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Mailbag: Patriots' AFC reign winding down; Seabass is the man

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Dan Hanzus takes questions from you, the readers, in his latest mailbag. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. You are all holiday miracles.

Oh, I don't think there's any question we'll look back at 2018 as a time of transition in the AFC. The 9-5 Patriots remain a good and competitive football team, but the days of conference dominance -- ducking lightning bolts here -- are in the rearview for this group. Pro Bowl nod or no, Tom Brady's game has slipped considerably, and reports of a lingering knee injury make sense, seeing as 41-year-old knees sometimes suck. Brady's not alone in his losing battle against the inexorable march of time. Rob Gronkowski now moves like a fleet offensive lineman -- his fruitless pursuit of Kenyan Drake in Week 14 felt like the beginning of the end -- and you have to seriously wonder if we'll be watching the final games of his brilliant career over the next few weeks. Brady's other trusted security blanket, 32-year-old wide receiver Julian Edelman, has dealt with a bothersome foot injury, and now Josh Gordon has exited the picture for all-too-familiar reasons.

Add it all up, and these Patriots are vulnerable in the short term and unsustainable beyond that. And if Bill Belichick is hoisting another Lombardi Trophy in seven weeks, I will erase all traces of this discussion.

I'm not buying another run to the Super Bowl, but you can forgive Eagles fans for letting their imaginations run wild since Sunday night. A week earlier, it appeared as if Philly's title defense was officially kaput after a crushing overtime loss to the Cowboys. But the Iggles had a perfect Week 15 -- stunning the Rams on the road, while the Cowboys, Seahawks, Panthers and Packers all lost. Now there's a reasonable path to the playoffs, while -- and here's the fun part for nostalgic Eagles fans -- Nick Foles is once again involved with the proceedings.

Yes, the Eagles are a flawed team, and Foles is as likely to be terrible as he is to recapture his January/February magic, but I won't be surprised in the least if they knock off the Texans at home on Sunday. This game will be a mojo heat check.

I'd say the odds are incredibly slim. Yes, the Seahawks did themselves an incredible disservice by finding a way to lose to the dreadful 49ers on Sunday, and yes, a Week 16 matchup against Patrick Mahomes and the mighty Chiefs presents a substantial challenge. But the Arizona Cardinals -- my pick for the worst team in football -- come to town in Week 17. In other words, the Schedule Gods got your back.

The "tackle attempt" in question:

Hell no, you cannot take away the Seabass nickname. That was earned over the course of 19 years of toil, and no one play can strip this husky boot man of that wonderful moniker.

There's no denying that Sebastian Janikowski made a business decision -- one that was especially funny, seeing as how Janikowski has 75 pounds on Niners return man Richie James -- but part of me respects Seabass for understanding his physical limitations at this stage of life. Dad Bods don't bounce back well, and at 40 years old, Seabass wants to be kicking into January and beyond. Seabass gets the pass!

Are there really people out there still calling Andrew Luck overrated? Really? If so, consider it a classic case of what I like to call a La Reveal Magnifico -- loosely translated as The Great Reveal. This occurs when an individual makes a comment so dumb, so ignorant, so obtuse, that you compose a mental note to yourself to never take that individual seriously ever again. (We had a wonderful La Reveal Magnifico example last week, when Stephen A. Smith analyzed the Chargers in a comically misinformed manner.) I implore you to practice this in your own life with friends and acquaintances.

Anyway, Luck has had a fine season in what's been a rock-solid career -- and the Colts are the AFC team no division-winner wants to see in the playoffs. Indy needs to get there first, of course, and the Colts will need some help in that department. Are they Super Bowl contenders? I want to say no, but doesn't the AFC -- really, the whole league -- seem pretty up for grabs right now? By the time the playoff seedings shake out, you'll be able to make the case for just about every team in the dance. Fun!

This one is pretty easy for me. The Colossal Bust is ultimately more damaging, because when you go all-in on a Johnny Manziel or Ryan Leaf type, the domino effect can be devastating. Everyone gets fired, you become a walking punchline and you basically punt away two to three years of your existence before inevitably starting from scratch with another would-be savior. On the other hand, when you have a Jameis Winston or a Marcus Mariota or (I guess) a Blake Bortles, the quarterback situation is at times problematic, but it doesn't kill you to the point where competing becomes an impossibility. That allows you to focus on other parts of the roster and build up a contender, even if your glory boy behind center isn't quite panning out. The Jaguars are a good example of this. Would you at all be surprised if Jacksonville brought in someone like Joe Flacco or Teddy Bridgewater and was competing for a playoff spot this time next year?

There is no such thing as a Rookie Coach of the Year, but I'll play along. Mike Vrabel and the Titans have had their moments, but I can't help but watch this Titans team and feel like it's just an updated version of what we've been seeing for most of the Marcus Mariota era: a perfectly adequate 9-7 type that never seriously threatens the superpowers of the AFC. Matt Nagy has done a very nice job in Chicago, presiding over a team that's gone from worst to first in the NFC North. Mitchell Trubisky is inconsistent, but he's clearly made strides compared to where he was during his lost rookie year under John Fox. If Nagy did win this (fake) award, I think he should share it with general manager Ryan Pace, who pulled the trigger on the franchise-shifting Khalil Mack trade.

My pick would be Frank Reich, who you'll remember only got the job because Josh McDaniels left the Colts at the altar. But McDaniels' indecisiveness ended up being the Colts' salvation. Reich has proven to be an ideal fit for Andrew Luck, and the Colts shook off a slow start to become an incredibly functional outfit on both sides of the ball. Colts GM Chris Ballard gave Reich some great pieces, including super-rookie Darius Leonard at linebacker, and Reich has made it all work. If the Colts win out, I'd bet he wins Coach of the Year honors.

"A Christmas Story," and it's not particularly close. I'd go as far as saying it's one of my favorite movies ever, period. The movie captures so many things about the complications of childhood, and it does so in a warm and funny way. You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

Merry Christmas, everybody. See you next week.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. Listen to Dan on the Around The NFL Podcast, three times a week.

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