Tag Archives: new england patriots

Quick Slant: Bob Kraft Speaks His Mind

By Kevin York

Slant: Kraft: Pats Wanted Welker Back


I love this. Far too often, owners, players, agents, really everyone in sports, gives the safe answer. They give the answer that their PR guy told them to use. The non-answer. The non-offensive, non-confrontational, non-bulletin board answer. Kraft didn’t in this case. People (Wes Welker’s agents) were trying to make it seem like the Pats wanted to move on from their relationship with the receiver. With Kraft’s blunt and direct statements, he made it perfectly clear that wasn’t the case.

Not only did he clarify the situation, he stated that the Patriots actually offered Welker more money than the Broncos did (who Welker signed with). So why didn’t he sign with New England? Kraft felt Welker’s agents misrepresented his market value to their client, leading him to believe he could get more on the open market than he actually could. They gave the Patriots a salary number that was higher than New England was able to go. Sensing they wouldn’t be able to get Welker, the Pats signed Danny Amendola as an alternative. One day later, Welker called Kraft and New England head coach Bill Belichik to inform them of Denver’s offer. According to Kraft, had Welker placed the call one day earlier, they would’ve been able to re-sign him since they were originally offering more money. With Amendola signed, they couldn’t.

I love that Kraft went into such detail on the timeline to pursue Welker and Amendola. I wish more teams were this transparent.

One day after Kraft made his statements, Welker’s agents responded, almost as direct. We’re not exactly sure what happened now, but I love the fire both sides are spewing.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

The Most Disliked Teams in America

By Kevin York

Two weeks ago I started a series on the Most Disliked entities in sports. I began this little series of posts questioning Forbes original article listing the ten most disliked athletes in America. Since I didn’t agree with all the athletes on their list, I revised it and published my own. I followed that up with a post on the most disliked coaches in America, which I decided on by crowdsourcing answers from my Facebook friends and input from the other Couchletes.

I considered doing a post on the most disliked owners in America, but decided there aren’t really enough that are universally disliked right now. There’s Jerry Jones and….Jerry Jones. You could make an argument for a few others, but I realized most of the owners that we as a general public don’t like aren’t with us anymore. Guys like Al Davis and George Steinbrenner. So instead of going the owner route, I’m just going straight to the final installment, the most disliked teams in America.

In deciding the teams that belong on this list, I decided not to ask for other opinions. Not because I think I’m that smart, but because these disliked teams all really stood out. I think most would agree with the ones on this list – except maybe the fans of these teams.

In reviewing this list, I noticed that the teams on it are all popular with large, dedicated fan bases. That’s part of what makes them so disliked. You’re not going to find a team like the Kansas City Royals or the Milwaukee Bucks on this list. To be disliked as a team, there a few things you need to have:

  • Success: At some point in the team’s history, they have to have seen success. It doesn’t even have to have been recent success, just prolonged.
  • Personalities: There are very few examples of teams that become disliked for reasons other than the people on the field and sidelines. We as the audience connect with people – the players, the coaches, sometimes the owners. By the same token, we develop a dislike for people, not logos or colors or cities.
  • Good fan base: It’s not always the personalities on the field that irritate us. Sometimes it’s the obnoxious people in the stands that we grow to hate.

All ten teams that I list below have all three of these characteristics. So without further ado, here they are. The ten most disliked teams in America, at least from my perspective.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Boston Red Sox

Dallas Cowboys

Duke Blue Devils

Los Angeles Lakers

Miami Heat

New England Patriots

New York Yankees

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Ohio State Buckeyes

So what teams did I miss?

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

AFC Championship Game Preview

By Kevin York

Well, this isn’t the game any of us thought it would be two weeks ago, or even one week ago. The Ravens weren’t supposed to be here. This was supposed to be another Brady-Manning classic, but Baltimore crashed the party. So instead we have a rematch of last years AFC Championship, a game which was actually a class in and of itself; however, I have a feeling this game will play out much differently than last year when many felt Baltimore outplayed the Patriots, yet Brady and company stole the game.

Photo Credit: (Matt Slocum/AP)

Photo Credit: (Matt Slocum/AP)

Baltimore Ravens
The big story with Baltimore this post season has been Ray Lewis and the going away party his teammates are throwing him, but the storyline that hasn’t received as much attention, and I think it actually the bigger one, is the change at offensive coordinator that John Harbaugh made near the end of the season. Since taking over for the fired Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell has totally changed the dynamics of this offense. He has confidence in quarterback Joe Flacco and lets him throw the ball downfield. This isn’t the same conservative, sometimes even tentative, offense we saw most of the season. Earlier this week, Don Banks over at Sports Illustrated wrote a nice article looking statistically at just how much of a positive affect Caldwell has had on the offense. As Banks notes, “the Ravens under Caldwell have averaged 450.8 yards of offense and 28 points over their past four games, with superb balance (188.8 yards rushing and 262.0 passing).”

I expect Caldwell to open things up and show some new plays, maybe even new formations, in an attempt to confuse New England. Remember, Caldwell is very familiar with Bill Belichik and the Patriots from the many years he served as an assistant on Tony Dungy’s Colts staff. He is well aware of what he’s facing and how he’ll have to outsmart the Patriots’ mastermind.

We won’t see Baltimore try and run the ball a lot. New England has big, strong linebackers that are very good at stopping the run and crashing into gaps. I expect them to go to the air more and attack New England’s weaker secondary. That may open the run later, but I think we’ll see Flacco really air it out early.

Baltimore’s defense has played well enough to win this postseason, but make no mistake, this is not the Ravens defense we’ve seen in the past. They’re older and slower, and may be a little tired. They’ve been on the field a lot in their first two playoff games and will now be facing one of the best offenses in the NFL a week after a tiring overtime thriller in Denver.

The Ravens will likely struggle to defend the New England passing attack. The Patriots have added a few wrinkles this year that they didn’t have last year, like the faster Brandon Lloyd who really came on late in the season. The New England offensive line has also protected Brady better than last year. With Baltimore’s pass rush not being quite as good as last year, that’s a recipe for a real problem for the Ravens defensive front. With the ways New England has used their running backs lately, the Ravens front seven are certainly facing an athletic disadvantage. They don’t have a linebacker fast enough to line up opposite Shane Vereen if he slots out as a receiver.

Photo Credit: (Steven Savoia/AP)

Photo Credit: (Steven Savoia/AP)

New England Patriots
In contrast to Baltimore, New England is exactly where we all expected them to be at this moment in time. This year’s Patriots team seems like a team on a mission. That’s naturally the kind of mentality that Belichik instills in them, but it just feels even more workmanlike this year, and specifically over the second half of the season, than they have in years past. The Super Bowl loss to the Giants last year was a black eye for this team, something that deep down I think they’re a little embarrassed and ashamed of. Twice now, they’ve lost Super Bowl games to the Giants that they should’ve won. Different makeups of those two teams, yes (in fact, very few people from that 2008 team were still playing for the Pats last year ), but I’m sure last year’s team certainly felt somewhat linked to the earlier one.

New England’s offense is one of the strongest in the NFL and has been for some time. As the season went on it seemed like they continued to add new dimensions to it, even as starters went down to injuries. The latest example was last week against Houston when Shane Vereen, filling in for Danny Woodhead, emerged with a breakout performance, both in the running game and passing game. It’s really remarkable how well Belichik and his staff develop players. New England is showing that it’s the deepest team in the league.

Tom Brady will have a big game. All week people have been discussing how he got outplayed by Joe Flacco last year. Mike Greenberg said that last year he was simply average in the playoffs. That type of stuff motivates this guy and I think it’ll fuel his fire on Sunday.

The Baltimore defense opens up a lot of opportunities for the Patriots. For one, the Ravens really only have one strong, consistent pass rusher in Paul Kruger. That means lots of time for Brady to sit in the pocket and make his way through his progressions until he finds an open receiver. He will be able to pass the ball on this Ravens secondary. The other opportunity is using their running backs in unique ways – lining them up in the slot or even out wide.

Aside from Aqib Talib, the New England secondary could be exposed by Joe Flacco. The unit is solidly built to contain Ray Rice and the Raven run game, but they’re not quite as astute in pass coverage. I think Baltimore will try and attack the middle of the Patriots defense in the passing game because New England’s linebackers (Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower) aren’t particularly quick. New England will have to make up for that by playing a zone and not leaving those guys alone on an island.

The Final Word
At some point a team can’t survive on emotion anymore and talent comes into the equation. I think this week is when that happens for Baltimore. Up and down the rosters, New England is the stronger team at every position except running back. Talent wins out this week as New England punches its second straight ticket to the Super Bowl. This game won’t be as close as last year when it came down to the very end for the Patriots to win, but it also won’t be the blow out that some are expecting. I think we’ll see New England win by around ten points or so.

You can read The Couchletes’ preview of the NFC Championship game here.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

Thoughts on the NFL Divisional Round Playoffs

We’re now down to the last four teams in the NFL playoffs. Baltimore, San Francisco, Atlanta and New England. It was an entertaining weekend of games. The Ravens-Broncos overtime thriller was an instant classic and a game that Denver fans, and Peyton Manning, will likely want to forget quickly. The Broncos, huge favorites, really blew that game. Green Bay-San Francisco was close, at least until the fourth quarter, but nonetheless a much more competitive game than their first encounter in week one. This game didn’t turn out at all the way I wanted and I now have to live with it. I may never write another Packers preview as a result. Seattle-Atlanta looked like it would be a rout early, but the Seahawks, as they’ve done all season, refused to give up and made it quite an ending, though they ultimately blew their chance to steal a win. That game may have ended even more exciting than the Baltimore-Denver game. And finally, New England showed how strong, and deep, they really are by winning a game with Houston that never really appeared competitive after the Pats scored their first touchdown.

We’ll have previews of the AFC and NFC Championship games later this week, but here are my initial thoughts after watching the four playoff games this weekend:

— Peyton Manning could be the best regular season quarterback ever, but man, that guy has a tendency to come up short in the playoffs. It just feels like a really high number of times that he’s been the higher seed and lost. He’s such a good player and an all around good guy that I feel sorry for him.

— Speaking of him being a good guy, I appreciated hearing that Manning waited around for an hour and a half after the game to privately congratulate Ray Lewis. That’s a class act.

— The Ray Lewis story is having quite the final chapter. I can’t believe how much he’s inspired this Ravens team. It sounds ridiculous, but his presence on the field does wonders for improving Baltimore’s chances of winning a game.

— Enough criticism of Joe Flacco. He’s shown over the past two post seasons that he really is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. I’d take him in a playoff game. Last year he outplayed Tom Brady, this year he outplayed Peyton Manning. You can’t ask for much more than that.

— Baltimore still has a good defense. They don’t quite have the same pass rush they’ve had in the past, with Paul Kruger being the only really consistent pass rushing threat, but it’s still a solid unit. They may not have ranked that way this year, but remember, they had a ton of injuries and those injuries were to main contributors (Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed). Everyone’s healthy now.

— The San Francisco 49er offense may have become the team’s strong suit. With the difficult to defend new read option dimension that Colin Kaepernick has added, I really think this might the case. While the defense is still solid, I don’t feel like they shut down the Packers defense as much as they did in their week one meeting. In fact, the Pack did more to shoot themselves in the foot. Their turnovers were more a result of their own mistakes than any forcing the San Francisco defense did. And it was the Niner offense that capitalized on those Green Bay mistakes.

— Frank Gore quietly continues to be a huge contributor to the 49ers offense. He’s not the most vocal or showy player, so doesn’t command the same mainstream media attention as others on their offense, but he is the rock of that unit. Would you be surprised to know he gained 119 rushing yards against the Packers? I watched the entire game and was surprised by it. He quietly just gets his job done.

— Michael Crabtree has emerged as a top receiver in the game. Going into that game, Green Bay knew that he was one of Kaepernick’s go to guys, and they still couldn’t defend him, knowing it was coming.

— Green Bay didn’t appear to have much of a competitive game plan on either side of the ball. They apparently didn’t read my analysis post from last week because they didn’t appear prepared for many of things I called out. They ran very few screen passes (and I don’t remember any outside screens) on offense and on defense, they didn’t look prepared for Kaepernick’s outside running, which is especially odd since they put together a game plan exactly a week ago to shut down Adrian Peterson’s outside running (and were effective).

— I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new defensive coordinator in Green Bay next year. Dom Capers’ unit has not performed well for the second season in a row now. It’s the achilles heel of an otherwise pretty good team. Sure, personnel is some of it, but I think scheme is part of it too.

— Seattle had quite the year, but came up just short. That’s still a great team and one that I think over the next couple years will become the team to beat in the NFC West. They’re younger than San Francisco and won’t face some of the free agent questions that the Niners will in the offseason.

— Good for Matt Ryan. He’s a good guy and it’s nice to see him get this playoff monkey off his back. Same with Falcons head coach Mike Smith and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Those are three of the classiest guys in the league.

— Pete Carroll’s got to be wishing he had not taken the time out to try and ice Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant at the end of the game. Bryant ended up missing the attempt (which then didn’t count) and Carroll proceeded to complain to the officials about being awarded the time out. Not sure what you were complaining about Pete. FOX clearly had you on tape calling the timeout.

— The Georgia Dome is LOUD.

— Most people think the Packers (Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley) or Patriots (Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, and now Shane Vereen) have the best group of receivers in the league. Top to bottom, they probably do, but does anyone have a better 1-2-3 combination than the Falcons have in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez? Throw in Harry Douglas and that’s a pretty good receiving corps. They’re vastly underrated.

— San Francisco should have a more difficult time preparing for Atlanta’s offense than they did preparing for Green Bay’s last week. In the passing game they’re similar, but Atlanta has the running game that Green Bay doesn’t with the combination of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers (as long as they don’t forget about it, which for some unknown reason they’re prone to do at times…).

— New England is the deepest team in the league. They’ve faced quite a few injuries to key contributors this year, yet their play doesn’t drop off. Danny Woodhead gets hurt on his first play of the game and New England turns to Shane Vereen to fill Woodhead’s role. He looked awesome and we’re now left wondering, where was this guy all year?

— New England’s running game has really developed this season. Ridley and Vereen looked good against a Houston defense that was supposed to be one of the best in the league.

— Speaking of Houston’s defense, what happened to them? They looked horrible. They couldn’t stop New England at all.

— Tom Brady now has the most playoff wins of any quarterback in NFL history as he surpassed Joe Montana on Sunday. In the Brady-Montana debate about who’s the best quarterback ever, I think Brady keeps doing his part to provide us with a definitive answer. The guy’s money and the case is closed in my book.

The Seattle Seahawks: Top of the League or Overrated?

On Sunday the Seattle Seahawks improved to 4-2 by beating the New England Patriots 24-23. After the game, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman made the following comment to Yahoo! Sports:

“Any time you run a gimmick offense, you’re a little bit afraid — you’re not sound in what you’re doing in your base stuff. You’re running this hurry-up stuff, and there’s a reason it’s not effective, because there are great defenses out there who will stuff it. We figured out early in the game what the calls were, what they were doing, and what the adjustments were. We started executing better, and that’s why they got only six points in the second half.”

Sherman jawed back and forth with New England quarterback Tom Brady throughout the game, and following it, he and Seahawk safety Earl Thomas confronted Brady. As Sherman told the Tacoma News Tribune, the two Seattle defenders communicated to Brady, “We’re greater than you. We’re better than you. You’re just a man — we’re a team.”

Here’s a photo of Sherman approaching Brady following the game.

Classy and respectable approach to one of the game’s greatest players, huh?

Lil Jon Richard Sherman also asserts that Seattle has the best defense in the league. He tweeted about the game and the two teams as well: “Patriots fans mad lol… Talking bout Super Bowl rings…. What have u done lately? Oh ur 3-3 lol”.

The guy does a whole lot of talking, especially for only being a second year player. Richard, the Patriots offense has been one of the league’s best over the past six or seven seasons. It’s not a “gimmick.” Tom Brady was schooling the league while you were still a little freshman in high school. You should also know that you didn’t ‘stuff’ the Pats no huddle offense. In fact, go back and look at your game tape. They ran a no huddle for 25% of their plays or less.

Also, learn some respect. Brady’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. You’ve done nothing in your short career thus far. You’ve won four three eh, we’ll say three and a half games. Brady is a legend with three Super Bowl rings. Were you looking for respect with your comments and actions after that game? I hope not. All you really did was show your immaturity and intelligence. Or actually lack thereof. Typically Stanford people present themselves much better. You really need some perspective (this was ONE game against a non-division opponent) and some self restraint.

But now, Lil Jon Richard, let’s go back to your tweet about the Pats only winning three games. How many games have you and your Seahawks won and lost? And what’s the real strength of that record?

You’ve beaten a Dallas team that’s struggled heavily on offense and on the road this year. You beat Carolina, a team that’s having difficulties in Cam Newton’s second year and coached by Ron Rivera (we’re now seeing why he never got any of those head coaching jobs he had been interviewing for when he was the Bears defensive coordinator). Then you beat New England in a game where they really seemed to beat themselves more than you beat them. You lost on the road to an Arizona team that doesn’t look quite as good now as it did after the first three weeks of the season. You also lost on the road to St. Louis, which I would say is an average team. They have a solid defense, but no playmakers on offense. You also of course had a loss win loss against the Packers. Some people put an asterisk next to that “win.” I’m one of those people since it led me to write a letter to Roger Goodell that resulted in the reinstatement of the NFL’s official referees.

I looked into the Seahawks defensive stats and had planned on listing them in this post to analyze. But then I realized, why bother? Look at these teams – Dallas, Carolina, Arizona, St. Louis. Those are some poor, poor playing offensive teams. Seattle played the Packers when Green Bay was struggling to really figure out what it was doing. Packers coach Mike McCarthy actually put a game plan together that seemed to be better suited for Seattle’s defense than Green Bay’s offense. Russell Wilson earned a win for throwing an interception, maybe the NFL should give McCarthy a win for the brilliant game plan he devised…for Seattle.

The only team Seattle has played that has a good offense is New England. Sherman and his teammates on the Seahawks D gave up 475 yard of offense to Brady and the Patriots in that game. That’s a top tier defense? I don’t think we’d see the Niners, Vikings or Bears doing that. The Ravens only gave up 396 yards to New England in week three.

I feel like the media has greatly exaggerated how “great” Seattle’s defense is because they’re looking at stats against sub-par opponents. They’re also looking too heavily at that eight sack first half against Green Bay where McCarthy and the Packer offensive line did everything short of rolling out a red carpet leading to an already prone Aaron Rodgers.

Look at the broader picture here, mainstream media. What would you say is the strength of this defense? Pass rushing is what I think most would respond with, citing Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin. I think many forget, or don’t even realize, that Irvin isn’t a starter. Red Bryant is the starting defensive end opposite Clemons. Why? Because Irvin is undersized. He’s a liability against the run. Irvin is closer to the size of an outside linebacker in a 3-4, but Seattle plays a base 4-3 with Irvin on the line as an end. The problem is he’s smaller than nearly all defensive ends in a 4-3. He’s also smaller than a number of outside linebackers in a 3-4. He’s a tweener and Seattle is essentially playing him as a one down defensive end in more obvious passing situations. Bryant is the regular end because he’s bigger and stronger and can stop the run.

So if pass rushing isn’t Seattle’s real strength, maybe it’s stopping the run. They haven’t allowed a 100 yard game yet after all. The most they’ve allowed is 87, which came on Sunday against new England. Look again at who they’ve played though. None of those teams is a strong running team. We’ll see how their run defense stands up against San Francisco this coming Sunday.

So it has to be pass defense. That’s their strength. I guess by default, you’d call it their strength right now since no one besides Brady lit them up. But then again, none of those other quarterbacks have really lit it up against anyone this year, minus Rodgers this past Sunday against Houston. That one doesn’t count though since McCarthy developed his first half game plan from the Seattle point of view rather than Green Bay’s.

Seattle has had a fairly favorable schedule through the first six weeks and to their credit, they’ve made the most of it. However, looking at the rest of the schedule, I see an 8-8 team. The Seahawks play much better at home than on the road (see: struggles against Carolina, Arizona and St. Louis) and they have some tough road games remaining.

The team lacks leadership and I have a feeling Sherman’s comments may be the tipping point into that becoming more obvious. They don’t seem to have veteran leadership. A team like the Ravens would never allow Sherman or any other rookie to get away with that kind of criticism of Tom Brady. Pete Carroll has never been a good leader of professionals. It’s why he largely failed in previous NFL stints. He’s a college guy. Ra! Ra! Ra! That works in college. He’s comfortable with it. Why do you think he’s surrounded himself with a lot of young players. Because older veterans may not buy into the philosophy as much. But we’re seeing the kinks in the armor. A team that’s really strong at home, but struggles on the road with inferior opponents? That’s the making of a college football team.

Seattle is 4-2, yes, but let’s not make them into world beaters just yet. Talk to me when they’ve won something. Like a playoff spot or even better, a playoff game. Until then, Lil Jon Richard Sherman, Seattle fans and the short sighted media…give me a break.

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson, AP

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york