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Setting the scene: Patriots look for playoff berth at Gillette, Stevan Ridley expected to play

12.08.13 at 10:06 am ET
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FOXBORO — Cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-30s are expected for kickoff as the Patriots look to win their 10th game of the season for an 11th straight season.

Winds should not be a factor as there will be a breeze out of the northwest at just three miles an hour.

The heavy winter precipitation headed for New England is expected to hold off until well after the game. The weather should not be a factor as Stevan Ridley is expected to be active after getting benched last Sunday in Houston. Before last week, Ridley had fumbled in each of his last three games. He has four overall, losing all four to the opposition.

The Patriots will clinch their fifth straight AFC East title with a win and a Miami loss in Pittsburgh. They will clinch the playoffs with a win and a loss by Baltimore at home to Minnesota.

The 9-3 Patriots have won the AFC East in each of the last four seasons and nine of the last 10 seasons. They will look to extend Bill Belichick‘s NFL record of at least 10 wins in a season to 11 straight seasons. In 2011, Belichick became the first coach in history with nine straight seasons of double-digit wins.

The Patriots own the NFL’s best December record since 2001 with a 46-6 mark, improving on that with last week’s 34-31 come-from-behind win over Houston. The Patriots are also 22-2 at home in December since Gillette opened in 2002, with the last loss coming against San Francisco last season.

The Patriots are the first team to win more than half their games in 13 straight seasons since free agency began in 1993 and just the third overall since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The 49ers (1983-1998) and Cowboys (1970-1985) share the record at 16 straight.

The 4-8 Browns have one win against a winning team this season, when they beat Cincinnati, 17-6, at home on Sept. 29. Overall, they are 1-3 overall this season against teams with a winning record.

Belichick not only started his head coaching career in Cleveland in 1991 but knows their GM quite well as Michael Lombardi worked with Belichick during their days in Cleveland in the early 90s. Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski is in the same position Belichick was in 1991, in his first year as head coach of the Browns, trying to turn around years of losing.

“I definitely remember what some of my experiences were that year,” Belichick said this week. “But as it relates to the Browns right now, we really can’€™t be too concerned about that. We have a job to do here. They’€™re a good football team. They have a lot of good players and they work hard and they’€™ve improved a lot. I don’€™t want to get caught up in all that. Obviously I’€™ve talked about this before, I remember the first game. I remember Jimmy Johnson telling me years later that they didn’€™t even have a scouting report for us in the first game because they were worried about Washington the next week. They didn’€™t feel like they could dedicate too much time to us, which was about right. So, you remember a few of those things. But I would say, just looking at the Browns organization, overall, separately, it’€™s obvious they have a plan. Jimmy Haslam, the owner and [President] Joe Banner and then they’€™ve implemented [General Manager] Mike [Lombardi] and Chud [Head Coach Rob Chudzinski] to go through with it.

“But they definitely have a plan of what they want to do. They have a lot of young players. They’€™re young on defense, they have a lot of young offensive linemen that aren’€™t playing who I’€™m sure they must like. They have a lot of skill players and a lot of good players on defense period. They’€™ve put a lot of young players into the kicking game. They obviously have a plan ‘€“ they way they handled the draft last year and so forth. It’€™s a team that’€™s young, they’€™re talented, they’€™re getting better and it looks like they definitely have a vision that Jimmy and Joe have a definite vision for where they want the team to go and they’€™ve had Mike and Rob implement it. They have a very experienced coaching staff. Their strength and conditioning staff has obviously done a good job because they have very few injuries, other than at the quarterback position, they’€™ve remained remarkably healthy throughout the course of the year and they’€™re a tough, physical team so it’€™s not like they don’€™t bang it around in there. Obviously their strength staff has done a great job there. Those are some of the things that I see with the Browns. But really all that’€™s sort of not really very much in focus because we’€™re concentrating on what they do, what their tendencies are, what the matchups are going to be, how we’€™re going to game plan and so forth. That’€™s really the target for us right now.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, nfl

Fantasy Football Live Chat, 11 a.m. : Getting you ready for Week 14

12.08.13 at 8:50 am ET
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Join and fantasy football expert Pete Davidson in a fantasy football live chat, helping you prepare for the all-important Week 14. Davidson will answer all your questions starting at 11 a.m. Start chiming in now…



Final thoughts on Browns-Patriots

12.08.13 at 6:00 am ET
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1. With Stevan Ridley‘€™s ball security issues landing him on the sidelines, it appears that he won’€™t get an opportunity to break one of the oddest streaks in Bill Belichick‘€™s coaching career. In his year’€™s as a head coach — dating all the way back to his days in Cleveland — he’€™s never had a running back go for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons. He’€™s had plenty of 1,000-yard rushers, including Antowain Smith (1,157 yards in 2001), Corey Dillon (1,635 yards in 2004), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,008 yards in 2010) and Ridley (1,263 yards last year). Ridley enters Sunday’€™s game against the Browns with 576 yards — 424 yards shy of the mark — and would have to average 106 yards per game over the last four to hit the plateau. While it’€™s not completely impossible, it would be a bit of a reach. Of the backs Belichick has had, Smith and Dillon have come the closest. Smith followed up his 2001 performance with 982 yards in 2002, falling just short of the back-to-back mark. And Dillon had 733 yards in 2005.

2. Meanwhile, there’€™s another running back who appears likely to hit another interesting mark. Shane Vereen enters this weekend with 35 carries and 28 receptions, impressive numbers considering the fact that he’€™s only played in four of the 12 games to this point in the season because of a wrist injury he suffered in the Week 1 opener against the Bills. However, Vereen figures to be close to hitting the 40-carry/40-catch mark, a plateau that only two other New England running backs have hit since Bill Belichick took over the Patriots prior to the 2000 season. Danny Woodhead did it last year when he had 76 carries and 40 catches — prior to that, Kevin Faulk was the last back to turn the trick while with the Patriots, finishing the 2008 season with 83 carries and 58 catches. (Faulk actually did it four times with New England, with his most impressive multidimensional season coming in 2000 when he finished with 164 carries and 51 catches.) Going back 20 years, Curtis Martin (who had a remarkable 316 carries and 46 catches in 1996, followed up by a 274 carries and 41 catches in 1997), Dave Meggett (1995) and Leroy Thompson (1994) also turned the trick while with New England.

3. Another running back tale — file this one under one who got away. Detroit’€™s Joique Bell recounted an interesting story this week, speaking with MLive about how he almost became a member of the Patriots on two separate occasions. The 27-year-old Bell, who has 435 rushing yards and 378 receiving yards with the Lions this year, said that after he went undrafted in 2010, he got a call from Belichick about possibly coming to New England. Bell was interested, but asked for a few minutes to confer with his agent. After checking with his agent, he called Belichick back, but was told by that point, the Patriots had already signed another running back. (Bell didn’€™t saw who the back was, but a look back at the free agent transactions following the 2010 draft reveals that the Patriots signed running back Pat Paschall, a North Dakota State product who was waived two months later.) He ended up with the Eagles, but Bell also said that after he was let go later in his career, he had everything lined up to sign with New England again, only to return to the Eagles again.

4. Here’€™s a quick look at some of the more important AFC games this weekend, as viewed through a Patriots prism:

a. Indy (8-4) at Cincy (8-4), 1 p.m. One of the two biggest games for Patriots fans to keep an eye on. If the Colts are able to knock off the Bengals, it’€™ll give New England some breathing room when it comes to the chase for that No. 2 spot. Currently, the Patriots are a game up on both teams, and while it’€™s not exactly palatable to be tied with the Colts, New England currently holds the tiebreaker between the two teams if it came to that. The Patriots aren’€™t as lucky when it comes to the Bengals, as New England lost to Cincy on the road earlier this season. A Patriots win and Bengals loss would give the Patriots a little separation.

b. Miami (6-6) at Pittsburgh (5-7), 1 p.m. This is the other key one for New England fans. If the Patriots win and Dolphins lose, that would clinch the AFC East for New England and give the Patriots a playoff spot. If both New England and Miami win, the Patriots would have to wait until next week in South Florida for another chance to clinch the division.

c. Kansas City (9-3) at Washington (3-9), 1 p.m. Given the Broncos slate the rest of the way — they have the easiest schedule among the AFC elite — it would be a bit much to think that the Chiefs have a shot at coming back in the AFC West, even though they’€™re only a game back of Denver. But stranger things have happened. No. 5 Kansas City gets its chance to snap its three-game losing skid against the Redskins, an embarrassing team that’€™s circling the drain as the 2013 season comes to a close.

d. Minnesota (3-8) at Baltimore (6-6), 1 p.m. The Ravens are on the march, having nudged their way back into the AFC playoff picture, and they have another chance to make even more noise this weekend at home against the lowly Vikings. Baltimore, who currently sits at No. 6 in the playoff race, needs to take advantage this week against Minnesota, because it’€™s their only tomato can the rest of the way — the Ravens have the toughest final quarter of the season from a strength of schedule standpoint. Over the last three games, they face teams with a combined mark of 24-12.

e. Tennessee (5-7) at Denver (10-2), 4 p.m. As we previously stated, it would be a surprise if the Broncos weren’€™t able to run the table the rest of the way and finish 14-2 and with the AFC West title, particularly when you consider the fact that the combined record of their remaining opponents is 16-32, with none of them at or above .500. Regardless of what the Chiefs do, a win Sunday against the Titans — who are still mathematically in the postseason chase — would effectively end the divisional race.

f. New York Giants (5-7) at San Diego (5-7), 4:25 p.m. A must-win game for both teams if they want to stay in the postseason picture. The Chargers are one of four teams in the AFC sitting at 5-7 — it would be hard enough just getting separation from that group, but whoever might emerge from that swampy morass then has to climb over the Dolphins (6-6) and battle with the Ravens (6-6) for that final wild card spot. Not an easy task.

5. We’€™ll have more on this in the coming weeks — and I feel like I’€™ve written on it a few times already — but it’€™s worth mentioning again that the 2013 Patriots will almost certainly go down as one of the most disciplined teams of Belichick’€™s time in New England. Through 12 games, the Patriots have the second-fewest penalties and penalty yardage in the league (51 and 493 yards), and are on pace to be flagged for 68 penalties and 657 penalty yards over the regular season. That would represent a dramatic dip in regular season penalties against over the course of the last few years: last season, it was 97 penalties and 840 yards, and in 2011, it was 87 penalties and 815 yards. One of the reasons for the improvement is simple — they’€™ve run fewer plays on both sides of the ball this year than in year’€™s past. But as we’€™ve pointed out before, they also deserve credit for not getting flagged down as often in 2013. For complete penalty information, check out our weekly updates here.

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Bill Belichick, Bob Knight and what it takes to go from the hardwood to the NFL

12.07.13 at 4:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick has had a good amount of success recruiting athletes from other sports and converting them into viable and productive NFL players.

There was offensive lineman Stephen Neal, an NCAA champion wrestler and five-sport athlete. There is defensive back and special teamer Nate Ebner, a world-class rugby player.

On other teams, there are numerous examples. Take San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. He turned down Michigan State because Nick Saban would not let him play basketball in addition to football. There’s Jimmy Graham, the Saints All-Pro tight end who also starred in basketball for the Miami Hurricanes.

Then there’s Jordan Cameron, the Browns tight end who could give the Patriots fits on Sunday. Cameron was going to play basketball at BYU before transferring to Southern California to play football.

Is there something those players have in common that Belichick sees when defending them?

“I think the biggest thing that I’€™ve seen with basketball players through the years is their hands,” Belichick said. “Those guys have to have good hands. They obviously handle the ball a lot and it’€™s on them quickly. They’€™re cutting and it’€™s a short pass and a lot of times it comes at good speed or bounce passes and trying to get it around the defender. They have to be able to react to the ball very quickly. It’€™s a lot different than football, seeing the ball travel however many yards to you. If you’€™re coming out of a cut, it’€™s still not like in basketball where the passes are, a lot of times, very short, very tight and you have to reach out and extend and get the ball away from the defender, like you do in football situations rebounding the ball. It’€™s not about ‘€“ you can’€™t let it come into your body. You have to go up and aggressively take it.

“I would just say in general that basketball players, and certainly basketball players that have come into football that I’€™ve coached or I’€™ve observed, one pretty common thing is their hands and their ability to handle the ball aggressively, cleanly and it gets on them quickly but it doesn’€™t seem to affect them like it does other players sometimes where the ball is on them and they can’€™t quite find it and adjust to it. Those guys seem like they’€™re used to it. They’€™ve done it their whole lives and they’€™re used to it.”

If history is any indication, Belichick is likely to break out part of the game plan from the Saints game as the Patriots became the only team to hold Graham without a catch so far this season.

As for scouting basketball players to play in the NFL, Belichick says he has spoken with former Indiana legendary coach Bob Knight back in the early 1990s, when Knight was still with the Hoosiers and Belichick was coaching the Browns.

“We’€™ve seen those guys through the years ‘€“ guys with football backgrounds than end up playing basketball,” Belichick said. “I’€™d say I’€™ve had many conversations with [former Head] Coach [Bob] Knight about that when he was at Indiana. I would say that the big thing for most basketball players is, in general, they’€™re quicker than they are fast. When you get out there and time a lot of those guys in the 40-yard dash, they’€™re slow. They might look fast on a basketball court, but we have such a much bigger field that vertical speed, especially for those positions ‘€“ there aren’€™t many linemen playing basketball so you’€™re talking about skills guys, receivers and DBs, those type of positions, that most of them don’€™t have the speed that we, at our level, they don’€™t have the speed to play.

“They have quickness and a lot of times they have exceptional quickness but when it just comes to straight, flat-out speed, I’€™d say that’€™s where a lot of times, in the scouting part of it, the deficiencies come up. You go see a basketball player and say, ‘€˜This guy has great hands. This guy has great quickness. This guy is strong, he’€™s competitive.’€™ Then you go out and time him and he runs 4.75-4.8 and you’€™re like, ‘€˜What are you going to do with him?’€™ What corner in this league is ‘€“ they have to be able to run faster than that or if they’€™re receivers, they have to able to run faster than that. I’€™ve seen that several times. Like I said, I’€™ve been in a couple of those situations with Coach Knight at Indiana, like ‘€˜Hey, I want you to take a look at this kid, this guy he’€™s this, he’€™s that.’€™ And he was, but then you go out and put a watch on him and he’€™s just not fast enough to play at this level. It’€™s generalities but that’€™s my general experience with it.”

Read More: basketball, Bill Belichick, Bob Knight, Cleveland Browns

Video: ‘4th & Goal’ previews Browns-Patriots

12.07.13 at 3:18 pm ET
By   |   Comments’€™s Chris Price previews Sunday’s matchup between the Patriots and Browns. Find out the keys to the game as well as Chris’€™ prediction on the final score.

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
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