Patriots sitting pretty in jumbled AFC

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Patriots sitting pretty in jumbled AFC

If you saw the Monday Night slopfest between the Ravens and Jaguars, you may have been left with the same impression as me: "Holy crap, the Ravens are completely inept."Who the hell are they? The team that shut down the Steelers and Jets, or the one that's now been handled by the Jaguars and Titans? Who knows? What is apparent is that flaws run deep among even the best teams in the AFC. Or what passes for them. And the Patriots -- despite being the worst defense statistically in the NFL in total yards allowed -- and the upstart Bills are the best teams in the conference. (Check out the NFL Playoff Picture from NFL.com). Unless the playoffs are moved up two months -- and that seems unlikely -- it doesn't really matter who the best team is on October 25. But taking stock of what the rest of New England's competition has done and needs to overcome shows how well-positioned the Patriots seem coming off the bye. Ravens (4-2)Monday night's performance was disturbing. Joe Flacco isn't getting enough time, his receivers aren't getting enough separation and he seems squirrelly as hell (52.1 completion percentage). Terrell Suggs is giving offensive game plan recommendations. They convert 32.9 percent of third downs. Defensively, they are still daunting but the Jaguars ran all over them Monday. Steelers (5-2)Sunday's game against the Patriots could determine where the AFC Championship is played. But Pittsburgh's problems are worrisome. They don't turn opposing teams over (just two picks and a fumble recovery so far), their offensive line is usually a disaster and -- despite the spin from the past few weeks as they've bludgeoned bad teams -- their defense is getting old in a hurry. Chargers (4-2)They're so dumb I can't believe it. Bengals (4-2)Please. Raiders (4-3)Also, please. Texans (4-3)Not as easily dismissed. They don't strike me as a very "tough" team. Two of their wins came against Miami and Indy. Matt Schaub soils himself frequently when things get dicey in big games. But their running game is solid and their offensive skill position guys -- even with Andre Johnson out -- are impressive. Losing Mario Williams for the rest of the year because of a pectoral injury was a mammoth blow, though. Jets (4-3)They are a team that rides emotion and momentum and they picked up a bunch on Sunday when the Chargers went full moron against them. You make your own luck, it's said, so give the Jets credit for creating the necessary luck to have the Chargers hand them the game last week and for being able to play badly and still win by 18 against the horrific Dolphins on Monday night the week before. Bills (4-2)They, along with the Patriots, have been the most consistently predictable team in the conference. Their losses -- 23-20 at Cincy and 27-24 at the Giants -- hinged on just a couple of plays unlike every other team in the conference (except New England) which had full meltdowns in their losses. That indicates to me a surprisingly mature team that plays complementary football: offense struggles, defense is there to pick up the slack, etc. Dismiss the Bills as a cute story at your own peril. Their talent on both sides of the ball is right there with the rest of the conference and Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the five best quarterbacks in the conference right now.

Who could the Patriots have had at No. 29?

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Who could the Patriots have had at No. 29?

Had their first-round pick not been confiscated by Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent, who might the Patriots have selected with the 29th overall pick?

A very good football player. And that’s where the sting is. Yeah, it sucks if Tom Brady sits four games and that’s going to put the Patriots a couple steps back in 2016.

But players like Reggie Ragland, Myles Jack, Sterling Shepard, A’Shawn Robinson, Derrick Henry, Kevin Dodd or Jarron Reed all could have been Patriots and instead fall to the teams behind them

On the bright side, the Patriots can now partake in the 2016 NFL Draft.

On the down side, there were so many options. Jack, seen as a top-five talent, has injury concerns that caused his red-flagged posterior to slide tragically down the board. The UCLA linebacker is way, way, way deeper in his free-fall than anyone expected.

For safe picks, there were a fleet of Alabama players sitting there. The linebacker Ragland is a classic two-down inside linebacker who could thump. Kind of a better Brandon Spikes. Robinson’s a penetrating defensive lineman that gets the job done with power and athleticism. Henry was the Heisman Trophy winner at running back, Dodd is a destructive edge rusher from Clemson who is on the rise and Reed was a classic nose-tackle also from Alabama.

Then there was my guy, wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Plus a few good corners. None of whom will be in New England.

Said NFL Network host Rich Eisen as pick 29 came up and a picture of a cascading fountain was broadcast, “It would have been lit up Patriots colors. But we all know why it isn’t.”

NFL Draft picks No. 17-24: Texans, 'Skins, Vikings make run on WRs

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NFL Draft picks No. 17-24: Texans, 'Skins, Vikings make run on WRs

No access at Gillette? No first-round pick unless the Patriots make a swap into the latter stages of the round? No problem. We're all over it from the palatial offices here in Burlington. We go pick-by-pick through the first round.

Lions: Taylor Decker, OT, OSU

Former Patriots personnel man Bob Quinn plucks a 6-foot-7, 310-pound mass of humanity and bad humor. The skinny on Decker is that he’s a Sebastian Vollmer-type according to NFL.com. He can play either tackle spot, strength, size and toughness are not an issue so it’s a low-risk selection which is a bright way to begin one’s GMing tenure.

Falcons: Keanu Neal, S, Florida

Following on the heels of Quinn, the Scott Pioli-Thomas Dimitroff grabbed a big-hitting safety who can play up in the box in run-support and also cover the tight ends and backs. Regarded as one of the best hitters in the draft.

Colts: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama

Ryan Grigson could screw up a one-car funeral when it comes to the draft. But, knowing he couldn’t butcher yet another first-round pick, he must have had someone put in the sensible selection for him. Kelly won’t mess anything up. And he could be devastating if the Colts ever run that long-snapper and Griff Whelan play again. (I know. Whelan is a Dolphin now…)

Bills: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

The Bills add a 6-3, 269-pound edge rusher whose forte is ripping into backfields and will be a big personality for the Bills. Alongside Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes, Lawson steps right in to the vacancy left by the disinterested Mario Williams. Lawson is more of a strength rusher like Jabaal Sheard than a long angular guy like Chandler Jones.

Jets: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

Kind on an undersized linebacker but a tremendous athlete who can cover at the second level with his 4.47 speed. Also had the best vertical and broad jump at the Combine. He’s 6-1, 232 pounds and will probably need some help from his scheme to get the best out of him. The Jets outstanding defensive front could afford head coach Todd Bowles with the bodies to do that for Lee.

Texans: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

Very fast, outstanding athlete, has hands like feet. Anyone that watched the BC-Notre Dame game at Fenway Park witnessed just how bad Fuller’s hands are. Taking him with LaQuon Treadwell on the board still seems a monumental misstep by head coach Bill O’Brien and GM Rick Smith.

Redskins: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

Washington somewhat reluctantly gave quarterback Kirk Cousins the franchise tag because they had no other options and wanted to see what he could do before anteing up huge for a long-term deal. At least he’s got a real good young weapon at his disposal to help him make his dough. A 6-1, 202-pounder with excellent hands and the ability to go and get the ball in the red zone, smart pick.

Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi

A 6-2, 221-pounder who slid because of his 4.64 40 but is a physically dominant player because of the size, strength, smarts combo. Just a really, really strong player who works hard, blocks fiercely and goes to a good NFC team on the rise. You look at all the burners who get drafted in the 20s and flame out, taking a player like Treadwell who may be a half-step slow but can use his body to win is a smart play.

Bengals: William Jackson III, CB, Houston

Long corner who has very good ball skills and makeup speed. He’s not exceptionally strong so while he’s willing to be physical he gets jostled a little bit. In the AFC North, he’ll be fine against everyone but the Steelers who will give him all he can handle. The Senator says, “He’s better than Eli Apple, as far as I’m concerned.”

NFL Draft picks No. 1-8: Tunsil sliding after video of bong hit surfaces

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NFL Draft picks No. 1-8: Tunsil sliding after video of bong hit surfaces

No access at Gillette? No first-round pick unless the Patriots make a swap into the latter stages of the round? No problem. We're all over it from the palatial offices here in Burlington. We go pick-by-pick through the first round.

Rams: Jared Goff, QB, Cal

“Is there anything you’d like to translate to the fans of the Los Angeles Rams?!?!” Deion Sanders wheezed into the face of Goff moments after he was selected. Goff, who to that point had done little but shake his head and “golly-gee” then had something else to be befuddled by. Goff will, for the next few years, provide adequate cover for Jeff Fisher to continue stealing money as an NFL head coach. Fisher – who’s won 8, 6, 7, 7, 6 and 7 games in his past six seasons and hasn’t coached a playoff win since 2003 – did as he was told by the league office and milked the clock all the way down before making the selection everyone knew the Rams would make when they mortgaged the future to make a 2016 splash in their new city.

Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State

“Now, the competition really begins,” Deion Sanders told to Carson Wentz. “Who’s gonna prepare their team to the playoffs first?” Wentz, who fits the quarterback suit so much better than Goff, had to be stunned that he not only had to lead his team to the playoffs on the field but also prepare them there as well. Now the Eagles have to assuage the feelings of a former No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford, who’s pissed that the Eagles were going to draft a quarterback. And Wentz has to look at Bradford and make sure he doesn’t end up like him.

Chargers: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

“You fillllllleddddd with emotions,” Deion Sanders told Joey Bosa. “Give me the feeling right now.” The feeling from Bosa was surprise. He said he thought he’d be cooling off for another half-hour or 45 minutes before being selected but the Chargers brought the first eye-widener of the night by selecting Bosa who Pro Football Focus had as their No. 1. The Chargers knew it all along and didn’t tip their hands.

Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

“This kid can bring them right into the playoffs!” proclaimed NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci. Whoa, Mooch. Whoa. First off, it’s a playoff team to begin with if Tony Romo doesn’t crack his collarbone again. Second off, running behind that offensive line with an outside receiver like Dez Bryant and a tight end like Jason Witten on the field, you don’t necessarily need to burn the fourth overall pick on a running back. But the Cowboys love their splash factor and Elliott provides one.

Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State

“You’re dancing,” Deion Sanders observed. “You’re exuding your swag. Are you happy right now?” Ramsey, the massive 6-1, 209-pound corner confirmed that he was. He also confirmed that he’s a shutdown corner. The Jaguars, as Senator Phil Perry noted as we watched the draft from our Burlington offices, are going to be good soon.

Ravens: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame

“Folks,” said NFL Draft Analyst Mike Mayock, “he’s got 35 and three-quarter-inch arms.” Yes he does. And now he’s going to the Ravens where his physicality and toughness are going to enable Baltimore to plunk him down on Joe Flacco’s blind side and let him roll. Still doesn’t really address the issue of wide receiver talent aside from the ageless Steve Smith but what can you do. Stanley’s a good pick.

49ers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

It was between Buckner and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil at this point but just before the draft commenced, a video of Tunsil taking a bong hit while wearing a gas mask popped up on his Twitter feed. It was deleted and a hacking was blamed. And Buckner likely became the beneficiary of the Tunsil fiasco. My suspicion is Tonya Harding was behind it.

Titans: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

The Titans made a deal with the Rams, sending them the 15th overall pick to move up and get former walk-on Conklin. The Browns got the 15th overall pick in return and a third-rounder as well. And the Laremy Tunsil debacle rolls on as reports that the Ravens took Tunsil off their draft board when the video popped up. .