Crunch time for Belichick?

In 26 years ago as a head coach, Bill Belichick has never gone four years in a row without winning a playoff game.

Belichick is now on the cusp of doing that for the first time.

Last year was the third time he went without a playoff win for a third year in a row.

The first two times were his first three years with the Browns and then the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Patriots. He won a playoff game in his fourth year with the Browns and then went 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl in 2011.

That is why this is such a critical year for Belichick and his future as a coach.

There are differing opinions where the Patriots are as a team. Fansided reported only three teams in the AFC – the Jets, Jaguars and Texans – are worse than the Patriots. And noted they have just one Pro Bowler, Matthew Judon, on defense.

And Belichick spent big in free agency last year, including signng two expensive tight ends, and still didn’t win a playoff game. And now he’s lost play-caller Josh McDaniel and maybe the job to Matt Patricia, who is noted more as a defensive coach.

And last year, they had a seven-game winning streak but then lost three of their last four and then were blown out in the playoffs by the Bills, 47-17.

Meanwhile, The Athletic’s view is that Belichick is getting too much grief.

Regardless, owner Bob Kraft seems to be getting impatient.

“More than anything, it bothers me that we haven’t won a playoff game the last three years,’’ Kraft said at the league meetings in March.

It may bother him more if they go a fourth year without winning a playoff game.

Now the question is whether Belichick can end his three-year drought and win a playoff game this year.

Is the London game still a good idea for the Jaguars?

When owner Shad Khan first volunteered to have the Jaguars play in London every year, the team stressed it would be good for the bottom line.

In 2013, the Jaguars game in London accounted for 15.3 percent f their local revenue, twice the revenue for a game played in Jacksonville.

As it turns out, the game is no longer that lucrative.

Team president Mark Lamping recently told Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post, who worked in Jacksonville for the Florida Times-Union when the team started playing in London, that the percentage of local revenue has been dropping since then.

It dropped to 12.4 percent in 2015, 11.1 percent in 2016 and 11 percent in 2017 and this year will be in the high single digits or less than 10 percent.

He said the drop in percentage is because the team has raised revenue in Jacksonville with new productions and s stadium renovation and the value of the pound compared to the dollar has dropped. A pound was worth $1.60 in 2013 and is now worth $1.30.

Despite the dropping percentage, the Jaguars seem committed to playing every year in London.

But it begs the question of whether the game will put them at a competitive disadvantage if they become a contender.

This year the Jaguars are the only team that will play just seven of their 17 games at their home stadium.

Although home field advantage in the NFL isn’t what it once was, it will be interesting to compare what the Jaguars record will be in their 7 home games compared to their 10 road games, including the London game, which counts as a home game.

This year, it may not make much of a difference because the team is still in a rebuilding mode. In two years when the team should be a contender, we’ll see if it makes a difference.

Lack of clear choice is a conundrum for Jaguars

There was no drama or second guessing when the Jaguars had the first pick in the draft last year.

The Jaguars had an easy choice because Trevor Lawrence was on top of virtually every draft board and was considered to be a generational quarterback.

And while Lawrence struggled in his first season on a bad team with poor coaching, the Jaguars still hope he will become a franchise quarterback who can lead to Super Bowl titles in the future.

But this year, it is a different story. There is no consensus top pick, and the Jaguars face a difficult decision. Do they go for an edge rusher like Aidan Hutchinson or Travon Walker, or do they go for an offensive tackle like Evan Neal?

And with no quarterback at the top of the draft, they probably can’t make a lucrative deal to trade down for extra picks.

Complicating things was a MMQB report that general manager Trent Baalke isn’t high on any of the projected top picks but can’t get a king’s ramsom for the top pick this year and worries he will be roasted if he doesn’t take Hutchinson. But it makes no sense to take him if Baalke isn’t sold on him.

If he takes Hutchinson, we may not know if he is really high on him but didn’t want to make a pick that that is considered risky. And another complication was a report that coach Doug Pederson prefers an offensive player.

Of course, there are no guarantees with the top pick. For every Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman and John Elway, there’s a JaMarcus Russell, Courtney Brown and Aundrey Bruce.

When the Jaguars make the top selection, they will close ranks and talk about how much they like the pick.

They can only hope he is an impact player.

If he isn’t, it will be fascinating to see if someone leaks the real story behind the pick.

Super Bowl LVI in review

The Super Bowl turned out pretty much the way it was expected to go.

It was a close game as expected and the Rams, who were slight favorites, won it by three and didn’t cover the spread.

They won it because their three key players, Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald, took control of the game on the final series for each team. Kupp got the MVP award but they could have shared it.

Stafford and Kupp led the game-winning drive and Donald blew up the Bengals final two plays.

Unfortunately, the officials, who let the two teams play for the first 58 minutes, got too involved at the end.

If not for a questionable pass interference penalty, the Rams would have faced a fourth-and-goal at the 8 with the game on the line instead of a first-and-goal at the 1.

But the Bengals also shot themselves in the foot several times, so they couldn’t blame the officials. To start with, coach Zac Taylor decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at midfield on their first series. The Bengals didn’t convert and gave the Rams good field position for their first touchdown.

It turned out that running back Samaje Perine lined up on the wrong side, according to Phil Simms, bringing the linebacker to the side Joe Burrow was throwing the ball and enabling him to knock away the pass.

And Taylor only gave the ball to Joe Mixon 15 times even though he was averaged 4.8 yards a carry and the Bengals were in the lead much of the second half.

And Mixon wasn’t even on the field when the Bengals had a third-and-1 at midfield on their final drive. Perine got the call and Donald stopped him for no gain. Donald then forced a wild throw on fourth down and the Rams were the champions.

Now the question is where the teams will go from here. The odds are against both of them returning.

The Rams will try to repeat, which hasn’t been done since the Patriots did it in 2003-2004.

And the Bengals face the daunting task of becoming only the second team since the 1972 perfect Dolphins to win the Super Bowl after losing it the previous year. Tom Brady and the Patriots are the only team to do it since then.

And Burrow is trying to become the first quarterback to lose his first Super Bowl appearance and make it back the following year since Jim Kelly lost four in a row in the early 1990s.

Of the last 16 quarterbacks to lose their first Super Bowl start since then, none has returned as a starter. Drew Bledsoe made it back as Brady’s backup.

It was not surprising the close game got good TV ratings to set the stage for what the league hopes will be another good season next year now that a group of young quarterbacks are taking center stage.

But they also have off the field issues, including the discrimination lawsuit filed by former Miami coach Brian Flores, who also claims that owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him $100,000 a game to lose games for better draft position.

Ross denies the allegations but the league also has to find ways to get more minority coaches in the ranks of the head coaches.

Previewing Super Bowl LVI

The best storyline of this Super Bowl is that this will be the first one matching two quarterbacks taken with the first pick of the draft.

But that is about the only thing that Joe Burrow of the Bengals and Matthew Stafford of the Rams have in common.

Stafford spent 12 years with Detroit without winning a playoff game before being traded to the Rams and he is in the Super Bowl in his first year with them. A victory would feed the narrative that he never reached his potential because he had bad teams around him in Detroit.

It would also give coach Sean McVay his first Super victory after he and quarterback Jared Goff seemed overmatched ion his first Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots. A loss would give him an 0-2 Super Bowl record.

Burrow, by contrast, in his second year and he’s one of the young guns in the AFC along with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert.

So far, Mahomes is more accomplished with four consecutive trips to the AFC title games with two wins and a 1-1 Super Bowl record.

But Mahones had a poor second half against the Bengals last week after throwing an ill advised pass at the end of the first half that cost the Chiefs a field goal.

Burrow led the team to the overtime victory after they overcame a 21-3 first half deficit.

A Super Bowl victory would put him in Tom Brady territory. He won the first of his seven Super Bowls in his second year.

One key to the game is whether the Bengals can protect Burrow, who was sacked nine times by the Titans. But even though they have Aaron Donald and Von Miller up front, the Rams are usually best at rushing the passer when they blitz.

On the other hand, Burrow is good at beating the blitz and the Rams have a shaky secondary except for Jalen Ramsey. So it figures to be an intriguing matchup and the stage probably isn’t too big for Burrow, who plays like a veteran.

The Rams are favored by four, but the game is likely to be closer than that even though the Rams have a home field edge.

Nobody will be surprised if this game goes to overtime or is decided on a field goal on the final play of regulation.

It has all the makings of a memorable Super Bowl.