No Gronk, No Problem as Patriots will lean Heavily on Vereen

shane-vereenThis week brought terrible news for the New England Patriots as they found out that Rob Gronkowski is done for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. So while Gronk now focuses on his February cameo in the “Entourage” movie, New England has to find a way to replace one of the NFL’s top two tight ends.

This is certainly no easy task either, when you consider that the 6’6″ pass-catching machine racked up 592 yards and 4 touchdowns in just 7 games this season. But if there’s anybody capable of softening this blow, it’s running back Shane Vereen.

Vereen has no doubt had his own injury struggles, missing eight games with a wrist injury. But when he’s on the field, he has been an incredible weapon for the Patriots. Vereen is the guy whom Tom Brady looks to when plays break down or there’s good down-field coverage. Brady had this type of target when Kevin Faulk was on the team a few years ago. But Vereen seems to be even more talented and is great at picking up yards after the catch.

shane-vereen-1Sure, the California product won’t generate any eye-popping rushing stats. After all, he has just 186 rushing yards on 38 carries in 2013. But his receiving stats are certainly notable since he’s hauled in 40 catches for 373 yards and a TD – all within five games’ work. Vereen’s last performance against Cleveland was especially impressive because he caught 12 balls for 153 yards, and added a touchdown run.

When Shane Vereen is on the field, it really forces defenses to keep an eye on him in the passing game. The end result is that there’s one less safety or linebacker dropping back in the secondary. Even when the opposition is focusing on Vereen, he has the ability to turn a short catch into a long run, as evidenced by the 50-yard play he made against Cleveland late in the third quarter.

Considering everything that we’ve discussed so far, you can’t count out New England’s offense down the stretch based on Gronk’s season-ending injury. It certainly isn’t good that their star tight end has been put on the shelf. But you also shouldn’t suddenly start betting against the Patriots when it comes to point spreads or live wagering. After all, Vereen is going to be picking up a lot of this slack throughout the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.

New England Patriots Running Back Situation Murky at Best

stevan-ridley-fumbleThe New England Patriots are arguably coming off their biggest win of the season – a 34-31 overtime thriller over the Denver Broncos. Based on the rest of the division, they’re all but guaranteed to win the AFC East at this point and have a pretty soft remaining schedule. But despite all of the positive signs, there’s definitely trouble brewing in Foxborough. For whatever reason, the Patriots just can’t seem to find a running back who’s capable of carrying the load.

Now, based on talent alone, Stevan RIdley appeared to be that guy when the season opened. After all, the third-year back out of LSU was coming off a year where he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he started 2013 off on a sour note after fumbling twice in the first game – one of which was narrowly ruled to have hit the ground first. The fumble that did count was enough to convince Bill Belichick to bench his star running back while Shane Vereen took over.

Vereen got hurt, though, which left Ridley in a committee with Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount. Things would remain this way until a few more weeks into the regularshane-vereen season, when Ridley took over as the lead back again. Unfortunately, he’s now lost a fumble in three straight games for the Pats. His latest one was returned by the Broncos for a touchdown, thus relegating Ridley to the bench for the rest of the game.

So where does this leave the Patriots’ running back situation right now? It’s really anybody’s guess because all four RB’s should get playing time moving forward. Vereen is considered the lead passing back, while Bolden backs him up and sometimes carries the ball. Blount is the other early-down back besides Ridley, and he’s put up 374 yards on just 82 carries. So this power back is likely to remain heavily involved moving forward too.

Of course, the Pats will remain a pass-first offense, using the run to balance things out. But you still have to wonder about New England when you’re considering them for regular or live wagering opportunities. They’re a very good football team with plenty of weapons and Tom Brady under center. However, they are also a team that’s failed to establish a reliable running back who’s guaranteed to gut tough yards out – without fumbling in the process.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 7 (Oct. 15th, 2013)

justin-houston-chiefsAnother week of NFL action, another unbeaten falls. The New Orleans Saints saw their unblemished record take a hit when they fell to the New England Patriots by a score of 30-27. Now only the Broncos and Chiefs remain undefeated as we enter Week 7. Taking this into account, their November 17th showdown will be quite entertaining and offer plenty of regular and live wagering opportunities. Now let’s take a look at where all of the teams sit as we move closer to the midway point of the season.

1. Denver Broncos (6-0); beat Jacksonville 35-19, retains same ranking – The Broncos made sports betting history by being a four-touchdown favorite against Jacksonville. However, this gaudy line didn’t materialize as the Jags were actually able to move the ball against this mediocre Denver defense. However, we’ve yet to see a team that can stop the Broncos offense, even when they’re not playing perfect.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-0); beat Oakland 24-7, moves up 2 spots – Questions about Alex Smith’s arm strength aside, Kansas City has been as dominant a team as any. They’re beating opponents by an average of 14.5 points and might boast the league’s best defense.

3. New Orleans Saints (5-1); lost to New England 30-27, drops one spot – A 3-point loss on the road to the Patriots isn’t anything to be overly concerned about. This is still a great, well-rounded team that’s tabbed by many to make it to the NFC Championship.

4. Seattle Seahawks (5-1); beat Tennessee Titans, retains same ranking – With Percy Harvin’s return approaching, Seattle’s offense is definitely due for a boost. But they’ve still been doing well regardless, with Marshawn Lynch gaining 155 all-purpose yards and Russell Wilson adding 318 total yards last game.

5. New England Patriots (5-1); beat New Orleans 30-27, moves up one spot – For the stevan-ridley-patriotsfirst time since Shane Vereen got injured in Week 1, the Patriots showed a consistent ground game. Is Stevan Ridley finally back in Bill Belichik’s good graces?

6. San Francisco 49ers (4-2); beat Arizona 32-20, drops one spot – The 49ers grabbed a nice home win over an improving Cardinals team. With the focus shifting towards Frank Gore and the ground game, San Francisco looks like a different and better squad.

7. Green Bay Packers (3-2); beat Baltimore 19-17, moves up one spot – Green Bay got bad news about Randall Cobb since he’ll be out for several weeks. With their top receiver injured, expect Eddie Lacy to get a few more carries heading forward.

8. Chicago Bears (4-2); beat New York Giants 27-21, moves up one spot – This isn’t the Bears’ most impressive victory – especially when they got gashed by ancient running back Brandon Jacobs. But Jay Cutler and the offense continue to rack up points while the defense forces turnovers.

9. Indianapolis Colts (4-2); lost to San Diego 19-9, drops two spots – After an incredible stretch that saw the Colts win road games in both Seattle and San Francisco, they drop a tough road contest to the Chargers. Concerns about Trent Richardson are growing because his stats are subpar (191YDS, 3.1YPC in four games) since coming over from the Browns.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2); beat Buffalo 27-24, retains same ranking – Despite playing against a practice squad quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis, Cincinnati let Buffalo back in this game. Still, they escape with a win and remain on top of the AFC North.

11. Detroit Lions (4-2); beat Cleveland 31-17, retains same ranking – An ill-advised Brandon Weeden flip pass sealed the victory for Detroit. Matthew Stafford threw three second-half touchdowns to spark a turnaround.

12. Dallas Cowboys (3-3); beat Washington 31-16, moves up two spots – Dallas moves back into the upper echelon after making it look easy against their division foe. It wasn’t an entirely good day, though, since both DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murry were lost in this game. Both are expected to miss multiple weeks for the Cowboys.

13. Miami Dolphins (3-2); bye week, drops one spot – Miami will look to stop a two-lamar-miller-dolphinsgame skid as they host Buffalo. The Dolphins have to make more of a commitment to Lamar Miller and the running game to remain a multi-dimensional offense.

14. Baltimore Ravens (3-3); lost to Green Bay 19-17, drops two spots – Baltimore staged a nice late-game rally, but couldn’t do enough to pull ahead. The running attack is in disarray, with Ray Rice averaging less than 3 yards per carry.

15. San Diego Chargers (3-3); beat Indianapolis 19-9, moves up five spots – Credit the Chargers defense with slowing down Andrew Luck (202YDS, 0TD). Philip Rivers also did a good job of managing the game and leading the Chargers on some time-consuming scoring drives.

16. Arizona Cardinals (3-3); lost to San Francisco, moves up one spot – At this point of the rankings, it’s all about who lost to better teams. Arizona hung tough with the Niners for three quarters, but ran out of gas as they were outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter.

17. Tennessee Titans (3-3); lost to Seattle 20-13, moves up one spot – The Titans have proven to be a very competitive team, even without Jake Locker. Despite the loss, they’re only one game behind Indianapolis in the AFC South.

18. Cleveland Browns (3-3); lost to Detroit 31-17, drops two spots – Browns fans have to be disappointed after their team was outscored 24-0 in the second half. Brandon Weeden played fairly well (292YDS, 2TD, 2INT) – save for throwing one of the worst interceptions ever. Somebody needs to tell him that shovel passes aren’t meant to be thrown over to the sideline.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3); beat Tampa Bay 31-20, moves up three spots – Welcome back to relevancy Philadelphia! The Eagles kept pace with Dallas in the NFC East with a road victory against winless Tampa. Nick Foles might lock down the starting role for good if he keeps playing like this (296YDS, 3TD).

20. Houston Texans (2-4); lost to St. Louis 38-13, drops five spots – Fans have been calling for Matt Schaub to be benched, and now they get their wish after his right ankle injury. But it only gets uglier from here with T.J. Yates now starting under center.

21. New York Jets (3-3); lost to Pittsburgh 19-6, drops two spots – This was supposed to be an easy victory for the surprising Jets. However, rookie QB Geno Smith (201YDS, 2INT)  looked lost against a Pittsburgh defense that’s been in shambles all season.

22. Carolina Panthers (2-3); beat Minnesota 35-10, moves up three spots – Carolina cam-newtonis a tough team to figure out. Two weeks ago, they score just 6 points against Arizona; last game, they put up 35 on the Vikings and stifle them. Of course, it seems that Cam Newton’s swingy play decides the fate of the Panthers.

23. Atlanta Falcons (1-4); bye week, drops three spots – The Falcons were already struggling in the win-loss category. Then they found out that Julio Jones is done for the season and Roddy White might be out for 1-2 games. Harry Douglas is now their go-to receiver.

24. St. Louis Rams (3-3); beat Houston 38-13, moves up four spots – After suffering through a miserable three-game losing streak, the Rams are back to .500 with wins over Jacksonville and Houston. Nobody’s expecting St. Louis to make the playoffs in a division with Seattle and San Francisco, but they’re at least showing some heart.

25. Washington Redskins (1-4); lost to Dallas 31-16, drops two spots – The good news is that Washington didn’t get torched by Tony Romo, as many people expected. The bad news is that they got beat in just about every facet of the game.

26. Oakland Raiders (2-4); lost to Kansas City 24-7, retains same ranking – A very rough game for Terrelle Pryor, but they won’t all be as tough as playing in Arrowhead. Denarius Moore really seems to be developing as a nice target for Pryor.

27. Minnesota Vikings (1-4); lost to Carolina 35-10, drops three spots – This was a tough game to play for Minnesota following the death of Adrian Peterson’s son. When Josh Freeman learns the Vikings playbook, this team might bounce back with some victories.

28. Buffalo Bills (2-4); lost to Cincinnati Bengals 27-24, drops one spot – Thaddeus Lewis is a definite upgrade over undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel. If Lewis can continue playing like he did on the road against Cincinnati, he’ll produce some wins against weaker opponents.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4); beat New York Jets 19-6, retains same ranking – Holding Geno Smith and the Jets to 6 points won’t bring back Steel Curtain comparisons. But this is still a nice performance by Pittsburgh’s defense.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5); lost to Philadelphia 31-20, retains same ranking – Ownership spent too much money in the offseason for a winless start. It’s looking less and less like Greg Schiano will make it through the season.

31. New York Giants (0-6); lost to Chicago 27-21, retains same ranking – With David Wilson knocked out of the game with an injury, Brandon Jacobs rumbled for 106 yards and two touchdowns. It’s too bad that Eli Manning threw another three interceptions.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6); lost to Denver 34-20, retains same ranking – The way they stayed with Denver through three quarters, this team could actually win a game with Chad Henne at QB.