Every Friday, Phil Perry, Mike Giardi and Tom Curran answer your Patriots questions in a joint mailbag, or FridayBag, as they call it. Got a question for the trio. Tweet at them using the hashtag #FridayBag. Curran sits this one out this week but here are Perry and Giardi’s responses in this week’s installment:
Besides the Steelers and jags, who else seems most likely to make the playoffs? Who will give the Pats the most trouble in the playoffs?— love you Shawn Mendes (@BugattiGalaxy10) December 22, 2017
PP: As it stands right now, the Patriots, Steelers, Jags, Chiefs, Titans and Bills are all in the AFC playoff picture. The Ravens, Chargers, Raiders and Dolphins all still have a shot. In terms of which teams would seem to give the Patriots the most trouble, I'd go Steelers despite their late-game collapse -- especially if Antonio Brown is healthy enough to play. I think the Jaguars have to be on everyone's radars as well. That defense is as talented as any in football, in my opinion, and they seem built to give the Patriots offense trouble. They have a variety of pass-rushers who can win one-on-one matchups without sacrificing numbers in coverage, and they can play tough man-to-man defense on the outside with their defensive backs. The only thing stopping them would be a lack of offensive firepower. Blake Bortles has played well of late, but he'll have to do it in a big spot before Jacksonville can be considered a true Super Bowl contender.
How would you rate Jordan Richards performance at this point in the season playing that hybrid backer/safety position? Think he sees less playing time due to the missed tackle on Smith-Schuster last week? #FridayBag— Mike (@DeLeaderIV) December 22, 2017
PP: Thanks for checking in, Mike. Couple things here: 1) The Patriots clearly like his skill set in certain spots. They asked him to check Le'Veon Bell on third down for much of that game last weekend, which is a difficult assignment for any regular, never mind a player who is primarily a special-teamer and has seen his defensive play count dip into the single digits on four different occasions this year. 2) I'm not sure they'd ask him to play in those spots if they had their regulars healthy and ready to go. If, for instance, Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were available, that would improve the depth at the second level, and Richards probably wouldn't be counted on as much in some of those situations. They can dock his playing time -- that attempted tackle at the end of the game could have been handled differently from a technique standpoint, as Jerod Mayo noted on Quick Slants the Podcast this week -- but their options are limited because of injuries.
PP: Can confirm he is still with us, Abdul! Shoulder still a bit of an issue, but would not be surprised to see him this weekend after a week off. Saw him have some issues as a blocker and getting off the line of scrimmage in Miami, so look for that sort of thing on Sunday to get a sense for how he's feeling.
How will the Patriots replace Alan Branch scheme-wise?— Cap Space=$3,915,281 (@patscap) December 22, 2017
PP: The way they coped last weekend was with more Ricky Jean Francois, who I thought played very well in the 20 snaps he saw. Adam Butler actually saw his playing time drop from 55 snaps in Miami (with Branch injured for most of that game) to 19 snaps. You'll also just get heavier doses of Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy. Brown has seen more snaps in the last two games than any other two games this season, and Guy has seen two of his three highest snap-counts in the last couple of weeks. They've both been very good of late.
Does Mike Gillislee get back on the field this week with Burkhead down?— Ryan Villard (@RyanVillard) December 22, 2017
PP: Certainly looks that way, Ry. Would be his first game since the bye week. I'd assume the Patriots will utilize more Dion Lewis with Burkhead out, but don't be surprised if you see some Gillislee on first down or down by the goal line. The Patriots loved Burkhead near the end zone because of his physical running style, and because he could be split out wide and used as a receiver. Gillislee has the physicality part down, but doesn't bring the same receiving threat Burkhead did. Will be interesting to see if Josh McDaniels goes with Lewis or Gillislee in those spots.
Looking with an eye to the future, how high on the importance list is drafting a future QB? This upcoming Year?— Rob (@IronRooster315) December 22, 2017
PP: This is a very good tease for some of our upcoming year-end content, Rob! Keep an eye our for that. But I believe finding a quarterback should be No. 1 on the list of priorities for Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort. If they believe there's no one worth reaching for, then that's one thing. But if they've found someone they think has a shot to be the next guy, I think they have to be ready to use a first-round pick -- or even trade up into a higher first-round slot to make sure they get their guy. It's that important.
Is Kraft and Bill on the same page regarding Brady and Jimmy? Yes, no or nobody knows? #FidayBag— Rich Powell (@cultmojo) December 22, 2017
PP: My belief is that they were on the same page, as much as Belichick would've liked to hold onto Garoppolo. 1) Garoppolo held the cards in this instance. He wouldn't sign a bridge contract. 2) The Patriots weren't willing to use the franchise tag to keep him. Too much cash for one position. And 3) I don't see Belichick pounding his fist on the table to trade the greatest quarterback of all time who is currently the front-runner to be named the league's MVP. The timeline just didn't work out the way the Patriots envisioned it might. Now it's back to the drawing board to find the next guy.
How about TB12 and Giselle buy the Panthers? They’ve got the cash flow. #FridayBag— J. Patrick Rollo (@ThePatrickRollo) December 22, 2017
PP: Would be a helluva Christmas gift for Jack, Benny and Viv. Don't tell me that trio can't do at least as well as some of the owners running teams around the league.
Do you think Gillislee being inactive for the past month or so gives him the fresh legs that will bolster the Pats running game, especially facing his old team? (Hint: I think it does and he’ll be a monster this week)— TJ Hubbard (@TJ_Hubbard) December 21, 2017
MG: TJ, Gillislee is not about to supplant Dion Lewis but I could envision a scenario in which the Pats get up a couple of scores and Belichick uses the former Bill a little more liberally against his old team for a couple of reasons. 1) To protect Lewis, who’s had a heavier load than they imagined would be the case with such a deep running back group and 2) as a tip of the hat to Gillilslee for being a pro’s pro during a difficult time. He’s not been a divisive figure at all despite the spate of inactives.
hello michael do you see the kenny britt getting more snaps this sunday and in the future— black boston sports fan (@michaelis4real) December 21, 2017
MG: Michael, he only got a pair of snaps Sunday in Pittsburgh so I’d say he surpasses that. But to me, the big Britt game will be the following Sunday versus the Jets. That’ll be the big test to see how much of a factor he could be in the playoffs.
Via @MMMX_R on Twitter: Couple weeks back the defense looked very solid, only missing link is KVN, [Kyle Van Noy] he make that much of a difference?
MG: I don’t think it’s just the absence of Kyle Van Noy, but he’s become a far more valuable piece than anyone could have imagined. His versatility has been sorely missed these few weeks, and there are countless examples where others haven’t shown the same skill/discipline/football IQ when thrust into Van Noy’s many roles. It was a smart in-season trade a year ago and a smart re-signing this year.
Since the inevitable injury to Hightower took place, seems as though the LB core was not fully prepared/depth not addressed. Why??— Chris (@CSarge8) December 21, 2017
MG: Sarge, it wasn’t just the injury to Hightower that has thinned the ranks. Derek Rivers would have impacted that group in some way, shape or form and he was lost in August. Van Noy’s recent calf injury has also thrown the group for a loop. That’s three players who are either stars/starters or future starters erased from the lineup. Oh, and let’s not forget Ninkovich and his summertime retirement. I don’t think the Pats were negligent but I wouldn’t be surprised if they spend a little draft and/or free agency capital on the position this offseason.
Could the Guerrero saga throw a wrench into the assumption that TB will re-structure to help NE save cap money in the offseason?— Brett Bosse (@brett8055) December 21, 2017
MG: I don’t think so, Brett. As long as Tom Brady remains true to his often-stated desire to be a Patriot for a life, I think they’ll work something out. But the Guerrero thing will certainly be revisited in the offseason. There’s no doubt about that.
Will Gronk's role be altered for grudge match against Bills? Did Gronk reach $5M incentive be making Pro Bowl?— Tom Tierney (@tom_tearknee) December 21, 2017
MG: About the only thing you could do from a schematic standpoint to protect Gronk would be to send him down the seams. They won’t do that. They’re going to trust that the league is on top of those earlier threats and the officials will be as well. I think the fact that the Bills have a playoff spot to fight for also helps. Can’t go rogue and cheap shot Gronk and risk a potential ejection /suspension that could cost you games and - depending on who you are - alter your team’s chances going forward. Also, Gronk can get his big incentives by making the Pro Bowl. And he should but I could see Travis Kelce sneaking ahead of him (even if he can’t hold Gronk’s jock).