Just as one first-round draft pick starts to shed the “bust” label that threatened to shadow him, another is on the verge of enveloping himself in the Patriot failure cavern of shame.
Wide receiver N’Keal Harry is coming off his strongest outing as a pro, catching eight passes for 72 yards during New England’s 35-30 loss at Seattle. More importantly, it appears that the 22-year-old is building a level of trust with quarterback Cam Newton, something that was impossible to create with Tom Brady during his rookie season.
Then there’s third-year running back Sony Michel, who has started the 2020 season looking more like Laurence Maroney than a serviceable feature to complement the versatile quarterback.
To say Michel was ineffective on Sunday against the Seahawks (seven attempts for 19 yards) would be an understatement. His longest run on the night was for five yards. He’s averaging a pathetic 3.3 yards per carry over two games. That’s the 43rd-highest average in the NFL.
Frank Gore, who is 492 years old, is averaging 3.2.
After a solid rookie season and a postseason during which the Patriots rode his back to a Super Bowl victory, Michel was average in 2019, amassing 912 yards over 16 games, an average of 3.7 yards per carry. Heading into this season, it figured that third-round pick Damien Harris might be ripe for the starting role, particularly after a strong training camp. Then, Harris went down with a finger injury, and is eligible to return from injured reserve next week against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
Which all means that this Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders could be a make-or-break for the product out of Georgia. There will be little reason to keep handing him the ball if Harris proves to be a more explosive option.
This week’s predictions:
Case Keefer, Las Vegas Sun: Patriots (-6). “There’s no overreaction to the Raiders’ hot start here, as this number sits right where it should be. When the spread looks correct in New England games under Bill Belichick, however, it’s been profitable to back the Patriots for nearly two decades.”
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 30, Raiders 20. “Derek Carr has two top-tier weapons in RB Josh Jacobs (questionable with hip issue) and TE Darren Waller, as we saw in Vegas’ big new-stadium-christening win over N’Awlins Monday night (an upset I called, BTW). Now we find out if the Raiders are for real, against Bill Belichick, in a stadium where NE is on a 17-3 home run. I’m sort of trusting Cam Newton to be pretty great.”
Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Patriots (-6). “New England’s defense has shown some effects from an off-season spent shedding players, or having them opt out of the season, which could leave open some room for quarterback Derek Carr to put points on the board. But there’s little reason to believe that a red-hot Newton can’t will his team to victory.”
MMQB staff: Five out of six pick the Patriots.
ESPN staff: Seven out of eight go with New England.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 28, Raiders 24. “The Raiders are off to the 2-0 start, but this is a tough road game. The Patriots played well in losing to the Seahawks, especially on offense. The defense is a bit of a mess, which is concerning here. The Raiders will hang around in this one, but the Patriots will pull out a close game late.”
CBS Sports staff: Six out of eight take New England (-6.5). Everybody likes the Pats straight-up.
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots (-6), “It was a fumble.”
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Patriots (-6.5). “What a fun game! Jon Gruden, having fun as always, vs. Bill Belichick. Both teams coming in off tough, physical prime time games. Derek Carr vs. Cam Newton in a battle of former MVP-caliber quarterbacks trying to regain league-wide respect. Belichick will have enough answers vs. Gruden’s offense, and Newton won’t make a mistake to give the game away.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots (-6). “In the ‘How Is That Possible?’ department, did you know that this will be just the second time Jon Gruden and Bill Belichick have stood on opposing sidelines since the Snow Bowl? That’s pretty wild, folks, because the Snow Bowl was played in January of 2002, which … (checks calendar) … yup, that was a long time ago. (The first time they met after that history-altering night came in 2005, when Gruden’s Bucs visited the Patriots on a cold December afternoon. The Patriots won 28-0. Tom Brady threw a touchdown to offensive lineman Tom Ashworth. Chris Simms got sacked seven times. Doug Flutie came in late to kneel the ball twice. Turns out that was a long time ago, too!)”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 30, Raiders 20. “Cam Newton is in a groove running and passing and there’s no indication to bet against him vs. Las Vegas in his second home game for the Patriots. The Raiders offer little resistance with their front and back end. Derek Carr will be thwarted by a top secondary and a good pass rush by committee as you can bet Bill Belichick will focus on taking Josh Jacobs and the run-heavy game plan away from Jon Gruden.”
Tadd Haislop, Sporting News: Patriots 30, Raiders 24. “The Patriots probably would prefer to win games they way they did against the Dolphins in Week 1, controlling the line of scrimmage and the game tempo with the power running game. But they proved in the Week 2 loss to the Seahawks they can compete in high-scoring games with Cam Newton’s passing, too. The Raiders game could go either way, but the Patriots will be prepared regardless.”
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 30, Raiders 20. “The Patriots are for real. The Raiders eventually could be. For now, though, winning at New England is too much to expect from the most unlikely 2-0 team in the AFC.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 28, Raiders 24. “Las Vegas is 2-0, but a long road trip on a short work week is going to make this a tough one.”
FiveThirtyEight: Patriots (-3.5), 62 percent.
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Patriots 28, Raiders 24. “This is a brutal matchup for both defensive fronts. The Raiders’ late-1980s playing style is perfectly crafted to wear down defenses like New England’s, which is designed to play with six defensive backs and invite the opposition to run. Derek Carr has barely been touched in two weeks and that doesn’t figure to change against a Patriots team where Chase Winovich is (easily?) the best front-seven player. The Raiders’ passive pass rush (one sack so far) doesn’t have it any better against a cohesive New England offensive line. After Cam Newton proved he is throwing as well as ever in Week 2, the Patriots present a lot to defend, even if their wide receivers are mostly moving at Witten speed. Possessions and defensive stops figure to be at a premium, so give the edge to Bill Belichick in a tight game where situational football makes the difference.”
NFL Pickwatch: Ninety-two percent are going with the Patriots.
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