Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. I'm anxious to hear what offensive lineman Logan Mankins has to say, if anything, in the days leading up to next Sunday's Pro Bowl. He's the Patriots' biggest free agent this offseason. Mankins said all the right things when he returned to the team in early November after a contract standoff, and I'm wondering if the tone changes now that there are no more games that count on the team's 2010 schedule.
2. One of the Patriots' best free-agent signings last offseason was veteran defensive lineman Gerard Warren, who inked a modest one-year deal and had a solid season. The Patriots obviously liked what they got from Warren, because they tweaked his contract in November and gave him an additional $40,000 signing bonus. That's a win-win for both sides and makes one think Warren is likely to be back in 2011.
3. Receiver Deion Branch attended Saturday night's Louisville-Providence men's basketball game in Providence with Troy Brown, which highlighted his allegiance to his alma mater (Louisville) and his bond with Brown, his former Patriots teammate.
4. I'm going with both No. 6 seeds in today's conference championships. I like the Packers because of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and I think the defense will force Bears quarterback Jay Cutler into mistakes. As for the Jets, I think their defense is hot and is going to give the Steelers' offensive line enough trouble to control the game.
5. Looking back at the Patriots' playoff loss to the Jets, one of the surprising developments that was overshadowed by the loss was at outside linebacker, where Eric Moore -- who had signed with the team Dec. 3 -- started over Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham. In the most important game of the season, what does it say that the coaching staff felt the best fit was with a player who had joined the team just six weeks ago?
6. Josh McDaniels signed a two-year contract to serve as Rams offensive coordinator, which matches the remaining two years left on head coach Steve Spagnuolo's deal. Of course, Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator when the Patriots were knocked off by New York in Super Bowl XLII. "You had to bring that up, didn't you?" McDaniels said with a laugh, when asked on a conference call about his experience facing Spagnuolo over the years.
7. It's hard to imagine a player having a more topsy-turvy two weeks than Patriots rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick did leading up to the playoff loss. He had been suspended by the team for five days, missed two practices, but ended up starting and playing extensively. Deaderick had played just two of the final six games of the season, but the team needed him after a run of injuries on the line.
8. I'm not a big fan of the way the Jets go about their business; too much brashness and talk for my liking. Part of me doesn't want to see that approach validated with a Super Bowl appearance, but at the same time, I could feel good for Jason Taylor making it to the big game for the first time. I don't know him pesonally, but he seems like a class act.
9. Just a bizarre offseason in Miami. Owner Steven Ross flirts with Jim Harbaugh as a possible head coaching hire, then gives the head coach in limbo, Tony Sparano, an extension. On Saturday, general manager Jeff Ireland received an extension. I like the Sparano-Ireland duo, but Ross -- from afar -- seems like he's all across the board. I've heard Patriots owner Robert Kraft say that he learned a lot in his early years as owner, making some significant mistakes, and it seems like Ross is going through some of those same growing pains.
10. The Patriots' receivers struggled to get open in the playoff loss to the Jets, and some view that as a strong sign that the team needs to target a big-time receiver in the offseason. I don't see it. That offense looked pretty good to me while the Patriots were averaging 30-plus points in the final eight games of the regular season.