Patriots Media Prediction Panel, Bye Week 2013

What with the bye week finally here, New England at 7-2, and myriad Patriots taking their leave of Foxboro (note to Kenbrell Thompkins: next time you’re in Miami, take me with you), we at Boston Sports Media Watch figured we’d ask some local pundits their thoughts on what to expect for the next several games. Thanks to all of them for contributing.

What improvements do the Patriots need to make to stay competitive in the second half? Do you think they can make those improvements?

Shalise Manza Young, The Boston Globe: I think they’ll be competitive in the second half even if they stay just as they are right now, but it isn’t the regular season they need to improve for, in my opinion. I think the offense needs to find more consistency, particularly in red zone and on third down, which we are starting to see now that Gronk is healthy, and the defense needs to find a way to fix its problem against the run (we know why that problem has cropped up, but it can’t continue). Sopoaga will help; stopping the run is his speciality, and it isn’t for Chris Jones.

Chris Price, They need to improve their offensive consistency – that third-quarter dip (with the exception of the game against the Dolphins) is an odd statistical quirk that I can never remember a New England team having. Weird thing is that for the most part, it’s on both sides of the ball – offense and defense have both stumbled in the third quarter. Most of the time they have been able to right the ship in the fourth and it doesn’t come back to haunt them, but it undoubtedly cost them that Jets game. They can get by if they’re playing a lesser team, but they can’t afford not to be able to play four quarters of football against teams like the Broncos and into the postseason if they want to go deep into January. Not sure how you go about fixing that – they have to make a point of bringing energy on a consistent basis for all 60 minutes maybe. But it needs to be remedied.

They also have to find some way to cobble together a more sustainable run defense. Not saying it’s going to ultimately be its Achilles’ heel, especially in a pass-first league, but good teams are still going to be able to run the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, and the Patriots have to find a way to cobble together some sort of defensive package that can at least slow down some of that against some of the better offensive teams in the league that aren’t one dimensional. I believe they have quality parts, but it’s just a matter of finding the proper rotation, personnel and scheme. Whether or not Isaac Sopoaga is a big part of that, I’m not sure. (He certainly looked impressive in his first outing against the Steelers, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up at that spot over the rest of the season.) Maybe you find an expanded role for Brandon Spikes. And Chris Jones and Joe Vellano will continue to be key parts of the defensive front, along with Andre Carter, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones.

Mike Reiss, ESPN Patriots blog: More consistency on offense, run defense and tightening up penalties (7 over the last 3 games) and coverage units on special teams are the three things that come to mind. I think they’ll be fine on offense, as the return of running back Shane Vereen will be a boost, and wouldn’t expect the struggles to continue on special teams. I’m a little less confident on the run defense, but perhaps the trade-deadline acquisition of Isaac Sopoaga is the difference for them.

Chad Finn, Losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo has affected the run defense just as tangibly as anyone who respected their abilities would have expected. The Patriots now have the fourth-worst run defense in the league in terms of yardage allowed (128.2 ypg). Only Pittsburgh (131.2) and Jacksonville (161.8) are worse, and the Jaguars are so brutal Roger Goodell is trying to relegate them to the Canadian Football League. (True story.) Isaac Sopoaga should help as he gets more acclimated, and we know what Brandon Spikes can do. It would help if Dont’a Hightower became more instinctive and consistent. Otherwise, there’s not much to worry about other than overall health and the continued progress of the young receivers.

Chris Warner, BSMW: The returns of Gronk and Danny Amendola accentuated the importance of a healthy roster. As more players come back (Vereen, Aqib Talib, now Steve Gregory) and new players get experience in lieu of those on IR (Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork), this team might end up more balanced than they have yet this season. On defense, I’d look for more aggressive schemes and fewer one-on-one battles where the newbies might falter. On offense, keep in mind that, in Game One at Buffalo this year, Vereen caught seven passes for 58 yards. In eight games since, Stevan Ridley (9 for 50) and Brandon Bolden (17 for 107) have combined for 26 catches for 157 yards. Bringing Vereen into the picture will provide an option that the Patriots have lacked since his injury.

How do you see the next seven games panning out? 

Shalise Manza Young: As things are right now, December looks a lot easier for the Patriots than it did in the preseason. Baltimore is a mess, Houston is having problems – heading into the season, those looked like pivotal road games and would likely impact AFC playoff seeding. Now? Not so much. I predicted an 11-5 record for them in our season preview, but it could be 12-4. Again – and I know I’ve gotten grief for this in the past – as nice as 12-4 is, it doesn’t mean a thing if they’re one-and-done in the postseason. Of course you need to have a good enough regular season to get into the playoffs, but after that, it doesn’t really matter. That’s why I say they need to tighten up the run defense and get that offensive consistency for the postseason, because that’s when they’ll need it most.

Chris Price: I think they lose two or three more games, which would put them at 12-4 at best and 11-5 at worst, and likely have them in the conversation for either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. There are some potential potholes over the final seven games, including the Broncos (I think that has the potential to be a fantastic contest), as well as the Panthers (that’s a sneaky good team where Carolina could take advantage of New England if the Patriots pull that third-quarter check-out). The other two that could be a problem are the road games in Baltimore and Houston. These two teams are nowhere near where they last season, but potential for danger is still there.

(For what it’s worth, I think the return of Shane Vereen is not being discussed enough – he’s a dynamic offensive presence with an ability to put pressure on opposing defense in a way that no other skill position player on the roster can. I know that Sunday represented the first time that Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Stevan Ridley were all on the field as close to 100 percent healthwise as possible, but I’m really interested to see what they can do as a group when Vereen gets back on the field.)

Mike Reiss: It’s easy to appreciate the mental toughness and resiliency this team has shown. I think the thing I look forward to over the final seven games is seeing how the return of cornerback Aqib Talib impacts the defense, and how the coaches strategize specifically with him in mind. The first five-and-a-half games he played were as impressive as I’ve seen a Patriots cornerback play. Steve Smith … Wes Welker … Andre Johnson … the first three games coming off the bye feature some big-time receivers. Can Talib do the same thing he did against Jimmy Graham? They’ll be in most every game and I expect them to be in the championship hunt.

Chad Finn: I think most Patriots fans are of the same mind-set right now. They’re looking ahead to the Denver game – it’s impossible not to, for all of the story lines that need no rehash (pre-hash?) here, while also being aware that Carolina is playing too well to look past coming out of the bye. Overall, though, it looks like a pretty tolerable schedule. It would be nice if they had the Texans or Ravens at home – neither team is what it was last year, obviously. The Browns are improving, but they’re not beating a Patriots offense that even faintly resembles the one we saw against the Steelers. The Dolphins franchise may have folded by the time they meet again. The Bills will be the 12th win and the final warmup before the Patriots host a game in the Divisional Round.

Chris Warner: Denver scares me, though the way their defense is playing I feel like certain teams have a shot against them. I can see Carolina ending up as rude hosts, especially given the efficacy of their running game – plus, the Pats have had their issues with running QBs, and Cam Newton fits that bill all too well. The thing is, as long as the Patriots make the playoffs, I’m not all that concerned about their regular-season record. If they can get into the post-season with good health and enough experience amongst the youngsters to instill some confidence and consistency, then who cares if they’re 14-2 or 11-5? I said it before and I’ll repeat: I think they go 2-2 over their next four games, then finish the season strong.

Any wacky predictions for the second half?

Chris Price: I think that with the amount of injuries this team has suffered, we could be headed for one of those goofy switches before the end of the season, like when Julian Edelman or Troy Brown shows up as a defensive back. I also believe that LeGarrette Blount is going to break off a great kick return before the end of the season. Not saying he’s going to take it all the way back, but it’s going to be one of those “Holy crap” moments we recall a few years from now.

Mike Reiss: Maybe a deja vu of this? LOL.

Chad Finn: Besides the upcoming trade for Richie Incognito AND Jonathan Martin, you mean? The weirdest thing – or at least unexpected – has already happened: Belichick absolved Stevan Ridley of a fumble. I think he got a mulligan from the coach on that one because Belichick was surprised Troy Polamalu was within 20 yards of the ball, and assumed Ridley was equally stunned.

Chris Warner: After reading the list of 83 receivers he has thrown to in his career, Brady starts to hassle Coach Josh McDaniels to put in trick plays in an attempt to reach 90 by the end of the season. So look out, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Isaac Sopoaga (as Mike alluded to above), and Nate Solder (a previous, unsuccessful target this season); keep your eyes and ears open, LaQuan Williams, Mark Harrison and Cierre Wood: your number might get called.

Predictions for November, December and beyond? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sports Illustrated Honors David Ortiz, First Responders on Cover


In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (11/11/13)—on newsstands Wednesday— senior writer Tom Verducci writes about how 2013 World Series MVP David Ortiz, one of the greatest postseason sluggers ever, used leadership and resilience to carry the Red Sox and the city of Boston to their third Series title in eight years. Ortiz, who had a .688 BA with 11 hits and two home runs in the six- game Series against the Cardinals, shares this week’s cover with Boston police officers Javier Pagan and Rachel McGuire and detective Kevin McGill –all three appeared on SI’s April 22, 2013 cover as the issue reported on the Marathon bombings.

Writes Verducci, “If any one person were to lead the Red Sox and—given the team’s cultural importance in New England—by extension Bostonians through a terrible time, it was a man with an outsized capacity for resilience. The grind of a 162-game season played in a 182-day window, followed by the wilds of postseason play, would test even Lewis and Clark. But among baseball’s 109 world champions there has never been a story of resilience quite like this one. No team—not the 1969 Mets, not the ’91 Twins—has won the World Series in the year after being as bad as the Red Sox were in 2012 (.426 winning percentage). And only six months before the Series—just a half mile east on the same street where Ortiz was applauded—two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, wounding 264 others and terrorizing hundreds of thousands. Four days later the citizenry was ordered to “shelter in place” during a daylong citywide lockdown, while a manhunt for the bombers proceeded. The pleasant routines of life, including baseball, were put on hold.” (Page 32)

Things were not always easy for Ortiz in Boston. Since arriving in Boston in ‘03 Big Papi has battled through injuries, steroid allegations, batting slumps and criticism from an ex-manager who claimed Ortiz quit on the team. Still, Big Papi remained ebullient and ready to lead by example. Writes Verducci, “Ortiz is the team’s leader in every imaginable way, a man of imposing size (6’ 4″, 250 pounds) yet easy accessibility. He delivers the right words and mood for a club as reliably as he does big hits. He is a baseball -philosopher—thoughtful, colorful, -profane—and his well-scarred career and outsized personality serve him well in big situations that can rattle others. “You can be the real deal today and s— tomorrow,” he says. “That’s how the game goes. On the day you feel your best, you can go 0 for 5. You go home and say, ‘I feel like Superman, and I went 0 for 5.’ That tells you how tough this game is: On your best day you had a bad day.” (Page 32)

“The worst 6-2 team in NFL history” Wins Again

No, that’s not me being snarky.

Chris Gasper actually wrote “The worst 6-2 team in NFL history bumped its record to 7-2 at its intermission with a 55-31 demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

I apologize in advance to Gasper if he is just being sarcastic. I’m having a hard time distinguishing what passes for sarcasm these days. (No, apparently Kirk Minihane isn’t leaving WEEI.)

Is this really the worst 6-2 team in NFL history? Worse than the 1999 Patriots, for instance, who went 6-2 in the first half, and then 2-6 in the second half? Or the 2009 Denver Broncos? Or any of these teams?

Again, maybe Gasper himself is poking fun that those out there who are making this kind of statement, if so, my apologies to Chris. I’ll try to keep my sarcasm detector better tuned.

EditTotally sarcasm.

Sticking with the Globe for a second, they debuted ‘Score’ today – a special 15 page PDF download (for subscribers) which features expanded coverage of the Patriots and NFL. It’s a nice little perk for subscribers, though the PDF is pretty bulky.

A look at a few of the top articles today:

What we learned: Patriots continue taking steps in right direction – Chris Price runs down what we can take from this one.

Rob Gronkowski Fully Returns To Form, Making Patriots Offense A Force Once Again – Michael Hurley has Gronk showing how important he really is to this team.

Gronkowski’s value to Patriots indisputable – Mike Reiss agrees.

Tom Brady’s not done yet – Karen Guregian says that the “Brady is done” and “Brady is on the decline” talk should be dismissed after yesterday.

Biggest win on Sunday? Evidence of offensive potency – Tom E Curran says that the offensive display was encouraging, but they need to be able to duplicate it.

Tom Brady has vintage performance, gets New England Patriots offense clicking in blowout win over Pittsburgh Steelers – Nick Underhill looks at a throwback game for Brady.

Get everything else at

A few other items from the weekend:

Boston Needed Bill Russell’s Statue More Than He Did – Paul Flannery’s Sunday Shootaround is really good.

Ortiz For The Hall – This Sports on Earth column leads off with: David Ortiz doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, if you believe that the Hall of Fame has standards. It goes downhill from there.

Consider what even the most advanced of metrics cannot capture about Ortiz. There is the incalculably baller $250,000 white gold and diamond-encrusted necklace that he wears (on the field!). There is his ascetic dedication to fastidious head-bound follicle management that marks him as an apex example of Pristine Latino Male Grooming. There is his perfect “Uh, I dunno?” response to steroid use allegations. This set of criteria is subjective only if you discount the fact that Babe Ruth never hit a home run with 55 carats of ice on his neck.

Sure, it all sounds ridiculous, but the underlying reason why anyone is even discussing Ortiz’s candidacy is that we like him. He’s a cuddle-bear who hits baseballs dumb far and became an icon in one of America’s most historically racist sports towns. If being swallowed up by a David Ortiz hug isn’t on your bucket list, then I don’t know what sport you’re watching.


These Red Sox are indisputedly, irrevocably us – You might’ve heard Dennis and Callahan referring to this column from Gish Jen in the Globe yesterday. The column comes around to asking – Did we fail the Tsarnaevs somehow?

Dan Shaughnessy Wants You To Know You Were Wrong, Too.

Poor Dan Shaughnessy.

He’s feeling persecuted right now. All you get-a-lifers are coming after him, and making him feel bad.

Being wrong is OK by me, but I was bombarded Thursday by fans consumed with a message of, “You need to eat crow! How could you have been so wrong?’’ I’m hoping all those folks went to Vegas in March and are now collecting thousands.

So the voice of New England sports, who likes to brag about when he writes a scathing column and then shows up in the locker room the next day, can’t take accountability to his customers for when he is epically wrong? He has to hide under the “no one else saw this coming either” excuse? (If you did go to Vegas and bet, are you allowed to taunt Dan?)

In February, he already had his mind made up about the team:

Sorry. The juice glass is half-empty today. These guys could be really bad. And really boring. “Scrappy” doesn’t sell in Boston in 2013. Not after everything that’s happened. For $170 million, a little more prime-time talent would have been nice.

Failed predictions are not a big deal. Everyone makes them. It’s true that very few people had any expectations for this team. There are a few differences though.

Shaughnessy and his colleagues in the media – notably a certain afternoon radio duo that rhymes with Elger and Assaorotti – once they had established their narrative, they had to keep it going, and try to keep proving that they were smarter than the unwashed fans. They seek to ruin the fan experience, and bring the attention on themselves. It’s also not just that the predictions are made, it’s that they’re made in the most dickish way possible.

Shaughnessy is the professional here. He’s the alleged sports authority in Boston. He’s the one getting paid – very handsomely – to give his opinion. So when it is proven to be wrong, not just a little bit wrong, but historically wrong, he’s got to strike back at his customers and tell them they were all wrong too?

A wise Boston-based NFL reporter recently tweeted that “People in our business are supposed to tell the public what news is, not the other way around.” Based on that, does Dan think it is impossible to believe that some people actually based their opinions on the potential of the Red Sox on what HE told them? (If they did, they’re morons, but that’s another story.)

After all, as he said in February he had spent “Two weeks and too many hours in the Sox clubhouse” actually observing the team and what was going on. I know we’re talking about Shaughnessy here, but is it impossible that people read what he wrote, and concluded that since he had been there for two weeks, he might know better than they did how good/bad this team was going to be?

In any event, he’s supposed to be the expert. He failed. Now he wants us to forget it all, and join him as he writes glowing tributes about how great this team was, and if you bring up his original predictions about them, well, too bad, because YOU didn’t know either.

The thing is, despite his protests, he loves this. He lives for this. He’s on Gresh and Zo right now “defending himself” against all this backlash. He’s soaking it up, basking in the glow that even though the Red Sox just won the World Series, people are thinking about HIM.

I need to go shower now.

By the way, Bill Ballou at the Globe’s sister paper in Worcester back in March predicted that the Red Sox would win the AL East in 2013.

So, 2013 has to be better than 2012. It’ll be better than 2011, for that matter. The 2013 Red Sox will be AL East champions, and I’m willing to put money on it.

Can anybody loan me a nickel?

(Thanks to Lance for pointing this out.)

Somewhat related – does it bother anyone else that media and media bloggers who spent the entire season dumping on the Red Sox and their players (and the other teams in town) now have no issues composing odes to how great it is to be a sports fan in Boston, and how these Red Sox define Boston?  They spend every waking hour figuring out what to complain about, and what #hotsportztake is going to be most infuriating, but then turn into puddles of mush when the season is successful.


They don’t make ’em like this anymore:

Top of the World – Leigh Montville’s column on the Red Sox win.

Papi and After – How about 93-year-old Roger Angell still cranking out baseball writing?


How did things shake down on Wednesday night, numbers-wise?

Nationally, the Red Sox game did a 11.3/18.

More information from FOX on game six:

  • Boston led all markets with a massive 55.2/75, the best MLB rating in the market since Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.
  • Boston peaked with a 59.5/84 from 11:00 -11:30 PM ET during the Fenway Park on-field celebration. Red Sox hub Providence followed with a 44.1/61.
  • St. Louis delivered a 37.9/55 followed by Hartford (27.8/41), Fort Myers (16.6/27), Kansas City (14.4/23), Tampa (13.4/21), Memphis (13.3/19), Las Vegas (13.0/22), and Richmond (12.9/22) to round out the top 10.
  • For the six-game series, St. Louis was the top metered market averaging 40.6/60 while Boston came in at 39.6/60.
  • According to figures released by Nielsen SocialGuide, World Series Game 6 was the most social program of the day with 1.6 million tweets from 623,000 unique authors. The 2013 World Series drew 4.3 million tweets, up 86% from the 2012 World Series and more than three times the number of tweets compared to the 2011 World Series.
  • According to Facebook, the 2013 World Series generated 32 million interactions from 11 million users. The Red Sox won the team buzz battle 62% to 38% over the Cardinals during the six-game series. World Series MVP David Ortiz was the most buzzed about player with nearly four times the comments, likes, and posts compared to any other player.


Finally, Chad Finn’s media column from today- Fox should go bold in replacing Tim McCarver – has plenty of media notes and observations from the series.