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Sunday NFL Notes: Nick Caserio looks ahead to offseason, proclaims ‘our team is going to be different’ 02.22.15 at 7:00 am ET
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Nick Caserio

Nick Caserio

With Chris Price taking a well-deserved vacation this week, we’ll keep the Sunday NFL Notes going, hoping to live up to the high standard he sets every week.

1. At the NFL combine in Indianapolis this week, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio gave a 1-on-1 interview with Jackie Brittain of Patriots.com, hitting on a number of subjects (the interview can be seen here). One of those subjects was free agency and how it relates to what happens with cornerback Darrelle Revis. “We’re going through an evaluation process,” said Caserio. “When we get back here from the combine, we’ll actually go through pretty comprehensive analysis of our roster, go through player by player, strengths, weaknesses, what we see their role as and what their future’s gonna be moving forward. Those are decisions that will be made at the appropriate time. The reality is our team is going to be different from what it was last year. That’s just a reality of the NFL and a reality that every team faces. We’ll go through, and in the end we’ll do what we feel is best for the organization moving forward.”

As it stands now, the Patriots’ top order of business is Revis and getting him signed long-term instead of paying him $20 million for 2015. Then, they have Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski as free agents, with the possibility of placing the franchise tag on either of them. Also set to become free agents are running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, so when Caserio says the team is going to be different next year, he isn’t lying.

2. In addition to Caserio at the combine, the Patriots have a number of coaches and executives present in Indianapolis this week. Coach Bill Belichick is there as always, and also accompanying him are recently retired assistant coaches in special teams coach Scott O’Brien and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. O’Brien retired after this past season, but will stay in the organization, while Scarnecchia is assisting Belichick at the combine like he did last year. Also seen at the combine this week was former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, as he’s been seen helping out the Patriots and Belichick a number of times over the last year. Current Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo has also been seen helping run drills during the week.

3. There aren’t too many local players at the combine this week. Representing the New England schools are: running back Tyler Varga from Yale, wide receiver Geremy Davis from UConn, tight end Jean Stifrin from UMass, offensive lineman Andy Gallik from Boston College, defensive lineman Zach Hodges from Harvard and defensive back Bryon Jones from UConn. While none of these players are expected to go very high in the draft, getting invited to the combine is a big accomplishment in itself. Stifrin from UMass has a pretty interesting story, as he is 27 years old — much older than most of the other combine participants. MassLive.com’s Kevin Duffy did a good job going into Stifrin’s past and telling his story.

4. The Schiano-Belichick connection has led to a number of Rutgers players becoming Patriots over the past few years. That pipeline may have gotten even stronger lately, as Josh McDaniels‘ brother Ben has been named offensive coordinator at the school. So, who could be the next Rutgers player drafted by the Patriots? Tight end Tyler Kroft could be a possibility and join former Rutgers player Tim Wright as Rob Gronkowski‘s backup. Kroft is looked at as more of a receiving threat than an in-line blocking tight end, so he would be a great complement to Gronkowski, given Gronkowski’s size and Kroft’s lack there of. Kroft weighed in at 246 pounds at the combine, the 16th heaviest tight end out of the 19 attending the workouts.

5. Here are a few interesting stats we dug up following the season:

  • The Patriots were 13-0 this season when scoring 23 or more points and are 160-12 under Belichick.
  • The Patriots finished 11-0 this season when scoring first.
  • Going into the Super Bowl the Seahawks allowed an average of 6.8 points per game in the second half of games this year — the Patriots scored 14 in Super Bowl XLIX.
  • According to Elias, the Patriots were the first team to reach the Super Bowl without having a player with 100 rush attempts during the season.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dante Scarnecchia, Darrelle Revis, Julian Edelman
Sunday NFL Notes: Post-Super Bowl victory tour has put Julian Edelman in national spotlight 02.15.15 at 5:30 am ET
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Julian Edelman, seen here at the Grammys, has enjoyed his time in the spotlight since the end of the Super Bowl. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman, seen here at the Grammys, has enjoyed his time in the spotlight since the end of the Super Bowl. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

1. If the first two weeks following the Super Bowl win over the Seahawks are any indication, the Patriot who stands to get the biggest uptick in recognition — and potential financial bounce as an endorser — is wide receiver Julian Edelman. Keeping in mind that guys like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were high-profile even before the 2014 season, Edelman has been America’s Guest since the end of the Super Bowl. Following a trip to Disneyland with cornerback Malcolm Butler, the former seventh-round pick has appeared on several network talk shows, including “Live with Kelly and Michael” and “Late Night with Seth Myers.” He also made a guest appearance as a presenter at the Grammys with Butler, and sat down for a quick Q and A with the New York Times (where he wouldn’t get into any talk about a Super Bowl concussion.) The charismatic and photogenic Edelman has always been keenly aware of his image and has done well when it comes to marketing himself — he has promoted his JE11 gear in the same fashion as the quarterback has marketed the TB12 brand. He’s also had a knack for starring in some offbeat videos, including a Google Glass promotion and the “Burger Tyme” and “Smoothie Tyme” videos, which vaguely recall a Zack Galifinakis style of humor. While the quarterback will always be the go-to guy on the roster as the No. 1 choice for endorsement possibilities, look for Edelman to raise his profile and cash in in his own right this offseason after a terrific playoff run.

2. While it’s always a little dicey to try and figure out scenarios for 2015 with the 2014 season just barely in the books, there are a few things we can point to when it comes to how next season is going to shape up. There’s a lot of time between now and the start of the season and the team-building process for 2015 is barely underway, but based on the 2014 win-loss records and list of opponents that’s already been named (the dates and times figure to be posted in April), we can tell you that the 2015 Patriots figure to have the 11th easiest schedule in the league in 2015. Their opponents posted a 122-134-1 record (.477) in 2014, but it is worth noting that there are few middle-of-the-road teams on the slate: New England will play 10 games against teams that finished .500 or better, including two contests against divisional foes Buffalo and Miami. At the same time, the Patriots will also face the Jets, Titans and Jags, all of whom failed to win more than five games in 2014. By way of comparison, the Falcons (whose 2015 opponents had a winning percent of .409 in 2014) have the easiest slate next year, while the Texans and Colts (.417) are tied for second and the Bucs are third (.425). On the other end of the spectrum, the Steelers (.579), Bengals (.563), Niners (.561) and Seahawks (.559) have the toughest schedules in 2015, at least at this point.

3. As the offseason really kicks into gear, there are various reports of Patriots players getting surgery and otherwise cleaning up medical issues that needed to be addressed since the end of the season. Earlier this month, the Boston Herald was the first to report the news that linebacker Dont’a Hightower played in the Super Bowl with a torn labrum — an injury he had since November — and is expected to undergo offseason surgery. And on Thursday, defensive lineman Sealver Siliga posted an Instagram picture of himself, apparently following surgery. Siliga didn’t specific what sort of injury he had worked on, but the defensive lineman was on injured reserve/designated for return for a sizable portion of the year because of a foot injury, returning in December and playing a key role up front for the New England defense. Expect more similar injury stories (and resulting surgeries) to leak out over the next few months.

4. A few stats on quarterbacks, age and their postseason chances: The last 12 years, only four over-30 quarterbacks won Super Bowls: 37-year-old Brady (Super Bowl XLIX), 31-year-old Eli Manning (Super Bowl XLVI), 31-year-old Drew Brees (Super Bowl XLIV) and 30-year-old Peyton Manning (Super Bowl XLI). In that same vein, because it’s never too early to start speculating about 2015, the 37-year-old Brady became the second-oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl when he led the Patriots past the Seahawks. Brady became one of five quarterbacks age 35 or older to win a title, joining a group that includes John Elway, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett and Johnny Unitas. If Brady wins the Super Bowl again next season, he will be the second oldest quarterback to do it, 36 days younger than 38-year-old Elway when he won his second following the 1998 season. (Elway retired the following spring.)

5. Going back and revisiting our coverage from the week, and we were remiss that we didn’t pass along this note from a piece via MMQB.com on Joe Namath and his thoughts on Brady. In stark contrast to many former players who have taken their shots at the Patriots quarterback, Namath was effusive in the praise of the quarterback, saying that when it comes to quarterbacking, “one’s ever been better than Tom Brady…I go back to watching the guys earlier in some of the darker days, in the ’50s. One of my first heroes was Otto Graham. Come on, 10 straight title games in Cleveland. He was just spectacular. Bobby Layne was a unique quarterback, really terrific. Getting into the modern era, Peyton Manning has had his wonderful performances. Don’t tell me anybody is better than Aaron Rodgers, either. Better than, better than, better than. The best, the best, the best. To each his own. I have a hard time calling anybody in any sport ‘the best’ because of the changes in the game, certainly, and because of the greats that were ahead of them. But I will say, no one has ever played the game better than Tom Brady. You start looking at numbers, and sometimes statistics tell a story, and sometimes they don’t tell the whole story. It’s such a team game. But Tom has answered the bell. He has answered every challenge. He’s great. He’s great. No one has ever done it better.”

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Read More: Julian Edelman, sunday nfl notes,
Julian Edelman on Late Night With Seth Myers: ‘I was in [Bill] Belichick’s doghouse for 6 years’ 02.11.15 at 3:32 pm ET
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Wide receiver Julian Edelman continued to make his media rounds following the Super Bowl, appearing on Late Night With Seth Myers Tuesday night. He talked about the Super Bowl, tried to turn Myers into a Patriots fan and also said he was in Bill Belichick‘s doghouse for six years after he fumbled a snap his rookie season, and never got to throw a pass on a trick play since.

Belichick finally called a double-pass in the divisional round win over the Ravens when Edelman connected with Danny Amendola for a touchdown, and Edelman couldn’t have been happier given the time.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman,
Julian Edelman talks about Super Bowl win, his lucky beard and support from his family on ‘Live with Kelly and Michael’ 02.10.15 at 1:47 pm ET
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The post-Super Bowl tour continues for Julian Edelman. In just over a week, the receiver has gone from Glendale to Disneyland to the top of a duckboat riding through the streets of Boston to the Grammy Awards. On Tuesday, he was a guest on “Live with Kelly and Michael,” where he talked about a bunch of stuff, including his lucky beard.

Read More: Julian Edelman, Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan,
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Wide receiver 02.09.15 at 3:07 pm ET
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Brandon LaFell caught the first touchdown pass of Super Bowl XLIX (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Brandon LaFell caught the first touchdown pass of Super Bowl XLIX. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kicked off the series with a look at special teams. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers.

Depth chart: Julian Edelman (92 catches, 134 targets, 972 yards, 4 TDs), Brandon LaFell (74 catches, 119 targets, 953 yards, 7 TDs), Danny Amendola (27 catches, 42 targets, 200 yards, 1 TD), Brian Tyms (5 catches, 11 targets, 82 yards, 1 TD), Aaron Dobson (3 catches, 5 targets, 38 yards — ended season on injured reserve), Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins (6 catches, 11 targets, 53 yards — he was released by the Patriots on Oct. 4)

Overview: When you assess the Patriots’ receiving corps, there’s a natural inclination to say, “Is that all there is?” But it’s important to remember that the receivers are just a portion of the New England passing game. Bottom line? You can afford to roll out two-receiver sets when you have one of the best young pass-catching backs in the game, (Shane Vereen was one of five backs to finish the season with at least 50 catches and 50 carries) and the most dominant offensive option in the league at tight end (Rob Gronkowski).

With that in mind, it was a very good year for the New England receivers. Edelman followed up a terrific 2013 campaign with an even better 2014 season, and became just as valuable to the success of the Patriots’ passing game as Wes Welker had been from 2007-2013. Including the playoffs, he had eight games where he had eight catches or more, including an 11-reception outing against the Lions and 10-catch performance against the Raiders. After a slow start, LaFell became a dependable No. 2 receiver. While he had no catches in his first two games, he built to a crest midway through the year, and had an impressive four-game string in the middle of the year where he had 29 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns. And while Amendola basically had his job swiped by Edelman midway through the 2013 season, he still showed he could contribute down the stretch, as prior to Week 16 against the Jets, Amendola had 15 catches for 113 yards and one touchdown and then in the last five games of the year (including the playoffs), he had 23 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

Going forward, provided he can continue to stay healthy, Edelman figures to remain a foundational element of the New England offense, while LaFell appears to be well ensconced as a No. 2 option on the outside. There should be a real debate as to whether or not a late-season push by Amendola (which included good work as a kick returner) could be enough to keep him for 2015. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a re-done deal for Amendola. It’s likely that youngsters Dobson, Boyce and Tyms could compete to give the Patriots some sort of deep threat, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Patriots try and find some help at the spot, either in free agency or the draft.

Best moment: Edelman was immense for much of the season, but he was at his best in the Super Bowl when he finished with nine catches on 12 targets for 109 yards and a touchdown, and sparked serious discussion as to whether or not he should have been MVP and not Tom Brady. Those nine catches included a pair of third-down pickups in the fourth quarter that helped keep late drives alive — with one reception punctuated by a bone-rattling hit from Seattle defensive back Kam Chancellor. Edelman was nails all season long, but he was never better than when he was on the big stage against the Legion of Boom. (For what it’s worth, he finished the postseason as the league’s leading receiver in several areas, including most catches with 26, most targets with 37 and most receiving yards with 281.)

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Read More: Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams at 9:30 am ET
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Julian Edelman again carved out a niche as one of the best punt returners in the league. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman again carved out a niche as one of the best punt returners in the league. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kick off the series with a look at the special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, kick returner Danny Amendola, punt returner Julian Edelman, long snapper Danny Aiken, coverage man Matthew Slater

Overview: While the Patriots got steady and consistent performances on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball all year, the special teams were a true difference maker for New England on several occasions over the course of the 2014 season.

The Patriots had three different players win AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, they tied for the league lead in field goals blocked per game, and were among the league leaders in almost every major special teams category. Gostkowski finished second in the league in field-goal accuracy (at 94.6 percent, he was second only to Indy’€™s Adam Vinatieri at 96.8 percent) and Edelman’€™s 12.0 return average on punt returns was second best in the NFL this season (trailing only Philly’€™s Darren Sproles at 13.0.) Meanwhile, Amendola gave a midseason boost to the kick return unit, and provided some consistency, averaging 24.1 yards per return, including an 81-yarder in a win over the Lions. Allen was 12th in the league in net punting average (39.9), dropped 25 of his 66 regular-season punts inside the 20 and set a Super Bowl record with a 64-yard punt in the third quarter of last Sunday’€™s win over the Seahawks. The Patriots were also fifth in the league in kick coverage (yielding 21.2 yards per attempt) and 16th in punt coverage (9.2 yards per attempt). All in all, a terrific season for New England’€™s special teams unit, which came up big on several occasions over the course of the year.

Going forward, the group will be challenged, as longtime special teams coach Scott O’€™Brien announced his retirement in the days after the Super Bowl. Special teams assistant Joe Judge will take the reins, and while he’€™s considered a well-respected coach who is ready to ascend, it’€™ll be tough to replicate what O’€™Brien did with the group in 2014.

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Read More: Danny Aiken, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater
Patriots’ improvement on third down helped pave way to Super Bowl title at 6:00 am ET
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Rob Ninkovich, and the Patriots' third-down defense played a major part in their Super Bowl title run. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich, and the Patriots’ third-down defense played a major part in their Super Bowl title run. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“We have to get off the field, that’€™s huge. Some of the third-and-long situations we weren’t able to get off the field. I know third-and-long screens hurt us, too. Specifically that play and third and long as a whole, we need to do a better job. Obviously everything is working together, so coverage-rush, rush-coverage, everything works together. That’€™s just one area we definitely need to work on this year.” Rob Ninkovich, July 23, 2014 — the first day of training camp and media availability of the season

It was evident the Patriots defense needed to improve on third down, as dating back to the 2010 season there hadn’t been a year in which the Patriots finished higher than 20th in the league in third-down defense.

In 2013 the unit got off the field 42.7 percent of the time, 25th in the league, and 2010 was the worst season of all, as New England allowed opponents a success rate of 47.1 percent, dead last among all 32 defenses in the league.

This season was a huge improvement as the Patriots finished 16th in the NFL, getting off the field on third down 40 percent of the time, but it was in the postseason when the group took things to another level and helped lead the way to the fourth Super Bowl title in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.

In the three postseason games, the Patriots defense held opponents to just 7-for-30 (23.3 percent) on third down, including holding the Seahawks to 3-for-10 in Super Bowl XLIX.

One of the keys to getting to the Super Bowl was the Patriots’ come-from-behind win over the Ravens in the divisional round where they came back from two 14-point deficits. It was on the Ravens’ drive before Brandon LaFell’s game-winning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter where Baltimore got inside the red zone, having first-and-goal from the 9-yard line and the game tied at 28.

The Patriots defense stepped up, including a huge Patrick Chung deflection on third down in the end zone on a pass intended for tight end Owen Daniels, which forced a Justin Tucker field goal giving the Ravens a three-point lead, instead of what could have been seven.

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Read More: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Rob Ninkovich, Super Bowl XLIX
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