Your AFC East mail returned

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Matt in Maine writes: Give me one reason as a Pats fan that I don't give this season up and use this time to build up good karma with my wife and do family things on Sunday afternoons this fall?

Tim Graham: I'll give you three: Bill Belichick, the defensive line and Randy Moss.

Matt in Fresno, Calif., writes: Does ESPN tell you to only talk about New York vs. Boston? Is that the only thing they allow you writers to talk about? I mean seriously ... Even if there is no rivalry, you gotta try to make one up Jets and Patriots? Give me a break.

Tim Graham: Yes, we're making it all up. You caught us. All those reasons I gave why Jets-Patriots is a huge rivalry were fictional. I actually thought about naming my lead character Santa Claus instead of Bill Parcells, but then I thought that might be a little too over the top.

Chris in Fort Lauderdale writes: Pats-Jets is just another ESPN-forced rivalry. The true rivalry in the AFC East is Jets-Dolphins.

Tim Graham: I guess that's why about a third of the upper deck consisted of empty orange seats on Sunday, when the Jets visited the Dolphins ... on opening day ... with the Dolphins unveiling their new team and head coach ... with Brett Favre making his Jets debut ... with Chad Pennington playing against his former team.

Harlan in Boston writes: I'm a Pats fan, a huge one and I am realistic about the Patriots not being the team they are without Tom Brady. What I don't understand is why people are so high on the Jets taking over the AFC East. If any team has a chance I see Buffalo, a team with a solid defense, an All Pro-caliber RB and a promising QB. Your thoughts?

Tim Graham: I agree with you. I've gone on record as calling the Bills the new team to beat in the AFC East. They also have Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters coming back from his holdout.

Brian in Phoenix writes: Do you think the Bills will win at least 10 games to make it to the playoffs?

Tm Graham: I like their chances if they stay healthy. I'm not going to get into picking wins and losses down the schedule, but they have the Dolphins twice, the Raiders, Rams, 49ers and Chiefs. That's favorable for the Bills.

Garrett from Parts Unknown writes: I enjoy most of your work, but when I looked over your preseason All-AFC East defense lineup I just ended up puzzled. You stated that you were doing a 3-4 defense, which is intelligent, but then you selected Aaron Schobel at RDE. A 250-pound DE cannot hang in the 3-4. 270 pounds doesn't even cut it. Is this an isolated oversight? Or should the readers be prepared for more nonsense?

Tim Graham: Garrett, are you the guy who complains that the Shoeless Joe Jackson character in "Field of Dreams" incorrectly bats right-handed, yet overlooks the concept of ghosts living in a cornfield?

The preseason All-AFC East team isn't real. It would have been, but I couldn't find another team for it to play this weekend.

Mr. Anonymous from Waukesha, Wisc., writes: When a player makes a team's practice squad, is he under contract? If so, what is his salary?

Tim Graham: Practice squad players are under contract, but they can be signed to another team's 53-man roster. Their minimum salary is $5,200 a week. If they stay there the whole season that adds up to $88,400. But they can make more than that.

Chris from Parts Unknown writes: Is this a Tom Brady/Patriots blog or for the entire AFC East? Get over it!

Tim Graham: Let me give everybody fair warning here. If another first-ballot Hall of Famer goes down with a season-ending injury and casts his team's playoff hopes into doubt, I'm going to write about it. A lot.

Matt in Rochester writes: I haven't noticed anyone ask what the Pats will do if Cassel goes down for an extended period or is a complete dud on the field. Surely, this would doom their entire season if it happened, no? I know this can be said about any team, but it seems magnified with the Pats, and their seeming unwillingness to invest too much into the backup QB position.

Tim Graham: These questions have been asked of Bill Belichick, but he gives the boilerplate answer: "We'll do what's best for the team." Rookie Kevin O'Connell will be the backup on Sunday, while Matt Gutierrez might be activated off the practice squad to be the third QB.

If Cassel does get hurt for an extended period, logic dictates the Patriots would need to bring in a veteran. I think the reason they haven't already is for psychological purposes, reinforcing the mantra that everything will be fine. Bringing in an outsider could suggest in the locker room that the front office isn't convinced.

Jim in Buffalo writes: I had a question about your NFL fan rankings. I am in a constant debate with some friends about Bills fans versus Dolphins fans. I know you have worked in both towns and would have a much better opinion then myself. Could you break down which teams fans are better and why? Looks to me like the Fins sell out every game, but no one goes. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Tim Graham: You're absolutely right. The Dolphins do label their games as sellouts, but there are more empty seats than you'd see at an XFL game. While it's hard to get a sense of the emotion from the press box, what goes on in the Ralph Wilson Stadium parking lot makes the Dolphin Stadium scene look like a picnic. Of course, Dolfans don't have to shovel their cars out of a snowdrift after their games.

Mr. Anonymous in Tamarac, Fla., writes: If Brett Favre would have stayed retired, he would now have been a Patriot instead of a Jet. Hmmm? I wonder how Brett feels now in retrospect.

Tim Graham: That's an intriguing thought, Favre coming out of retirement to lead the Patriots ... Although I don't know if the Packers, who have Super Bowl aspirations, would accommodate a trade to a team they might face in the title game. The Jets were a relatively safe partner for the Packers.

Vinnie in Dallas writes: Can you tell me if Brady's contract is a guaranteed contract? Just wondering since he's hurt and out for the year. I'm sure he doesn't need the money to survive the year, but my Dad was wondering and I have no clue and haven't been able to find out on-line.

Tim Graham: Brady's six-year contract runs through 2010. It's worth about $60 million total, with $26.5 in up-front guarantees and $3 million roster bonuses for each of the final three seasons.

Robert from Parts Unknown writes: I find it fun
ny how you were one of the people who thought Pennington would hinder the Jets offense, but now he's one of your beloved Dolphins, whom you just happened to write for a couple years back. I can see the bias already, and the season hasn't started yet. You're definitely off to a good start, bud.

Tim Graham: To borrow a Belichick phrase, you're comparing apples and grapefruits. The difference to note is that the Jets were a playoff contender who needed a QB better than Pennington. The Dolphins are rebuilding and needed a stabilizer better than Josh McCown. That Pennington helps the Dolphins doesn't eliminate the fact Jets were looking for an upgrade. It's possible for a QB to be a good fit for one team's needs and not the other team's.

Also, covering the Dolphins doesn't make me a fan. I was raised in Northeast Ohio as a Browns fan but lost my rooting interest when they moved to Baltimore. I don't cheer for any team.

Steve from Parts Unknown writes: Who has more pressure on him, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Cassel? Both are trying to replace legends this season.

Tim Graham: Rodgers has more pressure, for sure. The Packers have been his team for months and he's expected to produce. He has been dealing with Brett Favre comparisons and will continue to do so. Everybody knows Cassel can't replace Brady. The onus is on Cassel's supporting cast to prop him up as opposed to him being expected to make the Patriots his own.

Linda in Hamden, Conn., writes: In the Patriots-Chiefs game, on Kansas City's last possession they had five shots at the end zone. Why? They were given two first downs. Why? We replayed the series and for some reason they had a first down, took a shot at the end zone and missed. Then they were given another first down, threw the same pass to the same spot (the announcers even stated that it was the exact same play). Then it went to second down. They ended up with five, plays and there were no flags thrown. None of us in the room could understand why.

Tim Graham: The Patriots' defense had called a timeout before the initial first down, but not everyone heard the whistle and the Chiefs snapped the ball and ran a play. Because the timeout was awarded, the play didn't count.

Mr. Anonymous from Reeds Spring, Mo., writes: Yes, it's too bad that Tom Brady got hurt, but he puts his pads on like all the other players do. Chiefs QB Brody Croyle was also injured, and no one has said anything about it? What's up with that?

Tim Graham: Because it doesn't matter who the Chiefs' QB is.

Mr. Anonymous from Minneapolis writes: Seriously? Brady a loss for the league?! Give me a break. Are we supposed to fly flags at half mast because he is an injured player? I don't get it. My nephew could perform equally well with that offensive line, those running backs and that defense as support, and, oh yeah, he's 6 years old.

Tim Graham: Your nephew has had as many starts as Matt Cassel. In fact, tell me more about him. If he's 6 and could perform as equally well as Tom Brady, then I'm sure everyone would rather read about that anyway. Do the Vikings know about this kid?

Joey in Richmond, Calif., writes: Can you please tell me why Matt Cassel was even drafted if he never played a game in college?

Tim Graham: Cassel had a reputation among college and pro QB coaches as the best backup in the county, and given the success of USC's program and the Heisman Trophy winners that played in front of him, there was a belief Cassel was better than most other college starters.

Alex in Florida writes: If the Dolphins are, say, 5-3 at midseason and have won all their division games, what would be your prediction then? Most people are only giving them five wins for the season. So I'm just giving you a hypothetical under those conditions. The remaining games would be Seahawks, Raiders, Patriots (home), Rams, Bills (away), 49ers (home), Chiefs, Jets (away).

Tim Graham: Congratulations on submitting the only Dolphins question all week. Dolfans have been scarce in the AFC East mailbag.

If the Dolphins somehow can be 5-3 at the midpoint, that means they will have gone 5-2 against some good teams -- the Patriots, Chargers, Bills and Broncos among them. I don't see that happening. But let's say they do. They will have been good enough that you could probably count on victories over the Raiders, Rams, Chiefs and 49ers.

Tadd in Madison, Wisc., writes: Your credibility is gone. Because you so absurdly ranked Jacksonville 10 spots higher than Tennessee in the latest power rankings I will no longer be able to read anything that you write. You're opinions will now be unmerited and not worth the time of day. I should continue to argue your lack of credibility by bringing up the fact that you ranked three AFC East teams ahead of the Titans as well, but I've run out of time for responding to a biased reporter.

Tim Graham: I'm flattered you thought I had credibility to begin with. But if you won't ever read anything else I write, then how will you see this?

The reason I ranked the Titans where I did was my suspicion the troubling Vince Young saga would spiral downward. We still don't know what kind of affect that will have on the team. I will admit I ranked the Jaguars too high based on what we've learned about their O-line injuries.

Sam in Portland (not sure which state) writes: Can Cassel come in and lead the Patriots to the playoffs? If he does struggle, do the Patriots go after Chris Simms or Tim Rattay?

Tim Graham: If the Patriots make the playoffs, it will be because Cassel was able to manage the offense well enough. I think responsibility has shifted from the QB to the O-line, RBs and WRs.

Since you submitted your question, Simms has signed with the Titans, but there are a few veteran options out there if the Patriots get fidgety. Rattay is someone they've considered. Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington and Kelly Holcomb are available, too.

Jared in Coral Gables, Fla., writes: I don't know what your opinion is on this, but would bringing Dante Culpepper out of retirement be a good idea for the Patriots? He has his favorite receiver from Minnesota (Moss). They dominated together. Do you think he's a fit in this offense?

Tim Graham: I don't think it would work out given Culpepper's mobility issues. I did write about this earlier in the week. Click here to check it out.

Ian in Buffalo writes: Do we have any idea when and where Tom Brady is scheduled to have his surgery?

Tim Graham: Why? Are you going to pull a Gillooly on him? The Patriots won't release that information.
Any news on Brady's surgery likely will emerge after the fact.

Mr. Anonymous in Danbury, Conn., writes: I guess all those people who think you were writing too much about Bills have now been silenced (at least for this week) after the dubbing of the Seahawks. I personally think you are a genius.
Tim Graham: Thanks! Maybe I should end my mailbag right now. Nah, let's answer one more ...

Chris from New York writes: Why are you so dumb? If ESPN hired you they'll hire me. The only person I know who picks the Dolphins with no team at all to beat the Jets by three points. You need to analyze your picks more or you should just be fired. You're ESPN's Ryan Leaf.

Tim Graham: Well, we can't all be Moses Moreno.