Patriots

Could be Bergeron's year for the Selke Trophy

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Could be Bergeron's year for the Selke Trophy

UNIONDALE, NY Two years ago Pavel Datsyuk took home the Selke Trophy for the third time. Last season it was Vancouver center Ryan Keslers turn to accept the award for the best defensive forward in the NHL.

Coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season and enjoying his best offensive season since the horrendous concussion that nearly derailed his entire career, it would seem this year its Patrice Bergerons turn to accept a Selke.

All three of last years finalists for the award -- Datsyuk, Kesler and Jonathan Toews -- have struggled through injuries this season that have kept them from operating at their level-best.

Meanwhile Bergeron has been arguably the best two-way center in the NHL this season with good health, good defense and better linemates feeding him scoring opportunities. He hit the 60-point mark this season for the first time since 2006-07, and hes now put together back-to-back 20 goal seasons.

Most Selke winners also have to be productive in the offensive end to merit the kind of attention needed to win the award. Bergeron has been just that.

Those that know Bergeron best know the Selke Trophy is the most personally meaningful individual award he could win. Why? It all comes back to his pride in the defensive end.

Im just trying to do all the little details to help my team win. Even if not everybody sees it Im trying to help my team win every night. It starts on the defensive side and then it takes care of things in the offensive zone, said Bergeron. I havent really thought about the Selke. Its nice to hear because it means Im doing some things right, but all those individual awards come down to your teammates.

Last year was the ultimate prize that we won together. I wouldnt trade that any year for a Selke Trophy. Its nice because it means Im doing my job and I need to just keep doing that.

Bergeron finished fourth in the voting last season, and the admittedly difficult criteria can always confound the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) voters trying to determine the best defensive forward in the league. Much of it comes down to face-off percentage, short-handed time on ice, plus-minus and other statistical minutiae, but perhaps the biggest factor going is simple reputation.

That can take years to build into an award-worthy attribute, and Bergeron is at that level while becoming one of the faces the NHL is trying to market to the public.

He was the focus of an NHL 36 special on the NBC Sports Network designed to underscore just how underrated a player Bergeron is. His teammates knew of his importance long before that, though. In the Bruins locker room, its a no-brainer: Bergeron's play has definitely been worthy of a Selke.

He always seems to be in the right position and he always makes the little plays game in and game out that a player of his caliber doesnt really have to make, said Chris Kelly, a great two-way center in his own right. Thats what makes him such a great player -- his attention to detail all over the ice. He pays attention with the same focus in all three zones on the ice.

To me hes the best two-way player in the game and I get to see him on a daily basis. Im a better player just for getting the chance to watch and play with him every day.

Theres also no denying the statistics are there for Bergeron. He leads the NHL in plusminus with a plus-35 mark heading into Sunday nights tilt against the New York Rangers, and hes achieved that mark with a pair of young wingers (Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin) alongside him for the majority of the year.

Customarily Bergeron and Co. gets the draw of shutting down the other teams best forward line, and that makes their plusminus numbers all the more impressive. Bergeron hasnt missed a game this season and has been at the heart of another excellent defensive campaign for the entire hockey club.

With our system theres no blowout out of the zone or cheating. Hes often the last one of the defensive zone, or the second-to-last one out, said Kelly. But he still manages to create a lot of offense in the system. Its a lot of skating. Hes working every single night. Its not like there are easy nights where hes cheating like some other guys in the league do that recognized a little more for their offensive numbers.

Joe Pavelski and Toews are the only two face-off men with a slightly higher percentage than Bergerons 59.2 percent success rate, but No. 37 has taken a much larger number of draws over the course of the season.

Bergerons 1,582 draws are nearly twice as many as Pavelski, and more than 400 above Toews total as the Chicago captain has missed time with a concussion suffered earlier this season. In fact nobody in the NHLs top ten in face-offs is anywhere close to the nearly 1,600 draws taken by Bergeron. Only Eric Staal, Jason Spezza and Tomas Plekanec have taken more face-offs then Bergeron this season with a much lower percentage of wins.

Its not unusual for Claude Julien to use Bergeron for nearly every big face-off within a given game, and then make the change once his reliable center has won the puck back to his teammates.

Thats exactly the kind of trait Selke Trophy winners are known for, and it's Bergerons bread and butter.

Given his numbers, and his undeniably growing reputation, there may be no better season for the two-way center to haul in the coveted Selke.

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

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Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

MORE - Bortles earning respect from teammates, Patriots

Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

0:41 - Tom Brady injured his right hand during practice on Wednesday. Tom Curran, Albert Breer, Michael Holley, and Tom Giles discuss how this injury could impact Brady’s ability to throw against the Jaguars on Sunday.

6:06 - Isaiah Thomas has asked the Celtics to cancel his video tribute on Paul Pierce Night, and Pierce said that Thomas was trying to ‘punk’ Danny Ainge into a tribute video. Michael Holley, Kyle Draper, and Tom Giles debate if Isaiah Thomas or Paul Pierce is in the wrong.

11:19 - Albert Breer discusses how much credit Tom Coughlin deserves for the Jaguars great season and if Coughlin’s success against the Patriots and Bill Belichick will come into play on Sunday.

15:37 - Joe Haggerty joins BST from the TD Garden to break down the Bruins win over the Canadiens and Claude Julien’s return to Boston.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE EPISODE