New England Patriots: Predictions

Guess the game plan: Patriots-Ravens

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
11:20
AM ET
RavensPatriotsThese Patriots are not an easy bunch to figure out.

One week they’ll try to ram the ball down an opponent’s throat with the run, the next they’ll spread it out and attack through the air. They’ll follow that with an ultra-hurry-up approach to rattle a defense and open up holes.

What will it be in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens in a rematch of last year’s nail-biter? Our three Patriots reporters try to get into the mind of Bill Belichick and guess the game plan.

Share your thoughts on how the Pats should attack or defend the Ravens in the comments section.

Mike Reiss: Pats should commit to the run early


[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
AP Photo/Nick WassStevan Ridley had just 37 yards on 13 carries (2.8 yards per carry) against the Ravens in Week 3.
A final stat line of 34 rushing attempts for 77 yards (2.3 average) isn’t going to cut it.

That’s what the Patriots had against the Ravens on Sept. 23, which had coaches and players disappointed. As the Ravens showed later in the season, they have a defense that can be run on. And as the Patriots showed the next two weeks, when they rang up 200-plus yards on the ground in back-to-back games, they can run the ball.

That’s where this week’s game plan figures to start -- attempting to establish the run against a defense that gave them some trouble in Week 3 when the Patriots had their top offensive line intact. In a game that promises to be physical and hard-hitting, an early focus on the running game will give the Patriots a good chance to gain early control of the battle at the line of scrimmage.

Furthermore, when quarterback Tom Brady knows he can rely on the running game, it opens up several other avenues for the offense -- including play-action and the up-tempo no-huddle attack that usually features plenty of running. The Patriots appear to have some matchup advantages in the passing game, and their best chance to exploit them is to force the Ravens to defend a balanced offense from the outset. That’s why committing to the run game early will be important.

Mike Rodak: Pats can wear down the Ravens' defense


At this point in the season, the Patriots aren't going to change what they do offensively, even after the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski.

But they can take some cues from the Denver Broncos, which allowed Saturday's divisional playoff game to slip away. The Ravens' defense is heavy on veterans, a passionate group that can let the momentum of the game carry it in one direction or another.

On their go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown drive, the Broncos passed on 7 of 10 plays, and while Denver wasn't in the no-huddle, it was clear that the Ravens' defense was gassed. One of the most penalized teams in the NFL, the Ravens cracked under pressure, committing two defensive penalties on the drive.

The key for the Patriots will be to put the Ravens' defense in that state. This may be a game in which the Patriots turn to the hurry-up offense to a larger extent, not as much trying to catch the Ravens off-guard -- doing that to Ray Lewis is tough -- but rather to wear down the defense.

The Patriots should be aware of the ability of Terrell Suggs and other Baltimore playmakers, but the reality is that the Ravens aren't quite at the same level as they were when they shocked the Patriots in the playoffs three seasons ago.

Field Yates: Keep calm and get to Flacco


Much like the Week 14 matchup with the Houston Texans didn’t predetermine the rematch with the Patriots on Sunday, the AFC Championship Game is not tied into the Week 3 game between the Patriots and Ravens.

But the Patriots can learn from that game, and one area that they must be better in than they were in September is controlling their emotions.

No team in the NFL is charged by emotion the way that the Ravens are, which has been evident in the two weeks since their emotional leader, Ray Lewis, returned to the lineup.

His pregame dance routines and motivational speech before games put his team in a mindset to win. It’s part of what makes the Ravens successful. I recall witnessing Lewis' powers of persuasion on two occasions during my time with the Chiefs, as it was his emotional uplift that seemingly turned the tides when both contests were close.

The Patriots got caught up in the heat of the moment in Week 3, and a number of scrums ensued. They weren’t flagged for penalties, but it fed into the Ravens' momentum.

The focus must remain on the task at hand, not about what may be said or done between plays.

Finally, the Patriots must find a way to manufacture pressure against Baltimore. With or without Chandler Jones (ankle injury), Joe Flacco cannot be allowed to stand tall in the pocket and throw the football down the field, as he has proved to be at his best under those circumstances.

Whether it’s derived from blitz schemes or edge pressure, the Patriots must find a way to get to Flacco early and often.

ESPN Boston's picks: Patriots-Ravens

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
10:39
AM ET


Here's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens AFC Championship Game (6:30 p.m. ET, on CBS) playing out. What's your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

Guess the game plan: Patriots-Texans

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
10:55
AM ET
PatriotsTexansThese Patriots are not an easy bunch to figure out. One week they’ll try to ram the ball down an opponent’s throat with the run, the next they’ll spread it out and attack through the air, and they’ll follow that with an ultra hurry-up approach to rattle a defense and open up holes. What’ll it be in Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Texans in a rematch of a Dec. 10 blowout victory? Our three Patriots reporters try to get into the mind of Bill Belichick and guess the game plan.

Share your thoughts on how the Pats should attack or defend the Texans in the comments section.

Mike Reiss: Keep it simple -- take what Texans give them


[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaThe Patriots should have tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski both healthy for the first time since October.
If the idea is to get the best five skill-position players on the field, the Patriots have some easy answers now that everyone is healthy. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be at tight end, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker take the receiver spots, and Stevan Ridley leads the way at running back (occasionally spelled by Danny Woodhead).

There should be little need for liberal substitutions against the Texans. Play with those five, play fast, and shape the attack based on how the Texans match up.

If the Texans go small with an extra defensive back, pound the running game with Ridley. If the Texans go with the base defense, spread them out and get the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands quickly. That’s the beauty of this offense when everyone is healthy -- the unique skills of tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez create such flexibility.

The key, also, is the offensive line holding up against a powerful Texans front line. As we saw in Super Bowl XLII when the Patriots lost to the Giants, an entire offense can be paralyzed if the offensive line can’t protect.

So overall, this isn’t rocket science. The Patriots haven’t had their top offensive skill-position players intact for 12 of their 16 regular-season, but they will on Sunday. Leave them out on the field and let it rip.

Mike Rodak: Expect Pats to air it out early and often



This is the Patriots' 17th game since the season started, and their second against the Texans in just over a month. They won't be rolling out a whole new scheme to throw at Houston, but they also won't line up and try to be successful at everything they tried against the Texans in December.

SportsNation

Which of these is the biggest key to a Patriots victory Sunday?

  •  
    31%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    55%

Discuss (Total votes: 12,603)

But one of the things that did work was the play action pass, which led to a 37-yard Brandon Lloyd touchdown grab in Week 14. The deep pass in general also was successful, with Brady connecting with Donte' Stallworth on a 63-yard pass out of the shotgun later in the game.

The weakest part of the Texans defense remains in the middle of the field, where injuries have hit their inside linebackers and their safeties have struggled at times as well. Those are the four players most affected by the play action, and the reason why it could be effective again on Sunday.

Overall, the key for the Patriots will be to open up their aerial attack, so long as they are able to contain the Texans' pass rush, which will receive a boost from Brooks Reed, who did not play in December. As coach Belichick said on Wednesday, "You don't win a war by digging in a foxhole and sitting in it." Expect the Patriots to stand up and take some deep shots early in Sunday's game.

Field Yates: Pats’ tight ends will have big games



The Patriots have dealt with their fair share of injuries, notably extended time missed by tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez. The offense hasn’t exactly faltered in their absence, but the Patriots remain at their best with both on the field.

We saw them together during Week 17, although Gronkowski played a more limited role in his first game back after suffering a broken forearm.

With two more weeks to heel and recover, Gronkowski figures to be in a better place to see extensive action this Sunday, putting the Patriots offense at an advantage against a Houston defense that is beaten up at inside linebacker.

Standout player Brian Cushing missed much of 2012 with an ACL tear, and both Darryl Sharpton and Tim Dobbins have joined him on injured reserve.

The Texans turned to veteran Barrett Ruud to start their wild card game against Cincinnati alongside Bradie James, a player who the Patriots were able to isolate in coverage of Hernandez back in Week 14.

Many will recall Hernandez’s first of two touchdowns from the game, during which he handily beat James near the goal line on an out-breaking route. That play is a microcosm of a matchup the Patriots could look to exploit this weekend, as the Texans simply do not have the cavalry to matchup with Gronkowski and Heranandez in man-to-man defense.

The Texans are a heavy blitz team, which requires the secondary to hold up in man coverage behind it. Belichick noted his team’s ability to beat man coverage during the first matchup, and with an even stronger receiving core in place this time around, the Patriots must do the same.

Building the offense around Gronkowski and Hernandez and challenging the Texans linebackers and secondary in coverage could lead to another big day.

ESPN Boston's picks: Patriots-Texans

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
9:52
AM ET


Here's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday’s Patriots-Texans divisional-round playoff game (4:30 p.m. ET, on CBS) playing out. What's your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section. Note: The records of Reiss, Rodak, Yates, Madden and AccuScore are reflective of both their season-long Patriots picks and last week's wild-card predictions.

AccuScore report: Patriots-Texans

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
9:26
AM ET


In the video above, Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers to see how Sunday's Patriots-Texans divisional playoff game (4:30 p.m., CBS) plays out in AccuScore game simulations.

Among the findings:

* The Patriots won 75 percent of more than 10,000 AccuScore simulations by an average score of 31-21.

* In simulations, Tom Brady is averaging nearly 300 passing yards and three times as many touchdown passes as interceptions.

* However, if Brady turns it over more often than he finds the end zone (a scenario that played out in just 9 percent of sims), the Texans become the 58 percent favorites.

* If the Texans force at least one turnover and hold Brady to no more than 2 touchdown passes, they increase their chances from 25 percent to 42 percent, according to sims.

* If Arian Foster can rush for at least 80 yards, the Texans become the 59 percent favorites, according to sims. Though the Patriots held Foster to less than 50 yards on the ground in their first meeting, no running back has rushed for more yards in his first three career playoff games (425 yards) than Foster.

Looking back at running game forecast

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
4:51
PM ET
Before the season began, we asked our three Patriots experts project the team’s running game. Specifically, we instructed them to peg exact numbers to each running back.

We gave them a baseline projection of 440 carries for 1,800 yards (4 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns. In reality, the Patriots rushed a lot more (523 times) for more yards (2,184) and a heckuva lot more touchdowns (a league-leading 25) than our prediction. About the only thing we got right was the yards per carry (4.17).

Reader “311Bosox311” accurately forecasted Stevan Ridley's breakout season, predicting him to run for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns, numbers he came close to matching.

Check out how our experts fared in their predictions. The picks in bold were the closest to the actual numbers:

Looking back at passing game forecast

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
1:26
PM ET
Before the season began, we asked our three Patriots experts to project the team’s passing game. Specifically, we instructed them to peg exact numbers to each pass-catcher.

We gave them a baseline projection of 400 catches, 5,000 receiving yards and 40 touchdown receptions, numbers we came pretty close to nailing on the head. In total, Pats pass-catchers hauled in 402 balls for 4,844 yards and 34 touchdowns.

We also invited our loyal readers to give their projections as well, both on the whole and specifically. In a poll asking who would emerge as the team’s top pass catcher in 2012, 43 percent of nearly 12,000 responders answered Wes Welker, who was the top vote-getter. Welker indeed led the Patriots with 118 catches and 1,354 yards.

And reader “batandball95” nearly nailed Welker’s projection on the head, predicting 118 catches for 1,450 yards.

Here is how our experts fared in their predictions. The picks in bolds were the closest to the actual numbers:

Looking back at our defensive forecast

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
9:45
PM ET
Before the season began, we asked our three Patriots experts project how the team’s defense would fare after finishing the 2011 season ranked 31st in total defense, having given up an average of 411 yards per game.

Each of the three projected improvement for the defense, and their prognostications proved correct for the most part. The 2012 Patriots defense improved in every area, surrendering an average of 373 yards per game (38 yards per game better) and 20.7 points (down from 21.4 in 2011). The defense embodied the “bend but don’t break” reputation it established in the early-to-mid-2000s: It ranked 25th in the NFL in yards allowed per game but was ninth in points given up.

Both Mike Reiss and Field Yates had the Patriots in the top 10 in points allowed, though Mike Rodak was closest in predicted yards per game (off by just 5 yards per).

And reader “Oswlek” nearly nailed the defensive projection, predicting the team to rank 23rd in yards allowed per game and 11th in points given up.

Here were our predictions from September:


Later this week, we'll take a look back at our forecasts for the Patriots' passing and running games and see how we did.

Guess the game plan: Patriots-Dolphins

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
11:27
AM ET
PatriotsDolphinsThese Patriots are not an easy bunch to figure out. One week they’ll try to ram the ball down an opponent’s throat with the run, the next they’ll spread it out and attack through the air, and they’ll follow that with an ultra hurry-up approach to rattle a defense and open up holes. What’ll it be in Sunday’s regular season finale with the stakes not fully clear at kickoff? Our three Patriots reporters try to get into the mind of Bill Belichick and guess the game plan.

Share your thoughts on how the Pats should attack or defend the Dolphins in the comments section.

Mike Reiss: Starting fast is the key; up the tempo


[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackWe might see a lot of Danny Woodhead on Sunday, as he has been the team's best running back in pass protection.
However Belichick decides to manage his roster with playoff interests in mind, one thing seems certain: Most top players will at least be out there for the beginning of the game, with a focus on better execution early.

After two straight weeks in which the Patriots didn’t open the game as they desired, look for a faster start this time with an up-tempo approach that sets an early tone. Sometimes upping the tempo can serve as a spark. The Dolphins have a tough defense but if the Patriots can pounce on them early, it might be a situation in which they lose some of their edge in a Northeast finale in cold conditions.

The idea of establishing the run early to set up play-action would be ideal for the Patriots, aiding in protecting quarterback Tom Brady better than the team has the last few weeks. Extra attention must also be paid to defensive end Cameron Wake in the pass rush, with running backs assisting with chips, or tight ends aligned next to the tackle to potentially provide help.

This could be a game where we see more of Danny Woodhead at running back, as he has arguably been the team’s best pass-protecting back.

Mike Rodak: Pass protection should be a focus



At this point in the season, there's not a whole lot the Patriots will change with their offense. Whether Rob Gronkowski plays on Sunday shouldn't have a big effect on what the Patriots try to do against the Dolphins.

There's a few things the Patriots need to get squared away, though, before the playoffs. The first is their pass protection, which has slipped in recent weeks, allowing six sacks in the past two games. The last time the Patriots played Miami, Brady was sacked four times. The obvious question, then, is whether the Patriots can improve on their last performance.

Similarly, the passing offense as a whole struggled against the Jaguars last week, especially early in the game. Momentum, timing, and rhythm are always a big part of any offense, and reestablishing a groove between Tom Brady and Aaron Hernandez (5 targets, 1 catch vs. Jacksonville) should be on the checklist for Sunday.

Finally, it's hard to ignore the fact that the Patriots' four losses this season have all come when they've rushed for less than 100 yards. The running game will be a key part of the Patriots' potential success in the playoffs, and continuing to build back Stevan Ridley's confidence with the football after fumbling issues earlier this month is something that can be in the game plan against the Dolphins.

Field Yates: Start fast and eliminate turnovers



Two concerns have prevailed over a two-week stretch in which the Patriots fell to the 49ers and narrowly defeated the Jaguars: slow starts and turnovers.

SportsNation

What's more important for the Patriots?

  •  
    76%
  •  
    24%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,984)

The Patriots fell behind 31-3 against San Francisco and allowed 202 yards in the first quarter to the Jaguars, digging themselves a 10-0 hole and keeping the less-talented team in the game.

When the Patriots take the field this Sunday against Miami, the focus must not be on just winning, but playing as effectively in the first quarter as they have at earlier points this season. The Patriots offense needs to find its rhythm and flow as soon as the opening drive, and the defense must be ready to match the efficiency and keep Miami at bay.

The Patriots remain head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL in turnover differential, but have more turnovers of their own (six) than turnovers forced (five) over the past two weeks. Brady has made some uncharacteristic throws in that time that have led to four interceptions, half of his total for the season.

Turnovers are an equalizer in the NFL, and the Patriots need to revert to their protective ways that carried them to a recent seven-game winning streak.

As it relates to Miami, the Patriots will key on Wake and the pressure created by the Dolphins’ front four. Wake had two sacks in a Week 13 meeting, and is the type of player that can disrupt a pocket on his own.

Slowing Wake down is no small task, but right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has shown himself as capable to deter top-flight rushers for much of 2012.

ESPN Boston's picks: Patriots-Dolphins

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
10:55
AM ET


Here's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game (4:25 p.m. ET, on CBS) playing out. What's your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

Video: AccuScore report for Pats-Dolphins

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
10:32
AM ET


In the video above, Cary Chow goes inside the numbers to see how Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins game (4:25 p.m., CBS) plays out in AccuScore game simulations.

Among the findings:

* The Patriots won 71 percent of more than 10,000 AccuScore simulations by an average score of 26-18.

* The Dolphins are holding the Patriots to under 30 points in 60 percent of simulations. If Miami does hold New England under 30 points, its chances of victory improve from 29 to 45 percent.

* In sims in which Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill does not throw an interception and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws at least one, the game becomes a 50-50 coin flip. But if Tannehill throws more picks than Brady, the Patriots are overwhelming 85 percent favorites.

ESPN Boston's picks: Patriots-Jaguars

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
10:24
AM ET


Here's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday’s Patriots-Jaguars game (1 p.m. ET, on CBS) playing out. Our pundits see the Patriots winning this game by an average of 22 points. What's your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

AccuScore report: Patriots-Jaguars

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
7:31
PM ET


In the video above, Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers to see how Sunday's Patriots-Jaguars game (1 p.m., CBS) plays out in AccuScore game simulations.

Among the findings:

* The Patriots won 84 percent of more than 10,000 AccuScore simulations by an average score of 31-17.

* Tom Brady last week had more interceptions (2) than touchdown passes (1). The chance of him repeating that this week, according to simulations, is 7 percent. Even if it does happen, the Patriots are still 56 percent favorites over the Jaguars.

ESPN Boston's picks: Patriots-Niners

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
10:19
AM ET


Here's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday night’s Patriots-Niners game (8:20 p.m. ET, on NBC) playing out. What's your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

AccuScore report: Patriots-Niners

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
9:27
AM ET


In the video above, Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers to see how Sunday night's Patriots-Niners game (8:20 p.m., NBC) plays out in AccuScore game simulations.

Among the findings:

* The Patriots won 62 percent of more than 10,000 AccuScore simulations by an average score of 25-22.

* AccuScore simulations have the Niners -- who lead the league in sacks -- sacking Tom Brady just 1.5 times and as a result the Patriots' QB is completing 65 percent of his passes with 2 TDs and 1 interception.

* In simulations in which the Niners sack Brady three or more times and intercept him at least once, they become the 66 percent favorites.

* In sims in which the Niners have 125 or more rushing yards and average 4.5 per carry, the Niners are the 62 percent favorites. San Francisco is averaging 161.5 rushing yards per game.

SPONSORED HEADLINES