Sunday, November 20, 2016

Random Thoughts (November 20, 2016)

Big couple of weeks looming for the Patriots as the next three games will play an important role in determining where they will be playing their playoff games.

Currently 7-2 and sitting atop of both the AFC East and the AFC, Bill Belichick's team enters a stretch in which they play at San Francisco, at the New York Jets, and home against Los Angeles.

Taking nothing away from those three teams, they are certainly games the Patriots will be expected to win and, if they hope to secure a first round bye in the AFC playoffs and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, they are games they have to win.

If they go 3-0 in this stretch, the 10-2 Patriots would be in position to clinch the top spot in the AFC by going 3-1 (or 4-0) in games against Baltimore, at Denver, against the New York Jets, and at Miami. The three teams in position to challenge the Patriots for home field in the AFC playoffs - the Chiefs, Raiders, and Broncos - all play each other one more time and the likelihood of some intradivisional attrition should set the Patriots up, if they take care of their own business, to make the AFC's road to the Super Bowl travel through Foxboro.


Mike Trout is on track to go down as one of baseball's all-time great players based on his first five seasons.

If MLB decided today to make every player available as a free agent, Trout would be the object of every team's affections.

If the Red Sox decided to use their stable of talented young players to trade for a more established star, there's no one I'd rather see in Boston than Mike Trout.

That said, he didn't deserve to win the AL MVP award this year.

Trout's Angels finished 2016 with a 74-88 record which put them in fourth place in the AL West, 21-games behind the division champion Rangers.

As great as Trout's production was, how valuable can a player be when his team was never once in contention for a playoff spot?

Boston's Mookie Betts, Toronto's Josh Donaldson, and Baltimore's Manny Machado all led playoff teams and Houston's Jose Altuve kept his team in the race for a Wild Card spot all season.  

None may be the first ballot Hall of Fame talent that Trout certainly is but in 2016 all were more deserving of being the MVP.


Throughout this amazing run that Bill Belichick's Patriots have been on since 2001 - winners of 189 regular season games in 249 games, 10 AFC Championship Game appearances, 6 Super Bowl appearances, and 4 Super Bowl championships - I have not always understood his personnel decisions but I generally trust the man who has created a football superpower in Foxboro.

Coming off a disappointing loss in last year's AFC Championship Game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos, there was (as always) cause for optimism with a potent offense led by Tom Brady and a defense that had a core of talented young playmakers.

Since then, Belichick has traded defensive end Chandler Jones to the Cardinals before the NFL Draft and, just two weeks ago, sent linebacker Jamie Collins to the Browns.

Two young stars sent away from a Super Bowl contender for draft picks.

Belichick clearly has a better understanding of the dynamics of his roster and his locker room than does any reporter, let alone a lonely blogger such as myself.  But the decisions to deal away Jones and Collins were nothing short of confusing and, with the defense struggling to consistently prevent opponents from marching down the field on a week-to-Week basis, Belichick the general manager seems to have put Belichick the coach into a tough spot.

My take on this is that Jones and Collins - who were scheduled to join teammates Dont'a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, and Duron Harmon as free agents this offseason - were perceived by Belichick as bigger risks to his team's success in 2016 than whatever playmaking abilities they provided.  Regardless of the cries from fans and media members that the Patriots "go for it" every season, Belichick, with Robert Kraft's blessing and Brady's right arm, has built his franchise into a model of consistency and he always seems to have the long term view in his focus instead of the here and now.

Belichick now needs to take the talent that remains and mold it into a unit that can get stops, especially on third down, and keep Brady's offense on the field as much as possible.

The Patriots are a team built around the greatness of Brady and his arsenal of weapons on that side of the ball but if they're to beat out the Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders to win the AFC and then the Seahawks, Cowboys, or Giants to win a fifth Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era, the defense is going to have to find a way to carry its share of the burden.


The Celtics are off to a slow start, just 7-6 after about a month of play.  

FromInjuries to Al Horford and Jae Crowder have certainly contributed to the disappointing start but there also seems to be something else at play that need to be addressed if this team is to be a factor in the Eastern Conference.

From my couch, it looks like Crowder is not the same player that earned the admiration of Celtics fans with his gritty play in his first two years in Boston.

Once a player that would grind out every possession on defense and offered a nice fourth or fifth option on offense as a spot-up shooter, Crowder seems less interested in being a defensive stopper and more concerned in looking for his offense.

On a team that is built around Isaiah Thomas' tremendous scoring ability and then having a group of teammates that defend, rebound, and contribute offensively, they cannot afford to have a player like Crowder disrupt what makes them successful.  That is especially true when a player like Avery Bradley, who is a better player than Crowder is on both ends of the floor, sacrifices his scoring for the better of the team on a nightly basis.

This isn't a rip job on Crowder.  Sometimes players start to think they can offer something outside of their strengths.  If this is the case, I'm sure Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge have worked to correct it but if Crowder is convinced he can be more than a plus defender and complimentary scorer, than maybe it is time for Ainge to find him a new home.

Thomas certainly needs help shouldering the scoring burden and while that's a responsibility of the whoe team, players like Bradley and Horford are more suited for that role than Crowder.

If the Celtics continue to scuffle now that Horford and Crowder are back in the lineup, don't be shocked if Crowder is used as a trade chip to shake things up and get the team back on track.


The way that the Bruins are playing to start the season makes me want to invest the two hours every night to watch them.

Veterans like Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, David Backes, and Zdeno Chara are leading and a youth movement led by David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo have the Black and Gold looking like a contender in the Eastern Conference.


Enjoy Tom Brady today.

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