Welcome to Season 3, Episode 6 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday around noon. The 3-2 Patriots, coming off a reassuring 43-17 thrashing of the Bengals, visit the upstart Bills, who are also 3-2 and undoubtedly look at this game as a chance to make a statement about their legitimacy. It’s a more appealing matchup for sure than it might have seemed when the schedule came out, which is one reason why the game will air on — don’t forget — Fox Sunday afternoon. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this thing started already …
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY I’LL BE WATCHING
1. Sammy Watkins: Conventional wisdom — and Bill Belichick wisdom, too — suggests that trading a parcel of picks to move up in the draft to grab a wide receiver is not the most effective way to build a winning roster. But it seems to have worked out OK for Tom Dimitroff, Julio Jones and the Falcons. Five games into first-round pick Sammy Watkins’s career, such a strategy looks … well, at least understandable for the Bills, though the 2015 first-rounder they gave up in a draft day trade with the Browns to move up from No. 9 to No. 4 in the first round could haunt them should they slump this season. This much is certain: Watkins, who has 24 receptions for 284 yards so far, is not going to be a bust, and he may well become a superstar. In relation to this week, though, I’m not sure the Patriots should be any more concerned about him than they were about Stevie Johnson in recent years.
2. Brandon Spikes: He’ll blow through the gap and rattle Stevan Ridley’s bones once, maybe twice. He’ll get toasted in coverage by Gronk/Tim Wright/Shane Vereen once, maybe twice, perhaps by all three. He’ll appear for his postgame interviews dressed as if his entire wardrobe is based on a 1970s tablecloth motif. And he’ll tweet something that includes his own personal spelling of the word “pow” afterward.
3. Kyle Orton: He’s adequate, and given the array of underestimated talent on the Bills roster — my prediction for a 1-15 season was proven pathetically wrong two weeks into the season — all the Bills really need is adequate. That said, the Orton/Uncle Rico comp Gresh and Zo have been throwing around is perfect.
“Back in ’82, I used to be able to throw a pigskin a quarter-mile …”
(Just to be complete, I looked up the list of quarterbacks drafted in the NFL in ’82. The Bills chose two: Matt Kofler and Luc Tousignant. I suspect Uncle Rico is based on the latter. Well, him, or on Andrew Luck’s dad.)
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
I understand the anticipation to finally see what Brandon Browner can bring to the Patriots’ defense. While I must admit to some skepticism regarding how good he actually is — he doesn’t have much of a pedigree, has had PED issues, and was the weak and eventually replaced link in that brilliant Seattle secondary last year — he is a ferocious hitter who plays on the edge, and that’s an element of a defense that has value in moderation.
Comparatively modest expectations aside, I am looking forward to seeing him and what he’ll bring, and it’s frustrating that the debut has been delayed by an ankle injury (he missed Thursday’s practice).
But I’ve heard way too many howls over the last two weeks about why he isn’t active and what is Belichick doing and is it possible he’s a bust and on and on. Give me a break.
The majority of you are reasonable about this stuff, I know. Thank you for that. But at a time when everything the Patriots do has been exaggerated and speculated upon beyond the boundaries of common sense, every complaint feels magnified.
Be patient with Browner until he’s ready. Be patient in judgment until we see him a few times. I know, that’s not really how it works anymore. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight the good fight.
CURRENT PATRIOTS BEER-CHUGGING POWER RANKINGS
Wait, I’ve got another grievance! Those who speculated, without any context or sense of history, that Brady’s teammates may not like him after the cameras caught him sitting alone on the sideline in the final moments of the Monday night loss to the Chiefs two weeks ago. That was absurd to the point of irresponsibility, but there was one small blessing: It led to reminders from current and former teammates about how respected and liked Brady was and remains. Perhaps, because fame has put him in something of a bubble, that he doesn’t do commercials with his offensive line (and some random imaginary girlfriend) anymore …
… but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the guys when nuisances like you and me aren’t around. Ross Tucker’s anecdote about Brady’s ability to chug frosty beverages with the best of ’em was a reminder of this, as well as a riot of an anecdote.
I doubt, now that he’s a responsible dad and a husband and super-famous and all that, that he gets to do this sort of thing anymore. But it did make me wonder which of the Patriots — including members of the organization and other ancillary folks — would fare as potential successors to Brady’s beer chugging throne. Here’s how I’d rate ’em:
1. Gronk. Who else? Also leads the team in Cans Crushed Upon Forehead.
2. Sebastian Vollmer. Bet nobody can knock back more Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbiers.
3. Nate Solder. Only larger human I’ve seen in person is Jake Long.
4. Matt Patricia. Specifically, I presume, after the AFC Championship Game last year.
5. Vince Wilfork. Entirely girth-based guess.
21. Brady. Those days are behind him. But if that Garoppolo kid challenges him, he’ll learn this ain’t $2 Pitchers Of Schaefer Night at Eastern Illinois anymore.
109. Ricki Lander.
1,032. Josh McDaniels. Too busy narcing to Dean Berj Najerian.
1,033. Berj Najarian.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD A candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 and Bob Dole’s running-mate in ’96, he never prevailed in the ultimate election. Perhaps his 46.7 completion percentage in his seven seasons as an NFL quarterback should have foreshadowed an inability to get on the side of the majority. Then again, he did find a way to win or tie 68 of his 105 career starts. Don’t know about you, but I suspect we’ll be mentioning his name in the same breath as Tom Brady’s in a dozen years or so.
PREDICTION, OR THE NAMES CHANGE, BUT THE GAME REMAINS THE SAME
No matter their record or franchise condition, the Bills have tended to play the Patriots fairly tough on the their own turf during the Belichick/Brady era. And no matter how well the Bills play, the Patriots usually win, having gone 24-2 in the last 26 meetings. I expect both the former and the latter to happen this week.
Patriots 24, Bills 16
(Last week’s prediction: Bengals 20, Patriots 17. Final score: Patriots 43, Bengals 17. Season record: 2-3.)