BOSTON -- It happened slowly, but it happened fast. You know?
Those of us who follow the daily ins and outs of the New England Patriots have seen the cracks for quite some time. No plan for replacing Tom Brady (after forcing him out of New England), no plan for replacing Rob Gronkowski, no plan for replacing Julian Edelman, no plan for replacing Josh McDaniels, some dreadful drafting (2017, 2018, 2019, 2022), free-agent swings-and-misses, mounting departures from the coaching staff and front office, and so on and so forth. Locally, we saw the mediocre results -- a 25-25 record from 2020-22, with one playoff appearance being a blowout loss -- over three years.
But nationally, the prestige and respect for Bill Belichick and his program remained intact. Now at 2-10, though, the rest of the football world has caught on. And there's no way for Belichick to hide from it.
As a result, the dam has broken. And it's not just. Seemingly everybody out there is weighing in.
The Athletic's Jeff Howe informally polled some NFL executives. Some believe Belichick could fetch the Patriots a first-round pick in a trade. Others aren't so sure.
The headline on The Ringer blares: "The End of Bill Belichick's Tenure in New England Feels Inevitable."
USA Today's Jarrett Bell's headline grapples with this new reality: "Dump Bill Belichick? Once unthinkable move for Patriots might be sensible - yet still a stunner."
Even The Associated Press -- The Associated Press, for goodness' sake -- is weighing in. "Patriots' problems are bigger than quarterback, blame starts with Bill Belichick" reads the headline from The Associated Press. (The mission of the AP: "The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting. Founded in 1846, AP today remains the most trusted source of fast, accurate, unbiased news in all formats and the essential provider of the technology and services vital to the news business.")
Tweets like this are popping up:
And this one:
This is to be expected when Bill Belichick's Patriots lose to:
- Dennis Allen, Derek Carr and the Saints in a 34-0 shutout in Foxboro. (The Saints are 4-7 in their other 11 games, never holding an opponent to fewer than 15 points.)
- Josh McDaniels and a Jimmy Garoppolo/Brian Hoyer QB combo, just weeks before McDaniels' firing and Garoppolo's and Hoyer's benching.
- Ron Rivera and Sam Howell in Foxboro against a Commanders team that is 3-9 outside of the win vs. New England.
- Rookie head coach Shane Steichen (!) and Gardner Minshew on an international stage in Germany.
- Tommy DeVito (!!) and the New York Giants, who are 3-8 against opponents who aren't based in New England.
- The Chargers, who entered the game with the worst pass defense in the league, in a shutout in Foxboro.
That all happened in a two-month span. It's been a lot.
And with the Patriots playing in prime time in two of their next three games (because they mercifully were flexed out of Monday Night Football vs. the Chiefs next week), including a Christmas Eve game for all to see, this will become a growing storyline in the country.
For Belichick's sake ... he better hope he can get out there and slow down T.J. Watt on Thursday night to try to quell the conversation.
I don't know if he's got the strength or lateral quickness to get it done. But that's why they play the games.
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
New England (+5.5) over PITTSBURGH
I actually kind of like the Patriots to win this one, only because we can't forget that bad teams do win games on occasion. And the Steelers' winning record is all smoke and mirrors.
Yet even if they don't win, is either team capable of winning by SIX points? Is either team capable of scoring six points? Take the 5.5 without a second thought.
CLEVELAND (-3) over Jacksonville
If the Jaguars let Trevor Lawrence play in this game (just like they let him walk to the locker room on Monday night), then the government needs to step in and shut them down.
BALTIMORE (-7.5) over Los Angeles Rams
It's supposed to rain a lot in Baltimore on Sunday. I'm not sure what that means for the game. I'm just showing to you all that I really dig in with my research. So when RedZone flips over to Rams-Ravens, you'll be like, "Oh yeah, I knew it was going to rain." You're welcome.
Also, the Ravens and Rams are two of just three NFL teams that begin with "Ra." The other one? Folks, that would be the RAIDERS you're looking for. You're welcome for that tidbit, too.
Detroit (-3.5) over CHICAGO
I understand the Bears are not a complete trainwreck and are capable of putting together a competent performance from time to time. But I find it much easier to just pick against them every week and save myself the stress. They're 5-5-2 against the spread, so it's not a foolproof plan. But you can drive yourself crazy, just to end up in that same place. Why not avoid the trouble?
(Detroit is also 5-1 against the spread over the last six games.)
Carolina (+5) over NEW ORLEANS
The Panthers may be 1-11 and the worst team in the league, sure. They may not have a head coach, OK. They may have a bottom-three offense and the second-worst scoring defense. Listen. It's true.
Yet doesn't it feel like they're on the cusp of a second win? No? They lost by three in Chicago in Week 10. They lost by a touchdown in Tennessee in Week 12. They lost by just three last week in Tampa.
I don't know if they actually get that second win this week, but I love their chances to remain on the cusp of that elusive win.
Tampa Bay (+1) over ATLANTA
The NFC South is truly distasteful this year, in case that wasn't evident. Somehow, a year after Tom Brady and the Bucs won the division with a losing record, it's arguably gotten worse.
CINCINNATI (pick 'em) over Indianapolis
As soon as the Monday Night Football broadcast told me Jake Browning had a 91-touchdown season in high school, I was all in.
That led me down a rabbit hole where I of course needed to learn more about this high school team. The 2014 Folsom Bulldogs went 16-0 with a point differential of 915 to 166. They beat Oceanside in the Division I championship by a score of 68-7. They played six playoff games, beating opponents by a combined score of 357-76. Browing averaged 5.7 touchdown passes per game, finishing the year with 91 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. They also scored plenty on the ground, with five different players (Browning being one of them) combining to score 31 rushing touchdowns.
They must have been really exciting but also extremely boring to watch.
Anyway, it's just funny. When a relative no-name undrafted guy with no game experience in five years replaces a star like Joe Burrow, many viewers just say, "This guy sucks." But you know, outside of the strange cases like Tim Boyle, most NFL players were absolutely unreal at the sport for most of their lives. Browning's 86.5 percent completion rate on Monday night was eye-opening, to say the least.
NEW YORK JETS (+3.5) over Houston
Sometimes I surprise even myself with my picks. This is one of those times.
Do I like picking the Jets after a reluctant Zach Wilson has begrudgingly agreed to resume his duties as the quarterback? I do not!
But for as much as I like the C.J. Stroud rookie sensation story as well as the surprisingly good Texans, they are not good on the road.
The Texans have lost on the road to the Panthers! And the Falcons!
They did beat the Bengals, which is good. But they're 2-3 on the road. Now they're heading outdoors in the rain (weather man Mike coming through yet again) to face a very good defense. It could be tough!
SAN FRANCISCO (-10.5) over Seattle
The only -- and I do mean only -- concern you'd have here is if the Niners collectively lose their focus after last week's massive performance in Philadelphia. A genuine concern? Sure. But not enough to really change your mind. Unless you're a fraidy cat. And if that's the case? Partner, I've got no time for your antics.
Minnesota (-3) over LAS VEGAS
After Josh McDaniels got fired, the Raiders faced the two New York teams, winning both games and outscoring opponents 46-18. After that, they faced Miami and Kansas City, losing both and getting outscored 51-30.
The Vikings are somewhere in the middle of the New York teams and the Dolphins/Chiefs caliber. But you've still got to like a competent team's chances against Aidan O'Connell and the Raiders.
(Aidan O'Connell only had 26 touchdown passes his senior year of high school. Jake Browning he is not.)
Denver (+2.5) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
I don't know, man. This NFL season is wearing me down. Can I just take a play off here?
KANSAS CITY (-1.5) over Buffalo
I think my fatal flaw right now is that I look at the 6-6 Buffalo Bills and see a 10-2 Buffalo Bills team. I understand that they're just not that good. I logically understand it on an elemental level. But it just looks too similar to when they were a top AFC team for me to accept the reality that they're not very good.
So I'm going to go against my gut and I'm going to put my faith in a Kansas City team that's also not nearly as good as it used to be.
Philadelphia (+3.5) over DALLAS
I've had some real concerns with the Eagles ever since I saw Nick Sirianni act like an absolute loser following Philly's win in Kansas City.
That was, quite simply, embarrassing. Cringe-inducing. Difficult to watch.
So when they come out at home and get absolutely stomped by the 49ers, you can imagine I'm wavering quite a bit in my stance that the Eagles are a Super Bowl-caliber team.
However! The Cowboys, while 9-3, are 0-2 against the Eagles and 49ers, who are two of the three teams ahead of them in the NFC. Dallas is clearly better than Seattle, Washington, Carolina, the Giants, the Rams, the Chargers, the Patriots and the Jets, the collection of team against whom they've racked up their nine wins. Are the Cowboys really on the level of the top teams in the NFC and the league?
We'll find out. I harbor some serious doubts.
Tennessee (+13.5) over MIAMI
It would be easy to pick the Dolphins after last week's shellacking of the Commanders. And they may win this one going away. I just know that Mike Vrabel won't be leaving Tyreek Hill in single coverage. The Dolphins will still win, but the Titans should be able to keep the score somewhat respectable, with a late Tennessee touchdown coming through the back door.
Green Bay (-6.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS
A little Monday night doubleheader for you in early December. Why? Why not?!
I'm picking against the Giants out of principle. I don't appreciate the Italian hand gesutres becoming a thing. I don't enjoy seeing chicken parm becoming a joke. Show some respect, people.
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