Patriots

Patriots receiving corps thinner than ever after Matthews put on IR

Patriots receiving corps thinner than ever after Matthews put on IR

FOXBORO -- Jordan Matthews had an opportunity with the Patriots. He landed on a roster this offseason that lost Danny Amendola. It's a roster that will be without Julian Edelman for the first four weeks of the season because of a suspension. 

For a team that has a need for an inside receiver, Matthews, who has plenty of experience in the slot, seemed like a logical fit. 

But after injuring his hamstring over the weekend, the Patriots have decided to try to fill that need elsewhere. The Patriots have placed Matthews on injured reserve. The team acquired fullback Henry Poggi, an undrafted rookie out of Michigan, to fill Matthews' spot on the 90-man roster. Poggi participated in Wednesday's practice. 

With Matthews no longer in the mix, the Patriots are even thinner at receiver. Kenny Britt and Matthew Slater remain on the physically unable to perform list, and Malcolm Mitchell has yet to practice. Among the available receivers for Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots offense are Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner. 

Knowing Edelman will be out in September makes the long-term picture at receiver more tenuous for the Patriots. Both Hogan and Dorsett have some positional versatility, as does Turner. McCarron and Berrios are more traditional slots, and with the injuries piling up recently, McCarron has received some first-team reps of late. 

The Patriots could sign a free-agent wideout like Eric Decker, who was brought in to work out on Tuesday, but they haven't made a move to bolster the receiver room just yet. Until they do, Bill Belichick and his staff may have to adjust their practice schedule to ensure that they aren't overworking the players available from a banged-up position group. 

"That’s always a part of training camp -- management," Belichick said Wednesday. "Some positions are deeper than others. That can fluctuate from day-to-day, week-to-week in camp. So, sometimes that barometer goes up and down -- not always predictable. So, yeah, it’s a part of training camp. 

"We consider that when we go through our practice schedule, what the workloads are, take a look at the drills we’re doing and how many guys we have to do them and so forth, particularly when the lines don’t match up. 

"If you have an imbalance of offensive linemen versus defensive linemen or receivers versus defensive backs or tight ends versus linebackers, however that goes, then that makes it a little bit more challenging because the guys that have the numbers need the work and players that are the position that doesn’t have the numbers -- you have a hard time giving enough work to the guys where there’s depth. So, yeah, that’s always a daily discussion in our practice schedule and planning and the player workloads that they have."

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Browns better than Patriots in 2020? Former NFL player makes bold claim

Browns better than Patriots in 2020? Former NFL player makes bold claim

The New England Patriots have spent much of the last 20 years at the summit of the NFL -- the most successful franchise of this century. Over that same time, the Cleveland Browns have been one of the league's worst teams, with only a single postseason appearance since 2000.

Could these teams begin to switch places in 2020?

Last season was supposed to be the Browns' return to the spotlight, and the playoffs. Expectations were high for quarterback Baker Mayfield, star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and an up-and-coming defense. Instead, Cleveland got off to a horrible start in 2019, losing six of their first eight games, including a Week 7 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. 

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Despite all that unfolded in Cleveland last season, many experts are still high on the Browns' chances in 2020. In fact, one of them is even willing to predict the Patriots will be worse than the Browns.

“When you look at those two teams and the difference in the trajectory of what we feel they’ll be, I believe that the Browns will be a better football team than the New England Patriots this year," ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark said on the "Get Up" morning show earlier this week. 

"I believe that the Browns young quarterback (Baker Mayfield) will play better than the young quarterback in New England. And when you put all of these things together, that leaves Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on the outside of the playoff picture and (Browns coach) Kevin Stefanski and the Cleveland Browns in.”

Oddsmakers don't agree with Clark. 

The Browns are underdogs to reach the playoffs with +137 odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook, while the Patriots are expected to make the postseason at -177 odds.

It's also hard to trust the Browns until they show the mental toughness required to play football into January. Bad penalties, turnovers, poor coaching and other avoidable mistakes have plagued the Browns for many years, and last season was no different.

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Another factor working against the Browns is their division. The AFC North is not a joke.

The reigning division champion Baltimore Ravens went 14-2 last year and should again be a top Super Bowl contender. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a playoff team for much of the last two decades, and they'll be aided by the healthy return of veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed most of 2019 due to injury. The Cincinnati Bengals are the worst team in the division, but selecting Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft has renewed hope in Cincy.

It's not inconceivable for the Browns to be better than the Patriots in 2020. The Patriots will have plenty of challenges, too, most notably adjusting to a new starting quarterback. New England's schedule also is among the toughest in the league, and the defense lost several key players in free agency.

Still, it's hard to bet against a Belichick team, especially when the other team in the conversation is the Browns. The smart money in this debate is with the Patriots.

Patriots' Stephon Gilmore hard at work in new offseason training video

Patriots' Stephon Gilmore hard at work in new offseason training video

NFL teams have not been able to conduct normal offseason workouts, rookie camps and other activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but players are still finding ways to stay in shape and prepare for the 2020 season.

That includes New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who recently worked out with former NFL defensive back Dre Bly, who's currently the cornerbacks coach for the University of North Carolina football team.

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Check out some footage of Gilmore's workout in the tweet below:

Gilmore arguably is the Patriots' best player following quarterback Tom Brady's departure in free agency. In Pro Football Focus' recent ranking of the top 50 players gonig into the 2020 season, Gilmore was the only Patriot to make the list.

The veteran cornerback is coming off back-to-back seasons of first team All-Pro selections, and in February he was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award winner for the 2019 campaign.

The Patriots saw a lot of veteran players from their defense leave as free agents this offseason. Luckily for New England, its secondary remains one of the best groups in the league, and Gilmore's presence as the sport's premier shutdown cornerback is the primary reason for that.