Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. The composition of the Patriots’ roster is perhaps the most unique we’ve seen in Bill Belichick’s 14 years as coach. The club returned 18 of 22 primary starters this season, so there is what many would consider the ideal layer of continuity. But as of opening kickoff, the Patriots also had more first- and second-year players (21) than all but two teams in the NFL (the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns). Makes for a different type of mix -- a contending team that from an overall perspective trends younger. The question remains: Is it the right mix?
2. The Patriots are off to a 2-0 start, which has traditionally meant good things for a team’s playoff hopes. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 63 percent of teams starting 2-0 have advanced to the postseason. And here’s a key stat for those teams looking to avoid an 0-2 start on Sunday: Just 12 percent of teams that started 0-2 have reached the playoffs. The 2001 Patriots, of course, are one of the clubs that bucked the trend.
3. For all the scrutiny the Patriots’ rookie receivers have been under for the first two games, somewhat overlooked is that top draft pick Jamie Collins has played sparingly on defense (six of 138 snaps, including penalties). When the Patriots drafted Collins 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, there was some question as to how he’d fit in the team’s scheme -- pure defensive end/pass-rusher or more of an off-the-line linebacker? The Patriots have worked him mostly at linebacker, and the feeling here is that once he fully starts to grasp the team’s scheme, assuming there are no injuries to other linebackers, we’ll begin to see him integrated into the mix a bit more. In his limited snaps Thursday night against the New York Jets, Collins dropped into coverage or spied quarterback Geno Smith as the Patriots tapped his speed and athleticism. Until he’s a more regular defensive contributor, he will make his biggest contributions by playing on each of the “Big 4” special-teams units.
4. I thought last Sunday’s Patriots-Bills season opener revealed one of the flaws behind the Bills’ all-the-time up-tempo approach. At a point when the clock was their ally in the fourth quarter, quarterback EJ Manuel was snapping the ball with more than 20 seconds left on the play clock. The up-tempo offense is catching on across the NFL, and while the Philadelphia Eagles' approach in the first half of their opening victory over the Washington Redskins was electric, I think teams who only play in one gear are going to quickly find out there needs to be some flexibility and level of comfort to downshift when the situation dictates.
5. There is second-guessing and then there is first-guessing. The defection of running back Danny Woodhead from the Patriots to the San Diego Chargers struck me as puzzling when it happened, and those thoughts are revisited in the wake of the Patriots losing running back Shane Vereen for at least eight weeks with a wrist injury. How nice would it be for the Patriots to have Woodhead as an insurance option? Assuming that Woodhead would have accepted a similar deal in New England (contract here), I still don’t understand why he’s still not with the Patriots.
7. I didn’t think Jets offensive lineman Nick Mangold took a cheap shot at Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib at the end of Thursday’s game, even though he probably can expect a fine from the NFL. Talib, who never should have returned the interception because it wasn’t a smart situational play (just stay down and the game is over), was sort of tiptoeing along the sideline, and I thought it was a bang-bang play. More so than Mangold, I’m interested to see how hard the NFL comes down on starting Jets right guard Willie Colon, who tossed aside referee Carl Cheffers to get into the scrum. That’s one of the biggest no-nos in the game and earned Colon an ejection and at least a $25,000 fine.
8. Here’s one stat from each of the Patriots’ AFC East rivals that caught the eye this week: Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson has started every game since joining the team as a first-round draft choice in 2006. Impressive durability and dependability and a good pick by then-Jets coach Eric Mangini. … Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake is off to a strong start after notching 2.5 sacks in the opener at Cleveland. Of his 45.5 career sacks, 30.5 have come on the road. Would have thought those numbers would be flipped. … With the Bills losing to the Patriots in Doug Marrone’s coaching debut last Sunday, first-year Bills head coaches are now 0-17 in their opening games (1960-present). The Buffalo News has the forgettable breakdown.
9. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Patriots next Sunday, would anyone be surprised if rookie Mike Glennon is the team’s starting quarterback? This was foreshadowed at the Patriots-Buccaneers joint practices in August. After watching Josh Freeman in the regular-season opener against the Jets last Sunday, and hearing coach Greg Schiano on Thursday telling reporters about how Freeman (no longer a captain) overslept and missed a team photo, it seems like it’s more a matter of when than “if” on a torch-passing from Freeman to Glennon. Maybe it happens in the Buccaneers’ home opener Sunday against the Saints.
10a. When the Patriots played the NFC West in the 2008 season, it was a division that many viewed as the worst in football. In fact, when analyzing how the Patriots went 11-5 that season with untested Matt Cassel replacing the injured Tom Brady, many pointed to an easier schedule that included four winnable games against NFC West opponents. Five years later, some might make the case that the NFC West is now the best division in football. For those who have doubts, tune in to Sunday night's San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks game. On a related note, Seattle might have the best home-field advantage in the NFL; it’s a great, underrated environment for football that is now receiving more attention because of the team’s emergence. But it was like that even before the Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson regime.
10b. My rankings on the best divisions in football: (1) NFC West, (2) NFC East, (3) NFC North, (4) NFC South, (5) AFC North, (6) AFC South, (7) AFC East and (8) AFC West.
10c. Random question: When did the NFC suddenly become so much deeper than the AFC? Seems like yesterday it was the other way around.