FIRST QUARTER: Impressions of the last two Patriots come-from-behind wins over Denver and Houston

Todd: I realize my thoughts on that incredible win over the Broncos have the feel of Thanksgiving leftovers that were pushed to the back of the fridge and are only now being discovered. 

Assuming there’s any freshness left to them, the start of that game nearly two weeks ago was eerily reminiscent of the Pats playoff loss to the Ravens back in January of 2010, yet by game's end wound up ranking as the greatest comeback in franchise history.  Giving this epic performance the perspective it deserves, chew on this: there have been nearly five hundred games played since the Pats joined the NFL in 1970 in which a team trailed by 24 points or more at halftime, and the Pats became only the sixth team in that group to actually come back and get the win.

Truth is, the only reason Brady and company were able to pull off that win over Peyton’s Broncos was the fortuitous contact of Ryan Allen’s punt with the leg of former Patriot (for all of two games) Tony Carter, resulting in a loose ball that Nate Ebner recovered for the Pats and allowed them to win. Otherwise, with less than three minutes left in overtime and the Pats out of time outs, Denver would have had possession and the best case scenario for New England would have been a tie (which IMO would’ve been only a scosche better than a loss).  Who knew that Wes Welker was going to impact that game in that manner?  Certainly not quite the ‘sticking-it-to-Bill’ sort of reunion the other former Patriot expected.

Another stat to take from that game and tuck away till next month when these two teams will inevitably meet for the AFC Championship and then advance to the Super Bowl outdoors in New Jersey on Groundhog Day: Peyton Manning is now 2-9 in games when the temperature is below freezing at kickoff, while Brady (who granted, has had many more opportunities to play in the cold) is an incredible 40-6 playing in the cold of Foxboro or wherever.

Quick discussion of the Pats’ win over the Texans last week—could a pair of 34-31 wins in consecutive weeks have been any different in the way they reached their end result?  Let’s also make mention that for the second time this season, the Pats went an entire game without committing a single penalty (the other time was in their loss vs. Cincinnati).  And since kickers rarely get any pub, let’s hear it for Stephen Gostkowski for booting not one, but two 53-yard field goals (making up for his 55-yard miss).

Mike: The Patriots have sure liked to live dangerously the last couple of weeks. That game against the Broncos was probably the most exciting half of football I have ever seen. I must admit I had given the Pats up for dead in this one, a foolish mistake on my part.

I would have loved to hear what happened in the locker room at halftime, because a different New England team came out on the field for the second half.

And I loved the irony of the ending that Wes Welker played a role in the win, just not for Denver.

As for the Houston game, loved the fact that the Pats didn't get flagged once, but really, they should have blown out the pathetic Texans, and that's all I have to say on that matter.

SECOND INNING: Red Sox hot stove happenings

Todd: What a week!  Can’t believe the Sox lost Jarrod Saltalamacchia, although I’m sure the person who designs the road uniforms is probably glad to see that last name come off the books. All kidding aside, I think between John Farrell losing confidence in Salty during the postseason and Ben Cherington being confident enough that either Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart will become the Sox catcher by 2015, it was a no-brainer to let Miami Marlins swoop in and sign the former Sox backstop to a three-year contract.

All kidding aside #2, I know I buried the lead here, as the much more significant departure this week was leadoff man and centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.  But like many Sox fans, I knew the writing was on the wall a few years ago when Ellsbury made his deal with the devil—sorry, I meant Scott Boras—to represent him in contract negotiations.  Both Ellsbury and Boras were not going to forget the megadeal the Sox made three offseasons ago with Carl Crawford when setting their starting asking price, while the Sox certainly have no plans to go down that kind of 7-year, 9-figure path anytime soon.

In the end, it’s hard not to compare Ellsbury’s time in Boston with that of another former fan favorite, Johnny Damon.  Both played centerfield, bat leadoff and were productive players when on the field; in fact, watching Jacoby play as a rookie always reminded me of a young Damon.  Now they’ve both left via free agency for the Bronx, although I’m sure Damon will be quick to point out that Ellsbury’s deal is worth over $100M more than the one he signed with the Yankees eight years ago.  The other common bond the two will share is the wrath of the Fenway faithful, which to me is somewhat unfair.  I can’t forget how valuable each of them were to collectively helping the Sox win three championships over the last decade, but some fans only want to see those pinstripes and react accordingly.

While I’ll miss Ellsbury’s presence at the top of the lineup, I’m ultimately glad Cherington opted against throwing piles of money at him.  For better or worse, there will always be durability concerns regarding Ellsbury and that is reason enough not to break the bank for him.  Plus the Sox have what they hope is his replacement in Jackie Bradley Jr., who may not ever be the player Ellsbury is offensively but should be more than an adequate enough defender in center.  If Bradley’s not ready, Ben can always find a stopgap to play center for a year, whether that’s moving Shane Victorino from right field or a bringing in a veteran free agent; and regarding a new leadoff hitter, the Sox already have several in-house candidates that include Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and based on what I saw of him during this recent postseason, why not the disciplined Xander Bogaerts? (ok, laugh at me here if you must)

Looking at the Ellsbury deal from the Yankees’ perspective, I think like many of their previous signings this is one they will likely regret when it comes to the last three or four years of the contract.  But in the next few seasons I can see Ellsbury becoming a consistent 20 HR performer with that very short right field porch at new Yankee Stadium while he and Brett Gardner should track down nearly every fly ball hit to the deepest parts of left-center field.

What I find most interesting is that based on what I’ve read this week it appears that the contract offer the Yanks are making to Robinson Cano is not significantly larger than what they just paid Ellsbury (both in terms of years and dollars).  That doesn’t make much sense to me, as Cano has definitely proven to be a more productive middle-of-the-order bat over Ellsbury throughout his career.  I’ll be curious to see if the Seattle Mariners plan on making a genuine mega-offer to Cano or it’s all just a smokescreen which will find Jay-Z and his client crawling back to take the final offer from Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

Mike:  Am I disappointed that Ellsbury is gone? Yes. Am I surprised? Nope.

I'm not so sure I totally buy into the whole "we'll be better off" theory in the short run, but I do see the logic in that argument. Fact of the matter is Elssbury isn't going to be the same player he is now at the end of this mega-deal and the Red Sox have made a decision to move away from those albatross contracts (see "Crawford, Carl" for example). I'm not so sure what direction they take now to replace Ellsbury in center, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Shane Victorino move over and Boston look for a right fielder.

The offeseason decision that I do find curious is the decision to let Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk away. Sure, they have a couple of catchers in waiting in they system, but prospects are just that, prospects, with no guarantees. I would have rather they held on to Salty, a solid catcher, for a couple of more years.

And the replacement they signed, A.J. Pierzynski, doesn't really blow me away either. By many accounts, he can have a bad attitude, which is something I thought the Red Sox did away with when they got rid of Josh Beckett and Crawford. I have heard some reports that the bad things out there about Pierzynski aren't exactly true, and he is a good teammate, here's hoping that's the case.

THIRD QUARTER: Patriots-Browns preview

Todd: There is very little to discuss about the Cleveland Browns.  They are a last-place 4-8 team featuring a carousel of quarterbacks which include the recently concussed Jason Campbell, the evenly more recently concussed Brandon Weeden and two other guys in Caleb Hanie and Alex Tanney who might wind up concussed at Gillette Stadium this Sunday if they actually step on the field.  I think the only fans familiar with this stable of signal-callers are fantasy football owners, who wouldn’t touch any of these guys with a 10-foot pole or even Rob Gronkowski.

The only question about this week’s game is whether Pats RB Stevan Ridley will be active, and if he is, whether he’ll be able to hold on to the football as well as he did on the sidelines last week in Houston.  If Ridley rides the bench again this week, I think Mike start revving up the bus to take him out of Foxboro.  In any event, Sunday's contest is very likely to devolve into fifty shades of gruesome.  Patriots 34, Browns 10.

Mike: I'm going to say even less. The Browns stink. Pats win 41-7.

FOURTH QUARTER: Other games we like this week

Todd (4-2 last two weeks, 22-14 season): Wow Mike, in the last few years that we’ve made picks in various blogs, this is the first time that either of us had one of our games end in a tie.  Thanks to that Packers-Vikings deadlock a couple weeks ago there’s now zero chance you and I will finished deadlocked at season’s end (barring another tie, of course).  So knowing I have to defeat you outright, the stretch run of our head-to-head battle officially begins.  Let’s take the Bengals over the Colts, the suddenly surging Chargers over the Giants and the Saints over the Panthers.  

Mike (3-2-1 last two weeks, 21-14-1 season): We'll see Todd, we shall see. I'll take the Bills over Tampa Bay, the Steelers over the Dolphins and Seattle over San Francisco.

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