Matt Cassel

Gronk: Belichick knows to how help Pats avoid distractions

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Rob Gronkowski says coach Bill Belichick makes it easy for the New England Patriots to ignore distractions such as the one created by last week’s ESPN report.

“Throughout my years here I’ve seen a lot of negative, a lot of positive,” Gronkowski said Tuesday as the Patriots prepared for Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.

“The reputation that Coach tries to get us to have is just ignore the noise – ignore the noise from the outside and I feel like that’s what myself and a lot of other players have been doing.

“You just gotta ignore the noise and just focus on what we’ve been doing all year and that’s preparing hard, studying our opponent, getting ready, mentally and physically for the big game, so what’s going on on the outside, as a team, as an organization, just gotta keep grinding, keep going, keep doing our job.”

Gronkowski, healthy this season after missing last year’s Super Bowl-winning run, said such “noise” will “if anything it’s just going to bring us closer and it’s going to bond us together.”

The report concerned the relationship among team owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and Tom Brady, focusing on Brady’s role in the trading of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round draft pick.

Earlier Tuesday, Brady reacted strongly to the claim he was involved in moving Garoppolo, who won five straight games for his new team down the stretch of the season.

“I think that’s just such a poor characterization of anything. In 18 years, I’ve never celebrated when someone has been traded, been cut,” Brady said on his weekly appearance on Boston radio station WEEI.

“I would say that’s disappointing to hear that someone would express that, or a writer would express that, because it’s so far from what my beliefs are about my teammates.”

He continued, saying, “I would never, ever feel that way about when Jimmy got traded, when Jacoby (Brissett) got traded. I’ve kept in touch with all those guys. When Matt Cassel was gone. All these guys I’ve worked with, I felt like I had such a great relationship with all the quarterbacks I’ve worked with. I kept in touch with basically everybody. So to characterize that as a certain way is just completely, completely wrong.”

Gronkowski was asked if Brady is amped up even more than usual.

“I’ve gotten that question many times throughout my career and I’ve said this many times – it’s hard to see him go to another level of intensity because he’s always intense, he’s always preparing hard,” Gronkowski said.

“I’ve just seen him do the same old that he does every week, prepare hard, practice hard and get ready for the game.”

Defensive captain Devin McCourty was asked about the ESPN article.

“I don’t care about it and I think a lot of guys don’t really care about what goes on outside and who writes what and if we stink, if we’re great – it doesn’t matter.

“So, I just think guys are motivated by playing for each other, their families more than an ESPN article.

“I think it’s a great thing for our fans and people outside. I think they enjoy all of that, but I think for us, it’s just going out there and playing for each other.

“An ESPN article doesn’t help us when we go out there and it’s negative-9 degrees. Like you’re not going to be motivated to prove an article wrong. You’re just having fun playing with the guys.”

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, in his first year with the team, was asked how they keep distractions out of their locker room.

“I think because the guys listen. Coach has been doing this for a while and he knows what the potential distractions can be,” Cooks said.

“I think he does a great job on letting us know what they are and as players we listen to him and being coachable and tune out the noise.”

NOTES: Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey, talking with New England reporters via a conference call, was asked what affect the ESPN story might have on the Patriots, said, “You know what, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know anything about it. I’m not a social media guy. I don’t know enough, I really don’t, to make any comment about something like that.” … Gronkowski, talking about making AP All-Pro for the fourth time, said, “It’s definitely an honor, a humbling honor, but it means nothing now to tell you the truth, it means nothing. It’s the playoffs now, it’s one-and-done if you lose, so you just keep on preparing, looking forward. … “I’m just looking forward to this game, man – super excited to be back out there with the team.”

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Texans free agent signings boost Super Bowl odds at Sportsbooks

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The Houston Texans made a splash in the NFL free agent market this week, inking quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller to rich contracts. Those moves lifted their odds to win Super Bowl 51 to 20/1 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Houston opened the offseason at a distant 50/1 despite claiming the AFC South divisional crown with a 9-7 record last year, posting seven straight-up wins in their final nine outings, including a trio of defensive gems down the stretch in which they surrendered less than eight points per game.

However, the Texans ranked in the bottom half of the league in most offensive categories this past season, an issue the club hopes it has addressed with this week’s signings.

The New York Giants have also been rewarded at the sportsbooks following a busy start to the NFL free agent frenzy, climbing from 40/1 to 33/1 on the odds at the sportsbooks. It was a lost season for New York in 2015, as the club finished at a disappointing 6-10 while surrendering a league-worst 420.3 total yards per game.

The Giants took steps to shore up their woeful defense this week, adding lineman Damon Harrison, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and defensive end Olivier Vernon, and re-signing DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans were active this week after once again producing losing seasons, but have yet to see any impact on their distant Super Bowl odds.

The Jaguars added DE Malik Johnson from the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos along with rusher Chris Ivory, who toiled for the New York Jets last season, but continue to lag in Super Bowl 51 betting with 66/1 odds.

The Titans have added center Ben Jones, receiver Rishard Matthews, and veteran pivot Matt Cassel, and re-signed tight end Craig Stevens, but have a number of defensive holes to fill, leaving them near the bottom of the NFL futures at 100/1 odds.

The top of the Super Bowl odds remains unchanged with the New England Patriots leading the way at 15/2.

Despite the current uncertainty surrounding who will be under center for the club next season, the Broncos maintain strong 10/1 odds, alongside the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, and Arizona Cardinals, followed by the Dallas Cowboys, who join the Texans at 20/1, and the Cincinnati Bengals, deadlocked with the Minnesota Vikings at 22/1.

The Indianapolis Colts have dipped to 25/1 following Houston’s surge up the odds, while the Oakland Raiders have seen their Super Bowl line rocket to 33/1 after opening back at 66/1.

Eagles could put stamp on NFC East in visit to Dallas

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The Dallas Cowboys’ fading playoff hopes hang in the balance this weekend when they play host to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football as 3-point betting underdogs at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

It has quickly become a lost season for the Cowboys, who are currently enduring a five-game straight-up losing streak while going 1-4 against the spread. The club’s troubles began during their 20-10 win over the Eagles in Week 2, when quarterback Tony Romo went down with a collarbone injury that has since kept him on the sidelines.

Veteran pivots Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have taken turns leading the Cowboys offense, but have combined for just three touchdown passes against five interceptions during Romo’s absence.

Not surprisingly points have been hard to come by for Dallas, as they are averaging just 12.7 points per game in their last three games heading into Sunday night’s Eagles vs. Cowboys betting matchup at AT&T Stadium.

The Eagles, meanwhile, take some quarterback issues of their own into Week 9. Sam Bradford joined the Eagles amid great expectations during the offseason, contributing to Philadelphia’s strong 17/2 Super Bowl 50 odds at the outset of the season.

But with the club stumbling to a mediocre 3-4 SU record, and a postseason berth far from assured, questions have been raised about Bradford’s future with the Eagles after his current contract expires at the end of this season.

While Philadelphia is a solid 2-1 SU and ATS in their last three games, Bradford has been shaky, throwing six interceptions against just three touchdowns during that span. Still, the Eagles remain the favorites on the odds to win the NFC East division title.

Defense remains the team’s saving grace, holding both the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants to under 100 yards on the ground in recent victories, while surrendering just 356 total passing yards in their last two contests.

Philadelphia’s limited success has largely come at home, with the team going winless in their last two on the road, both SU and ATS, dropping them to 1-3 on the season.

However, the Eagles own a strong track record in recent visits to Dallas, where they are 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS in their last five games according to the OddsShark NFL Database, including a lopsided 33-10 victory as 3-point underdogs in Week 13 of last season.