Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns (a franchise record) against the Colts in the AFC divisional playoff, appears on the national cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (1/20/14)—on newsstands NOW. Blount, who is in his first season with New England after spending three years with the Buccaneers, had his biggest play against Indiana on a 73-yard touchdown run with 13:08 left in the fourth quarter to put the Patriots up 36–22, before closing it out with a 43–22 and a spot in the conference championship game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. As NFL analyst Andy Benoit writes, “The Broncos’ run defense will face its own challenge in the 6-foot, 250-pound Blount, who has racked up 355 yards and six TDs in his last two games. Led by tackle Terrance Knighton, Denver stifled the white-hot Chargers last week, but Blount runs—plows, really—behind a man-blocking front that’s particularly mobile and voracious on the left side, where perennial Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and svelte tackle Nate Solder ply their trade.”
Then there’s the Patriots’ undersized and often undervalued wide receiver, Julian Edelman who, after re-signing with New England because no other team wanted him more, had a breakout 1,056 receiving yards season, including 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 34–31 win over the Broncos in Week 12. Writes SI senior writer Tim Layden in this week’s feature on Edelman, “These Patriots are the unlikeliest AFC finalists of the Bill Belichick era, a team that went 12–4 despite being steadily thinned by personnel losses (injuries and otherwise) from June into January. No position incurred deeper cuts than receiver, where quarterback Tom Brady lost his top five targets from 2012, including Wes Welker, the most productive slot man in NFL history. Into that void surged Edelman, 27, who caught 105 passes—fourth in the league, 50 more than any other Patriot and seven fewer than Welker’s average in New England. Edelman also finished fourth in the league in punt return yardage (374). It’s perilous to suggest that these Patriots wouldn’t have survived further attrition (Brady excepted), but it’s also difficult to imagine them in Denver without Edelman.”
Of course all of the hype surrounding the AFC Championship will focus on Brady vs. Manning, who will compete on an NFL field for the 15th time in their pro careers (Brady leads the series 10-4.) This weekend’s game, however, will come down to whether the Broncos’ defense can survive against New England’s dynamic Blount-Edelman duo.
SI’s prediction: Patriots 34, Broncos 28. | NFL analyst Andy Benoit
The replacement officials, collectively, are the headache that won’t go away. Thanks to a labor standoff, the NFL has been using replacement refs who so far have shown themselves to be alarmingly mistake-prone, star-struck and shaky on the rule book. It’s easy to pick on the scabs and any casual viewer can snicker at the comedy of errors. But are these guys really that bad (page 48)?
How Robert Kraft’s Instincts Turned the Patriots into the NFL’s Model Franchise:
Just over six-months ago, as the NFL lockout dragged on, only the most optimistic fans believed there would be a Super Bowl XLVI. When the players and owners finally reached an agreement, Patriots owner Robert Kraft stood out among his peers. Kraft, who was grieving for the loss of his wife, Myra, who died during the negotiations, was a vital force throughout. Senior writer Peter King (@SI_Peter King) spent time last week with Kraft to discuss the transformation of his franchise since he bought the team following the ’93 season.
Kraft acknowledges that the Patriots success over the years is due to the unorthodox decisions he has made including spending too much to buy the team, hiring Bill Belichick and trading Drew Bledsoe. Kraft says, “The key to life is you try to see things other people can’t see. This league is set up for everyone to go 8 – 8. How do you differentiate? You have to be bold in any business and do things you take a lot of criticism for but you believe are right.”
Kraft appears on the Feb. 6, 2011 cover of Sports Illustrated. This is the first time the Patriot’ owner has ever appeared on the cover.
Following their triumph in the AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots appear on the cover of this week’s Jan. 30, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands today. This is the 27th time the Patriots have appeared on the cover, and Tom Brady’s 24th appearance. They last appeared on the Jan 9, 2012 issue.
This week’s SI recaps the last Sunday’s epic NFC & AFC Championship Games, as well as looking forward to the “REMATCH” between the New York Giants and New England Patriots:
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: ONE MORE FOR MYRA – DAMON HACK (@SI_DamonHack)
During the off-season, Patriots owner Robert Kraft lost his wife, Myra, to cancer. She was an extended mother to the players and her loss deeply affected the entire franchise. After the Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC championship, in thrilling fashion, Kraft spent some time by himself, choked up by emotions from both the win and for not being able to share the victory with his “sweetheart.” The players felt the emotion as well (page 38):
- Said WR Deion Branch: “Mr. Kraft has done a great job keeping himself together. I can’t even fathom how the guy is feeling right now, for us to have an opportunity to play for another Super Bowl without his better half. It’s special, but at the same time it’s bittersweet.”
- Said LB Brandon Spikes: “I told Mr. Kraft I was going to leave it all on the field for Myra. I personally wanted to come out and get that game for her and for him. I told him not to worry about a thing.”
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN – PETER KING (@SI_PeterKing)
The NFC Championship Game had the feel of old school football, defense, defense and more defense. The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers battled through four quarters and into overtime. The game ended with a winning overtime field goal from Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, eerily similar to his game winning in the ’07 NFC Championship Game. As the Giants press on, much of the credit for their playoff run can be given to the strong bond between head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning (page 33):
Coughlin notes, “Eli’s just so….so….reliable. Totally reliable. Trustworthy. Smart. Tremendously hardworking. Consistent as the day is long. What I love about him is, I know what he’s doing 365 days a year. He’s doing something that will help us win football games.”
This week’s Sports Illustrated: Prepare for a Patriots-Giants rematch; Muhammad Ali turns 70; the emergence of Ricky Rubio; the “art” of overpaying NHL goalies; why perhaps the best player in women’s CBB plays for DelawarePosted: January 18, 2012
Following their triumphs in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, the Giants and 49ers appear on regional covers of this week’s Jan. 23, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands today. Below is the last time each team appeared on the cover and how many appearances it has overall.
- Giants: Aug. 4, 2008 (David Tyree); 22nd appearance
- 49ers: Oct. 26, 1998 (Kevin Gogan); 34th appearance
AFC AND NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME FORECASTS – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)
Patriots 27, Ravens 17: “Neither [Ray] Rice’s rushing nor the Ravens’ D will relieve QB Joe Flacco of the pressure to make as many big plays as [Tom] Brady does. And that won’t happen.”
Giants 31, 49ers 21: “San Francisco’s seasonlong ascent was built on the NFC’s best defense, but Drew Brees picked it apart last Saturday for 462 yards. Expect the red-hot [Eli] Manning to be nearly as effective—and counterpart Alex Smith much less so against a better pass rush than new Orleans’s, with higher stakes.”
On the Tablets: Senior writer Peter King’s guest on his weekly podcast is Joe Horrigan from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Plus, King’s “Last Word on the NFL” leading up to the AFC and NFC title games.