Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats


Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. Re-watching the Week 2 matchup between the Patriots and Jets, New England defenders let tight end Dustin Keller have too many free releases off the line of scrimmage. Keller had seven receptions for 115 yards and 1 touchdown that day. If picking one key matchup for the Patriots on Monday, that's it -- make it harder for Keller to get off the line of scrimmage.

2. A few years ago when NFL owners discussed the possibility of playoff seeding by overall record, instead of locking division winners into the top four seeds, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson gave a passionate speech to fellow owners about why he felt it was important to keep things the way they were. One executive in the room believed Richardson's speech -- which focused on the meaning of winning a division and giving fans the reward of an extra home game -- swayed the vote to keep the current format. It's a topic worth revisiting this week as the 9-2 Patriots or 9-2 Jets, who square off Monday night, could wind up with the second-best record in the AFC and still be on the road in the playoffs. For what it's worth, I like Richardson's line of thinking.

3. Randy Moss with the Patriots this season: 3-1. Randy Moss with the Vikings and Titans this season: 1-6. This can't be how he envisioned his contract year unfolding and he only has himself to blame.

4. Former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is thriving under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis in Kansas City, with 22 touchdown passes and just four interceptions this season. This highlights two key parts of Scott Pioli's vision to rebuild the Chiefs -- find the right quarterback (he traded a second-round draft choice for Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel) and hire the right coaches.

5. The Texans' defense might be one of the worst in the NFL, but it's hard to argue that they haven't devoted some big-time resources to that side of the ball. Between defensive end Mario Williams, linebacker Brian Cushing, cornerback Kareem Jackson and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, that's four first-round draft choices. Meanwhile, linebacker DeMeco Ryans was selected with the first pick of the second round in 2006. They should be better than what they are.

6. One name to keep an eye on Monday night for the Patriots: rookie linebacker Dane Fletcher. He was effective as a spy against Ravens running back Ray Rice early in the season, and running back LaDainian Tomlinson (team-high 45 receptions) and the check-down pass have been a big part of the Jets' attack.

7. Not sure how the Jaguars are doing it, but they are 6-5 and tied atop the disappointing AFC South despite having a league-worst turnover differential of minus-13 (13 take-aways, 26-give-aways).

8. Snaps played by Patriots rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez the last three games: 11, 17, 18. Added up, that's 46 of a possible 185 snaps (penalties included), which represents a significantly reduced role. In the Week 2 loss to the Jets, Hernandez led the Patriots with six catches for 101 yards, so it makes sense to think he will return to a more prominent role in the offense Monday night.

9. The Falcons are 6-0 at home this season and 3-2 on the road. They open a three-game road stretch today at Tampa Bay, before traveling to Carolina and Seattle. Playing three straight road games is a tough task, although the Falcons aren't alone as Cleveland, Denver, Pittsburgh and St. Louis all had/have three straight road games on their schedule as well.

10. Bill Belichick's message to the Patriots after their last victory, as captured by Patriots All-Access cameras: "Football season starts on Thanksgiving. That's really when it starts. Think about what our opportunity is, because it's a damn good one. But it's just an opportunity. There is a lot of football left to be played, and we'll find out who the real champions are in the next five weeks."

(Bonus thought)

11. Congratulations to the Massachusetts high school football players who participated in Super Bowls on Saturday and a tip of the cap to the Kraft Sports Group, Comcast SportsNet, Channel 38, and 98.5 The Sports Hub for producing them and broadcasting them throughout the day. That's an impressive commitment, and it made following the action all the more enjoyable. And of course, a big kudos to Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza, the hard-working duo that run our high school sports site. Check out their coverage here.