If you saw the Monday Night slopfest between the Ravens and Jaguars, you may have been left with the same impression as me: "Holy crap, the Ravens are completely inept."Who the hell are they? The team that shut down the Steelers and Jets, or the one that's now been handled by the Jaguars and Titans? Who knows? What is apparent is that flaws run deep among even the best teams in the AFC. Or what passes for them. And the Patriots -- despite being the worst defense statistically in the NFL in total yards allowed -- and the upstart Bills are the best teams in the conference. (Check out the NFL Playoff Picture from NFL.com). Unless the playoffs are moved up two months -- and that seems unlikely -- it doesn't really matter who the best team is on October 25. But taking stock of what the rest of New England's competition has done and needs to overcome shows how well-positioned the Patriots seem coming off the bye. Ravens (4-2)Monday night's performance was disturbing. Joe Flacco isn't getting enough time, his receivers aren't getting enough separation and he seems squirrelly as hell (52.1 completion percentage). Terrell Suggs is giving offensive game plan recommendations. They convert 32.9 percent of third downs. Defensively, they are still daunting but the Jaguars ran all over them Monday. Steelers (5-2)Sunday's game against the Patriots could determine where the AFC Championship is played. But Pittsburgh's problems are worrisome. They don't turn opposing teams over (just two picks and a fumble recovery so far), their offensive line is usually a disaster and -- despite the spin from the past few weeks as they've bludgeoned bad teams -- their defense is getting old in a hurry. Chargers (4-2)They're so dumb I can't believe it. Bengals (4-2)Please. Raiders (4-3)Also, please. Texans (4-3)Not as easily dismissed. They don't strike me as a very "tough" team. Two of their wins came against Miami and Indy. Matt Schaub soils himself frequently when things get dicey in big games. But their running game is solid and their offensive skill position guys -- even with Andre Johnson out -- are impressive. Losing Mario Williams for the rest of the year because of a pectoral injury was a mammoth blow, though. Jets (4-3)They are a team that rides emotion and momentum and they picked up a bunch on Sunday when the Chargers went full moron against them. You make your own luck, it's said, so give the Jets credit for creating the necessary luck to have the Chargers hand them the game last week and for being able to play badly and still win by 18 against the horrific Dolphins on Monday night the week before. Bills (4-2)They, along with the Patriots, have been the most consistently predictable team in the conference. Their losses -- 23-20 at Cincy and 27-24 at the Giants -- hinged on just a couple of plays unlike every other team in the conference (except New England) which had full meltdowns in their losses. That indicates to me a surprisingly mature team that plays complementary football: offense struggles, defense is there to pick up the slack, etc. Dismiss the Bills as a cute story at your own peril. Their talent on both sides of the ball is right there with the rest of the conference and Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the five best quarterbacks in the conference right now.
CBS interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick and 1960 Heisman winner Joe Bellino from Navy as part of its Army-Navy Game coverage Saturday.
Belichick's father, Steve, was an assistant coach at Navy when Bellino played there, and little Bill, then 7, took it all in. So much so, that 57 years later, Belichick can still diagram the 27 F Trap play that his dad used to drew up in the 1959 season for Bellino.
When trying to figure out what the Patriots will ultimately do with Jimmy Garoppolo, forget about the speculation and instead focus on the little things the team does.
Like how they are tending to Jacoby Brissett.
After having thumb surgery on Oct. 7, Brissett was put on IR. But the team used its one "Get off of IR free card" on Brissett and he's been practicing with the team for the past couple of weeks while not taking up a roster spot.
That alone isn't compelling evidence that he's the backup-in-waiting and Garoppolo's about to be packed up and shipped out, argued my compadre, Senator Phil Perry. The team had no other players on IR that they could use the designation on at the time. Why not use it on Brissett?
Prior to that, though, we've seen Brissett accompanying the team to away games including the cross-country junket to San Francisco. A reason? Since the Patriots played three straight at Gillette at the start of the season when Brissett was the direct backup to Garoppolo, he didn't get a good look at the road operation and the tempo of being the visiting team. How things work on flights, in meetings, at opposing stadiums and on the sidelines is worth getting a promising young players' eyes on. Also, getting his offensive teammates used to having him around is probably an even bigger benefit. It's not unprecedented to have IR players travel but its not conventional practice either.
With so many quarterback-needy teams around the league, Garoppolo is perhaps the most attractive option out there. By the end of this year, he will have apprenticed three seasons behind the best quarterback of all-time in a sophisticated offense for a program that's as demanding as any in the league. In the 1 1/2 games he was able to play as a starter in place of Tom Brady, he was sensational.
He got hurt and that's not great. But any team making a deal for him that has concerns about his durability can take him for a spin for one season. Garoppolo is on the books for $825K in 2017 and then his contract is up. The team that dealt for him can franchise him if they need another season to think on it.
I don't think the Patriots are itching to move Garoppolo. They know they are sitting comfortably with a stack of the most valuable commodity in the sport -- good quarterbacks (or at least one great one and two promising ones) - piled in front of them. They can let the game come to them.
If it does, as former Patriots executive and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi thinks it will, the Patriots can rest easy dealing Garoppolo knowing that they already did advance work getting Brissett up to speed.