Pats finally moving forward

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Pats finally moving forward

I wanted to write a little more about Tim Tebow this morning, but thats on hold because, well, Tebow wasnt the story yesterday in Denver.

The bigger news? The Patriots improved.

After back-to-back weeks spent running in place against the Colts and Redskins two of the least satisfying victories in recent memory the Pats strung together a performance that they can build on. That we can build on. That, for the first time in a while, has injected some much needed excitement and optimism into the NFL season.

Of course, the first few drives were concerning. Watching the Broncos running game dice the Pats 'D' like Sam Hurd carving up a kilo of coke, it was troubling. It's during stretches like that, which are a relatively familiar to this team, when we question if anything is possible. When all our insecurities about this defense are exposed. When we start to panic.

And that was certainly the case yesterday. It's hard to erase the memory of how the Patriots 'D' looked on those first few drives. The same way it's hard to forget the image of Roy Helu having his way in Washington or repeated bombs from Orlovsky to Garcon and Young to DeSean Jackson. Even with yesterday's victory, there exists legitimate concerns about this defense especially with the Andre Carter going down and this team.

But at the same time, given yesterday's impressive win against a tough team in an imposing atmosphere, there's no reason to put any restrictions on what the Pats can accomplish.

Why can't they reach the Super Bowl? They don't have to be the best team in Patriots history. They just have to be the best team in this AFC, a conference that features exactly zero dominant squads.

The Broncos are clearly beatable, regardless of where the game is played.

The Ravens are inconsistent and have only won two games on the road all season (at Cleveland and at St. Louis -- yikes).

The Jets have never been more dysfunctional under Rex Ryan, and that's saying something.

The Texans are finally living proof of a season's worth of awful luck.

The Steelers are still going strong, but Big Ben's hurt again. (Allegedly.)

I'm not saying that the Pats are perfect, obviously. Just that no one is. And if the Steelers lose tonight, at San Francisco (10-3), the Pats will be on the fast track to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. What more can we ask for? If that's not enough, what is?

As we learned the last two seasons, home field advantage isn't everything. But it sure beats the alternative. It still makes New England the favorites. And while New Orleans and Green Bay might present a greater challenge on the other side, we know (See: February 3, 2002 and February 3, 2008) that when is comes down to one game, anything actually is possible.

Likely? Maybe not. But after yesterday's performance in Denver, for the first time in a long time, the Patriots gave us legitimate reason to believe.

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

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

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.

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.