Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. One of the trickle-down effects of Patriots safety Devin McCourty's Pro Bowl-type season through nine games is that his 2014 salary is going to spike considerably. As part of the five-year deal he signed as a rookie in 2010, McCourty had $3.2 million in "escalators" for the 2014 season. He's already earned an additional $50,000 for next season, bumping his base salary up to $920,000, and if things continue on their current course the salary will ultimately be closer to $3.5 to $4 million. While that is still a manageable figure from a team perspective, and might even be viewed as a bargain when compared to one top-of-the-market deal, one figures it would still spark talks at some point within the next 6-9 months on a possible contract extension. McCourty is clearly a foundation-type player, so the question from here would be more "when," not "if," in terms of making it happen.
2. The Patriots currently have $4.188 million in cap space, according to NFL Players Association tabulations. Cap space can be rolled into the following season, and the team is always going to want to leave itself some wiggle room for in-season signings. Those are factors to consider when it comes to possible contract extensions with players on the roster; if an extension is going to result in taking up more salary cap space, it might make sense for the team to wait a bit longer.
3. The Patriots won't be wearing throwback uniforms this season, which will be a disappointment to those who enjoy the once-a-year return of the team's old logo "Pat Patriot." Similar to other teams that have decided against the throwbacks this year, one of the primary considerations is player safety. This is something the website ProFootballTalk.com touched on in September, noting that teams were advised by the NFL to not have players wear throwback helmets. For teams with a traditional logo/helmet, that hasn't been an issue in wearing throwbacks this year. But for a team like the Patriots, it creates a logistical problem. Do they put the Pat Patriot logo on the new silver helmet, even though the old helmet was white? Do they paint the silver helmets white for one week? For this year, the decision was made to pass altogether. It's unclear whether that could change in the future.
4. Former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead, in his first year with the Chargers, is on pace for a 98-catch season. How impressive is that production? Consider that the NFL record for catches by a running back in a season is 101, set by former Cardinal Larry Centers in 1995. This has made Woodhead one of the best value signings in free agency this year (contract here). But beyond that, it has smashed the notion that he was a "system" running back whose production from 2010-12 was more a result of the Patriots' attack. Woodhead, who is averaging 32.3 snaps per game this season, is a solid football player who fits in any system.
5a. The Patriots' next opponent, the Carolina Panthers, enter today as one of the NFL's more surprising teams at 5-3. One statistic that stands out is that they have allowed a league-low five points in the first quarter. We'll see how that holds up today on the road against the 49ers, but regardless, I'd expect Bill Belichick to be stressing the importance of a fast start when players return to work Tuesday.
5b. The combined winning percentage of Panthers opponents through the first eight games was .343, the lowest mark in the NFL over that span.
5c. Another NFL statistic that surprised me: The Seahawks, widely viewed as one of the league's best teams, are also one of the most penalized. Pete Carroll's club is averaging 7.88 accepted penalties per game, the third-highest mark in the league, behind only the Jets (8.44) and Buccaneers (8.125).
6. An upcoming Patriots trip to Houston (Dec. 1) brings back memories of the 2009 season finale and receiver Wes Welker tearing his ACL on what seemed like a less-than-ideal playing surface. So when I watched parts of the Texans' most recent game, a 27-24 home loss to the Colts on Sunday night, I took note that the playing surface still looked cut up and pieced together in certain areas. Seams could be seen piecing together the different parts of the playing surface, particularly from what looks like a new section between the numbers to the outside part of the field. Looks ugly, and given the history with Welker, it would be hard for anyone with Patriots ties to miss.
7a. Did you Know, Part I: Bill Belichick has reached into his sock for the challenge flag just twice through the first nine games of the season, which ranks him tied for 24th when it comes to most challenges by a coach. He's 1-for-2 this year. Last season he challenged five times (tied for 21st) and was 1-for-5. In 2011, he challenged 11 times (tied for fifth) and was 7-for-11. Those stats come courtesy of Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information.
7b. Did you Know, Part II: It's a matchup of two hot teams when the 49ers (on a five-game winning streak) host the Panthers (four-game winning streak). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this marks just the third meeting in NFL history between teams that have won four straight games by double digits. The last was when the Patriots beat the Colts in 2007. The first was when the Frankford Yellow Jackets beat the Cleveland Bulldogs in 1924.
7c. Did you Know, Part III: The Packers' home loss to the Bears this past Sunday was their first regular-season loss at Lambeau Field in November or later over the last four seasons. The Packers still have the best regular-season home record in November or later since 2010, at 13-1, followed by the 49ers (10-1) and Patriots (13-2).
7d. Did you Know, Part IV: No player in the NFL has been targeted more in the red zone than Broncos receiver Wes Welker (18), who has scored eight touchdowns.
7e. Did you Know, Part V: The Raiders visit the Giants today and bring an 11-game losing streak in the Eastern time zone into the game. That's the longest active streak in the NFL and the longest in Raiders history.
8. Former Patriots running back Jeff Demps, who was traded to the Buccaneers in a draft-day swap that returned LeGarrette Blount to New England, has proved to be more of a tease than anything over the last two years. His world-class speed is tantalizing, but after spending his 2012 rookie season with the Patriots on injured reserve, he decided he wanted to run track in the offseason and thus didn't fully commit to football training. Perhaps that contributed to his landing on season-ending injured reserve again this past Wednesday (groin) after appearing in just two games for Tampa Bay.
9. Is this a baseball town or a football town? It's a question that is sometimes debated, and while my personal feeling is that it doesn't have to be one or the other, television ratings paint a decisive picture in favor of football. Most recently, the Patriots' 55-31 win over the Steelers registered an average household rating of 40.3 in the Boston market, which was higher than every World Series game other than the clinching Game 6.
10. Receiver Austin Collie's brief stint with the Patriots was highlighted by his two receptions on the game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 13. In four games with the team, Collie played 75 offensive snaps and totaled three catches for 34 yards as a No. 4 option on the depth chart. Some asked how the Patriots could simply release Collie after he sustained a knee injury that knocked him out of Sunday's win over the Steelers, as teams can't release injured players, but in this case Collie had signed an injury waiver at the time he signed his contract. Given Collie's injury history with concussions, and now this knee injury, it seems fair to think this could be the end of his NFL career.