Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Patriots

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
5:00
AM ET
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

1. While veteran safety Ed Reed told New York Jets-based reporters that he was contacted by the Patriots, my sense is that it wasn't a situation where Reed had two concrete offers side by side and chose the Jets over the Patriots. The Patriots have great respect for Reed, but they weren't as aggressive as I thought they might be once he became available. Acknowledging Reed isn't the player he once was, I'm still surprised by that because I thought he could have helped them.

2. Monday night marks the third time the Patriots will play a regular-season game in Charlotte, N.C. (previous trips in 2002 and 2005), and followers of the team will notice something out of the norm at midfield. Instead of the Panthers' logo at the 50-yard line, there is the NFL shield, and that's a statement from owner Jerry Richardson, a former NFL player, that the league itself is bigger than every team. The Panthers are one of the only home venues to do that. We also see that at MetLife Stadium, but that's largely because it's a shared venue between the Jets and New York Giants.

3. It's never a good thing when a team is without two of its starting players in the secondary, as the Patriots will be Monday with cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Steve Gregory (broken right thumb) already ruled out. But I think there is a big difference between the impact that might have this week (minimal) compared to next week against the Broncos (significant). I expect the Patriots, who have been in their base defense just 29.8 percent of the time this season, to mostly be in their bigger base defense Monday against the power-running Panthers with a focus on stopping the run. Against Peyton Manning six days later, they will probably be in sub packages most of the time, which could expose a lack of depth in a banged-up secondary.

[+] EnlargeDeAngelo Williams
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsThe New England defense will have its hands full with running back DeAngelo Williams.
4. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, now 40 and the oldest active player in the NFL, shows no signs of slowing down as he hit field goals from 48, 30 and 50 yards in Nashville, Tenn., this past Thursday. Vinatieri (20-of-23 on the season) is in the final year of his contract ($2 million base salary) and he's previously stated the desire to kick as long as he's productive. There is no reason to think he won't keep going into his 40s, further strengthening his candidacy to one day becoming just the second kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Jan Stenerud is the lone kicker in the Hall), assuming there isn't an upset and another gets in before he's ultimately eligible.

5. With the Patriots visiting the Panthers on Monday, it had us looking back to the 2006 draft because Carolina is still benefitting from its selection of running back DeAngelo Williams (No. 27 overall) while the Patriots never got the long-term results they were hoping for from running back Laurence Maroney (No. 21, traded after four seasons). That was the year 14 of the first 20 selections were on defense, which depleted the Patriots' defensive board and ultimately led them to Maroney, who was viewed by some, including Mike Shanahan at the time, as a great value pick. As it turns out, there were 14 running backs selected in the 2006 draft and only four are still on NFL rosters: Detroit's Reggie Bush (No. 2 overall/Miami), Williams, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew No. 60/Jacksonville) and New England's Leon Washington (No. 117/Jets).

6. With the Patriots-Texans game on Dec. 1 being moved from 4:25 p.m. to 1 p.m., it leaves just two possibilities for the Patriots to have games flexed into Sunday night -- Dec. 8 at home against the Browns and Dec. 15 on the road against Miami. At this point, I don't see those games being moved, as there are other more intriguing matchups on Dec. 8 (Colts-Bengals; Panthers-Saints; Lions-Eagles; Seahawks-49ers) and the Sunday night Dec. 15 game with Cincinnati at Pittsburgh could be strong enough to hold the spot on what looks like a pretty weak day overall in terms of catch-your-eye matchups (Giants-Seahawks; Packers-Cowboys; Jets-Panthers a few of note).

7. One of the unusual parts about the success of the Panthers (6-3) and Jets (5-4) is that both teams hired new general managers in the offseason who stayed with the existing head coach who obviously wasn't their own hand-picked choice. It's been a good example on the value of head-coaching continuity and how new partnerships can be formed and still produce success. I thought that particularly showed itself this week with the Jets where Rex Ryan obviously has earned some trust from GM John Idzik, who went along with his head coach's wishes in signing Reed.

8. The Patriots and Panthers are among 13 teams in the NFL in which the backup quarterback hasn't attempted a pass this season, as Ryan Mallett and Derek Anderson have done their most important work in practice. There are essentially three scenarios in which a backup is called upon -- injury, mop-up duty or ineffectiveness -- and this year once again highlights the importance of quality depth at the position. Teams in which the backup quarterback has yet to attempt a pass this season: Ravens, Bengals, Chiefs, Dolphins, Steelers, Chargers, Cardinals, Falcons, Cowboys, Lions, Saints, Patriots, Panthers.

9a. Did you Know, Part I: A win over the Panthers would guarantee the Patriots a record of .500 or better for the 13th consecutive year. The Patriots are the only NFL team to post a .500 record of better in each of the past 12 seasons (2001-2012).

9b. Did you Know, Part II: The Panthers have not allowed a first-quarter touchdown in 13 consecutive regular-season games, stretching back to last season. That's the longest streak in the NFL.

9c. Did you Know, Part III: The highly anticipated game between the visiting Chiefs (9-0) and Broncos (8-1) is unique in that the combined winning percentage of the teams (.944) is the highest for a game this late in the season since 1969 (11-0 Rams vs. 10-1 Vikings), per ESPN Stats & Information. It is also notable that the Chiefs and Broncos have combined to face just one team with a winning record this season (Broncos' 39-33 loss to the Colts in Week 7).

9d. Did you Know, Part IV: The Eagles, with Chip Kelly's quick-paced offense, rank last in the NFL in time of possession (25:10).

10. In a sign of the times, games on natural-grass surfaces are becoming more the exception than the rule for many teams. Consider that the Patriots' game at Carolina on Monday night marks their first game on grass this year, which is the second longest the team has waited to play its first regular-season game on grass (the longest wait was 1987, at Denver, Dec. 6). A big part of that, of course, is that the Patriots played their home games on grass from 1992-2005, after previously having turf at home from 1971-1991. In 2006, the switch was made to FieldTurf. The Patriots are scheduled for three regular-season games on grass this year -- at Carolina, at Houston (Dec. 1) and at Miami (Dec. 15).

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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