Patriots

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal. 

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Chargers' wild win shakes up AFC playoff picture; No. 1 seed back in play for Pats?

chargers_mike_williams.jpg
AP Photo

Chargers' wild win shakes up AFC playoff picture; No. 1 seed back in play for Pats?

Anthony Lynn's gutsy call to go for two with four seconds left, and Mike Williams' subsequent catch all by his lonesome self, delivered one of the biggest prime-time stunners of the 2018 season, a 29-28 thriller by the Los Angeles Chargers over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. And with it, the AFC playoff picture just got a whole lot more interesting.

With the win, the Chargers became the second AFC team to lock up a playoff spot, joining their rivals they just beat on Thursday Night Football. Whether Philip Rivers and Co. will be playing their first playoff game at home or on the road is another matter, however.

Both the Chargers and Chiefs are tied for the AFC West lead with 11-3 records, but Kansas City holds on to the No. 1 seed in the conference overall based on tiebreaking procedures. The Chiefs and Chargers split the regular-season head-to-head matchups, but Kansas City has a 4-1 record in the division, while LA is 3-2.

Meanwhile, with the Chiefs' loss, theoretically New England is still very much in play for home-field advantage at just a game and half behind KC for the top seed. The Patriots would have to win Sunday against the Steelers, and then their final two games against Buffalo and the New York Jets (a combined 8-18 headed into this weekend) to finish 12-4.

That's certainly a more favorable schedule than the Chargers, who still have to face the Ravens at home, and then a hungry 6-7 Denver at hallowed Mile High. The Chiefs, meanwhile, still have to head to Seattle on Dec. 23 for Sunday Night Football, before finishing with a visit from the Raiders. The Texans, currently the No. 3 seed at 9-4, have a somewhat easier three-game slate in the Jets, the Eagles, and Jaguars.

It's possible 12-4 gets the No. 1 seed in the AFC this season.

Or, in a potentially weird scenario, it's possible the road to Super Bowl LIII ends up going through a 27,000-seat MLS stadium.

Or, in a potentially even weirder twist of fate, a doomsday scenario is still in play where the Steelers drop their final three games, the Ravens two of their final three, and the Browns -- yes, those Browns -- win their final three games to claim the NFC North.

Here's how the AFC playoff picture looks after Thursday night's wild finish:

PLAYOFFS
*1. Chiefs 11-3
2. Patriots 9-4
3. Texans 9-4
4. Steelers 7-5-1
*5. Chargers 11-3
6. Ravens 7-6
*Clinched postseason berth

IN THE HUNT
Colts 7-6
Dolphins 7-6
Titans 7-6
Broncos 6-7
Browns 5-7-1
Bengals 5-8

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Gillette Stadium ranked among best, Yankee Stadium among worst, for food safety

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File Photo

Gillette Stadium ranked among best, Yankee Stadium among worst, for food safety

On Thursday, ESPN Outside The Lines released a comprehensive review of the food-safety inspections for all 107 North American pro sports venues, with some favorable findings for Boston's three major sports venues.

Of the 107 venues, Foxborough's Gillette Stadium ranked as the fifth-best overall, while Boston's TD Garden (25) and Fenway Park (31) came in pretty favorably. NBA venues took up three of the top five spots, led by Oakland's Oracle Arena at No. 1.

For some of New York's most pristine venues, however, the results are not flattering. Queens' Citi Field (home of the Mets) and Brooklyn's Barclays Center (home of the Nets and Islanders) ranked Nos. 86 and 93, respectively, on the list. But most indicting of all, perhaps, was Yankee Stadium, which the report ranked as sixth-worst of all North American sports venues.

Among the most alarming findings, this one about the Legends level of seating -- some of the most expensive seats in the park -- sticks out:

Inspectors found hot food at improper temperatures (below 140 degrees) and "filth, flies or food/refuse/sewage-associated flies" in food and/or non-food areas at a Legends level location on July 25, 2017.

Imagine shelling out a couple thousand bucks for seats after reading that?

This all made for some spirited debate on Arbella Early Edition, where hosts Rich Keefe, Gary Tanguay and Trenni Kusnierek talked about their best and worst ballpark food experiences -- and, well, are we really going to the games for the food anyways?

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