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Nuggetpalooza: All the numbers as the Patriots square off with the Bills

12.31.11 at 9:28 am ET
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The Patriots bring down the curtain on the regular season and try to secure the AFC’s top seed against the Bills in Foxboro on Sunday. As always, I found a few numbers that I thought were interesting, along with some records that the teams are chasing that you may not have heard about:

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* – By allowing 130 yards last week against the Dolphins, Devin McCourty became the 17th defender (and first Patriot) to allow over 1,000 yards in receptions since they began tracking the stat in 1995. He is currently at 1,096 yards allowed, 98 behind the all-time single season leader:

1,194 – Walt Harris, Bears, 1999
1,158 – DeWayne Washington, Vikings, 1997
1,116 – Corey Fuller, Vikings, 1997
1,096 – Devin McCourty, Patriots, 2011
1,093 – Jimmy Hitchcock, Vikings, 1999

Note this: McCourty has allowed 100 or more yards four times this season, the most such games in the league. Only one other player (the Redskins’ DeAngelo Hall) had even three such games this season. And keep in mind that McCourty missed three games this year due to injury.

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* – The Bills have scored a return touchdown in each of the last two games at Foxboro, scoring on a fumble recovery in 2009 and a kickoff return last year. In addition, they had an interception return for a score in their earlier meeting in Buffalo. The Patriots have not scored a return touchdown in any of their last seven meetings against the Bills.

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* – Everyone wringing their hands (or scoffing) about Tom Brady’s shoulder should note this: After being knocked down an average of 4.1 times over the team’s first 14 games (and only nine total over Weeks 13-15), Brady was decked a season high eight times by the Dolphins last Sunday. I guess the silver lining is that the Bills don’t knock down opposing quarterbacks very often, as they are tied for the fewest in the league, averaging 3.1 knockdowns per game entering Sunday.

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* – Record Watch – The Patriots have allowed 32 opponent drives of 10 or more plays this season, one shy of the most ever allowed by the club in the 17 seasons that they’ve tracked the stat. The 2004 and 2010 Patriots allowed 33 such drives. They’ve allowed 3+ such drives in each of their last three games, joining Tampa Bay as the only two teams with such a three game streak this season. No team has had a four-gamer this season.

What’s more, they’ve allowed an average of 3.97 points on those drives this season, which could end up being the highest ever allowed by the team:

3.97 – 2011
3.96 – 1999
3.94 – 2010

They are not threatening the league record in either case. The 1999 Browns, in their first year back in the NFL, allowed 45 such drives (nearly three per game), while the 2004 Raiders allowed 5.40 average points per 10+ play drive (20 touchdowns and 8 field goals on 30 such drives).

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* – Patriots opponents have started 52 drives at or inside their own 20-yard-line this season and scored a whopping EIGHTEEN touchdowns on those drives, which is not only the most allowed in the league this season, but it’s easily the most allowed in any of the 17 seasons in which they’ve tracked the stat:

18 – Patriots, 2011
15 – Rams, 2009
14 – Chargers, 2002

Look at it this way, over the last 17 years, only 4.6% of teams allowed 10 or more touchdowns on drives started at or inside the 20-yard-line, but the Patriots have allowed 10 such touchdowns OVER THEIR LAST FIVE GAMES! Want a bit more context? The Ravens and Seahawks have each allowed only one touchdown all season on such drives. The Pats have allowed two or more such touchdowns in SIX different games.

On such drives this season, New England has allowed touchdowns 34.6% or the time, a score of some sort 48.1% of the time, and an average of 2.81 points per drive. All three are new league records for defensive futility.

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Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: Oakland Raiders

12.31.11 at 1:03 am ET
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With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is part of a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’€™ve already profiled the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets. Now, we have a look at the Oakland Raiders:

The skinny: It’€™s a long shot, but during a season where they lost their leader in Al Davis, it would certainly be a nice way for the Raiders to end the year with a playoff berth. The Raiders are tied with the Broncos for the top spot in the AFC West at 8-7, but Denver has the tiebreaker, so Oakland needs some help, namely a win over the Chargers and a loss by Denver to Kansas City. (The Raiders do have a shot at a wild card spot if both they and Denver win, as long as Cincinnati and Tennessee both lose on Sunday. A Bengals’€™ loss to Baltimore and a victory by the Jets over Miami will also work out in Oakland’€™s favor.) Compared to what they went through over the last decade, it’€™s been a good year for the Raiders, as they posted wins over Houston, Denver and Chicago. Really, if you’€™re an Oakland fan, all you were hoping for this season was to play important games after Thanksgiving, and that’€™s what you got this season with this Raiders team.

Offense: When healthy, Darren McFadden (113 carries, 614 rushing yards, an astounding 5.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns) has run the ball as well as anyone in the NFL, but a right foot injury has left him on the shelf since October. In his place, the Raiders have turned to Michael Bush (237 carries, 911 rushing yards, seven touchdowns), who has run relatively well, but hasn’€™t given them the sort of production they got from McFadden. In the passing game, Carson Palmer has had his rocky points, but is at 171-for-285 for 2,336 yards with 11 touchdowns and 15 picks on the season. When he’€™s looked to pass, he’€™s usually targeted Darrius Heyward-Bey (55 catches, 845 yards, three touchdowns) and Bush (35 catches, 405 yards, one touchdown). Overall, they’€™re one of the better offensive teams in the league — Oakland is 13th in the league in passing (236.3 yards per game), sixth in the league in rushing (133.8 yards per game) and 17th in scoring (22.2 points per game).

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Read More: Al Davis, Carson Palmer, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: New York Jets

12.30.11 at 8:43 pm ET
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With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is part of a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’€™ve already profiled the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. Today, it’€™s the New York Jets:

The skinny: Ah, yes. The Jets. Over the last three years, no team has talked more trash — and yielded fewer results comparatively — than the Jets. Currently, New York needs some help to get into the postseason. With an 8-7 record, they would need to beat the Dolphins this weekend and hope the Bengals, Titans and either the Broncos or Raiders lose to make the postseason. However, they’€™ve lost their last two and four of their last seven, so even if they do beat the rapidly surging Dolphins and get some help on Sunday, it’€™s not like they’€™re heading into the playoffs on a roll.

Offense: The offense has been wobbly over the second half of the season in large part because of the ineffective play of third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez (287-for-511 for 3,267 yards, 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions). When Sanchez has looked to throw, it’€™s been Dustin Keller (58 catches, 770 yards, four touchdowns), Santonio Holmes (51 catches for 654 yards and eight touchdowns) and Plaxico Burress (41 catches, 555 yards and eight touchdowns). When it comes to running the ball, LaDainian Tomlinson (64 carries, 224 rushing yards, one touchdown) has been pretty much an afterthought this season, as the Jets have leaned almost exclusively on Shonn Greene (239 carries, 999 rushing yards, six TDs entering Sunday’€™s contest). Overall, the Jets are 21st in the league in passing (203.5 yards per game), 22nd in rushing (104.2 yards per game) and ninth in average points (24 per game). And the offensive line is in miserable shape — as the New York Daily News has pointed out, four players since Week 10 have won Defensive Player of the Week honors after facing the Jets.

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Read More: Bart Scott, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Dustin Keller

Wes Welker: Pats ‘giving everything we’ve got for four quarters’ to get No. 1 seed

12.30.11 at 3:27 pm ET
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FOXBORO — You can forget about all the talk about Sunday against the Bills being just another throwaway game and playoff tuneup against a lowly AFC East rival to close out the regular season at Gillette Stadium. And you can forget about looking ahead to resting starters and taking them out if the game is close.

The Patriots head in at 12-3 and can simply wrap up the top seed and home field throughout the AFC playoffs for a second straight season with a win.

Last season, the finale was meaningless in the standings as the Patriots had already wrapped up the No. 1 seed before they pummeled the Dolphins at Gillette to improve to 14-2.

This year, with the 11-4 Ravens and 11-4 Steelers both holding tiebreakers over the Patriots, the situation is more pressing.

“That’s the whole key, trying to get home field advantage this weekend, being the No. 1 seed,” Wes Welker said. “That’s definitely something that’s on our minds and something we’re playing for, and understand we have to come out and play really well from start to finish.”

So he expects to play 60 minutes Sunday?

“Absolutely, absolutely, this is a big game for us,” Welker said. “We understand that and know we have to play real well to win.”

And your quarterback Tom Brady and his left shoulder? You expect him to start and play, as well?

“Absolutely,” Welker repeated. “This is for a No. 1 seed, fellas so we’re going out there and giving everything we’ve got for four quarters.”

Asked what significance he attaches to the No. 1 seed, Welker played coy and had some fun.

“Well, you get home field advantage if you win, so that’s kind of the key,” he explained with a grin, before turning all serious. “But it’s huge and being able to know you’re going to be at home, no matter what, is a key thing.”

As for last season, something Vince Wilfork referenced after the win against the Dolphins last Saturday, the Patriots remember they finished last year with the top spot and were beaten in a shocking loss to the Jets.

“Last season was last season but we’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves or anything,” Welker said. “We’re just understanding Buffalo is a good team and they beat us the last time we played them, so that’s motivation enough there as well. We have plenty of [motivation] factors coming into this game and we have to use them all to try and come away with the victory.”

Read More: AFC, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins

Bill Belichick faces the music on Tom Brady and his left shoulder

12.30.11 at 12:51 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The moment Bill Belichick stepped into the media workroom Friday, he knew what was coming after his opening monologue about the 6-9 Bills.

How is Tom Brady and his banged up left shoulder?

First, there was the unfinished business from Thursday. Albert Breer from the NFL Network pressed Belichick several times at the beginning about Brady. How was Brady and what was he able to do at practice?

“Play quarterback,” answered Belichick, who would not elaborate on his health and did not mentioned the injured left shoulder.

The full exchange with Breer:

Breer: Do you anticipate Tom being able to practice today?

Belichick: We’ll list his status at the end of practice.

Breer: What was he able to do yesterday?

Belichick: Play quarterback.

Breer: So he did practice?

Belichick: He did, just the way we listed him [on the participation report as limited]. It’s what we do after every practice.

Breer: So he wasn’t injured during the week? He was listed as not practicing Wednesday because of non-injury related reasons.

Belichick: I think we’ve covered that. I think we’ve already talked about that.

Breer: So it was a planned day off?

Belichick: We’ve covered it. It’s all been covered.

After about 15 minutes, ESPN’s Mike Reiss broached the Brady subject again. What was Belichick’s confidence in Brady’s ability to compete at his normal high level in light of the injury?

“Anybody we put out on the field, I have confidence in or we wouldn’t put him out there,” Belichick began, before elaborating. “So if they’re out there, we have confidence in him. If they’re not out there, there is either another player ahead of him or we’re not confident they can go out there and do it [health-wise]. It’s as simple as that. We’re not going to put anybody out there on the field that we don’t have confidence in.”

Reiss: What is your confidence level in Tom this week?

“If he’s not out there, it won’t be because we don’t have confidence [about his health],” Belichick said. “Whatever it is, we’ll list it as accurately as we can based on the information we have, which is what we always do. Sometimes that information changes, obviously, and we’ll do the best we can with the information we have, like we always do. It’s no different than anything else.”

Read More: Albert Breer, Bill Belichick, Mike Reiss, NFL Network

Devin McCourty on D&C: ‘Doesn’t matter who comes back’ to help in Pats defensive backfield

12.30.11 at 10:56 am ET
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Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty was on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning and talked to guest hosts Bob Ryan and Dale Arnold about the team’s preparation for the regular-season finale, how much he’s improved over the season, and helping Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman learn the defense.

McCourty who wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl after making it as a rookie, said he has nonetheless improved over the course of his sophomore season.

“Each year you play in the NFL you learn a lot more,” McCourty said. “When you play around different guys and certain guys they’€™ll teach you different things and you come back and your coach is able to teach you more each year. I thought I learned a lot last year and went through a lot. Then coming back this year and having another full season I learned even more, so I’€™m just excited to play more this season and finish the year out and keep learning throughout the whole process of the NFL.”

A win against the Bills on Sunday would not only give the Patriots the No. 1 seed in the AFC, it would provide a measure of revenge against a team that beat them earlier in the season.

“[The loss to Buffalo] hurt and it is motivation, but our focus right now is to get better as a team,” McCourty said. “We’€™re going to go out there and we want to play well on Sunday, so that’€™s our main focus right now as a team, play well on Sunday and go out there and try to get a win. No matter who’s playing, that’€™s our focus.”

McCourty shared who his biggest mentor has been in New England, and it wasn’t a defensive player.

Kevin Faulk is a guy who has played a lot in this league and I just try to look to him and see different things he does with his body,” McCourty said. “How he looks upon the game, mentally, physically, everything he does, I try to get advice from him. When you have a locker near somebody, you’re always able to talk to them and watch them the closest.”

McCourty said he wasn’t bothered by having to teach his position to fill-in guys this year; he was rather happy to help out the likes of Edelman and Slater.

“Doesn’€™t matter who comes back there,” McCourty said. “If they can help, we’ve got to show them the ropes.”

Read More: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots,

Pats release DE Alex Silvestro

12.29.11 at 7:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — After making his NFL debut last Saturday against the Dolphins, defensive end Alex Silvestro was released on Thursday by the Patriots.

A league source tells WEEI.com’s Chris Price that Patriots are hopeful he passes through waivers, allowing them to reclaim him and place him back on the practice squad.

Silvestro, 23, was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster last Friday and played in his first NFL game in the win against Miami last Saturday on special teams and along the defensive line, finishing with two solo tackles. He became the fourth active member of the Patriots who was a product of Rutgers University, joining defensive backs Devin McCourty, Nate Jones and wide receiver Tiquan Underwood.

At 6-foot-3 and 267 pounds, Silvestro was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Rutgers on July 27, 2011 and released on Sept. 3, 2011. He was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 28.

Read More: Alex Silvestro, Devin McCourty, Nate Jones, New England Patriots
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