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Setting up the fixins for Pats-Lions

11.25.10 at 10:33 am ET
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The Patriots play their first indoor game of 2010 when they take the field today for their Thanksgiving battle with the Detroit Lions so weather won’t be an issue.

The injury list, however, very well could be.

In addition to having quarterback Tom Brady officially listed as questionable for the first time this season with a sore foot, the Patriots will be low on offensive lineman as starting right guard Stephen Neal will miss his third straight game with a bum shoulder while Mark LeVoir, who has been a healthy scratch for the last six games, is out with a bad elbow.

This is likely to mean more reps for the starting O-Line. That certainly shouldn’t be an issue for Logan Mankins, making his fourth straight start back from his contract dispute.

Meanwhile, the Patriots will be without their sack leader as Mike Wright – with 5.5 sacks – will miss his first game with a neck injury that led to a concussion last week against Indianapolis. That could mean that Vince Wilfork will spend more time over center. It’s likely that Belichick trusts a veteran end like Wright to play the two-gap in the 3-4 defense base more than the rookie end Deaderick, who was a bit of a surprise as a healthy inactive for the game.

And without Myron Pryor again, the depth there is also an issue. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Belichick go with two down linemen, as he has done in the past, or even switch to a 4-3 base with Jermaine Cunningham – who made a big play last week on Peyton Manning – and Gerard Warren getting more playing time.

The Patriots – to a man – said this week that having a psychological letdown won’t be an issue with Bill Belichick as the head coach.

But consider two things:  The last time they were clearly favored on the road against a lesser team, they were blown out 34-14 in Cleveland on Nov. 7. And secondly, the Patriots can read a schedule. The Jets have the lowly Bengals about five hours after their game ends at Ford Field. They are prohibitive favorites to blow the Bengals off the field and improve to 9-2. The Pats need the game to stay on level ground with the Jets in advance of their Monday night showdown at Gillette on Dec. 6.

Other dressings for the main course:

- The Patriots are 1-2 on Thanksgiving, having lost their first two (in Dallas on Nov. 24, 1984, 20-17 and in Detroit, 34-9 on Nov. 23, 2000.) They beat Detroit two years, 20-12, later after the Lions moved from the NFC Central to the new NFC North. That game was best remembered for Tedy Bruschi’s interception return for a touchdown.

- The Patriots are a remarkable 32-5 against the NFC in the regular season since 2001. Including the four Super Bowl appearances over that period, they are 35-6.

- Patriots are 6-3 wearing their throwback uniforms with red jerseys and the one and only “Pat Patriot” on the side of the helmet. They’ll be wearing them today. They beat Minnesota on Oct. 31 wearing the throwbacks.

- Perhaps most stunning in the statistical tale of the tape is the fact that the 8-2 Patriots have allowed nearly 500 yards more this season than the 2-8 Lions. The Patriots are ranked 30th in yards allowed at 3,984 while the 18th ranked Lions have surrendered 3,442.

- Offensively, the teams are nearly identical – at least in yards gained. The 17th-ranked Patriots have amassed 339.9 a game while the Lions are not far behind at 336.4. The Patriots best offensive weapon obviously is quarterback Tom Brady while the Lions lean heavily on wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has 10 TDs. Only Dwayne Bowe (11) has more in the NFL.

Read More: Detroit Lioins, Mike Wright, New England Patriots, Stephen Neal

Fantasy football Week 12 starts

11.25.10 at 8:37 am ET
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Ah, Thanksgiving! Some find stuffing their faces with endless piles of turkey, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie to embody the holiday. For others, reuniting with family or old friends remains their favorite pastime of late November. Still others enjoy classic high school football rivalries, trapped in the glory days of when they threw 400 yards and five touchdowns against that team on senior year.

But for us fantasy aficionados, we know Thanksgiving also marks Week 12 of the fantasy season ‘€” the bringer of joyful tears or torturous heartbreaks for many managers still trapped in the playoff hunt. During arguably the pinnacle point of owners still entrenched in the virtual gridiron war, Week 12 often makes or breaks the dreams of  fantasy glory for many. So, in this time of feasting, gobble up heaps of fantasy points by exploiting these matchups.

QUARTERBACKS

Shaun Hill (Lions) vs. Patriots

Hill has been discussed here previously, but with a forthcoming matchup with the youthful, 31st-ranked Patriots secondary, he deserves to be mentioned yet again. Trailing only the woeful Texans defense, New England has surrendered a whopping 289.6 yards a game through the air. Granted, much of that has come in garbage time after the Pats have built a comfortable lead, but if they keep playing as they have recently, garbage time should be expected once again against the Lions.

Hill, meanwhile, has averaged a hefty 261.9 yards per game and found the end zone 12 times in his seven starts. Consequently, his 23-plus fantasy points per game is good for a place among the top 10 signal callers in the league. As the team often faces large deficits, Hill just keeps firing away, throwing a whopping 97 times in the past two games since Matthew Stafford‘s injury. With running back Jahvid Best a “long shot” for a major role Thursday, plus the high likelihood of playing from behind, Hill could sling the ball over 50 times this week. A resulting turnover or two should be expected, but platefuls of yards and a side of a few touchdowns should be as well.

Brett Favre (Vikings) at Redskins

With the Ol’ Gunslinger once again hogging the spotlight, the last thing I want to do is give him unnecessary attention. But a date with the 29th-ranked Redskins defense was simply too good to ignore. Yes, Favre’s 10:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio is absolutely atrocious. Yes, his 69.8 passer rating trails luminaries such as Derek Anderson, Chad Henne, Alex Smith and everyone else in the league outside of Matt Moore. And yes, eating road kill might be easier on the stomach than starting Favre.

But it’s now or never for the veteran. He worked his archnemesis Brad Childress out of town, while his reported “ally” Leslie Frazier takes the reins in what should be a much healthier relationship. What better way to “prove” that his old coach was the root of his struggles all season than for the egomaniac to light up a Redskins defense that surrenders 280.1 yards a game? A motivated Favre is the best kind, and that reason alone should have him fired up. Plus, Sidney Rice, his favorite target from last year, has another week of recovery behind him and the two should be more comfortable working together. If he can’t do it this week, it’s officially time to bury Favre. But, for some reason, I keep seeing headlines along the lines of “Under new coach Frazier, Favre regains confidence.” If you’ve got a stomach of iron, and need someone to fill-in, you could do worst than Favre.

Note: Matt Cassel (listed below) presents a much safer alternative. But Favre remains more widely available and offers slightly more upside. If the Chiefs quarterback is available and you want a safe bet for around 250 yards and two touchdowns, roll with him. But if you need the upside play, roll the dice on Favre, assuming he’s recovered from flu-like symptoms.

Others to consider: Matt Cassel (Chiefs) at Seahawks, Rusty Smith (who? Titans?) at Texans (Oh, right, but are they really that bad? Have you been watching football the last few weeks?)

RUNNING BACKS

Brandon Jacobs (Giants) vs  Jaguars

If you want seconds on Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t invite the enormous 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs to the table. But if you want some healthy fantasy points, invite him to your lineup, as the mammoth back should plow over Jaguars defenders this Sunday now that Ahmad Bradshaw has fumbled away the starting role to him. Though coach Tom Coughlin stated Bradshaw will still see plenty of work, both backs will be heavily featured in the game plan with receivers Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith both sidelined with injuries. Plus, when Jacobs has gotten touches, he’s been effective with a 5.0 YPC mark on the season. Now the Jaguars come to town, and they’ve surrendered the third-most rushing touchdowns in the league with 12. Given Jacobs’ effectiveness at the goal line due to his extraordinary power and size, expect him to cross the plane at least once with the potential for much more, along with some nice yardage with increased touches.

Danny Woodhead (Patriots) at Lions

Any Patriots fan can tell you just how impressive the diminutive Woodhead has been this season. But so, too, could anyone who has owned him in fantasy. The Division 2 college product has produced at least nine points in six of eight contests this season ‘€” a number that grows substantially in PPR leagues. For such a small runner, Woodhead runs with tremendous power, as he constantly falls forward and has tremendous vision. He also tends to hide behind his mammoth line, a unit whose run blocking has gotten even better with the return of mauler Logan Mankins. Against a woeful Lions defense that surrenders 130.6 yards and a touchdown per game, Woodhead should again post a solid fantasy line. True, BenJarvus Green-Ellis will see a fair share of carries, and he too could have a big day, but the Lions give up 5.3 receptions a game to running backs, which are more suitable to Woodhead’s versatile strengths. Plus, Detroit’s defense presents a Thanksgiving feast that can feed plenty of mouths.

Others to consider: BenJarvus Green-Ellis at Lions, Mike Tolbert at Colts, Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory (Saints) vs. Cowboys

WIDE RECEIVERS

Vincent Jackson (Chargers) at Colts

Though he hasn’t played in a game this season, Jackson makes his return to the Chargers this weekend, and expect it to be a triumphant one. Some may fear the talented but troubled receiver won’t be ready for game speed, but his three weeks of practice to re-establish his rapport with Phillip Rivers suggests otherwise. From his first practice, Jackson has “made it look easy” by separating from other receivers with his acceleration.

Most recently, he received a ringing endorsement from tight end Antonio Gates, who said: “He’s at the head of the class [in the passing attack] and everyone lines up behind him. … His hunger level is so high. I know he’s excited about playing ‘€” watching him in practice, the way he’s running.” With Patrick Crayton out with a wrist injury, while Gates and Malcolm Floyd are both questionable, the door has opened for Jackson to receive a hefty workload. In fact, coach Norv Turner already stated Jackson will play a major role right off the bat this week.

If Rivers can make fantasy gold out of lesser talents earlier this year, one can only imagine what him and Jackson are capable of. Owners taking a wait-and-see if approach are likely to be burned.

Sidney Rice (Vikings) at Washington

Since I boldly predicted Favre would have a big fantasy day, it only makes sense that his favorite target would follow his lead. Rice made his much anticipated return last week against the Packers, and though his stat line won’t blow anybody’s mind (three catches for 56 yards), his high usage should. In what was supposed to be limited action, Rice played in 48 of 57 offensive snaps, and was the intended target in 10 of 38 Favre passes. More encouraging, Rice told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he “felt great”following his heavy workload, showing health is no longer a factor. True, the reception-to-target ratio was a bit concerning, but Rice should be given a free pass. He was open on a number of near misses that could have produced big gains, and his timing and chemistry with Favre should improve with another week of work. Similar to Jackson, expect Rice to show why he was among the league’s elite last season (83 receptions, 1,312 yards, eight touchdowns).

Others to consider: Nate Burleson (Lions) vs. Patriots, Michael Crabtree (49ers) at Cardinals, Lance Moore (Saints) at Dallas

Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and may it be filled with family, food and plenty of fantasy points!

Read More: Brett Favre, Danny Woodhead, Fantasy Football, Shaun Hill

Patriots downgrade five players to out for Thursday

11.24.10 at 7:45 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Wednesday nigh that four players ‘€” offensive lineman Stephen Neal, defensive lineman Myron Pryor, cornerback Jonathan Wilhite and defensive lineman Mike Wright ‘€” have been downgraded to out for Thursday’s game in Detroit against the Lions. All four players have struggled with injury over the last week, with Wright sustaining a concussion last week against the Colts, while Neal (shoulder), Pryor (back) and Wilhite (hip) have all had injury issues over the last week or two.

With Neal out, expect Dan Connolly to get a heathy amount of reps at the right guard spot, while the absence of Pryor and Wright will place more responsibilities on the shoulders of defensive linemen like Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace, Gerard Warren and Vince Wilfork. And the loss of Wilhite means that Darius Butler is likely to see more time at cornerback ‘€” Butler returned to semi-regular duty for the first time since Week 2 last Sunday against the Colts, as Kyle Arrington was shuffled from his spot at corner to an outside linebacker/defensive end role.

Two interesting names who have been late pregame scratches recently ‘€” safety Jarrad Page and running back Fred Taylor ‘€” were not on the list, which opens up the possibility that both could see game action for the first time in a couple of months. Page hasn’t played since Oct. 17 and Taylor hasn’t been seen in a game since Sept. 26.

(UPDATE, 8:42 p.m.: The Patriots have also downgraded offensive lineman Mark LeVoir to out because of an elbow injury. No LeVoir and Neal could open the door for backup lineman Quinn Ojinnaka, who has played all three offensive line spots, to provide depth for the Patriots on Thursday.)

Read More: Brandon Deaderick, Darius Butler, Fred Taylor, Gerard Warren

Nuggetpalooza’s Holiday Weekend NFL Preview!

11.24.10 at 2:28 pm ET
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Treat yourself to a “cornucopia” of stats in advance of this weekend’s NFL football:

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Saints at Cowboys

* – New Orleans hasn’t allowed a third quarter point in their last five games. Their longest such streak since 1997 is six (2001).

* – After scoring just 24 points in the third quarter over their first eight games, Dallas has scored 14 in each of their last two. Of course, after ALLOWING only three total third quarter points over their first four games this season, they’ve allowed a whopping 72 over their last six.

* – The Saints have allowed three total points in the first quarter of their four road games this season, pitching first period shutouts in three of those four games. Prior to this season, New Orleans had shut their opponent out in the first quarter in just 4-of-20 road games.

* – New Orleans ball carriers have averaged just 1.2 yards per rush in the red zone this season (through Week 10), the lowest average in the league and on pace to be the fourth lowest such average in the NFL since 1991. The Saints were the third BEST at this last season, averaging 3.1 yards per rush in the red zone.

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Bengals at Jets

* – The Jets have averaged a league leading 5.5 yards per carry on rushing plays starting inside their opponents 40 (through Week 10):

5.5 – Jets
4.7 – Texans
4.6 – Eagles

* – The Jets have allowed 21 passing first downs on third-and-long (eight yards or more). Since 2003, the most allowed by the Jets in any FULL SEASON has been 18. The most allowed in the NFL since 2003? 30 by the Steelers in 2005.

* – New York has rushed for 100 or more yards in 12 straight games (and 23 of their last 24), the longest current streak in the NFL.

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Packers at Falcons

* – Atlanta has not committed a turnover in their last three games. They had another three game streak in 2006 but they haven’t gone four games without a miscue since at least 1990.

* – Green Bay has allowed 10 total points over their last three games. They haven’t had such a stretch since at least 1990. They did have three consecutive games allowing fewer than 10 points in 2006 (they are the last NFL team to do that).

* – The Falcons’ red zone pass defense has been positively AWFUL this season, allowing 73 percent completions, 6.04 yards per pass play, touchdowns on 46 percent of pass plays, no sacks, and a rating of +16.04 (all NFL worsts).

* – However, Atlanta has not allowed a touchdown on a red zone rushing play all season. Every other team has allowed at least three such touchdowns in every season since they began tracking the stat in 1991. That includes every other team this season.

* – The Falcons lead the NFL with 19 passing first downs on third-and-8+ yards to go.

* – Atlanta has gained at least one first down via penalty in 23 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the league. No other team has a current streak of more than 10 straight games.

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Steelers at Bills

* – The Steelers have allowed only four touchdowns in the first half of games this season. The NFL record for fewest allowed in a season since 1991 is six, by the 1999 Cowboys.

* – The Bills won last Sunday despite trailing by 17 or more points at halftime for just the second time in franchise history (they’ve trailed by 17+ at half in 55 games). Their other such win was at Miami in 1987.

* – Pittsburgh was penalized 163 yards last Sunday, the most in the NFL this season and the second highest single game total since the start of the 2004 season (Green Bay, 175 in 2009). Pittsburgh’s previous high since 1990: 141 yards in 2000.

* – Pittsburgh had allowed five first downs via penalty in a game once in their previous 128 games (since 2002). Now, they’ve allowed five such first downs in two of their last three games.

—————————————————————————————————————————– Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Brady officially questionable for Lions

11.24.10 at 2:25 pm ET
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For the first time this season, quarterback Tom Brady is officially listed as ‘questionable’ entering a game. Brady is one of six Patriots listed as questionable. Brady has been dealing with a sore foot since the Browns game on Nov. 7 and has been limited in practice since.

It should be noted the practice participation report released by the team Wednesday is only an estimate since the Patriots held only walk-throughs on Monday and Wednesday. Brady spoke to reporters on Tuesday and made no mention of the lingering foot injury or the possibility he would miss Thursday’s game in Detroit.

Did Not Participate
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot) Questionable
G Stephen Neal (shoulder) Questionable
CB Jonathan Wilhite (hip) Questionable
DL Mike Wright (neck/concussion) Questionable

Limited Participation
S Jarrad Page (calf) Questionable
NT Myron Pryor (back) Questionable
RB Fred Taylor (toe) Questionable

Read More: detroit lions, New England Patriots, nfl, Tom Brady

Peter King on D&H: ‘Last meaningful game’ for Lions vs. Pats

11.24.10 at 11:58 am ET
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Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports NFL expert Peter King made his weekly appearance on the Dale & Holley show Wednesday morning.  To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Asked which team ‘€” the Jets (who host the Bengals) or the Patriots ‘€” has a better chance of being upset Thursday, King said: “The Patriots, just because I think the Bengals stink. The Patriots, going on the road, [Lions coach] Jim Schwartz basically worships the ground that [Bill] Belichick walks on. It’s a very big game for him. It’s a very big game for the Lions on Thanksgiving. In reality, it’s the last meaningful game that the Lions will play this year that anybody in America will care about. So, this is a big game for the Detroit Lions. It’s the last one they’ll have. And I think playing at home, their crowd, they’re going to give the Patriots a really good game.”

King said the Patriots’ success this season is a testament to the “Patriot Way.” “The fact that this team right now has BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead averaging more than 4.5 [yards] a pop between them, I just think it’s a great tribute to the coaching staff and to the ability of Bill Belichick, Bob Kraft and the people that work there,” King said. “They just have this attitude: ‘You know what we do here is we play the games. So judge us on when the games are played, not when you’re forming the team in March, April and May.’ I just really have probably a newfound appreciation more of the way they built their team and the way they continue to build their team.”

King said he continues to be impressed with Woodhead’s play, and he’s surprised the former Division 2 college standout slid to the Pats. “I can not believe that Danny Woodhead could not help the New York Jets. And I also can’t believe that he gets cut loose by the Jets and nobody else wants him,” King said. “To me, he is to short, thin guys what Maurice Jones-Drew is to short, broad guys. He’s an amazing football player. And the other thing is, going back even to the Baltimore game and other games, he’ll stick his nose in there and he’ll block somebody. That’s the thing that I really like when I watch him.”

Last week, King caused a stir when he revealed that the Colts were concerned about the possibility of the visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium being bugged. Said King: “I think this has more to do with the fact that Peyton Manning is a paranoid person normally. ‘€¦ I believe it’s more just the way he thinks.”

Added King: “I don’t think there’s any way on God’s green earth that the Patriots would ever put a bugging device in the locker room. I just think it wouldn’t happen. But it says something about the rivalry itself and about the players in the rivalry that Peyton Manning would leave nothing to chance.”

King touched on the situation in Tennessee, where coach Jeff Fisher and quarterback Vince Young have butted heads. King said owner Bud Adams has been unable to clearly see how immature Young has been. “I think Bud Adams is looking at a myth,” King said. “Bud Adams is in love with a guy who doesn’t exist. He existed at the University of Texas.”

Added King: “[Young] obviously has no respect for Jeff Fisher. I just think they need to go their separate ways. Do not be surprised to see the owner back the quarterback and go get another coach. … No matter whether Jeff Fisher returns or not, I do not know why you want to hitch your wagon to the soap opera known as Vince Young.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bud Adams, Danny Woodhead, Jeff Fisher

Bill Belichick on Calvin Johnson: The Real Shaq daddy of receivers

11.24.10 at 11:49 am ET
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FOXBORO — Who says Bill Belichick is only focused on football from July to January?

This week, he dropped a little NBA analogy on everyone when he was asked how difficult it is to cover Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, someone the Patriots corners and safeties will have plenty of eyes on come Thursday.

“He’€™s never covered. He’€™s never covered,” Belichick raved. “The play against Green Bay [Oct. 3], there’€™s 10 seconds left to go in the [first] half, [Charles] Woodson‘€™s on him, the safety’€™s over the top, they throw it up to him, he goes up for a touchdown and gets it. I mean, it looks like Shaquille O’€™Neal going up for a rebound against two point guards.”

When Belichick wants to really make a point, he repeats it time and time again. He did exactly that with Johnson, who leads the Lions with 55 catches, 725 yards and the entire NFC with 10 TDs. He trails only Dwayne Bowe, who has 11 for Kansas City.

“He’€™s never covered. He’€™s never covered,” he said again. “There’€™s always an opportunity somewhere. He’€™s got such a great catching radius. He’€™s so big that he can catch the ball in such a wide amount of space that if the quarterback puts it where the defender can’€™t reach it, then this guy’€™s got great hands, he’€™s got tremendous ball skills. Yeah, I would say, he’€™s definitely not covered even when he’€™s covered. You got to worry about it. And they have a lot of confidence in him and they should. They throw some balls to him that you look at and say, ‘€˜Wow, that’€™s pretty tight coverage. I don’€™t know if he should be throwing it there.’€™ Then he comes up with the catch and you understand why ‘€“ I don’€™t want to say the ball is being forced in there ‘€“ but it’€™s tight coverage, but it isn’€™t good enough because he’€™s got really good ball skills and he’€™s a big target. He’€™s an impressive player.”

So, considering Belichick has coached Randy Moss, the question was posed does Johnson remind him of Moss and Brandon Marshall? Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Boston Celtics, Calvin Johnson, detroit lions
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