- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. One thing that's hard to understand from this perspective is why teams receive a roster exemption for a suspended player. The Patriots just benefited from this with cornerback Aqib Talib -- keeping an extra player on the roster while working with Talib all week at practice -- just as other teams have with suspended players. The Buccaneers got to keep a full roster of 53 players, plus Talib, while he was on suspension. Seems like a reward that isn't justified -- for the player or team. Maybe I'm naive, but perhaps a player would think twice about violating a policy/rule if he knew he'd be leaving his team short-handed and possibly put his own job in jeopardy.
2. Sign me up as a big fan of the "unfiltered Bill Belichick," which is what we heard at his Friday news conference when it came to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, kickers and Adam Vinatieri. That was a strong opinion, and I thought there were some valid points made by Belichick. One follow-up thought: Belichick has such a passion for football, and a wealth of history and knowledge in the sport/league, that it would be a shame if it isn't tapped in some form upon his retirement.
3. Vinatieri. Hall of Fame. Lock.
4. After 2011 turned into a nightmare when quarterback Jay Cutler was injured and they didn't have an adequate backup, the Bears addressed the position this past offseason with Jason Campbell. We'll see how good of an insurance policy it is, as Campbell will start Monday against the 49ers. The Bears (7-2) are currently on top of the NFC North, but the Packers (6-3) and Vikings (6-4) aren't far off. Closer to home, I thought that was a strong show of support from Belichick on backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, saying, "I'm confident that if he had to, he's taken the steps he needs to be ready to go."
5. The 6-3 Broncos are one of the NFL's hottest teams, winners of four straight, and this is what their remaining schedule looks like: versus Chargers, at Chiefs, versus Buccaneers, at Raiders, at Ravens, versus Browns, versus Chiefs. Combined record of opponents: 23-37. Just the Buccaneers and Ravens have winning records, which puts Peyton Manning and the Broncos in position to finish strong and position themselves well in the playoffs.
6. Safety James Sanders has slowed down and hasn't exactly lit things up over the last two seasons with the Falcons and Cardinals, but I'm still puzzled why the Patriots released him in 2011. Given all the struggles they've had at safety in 2011 and 2012, and the thin depth each season, it's hard to believe Sanders couldn't have helped. Is Steve Gregory really an upgrade?
7. Did you know, Part I: Today's game marks the 200th consecutive sellout for the Patriots, which includes playoffs and preseason games (dating back to the 1994 season opener).
8. Did you know, Part II: Despite not being in the same division, this marks the 10th straight year that the Patriots and Colts will play each other in the regular season.
9. Did you know, Part III: Stephen Gostkowski needs one more 50-yard field goal to tie Vinatieri's franchise mark for 50-yard field goals in Patriots history.
10. Did you know, Part IV: No one takes care of the football better than the Patriots, as their seven turnovers are a league low. Some of that is good fortune -- as we saw on a few tipped passes last Sunday against the Bills -- but it also helps when your quarterback is Tom Brady.
11. The fines accumulated by Patriots Brandon Spikes ($25,000), Jerod Mayo ($10,000) and Alfonzo Dennard ($7,875) from last Sunday's game against the Bills were excessive. I think the NFL is too heavy-handed in this area. Spikes is expected to appeal and I think he has a strong case that he was making a tackle toward Ryan Fitzpatrick's body before Fitzpatrick lowered his head at the last moment. Dennard's hit on Fitzpatrick, while out of bounds, was a bang-bang play. Just not sure why there needs to be a fine there.
12. Jets coach Rex Ryan has touted his franchise as being transparent and how it is a culture in which players are free to say what they feel. At one time, he pointed this out as being in contrast to the Patriots' approach. But after an anonymous Jet created headlines by calling Tim Tebow "terrible" last week, transparency has apparently been put on the back burner. The Jets (3-6) are reeling and general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- whose trade-up-in-the-draft approach was previously lauded in some circles but has left the team thin depth-wise -- is feeling some heat.
13. Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez isn't expected to play today, which has some asking the question how he could be at practice for two weeks and not play in the game. One thing to keep in mind is that Hernandez has been limited at practice for the two weeks, and another is that the Patriots seem determined to give Hernandez as much time as he needs after the feeling that he came back too quickly the first time.