2016 NFL (and some Patriots) season trends and predictions with Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston

We had the pleasure of sitting down with ESPN NFL Nation reporter Mike Reiss who covers the New England Patriots. You can find Mike’s insightful articles at .
Mike shared his thoughts about the upcoming NFL season, who will be rookie of the year, and how to get Bill Belichick to smile.


Ever thought about coaching?
Always wanted to be around sports in some form, so if I wasn’t a sports reporter, it would probably be teacher-coach at the high school level.

The coming season, which game, from an X’s and O’s standpoint, do you look forward to most?
Can I steal a line from Tom Brady on this one? “The next one.” I really enjoy the “why” in football reporting. We all saw what happened, but why was that the case? That’s really the X’s and O’s part of it. OK, I know you won’t let me get away with that one, so let’s go Week 3, Houston Texans at New England Patriots. Two similar offenses, Belichick vs. O’Brien, Brady/Garoppolo vs. Osweiler etc.

When analyzing games do you do any film study/breaking down the game?
Always. It’s a regular part of the in-season routine to devote Monday to a review. I used to write up quarter-by-quarter reviews off that, but now it’s a much more condensed format, and often times the story ideas for the following week are sparked by something that came up in film review. It’s much more effective to go up to a player in the locker room with notes off film review and say, “Hey, at 12:22 of the second quarter, that play, this is what I saw? Is that how it unfolded from your perspective?” Another effective use of film study is when the Patriots sign a player from another team, you go and watch the player, how he was used, and try to project how his physical traits will fit in the Patriots’ scheme.

How do you imagine the game will evolve over the next 20 years?
The biggest issue that threatens the game is head trauma/concussions/CTE, so that’s the area I’d start with. If I had to guess, we’ll see parts of the game eliminated in future years with this in mind (e.g. kickoff returns).

What’s your take on technology and football?
It’s similar to technology and media. Things change fast, but the fundamentals remain the same. It’s still about blocking, tackling, throwing, catching etc. in football. Sometimes it’s easy to overthink it. In media, while the way people consume information is evolving quickly, from a reporting standpoint the old-school fundamentals (e.g. cultivating sources) are the same and it’s easy to overthink that as well.

Analytics is widespread in baseball, but not as much in football, what needs to happen for it to gain adoption?
I’d say it has been adopted in certain areas more than others, such as contract negotiations and injury prevention. Then with certain teams, it is being relied upon in other areas (e.g. talent acquisition and approach) more than other clubs. At the recent MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, Sandy Weil – the director of sports analytics for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment – talked about the growing influence of analytics in football. His thoughts were echoed by Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. We aren’t turning back now.

New concepts on offense and defense you are excited about?
The sub defense is the new base defense, and does that mean a return of the power run game?

Spotting any trends on defense? Like hybrid linebackers/safeties – will this evolve?
I couldn’t say it any better than Bill Belichick on this topic. It is absolutely evolving.


Positions that evolve most over the coming years?
What is required of quarterbacks, and how defenses are constructed and attack in myriad ways, puts that far atop the list for me. Easy answer, I know, but hard to put anything over that.

Biggest surprise team this season?
Baltimore should be back, and Oakland is intriguing and a reminder that once you have the promising young quarterback, it can change the entire outlook of things.

AFC Champion?
Way early here, but for now, I’d go chalk and stick in New England.

NFC Champion?
Why not invest in the Seahawks?

Rookie of the year?
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Having watched an unhealthy amount of Patriots pressers, I know that BB is a really funny guy off the press conference podium, any moment you can share? (maybe a rant about Cleveland or Zeus)
When I and Troy Brown gave him a copy of Troy’s recently-published book “Patriot Pride”, his reaction was a mix of appreciation and humor. “Did you guys roast me pretty good?” he asked with a smile.


But there are times when he’s at the news conference podium and that humor comes out, too. When I asked him late in a news conference about a report that Steven Jackson was visiting, he went for the “walk off” without saying anything other than he wanted to end on a high note.

Thoughts on Patriots draft?
They did the best they could with a pair of handcuffs fastened on them without having a first-round draft pick. They generally kept it safe early with two solid players in CB Cyrus Jones (second round, No. 60) and OL Joe Thuney (third round, No. 78), which was the way to go without a 1. I do wonder if they’ll regret not taking an offensive tackle (e.g. Alex Lewis, Baltimore, fourth round) and running back (e.g. Davonte Booker, Denver, fourth round).

How will they evolve schematically on offense this season?
It starts with the tight ends and the Rob Gronkowski/Martellus Bennett pairing. So many different things coordinator Josh McDaniels can do out of that grouping, depending on how the defense decides to match it personnel-wise. It’s not a carbon copy of what we saw in 2011 with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez because Hernandez was more of a receiver and most teams matched in nickel. So this will be fun to watch unfold, assuming good health.

How will they evolve schematically on defense this season?
The disappearance of the 3-technique defensive tackle, as the club has moved on from Dominique Easley and Chris Jones. They’re getting that interior rush from defensive ends on passing downs, and even from linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower in some cases with A-gap blitzes.

Which player will have most impact on offense this year? (Greg Salas is not an acceptable answer…;))
Salas will get his 61 catches before his career is over, I promise you that! It just has taken him a little bit longer than I initially projected. It starts with Tom Brady and then Rob Gronkowski, so let’s go beyond the obvious and say left tackle Nate Solder. We saw how his injury early last season affected that tackle spot. The Patriots need him healthy and playing at a high level after not drafting a player at the position.

Which player will have most impact on defense this year?
Always good to go with the three-down players, and linebacker Jamie Collins is at the top of the list. He fits in every package. He’s in position to break the bank as a free agent after the season.

Impact on O-line with Scarnecchia back?
Significant, but at the same time, let’s not undersell the fact the team won the Super Bowl with Dave DeGuglielmo in that role in 2014. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia called it a “calming effect” to have Scarnecchia back after two years. His history of developing young offensive linemen is well documented.

Your take on Pink Stripes?
So Ernie Adams.

All images courtesy of ESPN

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Michael Hoglund

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