Print and Go Back ESPN: SportsNation

December 16, 12:00 PM ET
Chat with Mike Reiss

Mike Reiss
  (12:00 PM)

Good afternoon and welcome to the Patriots chat. I just returned from the Patriots locker room, where defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich were a few players drawing big media crowds.

Mike Reiss
  (12:01 PM)

The theme of this week seems pretty clear-cut to me. The Patriots are preparing for the possibility of two different types of games -- with Aaron Rodgers and without Aaron Rodgers. It's the huge X factor.

Mike Reiss
  (12:02 PM)

From a Patriots perspective, I think this is a very tough game if Rodgers' plays. You have a team fighting for its playoff life, coming into town off a bad effort, and with a passing game that can be lethal when you might not have your top corner (Devin McCourty). If Rodgers' plays, I am leaning toward the Packers.

Mike Reiss
  (12:02 PM)

Let's get to some questions and chat until 1 p.m.

Brian (CT)

Hi Mike, if Aaron Rodgers doesn't play do the PATS win by double digits?

Mike Reiss
  (12:03 PM)

Yes, I believe they do. The Packers struggle to run the ball, and rely so heavily on Rodgers. Take Rodgers out, and I don't see an offense capable of keeping up with the Patriots.

Dennis (WPB, FL)

Mike, yesterday you asked Coach Belichick about being 10-0 in the snow or bad weather games. Sometimes for fans not having the privilege of being in the room and seeing the coaches body language we do not get the sense of what is the truth or what he could be downplaying. So my question is do you really believe Coach Belichick, (the coach who doesn?t miss a minor detail) really was unaware of that stat? This coming from the coach who knowing they would be playing in bad weather, reportedly walks up to Brady at the start of practice with a bag of frozen balls, dropped them in front of him, and said deal with it?? Why would he not want to acknowledge this shows how his teams are prepared for anything, (mental toughness)?

Mike Reiss
  (12:05 PM)

That was an interesting exchange, Dennis. I was asking the question for ESPN's TV side, as there is some talk about putting together a piece on how well the Patriots play in the bad elements. Belichick's response made me laugh: "We might have to get the snow machines out there." I think Belichick's decision to downplay the solid record in snow is that it doesn't mean anything this week. He wants to keep the focus on the Packers.

Brian (CT)

Hi Mike, is the rookie DL Love available for the GB game this weekend, in the small amount of playing time he has gotten he seems to be following the company line and filling in without missing much of a beat?

Mike Reiss
  (12:05 PM)

Love is available and should play, Brian.

mike (melrose)

Can the Pats clinch homefield this week with a win and steelers loss? If they do so how much playing time do you think the starters get in the final 2 weeks of the season?

Mike Reiss
  (12:06 PM)

Yes, Mike, with a win and Jets loss, the Patriots clinch the division and a first-round bye. I think the starters would play in each of the final two games, with the possibility that we could see some backups in the finale based on other scenarios that unfold.

Patrick (Keene, NH)

Do you think BJGE can be our RB for the (near) future? His performance warrants some consideration as a #! RB. I love him. Always positve yardage and NEVER fumbles.

Mike Reiss
  (12:07 PM)

Patrick, I would ride him as long as he stays hot. He's hot right now. That being said, I think the Patriots will be looking to add to the position this offseason, as much to complement Green-Ellis as anything else.

silver/black (fargo)

Mike, Coach B has always been lauded (and deservedly so) for getting the most out of his players by finding what they do right and putting them in positions to succeed on the field. Guys like Woodhead and Branch are thriving hear while they weren't threats else where. With this in mind, why didn't coach B take what Adalius Thomas was good at and what worked in Baltimore and have hime focus on that? It seems like his strengths were never utilized with the Pats and he wasn't operating within his skill set. Am I inaccurate here? If so what exactly went wrong?

Mike Reiss
  (12:09 PM)

Very interesting thought and I think there is some merit to it. In the end, I think the accountability falls somewhere in the middle -- Thomas could have done more, but I think the Patriots/Belichick could have handled some things differently as well. The best coaches (Belichick is one of them) find a way to fit good football players into what they do, and as long as the player buys in, it usually works well. That obviously wasn't the case with Thomas, who butted heads with Belichick.

MarkJ (Japan)

Mike, once we had a good depth at CB, but now it becomes very thin with Wilhite sent to IR and McCourty injured. The weather gets harsh and is not favorable for any team to go pass happy, but CB should be a concern for the Pats defense for the reminder of the season. At least I am very concerned. Your thoughts?

Mike Reiss
  (12:09 PM)

Fair concern, MarkJ, especially this week if Rodgers plays.

Har Journalist (Vancouver, Canada)

Hi Mike What's the word on Devin McCourty for Sunday Night? I can't imagine the cold weather would be good for a Rib Injury Do you think he will play or will the Pats sit him for bigger games down the line? Thanks Mike

Mike Reiss
  (12:10 PM)

Har, reading the tea leaves (always dangerous), I'm not expecting McCourty to play tihs week.

Todd (Philly)

Mike - what do you make of the insinuation by the Jets that the Pats form "walls" on the sidelines all the time....as though "since they got caught, we are going to point at the real criminal" should justify what happened...

Mike Reiss
  (12:12 PM)

Pathetic, Todd. I am curious if the NFL will step in and levy an "integrity of the game" fine to the Jets.

DEL (Stuck in Jersey)

Mike, great blog and thanks for the chat. Have you reviewed film to see if the Jets claims about the Pats punt return wall are accurate?

Mike Reiss
  (12:13 PM)

This one is really simple to me, DEL. There is a clearly marked area where players can stand on the sideine and as long as they are in that area, it is legal. They can be side by side or having tea, it doesn't matter. This isn't about a wall, it's about a coach making a reckless decision to stick his knee out, which could have ended a player's career.

Joe (New York)

Hi Mike, Regarding the '11 draft and the fact the Pats have six pickes within the first Three rounds, does it go without saying that not having a labor deal by draft time would be a material negative for the Pats as it might lead Junior eligibles to stay for their Senior year? Also regarding draft needs, I think Pass Rush is an obvious choice along with a WR who can stretch the Field. (I assume they will re-sign Mankins.) What do you think?

Mike Reiss
  (12:14 PM)

I guess that could happen, Joe, but my sense is that it won't be a huge factor. On the draft needs, OLB/DE are the two areas I'd focus on with those high picks.

Ryan (Boston)

What team scares you the most from the NFC that the Patriots will probably face IF they make it to the Super Bowl? Also, if its the Saints do you think Brees will still be able to pick them apart like he did last year? On the Eagles, the linebackers have trouble chasing down slow QBs when they go outside, I can't imagine them being able to handle Vick, McCoy, and their speedy receivers.

Mike Reiss
  (12:15 PM)

Hadn't thought too much about the NFC, Ryan, but the first thought that came to mind was the Saints.

Ben (Smithtown, NY)

Our offensive line has been stellar the past few games. It's clear that a heathy Logan Mankins makes a huge impact. What are the chances of the Patriots are able to resign Mankins?

Mike Reiss
  (12:16 PM)

Ben, I think they will franchise-tag him, which had been a hot topic of debate in the weekly Patriots mailbag on ESPNBoston.com. I had initially thought they wouldn't do that. So I see Mankins back, or the team getting something in return for him. I do believe the team would offer Mankins the same deal if he had a change of heart and was willing to accept.

Mike (Arlington (via Westwood))

Hi Mike! With the McCourtey injury, I see his status somewhat contingent upon Rodgers' ability to play, would you agree? If he can't go, there might be more incentive to sit him knowing the likes of Darius Butler can get some much needed reps/experience heading into the playoffs. Your thoughts?

Mike Reiss
  (12:17 PM)

Mike, I'm more of a black and white guy on this one. McCourty on the field, regardless of scenario, is the best thing for the Patriots.

Tyler (Sacramento, CA)

Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to do these chats every week. It seems that all the media wants to talk about lately is how amazing the Patriots are doing and how much other teams are hurting because of injury. Have they looked at how many injuries the Pats have had? Kaczur, Neal, Warren, Bodden, Faulk, Wilhite to IR; Brace, Wright, Pryor, Page missing sig time; McCourty, Warren, Branch ??s this week. Funny how injury excuses are made for underachieving teams but no mention of overcoming them for the Pats.

Mike Reiss
  (12:18 PM)

Tyler, I haven't taken a temperature of media analysis on this and would only feel comfortable speaking on the Patriots. They have been one of the most banged-up teams in the NFL this year (14 players to IR) but have built quality depth to absorb it. That's a credit to them.

rick (ct)

Mike,Assuming Devin McC is a no go on Sunday who would be the nickel back? Chung or Meriweather? Other?

Mike Reiss
  (12:19 PM)

Could be Chevis Jackson, Rick. I'm not as familiar with the Packers so I'd need to study whether the Patriots would want a CB there, or a S. If they were comfortable with a safety, look for Patrick Chung.

Peter (Richmond)

Mike, Happy Holidays! Assuming that Rogers is going to play, what are you thoughts around our corner situation? Jennings seems to catch everything coming his way and with Driver, Jones and the rest of Rogers weapons it seems Brady is going to have to put points up every possession. I wont discount our DE since they have really played well over the last few weeks but we have a few new names now, my hope is they can step up to the challenge.

Mike Reiss
  (12:20 PM)

I'm not crazy about the matchup for the Patriots, Peter, specifically if Rodgers plays and McCourty does not. Although one thing I would say is that Jennings hasn't caught everything his way. He had one bounce off his facemask last week for an interception on a ball that should have been caught.

Patrick (Murfreesboro, TN)

Mike,There are several players playing a key role that we were not even talking about before the season. If you had to name one player on offense and one player on defense that you are the most surprised by, who would they be?

Mike Reiss
  (12:21 PM)

Always like these, Patrick. I'd say Danny Woodhead (RB) and Devin McCourty (CB).

Alex (Brockton)

Could third down defense be the Patriot's achilles heel in the playoffs?

Mike Reiss
  (12:22 PM)

It could be, Alex, although I think it's been better of late. Bears were 3 of 8 last week and combined with the quick turnovers, the Patriots only had 45 plays on defense. That's a very low total.

Maddy (Kingston, RI)

Hi Mike,Welker has been nothing be amazing in my opinion. He is on par for another 100 catch season and probably 9-10 TDs. More impressive is that he blew out his knee in January. Is it about time, we start mentioning him as one of the best receivers and not just a slot receiver? Also, do you know of any contract extension talks between him and Pats? We should lock him up for next 3-4 years!

Mike Reiss
  (12:23 PM)

Good one, Maddy. From what I understand, there had been some dialogue on contract talks, but I have no idea how that went. As for his production, it is a great story. Welker deserves a lot of credit. I know I thought he'd be out the first six weeks. I also thought he'd finish with 80 catches. I was wrong on both.

Sterling (Tucson, AZ)

Greetings from the SouthWest! It seems the while the offense is clicking on all cylinders, the defense is starting to come around as well. Just looking at the last half of the season, where does the defense for the Pats rank compared to the rest of the league? It seems like the defense is starting to click and figure something out the last 5 or 6 games. Doesn?t hurt that the Rookies and 2nd year players are playing like they have played in the system for a few years.

Mike Reiss
  (12:24 PM)

It depends which measure we want to use, Sterling. I like to use points allowed. The Patriots rank 17th in the NFL in terms allowed. They rank lower if we're looking at yardage, but at the end of the day they determine games not by how many yards you gain, but how many points you score/or don't score.

Ned (Springfield)

Everyone loves having Brady on the field as much as possible, but from a risk management standpoint, shouldn't Hoyer be getting more snaps in blowout games? He only has two pass attempts this season, and as we know all too well, [knocking on wood] sometimes back-up QBs become critical so why not get Hoyer a little more game action?

Mike Reiss
  (12:26 PM)

Ned, I think Bill Belichick has been balancing two things: 1. The idea of stressing a 60-minute performance; 2. The health of the entire roster. In that big win over the Jets, he wanted to make the point to the team that playing 60 was what it would take and he felt it would have watered down his message to pull Brady. I can understand that. But by taking that approach, you open up the risk of injury. I'm more conservative, like you.

Monty (Ipswich)

With the solid play of Danny Woodhead as the Patriots third down back, do you believe that this season is the last we see of Patriots HOF Lock Kevin Faulk? If he were to retire or not return to football do you believe he will hook up with Belichick and coach? Or do you see him going the Tedy Bruschi/Troy Brown route?

Mike Reiss
  (12:27 PM)

My sense is that this is it for Faulk. I can't imagine the team would keep both him and Woodhead, as they would be filling the same roles. Injuries can always alter the picture. I haven't asked Faulk what his post-playing plans are.

Adam (Albuquerque, NM)

Hey Mike, call me crazy but I'd almost rather see Rodgers start. The Pats have had some problems during the Belichick era against inexperienced or unknown QBs--maybe due to lack of tape of them. I could see us having some problems against Flynn, especially with a week of reps under his belt. Your thoughts?

Mike Reiss
  (12:28 PM)

Adam, it is a pretty significant drop-off between the two based on what I saw last week in that Packers-Lions game. My hunch is that Rodgers will start, but if you were to ask me "What is best for the Patriots?" I'd say it would be with Flynn under center.

Stacey (Providence)

Hi Mike! Thanks for the chat! Has Bill B. seemed different to you this season? He almost seems, dare I say it, more light-hearted....like he's showing more of his funny side to the media than he ever has before....do you think that's because of Rex Ryan and how fun he always is in his press conferences?

Mike Reiss
  (12:29 PM)

Stacey, he seems like the same to me. What might be different is that he knows what he has in the locker room, and likes the group of players and how they work, so he's a bit happier in the workplace. I think '09 was a tough year for him in that regard.

Sean (Saginaw, MI)

Mike, I've been so impressed by the rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Did you see them making this big of an impact when the Patriots drafted them?

Mike Reiss
  (12:30 PM)

It was hard to project, Sean, because I didn't know the offense would take on this shape. They had mostly been a three-receiver attack from 2007-2009, so this is a big change in philosophy. Also, you had questions about Hernandez from an off-the-field perspective and medical questions on Gronkowski (back injury). So that was very much a wild-card to me, all around.

Rory (Dublin, Ireland)

Hey Mike, I don't recall seeing who got cut/sent to IR to make space for Chevis Jackson. Was that announced?

Mike Reiss
  (12:31 PM)

That was the Spikes' suspension. The Patriots get a roster spot for that.

Corwyn Canedy (Groton,Ct)

Team in the AFC we most want to avoid in the playoffs?

Mike Reiss
  (12:31 PM)

Chargers, Colts and Ravens top my list.

Jim (Stuutgart)

Mike, thanks for the blog and these chats, keeps me in the loop!Were you being serious that you think GB is likely to win if Rodgers plays? Have you seen some of the lame games they've played lately with him? I see the Patriots in a fairly easy win.

Mike Reiss
  (12:33 PM)

I was serious, Jim. I watched most every snap of the Packers' game against the Lions last week and it looked awful. But I'm also aware that what happens one week doesn't translate to the next. You have a team fighting for its playoff life coming in here in a week where it's easy for the Patriots to get off track and think that Aaron Rodgers won't play. You also have McCourty out. Those are some things that tilt the needle toward the Packers when I analyze the matchup.

Chioke Hassan (Baltimore,Md)

Dear MikeDid the Pats honor Mosi Tatupu this season?

Mike Reiss
  (12:34 PM)

Not that I'm aware of, Chioke. I do remember they had a Hall of Fame exhibit, if I'm not mistaken.

Marcus (Ellington,CT)

Hi Mike, Its clear that Alge Crumpler has been a huge key to the success of the running game and the development of Gronkowski and Hernandez. What is his contract status for next year and can we expect him around for a few more years ?

Mike Reiss
  (12:34 PM)

Marcus, Crumpler is signed through the 2011 season.

DJ (Ann Arbor)

How does a guy like Eric Moore show up midseason, win practice player of the week, and then look so effective shoring up the depleted DLine? Was he dominant in the minors? (If so why didn't they pick him up earlier?) Wondering if you've heard any scuttlebutt from players or coaches. Is this a one-off aberration or can we hope to have "discovered" another Cameron Wake -- or at least someone to give us the effective pass rush in sub packages that we were only getting from Mike Wright (and how long will he be out?!). What do you think: is he the Pats next unheralded find?

Mike Reiss
  (12:36 PM)

DJ, I talked to Tedy Bruschi about this and the feeling is "Let's wait and see." Part of it might have been the Bears' offensive line. It could have just been a one-game fluke. Moore's role was pretty straight-forward -- rush off the defensive left edge. The Patriots had visited with Moore in September but didn't have room for him at the time.

Matt (Franklin)

Hey Mike, with the D-line so thin due to injury, did the Pats ever have any interest in brining Jarvis Green back in? Seemed strange that they'd pass on a guy who knows the schemes and who's been successful in what is now an area of need.

Mike Reiss
  (12:38 PM)

Matt, the Patriots had an offer on the table for Green over the offseason, but it wasn't close to what the Broncos offered. So there was some interest there from the Patriots at that time. One pro personnel director mentioned that Green's preseason tape was not good and that probably hurt him. As for the Patriots, it seemed they wanted a bigger guy (Louis Leonard, 6-4, 325) over someone like Green (6-3, 285).

Tina (Boston)

mike!! i always post questions but they never get answered. I am not sure who I want to win the jets vs Pitt game. Any idea on who you will be cheering for?

Mike Reiss
  (12:39 PM)

I'll be honest, Tina, I am hoping to be home for the playoffs because it makes life easier on the family at home. So anything that contributes to that happening, I'm all for. If the Steelers win, and the Patriots win, that clinches a first-round bye for the Patriots. So that works for me.

Tim (Newton, MA)

Hey Mike, Clay Matthews is obviously a force, usually coming from the strong side from the Packers games I've seen. Do you see him mostly being Vollmer's responsibility, or will we see more help from the running back position, chipping him away, and letting Vollmer stay a little more inside?

Mike Reiss
  (12:40 PM)

Tim, they move him around a bit, but last week he was mostly rushing against the Lions' right tackle, who ironically was former Patriots draft pick Corey Hilliard. So if I had to project based on last week, Vollmer would see the most of Matthews.

bri (bos)

would rather have butler, tate, edelman, and gronk - sorry

Mike Reiss
  (12:41 PM)

Bri, it's obviously never that simple, but I respect your opinion. Clay Matthews was picked 26th overall by the Packers. With the picks the Patriots received by trading that selection to the Packers, they got Butler, Tate, Edelman and Gronkowski. Which side is better? Great debate. I said if the Patriots knew then what they know now, they'd have gone Matthews and still tried to get some of the other guys.

Mark (Miami, FL)

Do you like your job? 1-10?

Mike Reiss
  (12:42 PM)

10. A lot of fun.

Geoff (NB Canada)

When is the latest we will know if Rodgers plays? He has to pass a test given by an independant doctor correct? Thanks!

Mike Reiss
  (12:42 PM)

Saturday. That is my understanding as well, that an independent doctor would have to clear him.

T (Boston)

Did I miss something? Is there a "minors" for the NFL?

Mike Reiss
  (12:43 PM)

With Eric Moore, we were talking about the United Football League.

Eric (MA)

I have to say Crable just did not rush the passer well enough to stay - #98 Eric Moore looked better in one game than Crable had in 3 years.

Mike Reiss
  (12:43 PM)

A point echoed by others in this chat.

slice ( boston)

Mike you've never played a down in your life .. You have to be able to play the game in order to talk about it and criticize others .. now give me a reason why i should listen to anything you say

Mike Reiss
  (12:44 PM)

Last I checked, Bill Belichick didn't play in the NFL. Do you listen to what he says?

BillZ (Kailu Kona Hawaii)

Wouldn't the Pats have been yet more better ( as we say here) if they had kept Randy AND ALSO added Branch? With the picks they have, that would have been a real strong "win now" move, No? Great short medium game with legitimate long threat to make defenses nuts. 3wr + 2te sets. Rotate Tate and Edleman in to give the others a blow. And still do the RB shuffle for yards and balance.

Mike Reiss
  (12:45 PM)

BillZ, I don't think any of us have the full story on Moss. My sense is that things were starting to head in the wrong direction behind the scenes. It was time for the team to move on.

Eric (Andover, MA)

What's your best guess as far as which of these players will be available Sunday? Rodgers, McCourty, Mike Wright, Ron Brace, Gerard Warren, and Myron Pryor? I have a hunch Brady will be playing...

Mike Reiss
  (12:46 PM)

I'll go Rodgers yes, McCourty no, Wright no, Brace no, Warren yes, Pryor no.

Joseph King (Andover)

Hi Mike, Since Bill Belichick is so good at finding and exploiting other teams' weaknesses, do you think he provides a "roadmap" for other teams? In particular for this season, I wonder if the Bengals lost season results in part from other teams taking advantage of weaknesses the Patriots exposed in week 1?

Mike Reiss
  (12:47 PM)

I buy into that line of thinking, Joseph. Even though the Patriots have different weapons that can attack a team's weakness differently than another club, I do believe in the idea of this being a copycat league.

JK (Lexington, MA)

Mike, was wondering if you think BB should rest some of the defensive linemen that have been nursing injuries (Wright, Pryor, Brace) and instead use our recent pickups (Moore

Mike Reiss
  (12:48 PM)

I do think there will be an element of this, JK, managing the roster by balancing the short- and long-term.

Jimbo (yeah that one) (Beantown)

We've all discussed the reason for Julian Edelman not being on the field (the multi-TE sets, Branch and Welker) but do you believe his recent explosiveness on punt returns will convince the staff to do "something", "anything" with him down the stretch just to give him more touches? I believe he should be the "running back" in the Pat's 4-6 receiver sets.

Mike Reiss
  (12:50 PM)

Jimbo, I don't see that changing much. They have specific stuff in for Edelman, it's just a matter of timing and when to strike it. I heard a good one on Edelman last week. He had a pretty scruffy beard, but word is that he shaved it because he was tired of being called Matt Light's mini-me. Those guys can be tough in that locker room.

Ian (The Rock)

Mike,Have we found out yet which 4th round pick we gave up for Deion Branch, ours or Denver's?

Mike Reiss
  (12:50 PM)

Ian, I have not confirmed it, although some reports say it was Denver's.

Bob (Bellingham, MA)

Mike, Everyone talks about what a young team the Pats are

Mike Reiss
  (12:52 PM)

I don't think that's really it, Bob, because sometimes youth like that can think they have it all figured out. It's about the mix in the locker room and balancing a young guy with a savvy vet. The TE group captures that dynamic best in my view. You have Gronkowki and Hernandez flanked by Crumpler, the consummate pro.

slappy3312 (Orlando)

What has been most remarkable to me this season is how the Pats have dealt with losing players. When Bodden and especially Ty Warren went down in preseason, I really thought this would cripple this young defense. And then with the offense losing Faulk and then trading Moss, I wasn't sure how they would compete... Its been really impressive.

Mike Reiss
  (12:53 PM)

That is what stands out to me as well, slappy3312. I remember writing that I saw ominous signs when they were trading for players that other teams were cutting (Tracy White, Quinn Ojinnaka). I was wrong.

Leo (Minneapolis MN)

Mike, any word in locker room today on Pats comments / thoughts on the Westhoff remarks from yesterday ?? I'm sure publicly will be little if any comment but behind the scenes, wonder how 'amused' they are ??

Mike Reiss
  (12:54 PM)

My sense was that players were instructed not to talk on it. They are coached up very well.

Pete (Acton MA)

Does it bother you being called the "fifth Kraft son"?

Mike Reiss
  (12:55 PM)

Ha. Good one, Pete. I lost my seat at the table when I wrote the piece on Logan Mankins being critical of Kraft and the Patriots [joking].

KC (Dunwoody)

Do you think Price gets a look in any of the dead games at the end?

Mike Reiss
  (12:56 PM)

I don't see it, KC. I think this is a true "red-shirt" type year for Price.

Ted (Fitchburg)

Mike, is there any real chance of the League altering the playoff system if a 7-9 team gets in (with a home game)?

Mike Reiss
  (12:59 PM)

Ted, I read something yesterday from Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay bringing this issue up. It's possible. I know when it was brought up a few years ago, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson gave a passionate speech to owners/executives on why it was important to keep things the way they were.

Mike Reiss
  (12:59 PM)

Richardson's point is that the reward for winning a division should be a home playoff game, as it puts an added value on division play. It's a reward to the fans as well.

Kellen (Des Moines, IA)

Mike, is the Branch knee issue anything to be concerned about ??

Mike Reiss
  (1:00 PM)

My sense is no, Kellen. That is just from seeing him in the locker room Wednesday.

Mike Reiss
  (1:00 PM)

Let's go for another 5 here.

Dominic (Denver)

Mike - with all due respect, saying you'd rather have Matthes than Butler, Tate, Edelman and Gronkowski is silly. You have no idea how Matthews would translate to our system. Gronk has 7 tds and counting and is obviously a fit for the system. I'd probably like to have Matthews, but I certainly wouldn't trade those four for him.

Mike Reiss
  (1:02 PM)

Thanks for the respect Dominic. It's a great debate.

farn (Nova Scotia)

Unlike 2007, NE seems to be peaking (offensively) in the cold. What is the main reason ?

Mike Reiss
  (1:03 PM)

Part of it is that they practice in it. On Wednesday, for example, Bill Belichick had his players out on the frigid practice field. That can help develop a mental toughness.

Bernie (Dickson, NH)

Mike, I have been very impressed with Zoltan Mesko's development this year. Seems to me like we have found our punter for the foreseeable future - do you agree ??

Mike Reiss
  (1:04 PM)

Absolutely Bernie. He has had a very solid year as both a punter and a holder.

Kevin F. (Framingham,MA)

Hi Mike. So much for a bridge year. I feel like this team is so young in several positions that the veterans should be commended for being the glue to hold this young team together. Brady is obvious, but guys like Crumpler, Sanders, Branch, Gerard Warren, Wilfork and most of the O-line have had a huge impact on guiding a talented but young core of players. I bring this up because the Patriots have a bevy of picks again this coming year, and I'd hate to see the team become TOO young at the expense of some of the veteran core. They may not have the long term upside but they are vital in bringing the young guys along. The roster turned over so quickly in the last 3 years, that I think guys like Crumpler and Sanders are more vital than ever and although they play minor roles, I hope they aren't let go to accomodate next year's draft class. I felt like the Patriots last year were hurt by not having the presence of Seymour, Vrabel, Harrison and Bruschi around, and hopefully Belichick can balance his roster's long term future without removing the important veteran presence.

Mike Reiss
  (1:05 PM)

Thanks for the thoughts Kevin. It's always a balancing act. They struck the right balance this year, for sure.

Tony (Hartford CT)

Mike, when Spikes is eligible to return after his suspension, do you foresee him moving right back into his previous role or will there be a little 'punishment' from the coaching staff for what he did ??

Mike Reiss
  (1:05 PM)

I think right back in, Tony, and a first-round bye would be big for him to get his timing back.

_bb (originally from Hungary)

Hi Mike! Do the Pats have a private jet to fly the team to road games or do they rent one each time, or take a charter?

Mike Reiss
  (1:07 PM)

Hi _bb. It's a charter.

Mike Reiss
  (1:07 PM)

But I don't fly on that one. I'm usually on the Kraft private jet :)

Mike Reiss
  (1:07 PM)

Seriously, I fly commercial and often times find myself on the same flight as other media members.

Brandon (Portsmouth)

Mike, you have a great column! I read it every day. It helps me get through the work week. I have a quick question for you. Ventrone has won practice player of the week for almost 2 months now. Is he ever going to get to see his name on the gameday roster of 53? He sounds like a ?Rudy? type player to me. Give him a shot and lets see what happens. Keep up the good work.

Mike Reiss
  (1:08 PM)

Brandon, it's six wins and practice player of the week in a row for Ventrone. I see him with the club in training camp next year and you never know. It's going to be tough, but I wouldn't count him out. They obviously like something about him.

Dan (Manchester, NH)

Is Spikes required to stay away from the facility during his suspension?

Mike Reiss
  (1:09 PM)

Yes, Dan, that is my understanding of the situation. In the locker room, you see his chair folded up and his items neatly in place, as if they haven't been touched.

Greg Jennings (GB)

Why did the past trade up for Chad jackson when they could have sat tight and drafted me?

Mike Reiss
  (1:09 PM)

I'm sure Bill Belichick was asking that same question. Bad mistake that year.

T (Boston)

Isn't the silliness though, assuming that it was Matthews OR those guys? If BB wanted them, he could've found other moves to get SOME of them no?

Mike Reiss
  (1:10 PM)

That's all part of the analysis, T, and it's fun to dissect it from all different viewpoints. I think you can make a strong case for both sides, and the answer we give now might look different a year from now.

Mike (ATX)

Hey Mike, how do you think Shayne Graham will respond to playoff games and under pressure?

Mike Reiss
  (1:11 PM)

So far, so good Mike. He's been better than I thought he would be, but one could say those "demons" that Marvin Lewis mentioned will be there until Graham does it in the playoffs.

Andy (Lowell)

Final score for Sunday?

Mike Reiss
  (1:12 PM)

I went 31-27 Packers if Rodgers plays. 31-14 Patriots if Rodgers does not play.

Brett Bosse (Manchester, NH)

What has happened to Julian Edelman? Was he just a casualty of the Deion Branch trade, or more a function of the switch to the 2-TE sets?

Mike Reiss
  (1:13 PM)

Both Brett. He has the right attitude. Says he will focus on punt returns and he's been pretty explosive with that.

John (Manchester, NH)

Mike, how much discussion is there among the players in the Pats locker room over the pending lockout/decertification?

Mike Reiss
  (1:13 PM)

A little bit, John. Talked to another player this week who was holding off some plans with his wife because of the uncertainty.

FineJets (Acton,ma)

Can Patriots put a request to the league to fine the special teams coach? Jets coaches should be ashamed of themselves, i can not wait for the three weeks to go, when they miss playoffs yet again.

Mike Reiss
  (1:14 PM)

Sure, they could file an official complaint with the league. That is on my to-do list today, to see if they do it. I am anticipating they will.

Ken From Long Island (Long Island)

Respectfully disagre with you on Chargers and Colts...I don't think they could win a January game in Foxboro...the Ravens can in my opinion...They really scare me.

Mike Reiss
  (1:15 PM)

Honestly, Ken, I think the AFC playoffs are going to be really, really tough, no matter who is in there. Brutal. Whoever wins it will have to earn it.

Brett Bosse (Manchester, NH)

What has been the biggest difference with Deion Branch between NE and Seattle? Were the Seahawks just not using him properly?

Mike Reiss
  (1:15 PM)

I see it as a combination of system and QB. Two powerful forces.

Nate (Btown)

Crumpler kind of seems like a jerk to the media. Is that accurate?

Mike Reiss
  (1:16 PM)

Nate, I'd say no. He's very protective of his teammates.

Gabe (Teaneck, NJ)

Seriously Mike--you have the Packers winning if Rodgers plays?They are a huge splits team--averaging 31.5 PPG at home, 15.1 PPG on the road. Since week 1 @ Philly, they haven't topped 20 on the road. This with a fully healthy Rodgers.Brady never loses at home.I am not necessarily trying to change your opinion, just wondering how you came to that prediction.

Mike Reiss
  (1:18 PM)

Let's end on this one, Gabe. The main factors I considered is the spot for the Packers, the desperation they will be playing with, the fact they played a dud last week and are unlikely to follow that up this week, that the Patriots could be without Devin McCourty against a strong passing team, and the idea that this tremendous run of turnover-free football is unlikely to continue for New England. I could be way off the mark, and the Patriots are certainly playing well, but those are the factors I had in mind when making that projection, among others.

Mike Reiss
  (1:18 PM)

Let's see how it plays out. Thanks to everyone for chatting today. Great chat. Enjoy the weekend and we'll catch up next week.