If the AFC Championship isn't played at Gillette Stadium in two Sundays, the New England Patriots have no excuses. If they can't beat the Denver Broncos - a team that finished the regular season 8-8 and lost to New England 41-23 in Week 15 - then the Patriots deserve every ounce of criticism and every accusation of choking they will get. Everything has broken perfectly for the Patriots in the last month. As every other AFC team with a shot at the No. 1 overall seed flopped, the Patriots kept winning. And they emerged with home field advantage and the bye. And when the Steelers - perhaps the most daunting adversary in the AFC - had injuries pile up. New England benefited. When the Patriots should have been playing the Sunday Night Football game at Denver in Week 15, they got out of it. And now the Broncos are the only team that has to play on a short week coming into the Divisional Playoff round. The Steelers team the Broncos beat on Sunday was a shell of the 12-4 team that was at its best until the first week of December when Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain. In addition to a hobbling Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh was without free safety Ryan Clark and running backs Mewelde Moore and Rashad Mendenhall, defensive end Brett Keisel, andnose tackle Casey Hampton. Playing at altitude without the quarterback of their secondary (Clark), the Steelers got lit up by Tebow throwing over the top of them. You can look at the Patriots and ask why they wouldn't get lit up by the Broncos offense as Pittsburgh did.It's allowed. Butthe Patriots offense is a smidge more potent than the Steelers. Denver never had to get into a pass-first mode against Pittsburgh. The Patriots should be able to put them there. How will newly-re-signed offensive assistant Josh McDaniels (the Patriots made his hiring official in a statement Sunday night) assist in preparing for Tebow? -- It was McDaniels that drafted Tebow in Denver two years ago. Honestly, it shouldn't make much difference going into this game. Everything the Patriots need to know about Tebow has been revealed in his 12 starts this season. He's inaccurate short, dangerous medium-to-deep, runs well with the ball, exposes the ball when he's in the pocket and on the move and cannot throw when moving to his right. He generally doesn't throw many picks. He plays to the last instant of the game, he has incredible self-confidence and charisma and his teammates believe in him. The Patriots are facing a good Denver defense but not one that they had a ton of trouble with when they met in December. In that game, the Patriots scored on four of their first five drives and six of their first nine. For a team that's struggled mightily to start games well, the Denver game was an exception. On the flip side, the Broncos won't come into New England thinking they can't compete with the 13-3 Patriots. Their wounds were self-inflicted in their loss to the Patriots. Two fumbles and a muffed punt led to 13 of the Patriots 20 second-quarter points when the game was blown open. Still, the Broncos are not on the same level as the Patriots. Not by any stretch. Denver is the beneficiary of a Steelers team that fell on hard times. To think that Tebow - inspiring, charismatic and wrongly discounted as he is - will put together two excellent games in the playoffs against elite teams is too much to ask. The Patriots should have no problem next Sunday with the Denver Broncos. The Broncos cannot beat the Patriots. The Patriots need only to avoid beating themselves.
Three weeks removed from his team blowing a 25-point, second-half lead in the Super Bowl, Mohamed Sanu offered a possible explanation for the Atlanta Falcons losing their edge against the Patriots.
More specifically, it was the half-hour-plus halftime show that interrupted the Falcons' rhythm, the receiver said Friday on the NFL Network's "Good Morning Football."
“Usually, halftime is only like 15 minutes, and when you’re not on the field for like an hour, it’s just like going to work out, like a great workout, and you go sit on the couch for an hour and then try to start working out again,” Sanu said.
Sanu was asked if the delay was something you can simulate in practice.
"It's really the energy [you can't duplicate]," he said. "I don't know if you can simulate something like that. That was my first time experiencing something like that."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick did simulate it. In his Super Bowl practices, he had his team take long breaks in the middle.
Sanu also addressed the Falcons' pass-first play-calling that didn't eat up clock while the Patriots came back.
"The thought [that they weren't running the ball more] crossed your mind, but as a player, you're going to do what the coach [Dan Quinn] wants you to do." Sanu said. "He's called plays like that all the time."
The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire.
The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead.
On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.
Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.
Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season.
The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.
The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.
The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are.
* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.