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Ten things you have to know about Browns-Patriots

12.07.13 at 10:38 am ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Browns-Patriots game:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Quarterback Tom Brady against Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton: The last time Brady and the Patriots faced a Ray Horton defense, it was last September when the Cardinals came into Foxboro and shocked New England. In the wake of that game, Horton took a minor victory lap, telling people that he was able to detect a ‘€œtell’€ in the Patriots offense that allowed Arizona to pull off the upset. Regardless of the fact that the tell turned out to be nonsense, the idea an opposing defensive coordinator not only got the better of him but spent some time after the game letting everyone know he did it had to rankle Brady just a bit. The quarterback has an extraordinary memory when it comes to things like that, and is always on the lookout for some slight, either real or perceived, and that certainly fits in this case. There’€™s no denying the fact that Horton has built an impressive defense this year — the Browns are in the top five in total defense, and they’re top five against the pass and the rush. But Horton’€™s comments from a year ago are just the sort of thing that the quarterback will keep in mind when Sunday afternoon rolls around. For what it’€™s worth, it appears that Horton is going to get Brady at the peak of his powers this season: after a rough start where he completed 56.6 percent of his passes through the first five games (in two of those games he threw for less than 200 yards), the quarterback has put together an impressive four-game sequence that has removed all doubt about where he stands physically heading into the stretch run. Over the last four games, he’€™s 115-for-164 (70 percent) for 1,443 yards, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Game on.

2. The Patriots defense against quarterback Jason Campbell: It sounds like the decision was made sometime late Thursday or early Friday to go with Campbell over Brandon Weeden (or ‘€œTrick Shot’€ Tanney or Caleb Hanie) Sunday against the Patriots. It remains to be seen how he’€™ll do on a short week of work, but at least Campbell does have some familiarity when it comes to going up against a Bill Belichick-coached defense. He’€™s started against the Patriots twice in his career — once in 2007 with the Redskins and a second time in 2011 with the Raiders. In his first start, Campbell (then in his second season in the league) was completely steamrolled by the Patriots, who crushed the Redskins 52-7, one of the biggest blowouts of the year. (In that game, he was 21-for-36 for 197 yards with one touchdown and one interception.) The second time around, he was actually pretty competitive, going 25-for-39 for 344 yards with one touchdown and two picks in a 31-19 loss to New England. He hasn’€™t necessarily re-invented the position, but he appears to give the Browns the best chance to win on Sunday. In four starts this season, Campbell has gone 87-for-153 (57 percent) for 933 yards, with six touchdowns and three picks. He doesn’€™t have the sort of wheels that he used to (he had three straight years where he rushed for at least 200 yards), but he is mobile and can keep plays alive with his feet if needed.

3. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Josh Gordon: This is going to be the matchup that determines how successful the Browns are going to be. Gordon is a phenomenal young talent who has provided the bulk of the offense for Cleveland through the first 12 games of the year. He’€™s had at least 125 receiving yards in four of Cleveland’€™s last five games, and became the first player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games last week, thanks to his 14-catch, 237-yard performance against the Steelers. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder is a threat on multiple levels — he’€™s shown an ability to catch passes short and turn them into long gains (he’€™s third in the league in yards after the catch with 520), he has the strength to break tackles, and he has the necessary straight-line speed to beat his man deep (his total yardage is second among wide receivers to Calvin Johnson). The long, lean Gordon should be a good matchup for Talib, who has done some of his best work against bigger, more physical receivers. Should be a fun matchup come Sunday.

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Julian Edelman has nothing but respect for Browns: They are ‘a good team’

12.06.13 at 6:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s been the common theme this week at Gillette Stadium. Sure, the Cleveland Browns are 4-8 but they are a “good” 4-8 with a defense that ranks fifth overall in the NFL in yards allowed.

The Browns have no playoff potential but only the hope of playing the role of spoiler for teams with much bigger aspirations. Well, the 9-3 Patriots are fully aware of this, including receiver/returner Julian Edelman. He doesn’t look at the record but rather the talent on the roster, a roster that includes former first-round draft pick and shutdown cornerback Joe Haden. The cornerback was selected seventh overall in the 2010 draft out of Florida.

Haden has four interceptions this season, including two in one game against Andy Dalton and the Bengals on Nov. 17.

“Joe Haden has all the tangibles,” Edelman said Friday. “He’s fast, he can jump, he gets in and out of breaks well. He was drafted high for a reason. Joe Haden is a really good football player. If you don’t use your techniques, he’ll exploit you. We’re going to have to get ready for those kind of match-ups.”

But that game on Nov. 17 in Cincinnati is a classic example of what’s gone horribly wrong for the Browns this season. They jumped out 13-0 and could’ve easily been ahead, 21-0. They held Cincinnati to 1-for-14 on third down and out-gained them, 330-224. But they were intercepted three times and had two punts blocked and lost, 41-20.

“The Browns are a good team,” Edelman said. “They’ve been in a lot of close games that just haven’t gone their way, much like last week. Their defense has been playing real well. They have some cornerbacks that are really athletic, that are playing their scheme very well. They have a D-line that can stuff the run. It’s just sometimes things aren’t going your way when it’s close. And that’s kind of what they’ve been in and they’re a very tough team. If we don’t execute the way we have to, they can come in here and beat us up.

“Situations like third down, red area and ball security and all that kind of stuff are all very huge when it comes to tough opponents like this, stout defenses and defenses that live and die on that. We have to go out and prepare for those situations and execute them to the fullest of our abilities on Sunday.”

If the Patriots do that, they’re likely to come out on top and win, which could give them the AFC East if the Dolphins lose at Pittsburgh. The Patriots clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Baltimore loss or tie.

“If that happens, that happens,” Edelman said. “All we can do is control what we have to do and that’s go out and playing against the Cleveland Browns and worry about doing what we have to do to beat them. Everything else will come if it does, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If we can control going out focusing on them, that’s what we can control.”

Read More: Cleveland Browns, Joe Haden, Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

Alfonzo Dennard pleads no contest to DUI, gets $500 fine, license suspended 60 days

12.06.13 at 5:06 pm ET
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Alfonzo Dennard can finally get back to football.

The Patriots cornerback Friday pleaded no contest to refusal to submit to a chemical test to a DUI stop in July in Lincoln, Nebraska. In return, prosecutors dismissed the first-offense DUI charge, a misdemeanor.

As a result, Lancaster County Judge James Foster fined the former Nebraska Cornhuskers star $500, revoked his driver’s license for 60 days and gave him probation concurrent with the three-year probation he’s serving for assaulting a Lincoln, Neb. police officer in April 2012.

According to the police report, the 24-year-old Dennard was driving on Normal Boulevard in a 2011 Honda Accord just before 2 a.m. July 11 when a police sergeant pulled him over near 52nd Street because he was straddling lanes. The sergeant arrested Dennard on suspicion of DUI, refusing a chemical test and straddling lanes. The stop came exactly three months after the NFL defensive back got probation for punching a police officer in April 2012 in downtown Lincoln.

Police said Dennard was taken to detox in July but not jailed. Authorities allege he blew too softly during an alcohol breath test to register, despite a sergeant telling him twice to blow hard into the machine.

The plea deal ends a two-day stay in the town where he played college football. On Thursday, Dennard was given an additional 30 days in jail, an added year of probation and 100 hours of community service for violating terms of his probation from his April 2012 run-in with authorities.

In April, Dennard was sentenced to two years of probation for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest days before he was drafted by the Patriots. On Thursday, Judge Stephanie Stacy extended his probation by a year and added 30 days to a 30-day jail term he is to serve starting March 1. She also doubled the 100 hours of community service she ordered him to complete.

Dennard’s attorney, Alan Stoler, said the dismissal of the DUI charge was common in plea negotiations, as were the penalties for that charge and the refusal. Dennard refused comment on the two-day stay after proceedings ended Friday.

After missing two days of practice, Dennard’s status for Sunday’s game against the Browns is uncertain at best. He is officially listed as questionable on the injury report with a knee issue.

Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, New England Patriots, nfl,

Marcus Cannon, Aaron Dobson out for Sunday’s game against Browns

12.06.13 at 4:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have listed offensive lineman Marcus Cannon and wide receiver Aaron Dobson as out for Sunday’s game against the Browns. Dobson (foot) and Cannon (ankle) are both working through injuries they suffered in the recent win over the Broncos.

Running back Brandon Bolden was not at practice Friday due to a non-injury matter but he is listed officially as “probable” and is expected to play. Another player, Alfonzo Dennard, also missed practice due to a non-injury matter, as he finished up tending to his legal issues in Lincoln, Neb. Dennard is officially “questionable” due to lingering knee issues.

Meanwhile, 10 players have been listed as questionable, including cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip) and Kyle Arrington (groin) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring).

Here’s Friday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
WR Aaron Dobson (foot) OUT
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle) OUT
CB Alfonzo Dennard (Not injury related/knee) QUESTIONABLE
RB Brandon Bolden (Not injury related) PROBABLE

Limited Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin) QUESTIONABLE
CB Marquice Cole (shin) QUESTIONABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger) QUESTIONABLE
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring) QUESTIONABLE
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) QUESTIONABLE
LB Brandon Spikes (knee) QUESTIONABLE
OT Will Svitek (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
CB Aqib Talib (hip) QUESTIONABLE
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) QUESTIONABLE

Full Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin) PROBABLE
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) PROBABLE
WR Matthew Slater (wrist) PROBABLE
RB Shane Vereen (wrist) PROBABLE

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Jason Campbell ‘looks sharp’ and gets the start Sunday vs. Patriots

12.06.13 at 1:55 pm ET
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After a week of guessing, the Patriots finally know the quarterback that will be facing them on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Browns coach Rob Chudzinski announced Friday afternoon that veteran quarterback Jason Campbell has been cleared from his concussion suffered on Nov. 24 against Pittsburgh and is expected to start Sunday. Campbell practiced for the second straight day Friday and showed no ill effects from the concussion.

Campbell’s record this season is 1-3, with his only victory coming against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Campbell has completed 87-of-153 passes this season for 933 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions.

Of course, most Patriots fans will remember Campbell as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins in 2007 when the Patriots obliterated Joe Gibbs and Washington, 52-7, at Gillette Stadium. He was 21-of-37 for 197 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

Campbell practiced for a second straight day and impressed those in attendance, including his coach. “He looks sharp and hasn’t missed a beat,” Chudzinski said.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden will not be Campbell’s back-up. He has not yet been cleared to practice and will be inactive for the game, Chudzinski said. He was the only Browns player not at practice Friday.

Caleb Hanie, who was signed this week as a free agent, or Alex “Trickshot” Tanney, signed last week off Dallas’ practice squad, will get the nod as back-up but Chudzinski says that won’t be announced until Sunday.

Read More: Alex Tanney, Brandon Weeden, Caleb Hanie, Cleveland Browns

Peter King on M&M: Matt Schaub to blame for collapse of Texans that cost Gary Kubiak his job

12.06.13 at 1:01 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated’s Peter King made his weekly Friday appearance on Mut & Merloni, minutes after the story broke that the Texans had fired coach Gary Kubiak.

“I think the Texans were seriously considering firing Kubiak after the first Jacksonville loss, but the problem was the schedule that was coming up — they’ve got the Patriots and then the Jaguars in a short week,” King said, adding: “I’ve felt strongly he was going to get fired for the last two weeks. Obviously he had an opportunity to save himself, but clearly he couldn’t save himself. And that’s what today is all about. You can’t lose to the Jaguars twice in 11 days and lose 11 games in a row and keep your job. It’s ridiculous. I don’t care what injuries they had. The fact is, this is a team that vastly underachieved this year.”

Added King: “The ownership felt like it’s time, we’ve given this guy more than enough time. And they have.”

King placed the majority of the blame for Houston’s collapse on quarterback Matt Schaub.

“You saw in Houston this year how much one single player can influence your franchise. And that one single player — throwing pick-sixes three weeks in a row — was Matt Schaub,” King said. “Matt Schaub imploded. And as nice a guy he is and as much as he’s done for that franchise, he is the guy that got this team on their death spiral.”

The Texans are loaded with talent, making this an appealing job, especially with them in line for a very high draft pick.

“If you have J.J. Watt coming back, you’ve got Brian Cushing coming back from injury ‘€¦ you’ve got the basis of a very good defense,” King said. “And you’ve got Andre Johnson. It looks like they’ll probably lose Ben Tate, whose a good running back, but they’ve got plenty — plenty — of talent on that team to contend in 2014. If you add [Louisville quarterback Teddy] Bridgewater to that team, they’re going to be very, very good.”

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Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Gary Kubiak

Fantasy Football: Week 15 starts, sits

12.06.13 at 12:35 pm ET
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Welcome to the Week 14 starts and sits! It’€™s playoff time and I’€™ve done my best to distill the talent pool for you. If your key player is not covered here, check out our full lineup rankings over at Rotobahn or participate in our Sunday morning chat, where I will answer all of your remaining lineup questions. Best of luck to all this week!

QUARTERBACKS

STARTS

Josh McCown, Bears vs. Cowboys

He’€™s far better than most folks, including us, ever expected. He will get at least one more start, and that start comes at home vs. a struggling Dallas defense that has been giving up plenty of fantasy points. I know it’€™s tough starting a journeyman in the playoffs, but if you are jammed with an injury to a guy like Aaron Rodgers, McCown may be the bridge to Rodgers and an appearance in the semifinals next week. Do not be afraid to play McCown.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Dolphins

It’€™s not a great week for quarterbacks, but Big Ben should give you some solid production in a home matchup against a beatable opponent. The big game is a possibility, but it’€™s the solid floor that I find most appealing. He’€™s a good option in any league.

Philip Rivers, Chargers at Giants

Rivers is a safe option this week. You beat the Giants by throwing the ball, so expect a few scores and solid yardage and perhaps a big game if New York can score enough points to push the San Diego offense for four quarters. Rivers has had some mediocre games but no killers. He should come in somewhere between 16-30 points this week in standard scoring.

Alex Smith, Chiefs at Redskins

He’€™s been better for fantasy than I ever thought he’€™d be. It’€™s pretty amazing when you consider how poor Kansas City’€™s downfield passing game is. Smith makes plays every week with his feet and his arm, and his receivers get yards after the catch, especially Jamaal Charles. Smith can start for you this week if you need him, and he’€™ll most likely fare well against a soft Redskins defense.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks at 49ers

Curse the schedule-maker! Is there anything worse than having your QB1 playing at San Francisco during wild card week?  Here’€™s the skinny on Wilson: You can play him, but you should also consider other options. Based on what we saw last week when St. Louis played San Francisco, he has a chance, because Kellen Clemens missed a lot of throws — throws that Wilson will not miss. So Wilson can be played, just be realistic with your expectations. If he gets you 20 points in standard leagues, you did well.

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Read More: Alex Smith, C.J. Spiller, Josh McCown, Kellen Clemens

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