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Why Patriots’ fans need to root for Kansas City Thursday night

12.08.16 at 10:26 am ET
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One of the best Thursday night games of the year will take place this week, as the Raiders (10-2) and Chiefs (9-3) meet in an AFC West showdown that will have implications for the Patriots (10-2).

Oakland is sitting at 10-2 with the top seed in the AFC playoff chase. If the Raiders win out the rest of the way, they’d take the top seed, and would set them up nicely for the last three games of the year, with the road to the Super Bowl potentially running through Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.

Meanwhile, Kansas City is 9-3, and already have a win over the Raiders. That means that a Chiefs’ win tonight would allow them to take over first place in the AFC West, the second seed in the conference race, and open the door for the Patriots to regain the top spot in the AFC.

The bottom line? While both teams are still jousting with the Patriots for playoff positioning, if you’re a New England fan, the more immediate priority is knocking the Raiders out of the No. 1 seed. If Kansas City beats Oakland, New England would take over the top seed, regardless of how they fare in their Monday night matchup with the Ravens

Steve Smith in no mood to talk about how he was courted by Patriots when he was free agent in 2014

12.08.16 at 7:00 am ET
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Steve Smith Sr. will lead the Ravens into Foxboro Monday night. (Larry French/Getty Images)

Steve Smith Sr. will lead the Ravens into Foxboro Monday night. (Larry French/Getty Images)

Steve Smith, Sr. was on the Patriots’ radar screen when he became a free agent following the 2013 season, but that doesn’t mean he wants to talk about it.

“That was a long time ago. A lot has transpired,” the veteran receiver said Wednesday of his contact with the Patriots before he signed with the Ravens that spring.

“I’m here, so that has nothing to do with this game coming up, does it?”

OK then.

The 37-year-old Smith, who continues to defy the aging process, is in his 16th year in the league, and he’s still getting it done. In 10 games with the Ravens this season, he has 54 catches on 76 targets for 589 yards and three touchdowns. One of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, the outspoken Smith will be one to watch when the two teams step on the field Monday night in Foxboro.

“What a tremendous competitor. This guy is tough. He plays extremely quick,” said New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “You wouldn’t really think that he has been in the league as long as he has, but he outcompetes his opponents every play. He’s just got a drive about him that is definitely … I would say a little bit of an old school mentality that just he’s not going to be out-worked. He’s not going to be out-hustled. He’s not going to be out-competed by anybody else on the field. He’s a tough guy.”

Smith also loves to talk some trash. He had some fun at the expense of former New England cornerback Aqib Talib back in 2013, telling Talib to “Ice up, son,” after Smth’s Panthers’ upended the Patriots in Carolina. And on Wednesday — while wearing a Yoda onesie — he took some shots at the Dolphins, who complained about the state of the field in Baltimore in the wake of their 38-6 loss to the Ravens.

“Since Miami got their ass whooped, of course they’re going to complain about it, but it looked pretty good for us,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been to Miami. They shouldn’t be barking when they just started putting grass on half of the field when they had the dirt and the baseball [surface]. Beggars can’t be [choosers].”

When it comes to Smith’s woofing, you always need to keep your guard up, said New England safety Devin McCourty.

“Each week you’ve got guys that talk, and obviously, he’s elite at it, definitely,” McCourty said Smith. “You’ve watched him do it for years. But I think it starts with going out there and playing well. If we do those things, then we don’t have to worry about anything that’s being said out there and just have to focus on what we’re doing.”

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Devin McCourty ready for daredevil Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and Ravens ‘West Coast’ offense

12.07.16 at 8:27 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The last time Devin McCourty went up against Joe Flacco and the Ravens, the end result was great. But the journey to a 35-31 win in the AFC divisional round was like pulling teeth.

Even with an interception in the game, it wasn’t an experience that McCourty tries to recall all that often, partially because Flacco and the Ravens were able to score at will on the Patriots secondary, a secondary that also featured Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

Flacco threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers and Baltimore had leads of 14-0 and 28-14.

“We won. That’s it. I mean it was a tough game,” McCourty recalled Wednesday. “We were down 14 twice but just kept playing. [We were] able to make some plays offensively and defensively that really decided that game, but a little bit different teams on both sides personnel-wise, so we’ll see if that even has any bearing on this one.”

That was the game McCourty picked off Flacco, the first playoff interception of Flacco’s career. In that game, Steve Smith caught the first of four touchdown passes from Flacco. What has made 37-year-old Steve Smith so good for so long?

“I don’t know him personally but I would probably guess his work ethic,” McCourty said. “To still play at a high level I think one thing is obviously he’s very competitive. He goes out there and competes his butt off every game for 60 minutes. To keep getting older and keep getting better you have to probably have a tremendous work ethic and he obviously has that and he [has been] a tough matchup for years in this league.”

Smith is also one of the biggest trash talkers in modern NFL history.

“I don’t even think I need to say anything. I mean guys are competitive,” McCourty said Wednesday. “You’ve just got to go out there and play. You know, each week you’ve got guys that talk and obviously he’s elite at it, definitely. You’ve watched him do it for years. But I think it starts with going out there and playing well.”

The Ravens have gone through several offensive coordinators in the last several seasons. In 2012, on their way to Super Bowl XLVII, they fired Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. In 2014, Gary Kubiak replaced Caldwell. This year, they fired Marc Trestman after a loss to the Redskins and promoted Marty Mornhinweg.

“If we do those things then we don’t have to worry about anything that’s being said out there and just have to focus on what we’re doing,” McCourty added. “I think just from a total team standpoint and aspect, we understand how important that is to do what’s best for the team out there on the field and we’ve talked about that numerous times as players, and coaches tell us. So I don’t think that will be an issue for us.”

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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, joe flacco, New England Patriots, nfl

WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 14: Can anyone catch Cowboys?

12.07.16 at 8:07 pm ET
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Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys continue to run away from the competition. (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Sports)

Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys continue to run away from the competition. (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Sports)

There were a few minor shakeups at the top and bottom, but, as has been the case this season, the good teams just aren’t losing unless it’s to another good team. We saw a great game in Atlanta as a fairly new NFL rule decided the outcome of another game this season. With the win, the Chiefs kept themselves in the top five. The Giants suffered a big drop, falling from four all the way to 10. The Lions have continued their steady climb up the rankings, and Calvin Johnson has to be wondering if he retired a year too early. Baltimore crawls into the top 10 for the first time this season, but the Steelers are hot on their heels.

Just when the Dolphins were starting to believe in themselves, they were absolutely steamrolled by Baltimore, dropping them four spots and out of the top 10. Toward the bottom of the list, we’ve had the same eight teams all year, and it was the Jets’ futile effort on Monday Night Football that was the most alarming. First Darrelle Revis quit, and now the rest of the team has followed suit. Bryce Petty is going to have a hell of a time not getting killed over the next four weeks as he tries to prove he’s good enough to play in the this league.

1. (1 last week) Cowboys (11-1) — The train keeps on rolling. With its 11th win in a row, this Cowboys team now has the longest win streak in team history. The two-point win over the Vikings was Dallas’ smallest margin of victory this season, and frankly, the Cowboys benefited from a missed call on the crucial two-point conversion in the closing minutes. Next up, they head to the Meadowlands to play the Giants, who gave them their only loss in Week 1.

2. (2) Patriots (10-2) — The Patriots defense did what it was supposed to do and held a garbage offense to a paltry 162 yards. The Pats also held the Rams to just one third third-down conversion in 12 tries. Tom Brady completed 72 percent of his passes in his first game without Rob Gronkowski, but he and Josh McDaniels will have their work cut out for them in their pursuit of a fifth Super Bowl title.

3. (3) Raiders (10-2) — Things were looking a little dicey on Sunday when the Bills were up 24-9 with 9:01 left in the third quarter. Fortunately for Raider Nation, Derek Carr snapped back to reality and threw for three TDs in a six-minute span to give his team the lead, and he added another one for good measure. Only Atlanta and New Orleans are scoring more points per game, but Oakland is winning the turnover battle (plus-7) and has the inside track for a first-round bye.

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Ravens LB Terrell Suggs still refuses to say Tom Brady’s name

12.07.16 at 5:22 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Terrell Suggs haven't exactly got along over the years. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Terrell Suggs haven’t exactly got along over the years. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs have had bit of a rivalry over the years, although it’s been relatively tame of late.

Most recently, Suggs refuses to say Brady’s name during interviews.

This continued on Wednesday when Suggs met with Baltimore reporters.

“That’s pretty good,” Suggs said when told Brady became the winningest quarterback in NFL history on Sunday. “That’s pretty good. Like I said, wins are wins. Numbers are numbers and numbers don’t lie, so it’s pretty good.”

A reporter followed up by asking, “Is it safe to say you don’t want to talk about Tom Brady?”

“I’m like Marshawn Lynch, I know why I’m here,” Suggs said. “This is a big game this week, we get to play on Monday night. We’re playing a good team, they’re ahead of their division, we’re ahead of ours.”

Earlier in the week appearing on Westwood One’s pregame show for Monday Night Football, Brady said Suggs was playing the best he’s ever seen, even though he’s in his 14th year in the league.

Back in 2013, Suggs ripped Brady, saying the two don’t like eachother.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for camera,” Suggs said. “I don’t like him. He don’t like me. I don’t like his hair. I don’t know. I don’t like his smug attitude. But then again he probably doesn’t like my a—— attitude. … Everybody just seems to worship the guy, not me though.”

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Read More: Terrell Suggs, Tom Brady,

Patriots CB Eric Rowe frustrated with hamstring injury: ‘I was finally getting into a groove’

12.07.16 at 4:56 pm ET
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Eric Rowe admitted he's frustrated with his hamstring injury. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

Eric Rowe admitted he’s frustrated with his hamstring injury. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Part of the recent resurgence of the Patriots defense has been cornerback Eric Rowe playing a predominant role.

Rowe, who came over from the Eagles during training camp, has played quite a bit of cornerback the last three weeks, mostly on the outside with Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan being on the inside.

Before the last three games, he and Justin Coleman were battling for playing time, but Coleman has been inactive the last three games.

The cornerback suffered a hamstring injury against the Rams, which Rowe admitted was frustrating given his increased role of late.

“I was finally getting into a groove,” Rowe said Wednesday. “It does set me back, just me not being out there practicing to keep it going. It is a little frustrating, but that’s part of the NFL. Just another thing I have to take on.”

Rowe has no idea when or how the injury occurred.

“I’ve played in cold games in college, I was nice and stretched. I obviously stretch my hamstrings a lot because I do a lot of running,” he said. “Just one play, a regular play, and I was just running and it came on me. I still can’t figure it out. It is frustrating.”

With four games remaining in the regular season, Rowe knows it’s important to be safe, but it was worth noting he was at practice on Wednesday.

“I’m just trying to take it day by day and get better. Obviously, hamstrings are nothing to play with,” Rowe said. “I’m not going to try to rush myself out there and make it worse.”

The first injury report of the week is due out Thursday, so more will be known then.

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Kyle Van Noy happy with Patriots: ‘Wouldn’t you have fun if you didn’t play that much and then you start playing?’

12.07.16 at 3:59 pm ET
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Kyle Van Noy has been a great addition to the Patriots defense. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Kyle Van Noy has been a great addition to the Patriots defense. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — It wasn’t the greatest two-and-a-half years for Kyle Van Noy with the Lions, who selected him in the second round of the 2014 draft.

Van Noy played in 30 games over the two-plus seasons and had a total of 35 tackles and a sack.

The linebacker was traded to the Patriots the week before the team traded Jamie Collins and after taking a few weeks to adjust to New England, Van Noy has been one of the defense’s best players the past three games, picking up both a sack and his first career interception.

The BYU product appears to be having a lot of fun on the field, which comes with being used as a pass rusher, something he wasn’t able to do much of with the Lions.

“Wouldn’t you have fun if you didn’t play that much and then you start playing? Yeah, it’s good,” Van Noy said. “It’s fun to play the game of football. It’s a kids’ game at the end of the day and, you know, we’re blessed to have the opportunity to get paid a lot of money to do it. You’ve got to have fun, even on the days when it’s a grind and all that. You’ve got to dig deep and find a reason and usually it’s being around a group of guys like we have here to enjoy the game.”

Van Noy has played 29, 28 and 40 snaps in the last three games — his first three as a Patriot.

“You just want to help out the team to win and prepare each week like you’re the starter,” Van Noy said. “It’s a work in progress and we’re just trying to get as good as we can and ready for the playoffs and ready to win each game.”

Bill Belichick praised Van Noy earlier on Wednesday, as it isn’t easy to join the Patriots midseason and pick things up.

It’s also worth noting he was the signal caller Sunday when Dont’a Hightower was out of the game.

“He started off well right away,” Belichick said. “He came in and learned things and picked things up. Again, with a player like Kyle, part of it is just getting to know him, just getting to work with him, getting to know what he — things he does well, things he picks up on quickly, things that are instinctive to him and maybe things he hasn’t done before.”

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