PatsBroncos: The Pick

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PatsBroncos: The Pick

From now until the end of the NFL season, the Friday plan will be to post the NFL Alphabet Preview sometime between 12-1 p.m., and then have one more post where I pick the Pats game against the spread. I'm not sure why I felt the need to share that, but now we're all on the same page.

Anyway, the Pats are favored by 6.5 points on Sunday.

Early weather reports predict a 40 percent chance of rain, with northeast winds between 9-14 MPH and a game time temperature of 55 degrees. Also, I think the Patriots are going to cover.

For me, it comes down to two things. Both are obvious, but that doesn't make them any less important.

1. Protect Tom Brady: Protect him from Von Miller. Protect him from Elvis Dumervill. Protect him for Joe "The Ear Monger" Mays. Denver's only registered 10 sacks on the season, which places in the middle of the NFL pack, but when they get there, they make it count.

2. Get to Peyton Manning: You don't have to sack him. In fact, it might be better just to spook him, let him hear and feel the footsteps, start having flashbacks to past Gillette Stadium failures . . . and then do something stupid.

Stupid isn't a word you typically associated with Manning, one of the smartest QBs of all-time, but right now, this isn't the same Peyton Manning that we saw for all those years. He still might be better than 85 percent of quarterbacks out there, but until he gets his sea legs (and sea neck?) under him, he's susceptible to panic, and then stupidity. The guy's only human.

But if he has time, he'll pick the Pats apart. As i wrote earlier this week, and as you probably already know, Denver has two big, strong and athletic receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas that are built to have their way with a secondary like New England's.

Still, I'm counting on panicked Peyton. Why? Because Bill Belichick had this guy's number when he was on top of the world. He consistently beat Peyton Manning at All-Madden level; he'll find a way to get it done at All-Pro. Look for a couple of Manning interceptions to turn the game, and a late Brandon Bolden touchdown run to seal it.

Final Score: Pats 31, Broncos 20

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

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track. 

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

Ever since Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders to give him the highest average annual contract value in league history, some version of the same question has been posed over and over again. 

What does this mean for other quarterbacks looking for new deals? 

Despite the fact that Carr's average annual value surpasses the previous high set by Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), and despite the fact that Carr's contract provides him the security that alluded him while he was on his rookie contract, his recent haul may not mean much for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins and other top-end quarterbacks.

They were already expecting monster paydays down the road that would hit (or eclipse) the $25 million range, and Carr's record-setting contract may not even serve as a suitable baseline for them, as ESPN's Dan Graziano lays out.

So if Carr's contract did little more for upper-echelon quarterbacks than confirm for them where the market was already headed, then does it mean anything for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo? 

Carr and Garoppolo were both second-round picks in 2014, but from that point, they've obviously taken very different roads as pros. Carr started 47 consecutive games in his first three years and by last season he had established himself as one of the most valuable players in the league. Garoppolo, by comparison, has started two games. 

Both players still hold loads of promise, but unless Garoppolo sees substantial playing time in 2017 and then hits the open market, he won't approach Carr's deal when his rookie contract is up.  

ESPN's Mike Reiss projected that a fair deal for Garoppolo on the open market might fall between the $19 million that was guaranteed to Chicago's Mike Glennon and Carr's contract, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed and $70 million in total guarantees, per NFL Media.

Perhaps something in the range of what Brock Osweiler received from the Texans after Osweiler started seven games for the Broncos in 2015 would be considered fair: four years, with $37 million guaranteed. Because Osweiler (before his deal or since) never seemed as polished as Garoppolo was in his two games as a starter in 2016, and because the salary cap continues to soar, the argument could be made that Garoppolo deserves something even richer. 

Though Garoppolo is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2017 season, there is a chance he doesn't get there quite that quickly. The Patriots could try to come to some kind of agreement with their backup quarterback on an extension that would keep him in New England, or they could place the franchise tag on him following the season. 

Either way, Garoppolo will get paid. But until he sees more time on the field, a deal that would pay him in the same range as his draft classmate will probably be out of reach.