Fear Denver's receivers more than its quarterback

901809.jpg

Fear Denver's receivers more than its quarterback

Starting today and right on through Sunday, we're going talk a lot about Peyton Manning. We'll talk about his new home in Denver, his history in New England, his rivalry with Tom Brady and how much he has left. We'll crack jokes about his commercials, his pouting face and his assortment of horse-like features. It will be all Peyton all the time until Tony Massarotti's head explodes all over the Sports Hub studio.

And whatever. It will be fun. Admit it, you missed Peyton Manning. I know I did.

But heading into Sunday's game with the Broncos, I'm far more worried about his receivers:

Eric Decker: 6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Demaryius Thomas: 6-3, 229 pounds

Both are big, strong, quick and freakishly athletic. Both fit the description of the kind of receiver that can get out into open space and make a mockery of this Patriots secondary, regardless of whether the ball's thrown by Peyton Manning or Phil Manning.

Last year, the Pats only faced Decker once, and held him to one catch for 22 yards in a Week 14 win. (Decker didn't play in the playoff game at New England thanks to a first round cheap shot by James Harrison.) On the other hand, Thomas had some success. He caught seven balls for 116 yards in Week 14, and then six for 93 in the playoffs.

So far this season, both guys are clicking with their new QB. Decker's averaging six catches a game (and has 15 over the last two weeks) and has yet to post a game under 50 yards receiving. Thomas had an off-week two Sunday's ago against Houston (three catches for 34 yards), but other than that has posted lines of five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdowns, and five catches for 103 yards.

Of course, if either guy has a big game on Sunday, all the credit will go to Manning. Decker and Thomas could catch two touchdowns each and all anyone will talk about is how Peyton threw four TDs. But as far as the Pats are concerned, I'd be less worried about who's throwing the ball than I am trying to contain the two monsters trying to catch it.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona. 

Gronkowski doesn't think Goodell can visit Gillette: 'The fans are nuts'

Gronkowski doesn't think Goodell can visit Gillette: 'The fans are nuts'

At this point, there may be no getting out of it.

Roger Goodell chose to visit Atlanta twice in as many weeks during its run to a Super Bowl, and in the process he opted not to check in at Gillette Stadium for either the Divisional Round or the AFC title game. But once the Patriots won Super Bowl LI, many felt as though Goodell would simply have no choice but to attend the 2017 regular-season opener in Foxboro. 

There are those who are itching to have him visit. There are those who hope he stays away. In an interview with ESPN, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't put himself in either camp, but he seemed to suggest that it might not be the best idea for the commissioner to show his face in New England.

"To tell you the truth, I really don’t think so," Gronkowski said when asked if Goodell could come back to Foxboro any time soon. "The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what. They have Tom’s back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."

Goodell hasn't been to Gillette Stadium since Deflategate, but he said during Super Bowl week that he'd be happy to visit if he was invited.