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Following the flags: Tracking Patriots penalties for 2014 season

12.16.14 at 5:35 pm ET
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Through 14 games, the Patriots have been flagged for 110 penalties (fifth-most in the league) for a total of 987 yards (third-most in the NFL). To this point in the season, here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against the Patriots, not including penalties that were declined or offset:
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Bill Belichick knows Rex Ryan and Jets want to run it down their throats

12.16.14 at 4:21 pm ET
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Geno Smith and the Jets passing game have struggled this season. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Geno Smith and the Jets passing game have struggled this season. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Ground and pound. Three simple words that defined the brash and power New York Jets when they were successful under Rex Ryan.

With a 3-11 record, gone is the cockiness but the desire to find different ways to run the ball is still priority No. 1 with Ryan’s Jets. Whether it’s Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Jeremy Kerley or even the newly acquired Percy Harvin, the Jets are trying to compensate for the lack of a passing attack from Geno Smith. But Smith, along with Ivory, Johnson, Kerley and Harvin, is a definite threat to run.

“Well they use a lot of guys. They have a lot of good runners: Ivory probably runs as hard as any player we’€™ve played against recently. Johnson has a lot of skill; Smith hurt us running in the first game. He’€™s a good runner, he’€™s a very athletic guy, can scramble in the passing game,” Belichick said. “They ran a bunch of reverses, Kerley, obviously Harvin. They use a lot of people in their running game to make you defend from sideline to sideline, as well as the inside power-type games and some read-option plays.”

Harvin has 31 carries for 201 yards (6.5 yards/attempt) and a touchdown this season, 21 of those coming with the Jets after he was acquired from Seattle. Ivory leads the Jets with 739 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Johnson has 613 yards and a 4.5 yards/carry average with a touchdown. If there’s a way the Patriots could be in trouble Sunday at MetLife, it starts with the Jets getting their running game up to speed.

“They have a very extensive and diverse running game,” Belichick said. “This will probably be the most volume of running game schemes and run game issues that they create that we’€™ve had in quite a while, certainly all year.

With Smith struggling as a passer, the Jets have turned back to their “Wildcat” to try and take some pressure off the signal caller, sometimes taking Smith off the field altogether.

“I think the Wildcat is, like a lot of things, defensively you just have to be ready for it every week. Wildcat, unbalanced line, empty formation, all those different type of things, if a team has shown them, they’€™ve shown them,” Belichick said. “But if they haven’€™t shown them, there’€™s always a possibility that they could put something like that together as a game plan thing. We always have to be ready for those type of things.
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Bill Belichick isn’t interested in going down memory lane with Rex Ryan

12.16.14 at 4:02 pm ET
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Chris Jones (94) earns congratulations from Bill Belichick after blocking a potential game-winning field goal against the Jets Oct. 16. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Chris Jones (94) earns congratulations from Bill Belichick after blocking a potential game-winning field goal against the Jets Oct. 16. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

There has been lots and lots of speculation this week that this will be the final meeting between Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick, at least with Ryan serving as head coach of the rival Jets.

Ryan said Monday that he has tremendous respect for Belichick and the Patriots. And while on Tuesday, Belichick said he has respect for the Jets, he wasn’t interested in throwing a bouquet of flowers at Rex on what could be his penultimate game on the Jets’ sidelines.

“We have a lot of respect for the Jets,” Belichick said on a conference call of the 3-11 Jets. “They’€™re a good football team. We had a real competitive game with them earlier in the year.”

That 27-25 escape job thanks to the left paw of Chris Jones serves as a reminder that this isn’t so much about recalling past battles as it is focusing on a team that will be hellbent on spoiling New England’s bid for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

“I’€™m not really that concerned about what happened five, 10, 15 years ago. [I’€™m] more concerned about this matchup this week. They played another tight, tough game last week and beat the Titans at the end. They’€™ve been in a lot of close games — won some, lost some. We were in one with them and expect a tough, 60-minute battle.”

That didn’t keep the questions coming about Rex’s Jets against Belichick’s Patriots. Ryan won the only postseason match up Jan. 2011 but overall, Belichick holds an 8-4 advantage since Ryan came to New York proclaiming he wasn’t about to kiss “Belichick’s rings.”

Belichick was asked Tuesday if he’s enjoyed competing against Ryan, his teams and his scheme since 2009.

“I mean, every week we have challenges,” Belichick said. “Every team has good players, good coaches and tough matchups. This is the Jets.”

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Josh McDaniels, Tom Brady thriving when using play-action: ‘It’s always a good design and a good idea’

12.16.14 at 3:11 pm ET
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Tom Brady has had a lot of success when using play action this season. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tom Brady has had a lot of success when using play action this season. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sunday’s second half performance against the Dolphins was dominant.

The Patriots outscored the Dolphins 27-0 led by their quarterback Tom Brady, as the signal caller went 13-for-20 with 205 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the second half of the 41-13 win.

Playing a major part in his success was using play-action, which was used on Rob Gronkowski‘s 27-yard touchdown catch to blow the game open following a Patrick Chung interception.

Overall in the game, per Pro Football Focus, Brady was 10-for-12 with 135 yards with a touchdown and an interception when using play-action.

“We definitely used it in the second half maybe a little bit more than we did in the first half,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on a conference call Wednesday. “I think it’€™s always a part of what you want to be able to do to complement the rest of your offense. You have a chance to run the football and then try to go ahead and use some play-action to complement your run game.

“I think it’€™s always a good design and a good idea, but ultimately the credit and the responsibility lies with the players and the execution, and they did a great job of doing that. The line gave Tom [Brady] an opportunity to play action fake and then get his eyes down the field and find some people open in the defense. We were able to get behind them a few times there in the second half to create some chunk plays for ourselves and some momentum.”

For the season, Brady has been one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league when using play-action. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady is 98-for-143 (68.5 percent) with 1,334 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions.

His 1,334 passing yards are the most in the league, his eight touchdown passes are tied for fifth, his 68.5 completion percentage is seventh and his 108 quarterback rating is eighth. The Patriots run play-action on 27.3 percent of their drop backs, which is fifth in the NFL.

“It’€™s always been a part of what we do,” McDaniels said. “We’€™ve had weeks where we’€™ve been very good at it and other weeks where it’€™s been more limited in terms of what you’€™re able to do, and some of that is determined by how the defense plays you, too. It definitely played a good role in some of our success in the second half, and hopefully we can continue to do that.”

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Fantasy Football: Week 16 waiver wire

12.16.14 at 10:15 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 16 waiver wire! I think congratulations are in order for most of you. If you are still playing this time of year, you are either in a bowl game, or at worst a semifinal game. That’€™s obviously outstanding news, but it also represents a logistical change as far as free agency is concerned. For one, you are now competing against a single team for pickups, so you are very likely to get a top option and you also have no need for long-term depth as only this week matters. Lastly, and most importantly, you probably have a team filled with studs — that’€™s why you are still alive. Having a great squad can lead to over confidence, so don’t fall into that trap. You need to be proactive this week whether you need players or not. Remember, any player you do not add is there for your opponent. So, if you are all set with your starting lineup, you should scout your opponent and isolate their biggest need and go after the free agent who best fills that need. Be proactive and leave no stone unturned.

I will be posting my usual expanded waiver wire over at Rotobahn this afternoon. It’€™s free, so head on over if you play in a deep format or are looking for some defensive teams to stream in Week 16.

As always, the ownership percentages are listed for each player. These rates of ownership are based on Yahoo! leagues, which tend to be smaller and more representative of the 10-team leagues most of us play in. Obviously, these numbers are mostly for perspective. What really matters is which players are available in your particular league, and you’€™ll need to do the legwork on that.

To keep pace with all WEEI and Rotobahn fantasy football content, including Sunday chats and The Fantasy Football Hour with my co-host Jim Hackett, follow me on Twitter.


Mark Sanchez, Eagles — 55 percent

He’€™s a good bet to bounce back against Washington, who are very beatable through the air. Sanchez is not a desirable play, but he’€™s probably the best thing you can pluck off of the average waiver wire for Week 16.

Eli Manning, Giants — 61 percent

He’€™s the best guy out there on a lot of waiver wires, but he has a tough matchup at St. Louis this week. The good news is the Giants seem to have rallied around head coach Tom Coughlin and their exciting rookie receiver Odell Beckham. Manning will get you serviceable stats, but the Rams should take the big game off the table.

Kyle Orton, Bills –€” 13 percent

They have a good road matchup and they are riding high after their stunning win over the Packers in Buffalo last week. This is a road matchup, but it’€™s at Oakland and that should provide Orton with ample point-scoring opportunity. He’€™s a good pickup if you are in a jam.

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Devin McCourty announced as Patriots’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee

12.16.14 at 8:55 am ET
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Devin McCourty was announced as the Patriots’ nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton “Man of the Year” award. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Devin McCourty is considered one of the hardest working and most generous people inside the Patriots locker room. Now, that generosity and leadership on and off the field has been recognized by the team.

On Tuesday, the Patriots announced that the fifth-year defensive back is their nominee for the annual NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, presented by Nationwide.

All 32 teams nominate players for the league-wide annual distinction given to a player who shows commitment to volunteer work and philanthropy in their community.

Three of the 32 nominees will be selected as finalists for the award, named for the legendary Chicago Bears running back who died in 1999. Finalists will be announced in January 2015. The winner will be announced in Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX, during the fourth annual NFL Honors awards show, a two-hour primetime special to air nationally on Saturday, Jan. 31, from 9-11 p.m. ET on NBC.

Since joining the organization in 2010, McCourty has been one of the most active players in the New England community, regularly volunteering to assist the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation’€™s many initiatives, volunteering countless hours to help others. McCourty has also teamed with his twin brother, Jason, who plays for the Tennessee Titans, to start a foundation to help fight Sickle Cell, a disease that has affected members of his own family.

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Tom Brady responds to Denver DT Terrance Knighton’s Super Bowl guarantee: ‘We’ll do our talking on the field’

12.16.14 at 8:52 am ET
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Denver defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton was very outspoken following Sunday’s win over the Chargers, as he said the Broncos would win the Super Bowl this year — even if Denver had to win at Gillette Stadium to get there.

“I don’€™t care if New England doesn’€™t lose again,” Knighton told reporters Sunday. “I don’€™t care where we have to play. I don’€™t care who our opponent is. We’€™re not going to be satisfied until we hoist that trophy. So if we’€™ve got to go to New England (in the playoffs) and win somewhere we’€™re not used to winning, we’€™re going to make it happen.”

Quarterback Tom Brady responded to the comments Monday night, appearing on Westwood One’s pregame show, as he does every week prior to Monday Night Football.

“Pot Roast is a big man, and I would never say anything to get him mad at me, but I’ll just say there is a lot of football left to be played,” Brady said. “They’ll have their chance. We’ll have our chance and we’ll do our talking on the field. It doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what you do and my dad always told me, ‘well done is better than well said.’

“In the meantime, we have a lot of football left to be played and it starts this Sunday at the Jets. Nothing is really clinched at this point. There’s still two very important regular season games on our schedule and that is what I am focused on.”

The Patriots have won both games at Gillette Stadium between the teams the past two seasons, but Denver defeated New England in Denver last year in the AFC Championship game. If the Patriots win their final two games, they would guarantee the No. 1 seed in the AFC and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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