1. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is the front runner for the NFL MVP award at 1/5 odds. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is listed at 7/2. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson are tied for third with 12/1. All courtesy of Bovada.
These are all fine choices and it's difficult to argue against the quarterback of an undefeated team being awarded the MVP accolade. Personally, I think that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski deserves some play, even if he's not the front runner. The Patriots possess the best offense in the league when fully healthy, but there's no question that Tom Brady doesn't look the same when Gronkowski is sidelined. Since the MVP will go to a quarterback, Gronkowski had better get some notice for Offensive Player of the Year.
2a. The Buffalo Bills will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss this week on the road against Washington. The AFC East was such a beacon for competition during the offseason, but the Patriots did their job and won their record-tying 7th straight AFC East title. It might be a little early, but should there be any concern about a New England setting the record with eight (so long as Brady remains healthy)?
The Patriots have three pending free agents that were technically starters in running back LeGarrette Blount (on the injured reserve), interior lineman Ryan Wendell (IR), and cornerback Tarell Brown (IR). Players that are probably more important are defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, special teamer Nate Ebner, and wide receiver Keshawn Martin. But seriously, the Patriots don't have an irreplaceable free agent out of the bunch.
Tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be 32, as will defensive end Rob Ninkovich. The team has young, starting-caliber back-ups Marcus Cannon and Jabaal Sheard waiting in the wings.
2b. The Dolphins are looking for a new coaching staff and their best pass rusher (Olivier Vernon), best running back (Lamar Miller), and second best wide receiver (Rishard Matthews) are all free agents. Top cornerback Brent Grimes will be 33, defensive end Cameron Wake will be 34 and coming off a season-ending torn Achilles, and the coaching staff doesn't know what to do with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This team is about to reboot.
2c. The Bills starting left tackle Cordy Glenn and will-be-33-years-old starting left guard Richie Incognito will be free agents, as will starting linebacker Nigel Bradham and slot receiver Chris Hogan (Patriots alert!). Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor has played over 50% of the snaps this season, voiding the final 2017 year of his contract, and will need a new deal.
Defensive end Mario Williams has actively called out the coaching staff, and will be due a $2.5 million roster bonus. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams will be 33 and coming off a serious injury. This is a standard run-of-the-mill Rex Ryan team.
2d. The Jets are in the worst shape as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison, and linebackers Demario Davis and Calvin Pace will be free agents. These are all extremely key players.
Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson (will be 33), right guard Willie Colon (33 coming off an injury), center Nick Mangold (32), cornerback Antonio Cromartie (32), wide receiver Brandon Marshall (32), linebacker David Harris (32), cornerback Darrelle Revis (31 with an albatross of a contract), and right tackle Breno Giacomini (31) will all be under contract, but these are all starters that are extremely far up in age. This is a team that will break down.
2e. It might be too early to print up t-shirts for the Patriots, but the competition is either going through new leadership (Dolphins), old and hamstrung by contracts (Jets), or undisciplined (Bills). The Patriots are better coached, younger, and they have a quarterback under contract.
Pretty much every single year needs to come with the spoiler depth cannot be ignored. The Patriots have worked on their depth all season, whether by picking up players like linebacker Jonathan Bostic or wide receiver Keshawn Martin, or by rotating in rookies like Shaq Mason and Jordan Richards into the lineup. The Dolphins sold their depth to grab Ndamukong Suh, the Bills invested a small country in their defensive line, and the Jets thought they could buy a secondary.
Beware the shiny hood ornaments. They look pretty, but they don't make the car any faster.
3. That said, totally ignore what I just wrote because I've spent this week rewatching Randy Moss highlights and I want Tom Brady to have another generational wide receiver. Tight end Rob Gronkowsk is the greatest and most unique offensive player in the entire league, but I want Brady to have Gronk and someone else. I want to be spoiled.
I have Julian Edelman as a hair outside of the top 10 around the league. My top receivers are Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Emmanuel Sanders ahead of Edelman. That's probably it. I'd put Edelman in the next group of five with Alshon Jeffery, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, and Larry Fitzgerald, and ahead of the next five of Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, DeSean Jackson, Randall Cobb, and Jarvis Landry.
That's how spoiled I want Brady to be. I want him to have Gronk and Edelman, and then someone that can be an absolutely dominant force on the outside.
Typically these dominant players are taken in the first round, but the Patriots are unfortunately without in the upcoming draft. That's still okay. The Jaguars selected Allen Robinson in the 2nd round at 61st overall in 2014, the Chargers grabbed Keenan Allen in the 3rd round at 76th overall in 2013, and the Steelers drafted Martavis Bryant in the 4th round at 118th overall in 2014.
4. The Patriots clinch a bye with a victory over the Titans and a Broncos loss to the Steelers. New England controls their own destiny, but breathing room is always nice, and the potential to clinch a bye (or homefield!) prior to the final week of the season is also nice.
A win against the Titans leaves just two possible scenarios for the Patriots not to receive a bye week:
The Bengals and Broncos win in weeks 15 and 17, while the Patriots lose in weeks 16 and 17, and...
a) the Bengals defeat the Broncos in week 16; Cincinnati gets the #1 seed at 13-3, Denver gets the #2 seed with the tiebreaker over the Patriots at 12-4.
b) the Bengals and Broncos tie in week 16; Cincinnati gets the #1 seed at 12-3-1 over Denver due to conference games, while the Patriots get the #3 at 12-4.
These scenarios are very unlikely, which makes a Patriots victory over the Titans even more important.
5. Do we have to talk about Tom Brady's friendship with Donald Trump? We know Trump is a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, lying, racist, megalomaniacal, xenophobic fearmonger. Giving Trump a platform is dangerous as hateful rhetoric holds a direct correlation with violence against those groups being denigrated - and he only has a platform because of the news coverage. He is not worth the time of day.
Some want Brady to denounce Trump. Some want Brady to support him. Regardless of your thoughts on the presidential candidate, Trump is probably the only thing on the internet that is more of search engine fire starter than a discussion of the Patriots potentially heating Gatorade. When you get to mix the Patriots with Trump, it's talk radio heaven because no one can listen to it and not feel a reaction in either direction.
And it's wrong. Brady will throw his support behind Trump, or cast him into the fire, just as soon as Bill Belichick holds a press conference to say something noteworthy about a player's injury. It's not going to happen and continuing to perpetuate the discussion only gives more air time to a person that's full of the hot variety.
Brady's not going to say anything. Move on. Pressing the point to get a reaction is only doing more harm than good.