FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some midweek quick-hit thoughts with the Patriots and around the NFL:
1. Good news for the Patriots with the return of offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer to practice Tuesday. Of all the pre-game hype, that is the most significant news to come out of Gillette Stadium at this point. In a situation like this, the team generally eases players back into the mix with a limited workload to see how they respond, and hopes to build it up over the course of the week. My sense is that both could be game-time decisions based on how the next few days unfold.
2. With offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer not returning to the Jets in 2012, it's the latest item on the list of things Rex Ryan said was going to happen but has not. Might be time for Ryan to scale back on the predictions.
3. At first, there was something about the Josh McDaniels' postseason hiring that didn't feel right here (I figured the hire would be for 2012). Mainly, it was the idea that a coach could be let out of his contract and then join another team in the same season. I think part of my feeling was that it is unusual, something we don't often see on the coaching side, but as time has passed and all the factors were weighed it is no big deal. I don't see any reason for the NFL to block those in-season moves in the future.
4. The Falcons are losing both coordinators, as Brian VanGorder is heading back to college (Auburn) and Mike Mularkey will be introduced as the Jaguars' new coach today. The 2012 season will be the fifth for the Falcons' current regime of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith and I think the change will be good. The big questions in Atlanta are whether that team can win in the playoffs -- it's a credit to Dimitroff and Smith that is the case -- and sometimes teams need this type of shake-up to push them over that hump.
5. The Patriots will face three teams with new head coaches in 2012 (Rams, Jaguars, Dolphins) and it could be a fourth if the Colts move on from Jim Caldwell. Such change, which happens on an annual basis, is something we're not familiar with here in New England. Bill Belichick is the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL (since 2000), behind Philadelphia's Andy Reid (1999).