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Setting the scene: Patriots-Colts at Gillette

11.21.10 at 1:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It will be clear but a chilly 35 degrees when the Patriots and Colts kickoff at 4:15 at Gillette Stadium.

It’s the first time the two AFC rivals  have played in Foxboro since Nov. 5, 2006.

The Colts had home field in the last four meetings, including twice at Lucas Oil Field, both wins for Indianapolis and twice at the old RCA Dome, where the Patriots had one of their most exciting wins, a come-from-behind 24-20 win over Indy in the unbeaten 16-0 regular season of 2007.

The Colts had one of their most memorable wins in franchise history when they broke through and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship game, wiping out a 21-3 deficit and winning 38-34, en route to Super Bowl XLI and a win over Chicago.

Before dropping five of the last six to the Colts, the Patriots had owned the perennial Pro Bowl quarterback, beat him in six straight, including twice in the playoffs.

Much has been made of the Bill Belichick vs. Peyton Manning showdown. This is the 15th time the two have squared off, with Belichick holding an 8-6 lead in the rivalry. Brady, of course, missed the 2008 encounter when the Colts won an ugly 18-15 match on Sunday night football. Brady also did not play in the first two Belichick-Manning encounters in 2000 as he was Drew Bledsoe’s understudy.

Of the 11 times Brady has squared off against Manning’s Colts, the Pats QB is 7-4. Brady’s best and worst games have come against the Colts. He started off 4-0 against Indy, including wins of 44-17 and 38-17 in 2001. He threw three TDs and no picks on Oct. 21, 2001 and posted a QB rating of 148.3. But on Nov. 5, 2006, in a 27-20 loss to the Colts at Gillette, he had arguably his worst game as a pro, throwing four picks and no TDs and a 34.0 rating.

As far as injuries go, starting right guard Stephen Neal – questionable with a shoulder injury and limited in practice – was out running sprints and jogging sideline to sideline about three hours before the game and should be ready to go. He is crucial in the running game, which could be key against the Colts, who are 29th in the NFL against the run. Indy is allowing 133 yards a game. Only Denver, Tampa Bay and Buffalo are worse in the league.

Adding to the their defensive woes, the Colts announced Saturday night that linebackers Gary Bracket (toe) and Clint Session (elbow) and cornerback Justin Tryon (foot) are all out for the game. Joseph Addai (neck) and Mike Hart (ankle) were also ruled out. All five did not practice on Friday.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, nfl

Troy Brown: Bill Polian’s presence alters refs’ approach

11.21.10 at 11:45 am ET
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Talking on NFL Sunday, former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown, who also spent some time playing in the Pats‘ defensive backfield, stated that it was his opinion that referees called a different game when the Colts were involved due to the presence of their president, Bill Polian.

“I just think that Bill Polian, when the referees do games with him in it, they call a lot more pass interference calls than they do with any other team,” Brown said.

Polian, who is on the NFL’s competition committee, helped institute the league’s “illegal contact” rule after the Patriots beat his Colts in the 2003 AFC Championship Game.

Agreeing with Brown was another participant in the Sunday morning show, former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria, who pointed to the difference in referees’ approaches following the 2003 season.

“I agree with you Troy, the benefit on being on a player committee, or being one of those coaches who are on one of those players committees who talk about the rules or the ethics of the game, is when those refs come to do your games I feel like if there’s a rule that they implement that [the refs] have a responsibility to really get it right, over over-sell it,” Fauria said. “That was one of Polian’s things, the abuse on the line of scrimmage and the contact.”

To listen to the entire segment, click here (with the Brown statement coming approximately at the three-minute mark). For more Patriots coverage, go to the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Nuggetpalooza’s NFL Preview – Week 11

11.21.10 at 9:02 am ET
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Week 11 in the NFL. Otherwise known as “No More Byes”. Here are a bunch of statistical observations and blurbs on each game today and tomorrow.

One quick note before getting to the stats:

Because I am not a fan of the current “passer ratings” used by the NFL (mainly because of it’s complexity), I have begun using one from the New York Times that I have slightly modified. Basically, it takes the average yards per pass play (including sacks) compared to the league average and adjusts it up based on touchdown percentage and down based on interception percentage. Simple as that. So when I mention that this team or that team has the best or worst “overall passing game (or defense)”, it’s based on this rating (which is generally expressed as a positive or negative number)… at least for now.

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Giants at Eagles

* – The Eagles gained 401 yards on FIRST DOWN last Monday, the second most such yards in a single game since they began tracking the stat in 1991 (417 by the Rams in 2000). That performance moved the Eagles into fourth place for the season in first down yards, behind the Chargers, Texans, and, yes, the Giants.

* – The Giants’ defense has a league leading five interceptions on second down this season and a league best -1.37 defensive passer rating on that down.

* – The Giants lead the NFL at stopping third down conversions (allowing 28.9 percent) and lead by a long shot at stopping third-and-5 or less (29.4 percent allowed). No other team has allowed less than 39 percent conversions on third-and-5 or  less.

* – Even in losing last Sunday, the Giants were quite successful on first downs, gaining four or more yards 58 percent of the time and allowing four or more just 46 percent. For the season, the Giants lead the league in offensive first down success (55.7 percent) and defensive first down success (39.9 percent).

* – The Eagles have scored five touchdowns (35 total points) on their nine opening possessions of games this season, the most touchdowns and the second most points. The Giants are the only team in the NFL that has not yet scored on their opening possession, having committed five turnovers on their nine drives.

* – All those turnovers by the Giants this season have allowed their opponents to start their drives on average at the 34.0 yard line, worst in the league.

* – Philly now has a league high 10 completions on throws of 30 or more yards downfield this season. That includes at least one such completion in five consecutive games. Cincinnati had an eight game streak in 2005, the longest in the league since 2003.

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Raiders at Steelers

* – Quick! What NFL defense leads the league in sack percentage? If you guessed Oakland, you are correct:

9.2% – Raiders
8.8% – Chargers
8.4% – Giants

* – The Steelers are the only team that has scored points on all 10 of their drives of 10 or more plays this year. The Raiders have allowed the fewest such drives in the league (8).

* – 61 percent of Pittsburgh’s passing yards have come on plays of 20 or more yards, the highest percentage in the NFL.

* – Oakland has fumbled 22 times this season (tied for the most in the league), but they’ve lost just four. That loss rate of 18 percent is the lowest in the NFL. If it holds, it would be the lowest loss rate since they began tracking the stat in 1994 (min. 20 fumbles):

18.2% – Raiders, 2010
20.0% – Buccaneers, 2009
23.8% – Cowboys, 2007
23.8% – Lions, 1996

* – Pittsburgh’s defense has allowed 58 percent completions on passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield, the highest in the NFL:

58.2% – Steelers
55.7% – Cowboys
55.6% – Jaguars

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Packers at Vikings

* – The Packers have allowed scores on just 5-of-34 opponent drives over their last three games (14.7 percent, ranked first). Prior to that: 23-of-68 (33.8 percent).

* – Minnesota has created just two touchbacks on kickoffs this season (29th) while Green Bay is the only team that has returned every kickoff as all other teams have taken at least three touchbacks.

* – The Packers have allowed a NFL-low 2.00 points per opponent drive of 10 or more plays this season, while the Vikings’ offense is averaging just 2.79 points on such possessions (26th).

* – Green Bay’s pass defense on first down has been the best in the NFL (-1.76 rating) thanks to just 50 percent completions (first) and 4.9 yards/pass play (also first).

* – Minnesota has thrown 16 interceptions this season, the most in the league. Since 1970, the Vikings have never thrown the league’s most interceptions in a season.

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Ravens at Panthers

* – The Ravens are still having trouble getting their defense off the field (19.8 percent three and outs, ranked 20th), but this is their chance as Carolina has gone three and out on 28.2 percent of their possessions (29th).

* – Carolina has fumbled at the second highest rate in the league this year (2.47 percent of offensive touches) but the Ravens have recovered only 4-of-13 opponent fumbles (31 percent, the lowest recovery rate in the league).

* – The Panthers have scored on FEWER THAN HALF of their goal-to-go chances this year (3-of-7). Baltimore has allowed the second fewest GTG opportunities (seven), but their opponents have scored on all seven.

* – Ravens’ receivers have been outstanding at avoiding drops as they have none in their last three games and only six for the season. Carolina receivers are at the other end of the spectrum as they’ve dropped 12.1 percent of catchable balls this year (ranked last).

* – Baltimore passing inside the 40-yard-line last week: 8-for-8, 75 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 0 sacks. Over the last four weeks, they are 26-for-34 (76 percent) when inside their opponents’ 40.

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What to watch for Sunday against the Colts

11.20.10 at 9:39 pm ET
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Here are five things worth keeping an eye out for in Sunday’€™s Patriots-Colts matchup:

New England’€™s tackles. With Sebastian Vollmer at left tackle in last season’€™s Patriots-Colts matchup, New England was able to keep sack machine Dwight Freeney at bay in last year’€™s matchup because of Vollmer’€™s pure size and strength. (On the other side, Robert Mathis had his way with Nick Kaczur.) On Sunday, Vollmer will be at right tackle and veteran Matt Light is back at his left tackle position. While Light ‘€” who has traditionally struggled against speed rushers like Freeney ‘€” has had a better than average season (his only below average game came against the Chargers), he might need help from Rob Gronkowski or Alge Crumpler if New England wants to hold Freeney sackless again on Sunday.

Aaron Hernandez. The rookie came into last week’€™s game against the Steelers as the team leader in receiving yards, but struggled to see the field. He was targeted twice, and did not catch a ball, the first time in his brief NFL career he did not catch a pass. The rookie insisted that it was just part of the game plan, but it will be interesting to see if he suffers the same fate Sunday against the Colts.

Brandon Tate. After a hot start, the kick returner has cooled off considerable over the last few weeks. (Over the last four weeks, the Patriots have averaged an NFL-low 12.3 yards per kickoff return and they are now 18th for the season with a 22.4 average.) Part of that can be attributed to the fact that more teams ‘€” like Cleveland ‘€” were making a point to kick away from him. But it seems

The Indianapolis run defense. It seems the Colts are always lousy when it comes to stopping the run, and this year is no exception. In 2010, Indianapolis is 29th in the league in rushing yards allowed with 1,199. It also has yielded a staggering 5.0 yards per carry (the highest rate in the NFL), including 5.5 yards per carry on first down. If New England is able to get up on them in the second half and is trying to milk the clock, look for the Patriots to try and run the ball as much as possible.

The Patriots have done an extraordinary job taking care of the football this season. Nuggetpalooza tells us that New England is the only NFL team with five ‘€œturnover-free’€ games in 2010. This after they had only two such games last season. In addition, the Patriots are tied for second in the AFC (with the Jets and Colts) in turnover differential with plus-six. And Brady has gone 147 straight passes without being intercepted.

Read More: Colts, Patriots,

Joseph Addai and Mike Hart among those downgraded to out for Indy

11.20.10 at 7:08 pm ET
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The Colts on Saturday evening announced the following players are out for Sunday’s game against the Patriots: running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart; as well as linebackers Gary Bracket and Clint Session and cornerback Justin Tryon. All five did not practice on Friday, so it’s not a dramatic surprise, but Addai (neck) and Hart (ankle) have provided much of ground attack for Indianapolis, while veteran linebackers like Bracket (toe) and Session (elbow) are also a major part of the Colts’ defense.

Read More: Clint Session, Colts, Gary Bracket, Joseph Addai

Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Joseph Addai all ‘questionable’

11.19.10 at 4:55 pm ET
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The Colts – already short Dallas Clark – list three of their offensive weapons as questionable for Sunday’s game in Foxboro against the Patriots. Defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney – who received rest days earlier in the week – were removed from the official report. There was no players listed as getting rest on Friday’s injury report.

Colts injury report Friday:

Did Not Practice
DB Bob Sanders (biceps) OUT
LB Gary Bracket (toe) Questionable
RB Mike Hart (ankle) Questionable
LB Clint Session (elbow) Questionable
DB Justin Tryon (foot) Questionable
RB Joseph Addai (neck) Questionable

Limited Participation
CB Aaron Francisco (rib) Questionable

Full Participation
DB Kelvin Hayden (neck) Questionable
WR Austin Collie (concussion) Questionable
WR Blair White (shoulder) Questionable
WR Reggie Wayne (knee) Questionable
TE Brody Eldridge (rib) Questionable

Read More: austin collie, Indianapolis Colts, Joseph Addai, New England Patriots

Brandon Tate, Rich Ohrnberger miss practice with flu

11.19.10 at 4:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Quarterback Tom Brady was again limited at practice on Friday while wide receiver Brandon Tate and offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger were out with the flu. Safety Jarrad Page returned to practice for the first time since Oct. 22, the Friday before injuring his calf against San Diego.

Patriots Injury report Friday:
Did Not Practice

WR Brandon Tate (flu) Questionable
G Rich Ohrnberger (flu) Questionable
CB Jonathan Wilhite (hip) Questionable
DT Myron Pryor (back) Questionable

Limited Participation in Practice
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot) Probable
S Jarrad Page (calf) Questionable
G Stephen Neal (shoulder) Questionable
RB Fred Taylor (toe) Questionable

Read More: Brandon Tate, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, nfl
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