The Boston Celtics are on a winning streak which has improved their record to 16-10 and ranks number five in the Eastern Conference. Jayson Tatum has been streaky this season but one thing that has been consistent with the young star is his ball dominance. Compared to last season, Tatum is taking more shots as well as having a bigger responsibility in the Celtics’ offense. At times, Tatum’s new ball dominance habit can be annoying. It is particularly the most annoying when Tatum is having an off night and still insists on shooting the basketball. It can also annoy me when he puts up a difficult shot just a few seconds into the possession. However, statistically Tatum is averaging 16.6 points per game and is shooting 46.9% from the field. Also, on nights when Tatum is on his game, he is more than capable of dropping 20 plus points and hit All Star level shots. For both those reasons, I do not have a huge issue with Tatum’s ball dominance but believe he should continue to develop his shot selection.
The Question: Should the Celtics consider putting Tatum in a trade package?
Tatum is just 20 years old and is on track to become a superstar in the NBA. As a result, any trade that the Celtics would likely consider would be for an established superstar in the league such as an Anthony Davis level talent. Personally, I would do this trade. If the opportunity was there for Boston to acquire a talent like Davis for Tatum, the Celtics should absolutely make the trade based on several reasons. First, the Celtics have a limited window to make a championship run. All Star point guard Kyrie Irving is in the last year of his deal and it certainly is not a guarantee that he will be back next season. Also, Celtics’ starting center, Al Horford, is 32 and is starting to look his age. While Tatum has promise and a high ceiling, he is nowhere near his peak right now and the Celtics may strongly consider trading him for an established superstar in order to win within the next few years.
After losing on a last second hook and ladder, the Patriots have now fallen to 9-4 on the season and have very little chance of moving into the number one playoff seed. New England is now two games behind the Chiefs (11-2) and will likely not have home field advantage for the entirety of their playoff run. The Patriots had the power to control their own destiny and very much could have jumped the Chiefs for the number one seed. However, they squandered their opportunities on Sunday and lost to the now 7-6 Miami Dolphins by making unforgivable mistakes offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. New England made mental mistakes all throughout the second half that allowed Miami to get back into the game, but perhaps the single most annoying mistakes made on Sunday came from kicker, Stephen Gostkowski.
Gostkowski missed a field goal and an extra point which cost the Patriots a total of four points. This season, Gostkowski has mad 40 of his 41 extra point attempts and 24 of his 29 field goal attempts. While these numbers make Gostkowski one of the better kickers in the league, there is no question that he has slipped in recent years. My issue with Gostkowski is not with his career, it is with his performance yesterday. There is absolutely no excuse to miss both a field goal and an extra point on a day where the weather was almost perfect. All day, Gostkowski’s kicks were slicing to the right. Even kicks that he managed to put through the uprights, sliced toward the right with one almost missing wide right. It is unclear whether this was a mechanical issue for Gostkowski or if holder/ punter Ryan Allen was having issues putting the ball down correctly. In addition to his recent struggles these past couple of seasons, Gostkowski has become less clutch throughout his career. The All Pro kicker used to be automatic in late game situations when a field goal was needed, but now, he is all but a sure thing in clutch moments. Gostkowski signed a massive four year 17 million dollar contract which ends after this season. Gostkowski’s cap hit for this season was five million dollars and could easily increase in his next deal. The question now is should New England sign their long time kicker to an extension this offseason. Factoring in that Gostkowski has faded these last few seasons as well as not being automatic in big moments. I believe that the Patriots need to move on and find a much lower cost replacement for the 34 year old Gostkowski as New England is in desperate need of cap space.
It is no secret that this season has been a bit of a struggle for star Quarterback Tom Brady. Despite the Patriots sitting at an impressive 9-3, Brady has not played nearly as well this season as what we have come to expect from the five time Super Bowl champion. Statistically, Brady ranks near the middle of the league in passing touchdowns (20) and completion percentage (65.9%). His total passing yards (3,342) ranks 9th in the league and it is his highest ranking in all of his passing statistics. Many people have assumed that Brady’s age has finally caught up to him and that his talent level is deteriorating. As a fan, I want to explain Brady’s down year away with the facts that Julian Edelman missed the first four games, Rob Gronkowski has been injured most of this season and that they do not have enough offensive talent around Brady for him to put up godly statistical numbers. However, the simple fact is this, while New England may not have any premier young weapons on their roster, we have seen Brady put up better numbers in the past while throwing to college level receivers. In addition, we have also seen Brady miss throws this season that he has made for the better part of his 19 year career. Brady has had issues with short passes and deep passes this season. On crucial third down and shorts, Brady has missed five yard out routes by either pulling the ball out of reach of his target or by simply firing a dart into the dirt near his target’s feet. Deep passes from Brady have always been a rare thing, New England’s offense rarely takes designed deep shots and Brady has never been a deep ball passer. In seasons past, Brady never had an issue with arm strength. Generally, the only thing that has hamstrung Brady’s deep ball his entire career has either been his inaccuracy downfield or timing with receivers. However, this season, Brady looks to not be able to even throw the football over 40 yards.
The question all season has been this, “what is up with Tom?” and the answer, I believe, is a combination of things. First, Brady spent a majority of the offseason with his family rather than attending spring OTAs. In fact, Brady did not show up to any offseason activities this year unless the team mandated that all players be there. In previous offseasons, Brady attended every practice or OTA no matter if they were mandatory or optional. So the simple math is this, if Brady is aging and putting in less work in the offseason, he simply will not be as good compared to a season in which he was younger and putting more effort into fine tuning his game. The second reason is I believe Brady can no longer bounce back from an injury like he once used to. That has to do with the fact that he is now 41 and his body has been beaten up. Last season, Brady sliced his throwing hand thumb open on a hand off that went badly (the aftermath pictured below).
Luckily for the Patriots and their fans, Brady was able to play through his injury for the playoffs. People seemingly forgot about the injury when Brady downplayed it and then promptly threw for 500 yards in the Super Bowl. Even I had forgotten about the injury until it occurred to me earlier this week that perhaps the injury never fully healed properly. It would make sense that such a deep cut in such a sensitive area of the hand could still be giving Brady some trouble even a year later. It is also reasonable to credit the lack of Brady’s passing inaccuracy to a gruesome thumb injury to one’s throwing hand that still causes pain. Whether Brady has been struggling through an injury this season that we are unaware of or this just simply is his age catching up to him, there is no question that Brady’s play has slipped this season and that he is nearing retirement.
Earlier today it was reported by multiple people that pitcher Nathan Eovaldi has resigned with the Boston Red Sox on a four year, 67.5 million dollar contract which pay him just under 17 million a season. Eovaldi is 28 years old and coming off a legendary postseason performance that helped lead the Red Sox to a World Series title. Through six postseason appearances, two of which were starts, Eovaldi went 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA and a total of 16 strikeouts through 22.1 innings. At first glance, my thought about the contract was it was too much money. Personally, I love Eovaldi and we will always have a special place in the hearts of Red Sox fans for his heroic performance this past postseason. Eovaldi has an absolute cannon of an arm and has the ability to locate his 102 mph fastball. Along with his power fastball, Eovaldi has tremendous versatility, with an ability to start games, come out of the bullpen and close games. However, from a business perspective, this deal hamstrings the Red Sox. Boston is now about 3 million dollars shy of the highest luxury tax threshold and with certainly exceed that luxury tax once they add the needed bullpen arm or two. Also, the history of Eovaldi is very concerning. Through his career, Eovaldi has a 44-53 win loss record and an ERA of 4.16. In addition, he has had two Tommy John surgeries and has never been a reliable starter in the major leagues. This deal makes me nervous for all these reasons, but there is two things that Boston can do in order to move some money and make the Eovaldi deal look better.
The first thing the Red Sox can do is trade Rick Porcello either this offseason or before the trade deadline next season. I believe this is a real possibility this offseason as Porcello has a 21 million dollar salary for this upcoming season. Porcello is a reliable starter, and has been good to make around 30 starts a season during his major league career. It is his salary along with the trade market that is really what warrants this trade. While Porcello has only one year remaining on his contract, teams around the MLB are desperate for starting pitching and there is a real possibility that they could overpay the Red Sox in a trade for Porcello. General Manager, Dave Dombrowski, would most likely only do this deal in the offseason as teams will be less willing to give up quality assets for an expensive rental mid season. If Boston decides to trade Porcello, they could use the money to go out and fortify their bullpen. With talents like Jeurys Familia (2.73 career ERA), Kelvin Herrera (2.88 career ERA) and our old friend Andrew Miller (3.98 career ERA) on the free agent market, Boston could certainly put the money to good use and improve their bullpen which struggled much of last season. The second thing Boston can do is to keep Porcello on the roster this entire upcoming season and go all in on another World Series run, then let Porcello go once his contract expires. There is a lot of risk is this decision though. If the Red Sox opt to reject a trade for Porcello in hopes of winning another World Series but then fall short of that goal, then Dombrowski has essentially wasted an asset. The bottom line is the Eovaldi contract is a high risk, high reward deal. Dombrowski made several high risk high reward moves last year and a majority of them paid off which resulted in a World Series title. However, the more deals like that that are made, sooner or later, one of them is bound to blow up much like the Pablo Sandoval contract.
Yesterday, New England beat a very talented Minnesota Vikings team with a final score of 24-10. The Patriots played arguably their best defensive game yesterday afternoon which featured two interceptions and with a win this week in Miami, they will once again, clinch their division. While the defense played well, I do not believe that this will be a key turning point for them. The Vikings had a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball which resulted in many struggles for Minnesota. Despite the Vikings not being at full strength, Many fans are now looking ahead to yet another Patriots Super Bowl win. However, unlike past seasons, New England does not have the luxury of coasting through the last few games. The Patriots (9-3) have the second seed in the AFC right now behind the Chiefs (10-2) with both the Chargers (9-3) and Texans (9-3) hot on their tail. New England must win the remainder of their games in order to maintain a good seeding spot for the playoffs.
The Hot Question:
Does New England have a shot at winning another Super Bowl this season?
I believe the Patriots have a shot at getting to this season’s Super Bowl but have no chance at winning their sixth championship in the Brady Belichick era. Two of New England’s next four games are on the road and they have been a completely different team on the road than they have at home this season. To date, the Patriots are 6-0 at home and 3-3 on the road. Despite being 9-3, New England has yet to put together a well balanced win this season like we are so used to seeing in the past. For example, a game where the defense plays well, the offense struggles, and in a game where the offense is nails, the defense struggles. It seems that neither offense or defense have a clear identity this season and given that this is now week 14, the lack of an identity is very concerning. In order for New England to win a Super Bowl this season, they are most likely going to need to beat two very high powered offenses. Whether it is either the Chiefs, Chargers or Steelers in the AFC Championship game or the Rams or Saints in the Super Bowl, New England will have to beat some extremely talented offenses. New England simply does not have the talent on defense to stop those offenses nor do they have the offensive talent to outscore those offenses.
Earlier this week, New England activated running back Rex Burkhead off of injured reserve. Burkhead will likely play this Sunday against the Vikings but his touches will probably be limited as the Patriots will want to ease him back into the flow of the game. Burkhead was signed as a free agent in the 2017 offseason and New England had high hopes for the 5’10 215 pound back. Burkhead has talent in the running game as well as in the passing game. However, the issue with Burkhead has not been his talent but rather his health. Last season, he only managed to play in 10 games while this season he has only played in 3. I believe that part of Burkhead’s health issue has been that New England wanted to use him as the featured running back in their offense as well as give him a lot of touches. Burkhead has proved that he is unable to carry that much of a work load. The good news though is this, this season he no longer needs to be the featured runner in New England’s system. Burkhead simply has to take some of the workload off of rookie first round running back Sony Michel. Michel looks promising but has had health issues of his own and has played in only 8 games so far this season. Burkhead and Michel should help one other by balancing the workload and helping preserve both their bodies.
The question now is, what will the return of Burkhead mean for other Patriots’ running backs. As we just covered, Michel will have his amount of carries reduced but New England still has James White and utility man, Cordarrelle Patterson. While Burkhead was on injured reserve, White was forced to take more carries in between the tackles into the teeth of the defense. However, this is not White’s primary strength. White is at his best when he is beside Brady in the shotgun and is sent to the flat where he can take a two yard pass and turn it upfield into a positive play. With the return of Burkhead, White will be able to return to his primary pass catcher roll. Patterson will likely not see anymore time in the backfield as long as Burkhead, Michel and White are active for the game. Patterson was serviceable at the running back position and was a good find for New England as he adds depth to a fragile group of runners. Look for the Patriots’ team running game to be used heavily this weekend against the Vikings as they will try to set up deep play action passes off of it.
Yesterday I wrote about the Patriots’ options to lock down the future at quarterback. Like I wrote yesterday, Tom Brady is 41 and we have seen his play slip back to the middle of the pack. New England needs to address this issue during the upcoming offseason and will certainly take a deep look into the 2019 quarterbacks.
Justin Herbert, Oregon: While Herbert is not the most polished quarterback in his draft class, he has the best combination of physical ability as well as the highest upside. Herbert measures in at 6’6 235 pounds with outstanding athleticism for his position. Part of Herbert’s skill set includes a very strong arm with an ability to drive the ball into tight coverage as well as throwing the ball with precision while on the run to his right or left. In addition to the arm talent, Herbert displays his touch ability by finding soft spots in the defense and lobbing the pass just over the linebackers but before the safeties can close. Herbert needs to improve on his decision making and speed going through progressions but there is no doubt that he has the talent and size to be a great quarterback in the league. The issue New England will face is moving up high enough in the draft to pick him. Herbert will not go number one overall, but he will certainly go before the 15th overall pick. New England would need to package their first round pick as well as their second round picks in order to move up high enough to even have a shot at drafting Herbert.
Drew Lock, Missouri: Like Herbert, Lock has great size for his position at 6’4 225 pounds. So far this season Lock has thrown for 23 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions and has shown off his cannon of an arm. While Lock has an outstanding arm, he does not always use it coupled with good decision making. Lock has thrown double digit interceptions his last two seasons and has earned himself a reputation of being a gunslinger. Gunslingers typically do not catch the eye of New England due to the amount of stress they put on taking care of the football. However, Lock will be available at the back end of the draft and New England may fall in love with Lock’s arm talent and feel they can coach the gunslinger out of Lock.
Ryan Finley, NC State: Finley, 6’4 210 prospect, has been forcing himself onto the radar of NFL scouts. This season marks the third straight year Finley has thrown for over 3,000 yards and double digit touchdowns as well as posting single digit interception numbers. Finely has shown an ability to throw the back shoulder pass downfield at an elite level. Finley does not have the strongest arm in this year’s class but he has more than enough velocity to be a great NFL quarterback. However, Finley’s real talent is his touch pass. He has a great deep ball as well as an ability to make one of the hardest throws in football, throwing an out route from the opposite hash. Finley is a great prospect that New England will certainly consider as he fits what they look for in a quarterback. In addition to fitting the mold, Finely has been developed in the NC State offense which New England has connections in. In 2016, the Patriots drafted Jacoby Brissett. A quarterback that was developed in the same NC State offense as Finley has been. Finely will certainly be available later in the draft and New England should seriously consider pulling the trigger and drafting the NC State prospect.
Will Grier: Grier has burst onto the college football scene this season and his a serious Heisman candidate. Grier is completing 67% of his passes with 33 total touchdowns and just 8 interceptions on the year. Grier has an outstanding pocket presence and can command a team. While some scouts have criticized Grier’s arm strength, he does not need a huge arm to have success in the NFL. Grier is an accurate passer with admirable leadership qualities. However, Grier has had some off field issues. Grier began his collegiate career at Florida but in 2015 he received a one year ban from college football due to testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Grier then announced his transfer from Florida to West Virginia early in 2016. Grier, 23 years old, already has a child and has been balancing fatherhood, football and school all at once. Grier is an impressive 6’2 220 pound all around quarterback prospect and will likely have success at the next level. The issue here for New England is where to draft Grier. Grier will likely go in the first round but right now it is up in air whether he will go top 10 or slide into a later pick. However, you can bet that if he begins to slide on draft day, there will be several teams trying to get their hands on Grier and New England should be one of them.