CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Editor’s note/update: The Patriots will play the Chargers in the AFC playoffs next Sunday at 1:05 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.
Picked-up pieces while worrying about the Ravens or Chargers at Foxborough next weekend . . .
■ Things just got tougher for the Patriots. We were all hoping the hopeless Texans would come to Gillette next weekend, wearing their letterman jackets, and happy to take their beating. Now that’s off the table. The Patriots are going to have to earn their annual path to the AFC Championship game by beating a tough team at home. The Ravens and Chargers may fold like everyone else in Foxborough, but they come to New England with less baggage and a better chance than the Texans. Baltimore has a tough running game, a mobile quarterback, a great defense, and a coach who will not turn into a puddle at the sight of Bill Belichick. The Chargers are formidable, perhaps the most complete team in the AFC, but if they come to New England, I’m betting on 10-degree temperatures and a fold by the West Coast team. Root for the Colts to take out the Chiefs and deliver the AFC Championship game to its permanent home in Foxborough.
■ Sports Lock of the Century: WEEI’s inevitable and wildly hyped announcement that Kirk Minihane is returning to the morning show. May? September? It will happen.
■ NESN watchers will be happy to learn that Dennis Eckersley has signed on to do more games next season. Eck will even be making a few road trips, which he generally avoids. Hope David (“I’ve got the trump card now”) Price behaves on the team charter.
■ The joke of the AFC East continues to be dismissed by Patriot fanboys, but it is very real and it gives the Patriots an unfair advantage almost every season. The Patriots outscored their division rivals by 110 points in six games this year. In 10 other games against real NFL competition, the Patriots outscored the opposition by 1 point. We acknowledge that the Patriots through the years have beaten all other teams at the same rate they beat the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills. But no other team in the NFL gets to go into every season knowing that there will be NO competition within the division. The Patriots have won their division by three or more games in eight of the last nine seasons. This means that the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills never compete. The Patriots go into every year knowing that none of their division rivals are likely to win as many as eight games. Meanwhile, winning the division is over-rewarded in the NFL. This explains why the Patriots could host a playoff game against a team (12-4 Chargers) that had a better regular season than the Patriots. Nobody else gets to do this. In every other division — save the AFC South — there is rotation. In every other division, at least three teams have won the division two or more times since 2002. Not in the AFC East. In the AFC East, the Patriots have 14 titles, the Dolphins one, the Jets one. The Patriots are 29-1 at home against the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills over the last five seasons. The woeful Miami/New York/Buffalo trio went an aggregate 17-31 this year. Take away games vs. one another, the Jets, Bills and Dolphins went 11-25. Since 2002 the Jets have had six coaches, the Bills nine, and the Dolphins 10. In summary, the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins all stink and it is a great advantage to the Patriots to play in a division with these bums. Defensive Patriots fans need to stop trying to dispute this.
■ Competition, like knowledge, is good. Baylor’s upset of the UConn women’s basketball team (68-57 in Waco on Thursday) is good for the women’s game. UConn had won 126 consecutive regular-season games, dating to 2014.
■ I have little interest in the Alabama-Clemson national championship game Monday other than to watch Clemson senior defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, who seems likely to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft this spring. A native of Springfield, Wilkins played at Framingham High School in 2010 before transferring to Suffield Academy in Connecticut. You might remember him as the man who pancaked Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown early in the BC-Clemson game, knocking Brown out of the game. Wilkins is a three-time All-American and his coach, Dabo Swinney, told the NFL.com, “He’s either going to be the president or he’s going to know him. One of the two.’’ Once the pride of Bowditch Field, Wilkins won the William V. Campbell Trophy, given annually to a college football star who excels in the classroom and the community.
■ Quiz: Who is the Red Sox career leader in innings pitched? (Answer below)
■ Bruce Springsteen’s daughter, Jessica, is a professional equestrian show jumper who just completed her first season riding for the Miami Celtics of the Global Champions League. She is ranked seventh nationally among show jumpers and is hoping to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
■ There was a nice profile of Mrs. Tom Brady in Friday’s Wall Street Journal’s “Mansion” section. I learned that Super G aspired to be a volleyball player when she was younger and was nicknamed Olly, as in Olive Oyl from “Popeye.’’ “My husband, Tom Brady, and I live with our three children near Boston,’’ Gisele Bundchen told the Journal. “It’s very cold in the winters, but this is what you do for love. My favorite space is our barn where I work.’’ Regarding her football IQ, Gisele said, “After 12 years, I feel like I could be a ref.’’
■ I have to disagree with esteemed colleague Nick Cafardo, who believes there should be rules limiting defensive shifts in baseball. In my view, it’s up to the offense to figure it out. The defense should be able to position its players anywhere it wants.
■ This likely will be the first full NBA season since 2000-01 in which no team wins 60 regular-season games.
■ The Matt Patricia era in Detroit is off to a rough start and he’s not helping with his boorish behavior.
■ Every time I’m tempted to drop a “Carl Crawford” on the handsome head of Gordon Hayward, he has a game like Wednesday’s 35-point outburst against the Timberwolves.
■ If you have a Patriots fan in your life may I suggest you purchase “The Pats,’’ by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson. It’s the definitive history of the Boston/New England Patriots.
■ If I’m Dwight Evans, I’m storming the gates of Cooperstown asking for a recount in the wake of the election of Harold Baines. Evans was a better major leaguer than Baines.
■ There will be a concert celebrating Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA Feb. 5. The late Hall of Famer’s wife, Rachel, and daughter, Sharon, are planning to attend.
■ Quiz answer: Tim Wakefield.
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