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Setting the scene: Patriots-Redskins

12.11.11 at 7:41 am ET
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LANDOVER, Md. — Abundant sunshine and temperatures in the mid 40s are expected for today’s kickoff between the Patriots and Redskins at FedExField.

Today could be a landmark day for the 2011 Patriots. They can clinch their third straight AFC East title and ninth in 11 seasons with a win and a Jets loss at home to the Chiefs. The division title would also give the Patriots a home playoff game.

The 9-3 Patriots are also looking for their 10th win, which would mark the ninth straight season of double-figure wins. They have already clinched a winning record for the 11th straight season, becoming the first team to accomplish that feat since free agency began in 1993.

The Patriots are also trying to make history here, just minutes outside the nation’s capital. They have never won in Washington, the only NFL city in which the Patriots have never won, going 0-1 in RFK Stadium and losing their only previous regular season tilt at FedExField in 2003.

Of course, the last time these two teams met, the Patriots annihilated the Redskins and Joe Gibbs at Gillette, 52-7, in a game the Patriots were accused of running up the score.

The Patriots enter the game having ruled out several players, including safety Patrick Chung in somewhat of a surprise. The safety hasn’t played since injuring his right ankle in the loss to the Giants on Nov. 6 at Gillette Stadium. He has been limited in practice for the last three weeks but has not been cleared to play.

Last week, he told reporters he felt “awesome” but was scratched for the game against the Colts. There was some speculation that he would finally return this week against the Redskins. But, with Tim Tebow on the docket next Sunday in Denver, Bill Belichick and the coaching staff might be holding off until he’s closer to 100 percent so he can be more of a weapon in containing Tebow and the Denver running game.

Also out today for the Patriots is Sebastian Vollmer, missing his second straight game with an injured right foot. Center Dan Connolly is missing his third straight game with a groin injury. Linebacker Brandon Spikes is out for the fifth straight game with a right knee injury and rookie running back Shane Vereen is out with a hamstring injury. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Denver Broncos, FedEx Field, FedExField, Fred Davis

Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs Redskins!

12.10.11 at 9:08 am ET
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Week 14 sends the 9-3 Patriots to our nation’s capital to face the once proud Redskins, who have fallen on hard times. Get ready for the game with lots of numbers that I doubt you’ll see elsewhere. But if you’re a ‘Skins fan, it’s not particularly pretty:

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* – Last Sunday against the 0-11 Colts was the first time that the Patriots have played a winless team with 10 or more losses since a 38-10 win over Buffalo (0-10) back in 1984. But since 1970, it was their fourth game against an opponent that was 0-10 or worse at the time, the most in the NFL in that span.

Get a load of this: Since 1970, the Chiefs have played a winless team with 10 or more losses three times… and lost all three games! In 1975, the Chargers were 0-11 but downed the Chiefs, 28-20. In 1984, an 0-10 Oilers squad nipped Kansas City, 17-16, in Houston. And in 2000, San Diego came into Arrowhead at 0-11 and got off the schneid, also by a 17-16 score.

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* – Highest fourth quarter completion percentage allowed in a single game since 1991 (min. 18 fourth quarter attempts):

90.0% – Patriots vs Colts, 12/4/11, 18-of-20
87.0% – Patriots vs Steelers, 11/14/10, 20-of-23
85.0% – Lions vs Broncos, 11/4/07, 17-of-20
85.0% – Chargers vs Chiefs, 10/30/05, 17-of-20

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* – Washington has lost 10 of their last 12 home games. The only other times that they’ve won as few as two times in a 12 home game stretch was 1993-1994 (won one of 12) and 1962-1964 (won one of 12).

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* – Since 1970, the Patriots have gone on the road 24 times to play a team with a .333 winning percentage or worse after Week 12 (the Redskins are currently 4-8). From ’70 through ’00, they lost 10-of-14. Since then, they’ve won 9-of-10. In those last 10 such games since 2001, only one of their nine wins was by less than a touchdown (average margin: 17.6) and their lone loss was by one point (29-28 to a 2-11 Dolphins squad in 2004).

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* – The Redskins have scored 19 or more points in their last three games. They haven’t put up 19+ points in four consecutive games since Weeks 2-5 of the 2008 season, 52 games ago. By contrast, the Patriots have scored 19 or more points in 43 of their last 52 games.

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* – Averaging just four rushing first downs per game, the Redskins are last in the league. It continues a disturbing three-year progression in rushing first downs per game: 30th in 2009, 31st in 2010, and 32nd in 2011.

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* – Washington is 27th in scoring this season. Beginning with the 2000 season, the Redskins have finished in the top 20 in scoring just once and have put up an average ranking of 24. That quite a drop from their previous 17 seasons, where they finished ouside the top 20 just twice. They’re average rushing yards per game (87.5) is second worst in the league. They haven’t finished in the league’s bottom two in rushing yards since 1973. What’s more, Grossman and Co. have a combined NFL passer rating of 70.5, second worst in the league (Jacksonville, 60.4). They’ve finished in the bottom two in passer rating just twice before since 1960: In 1961 they were second worst, and in 1993 they were last. They’ve thrown seven more interceptions than touchdowns this season. The only other time since 1963 that they’ve had a -7 or worse was 1993 (-10).

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Another scout gives his take on what’s going to happen in Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Redskins

12.09.11 at 11:35 pm ET
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We’€™ve already done this week’€™s edition of ‘€œscout’€™s take,’€ as one NFL scout who has watched the Patriots and Redskins opened his notebook for us and provided an idea of what’€™s going to happen in Sunday’€™s game. But we got a hold of another NFL scout ‘€“ one who has broken down video on both teams — who provided more depth and insight into the matchup between New England and Washington. Here’€™s a six-part plan as to what to look for on Sunday:

1. Washington will struggle offensively because of the loss of two key players in left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis. Davis allowed them to create plays in the middle of the field with his speed and route running, both of which could have caused some problems for the Patriots defense. Williams was big part of the zone running scheme the Redskins use, and he was their best protector. It is going to be difficult for Washington to generate sustained drives to keep the New England offense off the field.

2. Look for interior pressure from New England to disrupt Washington quarterback Rex Grossman. With Trent Williams out of the lineup, the Patriots should be able to create edge pressure with defensive ends and outside linebackers. Because of his height, interior pressure really affects Grossman.

3. New England could have some problems with the vertical speed the Redskins have on the perimeter. Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong are all very fast and could test the Patriots’€™ secondary if Grossman has time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Anthony Armstrong, Brian Orakapo, Fred Davis, jabar gaffney

Bill Belichick is no nutty professor

12.09.11 at 6:22 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Fridays with Bill Belichick are almost always the most relaxed time of the week for the Patriots coach. The week of preparation is winding down. The hay is almost in the barn, as he likes to remind us and now, it’s just time to focus on the game itself.

There’s been so much talk this season about players like Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater going from offense to defense. So, do defensive players ever get jealous and say, ‘What about us?’

“Whether that’€™s at high school, college or wherever it is, and I tell the defensive players all the time, ‘€˜Don’€™t kid yourself. If you were a big enough playmaker, you would have stayed on offense,'” Belichick joked. “Either at the high school or the college level they would have put you out there and you’€™d be out there having 100 yard receiving game or 150 yard rushing games. You’€™d be doing that. Don’€™t kid yourself.’€™ It’€™s like the defensive specialist in basketball, if you were that good of a shooter, you’€™d be the point guard but you’€™re not so start covering these guys or we’€™ll get somebody else in there.”

Maybe you could make the point that Belichick feels he and his staff have made good progress in prepping the team or he feels strongly they’ll be able to attack the 4-8 Redskins. Whatever the reason, this particular Friday was one of the most insightful and disarming looks inside the way Belichick sees the game.

“I think going back to when I first came into the league, you just didn’€™t have as many personnel groups as you have now,” Belichick said. “A lot of times, those 11 guys never left the field. Like the Hail Marys from [Roger] Staubach back in the ‘€˜70s, it’€™s just their regular offense, a guy running a go route. It wasn’€™t all those guys together jumping it and tipping it and that type of thing. When I came into the league, you rarely saw ‘€“ you saw a tight end, you saw two receivers, you saw two backs. Whatever, you had four backs, those four replaced those two, those two replaced the other two. If you had two tight ends, then your tight end replaced the other tight end. There were no two tight end sets. Even in goal line, short yardage on the one yard line, you still usually had two spread receivers, there were no third receiver. There were a few teams that played some nickel defense, like the Redskins when George Allen was there but it wasn’€™t really nickel, it was just the defensive back came in for a linebacker.

“They played the exact same thing but it was just a DB instead of a linebacker having those coverage responsibilities so he was maybe a little more athletic and had a little more coverage skill. If something happened to him, they would just put their linebacker back in and just run the same thing. It really wasn’€™t until like in the late ‘€˜70s to early ‘€˜80s when you had teams running two tight ends and one back and even starting to get into three receivers. I remember being with the Giants in ‘€™81 and we didn’€™t even have a nickel defense. That was a big step. I can’€™t remember what year it was, maybe it was ‘€™82 or ‘€™83, we were like ‘€˜Okay, we’€™re going to put in the nickel this year.’€™ It was like ‘€˜Oh my God, this is going to be a big step, how are we going to do this?’€™ and terminology and all that. We didn’€™t even have that. You had maybe if it was third and ten, you had a third and ten call that was different than your first and ten call, I’€™m not saying that but as far as substituting guys in. Therefore, what we have now in terms of depth is more of an issue.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Austin, Bill Belichick, George Allen, Julian Edelman

Peter King on M&M: Robert Kraft didn’t want to flex Broncos game

12.09.11 at 2:00 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated’s Peter King joined Mut & Merloni on Friday at noon for his weekly appearance. King discussed the Patriots’ matchup with the Broncos in two weeks not being flexed to Sunday night, Ben Roethlisberger injuring his ankle against the Browns Thursday night and James Harrison possibly being suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Colt McCoy.

Many thought that the Patriots-Broncos game on Dec. 18 would be flexed from Sunday afternoon to the Sunday night game because of the enticing matchup. But the NFL announced on Wednesday that the game would remain in the 4:15 p.m. time slot. King said that Patriots owner Robert Kraft may have requested the game not be flexed because of travel reasons.

“I heard from two different people that although Kraft made it very clear to the NFL that he wanted the game to stay in the afternoon because it would give the Patriots basically a five-hour advantage in preparing in a short week, getting home from Denver and all that stuff,” King said. “It’d be easier on them as people, obviously. It’d be easier on their bodies. So I think clearly he made it known that he wanted to stay. But I’m told that he did not stamp his feet, he didn’t try to strong arm anybody.”

One other reason that the game was not flexed may have been the fact that the game that is scheduled to be played on Sunday night — the Ravens at the Chargers — is a compelling matchup as well.

“I think the real reason why Baltimore was kept as the Sunday night game is that San Diego is almost certainly still going to be in the pennant race with three weeks to go,” King said. “So the NFL can look at them and say, ‘Hey listen, we got Philip Rivers, we got Joe Flacco, we got two good quarterbacks. This is not a dog game.’ And remember, flexing was designed to avoid the dog game. I think if San Diego had lost in Jacksonville you would be seeing the Patriots and Denver on Sunday night football.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Robert Kraft,

Wes Welker wants everyone to know his wrist is ‘fine’

12.09.11 at 1:43 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sleeves are all the rage this holiday season.

Whether it’s the one that protected the right elbow of Tom Brady during his reported bout of “tennis elbow” or the ones that Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes wore on their injured knees, the sleeve is in at Gillette Stadium.

The latest player to adorn a mysterious protective sleeve is Wes Welker, who wore it this week at a charity event on Tuesday. He was shown in several photos cutting some wrapping paper with former New England Revolution star Taylor Twellman, with a black sleeve on the right wrist.

Did he suffer an injury recently that caused him to wear the extra protection?

“Wrist is fine,” Welker assured reporters on Friday. “I never wore a brace. I’m not sure where that’s coming from. Whatever [media] think, they think. I’m just out there trying to play some football.”

A soft cast?

“Not a soft cast, just a little lining,” said Welker, who leads the team in receptions with 93.

A sleeve?

“Yeah, I guess a sleeve.”

Welker and his right wrist will be ready and raring to go on Sunday when the Patriots play the Redskins, a team that has a good pass rush and the ninth-best pass defense in the NFL.

“I think you have to realize the type of pass rushers we’re going against and understand they’re getting there quick and you have to get open quick,” Welker said. “So, real sudden movements and making quick breaks and getting the initial separation for him to throw the ball. He does a great job of getting rid of it and getting it to you quick and from there, we just have to make plays with it. The tackles have done a good job of trying to give him that extra split-second to throw that ball.”

Everyone will be watching Welker and his right wrist closely.

Read More: New England Patriots, nfl, right wrist, Taylor Twellman

Poll: Would you rather have Clay Matthews or Rob Gronkowski on the Patriots?

12.09.11 at 12:02 pm ET
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In this excellent column, Chris Price explores the many events that led to the Patriots being able to draft tight end Rob Gronkowski — as impactful a tight end as there is in the NFL right now — in the second round of the 2010 draft.

There are a number of striking details in the process that led Gronkowski to the Pats with the No. 42 pick of the 2010 draft, but among them, one stands out as particularly fascinating. To wit:

“It all began in 2009, when New England had the 23rd pick, and ended up trading down and out of the first round, shipping the pick to Baltimore and moving down three spots while picking up the Ravens’€™ fifth-round selection. The Patriots then dealt themselves out of the first round altogether, sending that 26th pick and the fifth-round selection from the Ravens to the Packers for a second-round pick (No. 41) and a pair of third-rounders (No. 73 and No. 83 overall).

“Green Bay used the pick to select Clay Matthews, and New England fans watched as Matthews finished his rookie year with 10 sacks, while the Patriots only had one player finish with more than five, and ended up with 31 as a team.”

So, the Patriots gave up their shot at Packers linebacker Clay Matthews in order to draft Gronkowski. Both are among the best in the game at their respective positions. That, in turn, lends itself to our poll question:

Who would you rather have playing for the Patriots?

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