Patriots

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

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Jarrett Stidham focused on improving during 2020 offseason, not Tom Brady's free agency

Jarrett Stidham focused on improving during 2020 offseason, not Tom Brady's free agency

Tom Brady is set to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his 20-year NFL career. While the legendary quarterback could return to the New England Patriots in 2020, there's no guarantee that he will.

If Brady doesn't return, the Patriots will have a number of ways to address the quarterback position. They could target a free agent passer in one of the strongest free agent quarterback classes ever. They could spend a draft pick on one in a strong 2020 quarterback draft class.

Or they could roll with the only other quarterback option they currently have on their roster, 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham.

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Stidham spent his rookie season backing up Brady and played a grand total of 15 snaps for the squad. He completed 2-of-4 passes for 14 yards and threw an interception in that action.

Despite his relative inexperience, Stidham would theoretically be the next man up at quarterback if Brady leaves. But moving forward, he isn't thinking a lot about Brady's impending free agency. He's more focused on what he can do to improve heading into his second year.

"Right now, I can't really think too much about [Brady's free agency]. I have to worry about what I need to do to prepare to enhance my game, to learn as much as I possibly can," Stidham said per ESPN's Mike Reiss. "That's the biggest thing I've focused on, making a big stride from Year 1 to Year 2."

That said, Stidham did call his time learning as Brady's backup "priceless" and said that Brady is "phenomenal" in all facets of the game.

"He's a phenomenal teammate, a phenomenal person, obviously a phenomenal player," Stidham said per Reiss. "There was just so much that I got to learn from him. He was obviously very open to me about stuff that he's thought about the game of football, and stuff like that. It was great. I can't speak highly enough of that guy."

Perhaps Stidham's time learning from Brady has served him well. After all, Patriots fans haven't seen him in action since Week 7 and Phil Perry reported that Stidham was impressing his teammates and coaches alike in late-December.

But is he ready to be a starter? The Patriots moves this offseason will surely tell us more about their thoughts on that.

The Patriots won't definitively know what Brady's plans are for 2020 until he puts pen to paper somewhere. In the interim, it's at least encouraging that Stidham is putting in the effort behind the scenes to improve after spending a year learning from Brady. 

Eminem name-drops Tom Brady on his just-released album

Eminem name-drops Tom Brady on his just-released album

Tom Brady appears to have a kindred spirit as his career continues into his 40s.

Eminem name-drops TB12 on the track "Premonition" off the album "Music To Be Murdered By" which he released on Friday.

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The song takes on the critics of the 47-year-old rapper from Detroit and compares the critiques he gets to ones leveled at LeBron James, 35, and the Patriots quarterback, who'll turn 43 in August. 

Here's part of the song:

“Revival flopped, came back and I scared the crap out ‘em

But Rolling Stone stars, I get two and a half outta

Five, and I’ll laugh out loud

‘Cause that’s what they gave BAD back in the day

Which actually made me not feel as bad now, ‘cause

If it happened to James

It can happen to Shady

They do the same [expletive] to Brady

More people hate me than love me

This game will make you go crazy.”

It's not Eminem's first reference to Brady in one of his songs. In 2013's "Baby", he raps, "I'm what Tom Brady is to the Patriots of rap. Not a man, a weapon."

And it's just the latest Brady reference that has dotted hip-hop and rap since the mid-2000s when the QB led the Pats to the second and third of the six Super Bowl titles they've won. Other artists such as Drake, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and Kanye West have referenced him as a symbol of excellence. 

Brady told the Boston Globe last year before the Super Bowl he appreciates it.

 “That’s always really cool,” Brady said. “I’m a big fan of so many of those guys. I have a lot of friends [in music] that I’ve met over the years that are fans of what we do, too...I think that mutual appreciation or admiration is really flattering.”