Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Boston Red Sox Infield: What the BoSox Should Do

There's no doubt the Boston Red Sox have some holes to fill before the 2013 season begins.  Ben Cherington needs to get to work if he wants to improve the team that tied Miami for seventh-worst record in Major League Baseball last season.  One of the areas that definitely needs help is the infield.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, there is a relative dearth of talent among free agent infielders this offseason, particularly when it comes to first basemen.  The best first baseman available this offseason via free agency is Carlos Lee, who hit .264 in 2012 as a member of the Astros and Marlins.  Yikes.  Go down the rest of the list and you'll find the rest of the players are even older than Lee (Jason Giambi and Jim Thome), offensively inept (Eric Hinske and Xavier Nady, for instance), or were injured a great deal last season (Lance Berkman).  The next-best hitter to Lee is Lyle Overbay, who hit .259 last season but went just 2 for 20 (.100 batting average) after he was traded from Arizona to Atlanta.  

So the best statistical option for the Red Sox at first base is to attempt to sign Lee and let James Loney, who hit just .230 in his 30 games as a Sock last year, walk.  

The options at shortstop for the Sox include starting Pedro Ciriaco or Jose Iglesias, or finding a player via free agency.  Jose Iglesias is purported to be an excellent defensive player, but his offensive numbers are absolutely dreadful.  And the Sox should probably get a free agent third baseman through free agency, which leaves Ciriaco as the starter at short for Boston next season.  He did hit well in his time with the Sox this past season, and is comparable to Iglesias in career fielding percentage as a shortstop(.976 for Ciriaco versus .981 for Iglesias).  

Why do the Sox need a free agent third baseman?  Will Middlebrooks has a career fielding percentage of .949 as a third baseman, and Ciriaco is even worse at the hot corner (.932 fielding percentage).  

Jeff Keppinger is named on Cot's Baseball Contracts' (the site where all the names of free agents on this blog post came from) list of potential free agents  as a second baseman.  He's able to play third too, however, which is definitely a reason for the Sox to go after him.  He has a .964 fielding percentage at that spot, which, though nothing to get overly excited about, is certainly an improvement from the defensive stats of Middlebrooks and Ciriaco.  His batting average and on-base percentage were also very good last season with the Rays, which would add more AVG and OBP depth to a lineup which should be very good in such statistics if they follow the advice of this blog.  

The last position of the infield is second baseman, which the Sox luckily have covered with Dustin Pedroia.  Beyond second-base, though, the GM of Boston should be very busy in the coming months putting together a decent team, and a reliable infield.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

State of the Rotation: What New York Yankees Should do About Their Starters

Despite the fact that some sportswriters were calling for an overhaul of the Yankee position players in recent weeks, the team's starting pitching staff also needs a bit of a tweak. Following the 2012 MLB All-Star Game, Ivan "Super Nova" Nova's ERA exploded, and he pitched to an ERA of 7.05, more than three runs higher than his pre-mid-summer classic ERA of 3.92.

Freddy Garcia was also unimpressive as a starter this season, pitching to an ERA of 5.93 in 17 starts.  

Combine the ERAs of those two pitchers with the fact that Andy Pettitte isn't guaranteed to return to the mound next season, and the Yankees need to be shopping for a starting pitcher or two in addition to their other needs (such as a designated hitter and a backup outfielder).

One way the Yanks could get a new pitcher is through free agency.  There aren't a lot of big-name pitchers in the market this year, but that could work to the Bombers' advantage since they'd like to decrease their payroll.  

Any new additions to the New York Yankees' starting rotation should have the following requirements: low ERA, young, come relatively cheap, and give up few home runs (Yankee Stadium is a home run haven, so the ideal starting pitcher for the Yanks will be able to keep the ball in the park during the majority of his starts).   

So who should the Yankees try to signPerhaps they should start with Mat Latos.  He's only 24, yet has been pitching in the majors since July 2009 and has put up consistently good numbers thus far in his career.  In his 105 starts he's gone 41-33 with a 3.41 ERA and 64 home runs surrendered.  He made just over $0.5 million last season, and despite his sneakily good numbers, his salary has only climbed a tiny bit each year.  Maybe the Yankees can sign him for a minimal deal (perhaps $1 million or so will do?).  

The second-best choice for the Yankees would be Jarrod Parker, who has given up only 11 home runs in his 30 career starts.  As long he continues to keep the ball in play, he should be able to maintain his success if he really does don pinstripes.  He also has a relatively low 3.37 career ERA and is only 23, so he just might be the perfect fit for the Yanks.

One final choice for the Yankees: Kris Medlen.  Medlen, who has spent his first four seasons with the Atlanta Braves, has incredible numbers in his 30 games as a starter: 15-2 record, 2.81 ERA, 19 home runs given up, and a 1.059 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched).  He might also come cheap, since he made less than $0.5 million in each of the last three seasons (his 2009 salary wasn't given on Cot's).  The only problem with Medlen is that he hasn't been a full-time starter during his Major League tenure, making three times as many relief appearances (90) as he has starts (30).  

The Yankees should be able to compete as always in 2013, and should be able to perform even better should they succeed in signing any one of these three pitchers.  Any of them would be an upgrade over Nova or Garcia, and Latos and Medlen in particular probably won't explode, given that they've got some MLB experience under their belts and have pitched well thus far in their careers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John Farrell Is a Good Fit for the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox got their man.  Just a few weeks after MLB's regular season ended, they succeeded in bringing back former pitching coach John Farrell as manager following his two-year stint as skipper of the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Boston Red Sox got their man.

More importantly, they got the right man.

Yesterday, Farrell gave a speech following his introduction as manager of the Sox.  "Our effort is controlled, every night, it's something we can control, and to give forth our best effort is a minimum," Farrell said.  

Note: This video was copied from a page on the website  All information about the press conference was taken from the video.

Farrell then want on to say immediately after talking about effort that, "As far as dealing with players...I firmly believe there is an amount of professionalism that every player that comes to the big leagues and certainly that would come to the Red Sox here would have.  That guides their preparation, their motivation, all those...adjectives that you can attest to it, or attach to it.  But, most importantly, because I've been here before, there will be no taking for granted that relationships exist.  I will work my butt off to earn their trust, earn their respect, and create an environment in that clubhouse that is just that: it's a trusting one, it'll be a learning one, and, yes, it'll be a competitive one and hopefully a very successful one at the same time."

Wow.  Forget the numbers.  Forget the records.  Forget everything.  

It's time for the Red Sox to permanently cleanse themselves of the "chicken and beer"fiasco, of the 7-20 finish to the 2011 season, of the general disrespect players felt towards the last manager.  From this speech, John Farrell seems to be the right man for the job.  He can play a huge role in fixing the team by helping everyone drop the attitudes that took the Sox from first to worst in just over one calendar year.  

A nice kick in the pants is probably what both the seasoned vets and untested rookies need to get the old, unproductive attitudes permanently off the team and re-introduce winning attitudes into the clubhouse.  From this speech, Farrell really seems like he's a "my way or the highway" kind of manager.  He'll require that all the players respect him in the locker room, and also that they respect him on the field by playing to the absolute best of their physical abilities.  

"As far as dealing with players...I firmly believe there is an amount of professionalism that every player that comes to the big leagues and certainly that would come to the Red Sox here would have," Farrell said.

Here it seems like Farrell's trying to say that disrespect won't cut it on this team.  It seems like he might believe that in order to play Major League Baseball,  you take whatever the manager says is your place in the lineup on any given night and accept it.  He won't tolerate backlash for the choices he makes, it seems he's saying here.  Exactly the kind of toughness a team that's been imbued with negativity needs.  

"Our effort is controlled, every night, it's something we can control, and to give forth out best effort is a minimum," Farrell said.

The translation here?  Anything less than your hardest play on the baseball diamond is unacceptable.  That attitude is more of the recipe for success that goes not just for the Sox but for any team in any sport.  Get the players to perform at their personal peak on a daily basis.

The list of problems for the Red Sox is about a mile long.  But with the right man at the helm of the crew, the ship can be steered in the right direction once again.  

The Red Sox got their man, and they got the right man.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

New York Yankees: What the Bronx Bombers Should do About Alex Rodriguez and the Rest of Their Crew

The New York Yankees capped off a 95-win season with a spectacular collapse against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.  Now it seems like everyone on ESPN is talking about what they should do with their lineup.  If you want some answers, see below.

First of all, the Yanks will have to get rid of Alex Rodriguez.  If they put him and Curtis Granderson in a package together, maybe, just maybe, they can get Miami to give up Jose Reyes (I think Ben Shapiro was the first writer I read who mentioned a potential A-Rod to Reyes trade).  There's no doubt this is a crazy idea, but this is the same team that signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett in the same offseason.  Anything's possible.

But if Jose Reyes is at shortstop, you can't have Derek Jeter at the same position.  What should the Yankees do?  Move the captain to third base to replaced the departed A-Rod.  Jeter's getting old, and will be coming off a broken ankle in 2013, so putting him at an easier defensive position should help him keep playing a little longer.  

As for Robinson Cano, don't pick up his option for 2013.  Instead, restructure his contract and lock him up for the next five years.  He'll turn 30 in just a few days (October 22), a relatively young age for a baseball player, so it would be wise to sign him through 2017 to ensure the all-star stays in New York for years to come (A article noted one of the Yanks options when it comes to Cano is a contract extension).

So next season the Bronx Bomber infield should look like this: Mark Teixeira at first, Robinson Cano at second, Jose Reyes at shortstop, and Derek Jeter at third.  

As for the outfield, enter Yankee money.  There's some guy down in Texas named Josh Hamilton who's a free agent this season and would be a perfect fit to the Yankees' lineup.  What's that?  He comes with some baggage?  No problem.  In New York, bad athletes go good (An idea that came from my father, Matt, Sr.).  Kerry Collins had a drinking problem, but he led the New York Giants to Super Bowl XXXV upon arriving in Gotham.  The new New York Yankee way is supposed to be spending less money, but that won't be a possibility if they want to continue producing on the field year in and year out, so it would be wise to go get The Hammer.

Corner outfielders: re-sign Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, but let Nick Swisher walk.  Ichiro had a fielding percentage of 1.000 as a Yankee last season, and his .340 OBP (on-base percentage) as a Bomber was just 25 points below his career number.  Plus, he also had 29 steals, 14 in his 67 games as a Yank.  These are the kind of statistics the Yankees need: good defense and an offensive player that can help the team fabricate runs.  Keep Suzuki in New York for one more season. 

As for Gardner, fingers crossed that he returns to pre-2012 form.  If so, he'll get on base enough as a number two hitter for Cano, Teixeira, and Hamilton to drive him in on a regular basis.

Behind the plate, Russell Martin will do the Yankees just fine.  He's got the defensive skills, but his offensive numbers are lacking quite a bit.  Hit him eighth or ninth, and let his defensive skills make up for his deficiencies with the bat.

Last, but certainly not least, sign Raul Ibanez for one more season to play the DH spot.  His numbers for 2012 stand just a tad below his career stats, but he came through in so many situations for the Yankees this season that he really deserves another year in the Bronx.  

So in sum, replace Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson with Jose Reyes and Josh Hamilton, move Jeter to third, ditch Swish, and keep everyone else the same.  It might be a little bit crazy, but these are they Yankees after all.

Anything's possible.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New England Patriots: Why the Team Won't be Hoisting Another Silver Trophy This Year

          If you were to pick one word to describe the New England Patriots this season, the term “inconsistent” might fit perfectly.  The same offense that hung 52 points on the Bills took more than 57 minutes to find the end zone against the Cardinals.  The same defense that had more yards on a fumble return-touchdown in Week 1(6) than Chris Johnson had running the ball for the Titans (4) gave up 101 yards to Ray Rice in Week 3. And the same team that beat the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos let the low-scoring Seahawks have their second-highest offensive output of the season with 24 points.

            New England Patriots fans, it is time to face the music.  This 3-3-0 team that has taken the region on a roller coaster ride for the first six weeks isn’t the real deal.  There are too many inconsistencies in the formerly well-oiled machine that is the New England Patriots to say they are going to be the team everyone predicted they’d be coming into this season.

            Now take a look at the offensive output of the Pats.  They scored like nobody’s business when they went to Orchard Park, New York, but the number of touchdowns they scored in the fourth quarter against the Bills (4) outnumbered the total number of TDs they managed against Arizona and Seattle (3). The reason the Patriots lost to the Cards and ‘Hawks wasn’t because they couldn’t move the ball.  It was because they couldn’t find the end zone against good defenses.  Unless you have a defense full of absolute studs, which the Patriots do not, you have to get the ball across the goal line, not just through the uprights, to win football games.  New England hasn’t shown they can score touchdowns against tougher defensive teams.  

            And it’s not only the Patriots overall offense that’s taking on a Jekyll & Hyde persona this season, but the New England running game seems to come in ebbs and flows as well.  The Patriots have been held to under 100 yards rushing as a team in each of their three losses, but have gone for at least 162 yards on the ground in every win. 

            Even worse for the Patriots: the performance of the run game is a bit of a head scratcher statistically.  They netted 87 yards rushing against a Seattle defense that’s given up the second-fewest yards rushing per game this season at 70.0. Understandable. But three weeks earlier they had only 77 yards on the ground against Baltimore, currently ranked 26th in the NFL in yards rushing allowed per game with 136.5.  What will Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Bolden do this weekend?  They could go for 300 yards, but they might get held under the century mark too.  They’re just too unpredictable to be able to know what they’re going to do against the Jets and their defense that’s 28th in the NFL in yards rushing allowed per game (150.5).  When you’re relying on your ground game to help carry the offense to the extent the Patriots have been, the fact that the rushing attack only performs in certain seemingly random games is problematic for attempting to guarantee success.
Then there’s that nasty little injury bug that the Patriots seem to have been bitten by this season.  They lost Aaron Hernandez for three games (four really when you consider that he only made it through three plays of the game against the Cardinals).  Everybody from Tom Brady to Dont’a Hightower has been listed on someone’s injury report at one time or another.  And currently says ten active players are “questionable for Sunday’s game against the NY Jets.” 

Having so many guys nicked up can’t be a recipe for success in the NFL. Take a look at the injury reports of some of the best teams in the league.  The 6-0-0 Atlanta Falcons have just three members of their active roster who are questionable for their next game (October 28 against the Eagles).  Ditto for the 5-1-0 Baltimore Ravens.  And the Houston Texans are in even better position: One member of their active roster is doubtful for the team’s game this weekend, one is described as "out indefinitely," and one is going to be placed injured reserve.  Everyone else is either probable, or not injured.

So New England, prepare for yet another year without a Super Bowl victory.  The Patriots will win enough games to make the playoffs, but will eventually be defeated by a better, more consistent opponent, making it yet another that the New England area will have to suffer through a Lombardi-less offseason.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Concussions, and the Lessons Learned from Having Them

Over the last couple of days the issue of concussions re-emerged as a news topic in the form of athletes who continue to compete despite being injured.  An article by David Newton stated Dale Earnhardt, Jr. hadn't disclosed that he was feeling symptoms of a head injury because he wanted to try for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

And from yesterday's article by Marc Sessler, it seems Calvin Johnson recently hid head trauma as well.  Sessler quoted Johnson: "'He rung my bell pretty good, he got me, he caught me around the chin, that was a good hit,' Johnson told WXYT-FM in Detroit. 'It's part of football, you get concussed, you gotta keep on playing.  You can't get afraid to go across the middle any more than you were at the beginning.'"  

Later in the article, Sessler writes, "Johnson later admitted to reporters Thursday that he believed he had suffered a concussion," though doesn't indicate whether Johnson thought that during that game or after it.

Playing after suffering head trauma isn't a good idea.  I can say this with confidence because my own experiences told me so.

In September 2010, my senior year at McDaniel College, I suffered the second concussion of my football career while running down the practice field on a kickoff.  After spending a few days continuing to participate in football activities (if memory serves me correctly, my line of thinking was that I would get better during the easier practice days), I went to the athletic trainer.

But I was never one to like standing on the sideline.  More than anything else, I think it was my obsessive "never take a day off even if you want to" mentality that wouldn't let me stay out more than a couple of days.  So after just two missed practices, I told the trainer I felt okay, even though I didn't, and started practicing again.  

It was all well and good until I got sandwiched between two of my teammates during a drill about five days later.  If memory serves me correctly, I immediately felt nauseous following the hit, and watching a YouTube video in the computer lab later that night made me feel tired, made me feel like I was going to vomit, and made me feel like my head was going to explode.  

That second hit effectively ended my football career about six weeks early.  I tried to practice again later in the season, only to get pulled out by the athletic trainer once he realized I was still feeling concussion symptoms.  I thought about trying for another season of eligibility, but scrapped the idea in part because it made no sense from a journalism career standpoint.

Unfortunately, calling the head football coach in early January 2011 to say that I wasn't going to play football anymore didn't end the concussion.  When I returned to McDaniel for the Spring 2011 semester, I was still sensitive to light among other things, so looking at a computer screen for too long was out of the question.  That meant I wrote out all my papers by hand before typing them up.  

In April 2011, I tried to participate in a half-credit weightlifting class, but blood flow isn't good for concussions, and pumping iron brought back the dizziness and nausea that had previously subsided.

Fast forward to October 2012 and though the most intense symptoms are now a memory, my right ear is actually still ringing, though that symptom went away for a short time before returning following a late night computer-using session a few weeks ago.  

So what are the lessons to be learned here?  To Mr. Johnson, Mr. Earnhardt, and all other athletes out there who think they're tough enough to play with a concussion: Be honest about what you're feeling.  There are certain injuries you just shouldn't play with, and concussions are one of them.  Play the what-if game for just a minute and imagine if I'd lied about the injury during my freshman year instead.  I'd have ended my football career a few years early as opposed to six weeks.  

Play another what-if game: I probably could have killed myself by continuing to play with a concussion.  

Competing for the rest of the game, or the rest of the season, isn't worth the risk of ending your career, or, in extreme cases, your life.  Take it from someone who ended his sports career six weeks early and could have had it much worse.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

New England Patriots Defeat Denver Broncos in Game Billed as Peyton Manning-Tom Brady Bowl

Sunday afternoon's game in Foxborough was supposed to be the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady bowl, but it turned out to be the Stevan Ridley-Danny Woodhead-Brandon Bolden show instead.  It also had the makings of a blowout near the end of the third, when Ridley rushed for an 8-yard touchdown to put New England up 31-7.  

Peyton Manning tried to do his part to live up to the game's billing, though, leading the Broncos back with two touchdown drives to put Denver within 10 points of New England.  

But in the end, New England and its running backs prevailed with a little help from the defensive line.  With Denver driving deep in New England territory late in the fourth, Rob Ninkovich forced a Willis McGahee fumble that was recovered by Jermaine Cunningham.  New England proceeded to run out the clock, preserving their 31-21 victory.

The Patriots amassed 251 yards rushing Sunday, their biggest performance as a team since going for 277 on December 14, 2008, in Oakland.  And though Ridley netted 151 of their yards on the ground, the Pats used Woodhead, Bolden, and even Shane Vereen in their offensive attack, getting positive results from every RB. 

On their third offensive drive of the game, Woodhead and Ridley each contributed at least one first down.  Shane Vereen finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on his only carry of the game to put New England up 14-7.

Then, on New England's second offensive drive after halftime, Ridley went for 19 yards on a second-and-10 that was the second play of the drive.  Six plays later, Woodhead ran 19 yards on a third-and-17 at the Patriots 43-yard line.  It was the second time Woodhead had converted a third-and-long in the game.  The Patriots continued to march down the field, and Tom Brady got in on the fun with his own 1-yard touchdown to make it 24-7 New England.  

Not to be outdone by the ground game, Wes Welker also put together a 100-yard performance, gaining 104 yards on 13 receptions, three more catches than the rest of the Patriots offense combined.  The last of his grabs was for 6 yards on a third-and-3 just before the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter that kept New England's clock-draining drive going.  Welker also netted the game's first TD on a short route into the left flat, adjusting to haul in a Tom Brady pass that went behind him.

But as well as Welker and the running backs played, Stevan Ridley gave Manning and the Broncos one more shot at a comeback near the end of the game.  On a first-and-10 with New England leading 31-21, a Ridley fumble was recovered by the Broncos.  Manning then drove Denver down the field, first with a 17-yard completion to Jacob Tamme, then with a gutsy 28-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas on fourth-and-one at the New England 42.  

Then Rob Ninkovich saved the day with a forced fumble on Denver's own star running back Willis McGahee, and New England closed the game with their clock-draining drive.

Next week the Patriots head to Seattle, where their suddenly powerful ground game will be tested against a Seahawk defense that, entering play on Sunday, had allowed the second-fewest yards rushing per attempt in the NFL this season at 3.0 yards per carry.  Should the New England decide to continue running the ball next Sunday afternoon, the performance of the RBs should be a telling sign of how potent the team's rushing attack will be the rest of this year.  We'll soon find out whether Stevan Ridley and Co. can keep up the good work.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

MLB Playoffs: What Major League Baseball Should do About the Wild Card

A little more than an hour from now, the MLB will, for the first time in its history, hold a single-game wild-card round to begin its playoffs.

I think it's a bad idea.

It's silly to me to have a playoff round that's single-elimination in baseball.  Sure, I like the tension of a one-game playoff, but every game in the regular season and playoffs, besides today's games, is part of a series.   Why, then, would you have one round of the playoffs that's sudden death?  The inconsistency just doesn't make sense to me.

So I'm proposing a solution.

In the August 29, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated, Joe Posnanski wrote a column in which he argued for MLB to re-adopt a 154-game season.

"Just about everyone in the game understands that something must be done," he wrote.  "The season is too long.  And it will probably get longer: The owners seem all but certain to add another wild-card playoff round, as early as next year.  This means that, counting spring training, regular season and postseason games, a team could end up playing some 220 games in a season."

A couple people have said to me that if they played this new wild-card round as a series the season would be too long.  And I think they're right.  So why not take Posnanski's advice and trim eight games off the regular-season schedule?  That way, you'd have enough time to fit a three-game series between each league's two wild-card teams, thereby preserving the consistency of Major League Baseball's scheduling.

I'll admit that I have a couple of reservations about this idea.  First is the fact that I'm so used to a 162-game season, it would be strange to see everyone play just 154.  But after a few years, I'm sure I'd get used to no problem there.

Second, the five-team playoff is also kind of throwing me.  But again, I'll get used to it.  Even if I wasn't going to, I don't think I have any say in the matter: They're starting it in just over an hour.

The last problem is a little more significant.  By adding a three-game series between the two wild-cards in each league, you're increasing the amount of time they'll have to play each other.  That means you're also increasing the amount of rest time for division-winners, which, depending on the circumstances, could be an advantage or a disadvantage.  It's an advantage if the team's going through a lot of injuries, but it's a disadvantage if the team is really hot and has a lot of momentum.  

I'll openly admit that I'm not sure how you would, or even could, fix this problem.  

But no matter how you slice it, if we're going to have five teams in the playoffs for each league, it's a little funny to start with a single-elimination round.  Everything else in the sport of baseball is a series, so it just doesn't make any sense to me.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New England Patriots: Quarter Mark Report and Looking Forward

It's been four weeks since the NFL regular season officially began, so it's time to take a look at the New England Patriots performance over their first four games and project how they'll do the rest of the year.

In two of the first three games this season, New England struggled to put together a true team performance where offense, defense, and special teams all played well.  In Week 2, good defense kept the Pats in the game until the very end but the offense sputtered and couldn't reclaim the lead at the end of the game due to miscues by Rob Gronkowski and last-second field goal miss by Stephen Gostkowski.  

In Week 3, the opposite was true.  The offense did its part to win the game, but the defense failed to grasp opportunities that fell right into their hands.  The Pats' defensive backs missed three potential interceptions,  and a pass interference call on Devin McCourty at the end of the game sped up Joe Flacco's two-minute drive by putting Baltimore at the New England 7-yard line with 52 seconds to play.  

On the other hand, New England was pretty consistent across the board in Week 1 against Tennessee, and, though I wasn't able to watch the game this past Sunday, it seems like they finally put together a full team effort against the Bills in their 52-28 victory.  

But I still think the Patriots need to improve.  They've proven they can be consistent against weaker opponents, but can they move the ball and score against teams with good defenses (Arizona) or stop the teams that can go toe-to-toe with their offensive output (Baltimore)?

The key now will be whether the Patriots can have the kind of success they had this past Sunday in the coming weeks when they play more worthy opponents.    

Denver is led by quarterback Peyton Manning, whose football mind is always an asset.  

Then there's Seattle, which has the second-lowest points allowed per game with 14.5.  There's a reason this will be a big test for the Pats: Arizona, the team that shut down Josh McDaniels' offense and sacked Tom Brady four times, is ranked third in the NFL in points allowed per game with 15.2.  If New England wants to establish itself as an elite team this year, they have to not only defeat the Broncos, but prove themselves in all phases of the game against the teams that are tops in the NFL.  That includes being able to score against the Seattle Seahawks.  

So what else is there to expect in the other three-quarters of the season for the Patriots?

Their schedule includes the rest of the NFC West: Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis.  The Patriots should dispense of St. Louis, but could have some trouble with the Seahawks and 49ers.  They struggled against Arizona's potent defense, and Seattle and San Francisco also boast low points per game averages and could potentially halt the Patriots' O.  I'm predicting New England beats Seattle, but loses to San Fran.  

Then the Pats also face off against the rest of the AFC South.  I can't see either the Jaguars or Colts being too much of a problem. 

But the Houston Texans on the other hand could very well be trouble. The Texans are currently 4-0-0, and they could be every bit as good as their record suggests.  Their average margin of victory is 17.5 points per game, and they rank first in scoring defense (14 ppg) and second in scoring offense (31.5 ppg).  In a word, they're really, really good.  I think New England could end up having some trouble against them.  

The Pats also play the rest of their own division, which is relatively weak.  They'll go 4-1 against their AFC East rivals, losing to either Buffalo or the New York Jets.  Teams in the NFL see their divisional rivals so frequently that it's extremely difficult to beat everybody twice.

So based on what I've seen so far with New England, I think they'll end up 11-5-0 this year.  They've showed some prowess, but given their showings against Arizona and Baltimore, they have yet to prove they can put together a full team performance against a truly elite squad like Houston or San Francisco.  If they want to establish themselves as true title contenders, they have to start showing they can play well in every facet of the game of football.