- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Bill Belichick concludes his 13th season as Patriots head coach this year, and he'll be the longest-tenured head coach with the same team when next season begins. For context, the division rival Bills will have had six head coaches over that span of time (not including interim coach Perry Fewell), while the Dolphins have had five and the Jets have had four.
2. Saturday's less-than-thrilling playoff games reinforced my thought that expanding the playoff field is a bad idea. The playoffs should represent the highest quality of football, but if it doesn't with 12 teams, why would it with 14? Still, this is something that owners are likely to discuss at the league's annual March meeting and one possibility is having a "play-in" type game to determine the final playoff teams in each conference.
3. I think Josh McDaniels' decision not to interview for head-coaching openings this year has absolutely nothing to do with Belichick's future as Patriots coach, and the possibility that it could end sooner than anyone anticipated. I think it has more to do with timing and McDaniels' respect for Belichick that he wouldn't leave one year after his return, as well as family considerations.
4. The first reaction when hearing Bills president Russ Brandon talk about committing to new-age analytics is that it's another way of saying they need to have a better gauge of value in the marketplace. For example, maybe more of a focus on analytics would have helped the Bills avoid what unfolded with defensive end Mark Anderson last offseason. The Patriots had signed Anderson to a one-year, $1.385 million contract in 2011, but then in 2012, the Bills signed him to a contract that included a $6 million signing bonus and $1.9 million base salary for 2012. How could a player be valued so differently after one season?
5. My biggest takeaway from Scott Pioli's four-year tenure as general manager of the Chiefs is that he missed on the two most important decisions for anyone in his position: hiring the right coach and investing in the right quarterback. I thought Pioli put some good pieces in place in Kansas City, but without those two pillars, it's tough to get where you want to go. Looking back, the trade with the Patriots that netted quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel for a 2009 second-round draft choice (safety Patrick Chung) didn't work out for either team. Pioli might prefer to take a year off, but if he doesn't, and the Falcons lose director of player personnel David Caldwell, I could envision that as a potential landing spot for him.
6. Quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds of the 2011 draft: Cam Newton (first), Jake Locker (eighth), Blaine Gabbert (10th), Christian Ponder (12th), Andy Dalton (35th) and Colin Kaepernick (36th). Two years into their NFL careers, it seems there are more questions about this group than answers. Maybe a case in which teams were forcing the pick based on the importance of the position?
7. I think Peyton Manning and the Broncos would be a tough out for the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game if both teams advance, but I do subscribe to the belief that Denver hasn't been tested as much as New England in the second half of the season. A Week 15 win at Baltimore was arguably the Broncos' best victory.
8. Amazing that in this day of oversaturated media coverage that the Vikings were able to keep Ponder's injury status (right elbow) under the radar before turning to ineffective Joe Webb to start Saturday night's playoff loss to the Packers. Ponder had been listed on the injury report all week as being limited, and was officially declared questionable (50-50) in the days leading up to the game. The Vikings did nothing wrong in this view, as they disclosed the injury. I did wonder if there would be more outrage if the Patriots had done the same thing.
9. Jotted this note down after watching two Patriots-Dolphins games from December: In terms of offseason needs, the Dolphins need to help quarterback Ryan Tannehill by giving him more weapons at receiver. And, of course, re-signing left tackle Jake Long would obviously help. But when looking at the Patriots' main competition in the AFC East, I don't think it's a stretch to say it's the Dolphins in the No. 2 spot right now, with the Jets and Bills trying to get their houses in order.
10. Of the seven head coaches fired since the regular season ended, I think Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt is the one who most deserved more time. Always felt he was a solid coach who didn't have the needed quality at the game's most important position: quarterback.
11. The Patriots will wear the initials "DSB" on their helmets on Sunday, honoring the memory of longtime equipment manager Don Brocher, who died of leukemia Tuesday. That's a classy gesture by the Kraft family, which is what we've come to expect. This is what it will look like.