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Halftime analysis: Texans 17, Patriots 7

12.01.13 at 2:20 pm ET
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Two quarters are in the books in Houston, and the Texans hold a 17-7 lead on the Patriots.

Tom Brady is 11-for-18 for 108 yards with one touchdown and one pick, while Rob Gronkowski has three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Case Keenum is 9-for-15 for 127 yards with one interception. The Patriots really struggled to stop the run — the two first-half rushing touchdowns for Houston matched their total over the previous 11 games. Ben Tate has 12 carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns.

Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢ Neither team could get anything started on their first drive: A 50-yard return from Keshawn Martin right out of the gate got the Texans off on a good note, but after Houston maneuvered its way to midfield, it couldn’t convert on what appeared to be an easy third-down opportunity and was forced to punt it away. Meanwhile, the Patriots — who went with Brandon Bolden as the lead back in place of Stevan Ridley — also posted a three-and-out.

‘€¢ The Houston offense had really good field position to start its first three drives — their own 44- and 48-yard line, as well as the New England 31. While the Texans stalled out on the first drive after the nice return from Martin, they were able to make it work on the second series. On that sequence, Keenum found Andre Johnson for a 29-yard pickup to get to the New England 21. That was followed by a 13-yard pass play to Johnson that got the Texans into the red zone. Tate then had an eight-yard burst off right tackle for a touchdown — just the third rushing touchdown of the year for Houston — to make it 7-0 with 8:44 left in the first quarter. On the next possession, Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph undercut a bad throw from Brady on a ball meant for Gronkowski, and took it back in the other direction. The Texans couldn’t reach the end zone, but settled for a 43-yard field goal from Randy Bulluck that made it 10-0. Read the rest of this entry »

Inactive analysis: Stevan Ridley will sit against the Texans

12.01.13 at 11:42 am ET
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The following players were named inactive for Sunday’s game against the Texans: linebacker Steve Beauharnais, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, defensive lineman Jake Bequette, wide receiver Aaron Dobson, running back Stevan Ridley, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon.

The biggest surprise on this list is Ridley, a feature back who has struggled with ball security over the last season. In his place, expect the Patriots to lean on fellow backs LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen. Here’s a look at some of the rest of the inactives and what it means for Sunday’s game plan.

Cannon: The offensive lineman, who suffered an ankle injury in the win over the Broncos, did not practice all week and was downgraded on Friday. Expect Will Svitek to take the bulk of the reps in his place on the right side.

Hoomanawanui: Hoomanawanui went down with a knee injury in the loss to the Panthers in Carolina, and hasn’€™t been seen on the practice field or in game action since. Matthew Mulligan and the recently acquired D.J. Williams will see more time because “Hooman” is out.

Dobson: Like Cannon and Hoomanawanui, the rookie was downgraded on Friday. (He did not practice this week after suffering a foot injury in the win over Denver.) Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce should see some snaps as part of the New England passing game.

Dennard: Dennard’s knee will limit him again this week against the Texans. Logan Ryan should play more in his absence, although the Patriots do have the option of moving Kyle Arrington from the slot to the outside and putting Ryan at Arrington’€™s old spot.

Beauharnais: The rookie out of Rutgers has been caught up in a numbers game for the bulk of the season, and as a result, has been a healthy scratch for most of the year.

Bequette: The second year defensive lineman out of Arkansas has slipped behind Andre Carter and Michael Buchanan on the depth chart.

Fantasy football: Week 13 live chat, 11 a.m.

12.01.13 at 10:06 am ET
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Join and fantasy expert Pete Davidson for a Week 13 live chat, helping you set your lineups as the season’s crunch-time approaches. It all starts at 11 a.m., so get your questions in now …


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Final Thoughts on Patriots-Texans

12.01.13 at 6:00 am ET
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1. With the Patriots set to return to Houston for Sunday’s game, it’s worth talking about the Reliant Stadium turf, which was a much-discussed issue for the Patriots, particularly in the wake of the 2009 injury to Wes Welker. However, no one had much to say about the state of the turf this week, least of all Tom Brady. The quarterback, who acknowledged that a grass field “gets more chewed up as the season goes along,” said it’s nice to get off the plastic grass and onto the real stuff from time to time. “Everyone plays on turf these days,” Brady said. “It’€™s actually nice to play on a grass field because it’€™s a little bit easier on everybody.” The field appears to be oddly stitched together, and it’s believed Welker caught his foot in one of those seams when he ended up shredding his knee in 2009, but  Brady shrugged when he was asked about it this week. “That’€™s part of it, but I can’€™t change any of that,” he added. “I don’€™t think any of us can. We’€™re just going to show up and figure out how to beat them. Bring a few different pairs of cleats down and see what works best and then go for it.”

2. One nice story coming out of Houston is the rapid development of linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, a former practice squadder in New England who has suddenly found himself with plenty of work in Houston. Tarpinian, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder out of Iowa, was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on Jul. 27, 2011, and spent two years in New England before joining the Texans in October. The 26-year-old Tarpinian played in 10 games with the Patriots in two seasons while shuttling back and forth between the active roster and practice squad, but because of injuries and other personnel decisions, he was pretty much tossed right into the action when he arrived in Houston. He’s played in three games, starting one, and made 14 tackles. “We’ve had some injuries and we’€™ve had to pick some players up here over the course of the last month, and I’€™ll tell you he has been the most impressive,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Tarpinian. “We brought him in, and he was here 10 days and started a game against Oakland. He went in there and played really well. He played good on special teams the last two weeks. He is very smart. It is a tough situation to be put in, but it is a tremendous opportunity for a young man and he has taken advantage of it.”

3. Conversely, defensive lineman Chris Jones is a former Texan who has found success in New England. Jones, who was taken by Houston in the sixth round this past spring out of Bowling Green, was released out of training camp. That’s when he was picked up by the Patriots, and with the run of injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, he’s managed to carve out an impressive niche in New England with five sacks through the first 11 games of the season. (For some perspective, he has more sacks this year than Julius Peppers, Darnell Dockett, Adrian Clayborn and Nick Fairley.) One guy he made an impression on was Houston’s all-world defensive lineman J.J. Watt. “He was a good player,” Watt said of Jones. “He was a good player when he was down here. Obviously, I don’€™t know if any of us saw what he’€™s doing now. He’€™s playing great for [the Patriots]. I’€™m obviously happy for him. Anybody that takes advantage of the opportunity that they’€™re given, you have to be happy for them.” He’s currently second among rookie pass rushers in sacks to Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah, who has seven.

4. It all started with an innocuous question from a reporter on Thursday about the play of punter Ryan Allen against the Broncos, but it led to a really in-depth discussion with Bill Belichick on what makes a good punter. (For more details on the Q&A, check out the transcript here.) Belichick praised the work of Allen to this point in the season, and added that Allen has one thing that often goes overlooked when it comes to analyzing what makes a good punter: good hands. “This might sound stupid,” Belichick said, “but there’€™s nothing more important for a punter than hands. Because without good hands, handling the ball and being able to place and drop the ball properly on your foot, no matter how strong your leg is, you’€™re not going to be able to punt consistently. You can’€™t really be a good punter, not a really good punter, if you don’€™t have good hands.” (Belichick said some of the punters with the best hands were Dave Jennings, Tom Tupa and Sean Landeta.) While there was plenty of concern as to whether or not the Patriots did the right thing when it came to releasing the popular Zoltan Mesko in favor of the rookie, it’s clear that Allen has done a very nice job not only stepping into Mesko’s duties as a punter, but also as a holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski as well.
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Unlucky Seven: Who is going to be sidelined against Houston?

11.30.13 at 9:52 pm ET
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The Patriots will announce their inactives 90 minutes before kickoff on Sunday — about 11:30 a.m. — but based on practice time and personnel decisions, here’s who we think will end up sitting this week against the Texans and what it means for New England’s game plan.

Tackle Marcus Cannon: The offensive lineman, who suffered an ankle injury in the win over the Broncos, did not practice all week and was downgraded on Friday. Expect Will Svitek to take the bulk of the reps in his place on the right side.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Hoomanawanui went down with a knee injury in the loss to the Panthers in Carolina, and hasn’t been seen on the practice field or in game action since. It will be interesting to see who might fill in for him — Matthew Mulligan has seen the bulk of the reps in his place to this point in the season, but the recently acquired D.J. Williams also could see some action this week if the Patriots feel like he’s up to speed.

Wide receiver Aaron Dobson: Like Cannon and Hoomanawanui, the rookie was downgraded on Friday. (He did not practice this week after suffering a foot injury in the win over Denver.) Expect Kenbrell Thompkins to get some reps in his spot, and this could open up the door for Josh Boyce to see some snaps as part of the New England passing game.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: Despite a knee injury, the second-year corner out of Nebraska did start last week against the Broncos, but was limited in what he could and couldn’t do, and ended up coming out of the game. He was downgraded Saturday, which likely means more snaps for rookie Logan Ryan, although the Patriots do have the option of moving Kyle Arrington from the slot to the outside and putting Ryan at Arrington’s old spot. Something to look for.

Linebacker Steve Beauharnais: The rookie out of Rutgers has been caught upon a numbers game for the bulk of the season, and as a result, has been a healthy scratch for most of the year.

Defensive end Jake Bequette: The second year defensive lineman out of Arkansas has slipped behind Andre Carter and Michael Buchanan on the depth chart.

Offensive lineman Chris Barker: Barker doesn’t appear to have much experience at tackle, but with New England down to its third right tackle in Svitek, his ability to play guard could provide the Patriots with a chance to do some shuffle of one of their other offensive linemen in Svitek does go down. (If Barker is activated, this spot could come down to a variety of players, including Boyce. If his thumb is still keeping him on the sidelines, veteran safety Steve Gregory could be a candidate to be deactivated as well.)

Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Texans

11.30.13 at 11:18 am ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Texans game.

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Quarterback Tom Brady against the Texans pass defense ‘€“ As miserable as the last nine games have been for Houston (2-9), the pass defense has actually been pretty good. A sizable portion of that is because teams have gotten good leads on the Texans and they’ve been more inclined to run the ball (Houston is 22nd in the league against the run at 118.5 yards per game allowed), but there’s also something to the fact that the Texans defensive front has worked well with the secondary when it comes to slowing down opposing passing games. In their 11 games, only four passers have gone over 200 yards against Houston (Andrew Luck tops the lot with 271 passing yards), and the Texans are in the Top 10 in several major passing defense categories, including total passing yards allowed (first, 1,890), completion percentage against (seventh at 58.1) and yards per attempt (eighth, 6.7). Believe it or not, those are some of the best defensive numbers Brady will face all season.

2. The Patriots offensive line against defensive lineman J.J. Watt ‘€“ As bad as this season has been for the Texans, Watt has been immense, solidifying his spot as a bonafide Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s a transformative presence who can make life miserable for the New England offensive line. 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). Look for the Patriots to try and get after Watt with multiple looks up front in hopes of slowing him down. For what it’s worth, the 6-foot-5, 289-pounder enters Sunday’s game against the Patriots with a five-game sack streak. (In his two games against New England last season, he was held to 0.5 sacks.) One other thing to keep in mind — one of the things that’s allowed the New England offensive line to have some measure of success as of late is a renewed emphasis by Brady on getting the ball out as quickly as possible. A quick release is always paramount, but even more so against an overwhelming defensive presence like Watt.

3. Wide receiver Andre Johnson against cornerback Aqib Talib ‘€“ Provided that Talib is set to go — the hip has remained a question as of late, and he’s been limited all week in practice — this should be a really good matchup between two of the better players at their respective positions. Johnson has struggled over the course of the season, but you can chalk a lot of that up to inconsistent quarterbacking play. Even with the issues the Texans have under center, he’s still one of the best in the game, as the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder has 74 catches on 119 targets for 1,002 yards (fourth in the NFL) and five touchdowns. Johnson is the kind of guy that Talib was brought in to try and slow down, a long, lean deep threat. Look for Talib to try and get a little physical with Johnson — jam him and get in his face to try and slow him down off the line. Talib and the Patriots were able to do a good job “limiting” Johnson in their two meetings last year, holding him to eight catches on 95 yards in each game. He got decent numbers, but was fundamentally a nonfactor in both contests.

4. Under-the-radar opponent Patriots fans need to know ‘€“ Keshawn Martin. The wide receiver also works as a punt and kick returner, and has put up pretty good numbers as a special teamer over the course of the first 11 games. The 5-foot-11, 194-pounder out of Michigan State is ninth in the league in kick return average at 26 yards per opportunity. While he’s not as consistent when it comes to punt returns (16th overall at 8.5 yards per return), he does have an explosive element to his game that makes him difficult to contain — he’s one of only 10 guys in the league this year to take one all the way back. He’s not a part of the regular rotation at receiver, but still has 11 catches on 21 targets for 148 yards on the year.

‘€¨5. By the numbers: 2. The number of rushing touchdowns the Texans have through the first 11 games of the season. It’s second worst in the league, only ahead of Cleveland’s one. Arian Foster and Ben Tate each have one. (One other stat worth passing along: Much has been made about the third-quarter struggles the Patriots have occasionally suffered this season, but New England appears to have broken out of its rut with good third quarters against the Steelers, Dolphins and Broncos, and now have 57 third-quarter points this season. The five-plus points per game average isn’t terrific, but it’s much better than it was earlier in the year. Meanwhile, the Texans are a hot mess just after halftime — they have 29 third-quarter points, including just three third-quarter points in the last three weeks.)
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Fantasy Football: Week 13 starts, sits

11.30.13 at 8:23 am ET
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Welcome to the starts and sits for Week 13. I’€™ll be featuring better players than usual because there are no more bye concerns and most fantasy teams, especially those still alive, will be looking at better players when it comes to lineup decisions.

For those who have more questions than this article has answers for, you have two places to go. First, you can hit Rotobahn and consult our full lineup rankings, which will give you a ranking and a ‘€œskinny’€ on just about any player you might be considering in any league. Second, you can come back to tomorrow and participate in our Sunday morning chat where I will answer all of your lineup questions. You’ll find a link to the chat on the homepage in the “This Just In” section.



Tom Brady, Patriots at Texans

Just kidding, folks. This one is an ultra-obvious freebie — meant to do nothing but point out that Rotobahn had the future Hall of Famer on our trade-for list when others were running for cover. For those who stuck with Brady … or dealt for him, enjoy the next few weeks. He’€™s a QB1, period.

Josh McCown, Bears at Vikings

How often do we recommend a backup quarterback playing on the road? Not that often, but McCown has been very good so far in terms of fantasy production and this matchup is very solid. Start McCown in any format this week and you are in pretty good shape.

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers vs. Rams

Two things factor into the decision to make CK a start. First, he looked much better last week. Second, he gets Michael Crabtree back this week. The Rams are not an easy mark, but they can be had, especially when on the road, and this one is at Frisco.

Andrew Luck, Colts vs. Titans

He may not inspire the kind of confidence that he did a few weeks back, but a lot of it is perception. Luck is still a very sound fantasy play in 12-team leagues and has produced good fantasy numbers in games that were pretty ugly from the Colts’€™ perspective. He was serviceable against the Titans on the road in Week 11 and he should be able to handle them this week in Indianapolis.

Andy Dalton, Bengals at Chargers

He’s been a strong option for most of the season and he gets a decent road matchup here. We expect the Bengals to be ready after having an extra week to prepare. Dalton can start for you in any format this week. He always has nice scoring potential due to the quality of the weapons around him.

Carson Palmer, Cardinals at Eagles

The matchup is mediocre, but he’€™s playing well and has tons of good places to throw the football in Bruce Arians‘€™ offense. The Eagles are playing well, but they will have trouble matching up with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Palmer can help you in 12-team leagues this week.

Brandon Weeden, Browns vs. Jaguars

Here’€™s an option for those searching for an answer in a deep league. Weeden is not a great start, but he may be the best thing on waiver wires in 12-team formats and he could have a solid day at home vs. the Jaguars. Weeden can be your QB this week if you are hurting and he might just surprise you if he can get Josh Gordon going and hit on a few deep balls.


Mike Glennon, Bucs at Panthers

The rookie has been pretty good so far, but he lacks the experience and the firepower to play against the Panthers defense on the road in a hostile environment. Look elsewhere if you can.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Brandon Weeden, Carson Palmer
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