On Sunday, we're all Cheeseheads

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On Sunday, we're all Cheeseheads

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

If you live in New England, you chose your Super Bowl XLV allegiance long before clicking on this column.

For Patriots fans, the decision was more simple than a Tom Brady sneak over center.

On one hand, youve got the Green Bay Packers, a pretty likable team in all respects. Theyve got the young, upstart QB with a golden arm and record free of rape allegations. Theyve got a little local flavor with BCs BJ Raji. Theyve got Charles Woodson, who despite his involvement in the Snow Bowl, is a player everyone, regardless of NFL affiliation, can respect and support in his quest to finally get that ring. Theyve got inspiring stories like Donald Driver. Theyve got an ardent, never wavering fan base, which hasnt taken home a title since the night Reggie White took Max Lane to school and Desmond Howard killed New Englands dream but enough has happened since then that no one here (outside of maybe Max Lane) still holds any hard feelings.

Most of all the Packers are an organization that stood up to the ruthless, junk-texting tyranny of Brett Favre and is on the verge of being rewarded. Everyone can get behind that. Thats a platform that could stop the madness in Egypt. Thats what the Packers are right now; a team that anyone, even if youre not from around here (or there), can take pride in rooting for.

On the other hand, it doesnt matter.

Because on the other hand, you have the Steelers.

When they played the Jets two weeks ago, New England could find a little solace in Pittsburgh's victory. Anytime they play the Colts, its pretty much the same deal. But short of a scrimmage against the Al-Queda intramural team, youre never going to find a time where Patriots fans are on Pittsburghs side.

Shocking, right?

In other news, Charlie Sheen likes cocaine and porno.

But while the anti-Steelers sentiment is nothing new around these parts, rooting against the Steelers in the Super Bowl on Sunday goes far beyond that.

Its not about just about hoping that Pittsburgh loses, or dreading the sight of an alleged rapistconfirmed creep earning another moment in the sun. This is about more than the Super Schadenfreude that typically goes along with a Big Game appearance by one of New Englands rivals.

Basically, if the Steelers win on Sunday, it will change how this Patriots era is remembered.

Now, obviously its not going to have an effect on we remember it here in New England. Nothing will take away from the three titles. If the Steelers win this game in roughly 48 hours, its not going to be a Back to the Future moment where photos from Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVII and XXXVIII slowly begin to fade out of focus. Youll never look back on Laws interception, Pattens catch, Bradys drive, Vinatieris kicks or any of the other moments from those three games and think, Damn, this just doesnt feel the same.

But it will change New Englands legacy. It will have an effect on how history remembers the Patriots dynasty.

Up until now, and since the moment the Patriots won title No. 3, they have been the only team to do so in the Free Agent era. Belichick (and Pioli) were the masterminds whod beaten an unbeatable system. Brady, the only quarterback since Montana (the closest thing to him!) to have the talent, persistence and pedigree to lead his team to those heights. Its only been them. And Patriots fans have always been able to take pride in that. Its always been one of the calling cards of the teams recent (ish) run.

But if the Steelers win this game on Sunday; if they win their third Super Bowl in six seasons; if Big Ben wins his third before turning 30; if the Steelers show that you dont need Belichicks brain or Bradys magic touch to win three rings in such a short span of time, during such a spastic period in NFL history, then things change a little.

In the big picture, moving forward, from Sunday right up until the asteroid hits, it will always be a little different.

New England would hate that. So on Sunday, amidst snow banks throughout New England, its time to take it up a notch. Other than the AFC title games in 2001 and 2004, theres probably never been a game more worthy to unleash your hatred for the Black and Yellow (Black and Yellow Black and Yellow Black and Yellow).

Thankfully this wont be hard. Hating the Steelers never has been. You can argue, and very easily, that theres been no more bitter Patriot enemy during the BradyBelichick era.

Of course, youve hated the Jets, but until last month, theyd never accomplished anything significant at the Patriots expense. Youve hated the Colts, but thats mostly just because theyre good. Its as much about mutual respect as it is hatred. In fact, take Bill Polian out of the equation, and can you name one Colt whos seriously offended you for reasons beyond making a tackle, grabbing an interception or scoring a touchdown? (OK, you cant count that stretch when Peyton Manning was on 75 percent of all the commercials. That was more a world problem then a New England problem.)

Both the Jets and Colts have given you numerous reasons to wish awful things upon them but no team whether its the constant trash talk, the obsession with Spy Gate and, most of all, that theyre always pretty damn good has been a bigger thorn in New England side than the Steelers.

And with a win on Sunday, that thorn will break the skin of the Patriots Dynasty and bleed it of at least some of its historical significance.

Just another reason to root for the Packers.

Not that you needed one.

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

Patriots officially side with Brady vs. NFL by filing amicus brief

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Patriots officially side with Brady vs. NFL by filing amicus brief

Robert Kraft and the Patriots organization has been saying for a long time that they hope Tom Brady prevails in his fight with the league over Deflategate. Kraft reiterated that stance on Tuesday at the NFL's annual spring meetings.

But on Wednesday, the Patriots took their support for Brady to a new level. The team has filed an amicus brief stating that it has sided with Brady and the NFLPA now that the union has filed a petition to be granted a rehearing by the Second Circuit. 

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the last time an NFL team took legal action against league was when late Raiders owner Al Davis sued the NFL. The amicus brief filed by the Patriots is a legal brief that plainly opposes the NFL and its legal position, Schefter notes.

On the first page of the amicus brief, in the document's second footnote, the language is strong: "From the outset of this matter, the League's conduct reflects less a search for the truth than pursuit of a pre-determined result and defense of a report which, despite no direct evidence of tampering or Mr. Brady's involvement, was reiled on to impose penalties with no precedent or correlation to the alleged offense."

The Patriots have continued to update The Wells Report in Context, a website that argues the findings of the NFL's investigation into Brady that has also accumulated various reports and scientific studies that support Brady's innocence. But this amicus brief is another way for the team to show that it has its quarterback's back. 

The NFLPA filed its petition for a rehearing on Monday and now awaits a decision from the 13 judges of the Second Circuit as to whether or not they will grant Brady a rehearing.

Statistically speaking, Brady is facing long odds to be given a rehearing, but his legal team believes there's reason for optimism

Brady legal team encouraged by Chief Judge's 'convincing dissent'

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Brady legal team encouraged by Chief Judge's 'convincing dissent'

Tom Brady came away the loser when the Second Circuit's three-judge panel ruled in favor of the NFL and reinstated Brady's four-game suspension last month.

But the decision was not unanimous, and the lone judge who decided in Brady's favor may have some sway now that the Second Circuit has to decide whether or not it will grant Brady a rehearing. That judge, of course, was Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann. 

The fact that the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit was the one who dissented with the majority opinion gives Brady's legal team some hope that seven of the 13 Second Circuit judges will agree to grant him a rehearing. 

"The Chief Judge wrote a very convincing dissent," Brady's lead counsel Ted Olson told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. "He’s a highly respected individual. He’s been a member of that Court for many, many, many years. He very rarely dissents from an opinion by his colleagues. Over the years, just a few times out of thousands of cases in which he’s participated.

"So here’s an individual who is highly respected, who’s the Chief Judge of the court, who wrote a very cogent, persuasive, dissenting opinion pointing out important principles that he felt -- and we feel -- the majority got wrong. So we do think that that gives us an extra impetus in seeking rehearing."

In its petition requesting a rehearing, Brady's legal team reiterated the same arguments that Katzmann made in his dissent: a) NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should not have been able to change the factual basis for the discipline once the appeal hearing had concluded, and b) Goodell should have at least considered punishing Brady based on the CBA's scheduled punishments for equipment violations.  

"[The] majority . . . asserts that the Commissioner did not change the factual basis for the discipline and, in effect, that any change was harmless," Katsmann wrote. "I cannot agree."

Katzmann added: "The Commissioner failed to even consider a highly relevant alternative penalty and relied, instead, on an inapt analogy to the League's steroid policy. This deficiency, especially when viewed in combination with the shifting rationale for Brady's discipline, leaves me to conclude that the Commissioner's decision reflected 'his own brand of industrial justice.' "

You can read our breakdown of the cases upon which Brady's team relied in its petition here

How Edelman, Amendola might benefit from Jones taking return duties

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How Edelman, Amendola might benefit from Jones taking return duties

When Cyrus Jones was selected by the Patriots in the second round of this year's draft, director of player personnel Nick Caserio made it very clear that the Alabama corner's ability to return punts made him a more highly-valued commodity. 

Caserio admitted that when it came time to make a pick at No. 60 overall, there were multiple players on New England's draft board who were graded similarly, but Jones stood out.

"I think the thing that tipped the scales in Cyrus’ favor a little bit," Caserio said, "was his overall versatility -- punt return -- that’s a huge component of what we do and we thought he had the ability."

Caserio's choice of words in that instance was noteworthy given that over the course of the last three years the Patriots have returned on average between two and three punts per game. Last year they returned 47 punts total, which works out to 2.9 per game. 

That hardly seems like "a huge component" of any team's overall attack. But the accumulation of those plays over the course of a season is significant. It's a few dozen opportunities for explosive plays, a few dozen chances to shift field position. There may not be many of them, but they can be game-changers. 

Jones was as accomplished a punt returner as anyone in this year's draft class, taking four back for touchdowns for the Crimson Tide in 2015 alone. 

But the attraction of placing Jones deep to field punts in 2016 and beyond may not be solely based on what he can do with the football in his hands. He may also help take some of the workload off of the shoulders of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman -- a tangible benefit for Tom Brady's two most dependable targets at the receiver position going into this season. 

Amendola and Edelman have been among the game's top punt returners in recent years. Amendola led the league in return average last year with 12.0 yards per return. Meanwhile, Edelman's career return average of 12.0 yards is second behind only Devin Hester (12.1) among active players and seventh-best all-time. 

Returning punts is just another unforgiving responsibility for the pair of veteran slot receivers who have made their livelihoods on their willingness to run unforgiving routes across the middle. Skilled as they are as return men, having Jones in the fold could save them from absorbing extra hits on special teams and potentially help keep them healthier deeper into the season. 

Just how many hits might Jones' presence save the pair of 30-year-old wideouts coming off of offseason surgeries? 

The math isn't perfect because not all punt returns end in bone-jarring collisions. Neither do all receptions. But let's take a quick-and-flawed look at the number of shots Jones may save Edelman and Amendola in 2016. 

Over the last three years, including last year when he played in just nine regular-season games, Edelman has returned 70 punts, not including fair catches. That's 1.79 returns for each of the 39 games in which he has played. If that average were to hold true over a 16-game season, that would work out to about 28.6 returns in a year. 

For Edelman, who has averaged 6.6 catches per game over the last three years, 28.6 returns in a year is the equivalent of about four games (4.33) of touches as a receiver. 

One of the key cogs to New England's passing offense, saving Edelman that many hits over the course of a season might help in keeping him relatively fresh for a longer period of time. Though it would fall well short of guaranteeing his health, pulling Edelman as a returner would certainly reduce his chance of injury. 

Even before he was injured last season, it seemed as though the Patriots were set on limiting Edelman's opportunities as a return man. Amendola returned 15 punts through Week 10, the week Edelman was injured against the Giants, which was five more than Edelman had. That breakdown in their shared workload was a shift from 2014 when Amendola (16 regular-season games) returned 16 kicks and Edelman (14 regular-season games) returned 25.

Because it seems like Edelman's return-man role was already shrinking in some respects, Jones' presence may have a more meaningful impact on Amendola in 2016. 

Since Amendola's arrival to New England in 2013, he has returned 40 punts, not including fair catches. In 42 games, that works out to 0.95 returns per game. 

Since 2014, though, when he began to be utilized as a return man regularly, Amendola has averaged 1.3 returns per game. Over a 16-game season, if that average were to hold true, that would mean 20.8 returns in a year.

For Amendola, who has averaged 3.5 receptions per game over the last three years, 20.8 returns in a year would be the equivalent of almost six games (5.94) of touches as a receiver. 

Even if you were to take Amendola's receiving numbers from the 2015 season, when he averaged 4.6 catches per game, 20.8 returns means about 4.5 games worth of receiver touches -- and the potential punishment that comes with them. Taking those returns off of his plate might help Amendola maintain his health longer into the season. 

Again, the returns-to-receptions math is far from perfect. But touches are touches, and punt-return touches can have a tendency to end with high-speed crunching hits. If the return-man torch happens to be passed to Jones this season, it could save a pair of his veteran teammates -- both of whom are vital to the function of the offense -- a great deal of wear and tear.

As Caserio pointed out during the draft, though, Jones has a lot of work to do before he's trusted in one of the roles that the team considers to be "huge."

"The guys that have done it have been really good," Caserio explained. "I mean Danny was one of the league leaders last year. Julian who had never done it before, his average is like one of the top punt returners in history.

"That’s a hard, I would say, skill and position to develop so if you have multiple players that can actually handle the ball then you can figure out, 'OK, well maybe we can take his workload and redistribute it somewhere else.'

"In the end we’re going to do what we think is best for the football team. If a guy's not ready to do it then we’re not going to have him do it even if he has the experience and he’s done it. We’re not going to really know . . . Everything they’ve done to this point, like, honestly doesn’t matter. Now they’re going to show up here next week and basically start from scratch. There’s probably going to be some things that [special teams coach] Joe [Judge] and [assistant special teams coach Ray Ventrone] will coach them to do in terms of fielding the ball, handling the ball, may be a little bit different. OK, how do they handle that? How do they read the ball? Can they adjust to our blocking pattern?

"There’s a whole number of things that go into it, and then he’s trying to learn a new position. It’s just a matter of how quickly they can perform the task at a good level relative to another player at that same positon, and then ultimately we’ll figure out whoever’s the best option for us and whoever we think is the best at that time then we’ll go ahead with him in that capacity."