Before getting to the meat of my weekly picks column, I’d like to use the preamble that I just granted myself to discuss the continued crying about the Patriots alleged cheating. This past week, in two unnecessarily long articles (I actually thought the SI one was pretty good), they were accused of: stealing play sheets, breaking into hotel rooms, bugging the locker room, bugging headsets, purposely causing headset outages, filming practices, and providing warm Gatorade. A stunning assortment of violations that, if true, would certainly bring down the most successful franchise since the turn of the century.
The problem is, of course, that they’re not true.
Put aside SpyGate for a minute – the one scandal in which there is incontrovertible proof that the Patriots committed a violation and were punished heavily for – because it shouldn’t make a difference. The general excuse from other teams is that “once you’ve been a convicted cheater, everyone will always accuse you.” Well… excuse me, but that isn’t even close to true. The 49ers and Broncos both blatantly violated salary cap regulations en route to Super Bowl wins (and had draft picks taken as punishment). The “greatest receiver of all time” Jerry Rice admitted to playing with stick ‘um, a banned substance, on his hands, and defended himself by saying “#everyonewasdoingit” (mind you, the exact same excuse that people shove down Patriots’ fans throats as “not a valid excuse”). Just this past season the Browns GM was caught texting the sidelines, the Panthers were caught heating balls on the sideline, and the Falcons were caught pumping in crowd noise (it was extremely noticeable Monday night how much quieter it was inside the Georgia Dome). So, look: every single team in the NFL tries to push the envelope. Every single team has been caught cheating in some way, shape, or form over the course of NFL history. It’s not new news. Arguing that the reason the Patriots are the focus of attention is because they’ve been caught previously is a distraction tactic that only shows ignorance as it pertains to the rest of the NFL.
In this new bevy of accusations, there is absolutely no proof. The general “proof” of stealing play sheets, for example, was that the Patriots seemed to know every play at the start of the game, so they must have stolen the scripted play call sheet to start the game. What? They practiced all week and then, on the fly, completely restructured their defensive plan twenty minutes before kickoff after some staffer stole the playbook from the visiting locker room?
This ignores the hallmark of the Patriots dynasty and the singular reason why they win year after year: preparation.
Bill Belichick’s father Steve quite literally wrote the book on scouting. His opus, appropriately titled Football Scouting Methods, is still considered the bible and father of modern football scouting. Growing up with his father as a scout, Bill’s entire football perspective was shaped through that lens. Talent was important, schemes were important, discipline was important, but scouting was where you could truly win games.
To be clear: every team prepares. Every team watches film. Every team schemes for an opponent. Belichick and the Patriots just do more of it. Belichick will watch five seasons worth of film to prepare for an opponent. To prepare for the Buffalo Bills this week, even against an opponent and coach he knows extremely well, Belichick will watch film on both the Bills and the Jets.
For example: the game-winning play in the Super Bowl. It was a play that they had seen the Seahawks run before… only a few times. But they practiced it and Super Bowl Hero Malcolm Butler picked up on it immediately (because he had been beaten on that play in practice). Not because they stole the play sheets, but because they were prepared. Cheating? Or Good coaching?
The Patriots beat the Ravens using a few confusing plays where Shane Vereen was ineligible and Hoo-man, lined up as the left tackle on the offensive line, was eligible. There has been a lot of screaming about how these plays bent the rules. Yet, Belichick didn’t come up with this strategy. He discovered it while preparing for the Lions game. They had run it earlier in the year (unsuccessfully). He made a mental note and kept it in his back pocket for when he needed it most. Cheating? Or good coaching?
Belichick values ball security above all else. It’s why Patriots receivers and running backs go to the ground instead of fighting for one more yard. Belichick doesn’t make excuses. It’s why he prepares to play without headsets, purposely makes conditions worse at practice, and watches significantly more film than anyone else.
Cheating, or good coaching?
Listening to former Patriots talk about it is, in my opinion, the best way to glean information on the subject. Rodney Harrison nearly punched Dan Patrick in the face when asked if any of the Super Bowls they won deserved asterisks. Rosevelt Colvin made some very interesting comments Tuesday morning about how the Pats would watch TV broadcasts to pick up mic’d quarterback audible calls. He talked about attempting to read lips or take advantage of young quarterbacks’ general lack of awareness. He talked about how teams wouldn’t change their signals. If the Patriots are the only team that does this, the rest of the league are a bunch of idiots. If you’re an NFL team that doesn’t change your signals week to week (or even half to half), shame on you. If you’re an NFL team that doesn’t practice emergency scenarios where headset communication isn’t possible, shame on you.
You see, there’s a BIG secret in the NFL that you won’t hear people talk about much: most of the coaches suck.
There are three quarterbacks with four Super Bowl rings. They are Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw. There are a lot of quarterbacks have won Super Bowls. There are a lot of quarterbacks who have won two Super Bowls. There are a lot of them with equally or more impressive stats as Brady, Montana, and (especially) Bradshaw. But why aren’t there more that have won four? One simple answer: coaching.
Brady and Belichick are lucky to have each other, and their success cannot be separated from the fact that they have enjoyed a long career together. Neither would be great without the other. Looking at Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, the same is true. Bradshaw had the greatest defensive coach of all time in Chuck Noll – the Steel Curtain of the 1970s is still revered as the best defense ever to take the gridiron in NFL history. Joe Montana had Bill Walsh (for three of them), who was credited with inventing the West Coast Offense and was one of the game’s all-time great offensive innovators. These are both once in a generation coaching talents, as Vince Lombardi was before them. The new member of this elite club? Bill Belichick. He’s the greatest preparer of all time; the greatest at taking an opponent’s weakness and viciously exploiting it. The reason why his assistants who go elsewhere are almost never successful is not because they suck at cheating. It’s because Belichick’s devotion to football and eye for detail is not something you can pick up just by working for him. It’s what makes him special.
I for one am sick of it. All of the amateur, fair-weather NFL fans yelling at the Patriots for cheating, just for a run of success that isn’t even unmatched in NFL history (the 60’s packers, 80s-90s Niners and 70s Steelers were all similarly dominant in their eras). It’s, quite honestly, an asinine representation of the paranoid information age we live in. The one team and fanbase that never chirps about the Patriots cheating? Unsurprisingly, the Giants. You tell me: sour grapes or legitimate accusations?
Glad I got that off my chest. Now onto our Week 2 NFL picks, home team in CAPS.
Houston (+3) over CAROLINA. You know who’s protecting Cam Newton this year? Me neither. Week one was ugly, and in week two Newton will have to escape from quarterback-eater and world-destroyer J.J. Watt. It’s going to be a long afternoon for him and the Panthers.
Tampa Bay (+10) over NEW ORLEANS. I feel a lot better about the Saints this year, but not enough to feel comfortable laying almost 10 points to a hungry Bucs team that is going to be out to prove itself this weekend. I expect a better performance from Jameis Winston and the Saints don’t have enough competent defenders to deal with all of the Bucs’ weapons. I’m looking for a closer game than predicted, with Tampa covering.
San Francisco (+5.5) over PITTSBURGH. Watching how the Patriots offensive line had no problem containing the front seven of the Steelers is bad, bad news for Pittsburgh in week two. The Niners have quite possibly the best run blocking line in the league, and boy did they look good on Monday night. Carlos Hyde is also an animal. I don’t know if the Niners win, but I definitely think they cover.
Detroit (+2.5) over MINNESOTA. Seriously, it’s like the people making lines this week didn’t watch week one. What is happening?
New England (EVEN) over BUFFALO. Yeah Rex, stir the pot. We all know how well that’s worked for you in the past. I respect the fact that Rex Ryan teams always give Brady and Belichick a tough game, but they also usually lose. This game has been hyped based on the fact that the Bills manhandled the Colts, who were everybody’s chic Super Bowl pick, rather than reality. Bills fandom is foaming at the mouth and proclaiming their defense the best in the league. Meanwhile, what was the score the last time the Colts played New England? Oh yeah, 45-7. The Colts were pretenders anyway, and I’m not worried about New England winning a freakin’ pick ‘em against Buffalo. What year is it, 1994? This will be a close game but I have a hard time believing the Bills will win. Note: a couple betting sites have NE -2 or -1.5. Still worth picking the Patriots.
Arizona (-2) over CHICAGO. The Cardinals were one team that impressed me last week. Carson Palmer looked above average, their defense is still stingy, and they are one of those teams that can generate big plays at any time on both sides of the ball. Jay Cutler is a magnet for creating big plays for the defense. The Bears defense isn’t very good. Arizona wins.
San Diego (+3) over CINNCINATI. The Chargers looked very good last week. Keenan Allen appears to have re-found his mojo, and led all receivers in yards and catches last week. The addition of Melvin Gordon is very helpful for an offense that hasn’t had a capable running back since LaDainian Tomlinson left.
Tennessee (-1) over CLEVELAND. With Josh McCown apparently out after attempting the John Elway goal-line helicopter and failing (miserably), it looks like we’re slated for a battle between former Heisman winners! Unfortunately for Johnny Manziel and the Browns, not only is Mariota already a way better quarterback, but his team and coach are way better too. I’m just not sure why the Titans are favored by just one.
Atlanta (+2.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS. All the “Don’tscoregate” talk really has me doubting the Giants. I swear, it’s not overly frustrating that every time I see Eli fail I think of the two times he’s succeeded. Just kidding. It’s maddening. I hate Eli Manning. And I honestly wish he’d just be good or at least somewhat consistent, so I wouldn’t feel so terrible about the Patriots losing twice to his bullcrap miracle throws.
St Louis (-3) over WASHINGTON. It’s going to be another long year for the Washington Professional Football Team. It’s karma, and they deserve it. And that’s all I’ll say about that. I am looking forward to watching Aaron Donald eat Kirk Cousins alive this week. Donald is amazing, and you all should tune into Rams games to watch this defensive line play. It might be better than Buffalo’s.
JACKSONVILLE (+6.5) over Miami. Miami’s offense looked awful last weekend against Washington. And to say their defense looked good would be a stretch because, well, Washington is one of the worst teams in the league. Jacksonville will be at home, hungry for a win, against a Dolphins team that I think might sneakily be the worst team in the AFC East. I don’t know if they’ll get it, but I also don’t feel comfortable backing a 6 point spread for a bad team.
Baltimore (-6) over OAKLAND. I already feel bad for whoever is lining up at quarterback for the Raiders. Even without Terrell Suggs, Baltimore’s defense is scary, and Flacco and company will be looking to get some serious improvement from their offense after last weeks debacle in Denver. This is one of those games where one team comes out firing and the other never has a chance.
Dallas (+5) over PHILADELPHIA. Week 2 is always funny, because you see a few ridiculous spreads that you can’t possibly understand. I could see this being Philly -3, or even a push, or having Dallas favored. But Philly by five? That spread is just too big for a Dallas team that will push around Philly’s front seven. I do expect it to be high scoring, but every NFC East game always seems to be closer than five.
GREEN BAY (-3.5) over Seattle. I don’t want to appear like I’m punishing Seattle for losing to a sneaky-good Rams team, and this pick would be different if Seattle was at home. They aren’t, and Lambeau will be rockin’. The Packers are looking for revenge for the NFC Championship Game debacle, and with Seattle struggling a little bit internally (with the whole Marshawn’s mom and Kam Chancellor things), I think they’ll get roasted by a Packers team that I think are the favorite to get to the Super Bowl.
New York Jets (+7) over INDIANAPOLIS. Last week, we saw the Colts get bullied by a very physical Bills team that stops the run, rushes the passer, and did very well in coverage. This year they play their first home game against a very physical Jets team that stuffs the run, rushes the passer, and has the best cornerback in the league. I said before the season that Indy’s refusal to address the trenches would spell doom on their season, and I wasn’t kidding. As long as they continue to put out a team that puts flash before substance, they will fall short of their expectations and capabilities. This defense is perfectly suited to destroying Luck and the Colts. All New York has to do is not give the game away on offense which… is never a given. Seven seems like a large spread if you look at actual football instead of projections.
See you next week, and enjoy week two!
Last Week: 10-5-1