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Nuggetpalooza’s Patriots vs. Bears Preview!

12.10.10 at 10:29 am ET
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Following their exhilarating, 45-3, romp over the Jets last Monday, the Patriots continue what appears to be an endless string of games against top NFL competition, this time against the Bears, who are chasing a playoff berth of their own. And it appears that the weather outside will be “frightful” at Soldier Field late Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, here are a bunch of nuggets to help get you ready for the action:

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* – Last Monday, the Patriots scored over 30 points for the fourth week in a row, tying the longest such streak in the NFL since New England’s nine game streak from late-2006 through mid-2007.

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* – The three points allowed by the Patriots Monday night snapped a streak of 12 consecutive games allowing 14 or more. During that streak, they allowed an average of 25.0. The 301 total yards allowed were the fewest by the Patriots in 13 games and snapped a five game streak allowing 400 or more.

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* – Strength vs. Strength: The Patriots have the league’s best overall passing rating (+2.30 the way I keep them, basically net yards per pass play compared to the league average, adjusted up for touchdowns and down for interceptions). However, the Bears have the best overall DEFENSIVE passing rating (-1.87). New England leads the league in touchdown passes (27) while Chicago has allowed the second fewest (9).

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* – How’s this for some good red zone passing? Over the last six games when in the red zone, Tom Brady is 19-for-25 (76 percent) with 10 touchdowns, no interceptions, and no sacks. For the season, the Pats lead the NFL in red zone completion percentage (67 percent) and touchdowns (19), but they’ve also allowed the most red zone sacks (8).

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* – If the game is close in the fourth quarter (within seven points either way), the Bears have passed quite well in those spots so far in 2010, posting a rating (the way I keep them… see below) of +2.42, third best in the league. Chicago has been in more close contests than New England, putting up 55 attempts in late and close situations, compared to just 27 for the Patriots.

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* – The Bears have allowed 45 quarterback sacks and lost 299 yards to sacks this season, both league high figures. The Pats’ defense has just 21 sacks (29th) for 132 yards (28th).

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* – New England and Tom Brady lead the league in LOTS of passing splits, but one important one is in third and fourth down passing (combined). Their +3.53 rating in those situations is tops and is built on 73 percent completions with 11 touchdowns (tied for the most with Green Bay and New Orleans). In addition, only 3.4 percent of their gross passing yards have been lost to sacks, the third lowest percentage in the league in those spots:

0.8% – Giants
2.6% – Colts
3.4% – Patriots

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Pats prepping for the ‘ridiculous’ Devin Hester and the fastest offense in the NFL

12.09.10 at 9:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Watch the above video and one minute, 15 seconds in, you’ll hear the famous words of Bears broadcaster Jeff Joniak – now immortalized on the NFL Films promo on the NFL Network – as he describes the first of two touchdown returns by Devin Hester against the Denver Broncos in Week 12 of 2007 season.

That was the season after the Bears rode the ridiculous speed of Hester and their overwhelming defense to a Super Bowl XLI appearance against the Indianapolis Colts. That was the Super Bowl that began with Hester returning the opening kick-off for a touchdown. Hester hasn’t had a kick-off return for a TD since only because the Bears now use him primarily in their passing game and as a punt returner. He has taken two of those to the house this season.

In Week 6 against Seattle, Hester returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown – his second TD on a punt return this season and 13th kick return TD in his career, tying Brian Mitchell for most in NFL history. Mitchell needed 223 games. Hester is playing in his 73rd NFL game this Sunday. Those don’t even include his legendary 108-yard return against the Giants at the Meadowlands in 2006 and the 92-yarder opening Super Bowl XLI.

These 2010 Bears, winners of five straight and owners of a 9-3 mark, are even more dangerous. They certainly have more speed than ever. Just ask the Patriots and their defensive backs.

Corners Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington and safeties Jarrad Page, Patrick Chung and James Sanders will have their hands full – and their feet running – trying to keep up with Johnny Knox and Matt Forte. Knox and Forte have joined Hester as weapons for their new strong-armed quarterback Jay Cutler.

“Of course, Knox and Hester are home run hitters,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “Those guys can strike from anywhere in a hurry. They’€™ve got a lot of things that are a problem.”

Don’t forget Danieal Manning, who took over kick return duties when Hester became a wide receiver.

“Obviously they’€™ve got a strong return game with Hester and Manning,” Belichick said. “Those guys can score from anywhere; [they'€™re] extremely dangerous ‘€“ really a problem in the return game.”

“They’re extremely fast, explosive big-play guys so we have to contain those guys,” Sanders said.

Belichick has been relying more and more on his big-play secondary, going with nickel, ‘Big Nickel’ and dime (6 DB sets) to produce big turnover numbers over a four-game winning streak. He’ll certainly be relying on them this week and safety Jarrad Page knows it.

“With Knox and Hester, they’re two of the fastest guys in the league and then Forte has shown his speed with plays over 60 yards, over 50 yards, he’s got a few of them,” Page said. “We definitely see that on film and took notice of it.”

But it’s not just the receivers. Cutler – banished to Chicago by Josh McDaniels before the 2009 season – has shown his mobility time and time again. Sometimes, he’s paid a price as Ndamukong Suh drilled him from behind last week and took a $15,000 fine for a hit to the back of the head as Cutler was scrambling.

“He’s a very athletic guy,” Sanders added. “There’s times on film where he’s running away from DBs so we’re going to have to keep him in the pocket and limit his scramble plays. And when he does get out of the pocket, we’re going to have to cover these receivers because they do a good job of uncovering and getting open down the field.”

While Hester garners all the attention in highlight videos, Belichick couldn’t help but show Forte’s 89-yard run after a simple screen pass against the Lions last weekend. It was the third play of at least 60 yards this season for the all-everything running back.

“A guy catches a ball, he takes a five-yard play and turns it into 30 or 40 [yards], and that’€™s tough for a defense,” Belichick said. “When you’€™re playing defense, you want to try and keep things in front of you, keep things contained and those guys that can take those kinds of plays and break out of them and break into big plays are tough.

“Forte is a great example. In the Lions game, there’€™s a minute to go in the half, they’€™re on their own 10-yard line, threw a screen pass. I’€™m sure they weren’€™t expecting to score. I’€™m sure they were just expecting to get a first down and it was 90 yards for a touchdown. Those are the kinds of plays that break a defense in half when you can’€™t tackle. Hester, Knox, they’€™re very dangerous with the ball in their hand. Cutler, that guy outruns most defensive backs. You see backs get the angle on him, [but] they can’€™t get him; he’€™s too fast.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brian Mitchell, Chicago Bears, Danieal Manning

What would happen if they re-did the 2010 NFL draft?

12.09.10 at 6:25 pm ET
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Interesting read by the legendary Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who hit the reset button and went back and re-did the 2010 NFL draft. Gosselin writes that, “In April, the draft board was based on potential. The December draft board is based on first-year productivity.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Gosselin has cornerback Devin McCourty ‘€” who was taken 27th overall by the Patriots ‘€” going fourth overall to the Redskins. In addition, he has Patriots’ fourth-round pick Aaron Hernandez going at No. 19 overall to the Falcons. And at No. 30, he has New England’s other rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski (who was taken in the second round by the Patriots) going to the Lions. Additionally, he has New England taking wide receiver Jacoby Ford with the 27th overall selection.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Devin McCourty, Jacoby Ford, Rob Gronkowski

Patriots listed as Super Bowl favorites by Bodog.com

12.09.10 at 5:02 pm ET
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The latest updates from Bodog.com are out, and they have the Patriots as the favorites to win Super Bowl XLV. New England is listed as having 9-2 by the site, with the Steelers at 13-2, the Giants at 12-1, the Falcons at 13-2, and the Saints and Eagles at 9-1. (The Patriots opened the year at 12-1.) In addition, Bodog has the MVP odds, with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady listed as the 4-7 favorite to win it, with Eagles’ QB Michael Vick at 3-1.

Read More: Michael Vick, Patriots, Tom Brady,

Two missing from Bears’ practice

12.09.10 at 4:51 pm ET
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The Bears reported two players missing from Thursday practice, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. Here’s the complete report from Chicago:

Did Not Participate
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee)
DT Marcus Harrison (illness)

Limited Participation
LB Nick Roach (back)
RB Chester Taylor (knee)

Read More: Bears, injury report,

Absence of Patrick Chung, Brandon Spikes wasn’t injury related, say Patriots

12.09.10 at 4:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes were no-shows at Patriots’ practice on Thursday, but according to the team, their absence was not injury related. Here’s a look at the complete report:

Did Not Participate
S Patrick Chung (not injury related)
LB Brandon Spikes (not injury related)
CB Jonathan Wilhite (hip)
DL Mike Wright (concussion)

Limited Participation
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot)
NT Myron Pryor (back)

Read More: injury report, Patriots,

The Big Nickel: Logan Mankins and Shayne Graham talk, plus James Sanders on the art of the takeaway

12.09.10 at 2:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Thursday:

1. Logan Mankins held court with the media for an extended session on Thursday morning, his first real chat during the week with reporters since he returned in early November from a contract dispute. The left guard, who has started all five games since he’€™s been back, said he feels ‘€œfine,’€ and said he felt back to normal as soon he stepped on the field to face the Browns, his first game back.

‘€œI felt fine that game. I felt good,’€ Mankins said, sporting his trademark Fu-Manchu. ‘€œHey ‘€” it’€™s not my first year here. I knew the offense before I got here. I just had to get the physical stuff down.

‘€œI’€™m happy with the way it’€™s been going. And this is going to be a big challenge for us this week, Chicago. They have a really good defense. We really admire the way their defense plays, how hard they play. The kind of players that they have.’€

Mankins drew a lot of praise from Chicago coach Lovie Smith, who said Thursday on his conference call that Mankins was ‘€œone of the best linemen in the game.’€

‘€œThey continued to win without him, but adding another special player, a special lineman to the mix, has to help your team quite a bit,’€ said Smith, who shares the same agent with Mankins, Frank Bauer. ‘€Just look at the video on him.  He’€™s as tough as there is.  He comes to work every day.  He and I have the same agent, so I know a little bit about him.  Everything is all good, so you want a guy like that on your team.’€

Mankins ‘€” who said he planned to go sleeveless on Sunday, even with the temperatures expected to dip below freezing with the wind chill ‘€” returned the favor on Thursday.

‘€œI don’€™t know what we could really say about Chicago, other than they’€™re good all the way around,’€ he said. ‘€œTheir defense is really good. They’€™ve got a good front four and good linebackers, so it’€™s going to be a tough day on Sunday.’€

As a group, the New England offensive line has played well this season, allowing 18 sacks through 12 games. The hits that did come against quarterback Tom Brady on Monday’€™s game were minimal, and as a group, they more than did their share when it came to keeping the offense moving.

‘€œThat’€™s what we’€™re supposed to do, so we’€™re happy when we do it and disappointed when we don’€™t play well,’€ he shrugged. ‘€œLike I said, Chicago is going to be tough this week, and that’€™s what we’€™re focused on right now. We’€™re not trying to look back and see what we did. We’€™re looking ahead.’€

2. The Patriots practiced in sweats and shells on the lower fields behind Gillette Stadium in absolutely bone-chilling conditions on Thursday afternoon. Not present for the media portion of practice were defensive backs Jonathan Wilhite and Patrick Chung, linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive linemen Myron Pryor and Mike Wright.

While Wilhite (hip), Pryor (back) and Wright (concussion) have been absent for the better part of the last week with various ailments, it was a surprise to see Chung and Spikes not present. Chung dealt with a knee injury that left him sidelined for two games last month, but didn’€™t appear to sustain an injury on Monday against the Jets, and was present at the walkthrough on Wednesday. The same is true for Spikes, who saw extended snaps against the Jets and was at the Wednesday afternoon walkthrough.
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Read More: Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty, Frank Bauer, James Sanders
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