Remember two years ago when the New England Patriots took on the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs, and the game lacked “juice?”
Well, this week’s matchup against the Titans is quite a bit different. The Titans finished the season 9-7, but they were 7-3 after Ryan Tannehill took over as quarterback. The Titans were one of the NFL’s hottest teams during that span and are an unideal matchup for the Patriots.
The Patriots only are favored by 4.5 points over the Titans. This won’t exactly be a cakewalk as the matchup two years ago turned out to be.
Let’s get into this week’s mailbag.
If you agree with the “lack of weapons” the Patriots currently have, who would you go after to fill the void in free agency or draft?
I actually tweeted Tuesday that “weapons” can no longer be used as an excuse after trading for Mohamed Sanu. The Patriots dealt a second-round pick for Sanu. He’s been a useful receiver his entire career, and he joins Julian Edelman, 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry, 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White in the Patriots’ offense. The Patriots don’t really have a tight end, but their offensive weaponry could be considerably worse.
Among playoff teams, the Patriots probably have middle-of-the-road weapons. The Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens all (probably) have better weapons, right? But aren’t the Patriots right up there with the Titans, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks?
Maybe I’m crazy.
Players like Sanu and Harry might be underperforming, but whose fault is that? The pieces are in place.
That being said, I definitely would not be surprised if the Patriots made a splashy move for a wide receiver or tight end this offseason. It would definitely help. Odell Beckham Jr. could be available via trade. Wide receivers A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders are free agents as are tight ends Tyler Eifert, Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper.
How well does the Patriots Defense matchup against the Titans Offense?
Receiver-wise, not bad. I think Stephon Gilmore is a good matchup for A.J. Brown, JC Jackson should be able to cover Corey Davis and Jonathan Jones on Tajae Sharpe shouldn’t scare anyone.
I wonder who will cover tight end Jonnu Smith, however. That seems like a mismatch for Patrick Chung after the Patriots’ safety struggled against Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki. Perhaps a cornerback could take on Smith. He’s a sneaky-good player.
Am I wrong in thinking that bolstering the TE position should be priority number one this offseason? I can’t think of a team that has gotten less out of the position this season.
You’re not wrong. It’s pretty bizarre to me that the Patriots didn’t plan ahead for Rob Gronkowski’s retirement nor try to find a long-term replacement this offseason.
I usually hate playing the game of looking at who the Patriots could have drafted with some of their recent misses. The 2017 NFL Draft is tough, however. They could have taken Smith or George Kittle over Derek Rivers or Antonio Garcia in the third round that year.
Bill Belichick called Smith a complete tight end during his news conference Thursday.
“He’s just a really good tight end,” Belichick said. “He can do a lot of things: blocks well, runs well, is a good receiver. I mean, hell, they played him at tailback. He looked pretty good back there. So, he’s a very athletic player, hard to tackle, catches the ball well. He’s great after the catch — probably the best in the league. I mean, I can’t imagine anybody better than him after the catch. No, he looks like a tight end to me. And a good one.”
What happened to the Patriots that were projected to go undefeated this season, initially had the scariest WR depth and had the statistically best defense in league? What went wrong?
Well, the Patriots still went 12-4. I find it important to note off the top that this wasn’t some disastrous season just because the Patriots lost a handful of games and are forced to play in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Prior to every season, I predict the Patriots will go 12-4 because that’s pretty much what they always do.
However, expectations were higher midway through the season. So, what happened? The Patriots played a weaker schedule to begin the year. They had some lucky bounces during that stretch where turnovers were literally bouncing their way and at times turning into scores.
They also had some bad luck with their receiving depth, which at one point was the scariest in the NFL. They signed Antonio Brown and subsequently traded Demaryius Thomas. Harry got hurt, Brown went predictably nuts and then Josh Gordon was cut. Gordon latched on with the Seattle Seahawks and eventually was suspended for multiple league infractions.
Perhaps the Patriots’ biggest flub was counting on Brown and deciding they didn’t need Thomas. Thomas didn’t have a spectacular season with the New York Jets, but he outproduced every Patriots receiver not named Edelman.
Now the Patriots have to hope their defense rounds back into shape and that Sanu and Harry can begin producing as expected in the postseason. It’s a plausible expectation. It’s also entirely possible the Patriots lose in the first round.
Let’s go rapid fire.
Wondering where you see Damien Harris fitting in next year? The 4 other backs on roster are all signed thru next year. White and Michel seemingly aren’t going anywhere. Same, probably with burkhead. And we know Bills love for bolden. #MailDoug
Unless Burkhead gets cut, which is unlikely, then Harris could wind up being delegated to No. 5 running back reps again in 2020.
How come Gillette doesn’t host a Bowl Game? There are about 50 of them! Surprised the Krafts haven’t looked to host one yet.
It’s unlikely unless the Patriots build a new stadium. It’s a cold market with an almost 20-year-old outdoor stadium.
I’ve got one.
What’s your impression of Sanu’s blocking? I thought he had a good reputation in that area, but it feels like he’s missed several key blocks here. Am I just being overly critical of a newer guy?
Sanu has not graded out well as a run blocker by Pro Football Focus. He was known as a physical player when he was acquired from the Atlanta Falcons. Perhaps his ankle injury has hampered him in that department.
If we keep our first round draft pick do you see them drafting a jake Fromm or Justin Herbert if they drop that low
I think a quarterback is on the table in the first round.
Do you feel it’s time to move on from Brady? Younger more mobile quarterback?
Not unless Brady wants top, top dollar.
Does John Dorsey being fired increase the chances of the Patriots trading for Odell this offseason?
Possibly, since it was Dorsey’s move as Browns general manager to bring Beckham in.
Will we see Damien Harris in the playoffs? #MailDoug
Not a chance unless Sony Michel gets injured.
Does the potential for a huge change in the structure of the team make your job more exciting?
A little bit, but change is also kind of terrifying.
How was your New Year’s Eve ?
Boring but good. Ate some Chinese food then watched “Uncut Gems.”
Thumbnail photo via David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports Images