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Sports Media

Now, for some opening remarks

Network analysts weigh in on Patriots

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / September 9, 2011

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Football . . . finally. The Packers and Saints got the season started with an appealing matchup on NBC (Channel 7) last night, and Sunday brings a full Week 1 slate, highlighted by Steelers-Ravens on Channel 4.

Patriots fans, of course, must wait a little longer. They open Monday night on ESPN, the first of their two “Monday Night Football’’ appearances this season. They also will play twice on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,’’ with 10 other games airing on CBS and two more on Fox.

While visions of touchdowns dance in our heads, let’s get a couple of thoughts relevant to the Patriots from an analyst at each network.

Jon Gruden, ESPN, on why he sees the Patriots as a favorite: “I don’t put as much stock in preseason games maybe as others. I think New England is the team to beat in the AFC this year, for obvious reasons. They have the best coach and quarterback combination. You could argue that, but they’re dynamic. And their young players who emerged and exploded last year will even be better, especially [Aaron] Hernandez, and [Rob] Gronkowski.’’

Phil Simms, CBS, on the advantages an established team has this season because of the lockout: Maybe it didn’t show up in the preseason that much, but they are going to have a huge, huge advantage early in the season just based on [Tom] Brady’s familiarity with [Bill] Belichick’s system. Having that knowledge already in place with the short preseason is such a big thing this year. Look around, at St. Louis, where Sam Bradford is learning Josh McDaniels’s system, or San Francisco or Tennessee or quite a few other places. It’s been a scramble to get ready for the season. The Patriots don’t have to deal with that, and that’s going to help make an outstanding team even better.

Rodney Harrison, NBC/NFL Network, on Belichick agreeing to wear a microphone during the 2009 season for a two-part NFL Films feature on him: “Everywhere I go, people ask me, ‘What is this guy really like?’ In my personal experiences with him, he’s very personable; he’s a funny, engaging guy, which he doesn’t allow members of the media to see that, a lot of them. If you get on his bad side, like a lot of guys have seen, then he definitely will close up and will not allow them back into his life or professional life. So, I am really surprised, but I am excited to see this.’’

Jimmy Johnson, Fox, recounting the advice he gave Belichick about complacency after the 2003 season and how it applies to the Packers this year: “You have got to have the hammer. Your assistant coaches are not going to have the hammer now that you have won a Super Bowl. We got through with our first one and Joe Brodsky, our outstanding running backs coach, was just reaming out our backup running back [Derrick] Lassic and not really saying much to Emmitt [Smith] at all. I told him, ‘Hey, let’s start coaching the guy who is going to win the game for us. Let’s start coaching the starter.’ And he said, ‘Well, he’s been there before.’ That creeps into the team. Sometimes you get a little bit complacent with your veteran players. I told Bill, you have got to be the hard-ass. You’ve got to be the guy who makes sure those assistant coaches coach the starters to the best of what they can be and not let them slide.’’

ESPN deal extended ESPN kicked off the season yesterday in a symbolic if rather expensive way, but one that ultimately was cause for celebration at the network.

The NFL and ESPN announced an eight-year rights extension that will keep “Monday Night Football’’ on the network through 2021. The current agreement, reached in 2006, was to expire before the 2014 season.

The NFL also now has the option of showing a wild-card playoff game on ESPN. The previous deal did not include any postseason games.

“We’ll continue to talk with them on that and make the best decisions for our fans, the NFL and ESPN,’’ said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The deal brings in $1.9 billion per season to the NFL; under the present agreement, ESPN pays the NFL $1.1 billion per season for 17 regular-season games.

The popular Sunday pregame show “NFL Countdown’’ will expand from two to three hours, beginning at 10 a.m. ESPN also will be permitted to stream NFL programming to Verizon cell phones, and Monday night games will be available on iPads and other tablets.

Making the playoffs TBS will announce its broadcast and studio teams for the baseball playoffs in the next couple of weeks, and it’s certain that there will be faces familiar to Red Sox fans. According to industry sources, Don Orsillo, the NESN play-by-play voice whose fine work for TBS during the last four postseasons has enhanced his national profile, will be paired with John Smoltz, who pitched briefly for the Red Sox during the 2009 season. Also, Dennis Eckersley, who has no peer as a baseball analyst locally or nationally as far as this space is concerned, will again be utilized in a studio role, as he is on NESN . . . Jeff Brown, vice president and general manager of Entercom/Boston, said the decision to simulcast WEEI (850) on 93.7 FM beginning Monday morning was one the company came to fairly recently, but one that had been considered for a long time. “We worked diligently in the past few months as a team to make that happen,’’ Brown said. He also noted that the company has received encouraging feedback in particular about Red Sox broadcasts now being available on FM in the Boston market . . . If you caught the Patriots on The Sports Hub during preseason, you probably heard another familiar voice chiming in with Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti. Scott Zolak, the former Patriots quarterback and cohost of The Sports Hub’s midday show, will serve as third man in and sideline analyst this season. It’s a suitable role for the affable Zolak, who showed significant improvement in a similar role during Channel 4’s telecasts during the preseason.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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