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Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

1/9/2011

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

1. Patriots-Jets, Part III, will come 42 days from the day the Patriots smoked the Jets by 42 points. I think it's the best playoff matchup the Patriots could have hoped for. At the same time, I think the game will be decided by 10 points or less.

2. When talking about the Colts' defense, it usually starts with pass-rushing defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. But stopping the run is part of the game, too, and the Colts were exposed in that area against the Jets on Saturday night. Not sure how much 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes will help them in that area either.

3. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is in the final year of his contract, and if Saturday was his final game in Seattle, he leaves on a big-time high note. Hasselbeck was terrific. When one considers that more than 60 different quarterbacks started at least one game this year, the 35-year-old Hasselbeck shouldn't have trouble finding a home somewhere next season, whether it's in Seattle or not.

4. After watching Saints safety Roman Harper get victimized in coverage multiple times Saturday, it was a reminder of how an in-the-box safety can be a liability in pass coverage against an offense that is good enough to exploit it. That's why the traditional strong safety has been phased out in recent years and teams prefer more all-around safeties. New England's Patrick Chung is a good example, as in sub packages he often moves down to the "star" position and covers the slot receiver.

5. I think Jim Harbaugh made a smart decision to pick the San Francisco 49ers over the Miami Dolphins as his next head-coaching job. He might have left some money on the table, but he can win quicker in San Francisco, and that will set him up with more security and money in the long-run. Plus, who would want to work for an owner that talks to a head-coaching candidate while still employing a head coach?

6. Voters for the Associated Press year-end awards had to turn in their ballots by Friday, but initial word is that the announcement on the NFL Most Valuable Player -- likely to be Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- won't come until Super Bowl week.

7. One of the most interesting aspects of the Texans hiring Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator is how it will affect their best defensive player, end Mario Williams. Phillips plans to switch to a 3-4 defense and he's hoping Williams can become his Bruce Smith, who had 65 sacks in six seasons under Phillips in that scheme.

8. Of all the stadiums I've visited in my time covering the Patriots, Seattle's Qwest Field stands out as one of the most special in terms of environment. In 2008, the Seahawks were already out of the playoff mix when the Patriots visited in December, but the place was still rocking. The fans were great again in Saturday's surprising playoff win; the Saints had three false-start penalties as Seattle's "12th Man" roared.

9. Jets coach Rex Ryan sometimes can't help himself when it comes to running his mouth, which can overshadow his Xs and Os acumen. I think he is a very good strategist. Great plan and great execution by his players Saturday night in Indianapolis.

10. When the Patriots were in their 3-4 alignment against the Jets on Dec. 6, Ron Brace lined up alongside Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren. With Brace on injured reserve, the question is who steps in, and rookie free agent Kyle Love (Mississippi State) looks like the top candidate. Of Love's 151 snaps this season, 97 have come in the final three games, which reflects his growing importance on the line.