Sizing up the Patriots schedule

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Sizing up the Patriots schedule

If you haven't heard, the Patriots, at least on paper, have the NFL's easiest schedule this year. For example, their 2012 opponents had a combined .453 winning percentage in 2011. Only four of them (Texans, 49ers, Ravens and Titans) had more than eight wins.

The schedule looks so easy, in fact, that some folks around here are already dreaming of an undefeated season.

I won't go there yet, but I will take a closer look at the Pats 16 games, and offer up a few predictions:

Here we go:

Week 1: New England at Tennessee

History: The Titans moved to Tennessee from Houston in 1997, and since then theyre 1-5 against the Pats. New Englands won four straight in the series since 2003, including the last two by a combined score of 99-23. Although, its worth noting that Tennessees undefeated against the Pats under second-year coach Mike Munchak.

Question: Is Chris Johnson back?

If its all on Jake Locker to beat the Pats on Sunday, then the Pats will not be beat. Therefore, its up to the former CJ2K, aka CJ15carriesfor55yardsandnoTDs, to disrupt the Pats game plan and take the pressure off his rookie. Johnson was impressive in his one career game against the Pats, rushing for 128 yards on 17 carries. However, the performance was somewhat offset by the fact that his Titans lost the game 59-0.

Prediction: Chandler Jones picks up two sacks in his NFL debut, the second of which forces a fumble that seals the Pats 24-14 victory. On the replay, Phil Simms remarks: Ill tell you what, Jim Nantz. Jones really put Jake in the Hurt . . . Locker! followed by 15 seconds of whats best described as country club laughter.

Week 2: Arizona at New England

History: On September 29, 1991, quarterback Tom Tupa threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns in the Phoenix Cardinals 24-10 victory over Dick MacPhersons Pats. In the nearly 21 years since, the two franchises have played five times, and the Pats have won every time the last four games by a combined 128-22.

Question: Can the Pats stop Larry Fitzgerald?

If historys any indicator, then yes. In two career games against the Pats, the six-time Pro Bowler has a combined eight catches for 137 yards and a TD. (And its worth noting that 77 yards of that and the one TD came in the fourth quarter of a 47-7 loss when I believe Jonathan Kraft was in at cornerback). Although on the flip side, Fitzgeralds first game against the Pats was only the second game of his career.

Prediction: Fitzgerald finally gets the best of the Pats, to the tune of 11 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Final Score: Pats, 42-14.

Week 3: New England at Baltimore

History: On October 9, 1983, the Pats dropped a 12-7 decision to the Baltimore Colts. It was a crushing defeat, but more importantly, it marks the last time that New England has lost a regular season game to Baltimore. Thats right, theyre 6-0 against the Ravens since the recently-late Art Modell snatched them up from Cleveland.

Question: Can we get a Ray Rice repeat?

Slightly lost in the commotion over last years AFC Championship, Sterling Moores deflectionLee Evans drop and Billy Cundiffs missed chip shot, is the fact that the Pats completely neutralized Rice (21 carries for 67 yardsone catch for 11 yards). Thank God Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady that day or the Ravens really would have been screwed.

Prediction: Its a game filled of heartbreak (Bernard Pollard will end at least two Patriots seasons) and controversy (Terrell Suggs will be arrested at halftime when hes caught stealing a pair of used underwear from Tom Bradys locker). But ultimately, New England will prevail. Final Score: 23-20.

Week 4: New England at Buffalo

History: Since Week 1 of the 2004 season (aka Bledsoes Revenge) the Pats are 16-1 against the Bills, with the only loss coming at home in Week 2 of last season. Although, in Buffalos defense . . . nah, theres no defense.

Question: Are the Bills finally for real?

Well know much more by the time Week 4 rolls around granted their at Jets, vs. KC, at Cleveland schedule isnt very daunting but for now, this road game in Buffalo looks to be the Pats most challenging division game of the year.

Prediction: Mario Williams picks up two sacks, the second of which forces a fumble that seals the Bills 31-27 victory. On the replay, Dan Dierdorf remarks: Ill tell you what, Greg Gumbel. Jones really put Tom in the Hurt . . . Locker! followed by 15 seconds of whats best described as awkward silence. Says Dierdorf afterwards: What the hell? It worked for Simms.

Week 5: Denver at New England

History: The last time Peyton Manning played against the Pats? That would be November 21, 2010, in a 31-27 loss at Gillette Stadium. No. 18 threw for 396 yards , four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Quick quiz: I will pay the equivalent of Mannings Broncos signing bonus to anyone who can name the three receivers Peyton connected with in the end zone

Answer: Reggie Wayne, Blair White and the immortal Gijon Robinson.

(It was the first and only score of Honey Gijons career.)

Question: Does Peyton still have it?

At this point, Im definitely a Peyton doubter. Then again, most of that doubt stems from a conversation I had with a chiropractor. Hes a friend of mine who claims that Peytons neck issues are going to mess with his circulation, screw with his grip on the ball and reek all sort of havoc on his accuracy. Perhaps thats not the most scientific explanation, but it made a lot of sense in the moment, and leaves me with tempered expectations for Manning in Denver.

Of course, everythings relative. Im not saying that hell be the second coming of Bubby Brister. But his days as a Top 5 NFL quarterback are long gone.

Prediction: Manning continues historic resurgence with a 350 yards and three touchdown performance, as I scramble to track down and edit everything Ive written on this page. On the bright side, the Pats still win the game, 34-24, thanks in large part to Bill Belichick having Von Miller detained at T.F. Green Airport.

Week 6: New England at Seattle

History: The Pats have only played Seattle twice since 1993, and came out on top in both games. Before that, New England had lost five straight to Seattle (dating back to the days of Raymond Berry and Chuck Knoll) but still leads the all-time series 8-7. Also, Seattle is located in the Pacific Northwest.

Question: Are we ready for Russell Wilson?

We better be. The kid's Doug Flutie 2.0.

not sure if he also still brings his glove to baseball games.

Prediction: In the postgame locker room, a jubilant Pete Carroll greets every Seahawks player with an explosive high five, an authoritative butt slap and a smile. Im so proud of you, Carroll says. That was just so much fun out there today! Final score: Pats 34, Seahawks 16.

Week 7: N.Y. Jets at New England

History: You want tight? The Pats lead the all-time series with the Jets: 53-52-1. You want tighter? Picture Rex Ryan in a body stocking. (Damn, that worked much better pre-weight loss. And we're way past funny on feet jokes. Come on, Rex. Help us out.)

Question: Who will be the Jets quarterback?

If its not Tim Tebow, then hes either injured or the world has exploded. You really think that Sanchez will survive games against Pittsburgh, Houston and San Francisco? No way. The Jets will lose, the controversy overflow and they'll have to give Tebow a shot. If not by now, then right now.

The Prediction: "It's games like this that make me realize just how close we really are to getting back to the playoffs and winning the whole damn thing." - Rex Ryan, after New York's 30-13 loss.

Week 8: New England vs. St. Louis (in London)

History: On November 18, 2001, the Pats hosted the Rams on Sunday Night Football, and lost a tough 24-17 decision. However, they wouldn't lose another game all season, and haven't lost to the Rams again since. The Pats lead the all-time series against ClevelandLASt. Louis Rams 6-5.

Question: Can Steven Jackson get some love?

Back in 2004, Jackson was drafted by a very promising Rams franchise, had the opportunity to learn under Marshall Faulk and made the playoffs as a rookie. In the seven years since? Nada. The Rams have finished 6-10, 8-8, 3-13, 2-14, 1-15, 7-9 and 2-14. They're also on their sixth head coach. Meanwhile, Jackson's been there all along, getting his ass-kicked in anonymity. He turns 30 next summer. How about one more trip to the playoffs before he's got nothing left?

Prediction: Yo soy a spot of tea. Rob Gronkowski goes global with an eight-catch144-yardthree-touchdown performance in the Pats 35-7 victory. Asked how he plans to celebrate, Gronk replies: "Thinking about tryin' to get into that Pippa chick."

Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Buffalo at New England

More History: The Pats lost nine straight games to Buffalo between 1971-75. They lost 11 of 13 from 1988-1994. Still, they lead the all-time series 62-41-1.

Another question: Which way will Stevie Johnson go?

He's perpetually teetering on the edge of stardom and diva disaster, but now that he's got his money it has to go one way or the other. If he doesn't perform, no one will have patience. And if that's the case, Johnson seems more likely to blame God than keep his act together.

Prediction: No way the Pats gets swept by Buffalo. Pats 35, Bills 0.

Week 11: Indianapolis at New England
History: Peyton Manning made his Foxboro debut on September 13, 1998, in a 29-6 loss. On November 18, 2012, a new era of Colts football arrives at Gillette. In all, and this includes the year Manning missed and the year Brady missed, the Pats were 13-7 against Indianapolis in the Manning Era. 3-1 in the playoffs.

Question: How long will it take?

Peyton took the Colts from 3-13 his rookie season to 13-3 in year two. Then again, Peyton had Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James and Bill Polian leading the charge. All Andrew Luck has is his college tight end and the sweet sounds of John Cougar Mellencamp blasting from his owner's suite.

Prediction: Luck has a respectable first date with Bill Belichick, throwing for 230 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. But Tom Brady shows the rookie who's the boss with 350 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Pats 42-17 win. After the game, Tony Dungy tells a national audience: "You know, I think Luck is ready to take the torch from Brady right now." Followed by Rodney Harrison snapping and punching Dungy in the face.

Week 12: New England at N.Y. Jets

More History: As you know, Brady first arrived on the scene against the Jets on September 23, 2001. The Pats lost that game 10-3, but since then Brady's gone 17-5 against the Jets. He's also never lost consecutive games in the rivalry.

Another Question: Is this it for Rex?

Yup. He's under contract through 2014, but he's coaching for his job. Especially since, with the way things are set up with this team, it's either going to go very well or unspeakably bad. I know where my money is.

Prediction: "First of all, I'd just like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." - Tim Tebow, during his post game press conference. "Hey, no problem, buddy." - Tom Brady, walking by after his 400 yards, four touchdown performance. Final Score: Pats 35, Jets 21.

Week 13: New England at Miami

History: On October 7, 2001, Tom Brady took the field in Miami for the second start of his NFL career. He walked off a 30-10 loser, and his numbers were indicative of the score: 12-24 for 86 yards. But since that beating, the Pats are 15-6 against the Dolphins. (Although, four of the six losses have come in South Beach).

Question: What gives?

We have to wait 13 weeks for a game against Miami? Never thought Id see the year when the Celtics would the play the Heat before the Patriots played the Dolphins. (Just kidding, Ive never considered that scenario before in my life)

Prediction: Before the game, a confident Ryan Tannehill informs reporters that theyre about to witness: The biggest upset in the NFC South history. Final Score: Pats win, 29-13.

Week 14: Houston at New England

History: This will be the fourth ever meeting between the two teams. The Pats currently lead the series 2-1. Houston's one win came on January 3, 2010, in a game that didn't matter except that it cost the Pats Wes Welker and ruined their season. No big deal.

Question: Who's still standing?

You know that Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are good to miss at least a few games this season. Put Matt Schaub down for a handful, as well. And when you consider that there's a good chance the Texans will run away with the South even faster than the Pats close out the East, you have to wonder who will be suiting up for Houston.

Prediction: I'm going to say that they all suit up, and the Pats lose in a shoot-out, 37-34. "The Texans are the team to beat!" screams everyone in the world, as Belichick laughs maniacally in his office. "Yes. YEESSS! It's all going to plan."

Week 15: San Francisco at New England

History: The last time New England lost to the San Francisco was September 17, 1995. So long ago that the Pats kicker on that afternoon, was Matt Bahr . . . whos now 56 years old. The Pats have won the three meetings since, but are still only 4-7 all-time against the 49ers.

On that note, how weird is it that the Pats and 49ers have only played 11 times throughout their entire history? I mean, I get that theyre in the NFC and all, but the Cowboys are in the NFC too and theyve played the Pats . . . 11 times. Damn it.

Question: Are the Niners built to last?

It depends how much you believe in Alex Smith. While on one hand, he looked like the real deal during last year's fantastic run (especially in that playoff win over New Orleans). At the same time, it was interesting how willing Jim Harbaugh was to throw Smith on the junk pile when Peyton Manning became available.

How much can you believe in a guy if you'd rather send him packing in favor of taking a chance on a 36-year-old quarterback fresh off multiple career-threatening neck surgeries?

Prediction: I smell a big game for Randy Moss! Too bad hell be playing for Arena Leagues SanJose SaberCats. Prediction: Pats, 21-14.

Week 16: New England at Jacksonville

History: The Jaguars beat New England in the first round of the 1998 playoffs, but thats their only win against the Pats in nine tries. Because of math, that means Jacksonville (much like the Ravens) has never beaten New England in the regular season. You also know that this is very unlikely to change in Week 16.

Question: But what if no one plays?

Week 16, right? Theres a pretty good chance that the Pats are in a position to rest some players, meanwhile the Jaguars have a first year coach, a second-year quarterback and a rookie wide receiver who will be treating every game like its the Super Bowl.

Prediction: With the division wrapped up and a first-round bye locked down, Bill Belichick rests his starters and lets the second-unit challenge the Jags. Final score: Pats 17, Jaguars 7.

Week 17: Miami at New England

More History: This will be the 95th all-time meeting between the two teams. Miami currently leads the series 50-43.

Another Question: How cruelinsane is it to hand the keys to a rookie quarterback when you don't have any receivers?

Starting Tannehill might be the greatest mismanagement of a rookie since the Wizards left Kwame Brown alone with Michael Jordan.

Prediction: "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I was obviously joking last time. Everyone knows that the Pats left the NFC in 1995." - Ryan Tannehill. Final Score: Dolphins 21, Pats Scrubs 17.

Final record: 13-3

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

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Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry attended Thursday’s OTA session and offer their analysis on some of the new additions in Quick Slants the podcast.

Also on the docket, a look at some upcoming contract situations for the team, Tom Brady’s 17th season and Robert Kraft taking legal action in support of Brady.

Listen to the entire podcast via the player below, or by searching CSNNE on iTunes.

New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

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New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

Chris Long’s been in the NFL since 2008. As the offspring of Hall of Famer Howie Long, he knows the ways and means of life in the league.
 
So, it’s instructive that a player who’s been around this long decided that success here hinged on allowing himself to be led. Check the ego, check the pride, behave as if you know nothing.
 
In doing so, Long’s affixed himself to the side of fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich like a 275-pound remora.
 
“Rob and I really clicked,” Long said Thursday after a Patriots OTA session open to the media. “We’ve got a lot of similarities, and he’s a great guy to learn from and shadow. He’s been here obviously a long time. Rob knows how to do things the right way around here. When you see a guy like that, if you’re halfway smart, you follow him around and do what he does. If Rob goes to lunch, I go to lunch. That type of thing. Rob’s a good buddy already.”
 
Long was also observed Thursday spending a lot of downtime with Jabaal Sheard, the two defensive ends on a knee near the Gatorade conversing for a couple of minutes.
 
With Chandler Jones now a Cardinal, the Patriots defensive end depth chart this offseason has have Sheard and Ninkovich at the top, with Long in the mix situationally, one supposes. Reps need to be split for freshness. Meanwhile, Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are coming into their second seasons and will push for time as well.
 
For his part, Long isn’t projecting anything.
 
“Well, I’m still learning, so I can’t make the determination yet,” Long said. “Ask me again during training camp. Every day in the NFL is an opportunity. A coach I’ve had before said every day is an interview, and that’s how I like to look at things. Every day, you have a chance to get better and learn and worry about your own — farm your own land and do all that good stuff. That’s the way I approach everything. It would be a disservice to the other guys if I was worried about anything other than myself, that opportunity just to get out here on the practice field and compete and get better.”
 
And let yourself be led. 

Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

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Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

Can’t you just imagine the Ryan brothers as teenagers, riding along in a pickup, windows down, hair whipping, hollering their skewed affirmations over the Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Biggest badasses in town?! US!!”

“Handsomest fat guys to be!? US!!”

“Defensive-geniuses-in-waiting destined to be criminally underappreciated and overlooked so that we’ll forever be obligated to remind everyone at every turn how tough, accomplished and slighted we’ve been? HELL, THAT’S US TOO!!”

It’s May, which means it’s Ryan propaganda season. Not that Jenny Vrentas of MMQB did the Ryan’s bidding with her fun Q&A that’s online today. 

All she needed to do was hit record and lay the recorder on the table. Rex and Rob take care of the tire pumping themselves.

Fortuitously, now that they’re together in Buffalo as head coach (Rex) and assistant head coach/defensive capo (Rob), they can pat each other’s backs rather than reach back and do their own themselves.

Rob – poopcanned from his last two jobs as defensive coordinator in Dallas and New Orleans – carried the show in this one firing passive-aggressive darts at Saints head coach Sean Payton and promising to “beat” Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

“At the end of the day, the last two years in New Orleans were a waste of time for me,” said Rob Ryan, who was fired last November by Payton. “I want to give everything I have to a team that I want to be a part of, with a head coach I want to be a part of. Not only is Rex a great head coach, but he is also a great defensive coach. He’s going to be the best coach that I can work for, anytime. And I have worked for Belichick, who is the best head coach in football, in the history of the game. But we’re going to beat him, and we’re going to beat him together. And it’s going to be an awesome challenge. I need to be in a multiple system. I was hired to be in a multiple system in New Orleans, and I did a damn good job and got fired for it. I am more hungry now than I have ever been. So I wanted to go with the right guy. And the right guy is someone I have 100 percent trust in and 100 percent faith in.

Payton has already termed Ryan’s contention that it wasn’t Ryan’s defense as “silly.” 

This in-depth look at the precipitous drop of the Saints defense has plenty of damning info about what a “hot mess” Ryan’s operation was. 

Payton is quoted in the piece saying after Ryan’s dismissal, "There were a few things that you looked at from a year ago and you said, 'We can't have X number of snaps with not the right number of guys on the field. We can't burn timeouts, you know, every other week because we can't get the right personnel on the field.' We just can't do that. We can't have guys looking left and right at the snap of the ball. There's a game last season where the first eight plays of the game, we're misaligned and we don't even cover down the right way. Those were just facts."

Facts, schmacts. You want facts? From the interview:

ROB: Well, the highest-rated defensive coach in the history of the league is you.

REX: Right.

ROB: We can pretend there is somebody else, but there’s not. Hey, my numbers are what they are. Now, I took over some pretty lousy jobs, but that’s OK. But no one’s numbers are better than his. I’m talking about Dick LeBeau’s; I’m talking about Belichick; I’m talking about all of them. Hell, even our dad. Who is the best that ever laced them up? Well, I’m just saying. To be the best defensive coach in football, I’ve got to learn from the best, so I came here. It’s been how many years since we’ve been together? He’s not learning anything, but I am. Look at some of his protégés. Bob Sutton is doing a fantastic job in Kansas City. Chuck Pagano was with Rex. He spun off a ton of great coaches, and it is going to be fun to be a part of that.

Here’s the thing, the Ryans are very bright defensive coaches with an in-the-trenches-with-you bedside manner that invites massive huge loyalty from their players.

But there’s also an outsized sense of pride and ego that both men seem to have that causes them to get caught up in style over substance.

Rex wanted to build a bully in Buffalo. His Bills talked tough before facing the Patriots last September and came unhinged in the first half, effectively taking themselves out of the game before it began. 

The Bills have an terrific array of defensive talent even with the loss of Mario Williams this offseason. They added Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland in the draft – both well-regarded players who could have early-career impacts. They have the pieces. But they had them in 2015 as well and underperformed. The fact is, Rex is in a “prove-it” season. Even though he points out in the interview that his family has coached in six Super Bowls, three of those were coached by Buddy Ryan, two by Rob and one by Rex. In 66 combined seasons of NFL coaching. Belichick’s coached in eight by himself in 42 NFL seasons. The results are lacking.

It is worth noting before I put a bow on this that respect for Belichick isn’t lacking. The interview is chock-full of references to Rob’s time with the Patriots from 2000 to 2003.

“All the respect in the world for Bill Belichick,” said Rob. “That was fantastic training working for him for four years, and I learned a ton. Look, he is the No. 1 nemesis of every coach in this league. So it’s not just Rex. Now, I think if you ask their offensive staff, the worst they ever play is against Rex. People say, “well, he hasn’t beat them [nine out of the last 10] tries.” Yeah, well, he has beat the hell out of that offense. I am sure the respect is mutual. But I know one thing, we are going to beat them. We are together, we’re going to beat the best. It’s two against one. Him one on one against any coach in the league, that guy is pretty damn good. And he’s also got his best buddy Tom Brady with him. He trained him, and he single-handedly made him great as well.”