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Sunday, November 24, 2013
Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Patriots

By Mike Reiss

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

1. The Patriots couldn't have ordered up a better weather forecast for Sunday night against Peyton Manning and the Broncos -- icy cold and windy. Temperatures are expected to be in the teens at night, with winds possibly gusting around 20 miles per hour. ESPN's statistical database goes back to 2001 and computes that Manning is 2-5 in games when the temperature is 32 degrees or lower at kickoff (including playoffs), with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Add in three more sub-32-degree games from the 1998-2000 seasons, and Manning is 3-7 lifetime in those situations, with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. (Thanks to Paul Phillips of ESPN's Stats & Information for the legwork on Manning's performance in sub-32 degree temperatures.)

2. When it comes to football at this time of year in the Northeast, something Tom Brady said after the Patriots' 27-17 wind-filled win over the Dolphins on Oct. 27 has stuck with us: “The weather is turning [and] the game changes a little bit. We have to be able to adjust and play the style that we need to win.” It seems like that's going to be a big part of the storyline tonight, and that has traditionally been a strength of the Patriots in the Bill Belichick/Brady era. From Manning's perspective, it's a great opportunity to put to rest the notion that his excellence takes a hit in the cold conditions, something he hasn't had to deal with as often as Brady over his career.

3. In the 27 games Manning has started at quarterback for the Broncos, he hasn't had many cold-weather tests. The divisional-round loss to the Ravens last season (13 degrees) was the only sub-32 degree day and that could have been a win if not for a big defensive breakdown late. Still, it seems fair to say that Manning wasn't overly sharp that day. Here is the breakdown of game-time temperature in each of Manning's starts with Denver, which shows how tonight's bone-chilling forecast will be an outlier for him:

80 degrees plus -- 3
70-79 degrees – 8 (includes domes)
60-69 degrees -- 4
50-59 degrees -- 8
40-49 degrees -- 2
30-39 degrees -- 1
29 degrees or less -- 1

Wes Welker
Denver Broncos receiver Wes Welker will face his former team Sunday night.
4. With Wes Welker returning to town tonight as a member of the Broncos, I've revisited notes and reporting of the story of his departure. Here were a few nuggets/thoughts that stood out most:
Welker came back to the Patriots after receiving the offer from the Broncos and gave them the chance to match it. Had the Patriots not already committed significant extensions to Danny Amendola and Aaron Hernandez, they probably would have. But I think the feeling was that it was too much money tied up on the interior part of the field, and it would restrict them in terms of investing on defense (e.g. possibly no Aqib Talib). If they knew then what they know now in regards to Hernandez, it seems fair to say Welker probably still is a Patriot.

The role of the first-ever legal tampering period was a significant factor contributing to the way things ended. The Patriots assumed Welker had a better offer elsewhere after the three-day period and made the decision at that point to move on. If they didn't, they feared losing the only player they viewed as a capable replacement, Amendola.

Welker's camp, although skeptical that the Patriots had locked in on Amendola from the outset, felt like there would still be time to dance after the three-day legal tampering period. When they realized there wasn't, it required an aggressive sales pitch to Denver to generate interest that wasn't previously there. Denver and Welker had little to no contact during the three-day legal tampering period.

The closest the Patriots and Welker ever came to an extension was in the summer of 2012. They were about $1 million apart but couldn't close the gap.

I truly don't think Welker ever thought it would come to this, although there was a part of him that had grown tired of Bill Belichick's hard-driving approach. Likewise, I think Belichick had great respect for Welker, but at the same time had grown tired with how things that dragged out contractually over two years.

5. When Bill Parcells reflected on the best coaching job of his career leading into his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction earlier this year, he pointed to the 1999 New York Jets and keeping things together after a 1-6 start as the team finished 8-8. I've been thinking about that while watching Tom Coughlin's New York Giants dig out of an 0-6 hole to win their last four games. If the Giants keep winning, I wonder if Coughlin will feel the same way about 2013 as Parcells did '99.

6. The Seattle Seahawks, who at 10-1 have the best record in the NFC, have a bye this weekend before  a string of three games that will almost certainly determine who earns the top seed in the playoffs: home against the New Orleans Saints (Dec. 2), at San Francisco (Dec. 8) and at the Giants (Dec. 15). I remember Matt Hasselbeck once joking that playing in Seattle can sometimes lead to a more anonymous existence because it takes a bit longer for the national media corps to make its way to the Pacific Northwest. That's no longer the case, as all eyes will be on the Seahawks through the first three weeks of December. Deservedly so. They're one of my favorite teams to watch because of their swarming defense, especially when playing at home.

7a. Did you Know, Part I: According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Manning has held on to the ball an average of 2.83 seconds on his dropbacks this season, the only quarterback sub-3.0 this year.

7b. Did you Know, Part II: The Broncos have a league-high 13 lost fumbles. Manning has lost six of them.

7c. Did you Know, Part III: Brady and Manning have a combined 306 regular-season wins, which are the most ever by opposing starting quarterbacks in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

7d. Did you Know, Part IV: The Kansas City Chiefs totaled 35 sacks in their first seven games, the most by a team through seven games since the 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But they have just one sack in their last three games.

Brady/Manning
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet again Sunday night.
7e. Did you Know, Part V: The Jets are the first team in NFL history to play the first 10 games of a season without a winning or losing streak.

8. Here's one reason the Patriots might have finally made the decision to turn to rookie receiver Josh Boyce over LeGarrette Blount as their primary kickoff returner last Monday: Through the first eight games of the season, they ranked 30th in the NFL in average drive start (19.6). For context, the NFL leader in the category has an average drive start of 25.8 (Vikings). Boyce, a speedy fourth-round draft choice from Texas Christian, didn't get any opportunities Monday in Carolina as the ball was exploding off the foot of kickers. He will probably get some tonight as the ball generally doesn't carry as far in the cold.

9. Patriots rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan, the seventh-round draft choice out of Illinois, has been the player most affected by the signing of veteran Andre Carter in late October. After serving as the team's primary nickel rusher through the first seven games, Buchanan hasn't played on defense in two of the last three games, with Carter filling the role. Buchanan sometimes took himself out of plays by rushing too far up the field, something we've noticed Carter do as well. That's a spot the Patriots need to get a little more out of, and perhaps getting Buchanan reintegrated into the mix tonight -- in a game where the Patriots figure to be almost exclusively in sub packages -- wouldn't be such a bad idea.

10. As we appreciate the 14th time that Brady and Manning square off against each other tonight, let us also not forget that the Patriots and Broncos are scheduled to play against each other next year as well. That game will be at Gillette Stadium as well. Why two years in a row in Foxborough? It's all part of the NFL's schedule formula.