HOUSTON -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. We've reached the point where there has been so much analysis of Super Bowl LI, it's almost too much, but here is one thing that might have been overlooked and could be a big factor in the game: How the contrasting philosophies the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons have with full-pads practices manifests itself in the game.
The Patriots practiced almost once a week in full pads right up through Wednesday of Super Bowl week. Meanwhile, the last time the Falcons were in full pads was more than two months ago.
To some, that is a tell-tale sign that the Patriots will be the more fundamentally-sound tackling team, as well as the more physical squad that will ultimately pound the Falcons into submission. To others, it means the Falcons will be flying around and playing free, built to last in a longer-than-usual game that could be as long as 4½ hours from start to finish (when including warm-ups and halftime).
"We feel fresher going into the games," explained Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox, who as a player was more in tune with Bill Parcells' and Bill Belichick's full-pads-throughout-the-year approach. "What works for them might not work for us. We've been relatively healthy.
"Some people believe that putting the pads on is mental toughness, but at the end of the day, your team might need to be mentally tough while our team might need to be physically fresh. It's just what you believe in; there's no right or wrong answer. I've seen both sides of it, and they both work."
Belichick believes in full-pads practices throughout the year as a way to continually fine-tune fundamentals, especially with tackling, which will be critical against the Falcons' high-flying offense. The Patriots arguably have the best tackling defense in the NFL (they rank first in fewest average yards allowed after the catch).
The teams couldn't be more different in terms of philosophy.
Which philosophy wins out, and how it unfolds, is something to consider in Super Bowl LI.
2. Something you're likely to hear during Super Bowl Sunday: Belichick advised Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff against trading a haul of draft picks to move up to select receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 draft. This initially came to light in Michael Holley's book "War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team" and has been expounded upon by some reporters this week. While both Jones and Belichick mostly deflected the topic this week, I'm told Belichick has previously connected with Jones to essentially explain what he meant (it was more about the steep cost to move up in the draft than anything else), while conveying how much respect he has for him as a player.
3. Former Rams running back Marshall Faulk made headlines in Houston when he said it was a fact that the Patriots filmed his team's walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI. The issue is that it isn't a fact and has never been proven. On Friday, during a Super Bowl event for Patriots season-ticket holders, former Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest was asked about Faulk's remarks in the context of whether he has ever spoken to Faulk about it because they both work at NFL Network. McGinest said they haven't talked and doesn't feel the need to because the Patriots program, unlike his view of the Rams from that era, isn't built on excuses. He essentially said that when he hears those remarks from Faulk, it tells him more about the Rams program at that time than anything else. "If we had taped the walkthrough," McGinest told the crowd. "We would have beat them by 40."
4. Barring an unexpected change, I'm told Patriots wide receiver Michael Floyd will be inactive for Super Bowl LI as the team doesn't have the luxury to carry five players at the position on the 46-man game-day roster. It needs the spots for other areas, such as special teams and goal-line situations. Patriots coaches and the personnel staff spent a lot of time talking about how they could fit Floyd on the game-day roster, as they feel he gives them a different type of receiver than they have on the roster, starting with his size. But going with receivers who have been in the system all year, coupled with needs elsewhere, are why Floyd is expected to be inactive Sunday unless there is a late shift in thinking. As for the 2017 season, look for both sides to get to the negotiating table in the offseason to work toward Floyd coming back to Foxboro in 2017.
5. Maybe the most important Patriots-based news item to come out of the media build-up in Super Bowl LI was veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia -- who returned this season after a two-year retirement -- confirming that he plans to return in 2017. Doug Farrar of Bleacher Report got out ahead of the story on Monday night. Later, Scarnecchia said the idea would be assessed after the 2017 season and see if that's the end of the line. He would be 70 at that point, and maybe that could be the time to pass the torch to assistant Cole Popovich, who is highly regarded among players.
6a. Commissioner Roger Goodell moved his annual Super Bowl news conference from Friday to Wednesday this year, which seemed to be decision driven with the hope that he wasn't a top storyline so close to Sunday's game. That was somewhat ironic since a good portion of Goodell's first 10 years on the job has been about his ultimate authority as "protector of the shield." Regardless, less Goodell in the spotlight is a good thing.
6b. One leftover from the Goodell presser: He said the Second Circuit "validated" the NFL's conclusion about a Patriots violation in Deflategate and the courts "supported the facts," but that wasn't accurate. The Second Circuit ruled that Goodell acted within the scope of his powers to suspend Tom Brady. When Tom Curran of Comcast SportsNet challenged Goodell on the point, the commissioner said the decision stated there "were compelling, if not overwhelming, facts here." But those words were never in the ruling, instead something one judge said in a second appeal hearing.
7. Not that there was any doubt, but Patriots president Jonathan Kraft confirmed on the "Felger and Mazz Show" on 98.5 The Sports Hub last week that John Jastremski and Jim McNally -- who were primary figures in the NFL's Deflategate probe -- no longer work for the team. Why? "One of them was a part-time employee [McNally] and the part-time employees come and go on our game-day staff all the time," Kraft said on the program. "And John Jastremski doesn't work with us anymore. You know what happened to him in this. I think John is a real good guy, I very much enjoyed my time with him, but I think this whole situation was one that occurred and I think it's a tough situation for people what happened. It goes back to what I said, I personally don't believe, as I've said and I think others in our organization have said, that from day one what took place the night of the AFC Championship Game and in the ensuing months was a productive use of time, energy or resources."
8. What a week it was for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at Super Bowl LI, with his raw emotion when speaking about his father at opening night as real as it gets. Then it was learned that Brady's mother has been battling an undisclosed illness for some time, which has been a weight on the family. That was the story that trumped all, with Brady posting an Instagram picture of his parents at the Super Bowl on Saturday night. But it wasn't all heavy stuff. Brady embraced four days of extended interviews with the press, as he continued to rib one beat reporter who playfully had asked him back in late December if his cut-off sweatshirts were somehow being taken out of Bill Belichick's closet. When Brady has arrived at some of his news conferences since that point, he has turned to the reporter while asking, "How's my look?" Brady likes to get his zings in as well.
9. A couple of outside-the-hash-marks nuggets that stood out to me with the Falcons: Head coach Dan Quinn wears bands around his wrist, as do some members of the team’s coaching staff, which read "Team, Teammate, Self," "Embrace the Suck", "The Standard." That ties in to a visit the Falcons had from Navy SEALs of the Acumen Performance Group, which led players to write a document that spells out the standard players work to live up to. "We spent four days with them in the offseason, and it made a huge impact on us," Quinn said. Also, Quinn has appointed nine players to be "chiefs," to help uphold the standard that the team members have written to be accountable to one another. "They are the guards of that standard and help that peer-to-peer accountability and will help on some decisions we make as a team," he said.
10. If the Patriots win Super Bowl LI, does that lock in a rematch between the teams to open the 2017 NFL season at Gillette Stadium? The teams are scheduled to play each other in Foxboro, and based on the options in play, that would seem like a slam dunk if New England wins Sunday.
EXTRA POINT: A note with a personal touch -- however things turn out in Super Bowl LI, it has been an enjoyable journey.