All posts by Jake Mackey

New England Patriots: An Early Look At The Buffalo Bills For Patriots Fans

New England Patriots fans had the luxury of having their team play the first game of the NFL season on Thursday night, where their team won fairly easy over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 28-21. Fans of the team had the entire weekend to enjoy the victory, and watch the rest of the league all day on Sunday. Now, the page has turned and it is, “On to Buffalo.” With Tom Brady starting under center, the Patriots are 23-3 against the Buffalo Bills. However, don’t let the statistics fool you, the Buffalo Bills are always a very formidable opponent, especially when the game is in Western New York.

On Sunday, the Bills took down the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 27-14, and it really wasn’t even that close. The Bills proved that they have a stout front seven, along with a power running game, and solid quarterback play from Tyrod Taylor. Rex Ryan took advantage of the softness of the Colts and kept Andrew Luck on his heels, forcing him to make bad decisions. In addition, his team played with a real swagger and toughness, not afraid to lay the boom.

In the ground game, Karlos Williams ran for fifty-five yards on six carries, with a touchdown. New addition Lesean McCoy ran for forty-one yards on seventeen attempts. Expect to see a better McCoy this weekend as he is still recovering from an injury. That is nerve-racking for a Patriots fan, due to the fact that the Steelers and DeAngelo Williams ran the ball all over their team in week one for 127 yards.

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Tyrod Taylor did not have much expectation going into the week one matchup, but he showed some of the skills that made him effective at Virginia Tech. He finished the day, fourteen of nineteen, for one-hundred ninety-five yards, and one beautiful long touchdown pass to Percy Harvin. Harvin finished with five receptions, for seventy-nine yards and that one touchdown.

The Patriots will need to have all their pieces aligned this weekend when they travel to the always raucous Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. The one thing that fans should be most worry-some about heading into this match up is the rotation of the offensive line. Against the Steelers, Bill Belichick rotated Nate Solder in and out along with Tre’ Jackson, Josh Kline and others.

Last September when the Patriots offensive line was at an all-time low of the Belichick era, one of the main causes was the rotation. The team struggled to get any groove and continuity going until week six. The offensive line held up in week one, against an average at best Pittsburgh front seven that is no longer a, “Steel Curtain.” Now they are going up against possibly the best defensive front in the National Football League. Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, and Kyle Williams will be some of the players looking to make Tom Brady familiar with the turf.

buffalobills.com
buffalobills.com

The Buffalo secondary is decent at best, and Rex Ryan will be focusing on getting his defensive lineman into the backfield. The Patriots and Tom Brady need to thrive in the short passing game. Therefore, use Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis to your advantage moving the ball up and down the field gradually. Of course, in the red zone spread the two tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler out wide and simply out size the Bill defense.

It will certainly be a very tough match up for the Patriots this coming Sunday. It has to be one of the three toughest games on the schedule. There will for sure be more analysis on the Bills throughout this week as we get the chance to break down their film from their week one match up. For now though, know that their front seven is elite, they will try to run it down the Patriots throat, and it will be one of the most hostile environments the Patriots will play in all season.

Patriots Take Advantage Of Steelers Mistakes And Get The Victory

The 2015 National Football League regular season has finally begun, and it began Thursday night when the New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21. The game started out with the two teams struggling to score. On the first series of the game, Pittsburgh took the ball down the field but were stopped inside the thirty-yard line. Steelers kicker Josh Scobee missed his first of two field goals on the night, the first being a forty-four yard attempt.

The unfortunate part of the series for the Patriots was that second-year defensive lineman Dominique Easley went down with a hip injury and did not return to the game. It would be tough for the team to lose him for a significant period of time, seeing how well the Steelers ran the ball on the Patriots Thursday night.

On offense, the Patriots and Tom Brady moved the ball up and down the field with ease all night long. Tom Brady finished 25 of 32, for 288 yards, and four touchdown passes. He was sharp as he has ever been, and with the victory he surpassed Brett Favre as the winning quarterback with one single franchise with 161 wins. All the off field noise and distractions did not seem to bother him one bit.

The real story of the night offensively for the New England Patriots was the play of Rob Gronkowski. He is without a doubt the most dominating offensive weapon in the game. He finished the game with five receptions, for 94 yards, and three touchdowns. Gronkowski just makes it so easy for Tom Brady, all he needs to do is put the ball high in the air in the end zone. In addition, the Patriots received a contribution from another tight end, Scott Chandler who had a three-yard touchdown reception.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

The Patriots received big time offensive contributions as well from Julian Edelman, and the surprise player of training camp Dion Lewis. Lewis finished with 69 yards on 15 carries. He did however fumble the ball inside the five yard line at a key moment in the fourth quarter. Luckily it was recovered by Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots scored a few plays later.

Even though Julian Edelman did not play at all in the preseason, and was sidelined for much of camp with an ankle injury, he did not show any rust on Thursday night. Edelman brought in 11 catches, for 97 yards. He was as always, the spark plug in the Patriots offense catching short passes and consistently getting yards after the catch. Fans need to pray that he stays heathy, because it will be nearly impossible to replace that production.

The Patriots defense started out fast and with energy, but tailed off greatly as the night went on. The front seven was decent and got to the quarterback when they needed to. Nevertheless, DeAngelo Williams ran for 127 yards, mostly right through the middle of the defense. In addition, the secondary was as expected, inconsistent.

Malcolm Butler was manned up for the vast majority of the game against Antonio Brown, who is an absolute freak. That is no excuse for poor play from Butler, he should be expected to take on top tier receivers as the teams number one corner. He did fight hard against Brown and had a few flashes, but for the most part he just seemed out matched and out talented.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

Antonio Brown finished with nine catches on eleven targets, for 133 yards, and a touchdown. The secondary certainly will be a work in progress, and one main takeaway from the week one victory is that they did not give up many points and made stops when they had to.

In conclusion, the Patriots made a statement win on Thursday night while putting all the distractions from outside behind them and focusing on, “Doing their Job.” Tom Brady was phenomenal, and the offense with two rookie lineman, looked like the best in the league. The defense is for sure a work in progress but nothing is perfect in week one.

Now the team has a nice break over the weekend, and they will need it because Ralph Wilson Stadium will be raucous next Sunday when the Patriots travel to take on Rex Ryan and the new look Buffalo Bills. You can almost bet on that game being much tougher than Thursday nights game. Winning the first game is nice, now its on to Buffalo.

Keys To The Game On Defense For The New England Patriots

via zimbio.com
via zimbio.com

The New England Patriots are in full game preparation mode for their Thursday night opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. The Steelers were an 11-5 team last season and won their division with the third spot in the AFC playoffs. However, an injury to Le’Veon Bell in week seventeen lead to the Steelers falling short to the Ravens in the wild card round. Don’t let their early round exit fool you, the Steelers were a dominant team at times in 2014, mainly offensively.

The Ben Roethlisberger lead offense finished the season second overall in total offense, behind the New Orleans Saints. Pittsburgh will have one of the most dangerous offensive players in the game on Thursday night with Antonio Brown. The young inexperienced secondary, and defense as a whole will certainly have their hands full Thursday night. Here are my keys to the game defensively for the Patriots on Thursday night.

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Contain Ben Roethlisberger: One of the main reasons for the Steelers being one of the most consistent teams in the league over the past ten years is Ben Roethlisberger. His uncanny size for a quarterback at 6-5, 241 pounds makes him very difficult to knock off balance and sack. He can shake off defensive lineman and roll out of the pocket and make big throws. As Bill Belichick said in his press conference this week he touched upon Roethlisberger’s size.

“Very hard to take down, very difficult to get down. On top of that he’s got great vision, very good accuracy downfield. He doesn’t have to step into the throw, or have a clean pocket. Guys hanging all over him, falling down. He’s as good as anyone we play at that.”

The Patriots will need to contain him and keep him inside the pocket, because when he gets outside and finds open receivers down field he unleashes it. Players such as Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, and Jamie Collins will be essential in keeping Roethlisberger contained. He won’t take off and run like an Andrew Luck, but he still needs to be kept in tact. Jamie Collins played a key role in keeping Andrew Luck inside the pocket twice last season.

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Bracket Brown: Antonio Brown is without a doubt one of the top three wide receivers in the National Football League. He is extremely fast and is lethal when he gets into the open field. Pittsburgh uses him in the slot as well as on the outside. All Patriots fans should be expecting the Steelers to target Antonio Brown early and often, given the very unproven Patriots secondary.

Last season the Bill Belichick had the pleasure of having two very solid cornerbacks, and they were able to double cover elite wide receivers with ease, with Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon shading over the top. This season, and on Thursday night it will be very different. The team can still double team Antonio Brown, but they will be more vulnerable when matching up with Marcus Wheaton one on one. However, Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown should be able to get the job done this week because the Steelers only have one dangerous wide receiver.

Bend And Don’t Break: The Patriots defense does not have much talent at the cornerback position leaving them vulnerable against a pass happy offense like Pittsburgh’s. With Le’Veon Bell suspended, the Steelers will be chucking the ball all over the gridiron. The Patriots may play a bit of zone coverage as well, because the first few weeks are a feeling out period.

That means yards will be given up. The main point for the Patriots is they need to get off the field, particularly past the fifty yard line, and when they are in the red zone. Make Pittsburgh settle for field goals not touchdowns, because the Patriots offense should be able to answer.

Five Patriots Players That Need To Perform Well Against Steelers

On Thursday night the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers will kick off the 2015 NFL season. As Bill Belichick would say, “The circus is in town.” The Patriots will finally put 2014 in the rear view mirror when they raise the championship banner. With Judge Richard Berman’s ruling coming out last week, and vacating Tom Brady’s four game suspension, most fans believe that the Patriots will just roll to victory. Not the case.

The Steelers were an elite team last regular season, and even though they will be without Le’Veon Bell, Marquice Pouncey, and Martavis Bryant they still have one of the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the game. The Patriots need to bring their A game, and here is the five players that I feel are essential to victory, (besides the obvious ones).

5. Devin McCourty: Thursday night will be Devin McCourty’s first chance to prove himself, since the team handed him a hefty five-year 47.5 million dollar contract in March. Now, he will be the focal point of the Patriots secondary. Ben Roethilisberger will want to throw the ball all over the field no matter who is out there. McCourty needs to make sure he patrols the field and not let anything over the top.

In addition, McCourty may be asked to cover a tight end such as Heath Miller one-on-one in the red zone, as he did many times in the preseason. Safeties such as Patrick Chung have had issues covering tight ends in the past, and McCourty needs to make sure he can get the job done on Thursday.

4. Brandon Bolden: In my opinion, with LeGarrette Blount suspended for Thursday night’s game, Brandon Bolden will receive solid reps at running back. Although it will be a running back by committee system, Bolden is a very good pass blocker and that could be key Thursday night with an inexperienced offensive line. There is a good chance that the two rookie guards in Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason could be starting the game with, Bryan Stork injured.

brandon bolden

That means that pressure coming up the middle and blitzing linebackers could disrupt Tom Brady and the passing game. Many think that new defensive coordinator Keith Butler will try to get after Tom Brady more than Dick Lebeau did. Therefore, Bolden has more veteran awareness to pick up those blockers than other running backs. In addition, he will play a big role in kick and punt coverage making sure Antonio Brown doesn’t break free.

3. Danny Amendola: The Patriots will be without Brandon LaFell on Thursday night, and in his place as the number two receiver, Danny Amendola will try to take over the work load. In his first two seasons in New England, Amendola has been mostly irrelevant. However, at the tail end of last season and into the playoffs, he was huge. For much of the preseason, Amendola was the only main wide receiver on the practice field with Tom Brady.

You would have to figure that the Steelers and Keith Butler will focus heavily on Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowksi, leaving Danny Amendola in lighter coverage. When it comes down to big third down plays where Gronkowski is double covered and Edelman is getting jammed at the line, Danny Amendola needs to be able to slip underneath on crossing routes for the first down. Also, he is a tremendous blocker on sweeps and screens, and expect to see some of those with Dion Lewis on Thursday.

fansided.com
fansided.com

2. Chandler Jones: It is certain, that Ben Roethilisberger is licking his chops waiting to pick apart the Patriots inexperienced cornerbacks on Thursday night. Many fans have probably been having nightmares of Antonio Brown and Marcus Wheaton running all over the field on the Patriots secondary. With a weak secondary, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will need to dial up some pressure up front. The most important player in getting to the quarterback will be defensive end Chandler Jones.

Jones played as a 3-4 defensive end in the preseason, as well as a stand up in a 4-3. On Thursday, Jones needs to take care of multiple duties. He needs to collapse the pocket and keep pressure on Ben Roethlisberger as well as keep contain and not allow him to make plays outside the pocket. That is what has made him so dangerous throughout his career.

1. Malcolm Butler: This is an obvious choice. Malcolm Butler has earned his role as the Patriots left cornerback during training camp, and now he needs to prove himself once again on the big stage. Butler could be covering both Antonio Brown and Marcus Wheaton at times on Thursday. The chances are that wherever Antonio Brown goes, the Patriots will be double covering him.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

When Antonio Brown is double covered by Butler and McCourty, I wouldn’t be as nervous as when Butler is manned up with Marcus Wheaton. He needs to put Marcus Wheaton on the island and not allow him to get big yardage, which is the Pittsburgh bread and butter. If Butler performs well in a Patriots victory Thursday night, fans should feel comfortable about the secondary, but that if a monumental, “if.”

2015 AFC Regular Season And Playoff Predictions

With the preseason now in the rear view mirror, as well as deflate gate and the seven month circus that it was, we can now shift our focus from courtrooms and un-drafted players, to what really matters. Regular season games, and the road to Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50. Many are under the impression that there is no clear favorite in the AFC right now. There are a few teams that look to be contenders, but not one sure fire team like in years past. Here is my full prediction for each division and playoff matchup.

AFC East:                                                                                                                                                                                             New England Patriots (12-4): Overall I have been underwhelmed by the Patriots this preseason. With the entire team and region ready to run through a brick wall for Tom Brady on Thursday, I believe they will take that game. After that they have two tough games in Buffalo and in Dallas two weeks later. With the secondary and offensive line going through significant changes, don’t be surprised if they get off to another two and two start, like they did last year. Nevertheless, the Patriots under Bill Belichick have always been dominant in the second half of the season, so expect them to bounce back and win the division.

Buffalo Bills (10-6): The Buffalo defense was already stacked as it was, and now add a defensive guru such as Rex Ryan to the mix, they can give any quarterback major headaches. Also, the Buffalo offense is full of offensive fire power and speed. Lesean McCoy in the backfield, Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin at receiver, and a speedy quarterback like Tyrod Taylor will keep any defense on their heels. However, Rex Ryan has never been a quarterback whisperer and starting an unproven player such as Taylor could be risky.

New York Jets (7-9): On paper, the Jets have an outstandingly talented roster. Their cornerback depth chart headed by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie may be the best in the league. Brandon Marshall is also a big addition on offense. The Jets have a very similar problem as the Bills, they don’t have a quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been average to sub par in his career, and Geno Smith put himself out for the first ten weeks by getting himself punched in the face. With a first year head coach in Todd Bowles, the personalities on that roster could take over and not allow the team to capitalize on their potential.

Miami Dolphins (7-9): The Miami Dolphins were not shy in spending money this offseason, giving out mega contracts to Ryan Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh. It is great to sustain and add talent, however when you give out those deals it can leave you vulnerable at other positions. For example, their offensive line has been below average for the past few seasons, and how good is a twenty-million dollar quarterback when you can’t protect him. In addition, Joe Philipin may be on his last leg with the team.

cbssports.com
cbssports.com

AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens (11-5): If there is one team in the National Football League, besides the Patriots, that you can always count on being in at least the divisional round, it would be the Ravens. Say what you want about John Harbaugh’s personality, he is a great coach and his team fears no opponent. They will continue to have a stout defensive front and a run heavy offense, along with the always postseason reliable Joe Flacco. Count on them playing late in January.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7): The Steelers have been a very difficult team to predict the past couple of seasons. It looked as if they finally turned the corner last season when they won the division with a fantastic offensive year. However, they came out flat and lost in the wild card round at home against arch rival Baltimore. This season, they are facing a lot of turnaround on defense with long-time veterans in the secondary, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retiring. Also, key pieces on offense Le’veon Bell and Martavius Bryant are suspended early on. It will be a bit of a set back year in Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): Over the past four seasons, the Bengals have been almost identical to the team the year before. They are a tough team up front on defense, with an average offense with a fragile superstar in AJ Green, and an inconsistent quarterback with Andy Dalton. Nevertheless, in the playoffs they never cease to amaze when they upset fans in the wild card round with their lack luster performance. I find it hard to believe that they will make it to the playoffs this season due to the increase in talent around them.

Cleveland Browns (6-10): Last year at this time I was all in on the Browns. Now they are just viewed as a bottom dweller once again. The Johnny Manziel hype has died out very quickly, and besides him there isn’t much on that team that is interesting. The defense has some young talent in Barkevious Mingo and Joe Haden along with others, but it has yet to translate to the field.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 21: at Heinz Field on December 21, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

AFC South:

Indianapolis Colts (12-4): The Colts have been the talk of the town in the AFC over this past offseason. With the additions of veterans such as Andre Johnson and Frank Gore, many are claiming them as Super Bowl favorites in the AFC. Although, not much has been made about their lack of defense. Their past two seasons have ended in Foxborough in January because they can’t stop the run. They did not address that need this offseason, and one of their best run stoppers, Arthur Jones, is out for the season with a torn ligament in his ankle. The offense will be among the tops in the league, but it will be tough for their defense to hold up in the key situations in the playoffs.

Houston Texans (10-6): The Texans flew under the radar last season going 9-7 and just barely missing the playoffs. This year Bill O’Brien will have them as one of the forces in the AFC, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crenell may have the best unit in the league. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Vince Wilfork, and Brian Cushing are just a few names on a defense that will be a force to be reckoned with. They certainly will give Andrew Luck headaches. The quarterback position is a question mark with Brian Hoyer as the starter, but Bill O’Brien is a very good offensive mind and can put things together.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Blake Bortles is a promising young quarterback, however he does not have much if not anything around him. The team added tight end Julius Thomas in the offseason, but he will be out for the first few weeks of the season due to injury. Also, his numbers may have been inflated because of the offense he was on in Denver. Jacksonville has a good young roster, they might just be a year or two away.

Tennessee Titans (4-12): The Tennessee Titans selected Marcus Mariota with the second pick in the 2015 draft, and they want him to be the quarterback that will take them to the top. Well, they need to begin to add pieces around him before they can truly be a relevant team in the AFC. His character and toughness will be tested early in his career as his team will struggle.

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AFC West: 

Denver Broncos (11-5): Most media members are counting the Denver Broncos out of the AFC championship race. That is the wrong move. Peyton Manning may be a terrible postseason quarterback, but he is more than likely the best ever when it comes to the regular season. Manning has a plethora of targets that include elite receivers such as Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Also, Peyton has help in the running game now with CJ Anderson and Montee Ball. In addition, the defense is stacked and should be in the top five overall. It won’t be like the late 90’s Broncos with Elway, Sharper, and Davis, but it will be enough to get them a home playoff game.

Kansas City Chiefs (9-7): The Chiefs are a sleeper team right now in the AFC. The addition of Jeremy Maclin will compliment the speed of Jamaal Charles very nicely. Their defense is also very good up front lead by Justin Houston and Dontarie Poe. Also, Eric Berry returning will be an emotional lift and on field. He is one of, if not the best safety in the game. The Chiefs also have one of the best coaches in the game with Andy Reid, that can never go unmentioned.

San Diego Chargers (9-7): When you have an elite quarterback such as Philip Rivers as your starter, you will be able to compete for a playoff chance almost every season. The Chargers drafted Melvin Gordon in the first round of this year’s draft and many believe that he can be the next Jamaal Charles. The defense does not have a ton of talent, but they played very hard and physical last season. That will be essential when going up against divisional opponents such as Kansas City and Denver.

Oakland Raiders (6-10): Last season, the Raiders lost their first ten games of the season. They finished with three wins, and fought hard against almost every team they faced in the last half of the season. They now have Jack Del Rio as a head coach. He has always been known to be able to put together a solid defense. The Oakland defense is swimming with young talent. Offensively, the Derek Carr to Amari Cooper connection is one to keep an eye on in the coming years. Again, another team that may be just a year away.

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AFC Playoffs:

Wild Card Round: 6. Houston over 3. Denver, 4. Baltimore over 5. Buffalo

Divisional Round: 1. New England over 6. Houston, 4. Baltimore over 2. Indianapolis.

AFC Championship: 4. Baltimore over 1. New England

As a diehard New Englander, this pains me to write. The Patriots somehow managed to stay very healthy, (with the exception of Jerod Mayo) last season. No serious injuries were suffered to Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, or a defensive stars such as Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, or Devin McCourty. It is hard to think that nothing will happen to any of those players this upcoming season. Furthermore, the losses of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Vince Wilfork will be greatly missed in the postseason. In addition, the Ravens have no fear going into Gillette, and this rivalry tends to be back and forth. I hope I am wrong, but as of right now I see the Baltimore Ravens representing the AFC in Super Bowl 50.

Final New England Patriots 53 Man Roster Projection

On Tuesday, Bill Belichick had to cut his roster down to seventy-five players. The roster will need to be down to fifty-three players by the end of the week. There is probably about forty or so spots that are already locks. However, there is still about ten spots that are up in the air. Those players will be playing for their jobs on Thursday night in Foxborough against the New York Giants. So without further a due, here is my final fifty-three man roster projection for the 2015 New England Patriots.

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo.

Reports have been that Tom Brady is expected to play in the first game of the season no matter what Judge Berman’s decision is by weeks end. Therefore, the team will have no need for Ryan Lindley. He will have his chance to showcase his skills to other teams in Thursday nights game against the Giants.

Running Back: Dion Lewis, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, James White.

With LeGarrette Blount only suspended for one week, there is no need for an extra running back for one game. With Dion Lewis able to stay on the field, and Travaris Cadet missing the majority of the preseason, Lewis has played Cadet right out of a job. It is a shame because he looked like he had some ability and could be a good fit in the Patriots system.

host.madison.com
host.madison.com

Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Reggie Wayne, Aaron Dobson.

Many Patriots fans fell in love with Chris Harper over the summer. He flashed his speed and ability to get open against second and third team players. However, when it comes down to it the Patriots did not invest much in Harper, and they spent a second round pick on Aaron Dobson. It is rare for the team to give up on a player after only two seasons, and they still have the option to put Harper on the practice squad where he will most likely land.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanwanui, Scott Chandler, Asante Cleveland.

No surprises here. With James Develin out for the season with a broken tibia that he suffered last week when he was unnecessarily in the game in the fourth quarter, an extra spot has opened for a tight end. The Patriots somehow received something for Jordan Devey, and what they got was tight end Asante Cleveland. In his two preseason games with the team, he has been decent. He is built very similarly to Tim Wright. He may posses the same skill set to get open a few times per game.

of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Tackle: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming.

The Patriots should have two Pro-Bowl caliber tackles this season with Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. Nevertheless, the team invested a fourth round pick on Fleming in 2014, and this past winter they gave Marcus Cannon extension. Also, Vollmer’s contract is very accessible for a trade. Just keep that in mind in the coming days. The Logan Mankins trade shocked many at this time last year.

Guard: Ryan Wendell, Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason, Ryan Groy.

Josh Kline has proven in the past that he is inconsistent and non-reliable. He is not worthy of a roster spot anymore with the two rookie additions along with Ryan Groy, who they traded sixth round pick Matthew Wells for. If the team was ever severely strapped for bodies at the guard position, Marcus Cannon has experience at the spot.

Center: Bryan Stork, David Andrews.

David Andrews has received almost every rep at center this summer. He has not been overly impressive, but for an un-drafted rookie that was thrown into the fire due to an injury to Bryan Stork, he has been decent. With Ryan Wendell being the only guard on the roster with any real experience starting, he will be valuable to the team and they can’t have him moving back and forth from guard to center.

Defensive End: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers.

No shockers here. Chandler Jones has bulked up significantly this offseason and has spent some time this preseason with his hand in the turf as a 3-4 defensive end. That should be an interesting storyline to follow given the fact when Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia tried that strategy last September, it back fired greatly. Jones was pushed around all over the line of scrimmage. We shall see if his added size will contribute to him being able to penetrate more.

bookofbelichick.com
bookofbelichick.com

Defensive Tackle: Sealver Siliga, Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, Alan Branch.

Chris Jones is expected to be placed on the physically unable to perform list to start the season. This means that he will be unavailable until week six. In his place, a player such as veteran Alan Branch will try to take his spot. Most of the Patriots defensive tackles are larger framed players, except for Easley who is more lean. Easley is extremely powerful and strong, and is being vastly under looked for this season.

Linebacker: Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jonathan Freeny.

In addition to Chris Jones, Dane Fletcher is also expected to be placed on the PUP list. Four linebacker should be just right for the Patriots, seeing how the defensive coaching staff may like to use players such as Rob Ninkovich, Geneo Grissom, and Jabaal Sheard as outside linebackers. Look for James Morris to land on the practice squad.

Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Tarell Brown, Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher, Logan Ryan.

On any pro team with a halfway decent cornerback depth chart, Logan Ryan would be released. However, the Patriots need bodies at the position and unfortunately Ryan has more experience in the system than any other cornerback on the roster. It is a shame because he truly is a liability when he is on defense.

patriots.com
patriots.com

Safety: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Jordan Richards, Tavon Wilson.

Nate Ebner is the surprise cut here. He is a phenomenal special teams player. Although, he cannot contribute very much on defense. Tavon Wilson is almost just as good of a special teamer and he can certainly contribute more on the defensive side of the ball.

Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater.

Very rarely does a team hold a spot open on special teams for a player that isn’t involved directly in the kicking game. Matthew Slater is just that good at what he does, and he may be a better team leader. In addition, Joe Cardona has not been as advertised thus far. Keep an eye out for that in the early part of the season.

Catching Up With André Carter: Still Making The Grade

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On Saturday afternoon I had the privilege of speaking with former Patriots, Raiders, Redskins, forty-niners, and California Golden Bears great Andre Carter. I spoke with him about how he has adjusted to life after football and what his focus is now, along with some reflection points of his career. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

What have you been up to since we last saw you on the field?

I’ve been going to get my diploma at Cal Berkeley, my alma mater. You need your degree in order to get into coaching at the collegiate level.

It must be kind of different this time of year now that your out of the game as opposed to getting ready for the upcoming season for so many years, do you ever get that itch to get back out there?

I feel great, I’ve been so busy with school, thats just been my mind set. I think before last year going into the 2014 season, I came to the realization that I wasn’t getting picked up and it was kind of like, okay thats a wrap. Then you start to think, “Okay what am I gonna do with my time?” Well, I can only workout and run so much you gotta find new hobbies.

I looked into the commentating world for a hot second. It was something that was fun to a certain extent, but it wasn’t something that I truly loved. Most guys ask themselves when they retire, “Whats my new passion?” You go through a journey, and mine was only two years and I found out I wanted to coach. I looked into the pro level but the pro level is very hard because it’s not always about what you know, it’s who you know. Most organizations have their guys who are locked into multiple year deals. Talking to my wife we decided what was best was for me to create my own path and that was coaching at the collegiate level, okay what does that take?

Well personally for me I had to earn my degree and that was a long time coming. It wasn’t just to start coaching, I owed it to myself to get my degree from one of the nation’s best institutions in Cal Berkeley very known for academics, I wanted to add that plaque on my wall and know that I did it, and come back and learn the X’s and O’s and work with defensive lineman and linebackers and teach them my level experience and be nationally known as one of the best college players in the nation, my work ethic and what got me to that point, and thats a good outlet and I enjoy talking to them. I enjoy coaching.

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You talked about how you wanted to get into coaching to shed some of your wisdom on young players, when you were a rookie coming into the league who were some of the veteran players that influenced you the most?

Brian Young during my forty-niner days was a prime example of being a professional on and off the field, his mindset was practice hard play hard. His work ethic was phenomenal, everybody knew he was strong, and he knew his body so well and where to be and how to be and what to do, so thats definitely one of the best. Derrick Deese offensive tackle, Garrison Hurst. When I came to the forty-niners we were a veteran team actually, those guys set the tone, you know you feed off each other.

You gotta have that balance. Steve Mariucci was definitely one of those coaches to communicate with the players. He would come to the vets and say what do you wanna do about practice? They’d say okay will cut this down and do this, because so and so is hurt. He was the type of coach who would say, “Okay If you guys do great we’ll continue but if you mess up we going back going back to what we were” and thats how he was. We were successful doing that, we had success, my first two years with the forty-niners.

When you came back to the Patriots in 2013, you were part of a defense with three young players at the time in Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins. Many think that those three are the future of the Patriots defense. Did you have a good relationship with those guys and if so can you elaborate on them?

Yeah I mean we had a great working relationship, unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to hang out with those guys on a personal level but when we did they were great. Chandler Jones, one thing I remember he was a student of the game and being so young one thing I remember on a Wednesday grabbing my breakfast and he was already in the meeting room watching film, and i’m like wow. Thats not heard of, most guys get film and watch it at home or later in the day, and to see him watching film first thing right before team meeting was impressive. Dont’a Hightower is just a physical specimen just for as big as he is, he can run like the wind. Jamie Collins always reminds me of Julian Peterson. I remember we asked him to play corner or safety for a few plays or something and he did it, and Jamie Collins sort of reminds of that.

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You came to the Patriots in 2011, you weren’t a huge signing at the time but you made an immediate impact on that front seven, being named to the Pro Bowl that year. Unfortunately you suffered a season ending leg injury late in December. Your team would go on to make it to the Super Bowl, so how did it feel to have to sit back and watch when you wanted so desperately to be out there on the field with your teammates?

I think any player whether its myself or any other player when you have the opportunity to play in the big show and you can’t it’s tough, especially against the New York Giants. From my time with the Washington Redskins, I don’t know what it was but whenever we played the New York Giants I got after it, you know. I remember during pregame I was on my crutches trying to take it all in surveying the field, and there was a scout who knew of me and I knew of him and he came to me and said, “Hey great year man, you did awesome, but trust me we’re happy your not playing.”

So you know we were kind of joking and laughing, because those Giants offensive lineman we battled, but it was a respectful battle. I was gonna bring the wood and they were gonna bring it right back. It was kind of one of those old throw back type of games. I was very blessed to be apart of that team, whether it was contributing on the field or on the sidelines.

You played under Super Bowl winning head coaches Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan with the Washington Redskins. What was the difference between playing for those guys and playing under Bill Belichick? 

I’ve never been around a coach that is so hands on in all aspects of the game. Whether it’s offense, defense, special teams. He would be involved in all individual meetings, and I would just wonder how does this man sleep at night? We would go into team meetings and he would tell everybody exactly what they had to do and where they had to be. His memory is just superb. He truly is a student of the game.

You still follow the team pretty closely, what do you think the Patriots chances are at repeating this season?

You just have to take it game by game man. It isn’t easy getting back to the big show, its too hard to tell now you just have to take it game by game.

The Patriots have a lot of excess noise from outside the team going into this season, how does Bill Belichick block out the noise within the team?

He has it down to a science, nobody gets a second chance, which is very fair.

Final question here, what was your favorite moment as a pro football player? 

Wow, its tough to narrow it down to just one so I am gonna give you three. First off, I think a moment that every player remembers the most is the day they get drafted. For me being a second generation NFL player, because my father played for the Denver Broncos, drafted in the first round, it was dream. Also, getting drafted right in my back yard to the forty-niners coming out of Cal Berkeley, it was a dream. Another one was in 2007 when I was with the Washington Redskins, and we all just rallied around Sean Taylor, that was a really special moment for the team to come together for him. Lastly, just being apart of the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick gave myself a chance at redemption. In 2010 with the Redskins I was going through a position change, and then I came to New England and Bill Belichick really allowed me to be the player that I wanted to be. It didn’t end the way I wanted it, but it was still great to be apart of the Patriots organization and play for a great coach in Bill Belichick.

That was the bulk of my interview with André Carter. He is a very humble person who is now trying to shed some of his wisdom that he has gained as a long-time NFL player, on young college players that hope to be in his position one day. He is a true professional, and it was great speaking with him.

You can follow André on twitter at @mr_carter93

The Patriots Secondary Still Has Many Question Marks

Now that the third preseason game for the New England Patriots is in the books, we have seen just about all that we are going to see from what we believe is going to be the starting defense that has had so many question marks this offseason. With a complete turnaround in the secondary, fans did not know what to expect in training camp from so many young unproven players and cast off veterans.

Due to his second half of the Super Bowl heroics, Patriots followers were holding high hopes for Malcolm Butler to take control of the starting job. At the start of training camp it seemed like a far fetched fantasy, but Malcolm Butler has not only taken control of the number one spot, he has cemented himself there. Throughout the end of July and the month of August Butler has been making plays on the practice field, and when the bright lights of the preseason games come on.

When going up against the top tier quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton, Butler shut down receivers and didn’t allow many completed passes when the ball was thrown his way. Also, in New Orleans last weekend he showed some big time physicality coming up on sweep plays and laying the boom. However, it is only the preseason and I am still cautious about putting all my eggs in the Malcolm Butler basket.

Bostonglobe.com
Bostonglobe.com

Patriots cornerbacks have had a history of shining in their rookie season and falling off during their sophomore campaign. Examples include Devin McCourty, Darius Butler, and Alfonzo Dennard. Wait until he can prove himself against an elite receiver such as Antonio Brown, then you can say he is the real deal.

Another player that had expectations of starting at the beginning of the summer was third year cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan was very inconsistent his first two seasons, but the coaching staff seemed to like him judging on the amount of time he spent on the field. So far this preseason he has once again been underwhelming, getting beat often, and playing deep into each game which is not a good sign for a player with his experience.

He is very much in danger of losing his job. Although, he is a good contributor on special teams and he was drafted in the third round. That could be Bill Belichick’s excuse to keep him around unfortunately. The Patriots do need players at the cornerback spot, but Ryan has proven to be a liability when he is on the field.

Tarell Brown was a late addition to the Patriots roster right before training camp began. He has spent all of his career in the Bay Area with the 49ers and Raiders. He was a starter on the San Francisco defense that was in the tops of the league between the years 2011-2013. So far in a Patriots uniform Brown has impressed.

Last night against Carolina he received his first real game action, and even though he did not face and tough competition at receiver he made multiple plays breaking up passes. Most media members expect a rotation at cornerback for the Patriots to start the season. However, expect to see Tarell Brown at right corner more than others giving his experience. It might also be a benefit to have a young corner in Butler, match up with a savvy veteran like Brown.

With Bill Belichick surprisingly cutting Kyle Arrington late in the offseason, the nickel back position on the Patriots defense has basically been given to Robert McClain. The 5-9, 194 pound cornerback is in his first season with the Patriots after spending his first five season in Carolina, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. In the first preseason game against Green Bay he showed spurts of talent. His physicality and swagger is something the secondary could use this season because of a lack of talent.

He did however have a difficult night against the Panthers when back up quarterback Derek Anderson marched right down the field exploiting him. He was ranked out of the top forty best nickel backs in the league by Pro Football Focus. Arrington was in the top ten. The loss of Kyle Arrington has gone underrated up to now, but when the season begins fans will begin to realize just how influential he was.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

With rookie Darryl Roberts now on injured reserve, a spot could be opened for a second year players such as Daxston Swanson. He has been solid in the preseason, even though he has only seen time late in games. On the practice field he has received good reps. He was a practice squad player in 2014, and that’s where I would expect him to be in 2015 unless he has a stellar last preseason game.

At the safety spot the Patriots are all set as long as Devin McCourty stays at safety. Next to him there are a few questions. Last week at the Super Dome when McCourty was down playing corner, Duron Harmon was left alone as the top safety. he was picked apart by Drew Brees most notably on a forty-yard touchdown from Brees to Brandin Cooks who ran right past Harmon.

Not encouraging for fans due to the fact that Harmon will be asked to play a lot this season because of the amount of pass heavy teams they will face, and if McCourty were to get hit with injury it would be all up too Harmon. Patrick Chung and Jordan Richards will play heavily in run support.

In conclusion, Patriots fans should feel just as uneasy now about the secondary as they did at the start of the summer. Malcolm Butler has been a ray of hope and fans need to pray that he can continue some of his Super Bowl heroics in the regular season, and most importantly stay healthy. If not it will be back to 2011 and 2012 where the defense is constantly on the field giving up ridiculous yardage. Lastly, fans can’t rely on the old adage of, “Belichick will coach them up” because he has never proven that he can do that with a sub par secondary.

New England Patriots Evaluations And Observations From Preseason Victory Over Panthers

In the first half of the Patriots preseason week three matchup against the Carolina Panthers, the starters came out of the gates very slow on offense. Tom Brady did not have his key targets on the field in Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon LaFell once again. He was left with players like Danny Amendola, Jonathan Krause, Michael Hoomanwanui, Aaron Dobson, Scott Chandler, and newly acquired Reggie Wayne to throw to.

For the better part of the half, all players had a tough time getting open leading Brady to scramble on multiple occasions. Once for a first down on a third down and three play. After Brady had set the Patriots up nicely with his first down scramble, Aaron Dobson spoiled the drive by dropping a nicely placed ball inside the ten-yard line into the hands of Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman.

Carolina then took the ball all the way down the field. However, they were stopped inside the five yard line when Devin McCourty blanketed Panthers tight end Greg Olsen on a third down in the end zone. It is safe to say McCourty proved Friday night that he belongs at safety. The starting secondary looked good as Tarrell Brown and Malcolm Butler made multiple pass breakups. That gives you confidence as a fan seeing how those are your two starting corners.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

On the next possession by the offense, the unit was off the field quickly as Brady fired the ball into the hands of Panthers safety Kurt Coleman. The defense once again picked up the slack of the offense, thanks to two very nice pass breakups by Malcolm Butler. Nevertheless, the offense continued to struggle due to bad interior offensive line play by the three rookie starters, not allowing running backs to go anywhere.

Also, Reggie Wayne’s only target was a terrible drop on an easy seven yard pitch and catch play. Cam Newton then proceeded to take his team down the field in a drive that should have ended with seven points. However, Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown dropped a ball in the end zone that couldn’t have been placed anymore perfectly in his hands, after he broke the ankles of Malcolm Butler. The drive ended in yet another Panthers field goal, putting them up by a score of 6-0.

With little time remaining in the first half, the Patriots offense had yet to accomplish anything and were concerning fans due to their lack of production throughout the preseason. This would be the last time fans would see Tom Brady on the field until possibly week six.

Brady did exactly what he needed to do, he brought his team down the field feeding the ball often to first-year Patriots tight end Scott Chandler. The Patriots were looking like they were stalling once again, until Tom Brady hit Danny Amendola, who was wide open, on a post route that put them inside the red zone. Then, Brady lobbed the ball up to the 6-7 Scott Chandler on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for his first touchdown pass of the preseason. The Patriots lead going into the break by a score of 7-6.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

At the start of the third quarter, it was obvious that Bill Belichick had told his starters in the locker room that their night was over. That was obvious for the Patriots defense, as Cam Newton took the Panthers right down the field and scored on a play action touchdown to Mike Tolbert in the flat. The coverage was awful, and they should have expected that play on third and two inside the five yard line seeing how that play is Carolina’s bread and butter. Panthers lead 13-7.

Jimmy Garoppolo then came into the game, and he started out a little bit to rambunctious. His first pass of the game should have been taken back for a touchdown by cornerback Bene Benwikere, on an out route intended for Jonathan Krause. Two plays later on a pass intended for Chris Harper, Josh Norman dropped a ball right in his hands that also would have been taken back for six. Those are mistakes the Patriots can’t afford for Garoppolo to make in the regular season. If that were to happen on opening night, they would be trailing early against one of the league’s top offenses. Not acceptable.

Later in the drive the Patriots were facing a tough third down and six situation. Garoppolo made a pro level play by stepping up in the pocket and firing the ball to Asante Cleveland right over the first down marker. Television broadcaster Dan Roche called the play, “Brady esque” which may have been a bit overzealous, but made some sense. However, on a fourth and four play a few plays later, Garoppolo made a another mistake throwing the ball to Jonathan Krause short of the marker where he was stopped. Not smart decision making on his part.

On the following possession by Carolina, back up quarterback Derek Anderson picked apart Patriots defensive backs Robert McClain, Nate Ebner, and Logan Ryan leading to a Panthers 39-yard field goal giving them a nine point, 16-7 lead. The Patriots were looking flat for the second week in a row, and Jimmy Garoppolo had to pick up the slack again.

Garoppolo took some time to get back into his groove. He under threw Aaron Dobson badly on a drag route across the middle of the field. Had he put it over his shoulder he would’ve been gone for a touchdown. He did bounce back, hitting Aaron Dobson down the sideline and putting the Patriots in the red zone. On the next play, running back Dion Lewis continued his stellar night by flexing out wide and running a slant route into the end zone where Jimmy put the ball right in his hands for the touchdown.

The Patriots then stopped the Panthers on their following drive thanks to tremendous pass break ups by Logan Ryan and Daxston Swanson, who had multiple on the night. The Patriots ended their next drive with a clutch 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski who has earned his money thus far this preseason.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

The points did come with a price. James Develin looked like he suffered some sort of lower leg injury after catching a pass in the flat. He was carted off the field with his teammates, and coaches surrounding him. That is never a good sign. More than likely he will done for the year, which is a huge blow to the offense and he will be greatly missed.

The Patriots then made a very good stop on defense, and got the ball back with just over four-minutes to go in the game. Jimmy Garoppolo managed the offense very well handing the ball off and dinking and dunking the Carolina defense until the clock wore out. On a third down play with less than two-minutes to go, Garoppolo hit Zach D’Orazio on a screen play for a first down, sealing the Patriots victory.

In the end, the Patriots started off the game slow once again on offense Friday night, but Tom Brady’s final possession was very encouraging. The defense as a whole was solid. The starters made some great stops in the red zone, and are already living up to their reputation of, “bend don’t break.”

Next week against the Giants, we will hardly see any of the starters, therefore this was our last glimpse of the starting group before September tenth against the Steelers. That is not something fans should be over confident about, seeing how many of the same questions we had going into the preseason still remain. For example, will the secondary be able to hold up? Will the offensive line be able to protect Brady? I feel the same way about those situations now as I did going in. There are still starters that need to come back, but for right now I am a bit nervous as a Patriots fan.

New England Patriots: Questions About Jimmy Garoppolo Will Be Answered Against Panthers

The third preseason game for any National Football League team has annually been the, “dress rehearsal game.” It is the closest teams will get to a live action, regular season contest. The starters play throughout the first half and into the third quarter. In addition to the in-game level of play, the week lead up is very similar to a regular season game with strategy, film analysis, and most importantly who is going to start.

What Patriots fans should expect to see on Friday night in Charlotte is for Tom Brady to be on the field to start the game with as many starters as possible, that are healthy. Rob Gronkowski has not played in a preseason match up since 2012, mostly due to health. Due to this year’s circumstances, there seems to be a better chance that Gronkowski will play in this upcoming game.

More often than not in the third game of the preseason Tom Brady has played all through the first half. Bill Belichick in his press conference earlier this week finally hinted at, “Tom’s situation” being a factor in the game plan routine. Opening night is less than two weeks away and Bill Belichick still does not know who his starting quarterback will be. Belichick has to take precautionary measures and play both players equally with the starters.

When Jimmy Garoppolo finally gets out on the field Friday night, we will get a look at what he looks like with the first team players against a legitimate pro level defense. With players such as Luke Kuechly, Star Loutulelei, Charles Johnson, and Thomas Davis coming at him Garoppolo will get a taste of what it is really like to be the starter.

Jimmy Garoppolo leads Pats to comeback win vs The Saint (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/NewEnglandPatriots.Com)
Jimmy Garoppolo leads Pats to comeback win vs The Saint (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/NewEnglandPatriots.Com)

Since he was drafted in April of 2014, Patriots fans have been gushing over Garoppolo. He has not been criticized much by fans and some media members. It is almost as if he is being coddled because he, “shouldn’t be compared to Tom Brady.” Well that is too bad because thats who he is taking over for, and it comes with the territory.

Last week he came into the game in the second quarter with all second-team players on the field. He had a very good game bringing the Patriots back from a 21-0 deficit, to win by a score of 26-24. He went 28 of 33 on the night throwing precise passes to Chris Harper and Jonathan Krause. Also, when his down field reads were gone he made the smart decision of dumping it off to James White and Dion Lewis. That was the first time I saw him really control the offense with the poise of a starter.

However, the speed of the game in the second half of the second preseason game against back ups is much different than when you are going up against starters. Even the third game can’t even compare to regular season speed, but it will be the highest level we have seen Garoppolo play at.

Throughout training camp, Garoppolo’s biggest issue was holding onto the football. He would sit back in the pocket and scan the field too long to the point were he would have to throw it away in a real game, or he would force it down field and get intercepted. On Friday night receivers are going to get jammed up at the line of scrimmage or they won’t be open down field as quickly as they should. This is when we will learn what Garoppolo is made of.

chowderchampions.com
chowderchampions.com

What Garoppolo should do when everything collapses is use his biggest attribute, his legs. Use your instincts and run for the sideline, get some yards and get out of bounds. That is how he can make a name for himself because it is something that Tom Brady has never been able to do overly effectively.

In the end, I believe that Jimmy Garoppolo will be slightly upsetting for Patriots fans on Friday night. He has just never truly taken snaps in a real full-go situation against big time players. In addition, there will be a patch work offensive line in front of him trying to block one of the league’s best defensive fronts. I think that the pressure will get to him and force him to make bad decisions. I hope I am wrong, but I have a feeling that after Friday night fans won’t feel as good about the situation with Tom Brady if he does have to serve some type of suspension.