Matt Patricia: “I didn’t do a good enough job”

Getty Images

All week long, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia kept talking about how dangerous the Eagles offense was — because he was trying to dodge questions about the Lions job he’s about to take.

After the game, he was left to dodge criticism, after the Patriots gained 613 yards, didn’t punt and still lost the Super Bowl to a team with a backup quarterback.

“Obviously, I didn’t do a good enough job here with the defense,” Patricia said. “Look, that is a great offense, they are extremely talented. I have been talking about it all week how good they are.

“They just played really well, and we didn’t get enough stops. I give them all the credit. They played outstanding.”

There were plenty of questions begging answers, including their refusal to play cornerback Malcolm Butler. Coach Bill Belichick said it wasn’t disciplinary, and Patricia said it had to do with “packages” they wanted to use. Given the way replacement Eric Rowe played and the way the Eagles moved up and down the field as needed, it’s curious to say the least.

But Patricia doesn’t have much time to watch film. He has a plane to catch to Detroit and a staff to finalize.

“Every situation you take a look at, you are trying to improve and get better,” he said. “That has to start with me and the things that we did trying to get ready for the game and obviously during the game.

“We will take a long, hard look at that and hopefully, learn from it and get better.”

We, of course, is going to mean something completely different soon.

Nick Foles’ touchdown catch came on play called “Philly Special”

Getty Images

Sunday night is a very special one for Philadelphia and a play called “Philly Special” played a big part in making it happen.

On fourth-and-one from the Patriots’ 1-yard-line with 38 seconds to play in the first half, Eagles coach Doug Pederson called a play that called for running back Corey Clement to flip the ball to tight end Trey Burton in the backfield after taking a direct snap from center. Burton then feathered a pass to quarterback Nick Foles, who caught the pass to put the Eagles up 22-12 heading into halftime.

Burton, who was a high school quarterback and threw 17 passes while at the University of Florida, said after the game that the play has been in the playbook throughout the playoffs. The Eagles practice it a few times each week and pulled it out in a big spot tonight.

“Coach has some guts. Big ones. It shows the confidence he has in the team,” Burton said. 

Foles said it was an “amazing throw” by Burton that he just had to look into his grasp. It made Foles the first player to catch and throw a touchdown in the same Super Bowl game and will go down in Eagles lore as one of the shining moments of their first championship. 

PFT’s Super Bowl picks

Getty Images

The season ends with the 52nd installment of the Super Bowl, and the PFT Postseason Picks Competition (I’ve capitalized the letters to make it seem like a bigger deal since I’m winning) pulls into the station with yours truly already clinching the victory by one game.

There won’t be a tie because both MDS and I have picked the same team to prevail in the 267th game of the year. With the decisive choice ultimately being MDS with the Vikings in the NFC title game and me with the Eagles, I’m 7-3 to date, with MDS at 6-4.

And, yes, he won the regular-season contest fairly easily. But no one gives out trophies for regular-season performance. (Except hockey.)

MDS’s take: Everything about this game points to the Patriots. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady almost seem destined to earn a sixth Super Bowl ring, and the Eagles just seem like the last obstacle in their path.

So what do the Eagles need to do to win? I don’t necessarily think Nick Foles needs the huge performance he had in the NFC Championship Game, but he does need to play well, and to avoid turnovers. If Foles is throwing interceptions or getting strip-sacked, the game could get ugly for the Eagles. If Foles is playing efficient football and LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi are making plays, things will get interesting.

In the end, however, this feels like the culminating moment of Tom Brady’s career. I’m not convinced he can keep playing well until he’s 45, as he says he can. I’m not even convinced he’ll get back to another Super Bowl after this one. But I am convinced he’ll have an MVP-worthy performance on Sunday, and the Patriots will win.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take: Experience always matters. The fact that Patriots coach Bill Belichick claims it doesn’t underscores that it absolutely does. For the NFL this is Super Bowl LII; for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, this is Super Bowl VIII. That’s half of a full season — and roughly every other year — spent preparing for and playing in the Super Bowl, a game with a two-week buildup, nearly a full week at the game site, a halftime that lasts nearly 30 minutes, and the biggest worldwide audience of the year.

Yes, the Eagles have a couple of guys who have played for the Patriots in recent Super Bowls. But that’s hardly enough to overcome the Belichick-Brady factor, especially as they close in on matching the Steelers with six Lombardi Trophies — and a shot next year at seven.

The Eagles have the personnel on defense to potentially make life difficult for Brady, with a front seven that can create pressure up the middle and a secondary that can handle, from time to time, the New England route-runners. But Brady has proven time and again that his extensive experience and lingering physical skills have combined to create a sweet spot that allows him to figure out whatever a defense is doing, and to stay one step ahead of them.

When Philly has the ball, New England will find a way just often enough to deal with the run-pass option, taking away the easy underneath slants and ins while also preparing to attack the ball, if the decision to made to hand it off.

Like most Belichick-Brady Super Bowls, this one probably will be close, with Belichick and Brady having the ability to make the key play at the right time to officially double the number of championships since Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass that, thanks to the systems Belichick has put in place, knew was coming.

In hindsight, we’ll able be saying we should have known what is coming on Sunday night in Minnesota.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 30, Eagles 27.

Eagles, Patriots both relied on analytics to help them reach the Super Bowl

Getty Images

Analytics got a bad name in the NFL this season when the Browns went 0-16 and fired Sashi Brown, the G.M. who promised to use an analytics-based approach to building the franchise. But two other NFL teams rely on analytics with much greater success.

Those two teams are the Eagles and Patriots, who both use analytics as a tool in free agency, on draft day, during games and in just about every part of their organization.

The Eagles have been open about their reliance on analytics. As we’ve noted previously, no coach in the NFL is more aggressive about going for it on fourth down than Doug Pederson, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said during the season that that aggressiveness is tied to the team’s analytics research, which found that the benefits of a fourth-down conversion usually outweigh the costs of failing on fourth down.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman as praising Philadelphia’s analytics department, saying, “They give us a clear direction of what they’re looking for and what they want.”

But while the Wall Street Journal article makes clear that the Eagles rely heavily on analytics, it steps wrong by trying to contrast the Eagles with the Patriots, writing that the reputation of analytics in football has suffered because “the best coach in football — the one across the field from Pederson, Bill Belichick — has expressed his disdain for a numbers-heavy approach.”

The reality is that Belichick “has expressed his disdain” for analytics not because Belichick doesn’t believe in analytics, but because Belichick doesn’t believe in letting the rest of the world in on the Patriots’ strategic thinking.

As PFT has noted multiple times, Belichick actually does rely on analytics. One of his most trusted advisors is Ernie Adams, the Patriots’ football research director, who was a municipal bonds trader before spending more than two decades working for Belichick, both in Cleveland and in New England. Many of the methods that sports statistical analysts use are rooted in the same methods used to analyze economic data. Adams understands both, and that makes him valuable to Belichick.

In the NFL draft, Belichick prefers trading down to trading up, and he particularly likes to trade a pick this year for a higher pick next year. That suggests that he’s studied the economic phenomenon of hyperbolic discounting, something football people don’t necessarily know a lot about but that a hedge fund guy like Adams understands.

On the sideline, the most controversial call of Belichick’s career appeared to be influenced by analytics: When Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line late in a 2009 loss to the Colts, it was the analytics people who said he had made the mathematically correct decision, while most football fans and media members thought Belichick had lost his mind.

Belichick also hired a little-known coach named Matt Patricia in 2004, in part because he liked Patricia’s background as an aeronautical engineering major. Belichick has groomed Patricia to the point where he’s now the Patriots’ defensive coordinator and the Lions’ next head coach, and Belichick likes the fact that Patricia has a mind that can understand high-level statistical analysis.

Yes, Belichick has been known to toss around the line, “stats are for losers.” But that’s a reflection more of the disdain Belichick has for members of the media who use stats to evaluate which players are playing well and which players are playing poorly. Belichick isn’t interested in such stats because his own staff’s film evaluations are far more accurate.

Belichick absolutely is interested in advanced stats, and that interest goes to the very top of the Patriots’ organization. The Patriots’ website once ran a story that said, “You may not find a bigger believer in data and analytics than New England Patriots Owners Robert Kraft.” And Kraft isn’t just talking when he says he believes in analytics: Kraft puts his money behind it with Kraft Analytics Group, a company he owns.

Is Kraft, Belichick, Adams or anyone else on the Patriots making the rounds on Radio Row during Super Bowl week, telling all the world about the analytics insights the team relies on? Of course not. That’s not the Patriot Way. But like the Eagles, the Patriots rely on analytics.

So while it’s easy to scoff at analytics as the approach that got the Browns to 0-16, an honest assessment of analytics would acknowledge that some teams use them successfully. Including both teams in the Super Bowl.

T.O.: “Mind boggling” to not be in Hall of Fame

Getty Images

In two days, the folks who determine the new class of Hall of Famers will get together to sift through the current class of finalists. For the third time, two of the best three receivers in NFL history will be up for consideration.

During a Wednesday visit to PFT Live, Terrell Owens explained his thoughts on being snubbed two times, and possibly counting.

“It is what it is,” Owens said. “I’ve kind of moved on from it. I think in terms of really the reputation [and] the credibility of the Hall of Fame I think it’s doing itself a disservice to what it actually means. . . . I think I should’ve been a shoo-in based on my statistics. I’ve said all along my stats speak for itself. I think when you bring up character issues, there’s a number of people that you can put in that category. It’s mind boggling to me.”

The biggest knock on Owens has nothing to do with off-field behavior.

“What I’ve heard is I’m divisive in the locker room,” he said. “Half the locker room liked me, half didn’t. Why couldn’t you go with the other narrative that I was a great teammate based on the people that spoke out on my behalf?”

The problem with the broader process is that the line between what should and shouldn’t be considered has blurred considerably, allowing it to be twisted in whatever direction the voters want to twist it. The false narrative that emerged last year, and that likely will come up again this year, is that teams “couldn’t wait to get rid” of Owens.

Meanwhile. . . .

“Ray Lewis,” Owens said. “He’s a guy that’s up for the Hall of Fame. You think about some of his off the field issues that may come into play [that] nobody’s talking about. But they feel like he’s a shoo-in.”

Owens admits that he was outspoken, but he’s confounded that it’s a knock against him.

When has being outspoken been a bad thing?” Owens said. “Now you see with so many social issues that are surrounding us. Guys are speaking up, speaking their mind. I think I was sort of at the forefront of that. Just being open and being open and honest about certain situations.” 

Owens was willing to be outspoken about the possibility of fellow receiver Randy Moss gaining admission to the Hall of Fame before Owens.

“It’s just really gonna put a black eye on the Hall of Fame and what it stands for,” Owens said. “I’ve been up the last two years. This is the third time. I think again what they’ve been, the issues they’ve been bringing up as far as why I haven’t gotten in doesn’t really match with the bylaws and the criteria in which guys are nominated and then inducted. . . . It just does the Hall of Fame a disservice. The Hall of Fame committee who puts these guys in position to nominate and then induct them it’s just not good for the game.”

Some have suggested that T.O.’s willingness to rip the process will work against him by giving the voters another reason to keep him out, even though anything he says now shouldn’t be held against his playing career. If that’s indeed a consideration (and it shouldn’t be), Owens didn’t shy away from firing shots at the current selection process.

“I think they need to just change it up,” Owens said. “At least have people on the panel with some credibility. Why are you going to allow guys that have never even played the sport have your fate at their hands?”

While there’s definitely a place for people who didn’t play football to assess and select the best football players of all time, the people who have failed to put Owens in the Hall of Fame will get another chance to make it right on Saturday. If he’s omitted again, the criticism from him and other (like me) will only grow.

PFT’s catch rule idea kills two Goodell birds with one stone

AP

We here at PFT often offer suggestions as to how the game can be improved. And while there’s indeed a fine line between thinking outside the box and kooky talk (a line on which we often reside on the wrong side), the idea formulated during a stream-of-consciousness moment in the PFT PM podcast continues to be an apparent winner as it relates to the catch rule — especially in light of some of the things said Wednesday by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell said during his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference that the league will take a fresh look at the catch rule this year, and that he wants shorter and fewer stoppages for replay review. The best way to address both concerns will be to remove one of the three current elements of the catch rule from the scope of replay review.

The first two elements — whether the player has secured control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground and whether the player has gotten both feet or any part of his body other than his hands in bounds — are inherently objective and can be corrected, or confirmed, by replay review. The third aspect — whether the player had the ball long enough to clearly become a runner — is inherently subjective, and the judgment of the on-field officials should not be subject to frame-by-frame, piece-by-piece second guessing.

“I think it’s an interesting point,” Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay recently said on PFT Live, “and I think it’s one that merits discussion because what you’re saying is, ‘Let’s get out of replay in the quote ‘subjective element,’ because that’s a subjective element. We really didn’t design replay initially for subjective elements. It was designed for objective elements. It was designed for sidelines, end zone — it was lines of demarcation, objective elements not subjective. Your point’s a good one. I think we need to just look at it.”

Unless the league’s decision to retreat to square one when it comes to defining a catch ends up with a different process that eliminates all subjectivity from determining what is and isn’t a catch, any portion of the interpretation of the catch rue that relies on the exercise of judgment should be insulated from replay review, in the same way that other judgment calls, like pass interference are. Then, officials can rely on the real-time, bang-bang, know-it-when-they-see-it sense of what is and isn’t and was or wasn’t a catch.

Goodell defends NFL’s finding that Raiders complied with Rooney Rule

Getty Images

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is standing by the Raiders, and by the Rooney Rule, despite questions being raised in the wake of Jon Gruden’s hiring about whether the league let the team get away with violating the spirit of the rule.

Asked about the Raiders first agreeing to hire Gruden and then interviewing minority candidates only after that, Goodell suggested that’s not what happened — even though Raiders owner Mark Davis has acknowledged that’s what happened.

“I think we have a disagreement on the facts,” Goodell said. (He did not explain what was factually inaccurate about the premise of the question.)

Goodell said the league looked into the way the Raiders went about hiring Gruden and also interviewing two African-Americans, Bobby Johnson and Tee Martin, and found that the Raiders were in full compliance with the rule.

“There was a full investigation of that from our staff,” Goodell said.

The NFL adopted the Rooney Rule 15 years ago and has only found a team in violation once, when the Detroit Lions did not interview a minority candidate before hiring Steve Mariucci in 2003. If the Raiders were in full compliance this year, even though they knew they were hiring Gruden before they fired Jack Del Rio, it’s hard to believe the NFL will ever find any team in violation.

Alex Smith trade can’t be finalized until March 14

Getty Images

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Actually, you have. But we’ll keep going anyway.

The trade that will send quarterback Alex Smith to Washington can’t be finalized until the new league year begins on March 14. This means that, technically, the deal can fall though between now and then.

Technically, no deal is done until it’s done. That was the case five years ago, when the Chiefs acquired Smith from the 49ers. The deal was reported before the start of the league year, but the deal wasn’t done — and could have been undone — before then.

Officially, Washington or Kansas City could back out of the latest Alex Smith trade. Smith, also, could decide he doesn’t want to sign a contract extension in Washington, which could make Washington less interested in consummating the deal.

Already, reports have surfaced that the Browns and Cardinals had interest in Smith. Other teams may have tried to get him, too. Other teams may decide, not that the trade and financial parameters have been leaked, to try to outdo what Washington has done.

It definitely would create hard feelings and bruised egos if anyone reneges. It would also be hard for the Chiefs, Washington, and/or Alex Smith’s agent to do business in the future if this one falls through. Regardless, it still can fall through at any point between now and March 14, because it can’t be official until then.

NFL announces five-year deal with FOX for Thursday Night Football

Getty Images

For the first time, the NFL has agreed to a long-term deal with a network partner for Thursday Night Football.

After years of annual negotiations for the Thursday night package, the league announced this morning that it has reached a five-year deal with FOX for Thursday Night Football.

“This agreement is the culmination of over 10 years of strategic growth around Thursday Night Football, a period during which this property has grown from a handful of late season games on NFL Network to a full season of games and one of the most popular shows on broadcast television with additional distribution via cable and digital channels,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “As one of the leaders in sports television and a recognized innovator of NFL game broadcasts for many years, we’re excited to be extending our partnership with FOX Sports, one of our most trusted and valued partners, to include Thursday Night Football.”

FOX will air 11 games each season between Week Four and Week 15. Games will continue to be simulcast on NFL Network, and will also air in Spanish on Fox Deportes. NFL Network will also air seven games per year exclusively and those games will be produced by FOX. The Week One Thursday night game and the Thanksgiving night game will remain on NBC.

The league also announced that Thursday Night Football will be “Presented by Bud Light.” It was not clear from the announcement whether that also represents a five-year deal.

With this agreement, FOX is all-in on the NFL: Between Sunday afternoons and Thursday nights, football will be by far the most important and popular programming on FOX for years to come.

What’s next for Kirk Cousins?

Getty Images

With Washington and Kansas City tentatively agreeing to a trade that would send quarterback Alex Smith from one team with a Native American nickname to another, the next question becomes where the career of current Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins will lead.

Obviously, the deal to acquire (and to pay) Smith means that Washington will use neither the franchise tag nor the transition tag on Cousins. This means he’ll become an unrestricted agent on March 14, and that he’ll sign with another team.

So which team will he sign with? Let’s consider the possibilities.

Jets: They need a franchise quarterback (they haven’t had one since Joe Namath), and they have the cash and cap space to bring him to town. The broader question is whether they want a 29-year-old franchise quarterback, or whether they’d rather get a guy out of college with 10-15 years of expected playing time in town.

Bills: The thinking is they’ll trade up for a franchise quarterback. But they could sign Cousins and use their draft ammunition on building a team around him.

Browns: Hue Jackson runs a similar offense to Jay Gruden. With Todd Haley now running the offense, however, the question of fit will emerge. Also, the Browns may be more inclined to swing for the fences with a younger quarterback. Then there’s the possibility that Cousins isn’t interested in being part of a reclamation project.

Jaguars: The Jags can pay Blake Bortles $19 million for 2018, or they can use that money on Cousins. Surely, he’d be intrigued by joining the best team (at the other 21 positions) in the NFL.

Broncos: G.M. John Elway desperately needs to upgrade the quarterback position, and Cousins would do it. The real question is whether Cousins would be good enough to bring the team together and lead it to another championship. For now, though, the primary goal should be to avoid what would be the team’s second straight losing season since 1971-72. Cousins would definitely help in that regard.

Giants: They seem to be all in with Eli. But that was before Cousins came free. Will that change their assessment? Maybe, maybe not.

Vikings: They have a huge decision to make at quarterback, obviously. What it would cost to get Cousins becomes another factor in the Sam Bradford/Teddy Bridgewater/Case Keenum conundrum.

Saints: Drew Brees says he’s staying. In the unlikely event he doesn’t, Cousins becomes an obvious alternative.

Cardinals: They have no quarterbacks. They need a quarterback. Cousins is a quarterback. #logic.

PFT’s conference championship game picks

Getty Images

Knotted up with three games to go, the PFT Postseason Picks challenge will definitely have a leader come Sunday night. We disagree on one of the two games to be played on Sunday.

For the picks in both of the Conference Championship games, keep reading. And then keep counting the hours and minutes until a pair of excellent games get started on Sunday afternoon.

Last week, MDS was 3-1, and I went 2-2. The difference? He believed in the Eagles. Even if he no longer does.

Jaguars at Patriots

MDS’s take: Last week everyone dismissed the Jaguars’ chances of winning in Pittsburgh, and this week everyone is dismissing the Jaguars’ chances of winning in New England. I think Jacksonville is a better team than people give it credit for, but the difference this week is that Bill Belichick and his staff will have a better game plan than Mike Tomlin and his staff had last week. The way to beat the Jaguars is to run the ball and stop the run, and I think the Patriots’ game plan will be heavily focused on that. Tom Brady had 53 passes last week. He won’t have anything close to that this week, as the Patriots will win the game on the ground and head to yet another Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 30, Jaguars 20.

Florio’s take: The Jaguars have the defense to slow down the Patriots, with a strong rush coming up the middle and man-to-man coverage behind it. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is the X-factor, but the Broncos beat the Patriots two years ago in this round, and Gronk had eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown. Offensively, however, the Jaguars may not be able to match the Patriots. Coach Bill Belichick will implement a game plan aimed at taking away running back Leonard Fournette, which will require quarterback Blake Bortles to make a big throw in a big spot, eventually. If he can’t, the Jaguars won’t win. (Of course, this analysis is premised on Tom Brady playing quarterback for the Patriots. If he can’t play due to that hand injury, or if he’s clearly impaired, the Jaguars could end up with the ticket to Minnesota.)

Florio’s pick: Patriots 24, Jaguars 16.


Vikings at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Vikings’ defense had a late-game letdown that nearly cost them the game against the Saints, and it all happened after safety Andrew Sendejo suffered a concussion. Sendejo appears ready to go for Sunday, which should boost a good Minnesota defense. On the other side of the ball, I think Case Keenum will keep playing good football as he has all year, and he’ll lead Minnesota to a Super Bowl on its home field.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take: Flip a coin, throw a dart, light a match. I’ve gone back and forth on this one all week. At the end of Friday’s PFT Live, I had to finally pick a winner. I blurted out the Eagles. It could be a mistake (hardly my first), but home-field advantage is the difference in this one. If the game were being played in Minnesota, the Vikings would win easily; in Philly, it’s going to be a close, grind-it-out game that eventually wears down Minnesota’s defense and offensive line, allowing the Eagles to make that one key play needed to win the game. The best hope for the Vikings? Come out of the gates hot, pressuring (and demoralizing) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and establishing a double-digit lead, which the Vikings have down many times this year (10 games saw the Vikings build leads of 16 points or more). Quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees were able to carve into those margins. Nick Foles wouldn’t be, if it comes to that. Based on 45 years of following the NFL closely (old), and witnessing the Vikings coming up short in a big spot again and again and again, the home team gets the edge — and the Eagles secure the right to lose in the Super Bowl. Unless they can get the Super Bowl moved to Philadelphia.

Florio’s pick: Eagles 16, Vikings 13.

PFT’s divisional round picks

Getty Images

It’s the divisional round, and I’m closing in on a knockout blow to MDS. Which would be a good thing, given that he knocked me out, curbed stomped me, stuffed me in a sack, and threw me in the river during the regular-season contest.

Last week, my faith in the Falcons delivered a one-game edge, with MDS getting half the games right and yours truly nailing three of four.

This week, MDS once again doubts the Falcons. I don’t. Come Saturday night, I’ll have a two-game lead and I’ll be making plans for cramming him into the meat grinder at Satriale’s.

Figuratively speaking, of course.

Falcons at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles are the first No. 1 seed ever to be the underdog against a No. 6 seed in the NFL playoffs, and it’s easy to see why: Carson Wentz is out, and Philadelphia will live or die with Nick Foles at quarterback. Against Matt Ryan, who typically plays very well in the postseason, most people are picking Atlanta. I’m not. I think the Eagles are a better all-around team than people are giving them credit for, and they can win without Wentz.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 17, Falcons 14.

Florio’s take: The sixth-seeded Falcons are favored, and for good reason. They have their MVP-caliber franchise quarterback, and the Eagles don’t. Can the Eagles parlay the disrespect card into the kind of effort that will carry the No. 1 seed to what would be an upset? Maybe. To aid the effort, I’ll pick the Falcons to win.

Florio’s pick: Falcons 27, Eagles 17.


Titans at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Patriots are two-touchdown favorites, and that sounds about right to me. The Titans deserve credit for coming together in the second half in Kansas City, and I do think Derrick Henry could have a big game against New England’s defense, but the Titans just won’t have enough to keep this one close. Tom Brady will play in his 35th postseason game, and it will be a big one.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 35, Titans 20.

Florio’s take: A team with a mobile quarterback and a nothing-to-lose mindset invades Foxboro with a highly unlikely final-four berth on the line. Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry could give the Patriots fit, and maybe it won’t be a blowout. But the Patriots have the skill, the coaching, the experience, and the motivation to finish the job, again.

Florio’s pick: Patriots 30, Titans 20.


Jaguars at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Jaguars blew out the Steelers when these teams met in the regular season, and I’m tempted to pick Jacksonville to win again in Pittsburgh on Sunday. But I just don’t trust Blake Bortles to throw the ball well enough to put many points on the board, and I think Pittsburgh will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 12, Jaguars 9.

Florio’s take: Allow me to retract my prediction that the Steelers will lose in the divisional round, based on coach Mike Tomlin’s willingness to peek ahead to a rematch with the Patriots. A rematch with the Jaguars will get the home team to focus on avoiding a second embarrassment at Heinz Field. The only glitch is the possibility that the Steelers will sell out to stop the run and Blake Bortles will make like Tim Tebow in early 2012 and find a way to complete enough passes and score enough points to beat the Steelers.

Florio’s pick: Steelers 24, Jaguars 13.


Saints at Vikings

MDS’s take: The Vikings have the best chance of playing a home Super Bowl that any team has ever had. I think they’ll get one step closer on Sunday when they beat the Saints and punch their ticket to the NFC Championship Game. Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense are firing on all cylinders, but the Vikings’ defense matches up well with New Orleans, and I’m expecting a big game from Case Keenum as Minnesota wins.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Saints 21.

Florio’s take: Both teams are far different than they were in Week One, and both are better than they were on the first Monday night of the season. The Vikings are arguably the most balanced team in the NFL, and it will be louder than anything the Saints have experienced on the road in the postseason, probably even louder than the Beastquake game of early 2011. Minnesota advances, setting up the team’s latest chance to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976.

Florio’s pick: Vikings 31, Saints 20.

PFT’s 2017 awards

Getty Images

The official NFL awards for the 2017 season will be unveiled the night before the Super Bowl, long after the point at which anyone cares. When it comes to the official PFT awards, no one cares right now.

So why wait?

As always, I seek input from the full PFT staff. As always, blame them if you don’t like the decisions reflected below.

By the way, we’ve added a few categories this year. Which gives you a few more things to not care about.

Offensive rookie of the year: Saints running back Alvin Kamara. (Runners-up: Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt.)

Defensive rookie of the year: Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. (Runners-up: Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.)

Special-teams rookie of the year: Eagles kicker Jake Elliott. (Runners-up: Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, Bears running back Tarik Cohen.)

Offensive player of the year: Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. (Runners-up: Rams running back Todd Gurley, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.)

Defensive player of the year: Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. (Runners-up: Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell, Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones.)

Special-teams player of the year: Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein. (Runners-up: Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, Rams punter Johnny Hekker.)

Assistant coach of the year: Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. (Runners-up: Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Rams special-teams coordinator John Fassel.)

Coach of the year: Rams coach Sean McVay. (Runner-up: Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Patriots coach Bill Belichick.)

Comeback player of the year: Chargers receiver Keenan Allen. (Runners-up: Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, Rams running back Todd Gurley.)

Executive of the year: Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis/assistant G.M. Jeff Ireland. (Runners-up: Eagles executive V.P. of football operations Howie Roseman, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman.)

MVP: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Runners-up: Rams running back Todd Gurley, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.)

And that’s it. Thank you and good night.

AP announces 2017 All-Pro teams

Getty Images

The Associated Press has announced this year’s selections for their All-Pro team and Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was the easiest selection for the voters.

Brown was this year’s only unanimous selection to the first team. It is the fourth straight year that Brown, who had 101 catches for 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns, has made the first team and he also has one second team selection.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was also voted to the first team, earning him $2.5 million in contract incentives. Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell‘s strong season was recognized by selection to the first team as an edge rusher and the second team as an interior lineman. Rams wide receiver Pharoh Cooper also made both teams for his work as a kickoff and punt returner while Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was  voted to the first team as a corner and the second team as a defensive back.

Two rookies were selected to the first team on the basis of their special teams work. Jamal Agnew of the Lions is the punt returner and Cardinals safety Budda Baker was chosen as the top special teams player. Saints running back Alvin Kamara made the second team offense.

The entire first and second teams are below:

First Team Offense

Quarterback – Tom Brady, Patriots

Running Back – Todd Gurley, Rams

Flex – Le’Veon Bell, Steelers

Tight End – Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

Wide Receivers – Antonio Brown, Steelers; DeAndre Hopkins, Texans

Left Tackle – Andrew Whitworth, Rams

Right Tackle – Lane Johnson, Eagles

Left Guard – Andrew Norwell, Panthers

Right Guard – David DeCastro, Steelers

Center – Jason Kelce, Eagles

First Team Defense

Edge Rushers – Calais Campbell, Jaguars; Cameron Jordan, Saints

Interior Linemen – Aaron Donald, Rams; Cam Heyward, Steelers

Linebackers – Chandler Jones, Cardinals; Luke Kuechly, Panthers; Bobby Wagner, Seahawks

Cornerbacks – Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars; Xavier Rhodes, Vikings

Safeties – Kevin Byard, Titans; Harrison Smith, Vikings

Defensive Back – Darius Slay, Lions

First Team Special Teams

Punter – Johnny Hekker, Rams

Kicker – Greg Zuerlein, Rams

Kick Returner – Pharoh Cooper, Rams

Returner – Jamal Agnew, Lions

Special Teamer – Budda Baker, Cardinals

Second Team Offense

Quarterback – Carson Wentz, Eagles

Running Back – Le’Veon Bell, Steelers

Flex – Alvin Kamara, Saints

Tight End – Travis Kelce, Chiefs

Wide Receivers – Julio Jones, Falcons; Adam Thielen, Vikings

Left Tackle – David Bakhtiari, Packers

Right Tackle – Mitchell Schwartz, Chiefs, and Daryl Williams, Panthers

Left Guard – Rodger Saffold, Rams

Right Guard – Zach Martin, Cowboys

Center – Alex Mack, Falcons

Second Team Defense

Edge Rushers – Everson Griffen, Vikings; DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys

Interior Linemen – Fletcher Cox, Eagles; Calais Campbell, Jaguars

Linebackers – Von Miller, Broncos; C.J. Mosley, Ravens; Telvin Smith, Jaguars

Cornerbacks – Casey Hayward, Chargers; A. J. Bouye, Jaguars

Safeties – Earl Thomas, Seahawks; Micah Hyde, Bills

Defensive Back – Xavier Rhodes, Vikings

Second Team Special Teams

Punter – Brett Kern, Titans

Placekicker – Justin Tucker, Ravens

Kick Returner – Tyler Lockett, Seahawks

Punt Returner – Pharoh Cooper, Rams

Special Teamer – Matthew Slater, Patriots

PFT’s wild card picks

Getty Images

When the postseason starts, everyone’s record re-sets to 0-0. Including mine. Which is very good news.

MDS won the regular-season picks contest easily. The postseason version has only 11 games, and we’re starting from scratch.

We disagree on one game, which means one of us (probably me) will be behind by a game come Monday.

For our picks for all four games, keep reading.

Titans at Chiefs

MDS’s take: The Chiefs went through an ugly mid-season swoon, but by and large they were a good team this year. The Titans, on the other hand, got into the playoffs more because the AFC was weak than because they were really the kind of team we think of as playoff-caliber. On Saturday in Kansas City, I have a hard time seeing Tennessee pulling off an upset.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 28, Titans 14.

Florio’s take: The Chiefs have rediscovered their offense. The Titans in many ways are still trying to find theirs. Arrowhead Stadium provides a home-field advantage that should deliver more wins than it does; it will help deliver one on Saturday.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 27, Titans 17.


Falcons at Rams

MDS’s take: The Rams have been perhaps the most fun team in the league this year, with exciting young players on offense and defense, not to mention an exciting young coach. It’s a shame that they still haven’t really caught on in Los Angeles, but maybe a playoff win will do the trick. They should win this game handily, as they’re a better team than the Falcons on offense, defense and special teams.

MDS’s pick: Rams 32, Falcons 21.

Florio’s take: The Rams are believed to have wanted to slide to No. 4 on the playoff tree, so that they’d face the Panthers instead of the Falcons this weekend. It didn’t work out that way. The Rams may be the best team playing this weekend, but they also may be the home team most vulnerable to losing. If the Falcons can hold a fourth-quarter lead.

Florio’s pick: Falcons 27, Rams 23.


Bills at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Bills and Jaguars were the only two teams in the league that didn’t pass the ball more than they ran it in 2017. (Buffalo had 487 runs and 476 passes, Jacksonville had 527 runs and 527 passes.) So I expect a run-heavy ballgame, probably low scoring and possibly determined by a defensive or special teams touchdown. The Jaguars’ defense should be able to hold the Bills in check, especially with LeSean McCoy injured, and Jacksonville should take this one.

MDS’s pick: Jaguars 16, Bills 7.

Florio’s take: If the “good” Jaguars show up, this should be a laugher. If the “bad” Jaguars arrive at EverBank Field, the Bills could be securing a third game against the Patriots. But Jacksonville has one thing Buffalo doesn’t — Tom Coughlin. And Coughlin will make sure that everyone knows what it takes to have success in January.

Florio’s pick: Jaguars 24, Bills 14.


Panthers at Saints

MDS’s take: This should be the weekend’s best game. Cam Newton has been up-and-down this year, but I have a feeling he’s going to be up for his first postseason game since Super Bowl 50. However, I love the potential of the Saints’ offense to put up a lot of points on the Panthers’ defense, and I’ll pick New Orleans to pull out a close win at home.

MDS’s pick: Saints 31, Panthers 27.

Florio’s take: The cliché that it’s hard to beat a team three times in the same year doesn’t really apply as strongly as many believe. It definitely doesn’t apply to this current rivalry, where the Saints know how to build and hold leads against a Carolina team that is one of the best in the conference, but not good enough to win in the Superdome.

Florio’s pick: Saints 30, Panthers 21.