Friday Four-Pack 1.12.24
Bill Belichick is out. Jerod Mayo is in as the next NE coach. Wild Card Weekend Picks!
I always liked this picture of Bill Belichick.
There he is on the inside rail at the 2019 Preakness. Even with his shades pulled down he’s locked in on the winner, War of Will. His then-girlfriend Linda Holiday on his arm. Belinda Stronach a few feet away on his left, looking like she did NOT have the winner that day.
But did Belichick?
I hope he did.
Because the greatest coach of all-time is a horse guy. He’s been to multiple Preakness Stakes. The Kentucky Derby. He jokingly got waved off by Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy at a big race. He had a Grade I winner named in honor of his football success. And another just named ‘Belichick.” Bill likes the ponies!
In fact, you can credit his knowledge of racing for the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win in 2002.
After the team’s 1-3 start that season, Belichick pulled up the tape from the 2001 Breeders Cup Classic.
When head coach Bill Belichick, a former assistant coach to Thoroughbred owner Bill Parcells, was looking for something to wake up his team and instill the fighting spirit in them, he turned to a tape of this year's Classic. So, instead of watching game films and being mesmerized by X's and O's, the Patriots found themselves watching a Thoroughbred racehorse named Tiznow battle back to turn certain defeat into victory. The Patriots haven't looked back since, winning four of their last five games, including a victory over Belichick's former team, the New York Jets.
They would of course go on to upset the Steelers and Rams en route to one of the most memorable Super Bowl runs in league history history. A run that launched a dynasty.
I've always wondered how much Bill actually follows racing. How much does he bet? What’s his biggest score? Is he betting to win? Big Pick 5 guy? Involved in Elite Turf Club?
Never got the chance to ask. He’s apparently big on writing letters. I’ll have to finally write him one and try and find out.
Hell, maybe he’s a MutStack subscriber. If so I should warn you Bill, the last time I checked, Georiga (Falcons) and Washington, DC (Commanders) are two places where you can’t legally bet racing online.
Just something to think about as you pursue Don Shula’s all-time win record.
It should be no surprise that the firing (it was a firing) of Bill Belichick and the subsequent Friday morning hiring of Jerod Mayo will dominate today’s Four-Pack.
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On the firing of Bill Belichick…
In bullet point form.
This was the right move. Won’t rehash what I’ve written the last few months here, but the receipts are in the archives. The owners promised the fans it would be better. The team then went out and won four games. Best ever? Yes. Time to move on? Also, yes.
It was a firing. If given the choice, Bill would have stayed on as head coach and maker of all final decisions. The Krafts didn’t want to continue with at arrangement, so yeah, fired.
I get why Bob Kraft wanted to play nicey-nice on the way out. Legacy, history, all of that. And it was a good moment. That stuff matters from an ‘NFL Films” perspective. But the fans won’t remember the photo-op handshake between Kraft and Belichick if the team sucks for the next five years.
It is obvious now The Kraft Inner Circle was pretty open with select media members about their plans. The Curran report from Germany. The Fox TV crew, so confident Sunday that it would be Belichick’s last game. And how about Al Michaels back in December? Thursday Night Football v. Pittsburgh. Our commentary from that game:
Here’s Kraft Thursday at the podium, asked if maybe one guy handling coach/GM is too much for one guy.
“Well, that’s a good point,” Kraft said. “Just to be clear, he didn’t have all that power and — I don’t think that happened until after the third Super Bowl. But, it slowly happened and in my opinion, he earned it and it worked pretty well for most of the time.
Something about the verbiage of all that. Too similar. Word was out, even if fans didn’t want to listen.
Feels like a large chunk of the Pats fanbase has the sads over this move.
I can’t get there. I was much more emotional when the team sent Brady packing. When Belichick sent Brady packing. And I admit that’s part of it for me - Bill was the guy who forced Brady to want to find a new place to play, rather than pay him what he was worth. I can’t imagine rooting for Bill in Atlanta the way I rooted for Brady in Tampa. It’s different.
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On the hiring of Jerod Mayo…
He would not have been my first choice.
There are things to like. At just 37 years old, he becomes the NFL’s youngest head coach. I think his age will help him relate to current players better than Belichick, who is 34 years his senior.
He has ties to Belichick and The Patriot Way. He was in charge of running defensive meetings. He also famously got out of football to go work in the ‘real world,” before being called back into coaching. Current Patriot players have spoken up on his behalf.
BUT…he’s inexperienced. And a defensive guy, in a league now dominated by offense.
I would have preferred Lions OC Ben Johnson (10 more years of coaching experience vs. Mayo), who helped fire up the Detroit offense. Or Mike Vrabel, who has some of the same positives as Mayo but comes with head coaching experience.
But the Krafts - maybe a year earlier than they planned - hand the coaching reigns over to Mayo. This headline and press release from exactly a year today tell the story.
A press release to announce the extension of a coordinator. Mayo was always the guy.
So Bill out, Mayo in. Nothing I saw from the offense looked modern this year, so move on from Bill O’Brien. Red Sox Stat’s suggestion of Kliff Kingsbury back to run the offense is a good one. Matt Groh has to go, too, especially if he pushed for Cole Strange or Tyquan Thornton.
I get the Krafts wanting to hold on to the past, but the team needs new voices and ideas. Take this major coaching change as an opportunity to shake up the organization.
On an unappreciated Bill Belichick trait…
Tony Massarotti, co-host of Felger and Mazz on 98.5 The Sports Hub, has said a lot of dumb things. Those of us in sports radio for any real period of time, we’ve ALL said dumb things.
But Mazz’s take on Tuesday was an all-timer. It’s just 15 seconds and starts with a Mike Vrabel coaching take that turns into, well….just listen.
“I think Belichick SUCKS as a leader. I do, I’ve said this to you before. I think it’s one of the most overrated parts of him…”
It’s a take, I’ll give Mazz that.
And look, I never played for Belichick so maybe his players would disagree. Let’s take a look.
Tom Brady: "He's been an incredible mentor for me. I've learned so much from him about football, about leadership, and about life."
Julian Edelman: "He's a great leader. He's always pushing us to be better, to work harder, and to never be satisfied with where we are."
Ty Law: "He's a great motivator. He knows how to get the best out of his players and he always has a way of making you believe in yourself."
Tedy Bruschi: "He's a great teacher. He breaks down the game in a way that makes it easy to understand and he's always willing to help you improve your game."
Fine, so the players disagree with Mazz too.
The Patriots’ run under Belichick came at a time when sports coverage was at its absolute apex, with the launch of not only the Internet as we know it but also social media.
During this run, you had, among other potential distractions…SpyGate, Deflategate, Aaron Hernandez, Tim Tebow (peak of Tebow mania), Brady on-field decline, Jimmy G, Brady off-field and contract, Benglas video stuff…any one of these “scandals” could and would have derailed most other teams.
But Bill’s stoic approach allowed the team to maintain success amidst the tidal wave of press coverage and potential distraction.
A few players even mentioned it this past week - that Bill never wavered even this season. The team was bad, his job status was a headline for two months, but he just kept doing his thing. Like he had for most of the last 24 years.
That, to me, is leadership. And that ability to block everything else out - and get his players to do the same - is an underappreciated quality of one of the best coaches ever in any sport.
On our Wild Card Weekend NFL Picks…
Finished the 2023 regular season with a documented 31-22-1 record. Giants winning outright as a 5.5-point underdog was a nice way to end the season.
We’ll keep the same format for the playoffs - a side, a total and a player prop.
And since it is the playoffs, I’ll update this post on the weekend with my leans and any other thoughts for all the games under our main selections. Your chance to fade or follow!
RAMS +3 AT LIONS. (-104, FanDuel)
It was close between the Rams and the Bucs for the top pick here, but I’ll side with the better Coach/QB combo. The Lions can stop the run (#1 DVOA) but have been carved up in the passing game - 21st passer rating against, #16 DVOA. Their 181.2 yards/game allowed to WR was third-worst in the NFL behind only the Commanders and Eagles - two BAD secondaries. The bet here is the Rams taking advantage of the Lions’ defense, getting a lead and forcing Detroit and Goff to play uphill. Over the last 20 years, home teams in the Wild Card round who missed the playoffs the year before (Lions) are just 13-29 ATS.
CHIEFS DOLPHINS UNDER 44 (-115, FanDuel)
First, you have the weather - Real Feel temp trending towards -25 degrees Saturday night in Kansas City. These are not ideal conditions for either offense. Dolphins 0-10 SU in games under 40 degrees since 2017. Then you have the pace - KC 17th and MIA 24th in seconds/play. You’d expect the cold temps will slow these two teams down even more. Lots of sharp money has come in on the under. And as the weather becomes a bigger headline on Friday and Saturday, I’d expect this number to come down even more. Already some 43.5s out there.
MECOLE HARDMAN U14.5 REC YARDS. (-115, ESPN Bet)
When the Chiefs traded for Hardman, the idea was he’d handle the punt return duties. He’s had to play more with injuries in KC but as they get healthier, we’ll gamble on his limited participation in the passing game. The aforementioned frigid temps and winds could slow down the passing game as it is. Given the conditions, it would not be crazy to see Hardman used solely as a returner. I liked this better when it looked like Kadarius Toney would be good to go. He’s listed as questionable and Andy Reid said he’ll be “limited” if he plays.
Took an over on Joe Flacco passing yards at 274.5. Hou D #23 DVOA vs the pass and if the Browns win Flacco will be a big part of it.
Officially, would lean Browns -2 and Chiefs -4.5. But the under will be our biggest position of the day.
On some non-Belichick/Mayo notes…
If you’re headed to Vermont for the NFL Playoffs good news - legal sports betting is now live! Three options to choose from in DraftKings, FanDuel and Fanatics. Should be seamless if you have one of those accounts already.
No surprise that radio company Audacy filed for bankruptcy this week. A deal with their lenders had been in the works for a while. It’s anyone’s guess the impact on WEEI in Boston - other than it sure seems unlikely they can pursue any high-end, on-air talent if they’re looking to make lineup changes after a bad fall book.
Crickets on the Red Sox radio/Will Flemming situation.
Over at the Sports Hub, Jim Murray of Felger and Mazz said the station is picking up his contract option for the next year. Still no actual job posting for the midday update role vacated by Rob ‘Hardy’ Poole when he went to mornings.
So yeah, it was really a Five-Pack today. A lot going on.
Fitting we head into the weekend with Bill Belichick - then with the Cleveland Browns - teaching us all how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Thanks for reading. Good luck with all your NFL bets. Only 13 games left in the season. Cherish them all.