Patriots

Patriots grip on AFC East still vice-like, oddsmakers say

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Patriots grip on AFC East still vice-like, oddsmakers say

Football is inching ever nearer. You don't need a calendar to tell you that. Just check your Twitter timeline and watch the gambling opportunities for the upcoming NFL season stream in. 

Postseason odds were made available via BetOnline.ag and Sportsbook.ag last week, and -- you may want to sit down for this -- the Patriots are favored to win their division for the 10th consecutive season.

No team in the league has greater odds to make the postseason than the Patriots at -1500 (spend $1,500 to make $100). The Steelers are the next most likely team to make the playoffs, per BetOnline, coming in at -550. After that, it's the Vikings who are considered the next best lock to play deep into January, coming in at -260.

Among the worst odds to make the postseason? That would be New England's AFC East brethren, leading us to an annual chicken-or-the-egg argument: Are the odds the Dolphins, Jets and Bills will make the playoffs down simply because the Patriots loom? Or is it because that trio is viewed as having what are among the game's weakest rosters?

It's probably a little of both.

Even with a Julian Edelman suspension looming, and even with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski skipping the voluntary portion of Patriots offseason activities, there is no real argument that the Patriots aren't the most talented team in the division. Meanwhile, questions abound for their division rivals.

Who's playing quarterback in Buffalo? Can the Jets stay afloat with some combination of Josh McCown, Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater behind center? Are the Dolphins delaying the inevitable by rolling with Ryan Tannehill for another season? 

Though the Dolphins have a respected young coach at the helm, and though they showed some signs of life last season -- the highlight coming in a home victory over the Patriots in December -- they're still one of the least likely teams in the league to make the postseason, per BetOnline, checking in at +600. The Jets and their young defense are slotted in with the same odds. 

Buffalo is actually the most likely to make it past Week 17, at +450. 

Perhaps the oddsmakers feel good about top-10 pick Josh Allen being able to make a quick transition from playing for Wyoming to playing against NFL defenses. Perhaps it's the additions of free agent defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and rookie first-round linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to the middle of the Bills defense that has wise guys intrigued.  

The Bills have other promising pieces in place. LeSean McCoy is still one of the league's top backs. Second-year corner Tre'Davious White could enter into the conversation as one of the game's best at his position if he takes advantage of his first full offseason as a pro. And coach Sean McDermott seems to be focused on establishing a winning culture in Western New York. Together they helped the Bills make the playoffs last season, ending an 18-year postseason drought. 

Still, the odds aren't great they'll be back. In part because the Patriots are still the Patriots. 

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Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

FOXBORO -- When there was an obsession over Patriots workloads earlier in camp, it felt for some reason like a new phenomenon. And maybe it was as it related to Tom Brady. But he's 41 now. He took more time off in the spring than he's used to. His reps in certain practices were obviously scaled back. 

The reaction was predictable.  

But when it comes to dissecting workloads and overanalyzing snap counts, that's par for the course when it comes to Rob Gronkowski. The game's top tight end has also long been one of its most injury-prone, making his summertime participation in Patriots practices and preseason games one of the most intriguing parts of camp on a year-in, year-out basis. 

Though Gronkowski finished last season contemplating retirement, he also finished it relatively healthy. That means there's no reading into how well he's cutting or planting or making mid-air adjustments to back-shoulder throws in practice in July and August. 

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Gronkowski's preseason game snap counts can always generate discussion, however. And he helped contribute to the chatter on Sunday when he met with reporters at Gillette Stadium and was asked if he found it to be beneficial when he saw playing time in exhibition games No. 2 and 3 last year.

"I mean, it’s always beneficial whenever you go out there in the preseason," he said. "You want to go out there, get the timing down, get some live reps. So, just going to prepare like a normal game this week like I’m playing, and then it’s up to the coaches."

That Gronkowski played at all last preseason was a veer from the norm for him. The 46 snaps he saw (14 against the Texans, 32 against the Lions) were his first preseason plays since 2012. He ended up being named a First Team All-Pro and helping his team to the Super Bowl. His argument, then, that "it's always beneficial" to play in preseason games may have some merit. 

But in reality, his preseason workload has been a less-than-stellar gauge for how his season will play out. Consider this. Gronkowski didn't see time in any preseason games in 2013, 2014, 2015 or 2016. Those seasons ended in a torn ACL, a Super Bowl title and an All-Pro nod, an AFC Championship appearance and an All-Pro nod, and back surgery.

Had it not been for hellacious hits from TJ Ward and Earl Thomas, Gronkowski might've been a four-time All-Pro in that four-year stretch of no preseason work. 

Good with preseason snaps. Good without them. 

The Patriots will account for myriad inputs when determining how much Gronkowski should play this preseason, or if he should play at all. The number of snaps he played last season -- his 1,078, including playoffs, were more than any tight end last season -- are part of the equation. How he's responded to the work given in camp thus far could play a role as well. 

If he's going to see any time, odds are it would be this week against the Panthers. But because he played as much as he did last season, because he's not returning from an injury and there's not as much "rust" to shake off as there might've been last summer, it'd come as no surprise if Gronkowski remained on the sidelines Friday night in Charlotte. 

Even if Gronkowski wants to go, the risk and reward of playing him just doesn't seem to add up for the Patriots. If timing is the big benefit . . . well, even Gronkowski admitted his timing with Brady was pretty good if not perfect.

"I mean, I would say we’ve got some good chemistry over the years, but we’re always working on it," he said. "We’re always looking to improve, and we’re always looking to get better."

But does improvement require preseason game action? History would suggest it does not.

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