Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. One area to watch today is which teams finish in first place in the AFC North and AFC West, because those will be the final two teams on the Patriots’ 2012 schedule. The Patriots will visit the AFC North first-place team and host the AFC West first-place team (full list of '12 opponents here).

2a. There is some good additional money to be earned by players in the playoffs. Those in the wild-card game get $22,000 each (if on a division-winning team) and $20,000 each (non-division-winning team). Players in the divisional playoff round get $22,000 each. A player in the conference championship game gets $40,000. And a player in the Super Bowl gets either $88,000 (winning team) or $44,000 (losing team). So a player can total as much as $172,000 for winning the Super Bowl.

2b. And as for those who might say the Pro Bowl doesn’t matter, consider this: Each player on the winning Pro Bowl team gets $50,000, while each player on the losing Pro Bowl team gets $25,000.

3. Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has been mentioned by three different reporters over the last few days (NFL Network’s Jason LaCanfora, SI.com’s Peter King, ESPN.com’s Ross Tucker) when it comes to being a candidate for NFL head coaching vacancies (and possibly as Penn State head coach, per ESPN.com's Joe Schad). O’Brien is in the last year of his contract and he appears to be positioned well to better his standing in some form.

4. Head coaching firings across the NFL are likely to come fast in the next 24-48 hours, and to those looking for insight on how it might all unfold, this story from Don Banks of SI.com will make you think. Banks leads off with this telling stat: Since 2000, there have been 82 head coaching changes. The Patriots have had just one over that time.

5. I hope Jason Taylor gets one more moment to savor today in his final game, when the Dolphins host the Jets. From afar, he always seemed like a class act.

6. Who do you like for the No. 6 seed in the AFC? To me, the key question is how Houston – which has already locked up the No. 3 seed and can’t improve its standing – approaches the season finale at home vs. Tennessee. For the Jets to have any chance to sneak in, they need Houston to keep the foot to the gas pedal. Otherwise, I think the scenario most likely to unfold favors Tennessee getting the final spot.

7. If I’m Denver, I don’t like the idea of facing a Romeo Crennel-coached defense in the season finale when needing a win to clinch a playoff berth. Not to mention they’re facing a quarterback (Kyle Orton) they gave away earlier in the year.

8. Since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, the Patriots own the NFL’s best record at home – 66-13 in the regular season and 73-15 when including playoffs. Baltimore (61-21) and Pittsburgh (64-23-1) are next in line, which some might say reinforces why earning the No. 1 playoff seed is important for the Patriots to solidify today.

9. Great stat: For the 16th consecutive season, five or more teams will qualify for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before. Detroit, Houston and San Francisco are already in, while Dallas/N.Y. Giants and Denver/Oakland will make five. There’s a possibility of a sixth club depending on how things fall.

10. A Patriots win today gives Bill Belichick a mark never attained before in the NFL. No other head coach has ever had five regular seasons with 13 or more wins.

EXTRA POINT: To regular readers of this blog, or perhaps those just passing through, here’s to a happy new year. Thanks for making this blog part of your daily routine, which is a big part of what makes my daily routine so meaningful. With the help of dedicated teammates on the beat Mike Rodak, Chris Forsberg and Steven Krasner, and a top-notch editing staff of Peter Lawrence-Riddell, David Lefort, Steve Richards, Janet Simmons and Dan Peterson, I think we have created a neat community in this small corner of the World Wide Web. I look forward to that continuing in 2012.