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The departure of Bill Polian and the possible end of the Patriots-Colts rivalry

01.03.12 at 1:16 am ET
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While new characters in the long-running rivalry will surely pop up sooner rather than later, the news that Bill Polian has been fired closes a momentous chapter in the decade-long rivalry between the Patriots and Colts.

After working as the GM of the Bills and Panthers, Polian came to Indianapolis prior to the start of the 1998 season. The Colts, who had the first pick in the 1998 draft, went with Peyton Manning, which started a turnaround that saw Indy go from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3 in 1999. And under Polian, Manning and coach Tony Dungy, they would become a perennial playoff entrant soon after that.

In many ways, their rise to power mirrored that of the Patriots. The two organizations were AFC royalty — in the nine seasons between 2001 and 2009, either the Patriots or Colts represented the AFC in the Super Bowl six times. They always provided great drama, a terrific study in contrasts. Indy was an offensive juggernaut playing indoors on the turf, while the Patriots were a defensive powerhouse that thrived in the cold and snow. That extended to the quarterback spot: Manning and Tom Brady became contemporaries, football’€™s version of Bird-Magic or Russell-Chamberlain.

The rivalry peaked between 2003 and 2007. Watching those games, it put you in the mind of great theatre: In 2003 and 2004, the two teams met in a pair of postseason classics, with New England getting the better of the Colts on each occasion. The Patriots also won two memorable regular season games those two years, with New England taking a narrow victory in Indy in 2003 and an equally dramatic win in the 2004 season opener.

For whatever reason, Polian enjoyed sitting in the press box during games, where his passion was on full display for the media. During the 2003 AFC Championship Game in Foxboro, Polian raged from the press box at perceived pass interference penalties that weren’€™t called against the New England secondary, at one point yelling, ‘€œThrow the (expletive) flag!’€ He was a member of the NFL’€™s competition committee, and that offseason, in a move that was widely perceived as a swipe at the Patriots, lobbied for stronger rules when it came to pass defense, cracking down on illegal contact and defensive holding, rules that have had a colossal impact on the game the last few years.
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Read More: B.B. King, Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady

Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Running backs

01.02.12 at 10:36 pm ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason ready to begin, we’€™ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a weeklong, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. First up, the running backs.

Depth chart: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (181 carries, 667 yards, 3.7 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns), Stevan Ridley (87 carries, 441 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, one touchdown), Danny Woodhead (77 carries, 351 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, one touchdown), Kevin Faulk (17 carries, 57 yards, 3.4 yards per carry), Shane Vereen (15 carries, 57 yards, 3.8 yards per carry, one touchdown), Lousaka Polite.

Overview: The Patriots’€™ running game has evolved over the course of the 2011 season, going from a system that featured Green-Ellis almost exclusively for the first half of the season to one that’€™s been more rotation based over the second half of the season. Whether that was because of injury (Green-Ellis was slowed by a toe problem roughly two-thirds of the way through the season) or the fact that they’€™ve seen something in Ridley that allowed them to feature him more frequently, but with the playoffs looming, it’€™s clear that New England will go to multiple backs on a regular basis.

While it’€™s going to be Green-Ellis and Ridley doing most of the traditional, between-the-tackles work for the Patriots, expect Woodhead to continue to get the majority of reps as the third-down, changeup back, while Faulk will fill in as needed. In addition, look for Polite’€™s role to grow a bit, as he looked solid working as a fullback. (Based on his injury history and the fact that he’s a rookie, look for Vereen to be the odd man out this postseason.)
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Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Corey Dillon, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk

WEEI NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Patriots top AFC

01.02.12 at 9:28 pm ET
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It’s time for some playoff football. Twelve teams have earned a right to play for the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy, but only one will hoist it.

The Packers proved they were the best team in the regular season and have earned the No. 1 spot in the WEEI NFL Playoff Power Rankings. However, there are many NFC teams that have demonstrated they can knock off the defending champs. The Saints’ (2) offense is clicking on all cylinders, the Niners (4) boast the best D in the NFC, the Falcons (7) look to be the most balanced team and the Giants‘ (9) defense looks to have their pass rush back.

The AFC race to the Super Bowl is a little different. The Patriots (3), Ravens (5), and Steelers (6) are the clear favorites to reach Indianapolis. The Bengals (10), Texans (11), and Broncos (12) have yet to prove they are capable of knocking off one of the three power houses in the conference. The expectations are low all around — whether its the Broncos with a lack of a passing attack, the mounting injuries in Houston or the Bengals inability to beat playoff caliber clubs.

1. Packers (15-1) ‘€” It’s not easy to win 15 games in the regular season but the Packers rolled through the season and won by an average of 13.7 points. The defending champs became just the sixth team in NFL history to win 15 or more games. With home-field advantage and a week off to get healthy, the Packers are the favorites to win it once again.

2. Saints (13-3) ‘€” Drew Brees will enter the playoffs as arguably the best quarterback playing in the postseason after a spectacular second half of the regular season. He led the Saints to an eight game winning streak in which he threw for 300 or more yards seven times. If any team can knock off the Packers, the Saints look to be the most capable.

3. Patriots (13-3) ‘€” Out of the four teams that clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Patriots are the team that needed it most. In their final six games, all against teams without a winning record, the Patriots trailed in five. In that stretch, Bill Belichick‘s team did very little to make fans believe this will be the year the team returns to the Super Bowl, so the Pats need to use the bye week to improve their defense. Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer will need that extra week as well to nurse injuries so both can return to the offensive line.

4. 49ers (13-3) ‘€” The 49ers will enter the playoffs with plenty of confidence that they can reach the Super Bowl, and their defense is the main reason. They’ve stifle the run, rushed the passer well, and have allowed the fewest points in the conference. The only thing that could hold them back is their red-zone offense. Jim Harbaugh‘s offense has struggled in that area for most of the year. The 49ers can’t rely on settling for a David Akers field goal like they did in the regular season.

5. Ravens (12-4) ‘€” Stats don’t lie. The Ravens lose when Ray Rice isn’t running the ball. Their four losses this year have come when Rice’s carries were limited. If Baltimore wants to finally take the next step and reach the Super Bowl, Rice must lead the team there. Joe Flacco will also have to step his game up.

6. Steelers (12-4) ‘€” The latest injury blow to the Steelers came when Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL. This one really hurts, especially since the passing game is limited due to Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury. Backup running back Mewelde Moore is also injured. It will be extremely difficult for the defending AFC champs to surmount all of these injuries.

7. Falcons (10-6) ‘€” The Falcons are a dangerous wild card team. They have an extremely talented offense and one of the better defenses of the six playoff teams in the NFC. Matt Ryan and the Falcons will be extra motivated to do some damage this post season after their quick exit last year.

8. Lions (10-6) ‘€” It’s common for playoff teams to get better in the second half of the season, but the Lions took a step back. In their first eight games, the Lions defense allowed just 18 points per game. During their last eight games, the Lions D allowed an average of 30 points each contest. Following Sunday’s loss, Jim Schwartz said the secondary “couldn’t have played worse. “That’s certainly not a good sign for the team’s playoff hopes, especially since they’re playing the high-octane Saints’ offense this Sunday in the first round. Detroit enjoyed a 6-2 start to the season but has gone 4-4 since.

9. Giants (9-7) ‘€” The return of Osi Umenyiora means the Giants are certainly able to make a playoff push. The secondary has been terrible all year but with Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul attacking the quarterback, the Giants have a shot at stopping the dynamic offenses they’ll see in the playoffs.

10. Bengals (9-7) ‘€” No team wants to back into the playoffs, but the Bengals should be proud of what they’ve accomplished this year given that they seemed destined to be one of the worst teams in the NFL prior to the season. Although winning in Houston is certainly a possibility, expect the Bengals’ stay in the postseason to be short. Their seven losses came against playoff teams and just one of their wins came against a team that finished the season with a winning record (the Titans).

11. Texans (10-6) ‘€” Mounting injuries for the Texans makes them the most likely pick to be one-and-done. Rookie QB TJ Yates suffered a shoulder injury in the final game of the season making it even more difficult for him to help lead the Texans to the franchise’s first playoff win. Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels are also beat up.

12. Broncos (8-8) ‘€” The Broncos will stagger into the playoffs after a very disappointing end to the regular season. Tim Tebow isn’t fooling any defenses and played his worst game of the season in Week 16’s loss to the Chiefs (6/22, 60 yards, 0 TD, INT and a season-low 20.6 quarterback rating). Denver’s offense is undeniably too stagnant to seriously compete with the other teams in the playoffs.

Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to powerrankings@weei.com. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

Read More: aaron rodgers, Drew Brees, NFL Power Rakings, Tim Tebow

Following the flags: Breaking down the Patriots’ penalties for the 2011 regular season

01.02.12 at 8:31 pm ET
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The Patriots were been flagged for 87 penalties (27th in the league) and 815 yards (22nd) during the 2011 regular season. New England was called for four penalties for 77 yards on Sunday against Buffalo. Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that went against the Patriots this year, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
Team: eight penalties (12 men on the field, offensive holding, illegal block above the waist, two illegal substitutions, illegal shift, delay of game), 44 yards
OL Logan Mankins: seven penalties (two offensive holding and five false starts), 41 yards
TE Rob Gronkowski: six penalties (holding, false start, facemask, unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal touch pass, illegal formation), 54 yards
OL Matt Light: five penalties (four holding and one false start), 40 yards
S Sergio Brown: four penalties (three defensive pass interference and one unnecessary roughness), 86 yards
CB Devin McCourty: four penalties (illegal block above the waist, two defensive pass interference, personal foul), 54 yards
OL Nate Solder: four penalties (three holding and illegal use of hands), 40 yards
DL Vince Wilfork: four penalties (unsportsmanlike conduct, defensive holding, two unnecessary roughness), 37 yards
OL Brian Waters: four penalties (two holding, two offensive holding), 35 yards
QB Tom Brady: four penalties (two delay of game and two intentional grounding), 25 yards
CB Antuwan Molden: two penalties (defensive pass interference, illegal use of hands), 52 yards
LB Rob Ninkovich: two penalties (roughing the passer, defensive pass interference), 32 yards
LB Dane Fletcher: two penalties (offensive holding, illegal block above the waist), 17 yards
S Pat Chung: two penalties (unnecessary roughness and facemask), 15 yards
LB Brandon Spikes: two penalties (holding, encroachment), 11 yards
TE Dan Gronkowski: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
CB Leigh Bodden: two penalties (both defensive holding), 10 yards
WR Wes Welker: two penalties (illegal motion, false start), 10 yards
WR Deion Branch: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
WR Chad Ochocinco: two penalties (illegal formation, false start), 9 yards
DL Andre Carter: two penalties (both roughing the passer), 26 yards
TE Aaron Hernandez: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
CB Kyle Arrington: one penalty (defensive pass interference), 35 yards
DL Kyle Love: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
OL Dan Connolly: one penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
OL Ryan Wendell: one penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
S James Ihedigbo: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
WR/DB Julian Edelman: one penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
OL Sebastian Vollmer: one penalty (false start), 5 yards
K Stephen Gostkowski: one penalty (illegal onsides kick), 5 yards
DE Mark Anderson: one penalty (defensive offsides), 5 yards
RB BenJarvus Green Ellis: one penalty (illegal substitution), 5 yards
OL Donald Thomas: one penalty (false start) 5 yards
CB Phillip Adams: one penalty (illegal contact), 5 yards
LB Gary Guyton: one penalty (encroachment), 5 yards
LB Nike Koutouvides: one penalty (false start), 5 yards

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: 24 penalties for 191 yards
Cornerback: 10 penalties for 156 yards
Tight end: 10 penalties for 74 yards
Defensive line: eight penalties for 83 yards
Team: eight penalties for 44 yards
Safety: seven penalties for 123 yards
Wide receiver: seven penalties for 39 yards
Linebacker: seven penalties for 70 yards
Quarterback: four penalties for 25 yards
Running back: one penalty for five yards
Kicker: one penalty for five yards

Most frequently called penalties on the Patriots:
Offensive holding: 20
False start: 17
Defensive pass interference: eight
Illegal block above the waist: four
Unnecessary roughness: four
Roughing the passer: four
Illegal substitution: three
Defensive holding: three
Delay of game: three
Intentional grounding: two
Unsportsmanlike conduct: two
Facemask: two
Encroachment: two
Illegal formation: two
Illegal use of hands: two
Illegal motion: one
Twelve men in the huddle: one
Illegal onside kick: one
Defensive offsides: one
Illegal touch pass: one
Illegal shift: one
Illegal contact: one
Personal foul: one

Read More: Patriots, penalties,

Patriots schedule for 2012 is now set

01.02.12 at 1:29 pm ET
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With the regular season coming to a close, the schedules for the 2012 season are now set. Here’s what the Patriots schedule for next season looks like:

Home games: San Francisco, Buffalo, Arizona, Indianapolis, Miami, New York Jets, Houston, Denver.

Away games: Buffalo, Miami, Jacksonville, New York Jets, St. Louis, Seattle, Tennessee, Baltimore.

Read More: Patriots, schedule,

Sterling Moore: This one’s for mom

01.02.12 at 1:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There has been no part of the Patriots team that has taken more heat than the defense in 2011. And there’s no part of the defense that has been under attack – verbal and otherwise – than the secondary.

That’s why Sterling Moore and the rest of his secondary teammates were able to smile a little after the game Sunday. After falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, the Patriots secondary held the Bills scoreless in the final three quarters, while collecting four interceptions, including the first two in Moore’s career. Moore said Bill Belichick acknowledged it afterward.

“He just said ‘congratulations,’ way to bounce back and helluva game,” Moore said.

Moore kept both footballs from the two interceptions he recorded on Sunday. One he plans to keep while the other is going to his mother.

So, which is which? The key pick in the third quarter that set up the go-ahead TD in Sunday’s 49-21 win over the Bills, or his second career interception, a pick-6 that netted him his first career touchdown and capped off New England’s 49-point explosion after a 21-point deficit.

Moore and Ross Ventrone have symbolized what it means to be up and down this year on the Patriots roster. He was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 5. He was signed to active squad on Oct. 15 and made his debut the next day against the Cowboys. He was released the next day, signed back to the practice squad two days later and signed to the active roster again on Nov. 9.

He made his first career start in place of Patrick Chung on Nov. 13 against the Jets. He started the next two games before subbing the next two games, heading back to the practice squad for the game against Denver. He was an active DNP against Miami.

After all that, the 21-year-old Patriots defensive back hinted after Sunday’s game he’ll probably keep his first career pick and send the second one to his mom.

“The first one just because that’s my first career interception,” Moore said. “That one means a lot.”

The second one – the TD – is probably going in the mail.

“Probably send it home,” Moore said. “I might keep one here and send the other one home.”

As for his play on Sunday, the bigger story is how much playing time he got in key situations as he, Devin McCourty and Chung all took turns playing safety in New England’s various pass defense packages.

“It felt amazing,” Moore said. “Just the kind of season I’ve had, going up and down. Just thankful I got another opportunity. It’s not really saying, by any means, ‘I told you so,’ I’m just thankful I had another opportunity to go out and make the plays.

“I knew I was capable of that. When they brought me in here, the first thing they said when they moved me to safety was, ‘we kind of like the way you play the ball so, we’re going to put you back there.’ [Sunday] was the first real opportunity I had to get my hands on a ball and play the ball. It was deep down in there because I haven’t had to do it in a while but I’m glad it came back out.”

Moore led the Patriots secondary with two picks, McCourty and Antwaun Molden each had one.

‘€œIt’€™s huge,” Moore said. “Turnovers matter more than you know, so if we can keep getting turnovers I think we’€™ll have success and keep getting wins.’€

Read More: Antwaun Molden, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Devin McCourty

Aaron Hernandez: ‘I definitely wasn’t worried’

01.01.12 at 8:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Last week, it was Vince Wilfork who said he had no doubt the Patriots were going to come back and wipe out a 17-0 deficit.

This week, it was Aaron Hernandez who said he wasn’t worried about a 21-0 first-quarter hole against the Bills.

“How could you panic?” Hernandez asked rhetorically after New England’s 49-21 win. “You have Tom Brady, Deion Branch, Ochocinco [Chad Ochocinco] Gronkowski – best tight in the game, me, Wes Welker. You’ve got a whole bunch of people who can make plays. How can you get nervous. Tom Brady is going to put you in the right place, make a great pass and we have a lot of people who can get open.

“I definitely wasn’t worried.”

Hernandez went over 100 yards receiving for a third time this season, catching seven balls for a team-leading 138 yards, including a 39-yard high-stepping job that ended with New England’s second touchdown of the day.

“I think we’re very hard to stop,” Hernandez said. “I wouldn’t say unstoppable because we’ve been stopped but I feel like when we’re clicking and all our receivers and tight ends are playing how they can play, yeah, I feel like no one can stop us.”

But like Wilfork earlier in the week, Hernandez realizes the slow starts can’t continue or it’s a fast finish in the playoffs.

‘€œOnce we get our offense going, its tough to stop and I feel like [the Bills] are one of the toughest teams to stop in this league,” Hernandez said. “We just have to get off to a quicker start and if we do that, we will be a lot more dangerous [in the playoffs].

‘€œWe started off slow and lackadaisical with a lack of detail but once we get the detail down and our playmakers start making plays, we can get it going. We just start slow. It has been like that all season but it has to change now coming into the playoffs. If we change the pace up and start going faster it will be hard to stop since we have so many weapons.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, nfl
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