1. It’s impossible to know for sure how many other trophies and banners the Patriots would have collected had Rob Gronkowski been healthy at the end of the past two seasons. I tend to believe they’d have at least one more Super Bowl victory — the Giants figured out in a hurry he was little more than a decoy in Super Bowl XLVI two seasons ago, and a healthy Gronk changes everything. The Patriots got smoked by the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game last year, and maybe his presence doesn’t change that; then again, maybe those passes aimed at Matt Mulligan, Matthew Slater, and Austin Collie go to him instead, and a classic Peyton Manning-Tom Brady shootout ensues. This is my roundabout way of saying that as great as it would be to see Gronk back on the field for the September 7 opener at Miami, two days shy of the eight-month mark since his surgery to repair his ACL and MCL, it’s so much more important to have him around at the end for once. Be patient with the one player other than Brady and perhaps Darrelle Revis who most affects the chances of winning that fourth Super Bowl.
2. Hard to believe considering he’s played just three seasons and has found himself in the doghouse at least that number of times, but Stevan Ridley is on the verge of cracking the Patriots’ top 10 all-time leading rushers. With 2,477 yards, he’s just 304 yards behind Antowain Smith in the No. 10 spot. More notably, Ridley has a higher per-carry rushing average (4.5) than anyone in the top 10, among them Sam Cunningham, Jim Nance, and Curtis Martin. As intriguing as fourth-rounder James White of Wisconsin might be, I wouldn’t bury Ridley just yet.
3. Always get a kick out of the notion that the reason the Patriots have had such a ridiculous run of success is because every other team in the AFC East is an incompetent pushover. It’s a transparent attempt to diminish what the Patriots accomplish every regular season, a failed shot at obscuring the truth: The reason the rest of the AFC East struggles is because they have to deal with the Patriots twice a year.
4. If you’re still skeptical of the Patriots’ decision to spend the 29th overall pick on Dominique Easley, he of the two ACL tears, I recommend you catch up on Sports Illustrated football wizard Doug Farrar’s detailed and borderline giddy analysis of just how much the former Florida defensive tackle could help the Patriots, then get back to me.
5. Speaking of hard-hitting ex-Gators, I’ll miss watching Brandon Spikes stop opposing ballcarriers in their tracks — he played linebacker like he spent his formative years watching Bryan Cox’s famous hit on Jerome Pathon on an endless loop. But I’m looking forward to watching Tom Brady creatively expose him in the passing game at every opportunity during their two meetings with the Bills this season.
6. The greatest cornerback I’ve ever seen turned 61 yesterday. I’m only half-kidding when I say it wouldn’t totally surprise me if Mike Haynes could give the Patriots 10-15 high-quality snaps as a dime back in the coming season. OK, probably closer to five, but still.
7. I actually think the Jets could be a playoff team this year, especially if they realize Michael Vick should be their starting quarterback until the inevitable injury. At the very least, they’ll be interesting, with Eric Decker, Chris Johnson, Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro added to the roster. Oh, right — and Ras-I Dowling and Jermaine Cunningham, too.
8. Aaron Dobson’s rookie season:
Deion Branch’s rookie season:
I recognize that Dobson’s injury concerns are very real, but if he can stay on the field, the bet here is that emerges as a genuine and consistent downfield threat in his sophomore season.
9. Am I the only one who thinks Johnny Manziel looks 35 and/or escaped from the Land of Make Believe?
10. Bold prediction, meaning one that will either look prescient or idiotic: Sixth-rounder Jon Halapio starts more games at right guard this season than Dan Connelly or Marcus Cannon.
11. As for today’s Completely Random Football Card:
In the spirit of the World Cup, an ex-Patriot who had a leg up in football and futbol.