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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Touchdowns, FOOTBALL, and Contracts

The Patriots started their season off on the right foot, but what should they be looking out for on opening weekend?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

1. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski just collected his 55th, 56th, and 57th regular season touchdown receptions, moving him into a tie with Cowboys tight end Jason Witten for 78th all time. It took Gronkowski 66 games to reach this mark. Witten has played 191 games. That is a staggering difference of 125 games. Gronk just broke ties with Vincent Jackson (54 touchdowns), Vernon Davis (55 touchdowns), and Dez Bryant (56 touchdowns).

If you include playoff numbers, Gronkowski is tied in 67th with 63 touchdown receptions. Gronkowski needs 73 touchdown receptions to break into the top 40 and 77 to rank in the top 30. Both are very possible. He will need 82 receiving touchdowns to get into the top 20, which likely won't happen unless the Patriots make a deep playoff run.

Also, keep in mind that Gronkowski has a rushing touchdown under his belt, so he technically has 64 touchdowns. Gronkowski is truly a dominant force. However, I also wanted to highlight that Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson collected 33 touchdowns during the full 2006 season. That's over half of Gronk's touchdown count in a single season.

2. Quarterback Tom Brady just matched Saints quarterback Drew Brees with 396 regular season touchdown passes. Brees will likely break the tie later this afternoon. They are both chasing former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, who ranks 3rd all time with 420 regular season touchdown passes. With the current state of the Saints offense (they lost Jimmy Graham and it seems like they're going to rely a little more heavily on their run game), it's possible that Brady moves into third before Brees.

When including playoff numbers, Brady has 449 touchdown passes and is just three touchdowns behind Marino. Brees is far behind with 420 touchdowns. Look for Brady to climb the records book this season.

3. Football starts for other teams today and I'll be watching the Bills face the Colts, and the Ravens take on the Broncos. The Jets/Browns game is going to be an effort of offensive futility, while the Dolphins should easily handle Washington.

The Ravens and Broncos are the afternoon game and are considered top AFC contenders. Joe Flacco and the Ravens underwent some offensive turnover, with walking pass interference Torrey Smith heading to the 49ers, and with former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak leaving to head coach the Broncos! I want to see if the reports of Peyton Manning's declining arm strength are actually true, or if Manning's preseason was more similar to Brady's lackluster effort due to the surrounding cast.

Part of me wants the Bills to walk all over the Colts, but another part of me wants a Rex Ryan team to implode before midseason because that would remove the Bills from any sort of contention for the next five years. I'm leaning towards a Colts victory at this point in time, but that is subject to change.

4. The Buffalo Bills signed defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to a 6-year, $96.1 million extension (the $100+ million number reported includes his contract for this current season). He is now the highest paid member of the Buffalo Bills. The second highest is pass rusher Mario Williams, who has two years left on his 6-year, $96 million deal. In third is pass rusher Jerry Hughes, who just signed a deal with $9 million per season. Veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams ranks sixth. If Buffalo can't have a quarterback, their goal is to make sure no one else can have one either.

In fourth is running back LeSean McCoy and in fifth is tight end Charles Clay. The two Williamses are over 30 and they will become free agents after the 2017 season. The other four players are locked up to 2020 or beyond. This is a roster that needs to hit on a quarterback in the draft, or they'll be the St. Louis Rams and finish around 8-8 every season.

5. In comparison, the Dolphins cap rankings look like they're copied straight out of Salary Cap for Dummies. They have a quarterback, defensive tackle, left tackle, center, cornerback, tight end, safety, and a pass rusher in their eight highest salaries. They're all under contract through the 2016, or beyond, which means that the Miami core will be around for at least a couple seasons to get their bearings straight. This is why Miami is a much bigger threat in the AFC than the Bills or the Jets- they appear to have some semblance of a plan.

6. The Patriots have two tackles, a safety, a tight end, a quarterback, a pass rusher, a linebacker, and (uh) a kicker in their top eight. New England will have a huge wave of free agents after the 2016 season, too, so that offseason will be plenty of fun for those interested in team building. And if you're wondering about the Jets, their top eight consists of three cornerbacks, two wide receivers, a left tackle, a center, and an inside linebacker.

All cap numbers via spotrac