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Setting the scene: Patriots-Rams

10.28.12 at 10:47 am ET
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Cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s are expected for the 5 p.m. local time kickoff at Wembley Stadium as the Patriots square off against the Rams in the annual NFL International series game.

There is a 10 percent chance of rain with light winds of 10 mph expected.

The Patriots head into the game without seven players, including cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Friday with a thigh injury. His spot on the 53-man roster was taken by Malcolm Williams, who was signed off the practice squad on Saturday.

On the offensive side, the Patriots will not have tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was ruled out after having a setback this week with his right ankle.

Also out today for the Patriots are safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory, running back Brandon Bolden. defensive end Trevor Scott and linebacker Tracy White.

The Patriots’ road trip to London – 6,500 miles roundtrip – will be longer than the Packers (5,774) will travel all season. Between their trips to Seattle and London in a space of three weeks, the Patriots will travel 11,480 miles, a total more than 11 teams will travel in all of 2012.

The Patriots enter this game ranked first in points per game (31.0) and yards gained per game (436.1) while the Rams and Sam Bradford are 28th in yards (315.1) and 26th in points (18.6).

The Patriots have beaten the Rams three straight times, starting with their Super Bowl XXXVI win against Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” on Feb. 3, 2002. The Patriots beat the Rams, 40-22, at Edwards Jones Dome in 2004 and 23-16 in 2008 at Gillette Stadium. The Rams built a 16-13 fourth-quarter lead before Matt Cassel led the comeback. Deltha O’Neal sealed the win with an interception with just over a minute left.

The last Rams win in the regular season series – which is tied at five wins apiece – came in the 2001 Super Bowl season when Warner led the Rams to a 24-17 win on Sunday night football at Foxboro Stadium. That would be the last loss as the Patriots won their final six games and all three in playoffs to capture their first NFL title.

Keep an eye on Bradford. Four of the last five quarterbacks to face the Patriots defense have posted their season-best passing yardage total. Another factoid that is of concern, the Patriots defense have allowed an NFL-worst 36 plays of 20 yards or more.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Deltha O'Neal, Kurt Warner, Malcolm Williams

Live Blog: Tom Brady, Patriots take on Rams in London

10.28.12 at 8:02 am ET
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Live Blog: Patriots vs. Rams

Fantasy Football live chat, 11 a.m.: Helping you set your lineup for Week 8

10.28.12 at 7:41 am ET
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Fantasy football expert Pete Davidson of and will answer all your Fantasy Football questions starting at 11 a.m., helping fantasy players set their lineups for Week 8 …

Week 8 Fantasy Football chat

A statistical comparison of 2011 and 2012 Patriots through seven games

10.27.12 at 10:36 pm ET
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Here are a few statistical comparisons between the 2011 Patriots and 2012 Patriots through seven games. First, the quarterback, where the only major difference for Tom Brady is fewer touchdown passes and more picks.

Brady through seven games in 2011: 184-for-272 for 2,361 yards, with 18 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Brady through seven games in 2012: 186-for-285 for 2,104 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

Through seven games, there’€™s not much of a change when it comes to distributing the ball and targeting different positions in the passing game:

Targets by position through seven games in 2011:
Wide receiver: 100 catches on 154 targets.
Tight end: 65 catches on 92 targets.
Running back: 19 catches on 24 targets.
Other: 0 catches on 1 target.

Targets by position through seven games in 2012:
Wide receiver: 106 catches on 167 targets.
Tight end: 56 catches on 84 targets.
Running back: 24 catches on 30 targets.

When it comes to the primary targets in the passing game, the only major differences for Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski is total yardage (possibly influenced by the arrival of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd?) and touchdowns:

Welker through seven games in 2011: 57 catches on 83 targets for 824 yards and 6 TDs.
Welker through seven games in 2012: 54 catches for 74 targets for 688 yards and 2 TDs.

Gronkowski through seven games in 2011: 36 catches on 47 targets for 495 yards and 5 TDs.
Gronkowski through seven games in 2012: 35 catches on 51 targets for 434 yards and 2 TDs.

One guy who has seen a slight tweak in his numbers because of injury is tight end Aaron Hernandez:

Hernandez through 7 games in 2011 (5 games because of injury): 29 catches on 45 targets for 333 yards and 4 TDs.
Hernandez through 7 games in 2012 (3-plus games because of injury): 17 catches on 24 targets for 143 yards and 2 TDs.

Maybe the biggest change through seven games offensively is seen in the running game. The Patriots let BenJarvus Green-Ellis go as a free agent, and have gone with a rotation of youngsters in Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead. This year’€™s group has seen more carries and more yards — but haven’€™t matched the YPC average that the running game (fueled primarily by Green-Ellis) was able to attain last season.

Running game through seven games in 2011: 175 rushes on 787 rushing yards for an average of 4.5 yards per carry and 10 TDs.
Running game through seven games in 2012: 248 rushes on 1,045 rushing yards for 4.2 yards per carry and 10 TDs.

In terms of total defense through seven games, the Patriots numbers have improved from this season compared to last year:

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Patriots sign DB Malcolm Williams to take place of Ras-I Dowling

10.27.12 at 6:22 pm ET
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Defensive back Malcolm Williams will take the place Ras-I Dowling on the active 53-man roster after being signed off the practice squad on Saturday.

Williams, 24, was originally signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1 after being released following training camp on Aug. 31. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder was originally drafted by New England in the seventh round (219th overall) out of Texas Christian in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Williams was released by the Patriots at the end of his first training camp before being signed to the practice squad in November. Williams rotated between the practice squad and 53-man roster after being re-signed and played in two regular season games and all three postseason games, including Super Bowl XLVI, mostly on special teams.

Dowling, a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2011, was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Friday with a thigh injury. Dowling has played in just eight regular season games with two starts and 10 total tackles. Dowling played in six games this season, recording seven tackles with one pass defended. Last season, Dowling started the first two games of his career before being placed on injured reserve with a hip injury Oct. 29, 2011.

Read More: Malcolm Williams, New England Patriots, nfl, Ras-I Dowling

Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Rams

10.27.12 at 11:25 am ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Rams game:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes against running back Steven Jackson: The Patriots have done well when it comes to slowing opposing running backs over the course of the first seven games — the Patriots are eighth in the league in run defense, allowing an average of 86 rushing yards per game. Sunday marked the fourth straight game in which New England has held an opponent under four yards per carry, and New England has held premiere backs like Chris Johnson (11 carries, four yards vs. Patriots), Fred Jackson (13 carries, 29 yards), Willis McGahee, (14 carries, 51 yards) and Marshawn Lynch (15 carries, 41 yards) well under their season averages. A quintessential big back, Jackson (101 carries, 380 yards this year) will get his chance to go up against Spikes and the rest of New England’€™s run defense. According to our pals at Pro Football Focus, Spikes has been the Patriots’€™ best run defender: through seven games, his grade against the run of +10.4 is not only best on the team, but second among all inside linebackers in the NFL. (NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers is tops at +11.)

2. Wide receiver Wes Welker against defensive back Cortland Finnegan: With Aaron Hernandez apparently sitting this one out and Rob Gronkowski continuing to be dogged by bumps and bruises, look for Welker to be one of the central elements of New England’€™s passing game against on Sunday against the Rams. Meanwhile, Finnegan is the centerpiece of an improved, aggressive St. Louis secondary, and is their best defender when it comes to pass coverage over the first seven games. (PFF has him at +5.9 in coverage.) He’€™s tied for the team lead with fellow corner Janoris Jenkins when it comes to pass breakups (they both have seven), and leads the team with three picks. A physical presence at slot corner, look for the 5-foot-10, 188-pound Finnegan to try and get handsy with Welker.

3. Left tackle Nate Solder against edge rusher Robert Quinn: The Rams have some very talented young pass rushers, and Quinn is probably their best. (Although Chris Long isn’€™t a chump coming off the other edge either.) He had seven sacks through the first seven games over the course of the season, and his speed and quick hands make him a difficult defender to block. Solder is one of three offensive players who have taken every snap through the first seven games for the Patriots, and while there have been some stumbles — including a subpar performance against the Seahawks — he’€™s done well enough to receive a passing grade over the first half of the season. He’€™ll have his plate full on Sunday against Quinn, who’€™s graded out at +6.6 over the course of his first seven games this year. (Expect lots of help at both left and right tackle by an extra tight end, either Daniel Fells or Michael Hoomanawanui.)

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: Wide receiver Chris Givens: The rookie out of Wake Forest isn’€™t the Rams’€™ best receiver, but he’€™s the one who will likely present some of the toughest matchup challenges for the Patriots. The speedy receiver has 10 catches for 270 yards on the season, and has now posted four straight games where he’€™s had at least one catch of 50 yards or more. Considering New England’€™s proclivity for giving up the deep ball (38 pass plays of 20 yards or more), Givens’€™ skills are not lost on Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

5. By the numbers: The Patriots have scored 159 points in the first three quarters this season, second most in the league; the Rams have about half that total — 80 points in the first 45 minutes of games. However, in the last three weeks, New England has been outscored 34-6 in the fourth quarter, while St. Louis has outscored it opposition 29-13 in the final 15 minutes of regulation. (via STATS)

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Nuggetpalooza: Statistical look at Patriots-Rams in London

10.27.12 at 8:38 am ET
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Last Sunday, the Patriots eked out a 26-23 victory in overtime against the Jets. So let’s start this week’s post with a very trivial trivia question: Since regular-season overtime was instituted in 1974, on average, how many overtime games are there each season? Answer later.

This week, it’s off to London to face the Rams at Wembley Stadium, a venue famous for soccer and, from videos I’ve seen, ridiculously well-attended rock concerts. There is little question that the  Patriots are clearly better than the Rams. But they appeared to be clearly superior to the Cardinals and Seahawks as well, and we all know how those turned out. Is this the week that New England asserts its dominance? We’ll see. To get you ready, here are some numbers that struck me.

* – The Patriots have won 14 of their last 17 games (and each of their last five) played after going into overtime in their previous game (in the same season), dating back to 1994.

* – That the Patriots lead the NFL in long drives (10 or more plays) with 19 probably doesn’t surprise you. Here’s what surprised me, however: The Rams are tied for second in long drives with 15 (tied with the Saints, Lions, and Steelers). Last year, they ranked in the middle of the pack with 25 such drives, but they averaged just 2.7 points per long drive, the lowest/worst average in the league. This year, they are averaging 3.7 points per long drive, while the Patriots are averaging 4.0. The league leader is Cleveland, which only has had FIVE such drives but are averaging 6.0 points, while Seattle (2.4) is currently last.

* – Those long drives by the Rams aren’t a product of a high third down conversion percentage, as the Rams rank just 22nd at 34.1 percent and are dead last in third-and-short situations (9-for-23, 39 percent, on third down and three yards or less). This is no different from last season, when the Rams were last in third-down conversions overall (28.1 percent) and in third-and-short (42.3 percent).

* – After forcing the Jets into two turnovers last Sunday, the Patriots have recorded a takeaway in their last 18 games, the longest current streak in the league (Cleveland has a 13-game streak and Atlanta is at 11). Since 1997, the Patriots have had only two longer streaks: 21 games in 1994-1995 and 19 games in 2001-2002. They’re a LONG way from the longest such streaks in the league over the last 20 years, though:

54 – Buccaneers, 2000-2003
37 – Eagles, 1993-1995
33 – Bears, 2000-2002
29 – Eagles, 2003-2004

Note this: The Rams defense has not forced a turnover in either of the team’s last two games.
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