AFC East champion Patriots not celebrating yet

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AFC East champion Patriots not celebrating yet

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- With a 23-16 win over the Dolphins Sunday afternoon, the Patriots won their ninth AFC East title in 10 years.

The clinch was about as surprising as the post-game reaction.

"I think it's one of those things where you savor it for the next 24 hours, maybe, and then we'll enjoy it after the season," said Matthew Slater. "There's a lot of football left to be played, a lot to be decided, and goals that we still have to hopefully accomplish."

It is the Patriot Way to share credit, deflect praise, and celebrate nothing until the final bell. But this time, these guys aren't just going through the motions.

This year's clinch has come in Week 13. New England doesn't just have four games left, it has upcoming back-to-back games against the Texans (10-1) and 49ers (8-2).

However confident the Patriots might have been Sunday morning about winning the division, there's little certainly about the future from here on out.

"We'll enjoy this one today, but the road from here on out is very daunting," Slater said. "We have some tough opponents coming in to Foxboro, starting with Houston next week. There's a lot still to be decided as far as seeding is concerned. Ideally, we'd like to have the highest seed possible, so there's a lot of work left to be done."

Which is not to say the Patriots weren't appreciative.

In the locker room after the Dolphins game most players had their hats propped proudly in their lockers, and a few put them on before even getting dressed.

Trevor Scott, who had two sacks of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, allowed himself a moment of revelry. But only because he and his teammates earned something they worked so hard for.

"We've been talking about it all week," Scott admitted. "It was good to beat the Dolphins and be AFC East Champs. That's what we aspired to all week. We had a good, hard week of practice and came out here. The fact that we got it done today . . . it's huge for us. It's a right step in the direction we want to go."

Think Scott just has a different perspective? Before signing with New England in March, the defensive end spent four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, whose "Just win, baby" mantra hasn't meant much since 2002.

But not even the longer-tenured Patriots are spoiled.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo has gotten a new championship hat and t-shirt in the last four of his five seasons in New England. He didn't wear the cap in his post game interview, but smiled widely when it was referenced.

"It never gets old," he said of the tradition. "This is a great group of teams -- Buffalo, the Jets, Dolphins."

And then he returned to center.

"We're going to enjoy this one, but we have other goals for the season," he sang in that old refrain.

Bruins go for size, defensive presence at center with Koppanen

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Bruins go for size, defensive presence at center with Koppanen

While the Bruins fourth round pick might sound eerily like Finnish fourth line center Joonas Kemppainen, the Black and Gold are hoping for much more from fifth round pick (135th overall) Joona Koppanen. The 6-foot-5, 194-pound Finnish center is obviously a big body in the middle of the ice, and already plays a responsible, smart game on the defensive side of the ice.

In keeping with the parallels to Kemppainen, Koppanen is a bit less developed on the offensive side of the game at this point in his young career as an 18-year-old.  

“I think that the draft was awesome and I’m really excited for the draft to Boston,” said Koppanen, who added “Tuukka Rask plays there” when asked what he knows about the Bruins. “My strength is to skating and I’m a good two-way forward.”

The Big Finn had nine goals and 26 points in 40 games for the junior team in Finland last season, and was shut out in seven games for Team Finland at the World Junior U-18 Championships. So he’s got some work to do developing his offensive game and getting both bigger and stronger, but the Bruins see size, strength and the work ethic to improve in Koppanen.

“He’s a big guy, and for a big guy he can really move around. He’s very good defensively and smart with his positioning. He plays hard,” said Bruins head scout Keith Gretzky. “The skill is the one area that needs to develop, and we think it’s going to do that. He was a guy that we targeted because he’s a big guy that can skate, and is good in his own end.”

One thing the Bruins focused on heading into the draft was acquiring some size at the center position, and they’ve clearly done that with 6-foot-2, 200-pound Trent Frederic and the 6-foot-5, 198-pound Koppanen.

It just remains to be seen what kind of offensive upside these gritty, tough competitors will have once they reach the pro ranks a few years from now, and that will go a long way to determining how good these picks end up being.

One thing is for sure: they must be projecting that Koppanen is better than Kemppainen, who was an absolute bust in the offensive zone. 

OFFSEASON

Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

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Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

The Celtics reportedly are taking a look at free agent Al Horford.

Ah, why?

Wait. Make that WHY?

If you're going with someone like Jaylen Brown, you don't pursue a Grade B free agent like Horford. Or even think about making a deal for Kevin Love. When the Celtics decided not to deal the third pick for an Okafor, Noel or Butler, and instead went for a player who'll need several years to fully develop, the course for this offseason was set.

Now, if the Celtics wow the daylights out of Kevin Durant and land him, Horford would be a nice addition for a less-than-max deal. But, despite my fanboy optimism in regard to a Durant signing, the chances are slim that KD will land in Boston.

I really liked Al Horford. Notice the use of the past tense. He's 30 years old and will get a max deal from somebody stupid enough to give him one. The guy averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season and went MIA for Games 3, 4 and 5 in the playoffs against Boston. He's on the downside of his career, and I'd rather the Celtics enter next season with the roster they have now than add Horford.

I feel the same way about Love. If your top draft pick has one year of college experience and needs to greatly improve his basketball skills -- hello there, Jaylen Brown -- why bother with Love?

Horford and Love would be pieces to add if Durant comes here. Period. And please don't tell me that adding both, or either, would make the Celtics more attractive to KD. Nope.

I feel the Celtics have made their bed. It's Kevin Durant or nothing at all.

Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

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Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

Tom Brady has never been one to hide his emotions when he's on the field, and it sounds like he's not much different at the ping pong table.

When asked about Brady during an interview on ESPN's NFL Insiders show, Patriots receiver Danny Amendola recalled one story from his first few days at Gillette Stadium back in 2013.

"He's the best teammate," Amendola said. "He's so competitive . . . I remember one story, it was my first week in the building and he wanted to play some ping pong. I didn't know how to go about it. I knew I was better than him, [but] I didn't want to beat him too bad because I wanted him to throw me the ball.

"I knew I was better. Needless to say, his competitive nature unleashed a broken paddle by the end of it. It's the reason we love him, and the reason why he's the best quarterback."

That first encounter at the ping pong table didn't seem to hinder Amendola's relationship with Brady in the least. In their first game together, Amendola fought a groin injury and still ended up with 10 catches for 104 yards in a win over the Bills. Since then, when healthy -- and particularly since New England's most recent run to a Super Bowl title -- Amendola has established himself as one of Brady's most trusted targets.

Amendola and the rest of the Patriots are facing a start to the regular season without their No. 1 quarterback as Brady awaits a decision from the Second Circuit on whether or not it will rehear his case against the NFL. Should backup Jimmy Garoppolo take the reins in Brady's place, however, Amendola said he'll be confident. 

"He's a great player," Amendola explained. "He's been in the system a couple of years now and he's learned a lot. He's picked up everything that Tom has taught him and then also what coach [Bill] Belichick has to offer him. So we're all excited to see where he goes and see what the future holds for him."