Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

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

1. Let's start off with a Super Bowl prediction: I'm going with the Packers, 31-24. I think the Packers' defense will limit the Steelers' running game and that their strong secondary will make it hard for Ben Roethlisberger to find open targets. Offensively, if the Packers can protect, I like their chances to move the ball and score points. The one X-factor is experience on the Super Bowl stage, where the Steelers have the edge.

2. One of the things I took away from all the chatter about the franchise tag at the Super Bowl is that the NFL Players Association feels players who are tagged would have a strong legal case should owners lock players out. So turning that closer to home, if the Patriots tag Logan Mankins, and owners later decide to lock out players, that could be an opening for Mankins to earn unrestricted free agency through a legal fight. The argument would be that owners can't restrict players with something like the tag while also locking them out.

3. I'm not buying what Roger Goodell was selling when he said Friday that fans want an 18-game season because they are down on the quality of the preseason. Those are two different thoughts. Yes, fans seem down on the quality of the preseason, but that doesn't necessarily mean they want 18 regular-season games. I think it's fair to challenge Goodell on that.

4. Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald enters the final year of his contract in 2011 and I think Arizona's decision-making at quarterback this year will be the key factor on how strongly he'd consider playing elsewhere.

5. Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin on starting his coaching career in New England college football: "I think it's helped from the teaching aspect of things. As I moved up the ranks from coaching, from Division III to Northeastern and Harvard, and then from Harvard to Iowa, and Iowa to the pros, I originally felt like the athleticism would be so much different and the skill level so complete that I wouldn't need to coach as much. But what you really find out is that while there is certainly a different level of athleticism, every player needs that fundamental training and discipline. You learn that third-and-1 at Harvard is the same third-and-1 in the NFL."

6. In the NFL Players Association field survey for 2010, this is how Patriots players rated the surface at Gillette Stadium: Excellent (10); Good (33); Fair (15); and Poor (2). That's a big difference from 2006, when the Patriots' natural grass field was so bad it ranked as the worst in the NFL among all players.

7. One of my favorite moments of Super Bowl week was watching Chad Ochocinco ask NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a question during Goodell's "State of the NFL" news conference Friday. He led off with a "Hey, Rog" and even got a plug in for Motorola, one of his sponsors, which made Goodell chuckle. When Ochocinco's around, laughs usually follow.

8. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was named Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year on Saturday night, earning 29.5 of a possible 50 votes. Patriots receiver Wes Welker received two votes for his comeback from a torn left ACL. I was one of those who thought Welker would at least miss the first six games of the season.

9. Speaking of the Associated Press awards, I liked how it worked this year with one award announced each night leading up to the Super Bowl, with the winner interviewed on NFL Network. That created a little extra buzz, and in the case of the Patriots, provided more insight and analysis from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which is always welcome.

10. Six years ago today, the Patriots won their third Super Bowl championship, defeating the Eagles 24-21 in Jacksonville. The main thing I remember about that game is how the New England defense completely changed its scheme, playing a rush-based 4-3 that focused on keeping Donovan McNabb in the pocket. I had never seen a team stray so far from what got it to that point, and haven't seen it again since that point.