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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Patriots top dogs in AFC

11.26.13 at 12:36 pm ET
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The Patriots are the new power team in the AFC as they have surpassed the Broncos for the first time this year in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Sunday night’s stunning comeback was good enough to catapult New England from seventh to fourth and drop Denver from second to fifth.

In the NFC, the scene is set for the two top teams to clash on Monday night. The Seahawks have enjoyed the top spot for quite some time, but the Saints, up a spot this week to No. 2, are a real threat with their prolific offense. Monday night’s outcome may not only determine who gets home-field advantage in the playoffs, but ultimately who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl.

At the bottom of the barrel, the Jaguars finally clawed their way out of the most miserable position. The good news for the Texans, our new bottom-feeder, is that they can only go up from here. Houston has plunged week after week after starting the season at No. 7.

1. (1) Seahawks (10-1) — Seattle should be solely focusing on its NFC clash with the Saints, but news that cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner are facing suspensions has changed that plan.

2. (3) Saints (9-2) — The most important game of the year for the Saints is Monday in Seattle. New Orleans wants to play in the comfort of its dome in the postseason. Winning two games in Seattle in the same year doesn’t seem likely.

3. (4) Panthers (8-3) — We’ve seen many qualities of a Super Bowl-caliber team during the Panthers’ current seven game win streak. The ability to close out tight games is a trait we see year after year from Super Bowl champions during the regular season.

4. (7) Patriots (8-3) — No franchise executes the “next man up” philosophy better than New England. Whether it’s Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Aaron Hernandez or Wes Welker, the Patriots continue to find a way to win more than they lose.

5. (2) Broncos (9-2) — It’s clear the formula to beating the Broncos is pressuring Peyton Manning. The veteran QB was 0-for-6 with an interception when faced with pressure from Patriots defenders. For the first time this season, Denver doesn’t look like the clear favorite in the AFC.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, NFL Power Rankings, Peyton Manning

Bill Belichick on fumbles: ‘We just can’t overcome those, not for very long’

11.26.13 at 11:37 am ET
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Are the Patriots reaching a breaking point with Stevan Ridley and his fumbles?

Bill Belichick wouldn’t mention him by name but the coach continues to send a message with benchings against Carolina (18 snaps) and Denver (final 82 snaps of the game) that he can’t have what Ridley even conceded after Sunday’s game is a “sickening” trend with losing the football.

“Ball security is the paramount issue for your football team every week, our football team every week,” Belichick said.

Another reason Belichick didn’t want to mention Ridley by name was the fact that Ridley wasn’t alone. Yes, his fumble led to the 60-yard TD return by Von Miller. But Tom Brady put the ball on the ground twice and so did Julian Edelman (on one play). In all, the Patriots fumbled six times and were rescued somewhat by the fact Denver fumbled five times.

The Patriots were able to overcome it on Sunday night against a future hall of fame quarterback. But that will surely be the recipe for disaster going forward in the cold weather.

“We fumbled the ball, whatever it was, six times,” Belichick said. “We can’€™t go on like that. We just can’€™t. There were multiple situations and multiple things involved and it hurt us the week before in Carolina. We’€™re just not going to be able to overcome turning the ball over, however you turn it over. Whether it’€™s fumbles or interceptions or muffed punts or tipped interceptions, whatever it is, fumbled snaps ‘€“ we just can’€™t overcome those, not for very long.

You might get it for awhile but in the end, it’€™s just too big an advantage go give to the other team. We have to take better care of the ball. Obviously they had a hard time taking care of it last night too. There were multiple turnovers throughout the game. Certainly the conditions were part of it but in general we have to do a better job of coaching and playing and securing the ball. That includes everybody, everybody who touches it. It’€™s not limited to one guy, it’€™s anybody who touches the ball. That’€™s the center, the quarterback, the running backs, the receivers, the returners, the holders, the kickers, the snappers ‘€“ everybody. Everybody that touches the ball, we have to take better care of it.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, fumbles, New England Patriots

Bill Belichick on S&H: ‘I don’t think [Tom Brady] is mentally affected by the conditions’

11.26.13 at 10:41 am ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined Salk & Holley on Monday afternoon to discuss New England’s thrilling 34-31 comeback victory against the Broncos, as well as the performance of Tom Brady in cold-weather conditions and Stevan Ridley‘s fumbling issues.

The Patriots got off to a rough start in Sunday night’s game, as New England trailed 24-0 at halftime after fumbling the ball away three times.

“The good things that we were doing were overwritten by the bad things that were much worse than the good things,” Belichick said. “We just didn’t play very consistently in any phase of the game. … I was a lot more disappointed in the way we played in the first half in Carolina than I was [Sunday], even though we had plenty of problems [Sunday], but we just made mistakes that really hurt ourselves that I felt like we could overcome if we just got those straightened out.”

New England responded in the second half, outscoring Denver by a 31-7 margin to force the game to overtime. At the start of the extra 15 minutes of play, the Patriots won the coin toss but decided to give the ball to the Broncos and take the wind. It was a controversial call for Belichick, as he was giving the ball to a high-powered Denver offense that currently ranks first in the NFL in yards per game (451.5) and points per game (39.0).

“I met with the captains for a couple of seconds before they went out there and explained to them what we wanted to do,” Belichick said. “There were a couple of questions to make sure that it was right, but I think we got it right. … I just feel like as head coach, you’ve got to do what you feel is best for your football team. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and there’s criticism when it doesn’t. I understand that.”

Brady was superb in the game, throwing for 344 yards and three touchdowns despite playing in one of the coldest games at Foxboro in years. Brady has excelled in cold-weather conditions throughout his career, as he boasts a 24-5 record with a 62.7 completion percentage in outdoor games with below-freezing temperatures.

“No. 1, he’s mentally tough,” Belichick said. I don’t think he’s affected by the conditions from a mental standpoint. No. 2, he has big hands. He can grip the ball. His hands aren’t small. It doesn’t slide off. He can get around the ball, and No. 3, he throws a tight spiral. His ball is very tight, always has been. … Of course, the wind is going to affect any throw, but it doesn’t affect a tight spiral like it does the balls that aren’t tight. … I don’t think he is mentally affected by the conditions.”

Despite the win, there is concern over the play of Ridley, who fumbled during New England’s first drive on Sunday, allowing Von Miller to scoop up the loose ball and return it 60 yards for a Denver touchdown. Despite his obvious talents, Ridley has struggled mightily with protecting the ball, as he’s lost seven fumbles since the end of the 2011 season.

“I don’t think any of our backs have an issue that I would say would prevent them from being a productive player,” Belichick said. “Look, there are some plays that happen in football that are plays that happen in football. Then there are other plays that are caused by a lack of discipline, a lack of technique, just carelessness. Those are the ones we have to eliminate.”

To hear the interview, go to the Salk & Holley audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, Patriots, Stevan Ridley

Five things you have to know about the Texans

11.26.13 at 10:00 am ET
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The Patriots travel to Houston to face the struggling Texans Sunday afternoon. Here are five things you have to know about the Texans, who are last in the AFC South at 2-9.

1. This is not the same team that stood poised to enter the league’s elite at the end of last year. The Texans are in the throes of a nine-game losing skid and currently possess the worst record in the NFL, an almost ridiculous thought considering the fact that at this time last year, they were prepping for a trip to Gillette Stadium and a chance to show what they were made of on the big stage. Since that game in Foxboro last December, the Texans have gone 4-11, and have fallen off the face of the earth. The biggest disappointment has come on the offensive side of the ball, where quarterback Matt Schaub lost his starting job with an abysmal run of turnovers, giving way to youngster Case Keenum. Compounding the issues has been Schaub’s occasional sideline flareups with receiver Andre Johnson, who didn’t sound all that enthused about the rest of his career in a Texans uniform. Johnson (74 catches, 1,002 yards, 5 TDs) is still the go-to guy in the passing game, but with running back Arian Foster landing on IR earlier this year with a back issue, Houston is leaning on a variety of youngsters down the stretch, including Keenum (88-for-160, 1,161 passing yards, eight TDs, 2 INTs), receiver DeAndre Hopkins (39 catches, 554 yards, 2 TDs) and running back Ben Tate (who had seven carries for one yard last week in a loss to the Jaguars).

2. That being said, J.J. Watt is still one of the best defensive linemen in the game. Despite the Texans’ struggles, Watt remains a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate who is capable of dominating at the line of scrimmage. Pro Football Focus has him credited with 10 sacks (tied for the top spot among all 3-4 defensive ends), 24 quarterback hits (best at his position) and 26 quarterback hurries (fifth at his position). Watt remains a handful — a transformative presence up from who will make life difficult for the New England offensive line.

3. They’re really good at stopping the pass. The Texans are first in the league in pass defense, having yielded an average of 172 passing yards per game. (Seattle is No. 2 at 180 yards per game, while the Patriots are ninth in the league against the pass, having yielded an average of 220 yards per game.) Some of those numbers have to be taken in context, as the Texans have been playing from behind over the course of their nine-game losing skid, and teams have been more interested in running the ball and grinding out the clock than they have in throwing it all over the field. But at the same time, they do have some quality defensive backs, including cornerbacks Kareem Jackson (who has struggled with a rib injury as of late) and Jonathan Joseph. (Joseph has a team-leading 13 passes defensed and a pick.) Watt also allows them to play some pretty good team defense in that quarterbacks haven’t gotten too comfortable in the pocket.

4. They’re below average when it comes to stopping the run. Houston is 22nd in the league in run defense, having yielded an average of 118.5 yards per game over the first 11 games of the season. (Of course, it’s worth mentioning that after Knowshon Moreno rushed for 224 yards Sunday night, the Patriots have actually gotten worse against the run, dropping to 31st in the league at 139.7 rushing yards per game.) Five teams have gone for more than 100 yards on the ground against them this season, including the Raiders (who had 165 yards rushing), Niners (177 rushing yards) and Seahawks (179 rushing yards). In this context and with all the talk about the ball security issues suffered by Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, it’s worth mentioning that Houston is one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to forcing fumbles with four. (Watt has three of them.)

5. Regardless of the record, expect the Patriots to take them very seriously this week. Over the last several years, the Patriots always have to have a game late in the season against what appears to be a considerably weaker opponent, and more often than not, head coach Bill Belichick has invoked the memory of a 2004 loss to the Dolphins in Miami. In that game, the Patriots came into the contest with a 12-1 mark and a six-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Dolphins were 2-11 and playing out the string under interim coach Jim Bates. But Miami was able to put together an impressive sixty minutes against New England, capturing the 29-28 upset thanks in large part to a 12-point fourth quarter that allowed them to sneak past the Patriots. Over the years, Belichick and Tom Brady have referenced that game as a cautionary tale when it comes to letting down your guard late in the season — expect that one to come up on multiple occasions this week.

Fantasy Football: Week 13 waiver wire

11.26.13 at 9:40 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 13 waiver wire, and happy Thanksgiving to all! It’€™s crunch time in most fantasy football leagues as teams fight for a spot in the playoffs or for a playoff bye. I’€™ve done my best to give you a wide array of choices, and I will be adding players all day over at Rotobahn for those of you who play in deeper formats. I’€™ll be back later this week with the starts and sits plus another Sunday chat. I hope to see you there!

QUARTERBACKS

Carson Palmer, Cardinals

You can add him in 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and he’€™s been on fire for fantasy purposes the last few weeks. Palmer has the weaponry to succeed, and his schedule is good enough with the probable exception of Week 16 at Seattle, though the Seahawks have taken a big hit in their secondary. Palmer is a fantasy asset in any format.

Read More: Andre Brown, Carson Palmer, Josh McCown, Matt Flynn

In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

11.26.13 at 9:15 am ET
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Every week over the course of the regular season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Eleven games into the regular season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2013:

RB Stevan Ridley: 144 (135 rushes, 9 catches), 12 negative rushes, 1 negative reception, 4 fumbles lost
RB LeGarrette Blount: 82 (82 rushes, 0 catches), 8 negative runs, 2 fumbles lost
RB Brandon Bolden: 69 (51 rushes, 18 catches), 4 negative runs, 1 negative reception
WR Julian Edelman: 63 (2 rushes, 61 catches), 6 dropped passes
RB Shane Vereen: 48 (25 rushes, 23 catches)
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 (0 rushes, 35 catches), 1 negative reception, 7 dropped passes
WR Danny Amendola: 33 (1 rush, 32 catches), 1 negative reception
TE Rob Gronkowski: 31 (0 rushes, 31 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 31 (0 rushes, 31 catches), 7 dropped passes
QB Tom Brady: 25 (25 rushes, 0 catches), 30 sacks, 15 kneeldowns, 3 fumbles lost
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 10 (0 rushes, 10 catches)
WR Austin Collie: 3 (0 rushes, 3 catches)
FB James Develin: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
RB Leon Washington: 1 (1 rush, 0 catches)
TE Matthew Mulligan: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)
WR Josh Boyce: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)

Some offensive notes: The Patriots ran 84 plays on Sunday against the Broncos and 39 of them were in shotgun, a rate of 46 percent. To this point in the season, the Patriots have been in shotgun formation on 330 of their 784 offensive snaps, a rate of 42 percent. (Last year through 11 games, the Patriots were in the shotgun for 393 of their 839 plays, a rate of 47 percent.) ‘€¦ Against the Broncos, the Patriots were in no-huddle for 4 of their 84 snaps, a rate of 5 percent. On the year, the Patriots have operated in a no-huddle on 109 of their 784 plays from scrimmage ‘€” 14 percent of the time. ‘€¦ New England has run 784 offensive plays this year in 11 games. Not counting kneeldowns, 58 have been for negative yardage. Of the 84 plays Monday against the Panthers, four went for negative yardage ‘€” three sacks of Brady, as well as negative runs from Ridley, Bolden and Brady.

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the offensive breakdown through 11 games last season.

Read More: offensive opportunities,

Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

11.26.13 at 7:00 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game after the first 11 games of the 2013 season:

WR Julian Edelman: 61 catches on 89 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 catches on 72 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 32 catches on 50 targets
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 31 catches on 66 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 31 catches on 49 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: 18 catches on 24 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 23 catches on 32 targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 10 catches on 14 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 9 catches on 10 targets
WR Austin Collie: 3 catches on 7 targets
FB James Develin: 2 catches on 2 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 1 catch on 6 targets
TE Matthew Mulligan: 1 catch on 2 targets
TE Zach Sudfeld: 0 catches on 3 targets
RB LeGarrette Blount: 0 catches on 2 targets
RB Leon Washington: 0 catches on 1 target
TE/OL Nate Solder: 0 catches on 1 target

By position
Wide receiver: 163 catches on 290 targets
Running back/fullback: 52 catches on 71 targets
Tight end: 42 catches on 68 targets
Other: 0 catches on 1 target

By way of comparison, here’s a look at how the targets broke down through the first 11 games last season.

Read More: targets,

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