bowl appearance and the Eagles’ third. The Westgate SuperBook claimed that had Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz not gotten injured, the game would be pick ‘em. Anyways, here are eight statements to get you ready for the big game.

 1. Nick Foles is coming in hot

Even though Wentz was playing at an MVP level, let’s not sleep on Nick Foles. In the NFC Championship game against the Vikings, Foles played the best game of his career. The 29 year old from Arizona, who was recruited by Georgetown, Baylor and Texas to play college basketball, threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 141.4. In the second half alone, Foles went 11-for-11 with 159 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect QBR.

On the season, Foles is now 8-1, the one loss coming in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Cowboys. He joined Joe Montana as the only other quarterback to complete 75 percent of their passes in back-to-back playoff games. He is the only quarterback in NFL history with a passer rating of 100 in his first three career playoff games. Let’s see how he stacks up against the other quarterbacks New England has faced in the Super Bowl during the Tom Brady era.

PLAYER YEAR QUARTERBACK RATING DURING PLAYOFF RUN (GOING INTO THE SUPER BOWL)
KURT WARNER 2001 92.5
JAKE DELHOMME 2003 103.5
DONOVAN MCNABB 2004 111.3
ELI MANNING 2007 107.2
ELI MANNING 2011 108.7
RUSSELL WILSON 2014 96.8
MATT RYAN 2016 132.6
NICK FOLES 2017 122.1

2. This is the Patriots second best offensive team during Brady’s eight Super Bowl appearances

It will be hard for any team to match the production of the 2007 Patriots, but this year’s team finished second in points and first in yards. They were also third in red zone scoring percentage (TD), touchdowns per game and points per play, fourth in yards per play and fifth in yards per pass. All this without one of Brady’s top targets, Julian Edelman.

Going into the AFC Championship game, the Jaguars had allowed just 169.9 passing yards per game. Without Rob Gronkowski, Brady had 138 in the fourth quarter. Translation, they can overcome anything.

3. Penalties could be the deciding factor

As seen in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots don’t get too many penalties. Against Jacksonville, New England suffered just one penalty for 10 yards, while the Jags had six for 98 yards. Only one percent of the time is there an 88-yard discrepancy in penalty yards, and of course, it happens for New England in its biggest game.

Also, in the last seven years of the playoffs, only twice has a team been called for one penalty or less. This happened on Sunday, as well as seven years ago, in favor of, you guessed it, the Patriots.

While New England finished with the second fewest penalties per game, the Eagles had the 10th most penalties called against them.

4. If the Patriots are losing in the second half, they will probably come back and win

After being down by 10 with less than nine minutes to play against Jacksonville, Brady proved why he is arguably the most clutch athlete to ever step on Earth. Sunday’s win meant the Patriots are now 3-4 in the last 10 postseasons when they are trailing by 10 or more points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. During that span, the rest of the NFL is 3-70.

5. This is one of the best defenses New England has faced in a Super Bowl during the Brady/Belichick era

Super Bowl LII preview

Never bet against this man (Photo from Business Insider)

The Eagles allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league this year, as well as the fourth fewest total yards. They also caused the fourth most turnovers. Four appears to be the magic number, as they allowed the fourth fewest points in the league.

The only teams the Patriots have faced in the Super Bowl during the Brady-Belichick era that finished higher in points allowed were the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles and the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.

6. The Eagles can run, and the Patriots might struggle defending it

The combination of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, mixed in with a little Corey Clement, was lethal this season. Philadelphia finished with the third most rushing yards per game at 132.2. They also averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which was tied for third in the league.

New England is tied for 30th in opposing yards per rush and 22nd in opposing rushing first downs per game.

7. Both quarterbacks have yet to tHROW AN INTERCEPTION in the playoffs

All be just two games apiece, both Nick Foles and Tom Brady have done an excellent job of taking care of the football. Since 2014, when Nick Foles does not turn the ball over, he is 13-2. During that same span, Brady is 35-7.

8. Jimmy G is getting paid

We know that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be appearing in their eighth Super Bowl together, which is twice as many as any head coach-quarterback combo. We also know that Brady will be the first 40-year-old QB to start a Super Bowl.

Those facts are cool and all, but what about the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo is getting paid to watch this game? If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Garappolo will earn $191K. If they lose, he will get $135K. Must be nice.

 

Featured image by Wtok-Tv

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Blake Bortles

The mysterious story of Blake Bortles

There has been many downs in the short career for the four-year quarterback out of UCF. This year was filled with a few ups that have seemingly defined the potential of Bortles going forward.

This Sunday, he steps into the biggest game of his life as his team prepares to play against the defending Super Bowl champions. With no surprise, the odds are heavily against Bortles and the Jaguars.

The presumed MVP, Tom Brady, left the finishing touches of a spectacular season, going 35-for-53 with 337 yards and three touchdowns in a win last weekend against the Tennessee Titans. The defense stepped up too, limiting the Titans to 65 combined rushing yards.

The Patriots look to capitalize on an impressive win, entering the last pit stop towards Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. However, standing in his way is a young and unchallenged, but unfazed team in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars’ last playoff appearance was 10 years ago. They have turned into a team that sports a young, but hungry coach in Doug Marrone. Marrone has orchestrated one of the best defenses in franchise history, a runaway Rookie of the Year candidate in Leonard Fournette and an offense led by the franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles.

Coming off of a 10-6 record and winning their first AFC South Division championship, Jacksonville is as confident as ever rolling up in Foxborough, facing the most storied franchise in the last two decades. But many are doubting them.

Facing the largest odds in these playoffs, most of which lands on Bortles, the strength of the team comes from its backfield. Unfortunately, on Sunday, it faces its toughest challenge yet when it comes up against the Pats.

If the Jaguars look to pull off the upset this Sunday, the pressure lies behind the arm of Blake Bortles. He’s coming off an impressive season, throwing for 3,687 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. His efforts only amounted to the league’s bottom half of total passing. However, with the combination of a great running game and a poised Bortles under center, the odds could be in Jacksonville’s favor. All fingers point to Bortles to be counted out once again. Fortunately, this is not the first time he been counted out.

Humble beginnings

From his high school career to the pros, Bortles has been seen as the guy who others seem to feel will come in second or the “other guy.” During his playing career as the starting quarterback for the Oviedo High School in Florida, Bortles was one of the starred prospects in the area. Locally, Bortles was praised for leading his high school team to a playoff berth in his senior campaign. He finished his career with a county record of 5,576 passing yards and 53 touchdowns.

However, Bortles’ game was outshined by his cross-city rival Jeff Driskel, who was named ESPN’s No. 1 high school quarterback prospect and 10th overall on ESPN’s 150 top high school prospects in the class of 2011.

Driskel, who was heavily recruited by the nation’s top universities, eventually accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Florida to be the next featured quarterback after the decorated career of Tim Tebow. T

he nation’s eyes were on Driskel as Bortles wasn’t even recruited to play quarterback. Many schools, including Tulane, Purdue, Colorado State and Kansas State were all interested in the prospect, but none of which wanted the recruit at his respected position. Wanting to fulfill his aspirations of playing quarterback at the Division I level, Bortles eventually committed to play at the University of Central Florida, less than five miles from his high school campus.

Bortles’ start at UCF was difficult, again being seen as the second guy, this time to his fellow freshman. He regularly lost time behind starting quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who led the Knights to a 10-3 record in the 2010 football season.

With Godfrey’s play reminiscing the best true freshman performance since Daunte Culpepper, Bortles was seen to be on his way to exiting the program. Reports around the school’s athletic program suspected that UCF head coach, George O’Leary, was contemplating using the 6-foot-5, 210-pound freshman as a tight end going forward. However, these allegations were put to rest at the beginning of the 2011 season with Bortles backing up the starting position.

Photo by Rob Leifheit-US PRESSWIRE

During the season, starting quarterback Godfrey had trouble mixing the chemistry with the younger core group of the team. During this time, Bortles had standout performances in the time he was given against Charleston Southern, BYU and SMU. Despite a 5-7 season for the Knights, Bortles threw for 958 yards and six touchdowns, which solidified his starting position as the quarterback for the upcoming season.

In 2012, Bortles started all 14 games for the Knights, leading them to a 9-4 record and a bowl win in the 2012 Beef O’Bradys Bowl. Bortles won MVP, throwing for 271 yards with three touchdowns on a 76 percent completion rate.

Bortles went on to finish the season with 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 144.5.

The turnaround

Despite a breakaway season for Bortles, he was not touted as one of the nation’s top players. Before the 2013 season, Bortles had failed to make any top 100 list of prospects for the upcoming draft. Not allowing it to get to him, Bortles led the UCF Knights to an 11-1 season (its best record in school history until this past season) and captured the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship. He threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 67.8 percent completion rate for the year.

Bortles concluded the season leading UCF to its first major bowl bid in the BCS era, facing the eighth ranked Baylor Bears in the 2014 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. He went on to throw for 301 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing total of 93 yards in pursuit of UCF upsetting Baylor 52-42. Bortles was named the game’s offensive MVP.

(Photo by Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not being on any NFL Draft prospect lists at the beginning of the season, reports had shown that Bortles had quickly risen up the draft boards, even at one point showing that the junior could be the first pick in the entire draft. Bortles would then forgo his senior season at UCF and went on to become the third pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jaguars.

Jacksonville

Over the years, the Jaguars have slowly and steadily made additions to its team in efforts to surround a franchise quarterback. The team lacked depth and experience. They also lost the former top pick Justin Blackmon, and its 2011 draft pick, Blaine Gabbert, was struggling.

Jacksonville made a desperate attempt to free up the base. They lost acclaimed running back Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason and traded away Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers.

Bortles, whose career reflects those immense changes, struggled as a rookie as the Jaguars limped through a disdainful season, falling to 3-13. Bortles only threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with an abysmal 17 interceptions.

The Jaguars kept Bortles as the starting quarterback over Chad Henne, who had started the first three games of that season. The Jaguars looked to fit pieces around its young quarterback after allowing a record 55 sacks, a problem that would continue to plague them in the next season as well.

With minimal changes to the team, Bortles overcame the unfavorable predicament with a strong season, throwing for 4,208 yards and 35 touchdowns, his career best. Despite heroics from Bortles, the Jaguars struggled to find the team’s identity and finished the season 5-11.

Blake Bortles

(Photo from Jaguars.com)

The 2016 season brought on problems, but ultimately a focus for the Jaguars. Allowing the of rest of the team to follow, the franchise led towards fortifying its defense, bringing in newcomers like Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara. They used draft picks on Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and UCLA’s Myles Jack, both have shown to be cornerstones of the defense. Jacksonville also added Dante Fowler Jr., who was drafted the season prior, but was lost to a season-ending ACL injury.

Unfortunately, Bortles had a setback for the year and was seen as the root of Jacksonville’s problems. In the beginning of the 2017 season, fans argued that Henne should be restored as starter over Bortles with reports of the franchise in consideration of doing so. However, after a 3-13 season and the firing of Gus Bradley, new head coach Doug Marrone started his tenure with a clean slate and went along with Bortles being the starter for the season.

Armed with an ambitious franchise and a talented offense to complement a tenacious defense, Bortles put up his most efficient season, helping the Jacksonville Jaguars set up its first winning season in 10 years. They captured the AFC South divisional championship and a playoff berth. But as always, the critics returned.

In the Jaguars’ Wild Card matchup with the Buffalo Bills, Bortles threw just 87 yards on 12-for-23 passing. He threw a one-yard pass to Ben Koyack late in the third quarter for the decisive score. Despite pulling out a win, Bortles misfired on many passing attempts, feeding fuel for doubters. Some of which called his performance “awful,” along with both teams’ performances being “unwatchable”.

Questions mounted as Bortles and the Jaguars went up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many believed that the Steelers and the New England Patriots were destined for a showdown in this upcoming AFC Championship game, counting out the Jaguars to put any doubt in that vision.

However, the Jaguars never faltered and never trailed in the game, beating the Steelers by a score of 45-42. Bortles put up 214 passing yards on 14-for-26 passing and delivered a touchdown in the fourth quarter to hold back Pittsburgh to set up a date with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.

The matchup

With no surprise, the Patriots are favored to win this Sunday against the Jaguars. Despite a slow start to the season, the Patriots have cashed in on everyone’s predisposed notions of its return to the Super Bowl. They garnish a veteran all-time great coach and a quarterback who looks to cement his legacy amongst the greats.

For the Jaguars, well they have, Blake Bortles. The four-year man out of UCF, whose team faces one of the largest underdog odds in these playoffs. Once again, Bortles is the second guy, the “other guy.”

Although he is coming off arguably the greatest season of his young career, he falls in the shadow of someone who outshines him. Lucky for Bortles, he’s been here before, and despite the opposition, he has a crew that looks as determined and as confident as he is.

From a far sight, Bortles looks to come in second just like he did in high school, or at the collegiate level, or even the first steps of his professional career. With that being said, it should be safe to save some chips for the Jaguars as we have seen this team reach pinnacles this season beyond their expectations. Why should this game be any different? And for Bortles, his opposition shares a familiar tune.

Some time ago, Tom Brady was a relative unknown leading a forgotten Patriots team against some of the most star-studded teams of his time, beating the St. Louis Rams heralded as the “The Greatest Show on Turf” on the grandest stage of them all and giving birth to a dynasty for the ages. Perhaps this is Bortles’ time. Though he faces a threat that is far superior than his previous challenges were, Bortles is a far more superior version of his past self. And just like before, as the world looks on for him to be second, Blake Bortles looks to finish first once again.

 

Featured image by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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NFL Conference Championship preview

NFL Conference Championship weekend preview and picks

We can only hope the NFL’s Conference Championship weekend is half as competitive as last weekend was. Three of the four games were nail biters, which made for some strange results in terms of predictions.

As has been the case throughout the postseason, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. You can see last week’s picks here.

Last week: 1-3, 3-1 against the spread.

Postseason totals: 4-4, 5-3 against the spread.

Jaguars at Patriots

Three teams have gone into New England and won a playoff game in the Brady-Belichick era, two Ravens teams led by John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco and one of Rex Ryan’s Jets teams. All these teams had one thing in common: They ran the ball and were very good on defense.

With the top ranked rushing offense and a sack happy defense that has dominated all year long, Jacksonville certainly fits that bill. This will not be a simple coronation for the Patriots. Just because the Jaguars approach to winning games is fairly bland does not mean they do not deserve to be here.

That defense will keep this interesting for four quarters. However, there are three pieces of insurmountable bad news for the underdogs. First, Blake Bortles is still their quarterback. Second, Tom Brady is the opposing quarterback. Finally, Bill Belichick is not going to run 15-yard pass plays on 4th and 1 or run an onside kick with two timeouts and more than two minutes left like Pittsburgh did last week.

One of the biggest yet simplest reasons New England has been so good for so long is they never make in game strategy calls that leave even casual fans scratching their heads in the moment. As good as they are, the Jaguars needed a lot of help to outscore the Steelers last week. New England will not be so generous this week.

Winner: New England

Good bet: Patriots (-9) NE 31 Jac 20

Vikings at Eagles

Something has to give here. These two teams have mastered the art of the playoff choke job over the years. Now one of them is going to the Super Bowl.

At this point in this season, these teams are going about winning games the same way. They both rely on their great defenses to make up for limitations at quarterback. Make no mistake, Case Keenum and Nick Foles have limitations.

Foles only threw for 246 yards last week against Atlanta. However, he did not make a big mistake that crippled the team. When you have a defense that is capable of holding what was a hot Falcons offense to just 10 points, that formula is good enough.

NFL Conference Championship preview

Photo from espn.com

Keenum tried to make that crippling mistake with his late third quarter interception that sparked the Saints comeback last week. However, he and the Vikings were bailed out by a miracle finish that was more blind luck than anything else. There is no shame in that. Every Super Bowl champion there has ever been has required some degree of luck.

What this game comes down to is both teams will try to run the ball. It is hard to imagine either having much success against two of the best front sevens in football. So which average quarterback will do a better job of getting the ball to their playmaking pass catchers?

Well, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen each caught over 60 balls in the regular season and accounted for several of Minnesota’s 10 third down conversions last week. Meanwhile, the Eagles pass catchers have virtually disappeared since Carson Wentz went out. Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery had seven catches combined last week. They need to have somewhere around seven catches each should Philadelphia struggle on the ground in this one.

Moreover, if there is a weak spot on either defense, it is the Philadelphia secondary. They got torched by the lowly Giants twice this year.  There is no reason Diggs and Thielen should not carry their team to a home Super Bowl.

Winner: Minnesota

Good bet: Vikings (-3) Min 23 Phi 17

 

Featured image from chatsports.com

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NFL divisional playoffs picks

NFL divisional playoffs preview and picks

We were fortunate enough to get four reasonably competitive games to kick off the NFL playoffs last week. You can check out last week’s picks here.

For this week’s divisional playoffs, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Postseason record- 3-1

Postseason record against the spread- 2-2

Saturday

Falcons at Eagles – For the first time since the NFL adopted its current playoff format, a sixth seed is favorite over a home standing top seed. This is not without merit though. Without Carson Wentz, the Eagles are just another average to below-average football team. In the final two games of the regular season, Philadelphia’s offense accounted for a grand total of 13 points, and the team as a whole was pushed around for long stretches by the non-playoff bound Cowboys and Raiders.

The above paragraph is not a good recipe for taking on the Falcons at the moment. Atlanta needed to win as much as humanly possible late in the regular season to keep its playoff hopes alive. The sudden death nature of the NFL playoffs changed nothing for them last week. They have been in that situation for almost 2 months.

Reigning MVP Matt Ryan and the offense are not quite the juggernaut they were last year, but they are still very good. What has sparked Atlanta’s late-season run as much as anything is defense. The Falcons have not surrendered more than 24 points in a game since Week 11. This includes holding the top-ranked scoring offense to just 13 points last week. If all the offense has to do is score in the high 20s, this team is tough to beat.

Apart from winning a shootout with the lowly Giants, the Eagles offense has not gotten anywhere close to the high 20s with backup quarterbacks since the injury to Wentz. Philadelphia’s defense is pretty good and has stood on its head in recent weeks to keep the Eagles in games. Thus, this will not be a blowout.

However, one of these teams is quarterbacked by Matt Ryan and the other by Nick Foles. Sometimes, it is just that simple.

Winner: Atlanta

Good bet: Falcons (-3) Atl 21 Phi 13

Titans at Patriots – Tennessee did a great job of making a few plays to pull off the big upset in Kansas City last week. However, that result had more to do with Kansas City’s collapse. If New England has a double-digit lead, whoever is playing running back will get the ball a lot more than 11 or 12 times.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from USA Today

You can’t help but be impressed with the resilience and toughness of Tennessee. That roster is not good enough to get to this point on talent alone. Different guys have stepped up for them all year long. Last week, it was Marcus Mariota playing with his head on a swivel to complete a touchdown pass to himself and Derrick Henry rushing for 156 yards in the absence of backfield mate DeMarco Murray that made the difference.

However, the Titans lack the firepower to really make the Patriots nervous in a playoff game. At this point, nothing more can be said about the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They are 25-9 in playoff games. Moreover, only three of those nine losses have been at home. Tennessee will keep this close for a while with solid fundamental football, but New England will pull away late.

Winner: New England

Good bet: Patriots (-13) NE 34 Ten 20

Sunday

Jaguars at Steelers – Vegas is showing great restraint by making the Steelers only a seven-point favorite here. With the way the Jacksonville passing offense has looked for the last month, a double-digit spread would have been perfectly reasonable.

However, the Jacksonville defense has shut down some very good offenses this year. The Jaguars went in to Pittsburgh early in the year and intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a route.

Also, there is more than one way to look at the performance of Blake Bortles last week. It is easy to say he threw for just 87 yards and therefore was completely awful, or you can commend him for his 88 rushing yards and ability to make enough plays for his team to win, even though he did not play very well.

Not very many people have subscribed to the second school of thought leading up to this game, but I am one of them. With a great supporting cast around him, Bortles is fine. Other than one or two games, Jacksonville has had no problem scoring points this year. Almost every offense is going to get shut down at least once or twice a year, no matter who the quarterback is.

Jacksonville is too good to get blown out. Any team that leads the league in rushing offense, as well as several defensive categories, is capable of going anywhere and beating anyone. However, Roethlisberger getting Antonio Brown back will be the difference in this one. Even if Brown is not fully healthy, his presence alone gives the vaunted Jacksonville defense another thing to worry about on a loaded Steelers offense.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Good Bet: Jaguars (+7) Pit 27 Jac 24

Saints at Vikings – No team was more impressive than New Orleans last week. All year, the Saints had done most of their damage by running the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Carolina held that duo to under 50 combined rushing yards. The Saints still managed to win. Drew Brees showed us all why he is going to the Hall of Fame someday.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from si.com

Unless there is a truly dominant team, whoever wins the Super Bowl has to find a way to win a game or two where its best stuff is not working. There is no dominant NFL team this year, and that is exactly what the Saints did last week.

This week, the task is a little bit tougher as New Orleans goes on the road to face another very stout defensive unit in Minnesota. The vast majority of Minnesota’s success this year has come from backups, castoffs and other spare parts. Mike Zimmer and his staff have done an incredible job of getting the most out of Case Keenum. Keenum has nearly doubled his career touchdown passes this season. However, much like the other NFC matchup this weekend, it is foolish not to take the established star quarterback over the journeyman in playoff football.

Winner: New Orleans

Good Bet: *Saints (+ 5.5) NO 27 Min 20

 

Featured image from chiefs.com

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