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Top 10 moments from Patriots’ 2014 regular season

01.03.15 at 9:00 am ET
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Tom Brady eclipsing the 50,000 career passing yard mark was on our list, what was No. 1? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady eclipsing the 50,000 career passing yard mark was on our list, but what was No. 1? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the Patriots off this weekend, earning a first-round bye by the way of the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, we’re going to look back at the top 10 moments of the 2014 season. A season in which the Patriots were sitting 2-2 after Week 4 with some saying it was the start of the fall of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, and now it’s the first week of the postseason and the Patriots have earned a first-round bye for the 10th time in franchise history by way of their 12-4 record this season.

10. Tom Brady eclipsing 50,000 career passing yards in win over Cincinnati

Brady has certainly asserted himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. In Week 5’s win over the Bengals, Brady eclipsed the 50,000 passing yard mark for his career. He became just the sixth player in NFL history to reach the mark. Brady would later pass John Elway later in the season to currently sit at No. 5 on the all-time list trailing: Drew Brees, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

It was a special night at Gillette Stadium (more on that later) as the milestone was flashed on the video board inside the stadium and fans began to chant, “Brady! Brady! Brady!”

9. Patriots/Gillette Stadium showing love to Pete Frates

The Patriots showed their support of Pete Frates — the Ice Bucket Challenge creator and ALS patient — a few times this season. Frates was a guest of Robert Kraft at the regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium on his 30th birthday. To honor Frates, he was shown on the video board on the sidelines with Kraft and Frates’ family at the two minute warning of the first half and the crowd was instructed to sing “Happy Birthday.” On cue, 68,756 fans sung Happy Birthday to Frates in what was truly a special moment.

During training camp, when the Ice Bucket Challenge was reaching its peak, the Patriots, along with Kraft and Belichick, did the challenge following one of their practices.

Click here to see the video via the Patriots’ team website.

8. Chris Jones’ blocked field goal vs. Jets

While a game against a team in the Jets that finished the season 4-12 shouldn’t have come down to a field goal in the closing seconds, that is what happened. Nick Folk was attempting a 58-yard field goal, which could have given the Jets a one-point win, but Jones was able to block the kick, giving the Patriots a 27-25 win on Oct. 16 at Gillette Stadium.

It was extra special for Jones given it came almost a year to the day that he was called for an illegal push at the line in overtime that gave the Jets and Folk a second chance on a field goal attempt and Folk connected to give the Jets a win in 2013 at MetLife Stadium.

“A few people have told me about it, so I’€™ve had a chance to think about it,”€ Jones said. “€œIt feels good. That was last year and it’€™€™s just good to get a win this year. I think it really became a reality when coach [special teams assistant] Joe Judge came up and told me. I felt it then. Honestly it’€™€™s just good to get a win. Obviously it’€™€™s always good to beat a division rival. The Jets gave us their best and we’€™€™re just glad to come out with the win.”

7. Scoring three touchdowns in 57 seconds vs. Bears

The Patriots dominated the Bears in a 51-23 rout on Oct. 26, but it was a 57-second span at the end of the first half, which really changed the game. New England scored three touchdowns in 57 seconds, scoring 31 total first half points and taking a 38-7 lead into the locker room.

With 1:55 left in the half, Rob Gronkowski caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Brady to give the Patriots a 24-7 lead. The Patriots defense then forced a quick 3-and-out and Julian Edelman returned the punt 42 yards to the Bears’ 19-yard line. Brady then connected with Brandon LaFell for a 9-yard touchdown on the next play. Then, on the Bears’ first play following the touchdown, Rob Ninkovich picked up a fumble and returned it 15 yards for another Patriots touchdown with 55 seconds still to play in the half.

The Patriots became one of three teams to score three touchdowns in under a minute since the 1970 merger, and are the only team to have achieved the feat twice.

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Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Bill Belichick, Patriots, Tom Brady

Potential playoff opponents: Colts

01.02.15 at 9:23 pm ET
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Andrew Luck led the Colts to an 11-5 mark and the top spot in the AFC South this season. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Andrew Luck led the Colts to an 11-5 mark and the top spot in the AFC South this season. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

With the playoff picture set, it’s time to size up the possible postseason opponents for the Patriots. We started with the Broncos, Ravens and Steelers. Now it’s the Colts.

The skinny: The Colts went 6-0 against the AFC South. They were 5-5 outside their division. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Indy, which is the fourth seed in the AFC playoff picture, and will host the fifth-seeded Bengals on Sunday in a Wild Card contest. There’s a lot to like about this Indy team — Andrew Luck is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, they get great production from their passing game from players like T.Y. Hilton and there are enough good pieces on the defensive side of the ball that they can be competitive. But, this is a young team that really didn’t progress much from 2013 to 2014. As a result, this team still probably isn’t capable of playing in the deep end of the pool just yet.

Offense: It begins and ends with Luck. In his third year in the league, he was a bonafide MVP candidate for a portion of the season, and played the lead role in making sure the Colts were the best passing team in the league this season with an average of 306 yards per game. Luck (62 percent completion rate, 4,761 passing yards, 40 TDs, 16 INTs, 96.5 passer rating) looks for Hilton (82 catches, 131 targets, 1,345 yards, t TDs) and veteran Reggie Wayne (64 catches, 116 targets, 779 yards, 2 TDs), as well as tight end Coby Fleener (51 catches, 92 targets, 774 yards, 8 TDs).

Luck needs to be that good for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Colts really can’t run the ball. Indy had seven games where they failed to reach the 100-yard mark as a team, including outings where they had 1-yard (against Dallas), 19 yards (against the Patriots) and 54 yards (against the Broncos.) Indy averages 100.8 rushing yards per game — 22nd in the league. (It’s the worst total of any of the AFC playoff teams.) Trent Richardson is the closest thing they have to a feature back, but his 519 rushing yards on 159 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per carry probably won’t do much in the playoffs,.

Overall, the Colts are sixth in the league in scoring at 28.6 points per game.
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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Colts, potential playoff opponents,

Report: Bills request interview with Josh McDaniels; 49ers, Falcons interviews taking place

01.02.15 at 3:48 pm ET
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Last week it was reported Josh McDaniels would be interviewing with the 49ers and Falcons. Add another team interested in McDaniels’ services — the Buffalo Bills.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting the Bills have requested permission to interview the Patriots’ offensive coordinator for their vacant head coaching job.

UPDATE 9:15 p.m.: SI and MMQB’s Peter King reports the Bills and McDaniels will not meet, as they didn’t get an interview during the allotted window during the bye week.

“I think the one thing that works against him is the fact that there are a lot of good candidates, and he’€™s going to be on a playoff team and is there going to be a team out there that’€™s willing to wait for him? I don’€™t know that that’€™s going to be the case,”€ Schefter said on WEEI’s MFB earlier in the day, before he reported the Bills’ interest. “€œBut I don’€™t think he’€™s concerned. I think he loves being there, you’€™re in a great organization. If you get one of these head coaching jobs this year, great. And if you don’€™t, guess what? There were teams last year who were after him, there are teams this year who are after him, and if he doesn’€™t get one this year there’€™ll be teams next year who are after him.

“So in a perfect world you’€™d get a chance to get one of these jobs. But he’€™s in a bit of a tricky situation, because you’€™ve got the playoffs going on, there are some good candidates out there, are all these teams going to be willing to wait? A lot of things still have to be decided. But we do know Falcons today, 49ers tomorrow, and we’€™ll see how that goes.”

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

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Josh McDaniels,

Adam Schefter on MFB: Patriots offense ‘needs to be at a higher level’

01.02.15 at 1:29 pm ET
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Adam Schefter

Adam Schefter

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Friday to discuss the Patriots’ postseason chances and other NFL news. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Schefter said the Patriots should fear no opponent as long as they play “their brand of football,” but he did express some concern with how the team ended the season, struggling offensively in the last couple of games.

“There’s always something to be working on, and I think that that’s perfect for Bill Belichick or any head coach, because it gives any coach a reason to rail on his team a little bit,” Schefter told MFB guest hosts Danny Picard, DJ Bean and Mike Giardi. “But they know, once you get to this point of the season, you’ve got to ratchet it up. The offense has slacked off some and they need to get it better and they’re working on that and we’ll see how it works out, but no question the offense needs to be at a higher level, the way it was about midway through the season as opposed to how it was when it started the season or how it was when it ended the season.”

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels won’t be able to fully focus on finding a cure this weekend, as he is scheduled to interview with the Falcons on Friday and the 49ers on Saturday.

“I think the one thing that works against him is the fact that there are a lot of good candidates, and he’s going to be on a playoff team and is there going to be a team out there that’s willing to wait for him? I don’t know that that’s going to be the case,” Schefter said. “But I don’t think he’s concerned. I think he loves being there, you’re in a great organization. If you get one of these head coaching jobs this year, great. And if you don’t, guess what? There were teams last year who were after him, there are teams this year who are after him, and if he doesn’t get one this year there’ll be teams next year who are after him.

“So in a perfect world you’d get a chance to get one of these jobs. But he’s in a bit of a tricky situation, because you’ve got the playoffs going on, there are some good candidates out there, are all these teams going to be willing to wait? A lot of things still have to be decided. But we do know Falcons today, 49ers tomorrow, and we’ll see how that goes.”

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Read More: adam schefter, Doug Marrone, Josh McDaniels, Rex Ryan

Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis All-Pro first-team selections

01.02.15 at 1:06 pm ET
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The Patriots had two players named to the 2014 All-Pro first-team in tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Darrelle Revis.

The team is selected by a national panel of 50 media members. Gronkowski received all 50 votes at the tight end spot, which is very impressive, as he and J.J. Watt were the only two players to get 50 votes. Revis received 42 votes, one ahead of Richard Sherman‘s 41. It was Revis’ fourth All-Pro berth, while it was Gronkowski’s third.

Also getting votes were seven other Patriots players.

On offense, Tom Brady received two votes, finishing behind Aaron Rodgers (44) and Tony Romo (3) at quarterback. Sebastian Vollmer received three votes at the offensive tackle position, Dan Connolly received a vote at offensive guard and kicker Stephen Gostkowski received 21 votes to finish in second behind Adam Vinatieri who had 25.

Defensively, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower each received two votes at linebacker, while Devin McCourty received two votes at safety.

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

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Darrelle Revis, Rob Gronkowski,

Potential playoff opponent: Steelers

01.02.15 at 10:34 am ET
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Ben Roethlisberger leads a wildly inconsistent Steelers team into the postseason. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

No one is quite sure what to make of Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

With the playoff picture set, it’s time to size up the possible postseason opponents for the Patriots. We started with the Broncos and Ravens. Now it’s the Steelers.

The skinny: Perhaps the most intriguing of all the AFC playoff teams, the third-seeded Steelers reached the postseason by winning the AFC North with an 11-5 record. However, no team in the playoffs proved to be more consistently inconsistent than Pittsburgh. The Steelers finished with the best record in the league against winning teams at 6-1, and in the process, looked positively unstoppable at times in wins over the Colts (51-34) and Bengals (winning their two divisional games by a combined 31 points). However, four of their five losses came against teams that didn’t make the playoffs (Jets, Bucs, Browns and Saints). As a result, no one is quite sure what to make of this team as the playoffs roll around, a quandary that’s compounded by the uncertainty surrounding their best and most consistent offensive option in running back Le’Veon Bell, who comes into the playoffs with a knee injury. While they are distinctly lacking on defense, if Bell is healthy, they certainly have the sort of pedigree (and more than enough on offense) that could make them a tough out this postseason.

Offense: The Steelers rely on Bell in much the same way the Patriots lean on Rob Gronkowski. Bell not only was second in the league in rushing yards (1,361, trailing only Dallas’ DeMarco Murray and his 1,845 yards), he was second on the team in catches with 83 (to go along with 854 yards and three TDs). Ultimately, he and Matt Forte were the only two backs in the league with at least 80 catches and 200 rushing attempts.

Bell has a really nice complimentary piece in the passing game with wide receiver Antonio Brown (league-high 129 catches, 1,698 yards, 13 TDs). The 5-foot-10, 186-pounder out of Central Michigan is one of the most complete receivers in the league, and the No. 1 read for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (67 percent completion rate, 4,952 yards, 32 TDs, 9 INTs, 103.3 passer rating) in the passing game. Roethlisberger is having a really good season — his six-game stretch in the middle of the year where he had 19 TDs and 5 INTs, to go along with five games where he threw for 300-plus yards was enough to interject him into the MVP discussion. Tight end Heath Miller (66 catches, 91 targets, 761 yards, 3 TDs) also provides nice depth in the passing game.

Defense: If you’re going to beat the Steelers, you’re going to do it by throwing the football. Pittsburgh is 27th in the league in pass defense (253.1 yards per game), and six opponents have thrown for at least 275 yards on the Steelers this season. Cornerback Ike Taylor has missed most the year with injury, while safety Troy Polamalu has been sidelined for large chunks of time this season with a knee issue and is a question mark for wild card weekend. It’s important to note that veteran pass rusher James Harrison has been a nice find this season with 5.5 sacks, but the Steelers get the bulk of their pass rush from Jason Worilds and Cameron Hayward (7.5 sacks each).

At the same time, the Steelers have maintained a nice stoutness against the run. Pittsburgh is sixth against the run (100.3 yards per game), particularly as of late. The Steelers have held six of their last nine opponents under 100 yards on the ground, led in large part by the work of players like linebacker Lawrence Timmons and Hayward. Overall, Pittsburgh is 18th in the league in points per game allowed (23). In six of their last eight games, the Steelers held their opponents to 25 points or less.

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, potential playoff opponents, Steelers,

Fantasy Football: Wild card round daily leagues

01.02.15 at 10:23 am ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdr

On Thursday we talked about how to draft in playoff fantasy leagues. These leagues run through the entire playoffs, including the Super Bowl, and they can be a lot of fun. Having said that, they also can be maddening, because your team’s success hinges largely on which teams win and which teams lose. I think we’ve all seen enough NFL playoff games to realize that they often come down to elements that are impossible to predict such as overturned plays and questionable yellow flags, not to mention the way an oddly shaped ball bounces.

Today we are talking about playing daily fantasy leagues during the postseason. Specifically, we are talking about the wild card round. I’ll have a separate piece next week for the divisional round. Playing in daily playoff leagues rather than multi-week leagues removes the stress of predicting winners and losers, which is a more comfortable game for a lot of fantasy footballers.

Since DraftKings is good enough to sponsor our fantasy football content, I’ll be using DraftKings’ weekly prices in this article. These postseason leagues work exactly like the regular season ones, but with fewer NFL games to choose from, obviously. If any of you played in the Thanksgiving day tournaments, these are basically the same thing. Your options are limited to eight teams playing in four games. This makes switching players far more complex than normal because you have fewer options who will match up money-wise. Ideally, you don’t want to blow up a team just to make a single switch. For this reason, I like to get my team the way I want it early and I want to avoid players who have drama. This week, those players include Le’Veon Bell (knee) and A.J. Green (concussion).

One other thing to be mindful of is that this is the playoffs. The low-hanging-fruit matchups are few and far between. GMs who like to stream against the Jets pass defense or the Titans run defense will have to find a different path to the winner’s circle. Therefore, it is crucial to try to take advantage of as many of the plus matches as you can. I’ve isolated the matches that I want to be involved in below. My ideal lineup will include as many of these options as possible.

Jeremy Hill (6,200 units), Bengals at Colts

This is pretty obvious. The Bengals must control the ball in this game, because you do not want to get into a shootout where you have Andy Dalton and the other guys have Andrew Luck. Hill is crucial for Cincinnati this week, and the Colts can be run on. The rookie is a downhill back with three-down ability, as I said in his 2014 scouting report. This is a player to know well for 2015.

Torrey Smith (5,400 units), Ravens at Steelers

He can get it done against the Steelers corners, who cannot run with him. The Ravens will have to put the ball in the air to win this game, and Smith is their most dangerous weapon. He’s faster and quicker than the Steelers cornerbacks.

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Read More: Jeremy Hill, Joique Bell, Justin Forsett, Martavis Bryant

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