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The Boston Globe

Sports

Tony Massarotti

Peyton Manning would redefine AFC East

Notes from around the Boston sports world

If and when Peyton Manning ends up with the Miami Dolphins, the AFC East will instantly become the most compelling division in football. On 35 percent of the weekends during the NFL season, at least one game will feature some competition of personalities from the group of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Manning and the incomparable Rex Ryan.

If you are the Patriots, with Brady to be 35 at the start of the season, that would mark easily the greatest challenge of the Brady-Belichick era. In the division, the Patriots have never had to account for a threat like Manning, assuming the player’s health. (Admittedly, that is still a big assumption.) And despite the implosion that took place in New York at the end of last season, no one should be foolish enough to write off the Jets, who have won more regular season games during Ryan’s three-year tenure than the New York Giants.

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Here’s the point: more than ever before, if Manning ends up in Miami, the Patriots must build to win their division. They must be more aggressive with their short-term plan around Brady. They must be more balanced and potent than ever before, particularly if their defense is to combat a Miami offense that could include Manning, Reggie Bush, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall and left tackle Jake Long.

Competition, after all, can be good for everyone.

* In retrospect, maybe it is this simple: maybe Jose Iglesias recognizes an opportunity when he sees one, and maybe he is intent on proving to the Red Sox that he is ready now, immediately, to become the team’s starting shortstop.

We are still in the early stages of spring training, of course, but Iglesias thus far has been the story of camp, both defensively and offensively. Yesterday, he hit a three-run triple. Once again, he impressed with his glove. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who suggested as recently as a week ago that Iglesias still had some work to do, now is saying that Iglesias’s offensive “rhythm is getting close to being decent,” and that the player has begun “erasing some of the preseason reports.”

Based on what we have been told about Iglesias, maybe none of this should come as a surprise. Some have described Iglesias as cocky since he arrived in the Boston organization late in 2009, and maybe Iglesias is the kind of player who knows when people are watching. Maybe he knows the shortstop job is open now that Marco Scutaro is in Colorado. And maybe he believes that he can win it now with the kind of spring he is having.

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And if Iglesias keeps this up, maybe he actually will.

* If you are a Red Sox fan and you want to be annoyed at Jonathan Papelbon for suggesting that the Philadelphia Phillies fanatic is a superior being - of course, Papelbon hasn’t even played a home game in Philly yet - then you have every right. But please do not be annoyed at Papelbon for suggesting he would have signed with the New York Yankees when the Red Sox seemingly had no interest in keeping him.

I mean, you would have welcomed Mariano Rivera with open arms, right?

* I’ll admit it: I did not see this coming with Jordan Caron. For the better part of the last two seasons, Caron has looked very ordinary during his time with the Bruins, his most noteworthy role coming as the other Bruin assigned to the room in which Tyler Seguin overslept. But the Caron of the last few games looks like a different player, like the kind of young man who could help the Bruins for years to come.

In his last three games, Caron has three goals and three assists. He is a plus-6. That is obviously far too small a sample to suggest that Caron has endured his last growing pain, but the 21-year-old certainly has looked like someone who has made a breakthrough.

* Is there any way Ray Allen is still with the Celtics at this point next week? Should he be? With all due respect to Danny Ainge, who said yesterday on WEEI that he is not close to making a deal, Ainge is not the passive type. From the group of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Allen, the easiest deal to make would involve the Allen, who could have enormous value to a contender that believes a sniper would make a difference.

That said, for all of the talk about Rondo this year, can we all agree that the Celtics still go as Garnett goes? Against Houston earlier this week, the Celtics were in control of the game in the third quarter when Garnett went to the bench. The moment he went out, the Rockets took control of the game and built the 10-point lead from which the Celtics eventually came back.

* If the hockey gods have any real sense of justice and drama, Sidney Crosby will return to the Pittsburgh Penguins for good on Sunday against the Bruins. Tyler Seguin will then further develop into the franchise player the Bruins believe he can be, establishing Boston and Pittsburgh as Eastern Conference heavyweights and rivals for years to come.

In the short term, obviously, a healthy Crosby would change everything in the Eastern Conference. And we would be wise to remember now that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both sidelined last spring, which made it all the more important for the Bruins to close the deal and win the Stanley Cup.

Like Peyton Manning in some ways, after all, Crosby is the kind of talent that completely changes the landscape.

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