Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Had some spirited back-and-forths with Twitter followers in recent months about Patriots cornerback Ras-I Dowling. When the Patriots selected Dowling at the top of the second round of the 2011 draft, my belief was that his selection was the key to that draft, in part because he was the team's only defensive pick that year (link here and link here). After his disappointing rookie season ended after two games because of injury, some were ready to write him off. My thought was that he deserved more time to prove himself. Now that he's had another season cut short because of injury, he's slipping close to Terrence Wheatley (2008, second round) territory, and a roster spot for 2013 is anything but a certainty.
2. Here's something to watch today from the Patriots: four defensive ends on the field in obvious passing situations -- Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Francis. Against a Rams offensive line that has had its struggles, this would be a nice wrinkle in an attempt to generate some more consistent pressure in obvious passing situations. Francis, who made the roster as a rookie free agent out of Rutgers, played in the dime package last week (7 snaps), and my sense is that the coaching staff is intrigued and wants to see some more from him. This could also open the door to see some more of third-round draft choice Jake Bequette.
3. Looks like quarterback Matt Cassel's time in Kansas City will end after this season unless there is a significant contract adjustment. The Chiefs have demoted him in favor of Brady Quinn, and coach Romeo Crennel said it's not a short-term fix; he wants Quinn to be the guy. Cassel is a team captain, but when you're relegated to No. 2 status, it's hard to truly lead.
4. The NFL's trading deadline is Tuesday and if Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli can get a second-round pick or better for receiver Dwayne Bowe, I think that's a move he'd make. Bowe was inherited by Pioli and doesn't appear to be part of the Chiefs' future; his contract expires after the season. It would be similar to the Dolphins' trading Brandon Marshall to the Bears. When I think of receiver-needy teams, the Jets come to mind. Would be surprised if the Patriots had any interest at that type of price.
5. Make no mistake about it, no matter how much he puts a happy face on it, Bill Belichick would obviously prefer to avoid coming to London to play a game. The Patriots are banged up, some key players are fighting illness, and coming here only makes it that much harder on multiple levels. This is one of those situations where the business side of the game doesn't mesh with the football side. Not that this is breaking news or anything; Robert Kraft essentially acknowledged as much in his remarks at Saturday's FanFest.
6. As for Kraft's remarks that London is ready for its own NFL team, I don't sense agreement from many of the fans I've spoken with here over the past few days. The general feeling is that they presently have allegiances to already-existing NFL teams (the Patriots, for example, have a large following here) and wouldn't switch for a newly formed or relocated NFL club. Why is Kraft so bullish on a team in London? The big thing is the chance for more revenue and television is obviously a big part of that. It's untapped territory.
7. We'll find out a little more about the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons today. They've built themselves a nice cushion with a strong start and visit the Philadelphia Eagles, who are coming off a bye. The Eagles' record after a bye under coach Andy Reid is 13-0. If the Falcons snap that streak, that would be a decisive statement that they are indeed for real. Subplot to the game: cornerback Asante Samuel's return to Philly.
8. We know the Patriots have drafted seven defensive backs in the first or second round since 2007, and they also had the unsuccessful free-agent re-signing of Leigh Bodden. Of the group, which player has gotten better since arriving? With this in mind, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports offered up a possible solution for Bill Belichick -- bring back Eric Mangini as a coach. Cole acknowledged it would never happen, and it's understandable why based on the fallout from "Spygate." Belichick always says that every decision he makes is in the best interests of the team, and Mangini is a solid defensive backs coach. But this would likely be one of the few scenarios in which he makes an exception to his "best interests of the team" philosophy.
9. Bills defensive end Mario Williams underwent a "procedure" to relieve discomfort on his wrist last week, but coach Chan Gailey told the local media that he isn't expected to miss any games. Gailey was evasive on specifics. It might turn out to be no big deal, but if you're a Bills follower, this had to at least touch on the concern of investing so much in one player. The Bills (3-4) are on the bye this weekend and then they visit Houston (Williams' old team) and New England. If the Bills are truly ready to take the next step, as some forecast this offseason after the signing of Williams, they need to prove it by winning one of those tough games.
10. Stat of the week for the Patriots: Through seven games this season (including penalties), they've had 569 snaps, or an average of a whopping 81.2 per game. Last year through seven games (including penalties), they had 505 snaps -- an average of 72.1 per game. Nine more plays per game would seem to be a good thing, but part of me wonders if it's almost like fast-break basketball and it's having an effect on them at the end of games as they're struggling in the fourth quarter. More time needed to assess that one.