Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 9/17/2003

Not quite yet...

After a classic Jeckyl and Hyde start to the 2003 season, everyone seems content on debating whether the real Patriots were the ones who showed up in Philly last week, or the team that failed to show up at all in Buffalo on opening day. From my own personal experience, the answer should be "not enough information given." (This was actually a correct answer to many a question on my 10th grade math teacher's exams).

So much of how we'll ultimately answer that question depends on how the Bills and Eagles look a few weeks from now. Are the Bills simply that good and the Eagles simply that bad? Only time will tell.

How good did the 2002 Patriots look after the first three weeks of the season? They throttled the Steelers at home and the Jets on the road, each a 2001 playoff team, by a combined score of 74-21. In week 3, they followed up by beating the explosive Chiefs in overtime 41-38. Would anyone have guessed at that time that the Pats would finish out the season 6-7 and not beat a winning team again until week 17? Would even the greatest pessimist among us have foreseen the Pats offense struggling to score points the rest of the way? Let's not put the 2003 Bills and Redskins in the Super Bowl just yet.

One thing this should teach us all, if you haven't learned this already, is that few conclusions can be drawn from preseason contests, or from just two consecutive weeks of regular season play, be they weeks 1 & 2 or weeks 9 & 10. How do the 2003 Patriots look? Let's wait a few more Sundays before we try to answer that question.

It's not when you win games over the course of a season, but how many. You need look no further than the AFC East for proof positive of that, with the 2001 Patriots, 2002 Patriots and 2002 Jets the poster children for not drawing conclusions before the official end of the summer.

Be afraid...

If we can't draw any conclusions on the 1-1 2003 Patriots after two weeks, then likewise we can't assume the 0-2 2003 Jets are a pushover. After a week 1 Monday night road victory, the back-to-back talk had gained a ton of momentum in Tampa Bay. What happens a week later? They drop their home opener to the Panthers. Is there really such a thing as an "upset" in the NFL any more?

While the struggling Jets are currently 6.5 underdogs in Vegas, would-be bettors should take note that the last time the Patriots beat the Jets in Foxboro, Curtis Martin rushed for 199 yards - in a Patriots uniform. That was "Tuna Bowl I" in September of 1997, where a blocked John Hall field goal on the last play of regulation prevented a would-be Jets upset, forcing overtime where the Patriots ultimately prevailed 27-24. The Patriots were defending AFC Champions and the Jets were coming off a 1-15 season. Blowout? Not exactly.

Following the 1997 season, Curtis Martin bolted the Pats for the Jets, and heading into his 6th season with Gang Green, Martin's Jets have yet to lose a game in Foxboro. None of the 5 contests have been closer than a touchdown, with the average margin of victory in excess of 9 points.

A lot of columns in the local press this week thus far have called this a "trap game." How could the Patriots possibly take a team lightly that quite simply has owned them in their own stadium since the Clinton administration was just halfway through it's 2nd term? The Jets have indeed looked off their game the past two weeks, but you can bet Herman Edwards will stop at nothing to prevent an 0-3 start.

Don't get me wrong here - I'm not predicting a Jets victory, but coming off an impressive win in Philly to face an 0-2 team in your home opener is no excuse to let one's guard down.

Checkpoint...

A luxury not afforded players and coaches, we fans can feel free to look ahead all we want. After the Pats were obliterated in Buffalo, talk radio was full of "I told you so's" from glass half empty callers who were convinced the Patriots were a 5-11 team, and not one destined for the post season.

As disappointed as I was with the loss (boy, that was a long bus ride home), I never second-guessed my 10-6 prediction in my last column. While I mentioned then that I had factored in an 0-2 start, allow me to take my logic a few steps further.

The Patriots, along with their divisional brethren, face a very tough 2003 schedule. Not only will the AFC East undoubtedly beat up on one another, but also facing the NFC East as well as an improved AFC South is a tough task.

Looking at the schedule, the bye week on November 9 seems to divide the Patriots season right down the middle. In terms of games played, the bye week of course comes after the halfway mark, but in terms of strength of schedule, there is a distinct before and after difference.

The 9 games prior to the bye week include 5 road contests against teams who play their home games in very tough stadiums for a visitor to emerge with a "W." Even pre-Bledsoe, Buffalo has always been a tough place to play, and the Patriots struggle in Miami and Denver are well documented. The Redskins, no matter their coach or their record, are always a tough team to beat before 75,000+ crazed fans in FedEx Field. Although the trip to Philly proved to be easier than anticipated, aren't you glad the Patriots don't have to go back there again?

The home games before the bye week are also daunting. I just spent a few paragraphs chronicling the Jets successes in the Bay State, and the Titans, Giants and Browns were all 2002 playoff teams. Now at 1-1 with 4 of their next 7 at home, the Patriots would do well to hit their bye week at a mediocre 5-4.

Following the break, the Patriots will play 4 of their final 7 games at home, beginning with a Sunday night ESPN game against the Cowboys. Let's hope the Patriots can learn a thing or two from the Giants game and never, ever, underestimate the Tuna. Perennial home win Miami is the next team in town. Ricky Williams can run wild and the Pats will still win that game - it's just one of those few NFL unexplainable certainties. The rebuilding Jaguars are the 2nd Florida team to fly into the December chill, and the 2003 season wraps up with a score to settle on December 27th against the Bills.

While there's no such thing as a "winnable" road game in this league and "should" reads like an elongated 4-letter word, you have to like the Pats chances out of state in the 2nd half as well. Romeo Crennel's defense should give the still young Houston offense fits, and the Patriots, even pre-BB, have always matched up well against Peyton Manning and the Colts. A Saturday night affair looms large in the Meadowlands, but the Patriots have enjoyed far better success in the Jersey swamps (2-1) than at home (0-3) in the Belichick era.

Is a 5-2 run to close out the season that far fetched? Maybe so, but that's my math - 5 wins in the first 9 followed by 5 wins in the final 7. The Patriots are destined to lose games that I have down as a "W," but then again, they've already won a game I had chalked up as an "L" when the schedule was released last April.

Agree or disagree with my 10-win prediction, but at least now you know I put more thought into it than coin-flipping, although heads or tails 16 times often proves to be the more effective forecasting model.

Final thoughts on Lawyer Milloy...

Are you kidding me? Do you think I'd waste any more space in this column on a player who hates everything Patriots and who we won't see until after Christmas?

See you next week, and Go Pats!