Many former Patriots players, coaches will be in AFC, NFC championship spotlight

Many former Patriots players, coaches will be in AFC, NFC championship spotlight

The matchups are set for the AFC and NFC championship games Sunday, and there are players and/or coaches with ties to the New England Patriots on each of the four remaining playoff teams.

The team with the most former Patriots players and coaches is the Tennessee Titans, who knocked off the Pats and the Baltimore Ravens to set up an AFC Championship Game showdown versus the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel spent eight seasons in New England and won three Super Bowl titles as a linebacker. A couple of his players also won a Lombardi Trophy (or two) as a member of the Patriots, including Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler.

The most notable former Patriots player who will be competing on championship Sunday is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who will take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship at Levi's Stadium. The Patriots traded Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick during the 2017 season, and he has led San Francisco to a 20-5 record (including the playoffs) as its starting quarterback. If Garoppolo leads the 49ers to a Super Bowl LIV title, they will tie the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins with six.

Here's a list of coaches (listed in their current roles) and players with Patriots ties whose team is playing on championship Sunday.

Tennessee Titans
Mike Vrabel, Head coach
Dean Pees, Defensive coordinator
Jon Robinson, General manager
Dion Lewis, RB
Cody Hollister, WR
Malcolm Butler, CB
Logan Ryan, CB

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Kansas City Chiefs
Brendan Daly, Defensive line coach
Mike Pennel, DL

Green Bay Packers
Jared Veldheer, OL

San Francisco 49ers
John Lynch, General manager
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
Jordan Matthews, WR

Latest betting odds for AFC and NFC Championship Games

Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

The New England Patriots have won six Super Bowls over the last 20 years in part by spending wisely.

Is that all about to change?

The Patriots currently have the least amount of cap space of any NFL team at $1.85 million, per Spotrac. Part of the reason for that is the amount of money they're paying to players who won't play for them in 2020 -- otherwise known as "dead money."

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In fact, New England currently owes $24 million in "dead money," which according to Spotrac puts the team in dubious company.

Let's just say the Panthers, Jaguars, Rams and Dolphins aren't expected to be Super Bowl contenders in 2020.

And if the last four seasons are any indication, the Patriots would be bucking a trend just by going 9-7 in their first season of the post-Tom Brady era.

Brady is the primary reason why New England is in this position: He accounts for $13.5 million of that $24 million number, while Antonio Brown is next-closest with $4.5 million in dead money owed.

But such was the contract that Brady signed last August that gave him a potential out in 2020 -- one he took to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rather than take another pay cut to stay in New England.

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The Patriots, who have signed all of their 2020 draft picks, still can create extra cap space by trading or extending offensive guard Joe Thuney, who currently has a $14.7 million cap hit that's second-highest on the team.

New England also could restructure the deals of several other players -- like it did recently with Patrick Chung -- to free up more space.

That dead money isn't going away, though, so Bill Belichick and presumptive starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham have another historic precedent to overcome this season.

What's with Jarrett Stidham's surprisingly strong 2020 NFL MVP odds?

What's with Jarrett Stidham's surprisingly strong 2020 NFL MVP odds?

Christian McCaffrey led the NFL in total scrimmage yards in 2019. Jarrett Stidham attempted three passes that weren't intercepted.

Both players share the same odds to win 2020 NFL MVP.

That's right: The New England Patriots' second-year quarterback, who has yet to start an NFL game after backing up Tom Brady last season, is listed at +5000 to win the NFL MVP award at DraftKings Sportsbook.

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Stidham shares those +5000 odds with eight other players. Here's the list:

Josh Allen, QB, Bills
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

To reiterate: Stidham (who might not even start in Week 1) has the same chance to be named the NFL's best player as the league's rushing title holder (Henry), a former Rookie of the Year (Barkley) and the guy who was supposed to be Brady's heir apparent in New England (Garoppolo).

How is this possible? It's all about expectations.

Many expect the Patriots to nosedive following Brady's departure to Tampa Bay. But if Stidham can guide New England to a winning record or even a playoff berth, he could gain traction as a dark-horse MVP candidate who worked wonders with an offense lacking elite weapons.

Considering Bill Belichick's Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel after Brady got hurt in 2008, that scenario isn't totally far-fetched.

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Of course, there still are 11 players with better MVP odds than Stidham, including Brady, whose +1600 odds rank him behind Dak Prescott (+1400), Russell Wilson (+800), Lamar Jackson (+700) and favorite Patrick Mahomes (+400), per DraftKings Sportsbook.

But it appears there's faint optimism among oddsmakers that "The Stidham Plan" will pay off in a breakout season for the 23-year-old QB.