Bill Belichick has a strong case as the greatest head coach in NFL history. But if the New England Patriots were wise, they’d hire a general manager.
Bill Belichick is arguably the greatest coach in NFL history. He’s also failing the New England Patriots.
While the knee-jerk reaction to Thursday night’s 24-10 snooze-fest defeat against the Buffalo Bills will create calls for replacing Mac Jones, he isn’t New England’s biggest problem.
That happens to be Belichick’s inability to draft over the past decade.
Belichick has drafted well in the secondary and has shown the ability to find quality offensive linemen. The problem has largely been everywhere else.
Since 2013, the Patriots have selected 77 players, excluding the most-recent class. Only two have earned a First-Team All-Pro honor; punter Jake Bailey and return man Braxton Berrios. The latter never played for the Patriots, instead getting the nod while with the New York Jets.
Of those same 77 names, linebacker Jamie Collins, quarterback Mac Jones and Bailey are the only three to make a Pro Bowl, despite the standards for being named to the game slipping every year.
Offensively, here is the full list of receivers and tight ends taken by Belichick over that same span:
2013: WR Aaron Dobson (2nd), WR Josh Boyce (4th)
2014: WR Jeremy Gallon (7th)
2015: TE A.J. Derby (’15 – 6th)
2016: WR Malcolm Mitchell (4th), WR Devin Lucien (7th)
2018: WR Braxton Berrios (6th), TE Ryan Izzo (7th)
2019: WR N’Keal Harry (1st)
2020: TE Devin Asiasi (3rd), TE Dalton Keene (3rd)
2021: WR Tre Nixon (7th)
Those 12 players combined for 175 receptions, 2,186 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in a New England uniform.
Last season, Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp had 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns by himself.
Whether it’s Jones or another much-ballyhooed rookie, the Patriots aren’t giving themselves a chance with their recent draft hauls. And Belichick hasn’t only failed on draft weekend. He’s also been a failure finding free-agent talent to target.
In the winter of 2021, Belichick went on a bonanza. He signed tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, and receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor for a combined $136 million. Largely as a result of that week, New England has the most-expensive group of weapons in terms of cap hit in 2022, with Henry and Agholor having the biggest numbers on the roster.
Through one full season and 12 games this year, the Patriots have gotten 254 receptions for 3,205 yards and 22 touchdowns from the quartet.
Those stats come out to eight catches for 110 yards and .75 touchdowns per game since being acquired.
While having a more prolific quarterback than Jones would help create production, Jones would also be helped by having a single dynamic weapon. And whether it’s been through failures in the draft or free agency, Belichick has consistently underdelivered in that arena.
For the Patriots, the gap is only growing in the AFC East.
Unlike New England, the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have found elite playmakers for their offenses using trades and draft capital, headlined by receivers Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. The Jets have also found a star wideout in rookie Garrett Wilson, plucked from Ohio State in the first round.
And, in the cases of Buffalo and Miami, the quarterback situation is settled. The Bills have their superstar in Josh Allen, and the Dolphins are thrilled with the progress of third-year starter Tua Tagovailoa.
Belichick will one day walk into Canton, a place he spent so much time with his father visiting as a young boy. He’ll get his bronze bust, give a wistful speech and live forever among the immortals.
But if he’d like to have one more glorious chapter in his career before that day, he needs to cede control of roster management.
Belichick is the Patriots greatest hope of winning another title in the recent future.
Yet in his current dual role, he’s also one of their greatest stumbling blocks.
Top 10 dual-purpose stadiums in NFL history (by success)
1. Yankee Stadium – 27 titles (New York Giants, New York Yankees)
2. Wrigley Field – 8 titles (Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs)
3. Tiger Stadium – 8 titles (Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers)
4. Polo Grounds – 7 titles (New York Giants, New York Giants)
5. Shibe Park – 7 titles (Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia A’s)
6. Memorial Stadium – 6 titles (Baltimore Colts, Baltimore Orioles)
7. Three Rivers Stadium – 6 titles (Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates)
8. Candlestick Park – 5 titles (San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants)
9. Oakland Coliseum – 5 titles (Oakland Raiders, Oakland A’s)
10. Cleveland Municipal Stadium – 5 titles (Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Guardians)
“Next week I definitely need to be better. I will be better. The team will be better. The goal is to be 1-0.”
– Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on his first game back since Jan. 2021
Cleveland beat the Houston Texans by a 27-14 count, but Watson struggled badly off his 11-game suspension. The stat line was 12-of-22 for 131 yards with an interception, with the Browns being bailed out by three non-offensive touchdowns.
For Watson, it’s the start of a new football chapter, but the rust was evident.
in 1979, the Seattle Seahawks set a record for futility, netting -7 total yards in a 24-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Rams.
Info learned this week
1. Bengals take mortgage out on Chiefs with another win
The Kansas City Chiefs own space in most opponent’s heads. Not with the Cincinnati Bengals.
For the third straight time, and the second consecutive 27-24 decision, the Chiefs fell to Cincinnati and quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow was sublime, completing 25-of-31 attempts for 286 yards and two touchdowns, while his counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, was a more mundane 16-of-27 for 223 yards and two total scores.
Ultimately, the game was decided on a few crucial pivots.
The first was Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce fumbling near midfield with Kansas City holding a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter. The second was the Chiefs being called for illegal man downfield on their second drive, wiping out a 34-yard completion to Justin Watson on 3rd and 15.
Finally, there was Burrow to close the game on 3rd and 11 out of the two-minute warning, making a perfect throw to Tee Higgins for a 14-yard conversion. Burrow bested Mahomes once more, largely because he was hit only once all game by a normally fierce Kansas City rush.
While each of Cincinnati’s three victories over the Chiefs have come by a field goal, the Bengals have begun creeping into Kansas City’s psyche. Chiefs safety Justin Reid had plenty to say about Cincinnati last week, but his defense allowed 431 yards and 27 points while forcing one punt. It was a poor showing by a unit which was supposed to be motivated after last year’s AFC title game defeat.
Instead, it was another win for the Bengals, who are getting very used to handling their little brothers from Kansas City.
2. 49ers beat Dolphins, but lose Jimmy Garoppolo for the year
The San Francisco 49ers lost far more than they won on Sunday.
During a 33-17 victory over the Dolphins, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season with multiple broken bones in his foot. While Brock Purdy stepped in and went 25-of-37 for 210 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, any realistic hope of winning the Super Bowl went down with Garoppolo.
At 8-4, the Niners have a one-game lead in the NFC West and considering their weak schedule, might hold onto the division. However, without Garoppolo, the perimeter weapons of receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and the underneath game of tight end George Kittle and running back Christian McCaffrey are both largely muted. Now, it’s on San Francisco’s defense to be perfect, and against elite competition in January, that’s not happening.
The other question is what does this mean for Garoppolo and the 49ers moving forward?
Garoppolo is a free agent after this season. Both he and teammate Trey Lance are coming off season-ending injuries. Will general manager John Lynch attempt to re-sign Garoppolo to compete with Lance, or let him walk come March, taking the compensatory pick? After seeing how San Francisco responded with the veteran under center — it’s 8-3 after Lance went down — it’s something Lynch needs to strongly consider.
Meanwhile, the injury is crushing, leaving Niners fans with another year of only if.
3. Giants-Commanders tie benefits Washington in big way
The New York Giants and Washington Commanders needed 70 minutes to settle their game on Sunday. Well, they actually needed more, but the NFL doesn’t allow for that.
New York and Washington tied 20-20 at MetLife Stadium, with Washington making most of the key plays late.
The Giants had the ball with 1:45 remaining in regulation, only needing a field goal to win. Daniel Jones had yet to throw an incompletion (he had one spike) and yet the Commanders forced three straight. In overtime, the Giants won the toss and mustered only nine yards before punting. On the game’s final drive, New York had the ball at its own 43-yard line, but couldn’t get close enough for kicker Graham Geno to win the game.
Ultimately, it all means the Giants retain a half-game lead on Washington in the NFC wild card race. However, Big Blue gets the one-loss Philadelphia Eagles next weekend, while the Commanders rest on a bye week before welcoming New York to FedEx Field. The draw in the first matchup means Washington gets to determine a potentially massive tiebreak at home.
If the Giants are going to make the playoffs, they almost certainly need to beat the Commanders in their building, and perhaps beat either the Eagles or 10-2 Minnesota Vikings on the road.
4. Vikings once again show clutch gene in win over Jets
Nobody owns the fourth quarter like the Minnesota Vikings. This was showcased once again in a 27-22 win over the Jets, vaulting Minnesota to a 10-2 record.
Despite the second-best mark in football, the Vikings have been in a comical amount of one-score games. Under first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota has played nine affairs where the score was within a touchdown in the final 15 minutes. In those games, the Vikings are 9-0.
On Sunday, it was the defense twice rising up and holding the Jets out of the end zone to save the game. The first such occurrence happened with New York facing 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line out of the 2-minute warning. The Jets ran once and threw twice. Nothing.
On the final series, New York had 1st and 10 at the Minnesota 19-yard line but Jets quarterback Mike White tossed three incompletions before a game-ending interception to Cam Bynum.
The Vikings may not be dominant, but they win, and they own the final moments of games.
5. Eagles’ blowout of Titans shows versatility of Philadelphia’s attack
Last week, the Green Bay Packers allowed 363 rushing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles. One week later, against a tough run defense, the Eagles ran for 2.7 yards per carry, but threw for 386 yards in a 35-10 blowout win over the Tennessee Titans.
Jalen Hurts accounted for 380 passing yards including 119 yards and two scores to former Titans receiver A.J. Brown, traded on draft night to Philadelphia. Devonta Smith chipped in with five catches and 102 yards with a touchdown.
For the Eagles, these part two weeks illustrate why they’re tough to stop.
Philadelphia isn’t winning only one way. It doesn’t need a plethora of takeaways or a similar game script to find victories. Instead, the Eagles can run you over, throw on you or dominate defensively to handle all comers.
Philadelphia doesn’t have the established superstars some of the other top contenders have, but the Eagles have the deepest roster in the league, and the most ways to walk off the field happy.
The NFL should stop rewarding bad football because of geography.
There’s a good chance the NFC South is going to send a division winner to the postseason with a losing record. This would only be the third time in league history we’ve seen that happen, which means two things:
- It’s an embarrassment to be that bad as a division
- The NFL knows it’s not a huge issue
Still, that doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t have a contingency plan. And it’s simple. If a division winner is below .500, and another team in the conference has a winning record but is slated to miss the postseason under the current format, that team gets in and bumps the losing club. Everybody simply slides up one seed, and the best wild card team gets a home game.
Why are we rewarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if they go 8-9 in a division shared with the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, when a team in the NFC East — a much tougher division and therefore a more challenging slate — wins nine games and has to miss out?
Reward winning, not geography.
Inside the league
Lamar Jackson’s decision not to accept a contract extension has been the subject of much debate in and around the NFL.
After Jackson sustained a knee injury, forcing him out of Baltimore’s 10-9 win over the Denver Broncos, the rhetoric is only intensifying.
Jackson will miss somewhere between “days and weeks” according to head coach John Harbaugh in the postgame presser, hurting the Ravens’ AFC North hopes while simultaneously putting Jackson on the shelf for the second consecutive year with a lower-body injury.
Although Jackson is technically slated for free agency this offseason, he’s never getting there. Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta will either sign or franchise tag his star quarterback, but with another injury, does DeCosta try to dampen the price point? And, if the Ravens do make Jackson available in trade talks, how successful would other teams be in lowering the cost by citing multiple injuries in body parts that impact his legendary mobility?
For now, it appears the Ravens were lucky. Jackson is expected back this season and with him, they’re ever-dangerous in the playoff push.
But Jackson has to be wondering about whether signing for generational wealth would have been the wise move, and Baltimore has to be thinking about what the future holds for both parties.
BetSided’s best bet
Titans -3.5 (-107) vs. Jaguars
I got it flat-wrong in Week 13 by taking the Titans to hang with the Eagles on the road, but I’ll go back to them again in Week 14 when they return to Nashville to face a banged up Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Before falling apart in Philly, Tennessee’s defense ranked first in opponent third down conversion percentage, No. 2 in opponent yards per rush. It was also top three in both opponent rushing yards game and touchdowns per game. While Lawrence’s development has improved throughout the year in the passing game, the Jags still rely on their run game to set up play action, and I could see the Titans making them one dimensional as the game goes on.
Via Brandon Anderson of TAN, the Titans have won 11 of their last 12 division games straight up (SU), and are 9-2 ATS in those victories. I’ll back them to cover the 3.5.
— Ben Heisler
Super Bowl V came down to the final play. It was also the worst title game in NFL history.
The Baltimore Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in the Orange Bowl, but did so in a contest comprised of 11 turnovers.
It was also the first appearance of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for the legendary Green Bay Packers head coach who had died of stomach cancer before the 1970 season.
Enough about the Los Angeles Chargers and their Hollywood roster. Now and until further notice.
The Chargers fell 27-20 to the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday afternoon, this despite getting a pick-six from corner Bryce Callahan. The Chargers mustered only 13 points against one of the league’s worst defenses, with quarterback Justin Herbert being sacked five times and posting a 13.1 QBR.
Each week seems to follow the same script for Los Angeles. Horrific run defense (Raiders averaged 5.3 YPC), a short passing game (Herbert averaged 7.1 YPA), the complete inability to rush the ball (72 yards on 3.3 YPC) and a frantic finish.
At 6-6, the Chargers have a 29 percent chance to reach the postseason, per 538. They currently sit one game back of the Jets for the AFC’s final wild card slot, giving them hope of sneaking in with five tilts left.
The problem? This is the Chargers. They consistently lose in the same way because they are poorly coached and don’t adjust, and while Herbert is spectacularly talented, it doesn’t translate to victories.
Los Angeles always has hype, but it’s also an annual box office flop.
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