Are they really better without Randy?

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Are they really better without Randy?

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Are the Patriots a better team without Randy Moss?

Its a question weve asked ourselves over and over since the moment Moss left town. And with the Vikings officially waiving No. 8184 on Tuesday, its a question thats now more prevalent in Patriots circles than jokes about Tom Bradys hair.

Of course, the chances of Moss ending up back in Boston are slimmer than the man himself. Check out any experts list of potential suitors, and the Pats dont even merit a mention. It looks likes it will be Washington, Tennessee, St. Louis, Miami or Seattle. Personally, Id love to see Moss leave football all together and start reviewing local restaurants for the Star Tribune (Catch Phrase: I wouldn't feed this crap to my dog!!), but either way, regardless of the likelihood of Randys return, public reaction to the mere possibility has been interesting.

Some revel in the idea of Moss re-joining the troops.

They believe, due largely to Sundays heartfelt press conference, that Moss has learned his lesson. That he finally appreciates how great he had it in New England. That hes ready to walk the company line and that, if given a second chance, theres no way he let the team down. Basically, wed be looking at 2007 all over again.

For others, the prospect of Moss coming back is about as enticing as a bubble bath with Rex Ryan.

They think that Randys a cancer, and that hell never ever change. That he sets a bad tone off the field, and doesnt always give full effort on it. That his presence plays mind games with Tom Brady and pigeon holes the offense. Basically, they believe that the Pats are better off without him.

Which brings us back to the original question: Are they?

On one hand, theyre 3-0 sans Randy, and those three wins came against three quality teamsdespite what their respective records may say (Bill Parcells just choked on his cigar at whichever horse track hes currently betting at). And at the same time, you cant disregard the positive vibes that have taken over the organization in the post-Moss Era. The Pats are a more upbeat, optimistic and fun-loving team now than they were on October 6. No one can deny that.

But heres where it gets a little tricky. Yeah, the Pats have been solid over the last three weeks. And on the surfaceconsidering they were 3-1 with Randy, and 3-0 without himyou can say that the Pats have been better since he left.

But at this moment, can you really say that theyve been better BECAUSE he left.

Was it Moss absence that facilitated victories over Baltimore, San Diego and Minnesota? Or have other factors come into play?

First of all, call me crazy, but I havent been in love with the Patriots offense over the last three weeks. I realize that the Ravens, Chargers and Vikings boast three of the more daunting defenses in the league (although Ryan Fitzpatrick might disagree on the Ravens part), but has this been the fair, balanced and uber-efficient offensive attack that the anti-Moss camp imagined after he left?

Ill admit that, at the time, I was all googily-eyed over the idea of Brady morphing back into the my favorite receiver is the open receiver quarterback that led the Pats to three titles. But I, or anyone else, would be nuts to suggest that thats how everything has played out.

The first category you look at is points, and you notice that three of New Englands four lowest scoring outputs have come since the trade.

Of course, thats not completely surprising. First, there's the defenses they were playing. Plus, we already knew that without Moss, the Pats offensive wouldnt be as explosive. But what we thought wed see was an offense that was far more efficientan offense that was less predictable, more creative and could sustain longer, more methodical drives to help keep the defense off the field. But so far, that hasnt been the case.

Three of Tom Bradys four worst completion percentages have come since Randy left. Three of his four worst QB ratings have come since Randy left. Bradys thrown as many interceptions in last three games as he did in the previous four.

Thereve also been numerous drives over the last three weeksspecifically, the first two in overtime against the Ravens and the possession that should have sealed the deal in San Diegowhere the Pats needed to move the ball, and just plain couldnt.

Thereve been possessions like in the second quarter in San Diegowhen Rob Nincovichs fumble return gave New England the ball on the eight yard line with a chance to go up 14-3where the Pats have been handed huge opportunities, and instead of capitalizing, have actually gone backwards.

You can cite the 13-play, 84-yard, five and a half-minute drive that put them over the top against Minnesota, but that was about the Law Firm; Brady completed two passes for 23 yards. Was Green-Ellis running the ball on Vikings because Randy Moss wasnt lined up wide right?

And in terms of keeping the defense off the field, the Patriots time of possession in the last two games have been their two worst all season. They held the ball for 25:35 against San Diego, and 24:52 against Minnesota. There has been more pressure placed on the defense these last two weeks than at any time all year. Sure, there are other factors that come into play on time of possession (like all the short-field situations in San Diego), but either way, by no means can we say that the Patriots offense has been rejuvenated by the absence of Randy Moss.

In fact, the offense would be considered a huge problem right now if it werent for another tiny, little difference between Randy Moss Patriots and the team you see today: They have a defense!

A defense that gave them three chances in overtime against Baltimore, that kept giving them possession after possession in San Diego and was just tough enough at the end to save us from another week of Fourth and 2 drama. They have a defense capable of containing Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, Philip Rivers and Adrian Peterson (and, I guess, Randy Moss); a defense that hasnt allowed more than 20 points since September.

They have an honest-to-goodness NFL defense. The only thing that would have been more surprising than that back in August is the fact that Randy Moss was just cut by the Vikings.

Has Randy's absence really played into the instant maturation of Devin McCourty, the emergence of the Nincoviches, Deadricks, Cunninghams and Arringtons of this no-name unit, the fact the fact that Jerod Mayo has finally realized his ridiculous potential? Of course not.

Ultimately, what these last three weeks have shown is that the Patriots can win without Moss. At least in October. And for the Moss haters, those three wins are already enough to write off the move as a smashing success. But in reality, it's far too early.

Were victories over Baltimore, San Diego and Minnesota a direct byproduct of his departure? Do we think the Pats would have lost these games with him? Are they actually a better team for not having Randy? Right now, I dont think you can say.

Maybe the offense just needs time to adjust. Maybe it will take a few weeks for Brady to re-discover his old style. Or maybe Deion Branch's hamstring never heals, Wes Welker needs another year to regain that legendary quickness and the Pats offense never completely finds its way. And with the way the defense is playing, maybe that won't even be a huge deal. We don't know.

All we know for sure is that the Patriots are a better team today than they were four weeks ago, and for now, thats reason enough to just sit back and enjoy it.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

NFL Draft picks No. 25-31: Broncos move up to grab QB Lynch

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NFL Draft picks No. 25-31: Broncos move up to grab QB Lynch

No access at Gillette? No first-round pick unless the Patriots make a swap into the latter stages of the round? No problem. We're all over it from the palatial offices here in Burlington. We go pick-by-pick through the first round.

Steelers: Artie Burns, CB, Miami

Mike Tomlin had to be a little bit miffed when he saw the Bengals take Williams Jackson III with the No. 24 pick. The Steelers needed a corner in the worst way, and their division rival took the top available player at that position one slot ahead of them. Credit Pittsburgh for sticking with its plan if it works out, though. Burns is a corner who has all the traits you could ever want -- length, athleticism, ball skills -- but he's going to need work on his technique if he wants to slow down AJ Green twice a year. 

Broncos: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

He may not be ready to start right away, but the Broncos knew what they were doing when they traded up. Lynch is a big-armed quarterback who at 6-foot-7 has enough athleticism to be able to roll out and make throws on the run -- something that will be asked of him in Gary Kubiak's offense. Mark Sanchez still may be Denver's best bet in Week 1, but if Lynch even approaches his potential in Year 1, he could see some starter's snaps. 

Packers: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA

He's not built like BJ Raji, but Clark will help fill left the void Raji left behind when the veteran defensive tackle walked away from the game this offseason. A strong player who hasn't yet turned 21 years old, Clark has all kinds of upside to offer Mike McCarthy's defense. 

49ers: Joshua Garnett, OG, Stanford

The Niners traded up to this spot, leading many to believe that they'd go after a quarterback. Connor Cook, perhaps? Instead they made the oh-so-flashy move to lock up a guard. Garnett had a lot of success in Stanford's pro-style offense playing alongside left tackle Kyle Murphy. Garnett is a machine in the running game and should be a longtime starter. 

Cardinals: Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss

Arizona came into the draft pretty well-set offensively so adding an explosive presence on the interior like Nkemdiche helps make them a more well-rounded roster. He has plenty of off-the-field concerns, but if he can keep his head on straight, this will represent great value for coach Bruce Arians and Co. The Patriots offensive line will have its hands full Week 1 with Nkemdiche, Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell to worry about. 

Panthers: Vernon Butler, DL, Louisiana Tech

The Panthers could've used a corner or a receiver. A defensive end might've made sense, too. Instead, they went after this big-bodied monster. Weighing in at over 320 pounds, Butler handles his weight well and should be able to help collapse opposing offensive lines at the next level. A defense that was already very good just got a little better up front. 

Seahawks: Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M

The Seahawks (and quarterback Russell Wilson) can breathe easy as they escape the first round with some much-needed offensive line help. There are some questions as to where Ifedi will play on the line -- is he a guard or a right tackle? -- but his length and overall athleticism should help him turn into a building block in the trenches.

Who could the Patriots have had at No. 29?

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Who could the Patriots have had at No. 29?

Had their first-round pick not been confiscated by Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent, who might the Patriots have selected with the 29th overall pick?

A very good football player. And that’s where the sting is. Yeah, it sucks if Tom Brady sits four games and that’s going to put the Patriots a couple steps back in 2016.

But players like Reggie Ragland, Myles Jack, Sterling Shepard, A’Shawn Robinson, Derrick Henry, Kevin Dodd or Jarron Reed all could have been Patriots and instead fall to the teams behind them

On the bright side, the Patriots can now partake in the 2016 NFL Draft.

On the down side, there were so many options. Jack, seen as a top-five talent, has injury concerns that caused his red-flagged posterior to slide tragically down the board. The UCLA linebacker is way, way, way deeper in his free-fall than anyone expected.

For safe picks, there were a fleet of Alabama players sitting there. The linebacker Ragland is a classic two-down inside linebacker who could thump. Kind of a better Brandon Spikes. Robinson’s a penetrating defensive lineman that gets the job done with power and athleticism. Henry was the Heisman Trophy winner at running back, Dodd is a destructive edge rusher from Clemson who is on the rise and Reed was a classic nose-tackle also from Alabama.

Then there was my guy, wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Plus a few good corners. None of whom will be in New England.

Said NFL Network host Rich Eisen as pick 29 came up and a picture of a cascading fountain was broadcast, “It would have been lit up Patriots colors. But we all know why it isn’t.”

NFL Draft picks No. 17-24: Texans, 'Skins, Vikings make run on WRs

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NFL Draft picks No. 17-24: Texans, 'Skins, Vikings make run on WRs

No access at Gillette? No first-round pick unless the Patriots make a swap into the latter stages of the round? No problem. We're all over it from the palatial offices here in Burlington. We go pick-by-pick through the first round.

Lions: Taylor Decker, OT, OSU

Former Patriots personnel man Bob Quinn plucks a 6-foot-7, 310-pound mass of humanity and bad humor. The skinny on Decker is that he’s a Sebastian Vollmer-type according to NFL.com. He can play either tackle spot, strength, size and toughness are not an issue so it’s a low-risk selection which is a bright way to begin one’s GMing tenure.

Falcons: Keanu Neal, S, Florida

Following on the heels of Quinn, the Scott Pioli-Thomas Dimitroff grabbed a big-hitting safety who can play up in the box in run-support and also cover the tight ends and backs. Regarded as one of the best hitters in the draft.

Colts: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama

Ryan Grigson could screw up a one-car funeral when it comes to the draft. But, knowing he couldn’t butcher yet another first-round pick, he must have had someone put in the sensible selection for him. Kelly won’t mess anything up. And he could be devastating if the Colts ever run that long-snapper and Griff Whelan play again. (I know. Whelan is a Dolphin now…)

Bills: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

The Bills add a 6-3, 269-pound edge rusher whose forte is ripping into backfields and will be a big personality for the Bills. Alongside Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes, Lawson steps right in to the vacancy left by the disinterested Mario Williams. Lawson is more of a strength rusher like Jabaal Sheard than a long angular guy like Chandler Jones.

Jets: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

Kind on an undersized linebacker but a tremendous athlete who can cover at the second level with his 4.47 speed. Also had the best vertical and broad jump at the Combine. He’s 6-1, 232 pounds and will probably need some help from his scheme to get the best out of him. The Jets outstanding defensive front could afford head coach Todd Bowles with the bodies to do that for Lee.

Texans: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

Very fast, outstanding athlete, has hands like feet. Anyone that watched the BC-Notre Dame game at Fenway Park witnessed just how bad Fuller’s hands are. Taking him with LaQuon Treadwell on the board still seems a monumental misstep by head coach Bill O’Brien and GM Rick Smith.

Redskins: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

Washington somewhat reluctantly gave quarterback Kirk Cousins the franchise tag because they had no other options and wanted to see what he could do before anteing up huge for a long-term deal. At least he’s got a real good young weapon at his disposal to help him make his dough. A 6-1, 202-pounder with excellent hands and the ability to go and get the ball in the red zone, smart pick.

Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi

A 6-2, 221-pounder who slid because of his 4.64 40 but is a physically dominant player because of the size, strength, smarts combo. Just a really, really strong player who works hard, blocks fiercely and goes to a good NFC team on the rise. You look at all the burners who get drafted in the 20s and flame out, taking a player like Treadwell who may be a half-step slow but can use his body to win is a smart play.

Bengals: William Jackson III, CB, Houston

Long corner who has very good ball skills and makeup speed. He’s not exceptionally strong so while he’s willing to be physical he gets jostled a little bit. In the AFC North, he’ll be fine against everyone but the Steelers who will give him all he can handle. The Senator says, “He’s better than Eli Apple, as far as I’m concerned.”