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Josh McDaniels expects another ‘physical’ encounter with Dean Pees, Terrell Suggs and the Ravens

12.17.13 at 2:31 pm ET
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Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Dannell Ellerbe may be gone but Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is expecting another brutally tough and physical game against the Ravens defense this Sunday in Baltimore.

Gone are Lewis, Reed and Ellerbe. They have been replaced by the likes of linebackers Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil and safety Matt Elam.

Since giving up 49 points on seven touchdown passes from Peyton Manning on opening night, the Ravens defense has slowly but surely been working its way back into Super Bowl form. They haven’t given up more than 26 points in a game since while holding their opponent to less than 20 points seven times.

In other words, McDaniels, Tom Brady and the short-handed Patriots more than have their work cut out Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

“[There are] a few new faces, but really the same talented defense,” McDaniels said, referring of course to names like nose tackle Haloti Ngata, defensive backs Jimmy Smith and Ladarius Webb and of course, linebacker Terrell Suggs. “I think they are really a physical group. They have really good, solid players at every level of the defense. They don’€™t give up many big plays. [They’€™re] difficult to run it on; pretty stingy in the run game.

“They do a great job at situational football ‘€“ they are one of the best teams in the league on third downs, I think they are the best team in the league in red area defense. We certainly have a big challenge in front of us in terms of playing there; it is always a difficult place to play. They are well coached, as always, and they do a good job of changing up their scheme from one week to the next of giving you some different looks that maybe you haven’€™t practiced against. So, we’€™re going to have to have a great week of preparation for them. It’€™s always a great challenge to play Baltimore in Baltimore.”

McDaniels was asked if Dean Pees has changed his defensive style since McDaniels worked with him in the late 2000s in New England.

“With Dean, Dean is a great coach,” McDaniels said. “I was very fortunate to have a chance to work with him for a couple of years here, and then have had many opportunities to coach against him. His defenses are always extremely well prepared. He is very sound, and they don’€™t give up a lot of big plays. He is an aggressive play caller. They will come after you in critical situations and make you beat pressure, which I know means he has a lot of confidence in his defense and his scheme, his players. They are rarely out of position. You rarely see any kind of communication issues with them, which just speaks volumes about the way they are coached and the way they prepare. It will be a great challenge for us. I have a ton of respect for Dean. He has done an incredible job with their defense since he has taken over, and I know we are going to have our hands full on Sunday.

The Ravens have won four straight and are just a game behind the Bengals in the AFC North. They are the hottest team in the AFC after Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal lifted them to an 18-16 win Monday night in Detroit.

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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots, nfl

Pressure points: Which New England defenders have done best job getting after QB in 2013?

12.17.13 at 1:14 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the 2013 season, we’€™ll provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. While sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. Through 14 games, the Patriots have 40 sacks (tied for ninth in the league), 78 quarterback hits and 151 quarterback hurries. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’€™s a quick look at some pass-rush numbers for the Patriots to this point in the 2013 season:

Quarterback sacks
DL Chandler Jones: 11.5 (73.5 yards)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 6 (29 yards)
DL Chris Jones: 5 (32 yards)
DL Tommy Kelly: 2.5 (14.5 yards)
LB Dane Fletcher: 2 (19 yards)
CB Logan Ryan: 2 (18 yards)
DL Joe Vellano: 2 (18 yards)
DE Michael Buchanan: 2 (15 yards)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1.5 (5 yards)
CB Kyle Arrington: 1 (4 yards)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 1 (9 yards)
DL Isaac Sopoaga: 1 (8 yards)
DE Andre Carter: 1 (6 yards)
Team sacks: 1 (8 yards)
DL Sealver Siliga: 1 (6 yards)

‘€¨’€¨Quarterback hits (per NFL game books)
DE Chandler Jones: 21
DE Rob Ninkovich: 15
DL Chris Jones: 7
DL Tommy Kelly: 6
DE Michael Buchanan: 5
DE Andre Carter: 5
DL Joe Vellano: 4
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 4
LB: Dane Fletcher: 3
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 1
DE Jake Bequette: 1
CB Logan Ryan: 1
S Steve Gregory: 1
DL Issac Sopoaga: 1
LB Jamie Collins: 1
CB Kyle Arrington: 1
DL Sealver Siliga: 1

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Conn. woman with ties to Aaron Hernandez dies

12.17.13 at 1:01 pm ET
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A 27-year-old Connecticut woman with connections to accused murderer and former Patriot Aaron Hernandez died Monday, six months after surviving a car crash that killed another Hernandez associate.

Tabitha Perry, who was interviewed by Massachusetts law enforcement about the June 17 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, was visiting a friend in Southington, Conn., on Monday night, according to a report in the Hartford Courant. She was found unconscious and not breathing when police responded to a 911 call. Toxicology results are pending.

On June 30, Perry was injured when Thaddeus Singleton III lost control of his car and flew 100 feet through the air before crashing into the side of Farmington Country Club. Singleton, who had a child with Perry, was married to Tanya Singleton, a cousin of Hernandez who is facing an accessory charge in Lloyd’s death.

Thadeus Singleton was described by police as the “nexus” of Hernandez’s Bristol network, and the individual who connected Hernandez to his alleged accomplices in Lloyd’s death, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz.

The Singletons lived at a home in Bristol owned by Hernandez’s uncle, and it has been searched by police multiple times. Police seized a car from the garage of the home that matched the description of the vehicle involved in the 2012 drive-by shooting that killed two men in downtown Boston.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Tabitha Perry,

WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Patriots fall to No. 6, third in AFC

12.17.13 at 12:46 pm ET
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As the regular season nears its conclusion, the NFL continues to be unpredictable. Opportunities to gain ground in the conference, clinch divisions and secure playoff spots were present in Week 15, but the Broncos (4), Patriots (6), Saints (7), Bengals (9), Eagles (16), Lions (18) and Cowboys (20) squandered those chances.

One thing of which we can be certain is that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through the 12th man in Seattle. One more win clinches home-field advantage for the No. 1 ranked Seahawks. The Niners (2) and Panthers (3) are right behind in a top-heavy NFC.

Meanwhile, the AFC has never been this wide open. The Broncos and Patriots both fall two spots after disappointing losses, while the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens move all the way up to the No. 5 spot.

As we head into the final two weeks there still is much to be decided across the league. Which teams will lock up first-round byes? Can the Patriots actually miss the playoffs? An exciting conclusion to the season is upon us.

1. (1) Seahawks (12-2) — Injuries and suspensions to starters can’t even slow down this Seahawks defense. Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, K.J. Wright and Tony McDaniel all were out of commission on Sunday, but Seattle’s D still was able to force five turnovers and get a shutout win over the Giants.

2. (5) 49ers (10-4) — The Niners are heating up at just the right time. San Fran has won four straight and is second only to Seattle in point differential in the NFC at plus-121.

3. (6) Panthers (10-4) — Cam Newton and the Panthers control their own destiny in the NFC South. If they win their final two games, the Panthers will be division champs for the first time since 2008 and will enjoy a first-round bye.

 4. (2) Broncos (11-3) — The Broncos are allowing an average of 29 points in their last four games. This team has looked vulnerable of late but still has a firm grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC with the Texans and Raiders left on the schedule.

5. (14) Ravens (8-6) — The Ravens have just as good a shot to reach the Super Bowl as the Broncos and Patriots.

6. (4) Patriots (10-4) — It’s difficult to win in this league if your offense can’t convert in the red zone. The Patriots go from one of the best teams in the red zone to one of the worst without Rob Gronkowski. If Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can lead this team to the Super Bowl it will go down as one of the tandem’s best accomplishments of their career.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Eli Manning, NFL Power Rankings, Tom Brady

Reports: Rob Gronkowski should be ready for 2014 season

12.17.13 at 11:41 am ET
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With knee surgery expected by the end of the year, Rob Gronkowski should be ready to go when the 2014 season opens next September, according to multiple media outlets.

The Boston Herald Tuesday morning confirmed the story first reported by the NFL Network that the Patriots star tight end should be ready after reconstruction of his right ACL and MCL, injured on Dec. 8 when Cleveland’s T.J. Ward went low and upended him, ending his season.

The Herald reports the surgery is expected to be performed by Dr. James Andrews in two weeks. It was Andrews who consulted with Gronkowski and the Patriots as he worked to clear hurdles in a recovery from forearm and back surgeries.

This will mark at least the eighth surgery of Gronkowski’s career, with seven of them coming within the last two years. He has had four on his forearm, two on his back and one on his ankle.

The latest significant injury came when Ward drilled Gronkowski in the side of the right knee following a 21-yard completion from Tom Brady. Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve the next day.

Read More: Cleveland Browns, Gronk, james andrews, New England Patriots

Bill Belichick on S&H: ‘In the end, [we] just couldn’t quite make enough plays’

12.17.13 at 10:14 am ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined Salk & Holley on Monday afternoon to discuss New England’s disappointing 24-20 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, the team’s injured defensive unit, as well as next Sunday’s opponent, the Ravens.

After Miami took a 24-20 lead with just 1:15 remaining in the game, the Patriots once again made things interesting, as Tom Brady orchestrated a drive that had the Patriots in the red zone with just a few seconds left on the clock. However, the Patriots were unable to pull off another comeback, as Brady was picked off by Michael Thomas in the end zone, sealing the victory for Miami.

‘€œIt didn’€™t end up being our day,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œReal competitive game, but in the end, [we] just couldn’€™t quite make enough plays. ‘€¦ I think that all of us that participated in the game all think about one or two things we could have done better that probably would have made a difference. I know I feel that way, I’€™m sure everybody on the team feels that way, too.’€

One player in particular who had a rough day was kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed a 48-yard field goal in the second half and also sent a fourth-quarter kickoff out of bounds, giving Miami excellent field position for its winning drive. Sunday’s tough showing certainly was an outlier on Gostkowski’s otherwise Pro Bowl-caliber season, as the 29-year-old kicker has converted 94 percent of his field goals, with six of those kicks coming from 50 or more yards out.

‘€œThat’€™s one of the plays where we were just talking about. I’€™m sure he would like to have that one back,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œWe’€™ve all watched great golfers on the golf course hit them down the middle every drive and then miss one. Steve has been very consistent for us. He’€™s had a great year. I’€™m sure he’€™d like to have that back.’€

Injuries once again served as a major talking point after the game, as the Patriots have lost a number of key players this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball with Vince WilforkJerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly all being placed on IR earlier this season.

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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Fantasy Football: Week 16 waiver wire

12.17.13 at 9:23 am ET
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And then there were two … Congratulations to all the teams in their league’€™s final game. The Week 16 dynamic is a bit unusual and this article reflects that. What we want this week are players that might be available, who can tip the scales for either you or your opponent. There are some leagues that have different rules. Perhaps your league has a second game between the semifinal losers, for third place. Whatever the case, the team you want to work against in this week’€™s free agent market is your opponent.

First, look at your roster. Do you have a weak spot in your lineup that can be strengthened in free agency? That should be your first priority — maximizing your Week 16 lineup. Second, look at your opponent’€™s roster. Do they have a weak spot that can be improved via the waiver wire? If they do, that is a move that you might consider blocking if you have waiver priority or a larger remaining free agent budget. Lastly, you can be aggressive with your cuts now. There’€™s nothing left to save for. You’€™re here. The only players you truly need are the ones who will be in your lineup this week, so don’€™t be afraid to manage your roster with that in mind and cut players who can’€™t help your opponent this week.

For example, let’€™s say that you have Rashard Mendenhall as your fifth running back.  You are not playing him this week and he’€™s got a brutal matchup at Seattle. Your opponent has injuries at running back and horrible matchups with what he has left. You think he’€™ll go after Jordan Todman in free agency. In this case, I would dump Mendenhall and add Todman, who I project to outscore Mendenhall by about 10 points this week. You won’€™t play Todman as you would not have played Mendenhall, but you’€™ve hurt your opponent’€™s potential score and helped yourself.

So, get in that frame of mind and see all the angles. One more win and you’€™re a champion. Having said all that, I will be back next week just in case you play in one of those bizarre leagues that use Week 17 as its championship week. We’€™ve got you covered. As always, I will be adding talent throughout the day at Rotobahn as I continue to work through the film from Week 15. Come by later if you play in a really deep format.

QUARTERBACKS

Kirk Cousins, Redskins

He had a very nice outing against Atlanta, and he is a very good fantasy play in Week 16 if you’€™ve been streaming quarterbacks. A home matchup against Dallas is about as good as it gets right now. Cousins is a very good option.

Jay Cutler, Bears

He was dumped in a good many leagues after his injury, so he could be a nice addition for those of you looking for quarterback help. Cutler has a very nice Week 16 matchup at Philadelphia, and his receivers are insanely good.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

Give Tannehill a lot of credit for hanging tough behind a reconstructed offensive line. He continues to make plays on a weekly basis and is on a nice four-week run of production. He’€™s a solid option this week at Buffalo if you need help at quarterback.

Joe Flacco, Ravens

He’€™s available in about 50 percent of leagues, so he’€™s worth mentioning, since he’€™s playing for something and has a solid Week 16 matchup at home vs. the Patriots. I’€™d rather start Cousins, Cutler or Tannehill, but Flacco is viable.

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Read More: Andre Ellington, Jay Cutler, joe flacco, Jordan Todman
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