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Setting the scene: Patriots-Steelers

10.30.11 at 11:03 am ET
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Clear skies and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 40s are expected as two of the four AFC division leaders square off on the natural grass of Heinz Field. There will no doubt be plenty of Halloween costumes in the sellout crowd at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny, just like there was on Oct. 31, 2004, when the Steelers were a nightmare, beating the Patriots 34-20, at Heinz.

The field condition on a grass surface is always of concern to Pats coach Bill Belichick. It was worth noting that after his Friday morning press conference ‘€“ and shortly after donning his Tony La Russa Cardinals jersey ‘€“ he met for several minutes with Don Brocher inside the equipment office of the Patriots locker room.

It would hardly be surprising to discover the subject of Heinz Field came up, as likely did what shoes and cleats would be best suited for the conditions.

Also remember, the field ‘€“ which has a notorious reputation around the NFL for coming apart – hosted a Big East battle between UConn-Pittsburgh on Wednesday night and Western Pennsylvania received an icy, wintry mix from the early onset of the Nor’€™easter that belted New England late Saturday night.

It is not uncommon for Brocher to make sure each player has a choice of two or three spikes. Testing the field early on will be particularly important for the visiting Patriots on this October afternoon.

It remains to be seen whether or not the field conditions impact the Patriots decision to play linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed the final two games before the bye week with a left knee injury. The injury was initially reported as a strain of the MCL, with Mayo expected to miss several weeks to let it heal.

One wonders if the grass field at Reliant Stadium will pass through Belichick’€™s mind before kickoff since it was on that sketchy field in Jan. 2010 that Wes Welker slipped making a cut and tore his ACL.

In addition to Mayo, Belichick also has decisions to make on running back Kevin Faulk (coming off a 2010 ACL tear) and DL Brandon Deaderick, both of whom have been activated off the PUP list this week.

The field is traditionally covered by a tarp whenever inclement weather hits so the field is expected to be good at the start of the game.

The Patriots will be will be significantly shorthanded in the secondary as Josh Barrett was ruled out Saturday night with a thumb injury. Add to that the decision by the Patriots to place rookie corner Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve Saturday and the release of veteran corner Leigh Bodden on Friday, and the Patriots will have their work cut out trying to stop the aerial attack of Ben Roethlisberger. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Dan Marino, Don Brocher, Halloween

What’s a little snow? A lot to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen

10.29.11 at 4:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In New England, a little snow in late October isn’t that big a deal. Heck, The Patriots have even played in a snowy October Nor’easter at Gillette as recently as 2009.

Remember when the Patriots annihilated the Titans, 59-0, on Oct. 18 that year? It started off as driving rain in the morning before turning into heavy, wet, accumulating snow just around kick-off for the 4:15 p.m game.

But when you haven’t seen – let alone played in – snow, then the white stuff can take some getting used to.

When Shane Vereen played his college football at Cal, he had never really seen the snow, even when playing all those times in Pullman, Washington or either Oregon school. The only time he ever had to deal with it was on a trip to go snowboarding.

When he got up Friday morning, he noticed what was on the ground.

It new, very new. It had never happened to me before. The only time I’ve ever been in the snow was when I was snowboarding. So, it was a new experience.

That new experience came with some advice from a veteran of New England football winters – Kevin Faulk.

“‘Drive slow and be careful,’ he said,” Vereen said of the advice from No. 33, who was activated off PUP on Saturday. “That’s basically the main thing I was worried about, too, the whole driving thing.”

Then there was fellow rookie running back Stevan Ridley, who grew up in Mississippi, played at LSU just like Faulk. But it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis, another running back from Mississippi, that provided him shelter and comfort on Thursday night.

‘€œI knew I was in for a long morning,’€ Ridley said. ‘€œI woke up [Friday] morning and had snow all over my car and I made it through, got to practice on time, and I’€™m thinking I’€™m adjusting all right.’€

It was suggested to Ridley that perhaps it’s “nice” that he and others are getting their first taste of snow during the week in practice.

‘€œI don’€™t know about nice, it’€™s still cold to me,’€ said Ridley. ‘€œI know it’€™s nice to y’€™all, but it’€™s cold to me. It’€™s going to be an adjustment.’€œ

For what it’s worth, the only snow expected in Pittsburgh by 4:15 kick-off Sunday will be on the sidelines in the form of snow banks, when the grounds crew clears the field from Saturday’s storm.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Cal, Kevin Faulk, LSU

Fantasy Football: Week 8 Starts and Sits

10.29.11 at 9:57 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 8 starts and sits. We’€™ve highlighted some options that we like and some that we don’€™t like for the upcoming week’€™s games. If you need deeper analysis, please feel free to join us at Rotobahn.com and check out our comprehensive lineup rankings. If you want information on late-breaking injury information on game day, follow us on twitter. Just follow the link on our home page.

Quarterbacks

Starts

Eli Manning vs Dolphins

He’€™s a QB1 now and we think you roll with him unless he regresses. Losing Kevin Boss and Steve Smith has not had the negative impact that many expected.  They have been effectively replaced by Jake Ballard and Victor Cruz respectively. This week, Eli should be able to slice up a reeling Dolphins defense in a home start.

Tim Tebow vs Lions

He made us sweat out last week’€™s recommendation, but in the end, he played some inspired football and posted nice fantasy numbers. The emergence of a healthy and active Demaryius Thomas was a very welcome event. That gives Tebow three solid weapons in the passing game and allows Eddie Royal to play out of the slot where he belongs. We like Tebow at home this week as a decent QB1 with nice upside.

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Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs. Steelers!

10.29.11 at 9:41 am ET
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The Patriots emerge from the bye week with another big one in Pittsburgh. This could be one of the best NFL matchups of the season and looks like it could easily be a preview of a second playoff weekend rematch. Get ready with some stats on the Patriots, Steelers, and the rest of the NFL that you may not have seen anywhere else:

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* – Did you know?: One or both teams has scored 30 or more points in six of the last seven matchups (including playoffs) between Pittsburgh and New England… Over the last 30 years, this will be the 18th regular season meeting between the Patriots and Steelers and 15 of those will have been played in Pittsburgh… Including playoffs, the Patriots have won seven of their last nine against the Steelers… New England has won their last seven games coming off their bye week and are 8-2 in those games under Belichick. Pittsburgh has won the last three times they’ve faced an opponent who was fresh off a bye and they’ve scored 30+ points each time (including last week against Arizona)… Since the start of the 1999 season, the Steelers are just 5-23 at home when they’ve trailed at halftime.

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* – This is not like Pittsburgh: The Steelers and Colts have each allowed seven touchdowns following drives of 10 or more plays this season, tied for the most in the NFL:

7 – Steelers
7 – Colts
6 – Four teams tied

How different is that for the Steelers? They allowed just six such touchdown drives during all of 2010 and just eight in 2009.

NFL note: The Vikings and 49ers are the only teams that have yet to allow a TD drive of 10+ plays.

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* – New England has scored 31 points on their first possession of games this season, a league high 5.2 average:

5.2 – Patriots
4.0 – Cowboys
3.5 – Ravens

Note this: Pittsburgh has allowed 17 points on their opponents’ first possessions, tied for third most in the league.

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* – First Down Battle: The Patriots enter the weekend averaging an NFL best 7.2 yards on their first down plays. The Steelers defense has allowed an NFL best 4.7 yards on first down. On the other side of the coin, while the Steelers’ first down offense has been rather pedestrian, averaging 5.5 yards (20th), the Patriots’ first down defense has given up a league worst 7.8 yard average.

Note this: The Patriots allowed an average of 7.7 yards or more on first down in each of their first four games, but allowed just 4.2 against the Jets and 6.1 against the Cowboys, so that’s progress.

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

Marcus Cannon on his comeback: ‘If I listen to coach [Bill Belichick], I’ll be all right’

10.28.11 at 5:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — On Friday morning, as he faced the group of reporters stacked three-deep around his locker, Marcus Cannon sounded genuinely grateful to be back on a football field.

Just six months ago, he found out through pre-NFL Draft medical checks that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He began chemotherapy immediately for the cancer.

Several weeks ago, he got the good news that it worked and the lymphoma was in remission.

In between, the massive offensive lineman was one of two fifth-round picks by the Patriots out of TCU, where he protected the blind side of Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. This week, after spending time conditioning while on the PUP list, he was cleared for full-scale practice, including full pads.

“It was awesome, finally getting to play with the team,’€ said Cannon, who was limited to off-the-field work with his new teammates. ‘€I’€™ve been interacting with the guys. It was nice to actually get on and move around a little bit, and have fun a little bit.’€

‘€Everybody in here is awesome. I was blessed not to have such a bad chemo outcome. It really wasn’€™t a big deal because they didn’€™t see it on my face. Everyone in here has been real supportive. The offensive line has been helping me get into it. I love this team. Everyone’€™s great. Everybody was real supportive.’€

So, when the 348-pound guard – who played left and right tackle at 370 pounds at TCU – talks about being “grateful’ and “blessed,” you can clearly get a sense of where he’s coming from.

‘€You know, I was really blessed,” Cannon said. “Not much was really tough. Probably the toughest thing was having to leave the team and get on a plane every three weeks,’€ he said. ‘€That was probably the toughest thing, but I’€™m back now. And I’€™m happy to be here.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, Fort Worth, Marcus Cannon

A preview of Friday’s ‘Patriots All-Access’

10.28.11 at 4:57 pm ET
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Patriots All Access airs Friday on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and immediately following on Patriots.com. Some of the highlights include:

‘€¢Bill Belichick discusses getting his team ready to play after a Bye Week and looks at the overall speed of the Steelers on the Belestrator.

·Scott Zolak visits with Belichick and one of the coach’€™s boyhood idols, Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.

·Vince Wilfork was mic’€™d up in the win over the Jets.

Here’s a preview:

Read More: Bill Belichick, Roger Staubach, Scott Zolak, Vince Wilfork

Franco Harris on M&M: ‘I’m feeling good about the Steelers’ Sunday

10.28.11 at 2:24 pm ET
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Pro football Hall of Famer Franco Harris joined Mut & Merloni on Friday afternoon, as the Patriots and Steelers prepare for their Sunday matchup. The running back for Pittsburgh during the 1970s and early 1980s, Harris is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, four-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl IX MVP.

Harris gave his thoughts on the makeup of the AFC and how hard it is to decide which team is best.

“Most of the time, I tell people I really look at the second half of the season and see what happens over the second half of the season,” Harris said. “I really don’t put too much into the first half, but records count in the end, for having home-field advantage. So all these games are very, very important, especially the games against some top AFC teams.”

Harris also talked about how the game has changed, from the ground-it-out, rush-oriented offenses of his time to the the quarterback-dominated league of today.

“I think it was two games ago, when Ben [Roethlisberger] had one of his best games, he had five touchdowns passes and then with that we had a great running game, and I said, you know what, this is what it’s all about,” Harris said. “The running game game gives you so many options that it really sets up the pass in the big way. … I’m a big advocate of the running game, as I’m sure you know. But there’s no doubt that the game is now a passing game.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On if Bill Belichick should be in the conversation for best coach of all-time: “Absolutely. I have so much respect for him and what he does and the moves that he makes to always be on top. Myself, I like winners. When I hear around the league they want parity, I don’t want parity. … I’d like to have four to six other teams as powerhouses and then you look forward to battling those guys. This weekend, everybody’s waiting for that, for this game. If it was all parity you wouldn’t even look forward to it. And then the following week, we play Baltimore. Everybody’s looking forward to that game because they love these type of games when the best play the best. When you look at Belichick, he always has a great team out there.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Franco Harris,

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