April 25, 2014

Interview With Lesley Visser

This column originally appeared in the November 25th, 2009 issue of Patriots Football Weekly.

Visser no stranger to Pats success

By Bruce Allen

“Hi, I’m Lesley Visser, I know Will McDonough.”

With those eight words, Lesley Visser, the longtime CBS sportscaster voted this past summer as the No. 1 Female Sportscaster of All-Time, would approach players, coaches and officials during her first season on the Patriots beat. The year was 1976, and the 23-year-old Visser was working for The Boston Globe, yet was not allowed in the locker room, and her team-issued press credential flatly stated “No Women or Children allowed in the Press Box.” Oftentimes she would have to wait in the parking lot to interview players. There wasn’t even a ladies room available to her. Dropping McDonough’s name was the only “in” that she had until she could establish herself.

Despite her distinguished career, I sometimes feel that Visser isn’t always properly appreciated by the public for being the true pioneer that she is. In an age where more and more women are seeking careers in sports media, Visser set the standards by which they all measure themselves. Thus, having the chance to chat recently with the very gracious Visser was a great privilege.

Both her remarkable life and career began right here in Massachusetts. Born in Quincy MA, sports and football were in Visser’s blood from a young age. As a little girl, she dressed as Celtics guard Sam Jones for Halloween one year, and asked Santa for a pair of shoulder pads one Christmas.

In 1966, Visser attended her first professional football game, when the Patriots took on the Oakland Raiders at Fenway Park. The 13-year-old Visser managed to get down to the Raiders sideline where she saw future Hall of Fame center Jim Otto up close. “He was the biggest human being I’d ever seen,” she remembers, “and my eyes grew as big as his double 00′s.”

She had the goal of being a sportswriter when she grew up, and as an English major at Boston College, she obtained an internship at The Boston Globe through a Carnegie Foundation grant. Joining the paper full-time following graduation in 1975, she immediately started making her mark in a male-dominated field.

It started that bicentennial year of 1976, when Visser became the first woman assigned to an NFL beat when the Globe sent her out to cover Patriots on a daily basis.

“The first day of training camp, I think I brushed my teeth in the parking lot of Bryant college.” She recalls her biggest fear in those first days on the beat: “Working with people like Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan and Bud Collins, I was terrified I’d let the Boston Globe down with their historic decision.”

Dropping McDonough’s name became her “Magic Credential,” as she puts it. McDonough, the most respected football writer in the country, even spoke to Billy Sullivan on her behalf, telling the Patriots owner that she would work hard, and asking them to be forgiving of her mistakes.

Mistakes? She made a few, some of which pain her to this day. She recalls one incident early in her tenure when she was doing a story on Sam Cunningham, (Visser says that Sam was much more famous than younger brother Randall.) and included some notes at the end of the story. The Patriots were banged up along the offensive line, and she asked coach Chuck Fairbanks who would start at tackle, Tom Neville or Bob McKay.

In the Globe the next morning, Fairbanks was quoted as saying, “Neither one can play the position”. Visser relates: “I got a call at 6 am.  ‘Are you out of your mind?’” It was Fairbanks, shouting on the other end. “I said EITHER one can play the position!”  Visser still shakes her head at the recollection. “I wanted to move to Bimini. Instead, I flew down to Miami with the team – as all members of the media did back then. I heard about it the whole flight, and, OK, maybe the whole season. I think Dave Smith and Vince Doria, our legendary editors at the Globe, remind me of it to this day.”

All in all, she says that “The Patriots were great to me” and that first season in Foxborough was a memorable one, the team went 11-3 before losing a heartbreaking playoff game to the Raiders on the infamous Ben Dreith “roughing the passer” call on Sugar Bear Hamilton, the Patriots tackle who Visser says had watched game film with her that year, giving her an even deeper understanding of the game.

Though he was just a Patriots season ticket holder at the time, Robert Kraft had a big impact on Visser’s career even back in the 1970′s. Kraft owned the Boston Lobsters of World TeamTennis, and was the first person to let Visser into a locker room in any sport. She adds that Kraft “has been so supportive of women in this business, an advocate for more than 30 years. I’m happy to report that the struggles of Schaefer stadium are now the glories of Gillette. It’s no coincidence that the Patriots are the model, the envy of the NFL.”

With her history with the Patriots, it only makes sense that Visser’s favorite memory from her long career covering sports involves the franchise from Foxborough, MA.

“One of my most favorite memories in all of sports was Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.” She proudly recalls “I was on the field when Adam Vinatieri drilled it through the uprights, and as the confetti came raining down, I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is the team I grew up with, the team that gave me my biggest opportunity, and now I’m here for their most shining moment.’”

Visser had moved on to television with CBS in the early 1980′s, and made history there too, working almost all major sporting events the network covered, including the NFL, where she became the first woman to host the postgame Super Bowl Championship trophy presentation. She stayed at CBS until 1994. She then moved on to ABC/ESPN, where she become the first woman on the announcing team of Monday Night Football, as sideline reporter. She returned to CBS in 2000, and has remained there ever since. She currently is a reporter for The NFL Today, and writes a column for CBSSports.com. In July of this year, Visser was voted the No. 1 female sportscaster of all time by the American Sportscasters Association.

Also this summer, Visser became the first woman to serve as a color commentator on an NFL TV telecast, during a Dolphins preseason game. Visser says of the experience “It was an enormous challenge, but I was careful to stay within my experience. I’ve never been in an NFL huddle, so I never said anything I couldn’t possibly know -  I think that philosophy has helped me for 35 years. I don’t assume, I ask.”

Visser’s distinguished career covering the NFL led to the ultimate honor. In 2006 she became the first (and only) woman to be honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. Among those congratulating Visser that day was Jim Otto, “Pretty good,” he said, “for a little girl shivering on the sideline.”

Visser says that “Being honored as the first woman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame made me glad I went through all the ups and downs. I have a genuine respect for sports, I’ve always said it’s the most meritorious business in America. It doesn’t matter where your father went to college or how much money your mother has, if you hit the jumper or sink the putt or kick the winning field goal, it’s because of your talent, your will and your skill.”

Fittingly, talent, will and skill are all qualities that Lesley Visser possesses in abundance.

Interview With Jason La Canfora

This column originally appeared in the July 29, 2009 edition of Patriots Football Weekly. La Canfora is now with CBS Sports.

La Canfora Hits The Ground Running At NFL Network

By Bruce Allen

Since the NFL Network was launched in 2003, viewers have become accustomed to seeing and hearing from the well-connected and enthusiastic Adam Schefter, who seemed synonymous with the network. Schefter however, was unable to come to terms with the network on a new contract this offseason, and ended up joining ESPN.

His replacement at NFL Network is 35-year-old Jason La Canfora, who spent the last several years covering the tumultuous Redskins beat for the Washington Post. La Canfora started at the network in June of this year, and has had to hit the ground running, stepping into the role vacated by Schefter. Gracious enough to speak with Patriots Football Weekly recently, La Canfora says he was “humbled and thrilled” when he found out that the NFL Network was even considering him for the position, which he describes as a “life-changing opportunity.” With the newspaper industry facing very difficult times at the moment, the decision to jump to NFL Network was an easy one, though he notes that the move made so much sense for he and his family that he would’ve made the same choice “in any economic climate, regardless of the issues facing newspapers.”

When asked how the transition from the newspaper to world to the world of network television is going, La Canfora answers: “I’m getting a better feel for what my schedule is going to be like, what an average work day feels like, etc, but once camps open and then the regular season begins, well, everything will change. It’s just incredibly exciting to be doing something new, working on a schedule outside of what a typical newspaper NFL beat feels like, getting to exercise new muscles in terms of information delivery.” The reception he has gotten from his new co-workers has been so welcoming that he says that “it really feels like being part of a family.”

A native of Baltimore, La Canfora will continue to make that his home base, even as he jets around the country in his new job. Despite growing up in Baltimore, he is a rabid Boston Red Sox fan. How does a kid from Baltimore end up part of Red Sox nation? “It’s kind of lame, I agree, but I promise I am not a bandwagon, jumper.” He explains: “I was sitting out at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in the mid-80s with my Roger Clemens jersey on. Sadly, The Rocket’s ascent was a big part of why I was drawn to Red Sox nation, and since he’s left I’ve never been able to stomach the man. But his 20 strikeout game was a big deal for me – I was 12 at the time – and the Sox obviously went on an amazing run that season and I shed many a tear during the ’86 ALCS – my dad ran upstairs, while I was crying into a pillow – to tell me about Hendu’s homer. And then Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, well, I still can’t watch highlights of Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson and Jesse Orosco throwing his glove in the air without feeling ill.”

His cheery, bespectacled exterior belies a competitive, sometimes combative nature. While covering the Redskins, La Canfora drew the ire of team owner Daniel Snyder and GM Vinny Cerrato for his candid reporting on how the Redskins franchise was being run. Cerrato blasted La Canfora on his radio show, and La Canfora shot back at the organization. According to DCProSportsReport.com, the incident “led some Redskins fans to regard LaCanfora as hostile to the team.” The site notes though, that La Canfora was, in reality, “only hostile to the incompetent and hyper-sensitive team management.” Ironically, now that he is with the NFL Network, 1/32 of his paycheck will be coming from the Redskins. La Canfora says he doesn’t view it that, way, but rather approaches this job as he would any other reporting job. He says “Eric Weinberger, the executive producer of the NFL Network – and someone I am very grateful to for giving me this opportunity – told me that he was interested in me because of the kind of journalism I have produced, and that the expectation would be that I continue to dig deep and look for the best information possible to serve our readers and viewers at NFL Network and NFL.com. He adds: “As with everything else, fairness and accuracy must carry the day, and my goal is always to provide all sides of an issue, inform as best I can, and fans will form their own opinions.”

Finally, asked for his thoughts on what to expect from the Patriots this season, he responded: “I think they are the team to beat. I have so much respect for that organization, the way they build a team, how shrewd they are, how they value draft picks, the overall sense that no individual is bigger than the collective – save for Bill Belichick, perhaps, as it should be.” Any potential weaknesses fans should be concerned about? “I don’t see much glaring in terms of what they lack. The running game will be under scrutiny as will some additions to the secondary, but I thought that Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs were two of the best values out there as veteran corners, and both ended up with the Pats. The passing attack could be as explosive as it was two years ago, and I love how the defense has transitioned, especially with Mayo now in the middle. To me they go into the season as favorites.”

Interview With Fran Charles

This column originally appeared in the December 22nd 2010 issue of Patriots Football Weekly.

Charles Admiring Pats From Afar

By Bruce Allen

On Sunday evenings, when you flip over to the NFL Network for a recap of the day’s games around the NFL, you’re greeted by a panel of former players Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and former NFL coach Steve Mariucci, who weigh in on each game and on how things are developing in the standings.

Leading this trio through the program is Fran Charles, a veteran TV anchor with ties to Boston. Back from 1995 to 1998, Charles was the weekend sports anchor at WHDH-TV, and was also active on local sports radio programs as well.

After moving on from WHDH, Charles has covered boxing for HBO, Golf for USA Network and the NBA on NBC. However, when he arrived at the NFL Network in 2006, he knew he had found a home. “Football has always been my first love, so NFL Network is the perfect place for me” he says.

Part of what makes his job enjoyable is being immersed in football every day, and being able to learn from some who have accomplished so much in the game. “I thought I really knew football before I arrived at NFL Network, but quickly realized once I started showing up for work day in and day out, I still had plenty to learn.” Citing some of the former players he works with on a regular basis, Charles says: “To have the opportunity to be around players like Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Sterling Sharpe, Kurt Warner, Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk, and Warren Sapp on a daily basis is invaluable.”

Working with former stars with the stature of those mentioned does present some challenges. Charles cites the need to sometimes push the analysts “to make sure all the great stuff I learn from them makes it on air so the fans can soak up that knowledge as well.”

Showing an awareness of something that viewers often complain about when it comes to sports recap shows featuring former players, Charles notes another challenge noting that sometimes he has to “push these players to do more than just laugh and joke on camera – but talk intelligently and educate viewers about the most popular game in the country.”

Working at the NFL Network has other fringe benefits. Because of his position, he is included in EA Sports Madden NFL 10/11 as himself. Charles originally thought his role would be animated, and was surprised to learn it was actually in HD quality video. He notes that his kids long ago got over their dad being on television, but being a part of Madden is “scoring me big points with 10-and-under crowd in the Charles household!”

Charles touches on why the NFL is so popular right now, noting “it’s a great time to be so close to the game because literally, teams can go from worst to first in back to back years, giving fans hope they won’t have to wait an eternity for a chance to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. If you just look at what the Cardinals, Saints and Bears have accomplished in recent years, these are all teams that have had recent struggles and still found a way to make Super Bowl appearances. It’s awesome to see.” He then tips his cap the local franchise here: “Not every organization can run as smoothly as New England and expect the kind of excellence the Patriots have achieved year in year out – which is a thing of beauty as well – especially in the salary cap era.”

As mentioned previously, Charles worked in Boston for three years during the 1990’s, including the year the Bill Parcells-led Patriots went to the Super Bowl to face Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Even then, Charles could see that the Kraft family was looking to build something that would endure over the long haul.

“It was more than obvious the Kraft family was building something special with the Patriots for all New England fans,” Charles says. “Of course we (at WHDH) covered the Patriots Super Bowl after the 1996 season extensively, and the dye was cast on the type of players and atmosphere that would set up the franchise for years to come.” He adds, however, that winning three Super Bowl Championships, and nearly posting an undefeated season in 2007 was something few could’ve predicted.

The subject turns to the current rendition of the Patriots, and Charles has been watching them closely. He warns against putting too much stock in preseason prognostications.

“Yes they’ve exceeded expectations – but expectations are just that – expectations. You never really know how a team will do until it hits the field.” He goes on to talk about the unit that some feel will hold the Patriots back in the postseason: “There’s plenty of talk about New England’s “young” secondary and no-name defense, but that unit continues to do just enough. Even though statistically the Pats D has given up a lot of yards – you have to look at WHEN those yards were accumulated and whether they were really relevant to the outcome.”

When it comes to the Patriots offense, Charles is effusive in praise. “The bottom line is this – Tom Brady is having an MVP type season that’s MORE impressive than the year he had in 2007 because the offense is not nearly as high powered as it was during that record breaking year and Brady’s finding a way to get everyone involved. Plus the Pats will rarely beat themselves by making foolish mistakes – they play such SMART football which is always crucial once the post season arrives.” He notes that it’s taken a little while for some of his colleagues at NFL Network to come around to the 2010 Patriots. “In the first half of the season few people here believed in the Patriots, but as the wins continue to pile up – the pendulum has swung.”

Hey, if the analysts at NFL Network are coming around on the Patriots, we might just have something here.

Interview With Mike Freeman

This article originally appeared in the September 29th, 2010 issue of Patriots Football Weekly.

CBSSports.com’s Freeman Tweets It Like It Is

By Bruce Allen

Ask a Patriots fan who they like as a national sports columnist, and I don’t think Mike Freeman would be near the top of that list.

Come to think of it, I really don’t know who that honor would go to, but I do know it would not be Freeman, who has made a name for himself as a contrarian and pot-stirrer over the course of his career, most recently at his current employer, CBSSports.com.

In the past year, Freeman has written two columns highly critical of Patriots receiver Randy Moss, who has been a frequent target of Freeman’s criticism over the course of his career. Last season, Freeman claimed to have charted every Moss play during the game against the Atlanta Falcons, and claimed that on “a significant number of them” Moss didn’t put forth any effort. Freeman called Moss “one of the laziest” receivers in the NFL.

Following the opening game of this season, after Moss spoke about not having a new contract with the Patriots and wishing to remain in New England, Freeman weighed in again on Moss. He first acknowledged that the last time he wrote about Moss, the feedback from this region wasn’t positive. “It seemed the entire New England area wanted to Thelma-and-Louise me off a cliff.” he wrote, and added “Patriots fans sent me some of the nastier e-mails I’ve ever gotten. The New England organization was furious with me. When I covered a Patriots game the following week a close writer friend said he couldn’t talk to me in front of Patriots officials for fear of retribution to him. He was serious.”

His column then went on to talk about how far the Patriots go to protect and baby Moss, and that he repaid them by throwing them under the bus. He predicted that Moss will go into a shell at some point this season.

When I approached Freeman about being interviewed for this piece, he was a little wary of PFW’s association with the Patriots, but agreed to answer a few questions via Twitter direct message, joking “it’ll be your first Twitter interview.” And so it is. (If you’re so inclined, you can follow Freeman at @realfreemancbs.)

Prior to coming to CBS, Freeman had worked for some of the biggest names in the newspaper business, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe and Florida Times-Union.

After a couple of back and forths, (in one of which he stated that college fans were much more brutal to him overall than Patriots fans were.) Freeman knew what I wanted to talk about “You’re circling too much. Do this Muay Thai style, not MMA style. Come right at me. I know you want to ask about Moss.”

OK, So I did.

Just why does he have such a problem with Moss, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game? “Many longtime NFL writers outside of (New England) are huge admirers of his talents and not-so-huge admirers of his antics.” Freeman then added “I’ve covered the sport for 20 years and never seen a guy with so much ability simply waste it. He could have been better than Jerry Rice.”

Freeman noted that in both of Moss’ previous NFL stops, things got ugly at the end. Is there the potential for the same thing to happen here in New England, or can the presence of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady stop that from happening? “I’m not sure anyone can control Randy Moss but if anyone can, it’s Belichick.” Freeman says. He then adds “He’s underrated in how he motivates players.”

The rest of our conversation may come as a surprise to those of you who have a certain image of Freeman. He was very complimentary of Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.

“Belichick is the best coach in the history of the NFL.” He declared. “I’ve written that and stick by it and I think the Spygate stuff was bull—-.”

Whoa. A national media member making that statement on the record? Amazing. So what exactly was, um, “bull” about it? “The reaction to it. Anyone who covers the NFL knows every team does what Belichick did. Every team.”

You’ve heard fellow coaches such a Jimmy Johnson make that statement, but a member of the media? You’re not going to find many, at least on a national level that are willing to say that.

Freeman also said “I admire Belichick’s intellect and how he appreciates and respects NFL history.” He then committed another act of treason to his fellow media members: “I don’t care that he can be crusty with the media.”

Are you warming up to this guy yet? What are his feelings on ownership?

“I also think Kraft is as good an owner as I’ve seen. What he’s done to transform that organization (and stadium) is amazing.”

Freeman has a unique perspective on the transformation here in New England. He was an intern at the Boston Globe, and covered the Patriots way back in the early 1990’s, prior to the Kraft family buying the franchise. He remembers what the team and stadium were like at that time.

“There are only a few organizations in sports history that have come from the depths like (the) Pats. It’s a testament to Kraft and Belichick.”

Coming back to the current edition of the Patriots, it is hard to find a consensus on what they are, and how good can they been. Freeman told me that the “National perception is playoff team” but that he had slightly higher expectations for this year.

“My title game prediction is Baltimore-NE. You have a healthy Brady, you have a chance.”

And that is even with Randy Moss.

Interview With Michael Silver

This column originally appeared in the September 24, 2007 issue of Patriots Football Weekly. 

Silver carving a new niche at Yahoo!

By Bruce Allen

If you’ve read Sports Illustrated over the last 13 years, you’ve likely read a feature by Michael Silver, the Californian sports writer who this season has found himself a weekly guest on WBCN’s “Sylvania Patriots Pregame Show.” Silver, who in conversation seems to typify everything New Englanders think about Californians, (everyone is “Dude,” he’s passionate about surf and sushi) in fact actually provides a nice national voice to the program, which at times sorely needs the perspective.

Silver himself is embarking on a new period of his career, as this summer he left Sports Illustrated, where he had worked since 1994. He is now the lead NFL writer for a little web startup that you might’ve heard of — Yahoo! The web portal has made a serious commitment to its sports section, (sports.yahoo.com) luring in the recent past not only Silver, but also veteran print writers such as Jason Cole and Adrian Wojnarowski, with more high profile hires on the way.

The move from Sports Illustrated to Yahoo! this summer wasn’t an easy one for Silver, who observes: “It is definitely an adjustment, but a very cool one to make in 2007. I still go to games on Sundays and write all night, and I still write during the week, but it’s a different, more immediate, more opinion- and analysis-driven reality, and I like that.”

When asked further about the appeal of moving to the web-only format, Silver had an interesting take on it: “I had 13 great years at SI, but something hit me during this past Super Bowl,” he says, “I was up in the middle of the night writing the main story for the magazine and had some great stuff on Peyton Manning and the Colts that I couldn’t wait to get out there, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I can’t wait till this comes out … on Wednesday or Thursday, in people’s mailboxes.’ Suddenly, that didn’t seem right.”

Silver rates getting to watch his kids play soccer on Saturday mornings now as one of the biggest perks of the new job. He travels to NFL games each week, but the timing works much better now. Part of the new gig involves going up against old friend and colleague Peter King at the start of each week. While King is filing “Monday Morning Quarterback,” Silver is posting “Morning Rush” — a quickfire look around the weekend action, coupled with a ton of reader feedback, and thus far, no weekly Starbucks experiences.

Without knowing the situation, one might think that Silver left SI to perhaps get out from under the shadow of King, but he insists otherwise.

“Believe it or not, one of the coolest things about this is that I get to go head-up with Peter on Monday mornings, partly because he’s a good friend who has been so amazingly helpful in my career, and partly because he’s The King,” Silver said. “He not only has owned Monday mornings on the web for a long, long time, he created the template. It’s his fault — and part of this was our SI write-all-night ethos at work — that I’m writing eight zillion words instead of a tidy 1,500. Not only is he great at it, but give him a lot of credit for recognizing the importance of the Internet very early on and running with it.

“When I was deciding whether to stay or go, Peter understood what a great opportunity the Yahoo gig was, even though we both wanted to keep working together. He said, ‘A lot of people are going to tell you you’re crazy if you take this, but you know what? They’re completely missing the point.’ Then we got sad and said, ‘Who are we going to talk to all night on Sundays now?’ And then it hit us: We’ll still IM and talk in the middle of the night, because we’re the only idiots who’ll be awake.”

In one of his final assignments for Sports Illustrated this spring, Silver wrote about former Oklahoma University and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, portraying him in a much more favorable light than anything you had likely read before. Switzer also now finds himself in a new medium as part of the Fox “NFL Sunday Pregame Show,” teaming up to do a segment called “Grumpy Old Coaches” with someone who has been both a friend and a critic, his predecessor in Dallas, Jimmy Johnson. While critics might think that Switzer will have little to offer in the way of football commentary on the show, Silver has a different opinion, noting that he saw the first installment of the segment, and liked it, but thinks that it will get much better. He also inserts a Patriots connection into his observation: “Barry is a great, natural, unpretentious storyteller with more material than I could ever convey, and he and Jimmy go way, way back. They need to tell stories like the one where they were both in drag along with a bunch of Chuck Fairbanks’ other assistants — they hit the town thinking they were going to get fired, dressed as chicks, and got drunker and drunker, and comedy ensued.”

That might not be a mental image most of us wish to contemplate, but Silver cites the story as an example of Switzer’s strengths. He says Switzer “isn’t one of those coaches trying to hog the spotlight. He believes that great players and assistants are why games are won, for the most part, and he’ll tell you that without any hesitation. And he doesn’t take himself, or the game, so seriously, and that’ll translate well to TV.”

Silver is a guy who clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously either, and that also seems to be working out pretty well for him. Taking the chance to leap from a storied print magazine to one of those new-fangled Internet companies might seem like a risk to some, but for Silver it seems like a perfect fit.

Making The Grades – AFC Championship, Patriots vs. Ravens

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Professor

Well, then. Now that almost 48 full hours have passed and all of us have likely caught our breath, we can examine more clearly and coherently then Patriots stirring, improbable, 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship. The win, which sends the Pats to their seventh Super Bowl and fifth under the magical tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (the most of any QB/coach combo of all time), was maddening, scintillating, ugly, glorious and completely perplexing, sometimes all at once. The Pats won with defense and physicality and if you had that one down headed into the game, I’ve got some lottery numbers for you to play (I’ll throw in a healthy commission for your trouble), with Brady playing one of his worst games of the season and the team losing three turnovers but somehow getting away with it. Multiple defensive guys had huge days and when you take that, some strong, powerful running by the Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, more of the same mental toughness this team has shown all year and at least a spoonful of luck (fear not, we’ll get to the missed, 32-yard field goal, also known as the biggest gag job I’ve ever seen), it all adds up to a trip to the big game 12 days from now in Indianapolis. So with that, let’s get to this week’s report card, all dressed up and ready for the dance.

OFFENSE: C+
Quarterbacks: C
Before we go any further, let’s get this out of the way: Brady is as tough, if not tougher than any QB in the NFL. On his fourth quarter, one-yard TD plunge, he was upside down in midair when he was blasted in the kidneys and lower back by the helmet and shoulder pads of none other than Ravens all-time linebacker Ray Lewis. And not only did he hold on to the ball, securing the points that would prove to be the difference in the game, he got right up, spiked the ball Gronk-styles and jogged to the sideline. It hurt just watching that play but if Brady was affected, no one either in Gillette Stadium or watching the game on TV knew it. Now, bearing that in mind, Brady pretty much sucked otherwise, just as he said on the podium after the game. He routinely missed open receivers. He was skittish and happy footed at times. He threw two interceptions and had two other ones nullified by penalties. His fourth quarter pick, one play after Brandon Spikes made one of the plays of the game, on which he needlessly forced a bomb into double coverage (intended for Matthew Slater of all people) was something you would never in your wildest dreams imagine seeing him do let alone in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship with a three-point lead. He finished 22-of-36 for 239 yards (6.6 YPA), zero TDs (the first time that’s happened in the playoffs since the 2002 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh) and the two picks, all good for a woeful 57.5 passer rating. He was outplayed by Ravens QB Joe Flacco (??!!). But hey, the Pats won and if we know Brady,, who tied Joe Montana for the most post-season wins by a QB of all time, this performance will motivate him to no end come Feb. 5. Let’s chalk this one up to a fluke, an aberration, a one-time thing. There’s still no one Pats fans would rather have.

Running Backs: B
Green-Ellis was a big factor all day despite splitting reps almost completely evenly with Danny Woodhead. It was a vintage, head down, straight ahead running kind of day for the Law Firm, who pounded his way to 68 yards and a TD on 15 carries. On one play, he got his helmet completely twisted around and ripped off, forcing him to go to the ground coconut unprotected, yet another display of the team’s overall toughness Most of the Pats success running the ball came on draws out of the shotgun with the Ravens D spread out and expecting the pass; the more traditional stuff was swallowed up with relative ease. But Benny did his part and then some. Woodhead was quiet save for once nice draw and Aaron Hernandez failed to replicate his monstrous efforts out of the backfield from the Divisional round win over Denver. And our binky Stevan Ridley sat this one out after fumbles in consecutive games, though given the Pats opponent in the Super Bowl, the New York Giants, he will likely be needed. The Giants have a ferocious pass rush and the Pats would be wise to run the ball a healthy amount in order to help neutralize it. On Sunday, Benny looked like he’ll be up to that challenge.

Wide Receivers: B-
This one was mostly the Wes Welker show again, with Deion Branch making two catches for 18 yards and everyone else doing mostly nothing (Julian Edelman caught one pass for eight yards). Welker had a couple of missteps (one drop, one slip, one deflection that turned into a pick that was luckily wiped out by a penalty) but was still his usual, dependable self. He finished with six catches for 53 yards, got the snot beaten out of him once again and naturally, a couple of his grabs resulted in enormously important first downs. At this point, as has been the case for several weeks now, Welker pretty much is the receiving corps. Any time Branch can put up an effort like last week against the Broncos (three catches, 85 yards, that amazing, 61-yard TD), it’s a bonus. This is Welker’s group. Everyone else (except Chad Ochocinco who may as well get cut before the Super Bowl if for no other reason than that he’ll be a distraction on Media Day getting asked over and over again why he is so awful, he doesn’t even dress for the biggest game of the year) is just renting.

Tight Ends: B+
Not quite the usual game-breaking day for A-Herb or Rob Gronkowski but solid nonetheless. Once again, the focal point of the Pats offense, they combined for 12 catches and 153 yards, though neither of them found the end zone. Gronk, who suffered a rough looking ankle injury late in the game but returned after missing just nine snaps, was immense in other areas than just catching the ball as he often is, at one point absolutely destroying Ravens pass rushing demon Terrell Suggs while staying home to block. And his first play back after leaving because of that ankle? He’s throwing a key block on Brady’s TD leap. These two guys are monsters, as we all know. But now that we’ve reached the final game, the biggest game, maybe we should look at them in the bigger picture. The bottom line is, in an amazing, exhilarating season filled with major moments and major performances, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have become the most important cogs in the Pats offensive machine whose names are not Tom Brady. And they’re both just in their second year. Unbelievable.

Offensive Line: A
Have to hand it to Matt Light; in what is probably the best season of his career, he just keeps getting better and better. Every week, it seems, there’s some stud, maniac pass rusher on his side and every week, that stud, maniac pass rusher is rendered an afterthought. On Sunday, it was Suggs, who had 14 sacks during the regular season and has garnered some sincere talk about being named Defensive Player of the Year. Against Light, he had two tackles. Period. That’s two. No sacks. Maybe once, he got within a yard and a half of Brady. And that’s it. The O-line is the core of this team and on Sunday, it stepped up and then some. And not just Light, either. Brian Waters, the best free agent signing this team has made in quite some time, was tasked with bottling up Ravens nose man Haloti Ngata and did just that. Logan Mankins once again shook off his late season knee injury to play a complete, spotless game. Nate Solder had the only blemish, getting beaten to the outside and allowing Baltimore’s only sack to someone named Paul Kruger, not exactly one of the Ravens big names on D. It was a fantastic performance and one that will certainly need to be duplicated in the Super Bowl against the Giants pass rush. The O-line’s inability to handle that same front four in Super Bowl XLII was one of the biggest reasons the Pats lost that game. If Sunday against the Ravens similarly fearsome D is any indication, this time around, this group will be ready.

DEFENSE: B+
Defensive Line: A
Anyone out there own a Vince Wilfork jersey? Cause I’ll buy it off you. That’s how valuable that thing has to be after Sunday. Wilfork, one of the best, most important Pats of the past decade, played the game of his life against the Ravens, making plays against the run and the pass, wreaking havoc and at one crucial point late in the fourth quarter, single-handedly taking over. On the Ravens second to last possession of the night, with a third-and-3 from his team’s 30, he blasted through the line to wrap up Baltimore’s star back Ray Rice with one arm, dragging him to the turf with one arm for a three-yard loss (a massive stupid play call by the Ravens by the way, but that’s another conversation). The Ravens then decided to go for it rather than try a 50-yard field goal (a decision that obviously makes a hell of a lot of sense now), so Big Vince simply steamrolled center Matt Birk right into Flacco’s grill, taking the QB to his knees while still carrying the giant O-lineman, forcing Flacco to lob the ball to no one and turn the ball over on downs. It was the most dominant sequence any Pats defensive player has displayed in ages when you factor in the situation and circumstances. And it’s fitting that Wilfork, one of the longest tenured, core members of the organization, was responsible for it. And that’s not even getting into some of the stuff he did earlier in the game, which he ended with the following stat line: six tackles, three for a loss, one sack, and another hit on the QB. And he did it all while missing just three of 73 snaps. Outstanding. Everyone else up front played well too; Mark Anderson got pressure on Flacco a fair amount of times and played the run well. Brandon Deaderick plugged up space and both Gerard Warren and Kyle Love played roles in holding Rice, who came in leading the league in total yards from scrimmage, to just 67 yards on 22 carries and only one catch for 11 yards. When this group plays this well and is able to physically overmatch its opponent, it takes so much pressure off of the secondary and makes life easier for everyone. It’s hard to imagine them doing that any better than they did on Sunday.

Linebackers: B
Good for Brandon Spikes. He’s still working his way back from that knee injury suffered against the Giants the last time they played the Pats, but man are his fresh legs a wonder. He made nine tackles on Sunday, a huge part of the defense slowing down the Rice and the Ravens rushing attack. But his finest moment, as well as what was for about three minutes the play of the game, came on a passing play. Spikes intercepted a fourth quarter Flacco pass by simply staying in his land, trailing the tight end as underneath help for the safety and making an awesomely athletic play, extending one of his big paws just enough to snag the darted throw and reel it in. It was a sensational interception; not only did it come out of almost nowhere and was it such a cool display of athleticism, but the timing was perfect. It’s great to see Spikes make plays like that when he gets to stay on the field in passing situations. He’s getting closer to becoming an all-around backer. If he can stay healthy and out of trouble, watch out. Jerod Mayo was solid, not great and that seems to be his M.O., which is OK. He made a couple of big hits and looked very impactful at times yet was doing the chasing, flailing thing a couple times too. It was a mostly typical day for him. And Rob Ninkovich continued to be the second coming of Mike Vrabel; he got to Flacco once (along with James Ihedigbo) and was great against the run, combining with Anderson to do good work taking away the edges. And Dane Fletcher was active and aggressive in limited time. The Pats defense is healthy and coming together at the most opportune time possible. The linebacking corps is no exception.

Defensive Backs: A-
Go ahead, try to start an argument on this one. If you think that more attention should be paid to Flacco playing one of the best games of his career (22-of-36, 306 yards, two TDs, 95.4 passer rating) and torching the secondary down the stretch than to Sterling Moore’s two season-saving plays, more power to you. Because if Moore hadn’t knocked away a sure TD pass to Lee Evans on Baltimore’s second to last defensive play of the day (a play on which Evans was completely complicit) or broken up what would have been a first down throw to tight end Dennis Pitta on the next play, we wouldn’t be having this little chat. Moore was almost as much a hero on this day as Wilfork and more power to him. He’s yet another one of Belichick’s collection of undrafted, unheralded, never-heard-of DBs who rose above the rest of them to become one of the biggest reasons this team is going to the Super Bowl. Gotta love it. Things were OK elsewhere despite the yardage totals and the Ravens success on third down (nine of their last 14); Patrick Chung wore the goat horns on a 42-yard pass play to Ravens deep threat Torrey Smith. Kyle Arrington missed a chunk of time with an eye injury, but was pretty good. Devin McCourty saw more time at safety and also could share some blame on that throw to Smith (as well as a 29-yard catch and run for a TD also by Smith) but managed to make it through another week without humiliating himself. Ihedigbo had that sack with Ninkovich on a nifty, delayed blitz and added eight tackles including one for a loss. And Edelman got matched up with the Ravens best receiver Anquan Boldin, and was burned more than once but completely lucked out that Baltimore’s offensive coaches were too stupid recognize the matchup until the final five minutes. It’s going to be interesting to see how this group deals with the Giants receivers, two of whom (Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz) are absolute studs (and for the purposes of this discussion, let’s say interesting means terrifying). But we’ll worry about that next week. For now, let’s continue to celebrate Moore. What a couple of huge, huge plays. Hallelujah.

Special Teams: C
Yikes. In what could have been a disaster, Woodhead fumbled a kick return at his own 30 following a long Ravens TD drive that gave them their first lead of the game. Luckily for him, the Pats defense came up with one of its best, stiffest stops of the evening afterward, keeping the Ravens from a first down and forcing them into a field goal that made the game 20-16, setting the stage for the Pats to reclaim the lead on their next possession. There was Woody again on the ensuing kick, running another one back, which was a big surprise, especially seeing as how Ridley had been banished for his fumble-itis and neither of those were half as costly. Anyway, it was a huge bullet dodged. The Pats have been pretty much nowhere in their return game all year but have gotten away with it. You have to wonder if Woody will be back there again next Sunday in Indy. As for the kicking game, Stephen Gostkowski was 3-for-3 on field goals and only had one kickoff returned all day and our man Zoltan blasted two punts for an average of just under 50 yards per. Job well done.

Coaching: B+
Maybe this grade should be a bit lower. Some of the play calling, particularly down the stretch, was questionable and that’s being friendly. The bomb to Slater made little sense at the time, even less so when it was picked off. And when the Pats got the ball back following the Ravens failed, fourth down conversion attempt, they went three-and-out with a chance to salt the game away, with a couple of real head-scratchers (a toss play to Benny on 2nd and 4?) included. But in the end, this grade is a testament to how ready Belichick had this defense ready to play. The Pats were on their heels on defense all year but allowed just 30 points in two playoff games and had guys making plays everywhere both weeks. There may not have been too many name guys out there, especially in the secondary, but they were Belichick’s guys, tough guys, guys who took his coaching and got better every single week. And now, the Pats have won 10 straight games and are going back to the Super Bowl. It’s pretty unreal. We could harp some more on the play-calling. Or we could do a comparison with the coaching on the Ravens sideline (so so poor in the fourth quarter in so many ways that it warrants its own 3,000 word column). But why bother? This season was arguably the best job of Belichick’s career. Let’s just leave it at that.

NFL Sports betting on San Diego Chargers

Being a fan of sports we are sure you will be aware of the growth of online bookmakers during the past few years. The gambling industry as a whole has benefited from the rise of the web, with online casinos now being able to offer virtual card games and many sports themed slots which you can Play here, whilst the online bookmakers have now made it possible to place a wager on the game at any point during said match.

Sports betting is obviously a massive industry as it stands and seeing as the NFL has become quite popular in the UK over recent years it looks to grow even further, with several teams establishing strong fan bases.

One of the more popular franchises is the San Diego Chargers, though this has not been their greatest season. They are not completely out of the running for the Superbowl, but it would take a string of miracles if they were to make the playoffs. It is still a mathematical possibility, but with odds of winning the Superbowl of 300/1 (though some bookmakers are pricing them at 150/1) chances are not very high.

So what has gone wrong for them this season? Out of the last seven games they lost five, and it seems that the buck is being passed very firmly to Norv Turner – the head coach. However the team has been unfortunate in the number of injuries sustained particularly in the offensive line. However, there still should be sufficient depth after all they are all professionals.

This weekend they take on the New York jets and even though the Jets have not been on the best form predictions are not good again, with the Jets being 4/6 to win and the Chargers clocking in at 11/10. With only 2 games left one wonders whether the Chargers will be able to pull out all the stops or whether Norv Turner really will be facing the chop.

If you are looking for a good bet on the Chargers then it is looking increasingly likely that this is Norv Turner final season, after all somebody has to carry the can for turning a 24-0 halftime lead against Denver into a 35-24 loss; that takes some doing.

10 Crucial Things the New England Patriots Have Done Right in 2011

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

It is ridiculously easy to be hypercritical.

Anyone can do it. People of questionable intelligence can make an incredible living off it by hosting sports talk radio shows. It’s also a no-lose proposition, which is why so many of them do it.

Here’s a little tip for you aspiring sports media professionals out there. Pick against the local team far more than you do for them. Why? You can’t lose. If the team loses, you can sit there all smug and talk about how YOU predicted this. YOU saw this coming. If the team wins, no one cares, because they’re so happy that the team has won. See how simple it is? I’m not advocating a Fred Smerlas-like streak of picking the Patriots to win every game for 10 straight years here, but I’m saying if there is any doubt on a game, pick the home team to lose.

This also applies when analyzing the moves and decisions of the team, especially when done so in hindsight. Facts are facts, right? When looking long-term, again, it is to your benefit to pick failure. It is very hard to win in the NFL, and the odds are in your favor if you predict that a team will suffer a playoff loss. You can be as edgy and critical and negative as you want, because the chances are good that the team will not win the Super Bowl every year, and if they do, again, no one is likely to call you out on it.

So many people believe that the term objective actually means critical or negative. Only the “objective” folks see the flaws and mistakes made. Anyone who attempts to point out silly things like wins and losses, or to point out things are were done well or correctly, are labeled “fanboys.” It’s just how it is these days.

It used to be that supporting and rooting for a team and giving it your unwavering support was considered loyal. Now if you do that, you’re just a simpleton “fanboy” who roots for laundry and can’t think for himself.

Despite all that you’ve heard or read in recent weeks/months/years, the Patriots are still a very good football team. They actually do make some decisions and moves that are correct and good for the team. Contrary to the opinions of some, they do have an idea of what they’re doing down there. (Wait – I can hear it already - They haven’t won a playoff game in four years!!!!!! – which is true.) Again, I want to point out that it is HARD to win in the NFL. The other teams are getting paid and want to win too. Did you know that the San Francisco 49ers, in the midst of their great run in the 1980′s, with Joe Montana at his peak, lost in the first round THREE years in a row? Had Bill Walsh lost it? They came back and won back-to-back Super Bowls. It’s not unheard of for a very good team to lose in the postseason. Lets have a little perspective here.

The Patriots currently sit at 6-3 on the season, having completed the most arduous part of their schedule. With the injury to Texans QB Matt Schaub, the AFC is wide open. The Patriots are in a position to once again be one of the top seeds in the conference. Tom Brady has struggled at times this season, the defense has been dreadful statistically, yet they’re still wining. They must be doing something right. In the spirit of trying to counter some of the overwhelming negativity out there, let’s look at a few things the team has actually done right this season.

1.) Signing Andre Carter

While the trade for Albert Haynesworth and the signing of Shaun Ellis got much more attention, Carter has been perhaps the Patriots best defensive player thus far. His nine sacks in nine games have given the Patriots that pass-rusher everyone has been clamoring for. He has also been a professional in the locker room, adding a respected veteran voice to the young defense.  While Cris Collinsworth said on Sunday night that no one expected much from Carter, he has been a productive NFL player in the past, and is on pace for perhaps the best season of his career. A great move by the Patriots.

2.) Signing Brian Waters

With the retirement of Stephen Neal in the offseason,  the Patriots had a hole at guard. It appeared that Dan Connolly would be filling that spot, but the Patriots valued Connolly more as someone who could fill in all over the line. The decision to sign Waters has turned out to be huge, as he stepped in at guard in week one, and when center Dan Koppen was lost for the season, Connolly was needed to play center. It couldn’t have worked out any better for the Patriots, as Waters has played at his usual high level this season (Peter King has him as a mid-season All Pro) and has been another professional veteran example in the Patriots locker room.

3.) Drafting Nate Solder

When the Patriots drafted Solder, and not a pass rushing defensive end or linebacker, there was the usual hand-wringing, especially as tackle didn’t seem to be the team’s most pressing need. With Sebastian Vollmer severely limited this season with back issues, Solder has been forced into the starting lineup for several games, including the season opener in Miami, where he impressed with his play against Cameron Wake. It was thought that Solder would be given a year to acclimate before taking over for Matt Light, but Solder has been good as a starter, and if Vollmer can return to full health, the Patriots should be set at both tackles for many years.

4.) Re-signing Logan Mankins

Mankins hasn’t been his usual All-Pro self, but signing him was nonetheless a huge move for the Patriots. After the ugly, protracted contract battle, getting the guard signed signaled that the Patriots will pay the guys they feel are important enough to the core of the team. Mankins adds toughness on the offensive line, and is especially protective of Brady whenever little scuffles break out. He’s still relatively young, and should serve to help transition the offensive line to when Solder, Vollmer and Marcus Cannon are the mainstays up front.

 5.) Re-signing Matt Light

Keeping with the offensive line theme, it seemed like a given that Light would be back, but when the team drafted Solder, some thought that it might spell the end of the line for Light. While he’s never been an elite player, Light has been a Pro Bowl-caliber player throughout his career, and a leader on the line. Bringing him back proved especially important with the health issues of Vollmer, as Light’s presence allowed Nate Solder to fill in for Vollmer while Light protected Brady.

6.) Giving Kyle Arrington a two-year deal

With Devin McCourty’s struggles this season, Arrington has emerged as the Patriots top cornerback, and a playmaker at that position. Arrington’s five interceptions are tied for the league lead in that category. The Patriots could’ve just given him a one-year deal to keep his rights, but they rewarded his play from last year with a two-year deal. If Arrington continues his strong play, he might’ve been looking at a big pay raise following the season, instead, now the Patriots have him locked up for 2012 as well.

7.) Utilizing the no-huddle, hurry-up offense.

In the strategy department, the decision to try and wear out opposing defenses by keeping them on the field and preventing from substituting has been wise. They first did this in preseason, during the Tampa game, which had Bucs defenders talking after the game about how tough it was to defend when they never had a chance to catch their breath. The strategy paid off during the Jets game this week in the second half as they took advantage of a tired New York defense which just wasn’t ready to line up again, and was laboring to keep playing. This strategy will likely be used more during the course of the season, especially against teams who are determined to go all-out to get to Tom Brady. The Jets game also showed that the no-huddle doesn’t necessarily mean a hurry-up, as they went on an extended drive in the fourth quarter using the no-huddle, which essentially put the game away.

8.) Signing Mark Anderson

I hear skeptics dismissing Anderson’s five sacks because an number of them came “in garbage time.” Well, when you’re trying to put a team away, isn’t the best thing you can do is to sack the quarterback? It’s like bringing in your closer. The former Bear has been very effective in rushing the passer this season, and saw extended duty during the Jets game. Working him opposite Carter has given the Patriots a very good 1-2 combo that the opposing offensive line has to account for. He was a low-risk, cheap signing that has paid off for the Patriots.

9.) Drafting Marcus Cannon

Cannon’s story is well known by this point, the massive (6-5, 358lbs) offensive lineman was discovered to have cancer when taking his physical at the combine, which cause his draft stock to drop sharply. Once projected as a low-first or second round pick, the Patriots selected him in the fifth round, not knowing if he would even be able to play. Cannon responded well to treatment, and was placed on the active roster this morning. His story is inspirational, and his talent may make him the successor to Waters in the future.

10.) Moving Matt Patricia to safeties coach

This move might’ve seemed curious when it was made last offseason. Patricia is considered by many to be the de facto defensive coordinator. Putting him in charge of the safeties, which then included Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders and Jarrard Page along with Pat Chung, may have seemed like a step down from coaching the linebackers, which he had been doing. The move may have been an indication that the Patriots already had doubts about their personnel there, and putting Patricia there to work with the group may have given them enough to move on from Meriweather, Sanders and Page. Belichick himself also served as a secondary coach prior to becoming a defensive coordinator with the Giants, and may have placed Patricia there as a stepping stone to the role. In addition, Pepper Johnson, who with Patricia is considered the top defensive assistant, works with the defensive lineman. Moving Patricia to the secondary gives the team a top assistant with the front seven and with the secondary. I don’t know if that was the intent, but sort of splitting up the defense between the two of them makes sense, especially where there are so many young players as well as players new to the Patriots.

This list only includes this season, each season the team makes bad decisions and good decisions, just like every other team in the NFL. So while some will never tire of point out the bad decisions up and down the roster, there have been plenty of good ones, as well.

It’s easy to be critical. It’s a little harder to be objective and to look at the good as well as the bad.

Hopefully this serves as a reminder that the team has made plenty of smart decisions and that is why they continue to be successful.

AFC East Roundup – Week 10

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

The division seemed to come into a little better focus last night, as the Patriots went into MetLife Stadium and silenced the Jets, 37-16. The win gives New England a season sweep of the Jets and moves them a full game ahead in the standings with the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker in their favor. What that means is that in reality, the Patriots have a two-game lead on the Jets.

New England Patriots (6-3, 3-1)

Things looked grim for New England coming into this one. They were coming off two bad losses and the decisions of Bill Belichick had been questioned incessantly, while at the same time, the Jets seemed to have found their stride after struggling earlier in the season. The Patriots defense looked shaky on the first Jets drive, and the offense squandered a couple of early opportunities for touchdown. When the second half came, New England seemed to hit their stride on both sides of the ball, and pulled away from the Jets. Suddenly, things are much brighter for the Patriots, who were decimated by injuries but showed a ton of of heart and grit in earning this win.

Next up – Monday Night Football against Scott Pioli’s Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs defense, led by old friend Romeo Crennel  may have some tricks up their sleeve for Brady and the Patriots. The Chiefs will be without QB Matt Cassel.

New York Jets (5-4, 2-2)

The Jets had no answers for Rob Gronkowski last night, as the Patriots tight end destroyed them all game. TheJetsBlog chronicles notes that the Patriots drafted Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to mitigate the value of players like Revis and Cromartie. They also note that the talk about Sanchez is starting up again, and they wonder if the Patriots provided a blueprint for beating a Rex Ryan defense. (Blueprints…awesome.) It’s tempting, but very dangerous to write off the Jets at this point. They’ll be back, and their schedule is almost as easy as New England’s down the stretch. Both teams could conceivably win out the rest of of the way, which just made last night’s game all the more important.

Next up – The Jets have a quick turnaround, heading out to Denver on Thursday night to take on Tim Tebow and the Broncos. This should be a win for the Jets, but the quick turnaround, high altitude and unorthodox style of Tim Tebow could throw things off.

Buffalo Bills (5-4, 1-1)

Are the Bills coming back to earth? They went down to Dallas yesterday afternoon, and got absolutely smoked, 44-7 by the Cowboys. On Buffalo Ramblings, they’re concerned that the Bills’ Passing Attack Has Been Solved. Trying to stay positive, they also point out that the Bills playoff hopes are still alive. There’s a good look at the AFC playoff picture in that post. What can the Bills do? Even though Fred Jackson has been a monster this year, do they need to play C.J. Spiller more?  Still, despite the last two discouraging the losses, the Bills are still just a game out of the division lead, and having played less divisional games, are potentially in a better position that the Jets to tie up the Patriots. If the Jets stumble in Denver, the Bills could leapfrog them in the standings.

Next up - The Bills have a chance to improve that divisional record this week as they take on the Dolphins in Miami.

Miami Dolphins (2-7, 0-2)

Break up the Dolphins! They won their second straight game by beating the Washington Redskins 20-9 at home. They’re playing their way right out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Phinsider notes that Dolphins victories aren’t exactly a well-received notion these days. On the plus side, they may have finally figured out how to use Reggie Bush, who once again was impressive for Miami.

Next up - Miami could be looking at a three game winning streak as they host the Bills this Sunday.

AFC East Roundup – Week Nine

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Been a bit negligent in updating things in the AFC East, but after yesterday, it’s worth taking a look at where things stand in the division. With three teams sitting at 5-3, it’s time to study up on the Tie-Breaking Procedures.

New England Patriots (5-3, 2-1 in AFC East)

The Patriots lost their second straight game yesterday, and the only positive we can take from it was that it came against an NFC opponent, which hurts a little less in the tie-breaker scenarios. The Patriots are technically still in first place in the AFC East. The Patriots, Jets and Bills have played each other once, and it all balances out. The Patriots lost to the Bills, but beat the Jets. The Jets beat the Bills but lost the Patriots. The Bills beat the Patriots but lost to the Jets. The Patriots and Jets are both 2-1 in the division, having each also beaten Miami. The Bills are just 1-1, having not yet played Miami. Since the second tie-breaker is by winning percentage within the division, the Jets and Patriots edge out the Bills. The third tie-breaker is common games, and the Patriots and Jets are each 4-1 in games played against common opponents (Dallas, San Diego, Miami, Oakland and Buffalo), so we move to the fourth tie-breaker, which is winning percentage in the conference. The Patriots are 4-2, while the Jets are 4-3. So the Patriots are in first place in the AFC East.

Next game: At Jets, Sunday night on NBC. The winner of this game will be in first place in the AFC East.

New York Jets (5-3, 2-1)

After floundering out of the gate at 2-3, the Jets have now won three straight games, including yesterday’s impressive 27-11 win in Buffalo. The Jets defense easily handled the Bills high-flying offense, and moved past the Bills in the standings. The Jets are starting to regain their swagger – not that a Rex Ryan-led team would ever love swagger – and have to be supremely confident of their chances this weekend against a Patriots team that is clearly trending down at this point.

Next game: Home against New England. Jets are playing for first place, and have to love their position.

Buffalo Bills (5-3. 1-1)

After becoming one of the early success stories of the 2011 season, the Bills hit a roadblock yesterday facing the Jets. The Bills were over-matched, both physically and skill-wise on the field yesterday. Ryan Fitzpatrick had trouble finding his receivers yesterday, and only managed 191 passing yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Next game: At Dallas. This will be another stiff test for the Bills, with the Cowboys able to generate pressure on Fitzpatrick. The NFC opponent also makes it impossible for the Bills to retake the divisional lead, even with a win.

Miami Dolphins (1-7, 0-2)

The Dolphins finally got a win yesterday, but did they knock themselves out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes? It was an impressive win on the road over Kansas City for the Dolphins yesterday, as Reggie Bush had a second straight strong game (did I cut him too early from my fantasy team?).

Next game: Home against the Redskins. Could it be two in a row for Miami?

Tonight on Patriots All Access

Patriots All Access airs tonight on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and immediately following on Patriots.com.

Among the highlights…

· Bill Belichick discusses getting his team ready to play after a Bye Week and looks at the overall speed of the Steelers on the Belestrator

· Scott Zolak visits with Belichick and one of the coach’s boyhood idols, Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach

· Vince Wilfork was mic’d up in the win over the Jets

· Steve Burton sits down with defensive end Andre Carter

· Dan Roche examines a rested Patriots team coming off their Bye Week as they prepare for a formidable opponent in Pittsburgh

· Patriots Football Weekly’s Paul Perillo and ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss discuss the state of the team and offer analysis

Preview:

Tonight on Patriots All Access

A must-see Bye Week edition of Patriots All Access airs tonight on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and immediately following on Patriots.com.

Among the highlights…

  • Scott Zolak hosts a rare conversation with the three longest-tenured members of the Patriots: Tom Brady, Matt Light and Kevin Faulk. The veterans share thoughts from their years as teammates, including their first impressions of each other, the culture of winning they’ve helped create and which of the three can joke with Coach Belichick.
  • With no opponent this week, Coach Belichick breaks down last week’s win over the Cowboys on The Belestrator, including analysis of a key fourth-quarter defensive stop and tremendous insight into the game-winning drive.
  • All Access takes you behind the bench for game-winning drive and inside a victorious Patriots locker room.
  • Dan Roche takes a look at the Patriots’ position heading into the Bye.
  • Patriots Football Weekly’s Paul Perillo and ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss share their opinions and analysis.