Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. An offseason storyline resurfaced this week when Patriots receiver Wes Welker was asked about his contract status -- first on a conference call with Jacksonville reporters, and then in the Patriots' locker room. Welker, predictably, wasn't touching it. Given the way things have unfolded, I see the Patriots assigning another franchise tag on Welker in the offseason because he's too valuable to let walk. But here's one issue that looms: If Welker is tagged at $11.4 million, and you combine that with quarterback Tom Brady's approximate $22 million cap hit as a result of his 2012 restructuring, that's about 27 percent of the team's cap space on two players -- not the type of cap distribution the Patriots prefer because it affects the ability to build depth.
2. As Welker and the Patriots couldn't come to terms on a multiyear contract after the 2011 season, one line of thinking was that the offense was changing to run more through tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That sounded good in theory, but injuries thwarted the plan. Gronkowski and Hernandez have only played together, start-to-finish, in three of 15 games this season.
3. One of the coaching messages to Patriots running back Stevan Ridley this week after his third-quarter fumble against the 49ers was this: Get low! While safety Donte Whitner made a nice play to get his helmet on the ball, the play was possible because Whitner got lower than Ridley. So while the ball was fairly secure, Ridley left himself exposed for the hit, and that's an area he spent a lot of time working on this week.
4. Tim Tebow to the Jaguars makes a lot of sense (ESPN NFL senior analyst Chris Mortensen reported it's a virtual certainty in 2013), and while many will probably look at it as a business-based move, I see it a little differently. I think Tebow can help a team in a specific role -- not necessarily as a full-time quarterback -- and the Jaguars need all the offensive help they can get as 2011 first-round draft choice Blaine Gabbert hasn't panned out at quarterback (they're averaging 15.9 points per game, 31st in the NFL). The puzzling part about Tebow and the Jets was that they never gave him a chance.
5. Many players who are out for the season return home to rehabilitate, but even though Miami is a lot nicer than Foxborough weather-wise at this time of year, veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth (ankle) has decided to stick around the team. Bill Belichick gave the move his blessing, which reminded us of what Belichick said about Stallworth in training camp: "He's a great example for all of us on a daily basis."
6. With the Falcons earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with their Saturday night win over the Lions, it had me thinking of teams that seem to take on a different personality and are much tougher to play at home when compared to the road. The Falcons and Seahawks top the list. At the start of the season, who had Pete Carroll's Seahawks team in the hunt in Week 16? CenturyLink Field will be rocking tonight as the 49ers come to town.
7. When you think of the best deep-ball/downfield throwing quarterbacks in the NFL, does Atlanta's Matt Ryan come to mind? After watching him Saturday night, I don't know how he couldn't. Those two first-half touchdown passes -- first to Roddy White (44), then to Julio Jones (16 in back of end zone) -- were gems. Ryan looks like he's shifting into a higher gear and it comes at the right time. The next thought: Can he do it against a defense like the 49ers?
8. Three leftovers from last week's Patriots-49ers game: 1) The Patriots' 2-of-15 performance on third down wasn't the worst for the Patriots under Bill Belichick, but it was close. Only a 1-of-11 performance in 2003 against the Giants, and a 1-of-13 showing against the Steelers in 2008 ranked lower over the last 13 years; 2) Hard not to come away with big respect for the 49ers and the way they play the game and are coached. Jim Harbaugh has done a great job with that team; 3) It was the first game this season that the Patriots lost the turnover differential.
9. Did you know: The Patriots will finish the 2012 season averaging 30 points per game, joining the 1999-2001 Rams, the 1949-51 Rams, and the 1941-43 Bears as the only teams to average at least 30 points per game in three straight years.
10. Much like last year with the Patriots-Broncos regular-season game in December, and how CBS hung on to it instead of it being flexed to NBC at night, the Week 17 Cowboys-Redskins game has Fox and NBC going head to head behind the scenes, according to the Dallas Morning News. NBC pays big money for a Sunday prime-time package that had added value because of the ability to flex. But as the NFC rights holder, Fox rightfully wants to protect its turf and can point to Patriots-Broncos as a reason why it should also be able to hold on to Cowboys-Redskins. How does the NFL keep both of its business partners happy? As Patriots owner Robert Kraft sometimes says, it's a high-class problem.