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PFT’s Week Five picks

Washington Redskins v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Last week was a very good week.  But for a late field goal by the Redskins, misplaced faith in the Chiefs, and a failure to realize that, as Joe Theismann says, Tony Romo “isn’t that good,” I would have generated the first perfect week of picks in the however-many-year history of doing this.

Instead, I finished 12-3.  Which gave me the win in Week Four over MDS, who was 11-4.

For the year, I’ve won three weeks, he’s won one, and I lead the overall contest by two games.  I’m at 39-24; MDS is 37-26.

We’re gradually becoming less pathetic.  Read on to see whether we’ll end up more pathetic this week.

Cardinals at Rams

MDS’s take: The Cardinals keep winning close games, and eventually the breaks have to go against them late in a close one, right? Probably, but not this week. The Cardinals win yet another close one.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 21, Rams 20.

Florio’s take:  It’s “correction week” in the NFL.  And if I’m correct (which I rarely am), it begins on Thursday night in St. Louis, when the Cardinals’ ability to find a way to win will be temporarily suspended.  Greg the Leg a/k/a Young G.Z. a/k/a Legatron a/k/a Greg Zuerlein saves the day, again.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 16, Cardinals 13.

Dolphins at Bengals

MDS’s take: I love the way the Bengals’ offense is running under coordinator Jay Gruden, who keeps finding ways to get the ball in his playmakers’ hands. I see A.J. Green getting open in the Dolphins’ secondary all day. This should be a big win for Cincinnati.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 35, Dolphins 14.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins could be shorthanded at cornerback, which will make it even harder to stop receiver A.J. Green.  The good news is that through five weeks the Dolphins will be only two games out of first place in the AFC East.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 31, Dolphins 16.

Packers at Colts

MDS’s take: Clay Matthews will make Andrew Luck’s life miserable, while Aaron Rodgers will have his best statistical game of the season. The Packers win in a mismatch.

MDS’s pick: Packers 28, Colts 10.

Florio’s take:  Though the Colts have become the most sympathetic team in the NFL this week, the Packers desperately need to find their groove on offense.  If they don’t, it could be a long year.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Colts 20.

Ravens at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Florio did me a favor and picked the Chiefs last week, and I’m hoping he does it again. The calls to bench Matt Cassel will only grow louder as the Ravens’ defense has its way with him.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 24, Chiefs 14.

Florio’s take:  When the Chiefs were a playoff team, they couldn’t handle the Ravens at home.  Rested and ready after four games that kicked off 17 days apart, the Ravens are ready to put the Texans on notice that Baltimore won’t step aside for them.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 35, Chiefs 24.

Titans at Vikings

MDS’s take: Other than their miraculous win over the Lions — which they did their best to blow despite scoring an improbable five 60-plus-yard touchdowns — the Titans have looked lousy all season. The Vikings, on the other hand, have been one of the NFL’s pleasant surprises this season. Adrian Peterson will have 100 yards, Chris Johnson will have 10 yards, and the Vikings will win this one handily to improve to 4-1 and exceed their 2011 win total.

MDS’s pick: Vikings 24, Titans 13.

Florio’s take:  To do justice to their wins over the 49ers and Lions, the Vikings can’t stumble against the Titans.  Though Matthew Hasselbeck’s savvy and skill could keep it close, Adrian Peterson seems poised to finally have a big day.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 27, Titans 17.

Browns at Giants

MDS’s take: It’s been largely overlooked because the team around him is so bad, but Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has bounced back from his disastrous Week One performance and given Cleveland three straight solid starts. Unfortunately, the team around him is really bad. The Giants should take this one easily in a week that’s shaping up to have a lot of blowouts.

MDS’s pick: Giants 35, Browns 21.

Florio’s take:  This one has “upset” written all over it.  Last year, in three consecutive home games, the Giants were less than impressive against the Seahawks, Bills, and Dolphins.  With a crippling slate of games on the horizon, the Giants can’t afford to fall to 2-3.  Eli Manning finds a way.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 35, Browns 27.

Eagles at Steelers

MDS’s take: The Steelers are getting healthier, with running back Rashard Mendenhall, linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu all ready to play Sunday. Look for Harrison and Polamalu to force Mike Vick into a couple of turnovers and the Steelers to win a close and low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 13, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  I’ve lived within 100 miles of Pittsburgh long enough to know that the Steelers, with a 1-2 record and two weeks to prepare, don’t lose this game.  Not at home.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 20, Eagles 10.

Falcons at Redskins

MDS’s take: The Falcons have been playing very well in all three phases of the game, and they’re just too complete a team for the Redskins to handle. Washington’s defense will emphasize shutting down Roddy White, and Julio Jones will step up with a big game.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 24, Redskins 20.

Florio’s take:  It wouldn’t be “correction week” if the undefeated teams don’t lose.  A week after the Falcons struggled to contain Cam Newton, they’ll likewise have a hard time with RG3, who is overdue for his first home win.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 41, Falcons 38.

Seahawks at Panthers

MDS’s take: Marshawn Lynch will have a big game against the Panthers’ porous run defense, but I think this is the week when Cam Newton finally reminds us all why we were so excited about him last year. Newton will put points on the board with his arm and with his legs and lead the Panthers to an impressive win that quiets Newton’s critics, at least for one week.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Seahawks 21.

Florio’s take:  With the bye week looming, the Panthers need to pull together and get a win via methodical use of the running game and patient defense that forces rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to sustain drives.  There’s a huge difference between 1-4 and 2-3, especially with two weeks to stew about the outcome of this one.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 20, Seahawks 14.

Bears at Jaguars

MDS’s take: Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been careful with the ball this season, throwing just one interception in four games. But the opportunistic Chicago defense that took advantage of Tony Romo on Monday night will force Gabbert into his first multiple-interception game of the year, and the Bears will cruise to 4-1.

MDS’s pick: Bears 21, Jaguars 6.

Florio’s take:  The Jaguars have played twice at home this year.  And they’ve looked horrible in both.  Against the Bears, they won’t look much better.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 28, Jaguars 6.

Broncos at Patriots

MDS’s take: I’m sold on Peyton Manning being all the way back to his pre-neck surgery form, but I’m less sold on the Broncos’ defense being able to stop Tom Brady.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 30, Broncos 28.

Florio’s take:  Normalcy returns for Peyton Manning, sort of.  He has played in New England nine times during his career.  And it could be the moment that finally makes him feel like everything is back to normal.  In this case, of course, “normal” includes losing to the Patriots, again.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 28, Broncos 24.

Bills at 49ers

MDS’s take: San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith will have his first 300-yard game of the season against a shaky Bills secondary. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick probably won’t be quite as bad as Mark Sanchez was against the 49ers’ defense, but that’s not saying much.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Bills 3.

Florio’s take:  The perennial Chris Berman Super Bowl prediction that never happened will finish the same way it would have if the team that never loses Super Bowls played the team that never wins them.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 34, Bills 14.

Chargers at Saints

MDS’s take: Drew Brees will break Johnny Unitas’s NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass — and he’ll do it in style, as the Saints finally win their first game of the season.

MDS’s pick: Saints 30, Chargers 20.

Florio’s take:  The Chiefs beat the Saints and the Chargers beat the Chiefs so it makes sense for the Saints to beat the Chargers.  Sunday night will be one of those rare nights when everything falls together for the Saints.  If it doesn’t, it may not again.  Ever.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Chargers 24.

Texans at Jets

MDS’s take: For the second straight week, it’s going to get ugly for the Jets. They look like a team whose season could spiral out of control in a hurry, while the Texans look like a team that will clinch its division by Thanksgiving.

MDS’s pick: Texans 45, Jets 10.

Florio’s takeTim Tebow should be starting this week, but the Jets know not to throw a Christian to the Texans.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 41, Jets 10.

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Report: Chris Chester signs with Falcons

Chester Getty Images

Free-agent guard Chris Chester had lined up visits with the Falcons and Eagles. And he won’t be taking those visits.

Via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Chester has signed with the Falcons. It’s a one-year, $2.8 million contract.

Washington released Chester earlier this week. In Atlanta, he’ll be reunited with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Chester signed with Washington in 2011, after five seasons with the Ravens. He started all 64 regular-season games in four seasons with D.C.

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Harbaugh “wouldn’t want any other quarterback” than “superstar” Flacco

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Is Joe Flacco elite? It’s a question that has become a punchline in some circles. And coach John Harbaugh seems to be ready to punch anyone who would ask that question.

Someone asked that question, with different and more words, during a Friday press conference. And Harbaugh defended Flacco aggressively.

Joe Flacco’s been a great quarterback from the day he got here,” Harbaugh said. “You wanna look back and say this has been the most talented offense in the NFL for the last seven years and they carried Joe Flacco, you can say that if you want, but it’s ridiculous. Joe Flacco is a great player, he’s only gonna get better. I think he’s hitting his stride, hitting the peak of his career. And I wouldn’t want any other quarterback in the National Football League. Period, end of story. So just write than and be done with it, because that’s the last I really want to hear about it.

“This guy is a superstar in the National Football League, and I’m thrilled to have him and I can’t wait to see what he does with all that young talent around him.”

They’ll need more young — and cheap — talent around Flacco in 2016, once his cap number shoots from $14.55 million to $28.55 million. With the head coach speaking of Flacco in such glowing terms, it’s going to be expensive to both knock down that cap number and to extend his stay indefinitely beyond the current season.

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NaVorro Bowman returns to team drills, doesn’t like knee brace

Bowman Getty Images

With multiple inside linebackers surprisingly retired, the 49ers need to get Navorro Bowman back. And they’re moving closer toward doing just that.

Bowman returned to team drills on Friday, joining the 49ers for an OTA practice session more than 16 months after tearing an ACL in the NFC title game at Seattle.

“It’s great having him back out on the field,” coach Jim Tomsula said regarding Bowman on Friday. “Then also the road he’s traveled here in the last year and a half. It’s just awesome to have him out there and I think he’s really enjoying himself.”

Bowman’s not enjoying one thing — wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee.

“He is not, they are not friends,” Tomsula said of Bowman and his brace. “But, we really want him to wear it. Just why not, that’s all. And you know what, he’s doing great with it, he is. But, you know Bo. He’s something else, just pushing, pushing, pushing.”

Patrick Willis and Chris Borland called it a career after the 2014 season, making Bowman a key component of a defense that is squarely in transition, especially with defensive lineman Justin Smith retired, too.

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Browns’ offense appears to be moving on from Manziel

Manziel AP

Josh McCown is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback in Cleveland, to the extent that Johnny Manziel, a first-round pick of the Browns last year, appears to be largely an afterthought at Organized Team Activities.

After reporting on the first week of OTAs, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland describes Manziel as “a fish out of water” in the offense the Browns are installing. Grossi writes that the Browns don’t seem to be developing Manziel so much as they’re moving on from him.

At the practice the media were allowed to watch, Manziel seemed to eager to run and not confident enough in his passing. And Grossi reports that one source who witnessed another practice says Manziel was actually even worse in a session that the media didn’t see.

The bottom line is that 13 months after he was drafted, Manziel still hasn’t done anything to make the Browns think he’s ever going to be their franchise quarterback. McCown is the starter for now, and someone else will probably need to be found to be the long-term answer in the future.

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Brady appeal hearing set for June 23

Getty Images Getty Images

The deadline for setting Tom Brady’s appeal hearing came and went on Wednesday without a date being set. A date has now been set.

PFT has confirmed that the appeal hearing will commence on June 23, and that it will continue if necessary on June 25. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

On Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that the NFL and NFL Players Association had agreed to extend the Wednesday deadline, and that the NFL had offered a pair of dates that weren’t ideal for the union. The NFLPA had responded with a pair of weeks that worked, and the NFLPA was waiting for the league to respond.

Brady and the NFLPA wanted the hearing to be conducted in June, in order to ensure that sufficient time will be available to go to court and challenge the outcome of the internal appeal process.

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Browns unveil four-tiered variable pricing

Tickets Getty Images

With the blackout policy suspended for 2015 (i.e., dead as a doorknob . . . or is it doornail? I never know), teams need to find a way to attract customer to pay for tickets to game. The Browns are doing that by utilizing a four-tiered system of variable pricing.

The first tier consists of the Broncos and Titans. Yes, the Titans, because that’s the regular-season home opener.

Tier Two has the Ravens and Steelers. Tier Three consists of the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, and Bengals.

Tier Four has the two preseason games, against Washington and Buffalo.

The decision not to put the Ravens and Steelers in the top tier and the decision to put the Bengals in a tier lower than the other division rivals seem odd. But even in a league where coaches look for any ammunition to motivate players, it’s hard to envision Bengals coach Marvin Lewis firing up the troops by pointing out that the Browns saw fit to put the team that has made it to the playoffs four straight years in the third of four pricing tiers, only one click above games that don’t count at all.

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Falcons cut linebacker/alleged dog-killer Prince Shembo

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 21:  Prince Shembo #53 celebrates with Robert McClain #27 of the Atlanta Falcons following an interception against the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 21, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

That didn’t take long.

Within hours of charges being filed accusing him of kicking and killing his then-girlfriend’s small dog, the Falcons have released linebacker Prince Shembo, according to Zach Klein of WSB. The Falcons have since announced the move themselves.

“We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo,” the team said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo.”

Shembo was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals, for allegedly kicking a Yorkshire terrier named Dior, causing massive internal injuries.

The Falcons were willing to stick up for Shembo after they chose him in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, despite an incident during his college years at Notre Dame. He was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who later committed suicide.

No charges were filed in that case, and the Falcons said they were “very comfortable” with him in regards to it.

They’re apparently less comfortable now, and moved quickly to distance themselves.

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Bills claim quarterback Matt Simms off waivers from Jets

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Getty Images

The Bills decided to freshen up their four-headed quarterback competition, by grabbing a guy from their own division.

According to Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange, the Bills claimed former Jets quarterback Matt Simms off waivers.

Simms was released yesterday, as the writing was on the wall for him with the Jets when Bryce Petty was drafted. But now he lands with former head coach Rex Ryan and quarterbacks coach David Lee, which can’t hurt his chances.

To make room for Simms on the roster, the Bills got rid of Jeff Tuel, who was rotating among Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor.

While Simms might not change the bottom line for the Bills, he at least adds more competition at the bottom of the depth chart

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Kiko Alonso surprised by how good his knee feels

kikoalonso AP

Ten months ago, Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2014 season with the Bills. In the time since then, Alonso has been traded to the Eagles — and has healed so fully that he surprises himself with how good he feels.

I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing this much,” Alonso told Philly.com at Eagles’ OTAs. “I’ve just been going on how I feel, and it’s feeling really good.”

Part of the reason Alonso feels good is that he’s running without a knee brace.

“I feel comfortable without it,” Alonso said. “I never really liked wearing the brace.”

Alonso played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and knew that Kelly does everything at a fast pace and has a demanding conditioning program. Still, Alsonso didn’t realize just how hard he’d be going this offseason.

“I knew what to expect, but I definitely thought I’d be more in shape, but I was wrong,” Alonso said. “I remember when I was in Buffalo, I was like I can’t imagine going against the Eagles and that pace. Because if you don’t practice like that and you go, it’s brutal.”

That brutal work in May will pay off for Alonso in September, when he finally gets back on the field after his knee injury cost him a season.

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Jason Kelce: Missing the playoffs “almost a good thing” in hindsight

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The roster turnover of the Eagles (and the opinions about the reasons for it) have been a major topic of the NFL offseason and another member of the team has weighed in with his opinion.

Center Jason Kelce didn’t cite race, egos or anything other than the simple fact that the Eagles weren’t talented enough last year. Kelce said that he thought the team’s locker room was strong last year, but that “we were lacking in talent at a couple positions” and that failing to make the playoffs could almost be spun as a positive because it made the team address those needs.

“This might [tick] off a few people, but when we started off 9-3 … [but] we got lucky quite a few times to win games that we probably shouldn’t have been in,” Kelce said, via the Philadelphia Daily News. “I think that ending the season the way we did — didn’t make the playoffs — in hindsight is almost a good thing because it forced the coaches and the organization to reevaluate what we had. Guys all of the sudden that were on the bubble, [coaches now knew] that we need to make an upgrade there. We need to do this. We need to do that to improve the team as a whole.”

Kelce didn’t specify the areas, but the list of positions that the Eagles addressed this offseason is pretty much the list of positions on their roster as well as Chip Kelly’s move to the top of the personnel hierarchy. For a team that’s won 10 games in each of the last two seasons, it’s a major overhaul and one that’s going to be placed on Kelly’s shoulders however it plays out.

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Falcons linebacker accused of killing very small dog

dead-dog

Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo didn’t just allegedy kick a dog and kill it, he allegedly found one of the smallest dogs possible to kick and kill.

According to Alexis Stevens of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, police documents say Shembo killed his then-girlfriend’s pet Yorkie named Dior.

Yorkshire terriers, which top out around 7 pounds, are no match for 254-pound linebackers, it seems.

The Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Michele Pihera said Shembo was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, following an April 15 incident.

According to the report, his then-girlfriend Denicia Williams told police she had taken Dior to Shembo’s apartment, and left the dog there. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive, and died a short time later at an animal hospital.

She said the next day, Shembo told her he killed the dog, at which point she broke up with him.

A necropsy was performed at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.

According to the report, Dior had “a fractured rib, fractured liver, abdominal hemorrhage, thoracic hemorrhage, extensive bruising and hemorrhage in the muscles in her front leg and shoulders, head trauma, hemorrhage and edema in lungs, hemorrhage between the esophagus and trachea, and hemorrhage in the left eye with internal injuries.”

The Falcons drafted Shembo in the fourth round last year from Notre Dame.

Photo credit: Gwinnett Police.

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Trey Watts suspended four games by NFL

Watts Getty Images

Rams running back Trey Watts, an undrafted free agent who made the team in 2014 and who appeared in 14 games last season, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

The NFL announced the suspension on Friday.

Watts, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback and Congressman J.C. Watts, played college football at Tulsa. He gained 30 yards on seven carries as a rookie.

Watts is eligible to continue to participate in all offseason activities, training camp, and the preseason. The suspension begins after the fourth preseason game.

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Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo charged with killing dog

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - MAY 16:  Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo #53 of the Atlanta Falcons runs drills during rookie minicamp at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility on May 16, 2014 in Flowery Branch, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Falcons fans didn’t need this kind of deja vu.

According to Tony Thomas of WSB in Atlanta, Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo has been accused of killing his girlfriend’s dog.

Gwinnett Police have filed animal cruelty charges, alleging that Shembo kicked and killed the animal.

Shembo was last year’s fourth-round pick from Notre Dame, and this isn’t the first time his name has been linked to an unseemly situation.

When he was at Notre Dame, he was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at nearby St. Mary’s College, who committed suicide. No charges were ever filed in the case, and Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said last spring he was “very comfortable” with Shembo after their pre-draft research.

Of course, the Falcons own history with animal abuse dates back to former quarterback Michael Vick, who was imprisoned on felony charges for his role in a dog-fighting ring.

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Brandon Spikes on Belichick: We kissed and made up

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Linebacker Brandon Spikes’s first stint with the Patriots didn’t come to a happy end.

Spikes finished the 2013 season on injured reserve after he missed a practice and Spikes later said that the Patriots filed false injury reports while he was a member of the team. Spikes also referred to his time with the Patriots as “4 years a slave,” which only added to the surprise when Spikes wound up re-signing with the Patriots this month after spending last season with the Bills.

It’s less surprising that Spikes had nothing bad to say about coach Bill Belichick or the Patriots on Friday. Spikes referred to Belichick as a “genius” and described himself as “honestly in awe to be standing here talking” to the media as a member of the Patriots while sticking to the company line that the past will remain in the past.

“I don’t want to talk about that. You can clearly see me and The Hoodie kissed and made up. I’m here, that’s in the past. I’m moving on,” Spikes said, via WEEI.com.

Spikes said his only focus now is on making the team and his chances will be greatly improved if Belichick decides the team needs to shore up their run defense in 2015.

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Belichick doesn’t say much about #DeflateGate

Belichick Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with the media on Friday, an unexpected press conference during an OTA session. And Belichick didn’t have much to say about the #DeflateGate situation. Which isn’t much of a surprise, because he usually doesn’t have much to say about pretty much anything.

Asked whether the football-inflation controversy takes away from the joy of winning the Super Bowl, Belichick said this, via a transcript distributed by the team: “That was a long time ago. We’re on to next year. It’s 2015. You can forget about last year; that was last year.”

But last year spills into this year as it relates to the availability of quarterback Tom Brady to play in the first four games of the season. Asked whether Belichick is preparing Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starter as of Week One, Belichick said, “We’re just going day by day right now. Everybody’s working hard trying to get better. That’s what we’re all doing.”

Asked whether it’s been tough to watch the events of the past few months, Belichick said this: “We’re just working hard every day to come out here and get better. Coaches, players, everybody in the organization, each day we’re trying to make it a little bit better than the day before. That’s where we’re at. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

Asked whether he agrees with owner Robert Kraft’s decision to accept the punishment imposed on the team, Belichick said this:  “He made a statement on it last week.”

But Belichick wasn’t only characteristically mum about the #DeflateGate situation. He also didn’t have much to say about the use of a drone to film practice.

Q: “What does that do for you?”

A: “Oh, I don’t know.”

I personally don’t know why Belichick would talk to the media and say nothing. He wasn’t required to speak today. So why even do it?

Maybe the goal was to present Belichick on short notice was to give the local media a chance to grill him about the Ted Wells report and the team’s reaction to it with minimum time to put together the best possible questions.

Or maybe it’s just Belichick being Belichick, and he wouldn’t have said anything of value or interest, no matter what the questions were or how much time the reporters had to formulate them.

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