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Four missing from start of Patriots practice

01.05.11 at 1:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tight end Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, defensive lineman/outside linebacker Eric Moore and defensive lineman Mike Wright were not at start of Patriots practice Wednesday afternoon. In addition, Danny Woodhead, Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen were all wearing red noncontact jerseys. And there was a player working with the linebackers who was wearing No. 53 — we anticipate an official announcement on the move shortly.

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Jason Whitlock on D&C: ‘Pittsburgh’s the best team in football’

01.05.11 at 9:45 am ET
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FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock checked in with the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday to talk about news from around the sports world. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Looking at the AFC playoffs, Whitlock ranks the Steelers ahead of the Patriots. “The biggest threat to the Patriots, to me, is the Pittsburgh Steelers,” he said. “I still think Pittsburgh’s the best team in football. … That does not mean that the Patriots won’t win the Super Bowl, because I think they’ve got the best quarterback in football and I think they’ve got the best coach in football. But the best team, top to bottom, I think is the Pittsburgh Steelers, on both sides of the ball. I love their quarterback, not as much as I like Tom Brady, but I do like Ben Roethlisberger, I think he plays big in the playoffs. I love Troy Polamalu. There’s a lot to like about Pittsburgh.”

Whitlock wrote a column this week in which he was especially critical of Chiefs coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli. He called Haley “insecure, mean-spirited, emotional and irrational.” Of Pioli, the former Patriots vice president of player personnel, Whitlock wrote: “I can’t stand Scott Pioli. It’s true. In any environment, Pioli is a low-character, self-absorbed egomaniac in love with the sound of his voice.”

Whitlock stood by his comments Wednesday but also readily acknowledged those two men deserve credit for the Chiefs’ success this season. “Despite having a low opinion of Scott Pioli as a person, I think he’s done a masterful job as a general manager,” Whitlock said. “I feel like he’s followed the [Bill] Belichick blueprint, or the New England blueprint perfectly.”

Whitlock recounted a dinner he had with Pioli, Haley and other writers when Pioli took the Chiefs job and Whitlock was columnist for the Kansas City Star. According to Whitlock, Pioli spoke over Haley and tried to intimidate the media members. “He was trying to draw a line in the sand. ‘There’s a new sheriff in town,’ ” Whitlock said, and that led to a verbal confrontation between the writer and GM.

Whitlock has since moved on from the Kansas City paper and into his national job, but he reports that Pioli has not changed. In fact, he’s gotten worse. “Yes, he’s even more of a bully now,” Whitlock said.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Patriots sign Atiyyah Ellison and Marlon Favorite

01.04.11 at 7:00 pm ET
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The Patriots made a pair of moves on Tuesday, signing defensive lineman Atiyyah Ellison to the 53-man roster and adding defensive lineman Marlon Favorite to the practice squad.

Ellison, 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, has spent time on the practice squads and active rosters for Carolina, Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco Jacksonville and Kansas City since joining the Panthers as a third-round draft pick out of Missouri in 2005. His best season came in 2009 when he played in 15 games with six starts for Jacksonville in 2009 and finished with 16 total tackles, one sack and one pass defensed. Ellison was waived by Jacksonville at the end of training camp in 2010 and then spent a week on the 53-man roster for Kansas City before being waived on Oct. 27.

Favorite, 6-foot-1, 317 pounds, is a first-year player who spent his rookie season in 2009 on the practice squads of St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle and New Orleans after originally joining the NFL as a rookie free agent with Carolina in 2009 out of Louisiana State. Favorite spent time with Buffalo in the 2010 offseason and then went to training camp with Indianapolis before being released prior to the start of the regular season.

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Patriots announce playoff ticket sales information

01.04.11 at 12:31 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Tuesday that the public sale of Patriots playoff tickets would start at noon on Friday through Ticketmaster.com, or by calling 800-745-3000. Here’s the complete announcement from the team:

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots earned their 12th trip to the playoffs in the past 17 years after finishing the 2010 regular season with the best record (14-2) in the NFL. By earning the top seed in the AFC for the third time in the past seven years, the Patriots are assured of hosting a divisional playoff game on Sunday, January 16 at 4:30 p.m. A limited number of tickets have been reserved for a public sale. Those tickets will go on sale on Friday, Jan. 7, 2011 at noon through Ticketmaster.

Prior to 1994, the New England Patriots hosted just one playoff game in the franchise’s first 34 seasons. When the Patriots host the divisional playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 16, it will be the 13th playoff game the Patriots have hosted since Robert Kraft purchased the franchise 17 years ago. Historically, that home-field advantage has helped propel the Patriots throughout the playoffs, as they have won an NFL-best 11 of those 12 home playoff games.

A limited number of tickets were reserved for a private sale to Patriots season ticket holders and Patriots season ticket wait list members this week. The tickets reserved for the public sale will be made available through Ticketmaster starting at noon on Friday, Jan. 7.

All Patriots playoff ticket orders will be processed through Ticketmaster. Playoff tickets will NOT be sold at the Gillette Stadium Ticket Office. Ticket orders can be processed online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone by calling 800-745-3000. Visa, a proud sponsor of the National Football League and the New England Patriots, will be the only accepted form of payment.

Details for Friday’s public sale are listed below:
Sale Date:                   Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
Time:                            12:00 p.m. ET
Where:                        Ticketmaster Phone Center or on-line at www.ticketmaster.com
Phone #:                      800-745-3000
Payment:                    Visa debit or credit card only

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Revisiting ‘Cooking with Bill Belichick’

01.04.11 at 10:28 am ET
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We came across this a few years ago when it first surfaced, but after Deadspin posted it on Monday, it got us thinking that a few people might have missed out on it the first time around. So here, in all it’s glory, is the most surreal piece of video involving Bill Belichick you will ever come across: “Cooking with Bill Belichick.”

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Vince Wilfork on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated

01.04.11 at 10:15 am ET
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This week’s Sports Illustrated has Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork on the cover.

According to the folks at SI, it is the 23rd time the Patriots have taken top billing on the cover of the weekly issue, tying the Vikings for sixth most all-time among NFL teams.

(Not sure if this is good company to be in, but Wilfork is the first NFL defensive tackle to grace the cover on his own since Albert Haynesworth on the Nov. 11, 2008, issue.)

In this issue, Tim Layden writes about Wilfork and the rest of the league’s big defensive linemen in a story entitled “Attack of the Space Eaters.” In addition, NFL writer Peter King says the Patriots look “like a better team than the 2007 team that entered the Super Bowl 18–0.” He goes on to predict the Patriots will beat the Packers 30-24 in the Super Bowl.

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WEEI.com NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Patriots the team to beat

01.04.11 at 6:41 am ET
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power-rankings575

After an unusual season in the NFL, 12 teams remain in the quest to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy. The best of the group remains the Patriots (1). The Vegas oddsmakers agree, Tom Brady and the Pats have the best shot to win it all. The No. 2 seed in the AFC takes the No. 2 spot in the power rankings. The Steelers will roll into the playoffs with a first-round bye and the best defense in the league.

As usual, wild card weekend in the NFL will generate some “must-see” matchups. Football fans will get a chance to see a rematch of the 2009 AFC championship when Rex Ryan and the Jets (10) take on Peyton Manning and the Colts (8). The Jets coach will be out for blood as Manning is 2-0 over Ryan-led defenses in the postseason. We’ll also see two great quarterbacks go head-to-head when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers take on Michael Vick and the Eagles.

Let the postseason begin:

New England Patriots 1. 14-2 The road to Dallas will go through Foxboro. You have to like the Patriots’ chances of reaching the Super Bowl if they can continue to win the turnover battle. Their 10 turnovers this year is the fewest in NFL history.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2. 12-4 There’s a saying “defense wins championships” and if that’s the case, the Steelers have a great shot at the organization’s seventh Super Bowl title. The Steelers D allowed the fewest amount of points in the NFL and dominated opposing team’s rushing attacks. The one area that could hurt the Steelers is their offensive line. Despite missing the first four games of the season, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 32 times in the regular season.

3. 13-3 The Falcons enter the postseason in the best position to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC. They have home-field advantage, a quarterback who can win close games, and arguably the most balanced offense in the league. They’ll most likely play the Packers or Saints in the NFC divisional round.

4. 12-4 The Week 1 victory against the Jets paid off big time 17 weeks later. The Ravens will ride their four-game winning streak into Kansas City as opposed to Indianapolis. They are also the only team in the playoffs that can say they beat Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium during the postseason. The other important note to mention is that the rib injury Ed Reed suffered against the Bengals likely won’t hold the safety out against the Chiefs.

New Orleans Saints5. 11-5 The beat-up Saints will start the postseason on the road in Seattle. Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Jeremy Shockey and Malcolm Jenkins highlight a long list of injured Saints players. Defending their title won’t be easy. They’ll have to do it plagued with injuries and away from the Superdome. New Orleans will need a strong running game to help Drew Brees in the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers6. 10-6 The Packers’ 47 sacks this year are second only to the Steelers for the league’s most. Green Bay’s defense can get to the quarterback and that is the key to stopping Michael Vick and the Eagles. If Aaron Rodgers can get help from his run game, the Packers can beat anyone in the NFC.

Chicago Bears7. 11-5 The Bears’ makeshift offensive line is very shaky. Jay Cutler was sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL — 52 times. They’ll enjoy a first-round bye but it will be difficult for Cutler and the Bears to be successful in the playoffs against teams like the Packers, Eagles, Saints and Falcons if the offensive line continues to play poorly into the postseason.

8. 10-6 Playoff experience is invaluable and the Colts are entering the postseason for the ninth straight time. As long as Peyton Manning is behind center, Indy has a chance. Once an area of weakness, the run game on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball has improved. In three straight games, the Colts held Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, and Chris Johnson to under 50 yards on the ground.

9. 10-6 Resting his starters in Week 17 was the smartest decision Andy Reid could make. The durability of Michael Vick is definitely in question going into the playoffs. Vick has taken a beating over the last few weeks and the Eagles need to reduce the amount of hits their star quarterback takes with a healthy dose of running back LeSean McCoy. Defensively, the Eagles’ mediocre pass defense will have its work cut out against Aaron Rodgers.

New York Jets10. 11-5 If the Jets want to reach the Super Bowl, they’ll have to get there without playing at home. This is not necessarily a bad thing for Rex Ryan‘s gang. They went 6-2 on the road this season. However, with the erratic play of Mark Sanchez and the uncertainty of his shoulder, it’s tough to see the Jets beating teams like the Colts, Patriots and Steelers on the road to reach the Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs11. 10-6 The young Chiefs have a tough first-round matchup against the Ravens. One thing that will benefit them is playing at home — they were 7-1 in Kansas City. In order to advance, their great rushing attack will have to perform well against the Ravens’ stingy run defense.

Seattle Seahawks12. 7-9 Seattle at the bottom of the rankings is a no-brainer. The first 7-9 team to make the playoffs will have a tough time containing the Saints offense. The Seahawks defense is one of the worst in the league. Seattle is one of a handful of teams in the NFL that allowed over 400 points this year.

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