Pats can't count on Dolphins flop this year

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Pats can't count on Dolphins flop this year

The Dolphins could lay claim to the title of "Best Bad Team in the League."A far cry from the 1972 edition of the Dolphins that didn't lose a game and hasn't lost a chance to remind folks of it, either. Still, it's something for Miami to hang its hat on. And for the Patriots, it's something to be wary of. Newly-installed as the AFC's No. 1 seed (after the Steelers loss to San Fran Monday night), all the Patriots have to do is rip past two AFC East opponents during the holidays to protect that seed. If they do that and win a playoff game, the AFC Championship will be staged at Gillette Stadium on January 22nd. But the Dolphins could be a Christmas Eve irritant. They got a win over Buffalo last week for interim head coach Todd Bowles, and the truth is that they never quit on Bowles' predecessor Tony Sparano. Here's a fun picture of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to look at while pondering the head coaching change. They are 5-9 but lost four of those games by a field goal or less. And those tight losses came to Denver, the Giants, Dallas and Cleveland. (Not that Cleveland's a juggernaut but I can't mention the other three that are mildly impressive and the loss that isn't . . . know what I mean?) They are 4-2 since November 13.Last January, Miami memorably quit in the season finale at Gillette. Waddling to the finish line, Miami fell 38-7 to end the season at 7-9.Neither Wes Welker nor Deion Branch played. Tom Brady played into the third quarter then sat down, yet the Patriots gained 502 yards. Even Taylor Price caught three balls. The Pats were up 38-0 before Miami narrowed that gap with two minutes left. But the pride Miami played without last season seems to be present now. And that's why, if the Patriots are going to end up the No. 1 seed, the Dolphins are a team to be wary of.

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

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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'

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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.