By now, you've been smothered with "To Boo or Not Boo Wes Welker" columns, social media polls and TV reports.
Given the Sunday's 8:30 p.m. or so kickoff, a large chunk of the crowd at Gillette Stadium should be too lubricated to remember that Welker ever played in New England. The rest can do what they please. They've earned that right by purchasing a ticket.
The "why" in the Welker jumping to Denver saga is the most important question. Not that anyone can take back, or change, the past. But it's important to understand why Welker left and why the Patriots lowballed him after franchising him for $9.15 million in 2012.
Welker suffered a concussion last week against Kansas City but has been cleared to play. If anything, this week's game will help both sides move on past their bitter, break-up.
This week's "Peyton vs. Satan" matchup won't actually have Brady and Manning playing against each other, they're playing against each other's defense. That dominance of New England's defense over the years is one key reason why Brady is 9-4 against Manning and Foxborough has been Manning's personal House of Horrors in January over the years.
Welker's departure was part Welker, part Bill Belichick and part Patriot Way. In all every divorce, the ultimate fault lies with the people involved. No one forced Welker to leave New England. He left on his own accord and did have a counter offer from New England on the table. That offer from the Patriots [$10 million over two years plus incentives vs. $12 million over two years from Denver] was both significantly below his market value and what it would have cost New England franchise him again [a 20 percent mark-up over his 2012 salary.]
Then there were the issues that Welker himself brought to life after he left town. According to Sports Illustrated, Belichick "got on him in a way he never had before, admonishing him in front of the team" last season. "It was just kind of hard," Welker said at the time. "One of those deals where you have to endure him, put up with him . . . But he does it to everybody, it's the way he is."
After posing for the cover of SI's NFL preview, Welker said it was the Wrath of the Hoodie that was still on his mind. "When I'm answering questions from the Denver media, I'm not worried about what the Broncos' people are going to think," Welker infamously said last August. "I'm worried about what Belichick will think. Isn't that crazy?"
It's something, for sure.
That's all you need to know about how much Belichick is still living in his head.
There's little question the Broncos are better off with Welker this season. Denver is 9-1 and Welker leads the team with 61 catches and has logged 648 yards with nine TDs.
In March, the following words appeared in this space as the NFL prepared for free-agency:
"Welker is not your typical 31-year-old future Hall of Fame slot receiver who made 118 catches last season. He's Tom Brady's target of choice in all the toughest situations. There will be always be a substantial market in the NFL for Tom Brady's favorite target, especially when you can take him away from Tom Brady."
The only people who weren't surprised when Welker left New England and landed in Denver were the insiders and experts who dutifully via State Run Media and other outlets propagated the Kraft Administration's party line that the free-agency market for Welker was soft.
Turned out the market for Welker was soft as Peyton Manning's right arm.
That leaves us with the "Patriot Way" as the final, and perhaps most sinister culprit.
Brady restructured his contract in the offseason and, at least on the surface, got nothing in return. Welker was the first of Brady's Binkies/Buddies to be shown the door in the name of not overpaying for anyone one position.
Of course, the Patriots busted the bank to keep Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in the fold for a long time, banking on re-making the game by having two dynamic tight ends at Brady's disposal for the indefinite future and discarding fully the need for a big-name, costly, deep-threat wide receiver.
The slot guy was, as they say, expendable, especially with Danny Amendola readily available and Julian Edelman going nowhere. The numeric matchup between Welker vs. Edelman/Amendola this season is virtual push. But the Patriots dearly miss Welker on third-down situations this season. The Patriots are converting 35.6 percent of their third-down attempts 10 games into this season. They hit on 48.6 percent of their third-down attempts in all 16 games in 2012.
Rolling Stone's well-crafted mix of facts and conjecture about Hernandez left readers with the impression that Urban Meyer was a co-conspirator in the murder of Odin Lloyd and Bill Belichick drove the getaway car. Absurdity aside, the Patriots obviously knew Hernandez had problems in his past and were convinced and/or fooled he had moved beyond his thuggery.
And that's where Welker's departure really hurts. So much it is rooted in vanity, on both the side of the Patriots and Welker. Belichick dissed him, or did whatever he did to sour Welker, because he could.
It's the "Patriot Way."
And the business of football isn't always business.
Egos often trump common sense or common decency.
And Welker, instead of being capable of shrugging off Belichick's Belichickness, like so many others have, let it get to him. It likely still does.
Meanwhile, Manning and John Elway were there waiting to comfort him with a hug, a smile, $12 million in cash and a shot at another Super Bowl.
Offers like that are hard to pass up, even if that means you have to divorce the likes of Tom Brady.
Here's this week's poll. Teams are listed with records and last week's rankings. Join us Sunday night on Boston.Com for our live, in-game Patriots-Broncos fan chat.
1. Seahawks [10-1; 2]: If the Super Bowl was being played in Seattle this year, they would cancel the rest of the season.
2. Broncos [9-1; 3]: Peyton Manning beating the Chiefs [sorry if you're offended] and Patriots in consecutive weeks should be worth a couple of free Papa John's pizzas.
3. Chiefs [sorry if you're offended] [9-1; 1]: Alex Smith and Kansas City's offense showed neither is built to play from behind.
4. Saints [8-2; 5]: For everyone who thinks the NFL only coddles Brady. They should talk to Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers.
His hit on Drew Brees earned him a penalty that helped the Saints set up a game-tying field goal last week and a $16,000 fine.
Even Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson wasn't impressed. "I love Drew Brees. He's one of my favorite guys to watch, but that hit he took wasn't a penalty," Peterson told FoxSports.com. "So they kind of baby the quarterbacks, but the running back we're like every other player. We get hit and that's what it is."
5. [tie] Panthers [7-3; 6]: Were leading Patriots 24-20 with one play to go Monday night. Cam Newton, playing his third season in the NFL and fourth as a pro, and the Panthers are quite legit.
5. [tie] Patriots [7-3; 4]: Lost in Monday's mayhem: Right tackle Marcus Cannon was fined $15,750 this week for a leg whip of Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson. There was no penalty called on the play. This just shows the refs didn't have it in for the Patriots Monday night, but rather were just replacement-level incompetent all the way around.
7. Colts [7-3; 7]: If the season ended today, Andrew Luck and the Colts would have the first-round bye, along with Kansas City.
8. Bengals [7-4; 10]: Got a Twitter follow from @RealPacMan24 this week, so that's got to be worth a Top 10 spot in the rankings on its own. The Bengals will be a threat in January and will get any home-field tie-breaker against the Patriots, if it comes to that.
9. 49ers [6-4; 9]: Colin Kaepernick has ceased to be a deep-down-field passing threat.
10. Bears [6-4; 11]: After 110 minute rain/storm delay, Bears clawed their way past Ravens last week 23-20 in OT. It was the third time the Ravens have been delayed by weather or lack of power in the past year [Super Bowl and opening week at Denver].
11. Lions [6-4; 8]: Defense fizzled against Pittsburgh.
12. Eagles [6-5; 14]: Nick Foles is the angriest bird this side of Seattle.
13. Cardinals [6-4; 15]: Facing the Jaguars isn't what it used to be. Solid performance by Carson Palmer.
14. Packers [5-5; 12]: Get back to us when Aaron Rodgers is back.
15. Dolphins [5-5; 22]: Showing some character on the field despite some character issues off the field.
16. Jets [5-5; 13]: Biggest story of the Week: 1 Year Anniversary of the Butt-Fumble. And this is how Mark Sanchez celebrated:
WTF Pic of the Day: Mark Sanchez pic.twitter.com/hXLz8aOLo8— Tom Brady's Ego (@TomBradysEgo) November 22, 2013
17. Cowboys [5-5; 16]: Coming off bye. Jerry Jones, 71, said this week he's hoping to be GM for another 15 or 20 years. There's a 50/50 chance things can't get much worse over the next 16 years given that the Cowboys are 127-127 since 1997 and have won just only playoff game.
18, Giants [4-6; 23]: Four straight since going 0-6. Super Bowl at Met Life Stadium in February. NFC East weak. ...
Don't even go there.
19: Ravens [4-6; 19]: Joe Flacco wins the all-time NFL "Best-Ever Free-Agency Timing/Won The Super Bowl" award. His six-year, $120.6 million deal may end up making Carl Crawford look the steal of the century. Remember, the Ravens had gotten a championship out of Flacco before he signed his extension. Far too often, teams overpay based on past performance instead of focusing on the market value and future results.
20. Browns [4-6; 18]: Jason Campbell threw the ball 56 times last week against the Bengals but picked up just 248 yards [a 44.3 passer rating]. Think about stats like that the next time you get mad at Brady.
21. Steelers [4-6; 25]: Good news, Steelers shut out Lions during first, third and fourth quarters. Bad news: Steelers gave up 27 points to Lions in second quarter. But offense got back on gear in 37-27 win.
22. Chargers [4-6; 17]: December swoon started early this year.
23. Rams [4-6; 20]: Coming off bye week. Blues gave fans in St. Louis something to cheer about with 3-2 win over Bruins Thursday. Came either three weeks, 12 years, or 42 years too late, depending on perspective.
24. Titans [4-6; 22]: Stop Chris Johnson [88 yards Thursday on 15 carries], stop the Titans. That formula hasn't changed in three years. Until it does, they'll be languishing in the 20s in this poll and just about every other one.
25. Bills [4-7; 27]: When falling from the 300 level of Ralph Wilson Stadium is only the second-worst thing to happen to you during the week, it might be time to change weeks.
Rob Hopkins lost his balance sliding down a railing in the upper level and then crashed into the crowd below was subsequently fired by his employer, Eric Mower and Associates. He's also been banned from the stadium and was charged with assault.
26. Redskins [3-7; 24] [sorry if you're offended]: Robert Griffin III's grumblings are getting louder each week. Mike Shanahan will be the one who eventually pays the price.
27. Raiders [4-6; 26]: Surprised at least one Raiders fan doesn't slide off the upper deck at the O.co Coliseum every week.
28. Buccaneers [2-8; 31]: Has anyone claimed Bobby Rainey yet?
29. Falcons [2-8; 28]: Will finish last in the NFC South.
30. Texans [2-8; 29]: Will finish last in the AFC South.
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