Patriots

Can the Patriots use the new kickoff rules to their advantage?

Can the Patriots use the new kickoff rules to their advantage?

UPDATE: Changes to the kickoff were approved at the NFL Spring Meeting in Atlanta.

Change is coming for the kickoff. It's just a matter of time now.

In the name of player safety, several proposed rule changes for the kickoff will be presented to NFL owners at next week's Spring League Meeting in Atlanta. In order for the rules changes to take hold, 24 of the 32 owners will have to approve.

The proposals have been met with plenty of public support. Special teams coaches are intrigued by the new rules. Media invested in the play, in particular, 14-year NFL veteran Jay Feely, are on board. Even though the changes could drastically change the look of the kickoff, they may save the play by making it safer. The alternative might've been eliminating it altogether.

Patriots special teams ace and captain Matthew Slater was asked about the potential for the play's elimination earlier this offseason, back in April.

"I think you take away this play from football [and] you’re changing the fabric of the game," he said. "I think this play is part of the fabric of the game. It really makes me ask the question ‘Where do you go from here? What will happen next?’, and I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know. But I look at a number of plays. I look at a goal-line stand. I look at a third-and-1; think about the collisions that are happening there. Those may be deemed unsafe by some people. 

"If you [eliminate kickoffs], what’s next? What happens? The reality is this is football. This is a contact sport. This is a violent sport, and all of us that are playing the game understand that. There are inherent risks that come along with playing the game. If you’re not OK with those risks, I respect that, and maybe you should think about doing something else. But if we feel like we need to take away this play from the game to make the game safer, well then what does that stop?"

With next week's proposals, the Competition Committee in conjunction with special teams coaches may have found a happy medium. Slater and others don't have to be worried about the play being erased just yet. 

But the kickoff will be different. Here's a tweet from NFL Vice President of Football Communications explaining the proposed changes. 

Let's take a quick look at not only how the proposed changes will change the play, but how it will change the play for the Patriots... 

DONE WITH POP-UP KICKS?


The Patriots have benefitted from having a kicker in Stephen Gostkowski who's adept at kicking the ball high and placing it near an opponent's goal line to force a return. Combined with great speed on New England's coverage unit, the Patriots have been one of the best in football in terms of pinning opponents inside their own 25-yard line. Last year, the Patriots were tops in the league in terms of average opponent starting field position. But if the proposal to have kickoff coverage players line up just one yard behind the ball prior to the kick passes...that would eliminate the running start for the coverage team, which would make it harder for players to get down the field and pin return men deep in their own territory on those high kicks. As a result, the Patriots may move away from using those pop-up kicks as frequently as they do. 

But on the flip side, when returning, the Patriots could benefit in a big way. With teams unable to get a running start when they kick off, that'll make kickoff returns more wide open. That might mean more space for one of the league's top return men, Cordarrelle Patterson, when he has an opportunity for a return. Patterson has 153 career kick returns and has averaged 30.2 yards per return. He's taken five back for touchdowns. 

WEDGE PROPOSAL COULD ALTER ROSTERS


Wedge blocks are relatively violent. Not only because they entail a two-on-one matchup, but because kick coverage units could employ wedge-busters to break up the two-man wall. That led to big collisions and injuries. Under the proposed rule changes, those wedge blocks deep down the field would be illegal. With only three players allowed to align deep on the kick-return unit, with the elimination of the running start from coverage units, and with a ban on blocks in the restricted area prior to the ball hitting the ground or being touched, the kickoff is going to look a little more like a punt. More one-on-one blocks, fewer double-teams and trap-blocks, leading to fewer high-impact collisions. 

For teams looking to take advantage of the more wide-open nature of the play, including the Patriots, this could have a very real impact on how rosters are built. Faster players vying for a back-end-of-the-roster spot could have an advantage over bigger ones. On the back end of return units, teams will need players who can cover a great deal of ground. And if wedge blocks are gone, the importance of having more imposing, but less mobile, blockers will be mitigated. Teams could lean toward the use of more linebackers and corners in the return game rather than some of the bigger offensive and defensive linemen who sometimes line up to clear space returners. 

ALIGNMENT PROPOSAL LIMITS SOME CREATIVITY


Because one proposal would require teams to have five players on either side of the kicker, that would limit some onside kick formations that call for one side with six players. Pre-kick motions are also illegal. This is something the Patriots have used in a variety of ways under Bill Belichick. They've sent some of their faster players -- whether it's Slater or Jonathan Jones or someone else -- in motion pre-kick to complicate opposing blocking assignments. Another portion of the rules change proposal requires at least two players outside the numbers and at least two players between the numbers and the hash marks. Again, this limits some pre-kick creativity for teams looking to manipulate the spacing between coverage players before the snap. 

MORE ACTION FOR EBNER...?


Patriots fans probably don't have the fondest memories of Nate Ebner's rugby-style mortar kick against the Eagles in 2015, but the proposal requiring eight return-team players to align in a 15-yard "set-up zone" closer to midfield might open up some space for kicking teams to get creative. A well-placed short kick - or a rugby boot - could find the soft spot in the return unit. This is why having fast players on the back end matters. A kick over the heads of the eight players in the "set-up zone" and in front of the three-man return group could cause ball-handling issues. In Super Bowl LII, the Patriots employed tight end Dwayne Allen and fullback James Develin as the wedge players in front of return man Dion Lewis. There may be some thought from special teams coordinators around the league to sub out bigger blockers with athletes who have more return experience.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Super Bowl 54 odds: Opening Chiefs vs. 49ers spread, MVP betting lines

Super Bowl 54 odds: Opening Chiefs vs. 49ers spread, MVP betting lines

The Kansas City Chiefs enter Super Bowl LIV in Miami as a small betting favorite over the San Francisco 49ers.

The Chiefs beat the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years, while the 49ers earned a convincing NFC Championship Game victory over the Green Bay Packers.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Here are the opening betting lines for the Super Bowl, via the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.

Spread: Chiefs -1
Total: 53.5
Moneyline: Chiefs -120, 49ers +100

Here are the Super Bowl MVP odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook). There are other players listed at DK, but these are the most likely MVP winners.

Patrick Mahomes: +110
Jimmy Garoppolo: +200
Raheem Mostert: +500
Tyreke Hill: +1600
Travis Kelce: +1600
George Kittle: +2000
Damien Williams: +3300
Mecole Hardman: +3300
Tevin Coleman: +3300
Sammy Watkins: +4000
Tyrann Mathieu: +5000
Nick Bosa: +5000
Deebo Samuel: +5000
Frank Clark: +6000
Arik Armstead: +6500
Matt Breida: +6600
Emmanuel Sanders: +6600
Richard Sherman: +6600

It's hard to imagine anyone besides Mahomes being named MVP if the Chiefs win. The 49ers are a different story, however. Garoppolo has the best odds of any San Francisco player, but that probably has more to do with the position he plays. Seven of the last 10 players to win Super Bowl MVP were quarterbacks. Garoppolo, however, hasn't had to do much in the playoffs, and the best example came Sunday when he attempted just eight passes versus the Packers. 49ers running back Raheem Mostert and tight end George Kittle are good value plays for bettors who envision the 49ers lifting the Lombardi Trophy.

Super Bowl LIV will be played on Sunday, Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Curran: No need to be bitter about Jimmy G. not being a Patriot

Darrelle Revis rips Richard Sherman on Twitter, prompting this response from 49ers CB

Darrelle Revis rips Richard Sherman on Twitter, prompting this response from 49ers CB

Former New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis didn't hold back on Twitter during Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.

Revis ripped Richard Sherman in a tweet that, among other things, criticized the 49ers cornerback for staying on one side of the field and hiding in zone coverage.

Sherman got the last laugh, however. He kept Packers wide receiver Davante Adams out of the end zone and intercepted Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers late in the fourth quarter. The turnover created a celebratory scene at Levi's Stadium as the 49ers sealed a 37-20 victory to advance to Super Bowl LIV.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Sherman isn't afraid to speak his mind on Twitter, so it wasn't surprising that he responded to Revis' criticism. 

Revis wasn't done tweeting, though. He clarified his original comments, and also responded to Sherman's claim that Revis' ninth year "looked a lot different."

Revis is right about the upcoming Super Bowl matchup. The Kansas City Chiefs have a talented group of pass-catchers headlined by speedy wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, and tight end Travis Kelce. These guys all are difficult to cover, particularly Hill, who probably is the fastest player in the league. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes presents a myriad of problems for opposing defenses on his own, too.

Sherman took one more shot at Revis before tweeting about other things after San Francisco's win.

What do the stats say?

Well, Revis has three interceptions in 10 playoff games, while Sherman has four in 14 career postseason games. Each of these defensive backs has one Super Bowl ring, and Revis' came against Sherman when the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Maybe that game is where some of the tension between these future Hall of Famers stems from.

Curran: No need to be bitter about Jimmy G. not being a Patriot