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Sunday NFL Notes: Compared to last year, Patriots will be frequent fliers in 2014

04.27.14 at 5:00 am ET
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1. According to Pro Football Reference — using mileage from Gillette Stadium to the stadium in the opposing team’€™s city and assuming the team returns home following each road game — the round-trip distance for the Patriots in the 2014 regular-season will be 16,722 miles, including four games outside the Eastern Time zone. That’€™s a sizable increase from 2013, when New England was held to 12,124 round-trip miles, and just one regular-season game outside the Eastern Time zone (Houston).

Lots of mileage isn’€™t new for the Patriots. The most round-trip mileage in recent memory came in 2009 when they traveled 21,122 miles in the regular season, a slate of games that included a contest in London against the Bucs. In all, there were five trips that season that could be described as extensive — London, Denver, New Orleans, Miami and Houston.

By way of comparison, in 2012, the Patriots went 19,648 round-trip miles, including games in London, Seattle and Miami. In 2011, it was 14,630 round-trip miles, with three extended trips (Miami, Oakland and Denver). And in 2010, the Patriots regular-season odometer read 13,610 round-trip miles at the end of the year, with the longest trips to Miami and San Diego.

While it’€™s easy to dismiss the impact of travel in the NFL — especially when judged against the other major professional sports — it can still come into play, especially when it’€™s a distance of 1,000 miles or more in one direction. (For more on that, check out this story from 2012 by Bill Barnwell of Grantland.) In addition, road night games can occasionally make for a difficult turnaround — traveling back the same evening after a Sunday or Monday night game pretty much wipes out most of the following day. (While there’€™s no practice the day after a game, getting players back to the facility on a short night can be a challenge.) At least from a logistical perspective, it can impact the schedule for the following week. This year, it’€™ll be interesting to see how the Patriots react the following week after prime-time games against Kansas City, Indy and San Diego, all teams that involve a lengthy road trip where travel will take a chunk out of the start of the following week. (New England follows those games with contests against Cincinnati, Detroit and Miami, respectively.)

In the past, the Patriots have cut down on travel through various methods. In 2008, instead of criss-crossing the country on back-to-back weeks in October for road dates against San Francisco and San Diego, the Patriots stayed in California following their game against the Niners. They practiced for the week at San Jose State before heading to San Diego and playing the Chargers that Sunday. (Because New England has back-to-back road games in late November and early December against Green Bay and then San Diego, one tweeter wondered if the Patriots would be inclined to head west for San Diego following their game against the Packers at Lambeau. From this viewpoint, that appears unlikely, as New England-to-Green Bay is a relatively manageable commute. That being said, if the Packers were any further west, or if the game was on a Monday night, the Patriots might be inclined to head west for the week.)

As it relates to the rest of the league, the Patriots are slated to be 15th in overall mileage traveled over the course of the 2014 regular season at 16,722. By way of comparison, Oakland is set to travel 36,106 miles in the regular season — more than any other team in the league — while Seattle is No. 2 at 26,144. Pittsburgh will travel the fewest miles of anyone in the league at 5,896, one of six teams slated to travel less than 10,000 miles.

Ultimately, lots of miles on the odometer aren’€™t always an indicator of how successful a team can be — mired in the Great Northwest, the Seahawks are forced to travel more than almost any team in football every year, and they were the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2013 season. While the added mileage, longer flights and red-eye journeys can wear on the most mentally tough teams, in the end, it’€™s all in how a team handles that challenge that ends up defining how they do when they’€™re away from home.

2. Despite the fact that the first wave of free agency is in the books — and the bulk of the team building process has now turned to the draft — there are still a handful of free agents still on the market. Based on their expected price and New England’€™s areas of need, here are four possible veteran pickups who could still be on the Patriots radar:

Jermichael Finley: The 27-year-old veteran tight end failed his physical when he worked out for the Seahawks, and would likely be a long-term possibility more than anything else. But New England has never been shy about keeping a guy around who might ultimately be able to contribute sometime down the road, particularly at tight end. (See Jake Ballard.)

Dustin Keller: Another veteran tight end still on the market, he suffered a nasty knee injury in the 2013 preseason. However, his name has been linked to the Patriots by a number of publications as a possible addition for New England. For what it’€™s worth, the 29-year-old consistently hammered the Patriots over the course of his career — in 10 games against New England over the course of his career, he has 40 catches for 509 yards, his best numbers against any opponent.

Austin Collie: A late-arriving pass catcher in 2013, he became a reliable presence when he did get into games, and showed up with some important receptions. Has drawn some interest around the league, but could return to New England if one of the younger receivers isn’€™t able to make the leap in year two.

Will Smith: The 32-year-old defensive end has already reportedly drawn the interest of the Patriots. If New England does end up bringing him in, it would continue a local tradition of signing a veteran defensive lineman at the end of his career.

3. As noted here earlier this week by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead, for 11 consecutive seasons, at least one team has gone from worst-to-first in their division. (Last year, the Panthers and Eagles ended up turning the trick.) With the understanding that the Falcons and Bucs tied for last in the NFC South last season, here are the nine teams who were in the basement last year, and their respective chances for pulling off the worst-to-first move in 2014:

Washington: Under new coach Jay Gruden, the Redskins should be better this season, and with the occasionally erratic state of the NFC East, could have an excellent chance at pulling it off with a 9-7 mark.

Minnesota: A new coaching staff and a revitalized Adrian Peterson are certainly positives, but it would take an awful lot of regression from Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit to make it happen.

Atlanta: Despite the talk of them trading up for Jadeveon Clowney, the current state of the roster suggests the Falcons are a couple of years away from contending in the NFC South again.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs have had a very good offseason to this point. This, combined with some offseason regression from New Orleans and Carolina, bodes well. If they hit on their draft, they could be as good a candidate as any for a bounce back year under new coach Lovie Smith.

St. Louis: Getting very close, but trying to break through in the ultracompetitive NFC West might be too much to expect in 2014.

Buffalo: The Bills have made nice strides on defense, but still have some questions at quarterback. If the Patriots were to somehow slip and fall, this might open the door for Buffalo.

Cleveland: Headed in the right direction, but even with an AFC North that’€™s struggled as of late, like St. Louis, it might be too much to expect a breakthrough in 2014.

Houston: You have to feel good about the Texans chances to be competitive in the AFC South, but like Buffalo in the AFC East, it could take a key injury to a franchise quarterback (in this case, Indy’€™s Andrew Luck) to go from worst-to-first in 2014.

Oakland: Not likely, especially in the same division with the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers, three teams who made the playoffs in 2013.

4. When it comes to the pre-draft process, we have now officially entered the silly season, where each visit, workout and meeting will be repeated breathlessly, on a loop, between now and the night of May 8.

But one Patriots-related pre-draft item caught our attention this week when our friend Adam Caplan of ESPN reported New England had a pre-draft visit for defensive end/outside linebacker Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State lined up, but the team decided to cancel the session. Lawrence is considered a riser on draft boards across the league, and Caplan surmised that Lawrence could go off the board in the top 50 picks.

Lawrence’€™s situation certainly sounded an awful lot like the one that left tackle Nate Solder endured in the days leading up to the 2011 draft when it came to dealing with the Patriots. That spring, Solder had a visit with the Patriots cancelled at the last moment, but was worked out in the days leading up to the draft by former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.

Not saying that the last-minute change of plans involving Lawrence is anything more than that, but as we saw in the case of Solder, when a team pulls the plug on a workout at the last minute, it doesn’€™t necessarily mean they’€™ve soured on that prospect.

5. In that same vein, it was interesting to read the quotes this week from Bills GM Doug Whaley, who said that he’€™s not a fan of the fact that the NFL pushed the draft back two weeks into May.

“€œI’€™d say, for us, it doesn’€™t help us,”€ Whaley told reporters at the Bills’€™ pre-draft luncheon Friday. “I’€™m a firm believer in the saying, ‘€˜Study long, study wrong.’€™ I like to go with my gut, my gut feeling.”

Whaley gave the front office an extra week off during the Easter holiday. Under the previous pre-draft schedule, such an idea would have been considered crazy.

“€œWe wanted to get away, clear our brains,”€ Whaley explained. “We’€™re tired about thinking about it. So we said, ‘€˜You know what? Instead of sitting here, banging our heads up against the wall, let’€™s go and refresh ourselves, get ready to attack the last two weeks.’€™”

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Feats of Bill Belichick: Add a half-marathon to Patriots coach’s resume

04.26.14 at 3:33 pm ET
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Bill Belichick is making the most of his offseason.

Not only did the Patriots coach lock up cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, but he gathered all kinds of momentum heading into the upcoming NFL draft by running in the Music City Half-Marathon in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday.

According to the event’s website, Belichick — who ran the race with girlfriend Linda Holliday — finished in 2 hours, 36 minutes, 46 seconds.

 

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: West Virginia DE Will Clarke

04.26.14 at 9:10 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2014 NFL draft. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

WILL CLARKE

Position: Defensive end

School: West Virginia

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 271 pounds

Achievements: 2013 second-team All-Big 12, 2012 All-Big 12 honorable mention (Associated Press)

What he brings: Clarke has ideal size, a strong, athletic frame and an explosive reaction off the snap. Analysts note that he can become too stiff and that he plays too tall.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 3-4

Notes: During the 2013 season, Clarke led the team with six sacks and 17 tackles for loss. … The Pittsburgh native, who majored in criminology and investigations, is the only Vest Virginia player to receive the Iron Mountaineer honor — an award given for excellence in the weight room — three times. … He has drawn comparisons to Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones.

Related articles:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: West Virginia’s Clarke offers clues that football, forensics can mix

Lombardi Ave: NFL Draft: Q&A with West Virginia Defensive End Will Clarke

Video: Here is a video highlighting Clarke’s career at West Virginia.

Read More: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Potential Patriots, Will Clarke,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Stanford ILB Shayne Skov

04.25.14 at 5:26 pm ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2014 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

SHAYNE SKOV

Position: Inside linebacker

School: Stanford

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 245 pounds

Achievements: 2013 third-team AP All-American, 2013 first-team All-Pac-12, 2012 honorable mention All-Pac-12, 2010 honorable mention All-Pac-10

What he brings: A physical hard-nosed linebacker, Skov is an ideal fit for a 3-4 defense. The 23-year-old’€™s instincts, physicality and smarts make him a hard-hitting, punishing tackler with a knack for a few big plays. While his age, injury history (torn ACL) and speed/quickness are a concern, Skov is a good player to put in the middle of an NFL defense.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 3-4

Notes: In 2013 Skov recorded 5 1/2 sacks, three forced fumbles, 13 tackles for loss and 109 tackles, all career highs. … Because he only played in three games in 2011 due to tearing his ACL against Arizona, Skov was granted a medical redshirt. … He was unable to participate in Stanford’€™s pro day due to a pulled hamstring.

Related articles:

Bleacher Report: Why Shayne Skov is the premier run-stopping linebacker in the 2014 draft class

Cardinal Sports Report: Skov holds NFL workout

Video: Here are Skov’€™s 2013 highlights against Oregon.

Read More: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Potential Patriots, Shayne Skov,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Louisville DE Marcus Smith

04.25.14 at 2:51 pm ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2014 NFL draft. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

MARCUS SMITH

Position: Defensive end

School: Louisville

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 251 pounds

Achievements: 2013 American Athletic Conference’€™s Defensive Player of the Year, 2013 first-team All-American, second-team All-American (Walter Camp. CBSSports, USA Today)

What he brings: Scouts say that Smith has a nice combination of balance and ideal body control, as well as a good initial quickness from the three-point stance. However, the book on Smith includes the fact that he plays short and lacks variety in his pass rush technique.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 2 through 4

Notes: Smith took home the AAC’€™s Defensive Player of the Year award after a 2013 season where he started in 13 games and had 42 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, three passes batted, four forced fumbles and a blocked kick. His 14.5 sacks were second most amongst FBS pass rushers. Smith first made the move to defensive end during the 2011 season and became the left defensive end starter in 2012. He spent his freshman season as a converted linebacker after spending time as quarterback during prep school.

Related articles:

Yahoo Sports: How Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith showcased his NFL skills at the Senior Bowl

NFL.com: Louisville DE Marcus Smith might convert to linebacker in NFL

Video: Here is a video highlighting Smith’s career at Louisville.

Read More: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Potential Patriots, Marcus Smith,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: BC RB Andre Williams

04.25.14 at 9:16 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2014 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

ANDRE WILLIAMS

Position: Running back

School: Boston College

Height: 6-foot-0

Weight: 231 pounds

Achievements: 2013 Unanimous All-American, 2013 first-team All-ACC

What he brings: Williams is a power back who works between the tackles, carrying defenders with him. While not the fastest running back available, Williams possesses good acceleration that makes him hard to bring down with his big frame. The 21-year-old has little experience catching the ball and is not great at pass protection.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 3

Notes: In 2013 Williams ran for 2,177 yards, good for fifth highest all-time in a single season in the NCAA. He also had 18 rushing touchdowns. … He combined for 1,562 yards between 2010 and 2012. … Williams ran a 4.56 40-yard dash and a 7.27 3-cone drill at the NFL combine. … He had to skip the Senior Bowl due to an undisclosed injury, though there has been speculation that it was a shoulder injury.

Related articles:

MMQB: The Man With a Plan

BuffaloBills.com: RB Williams assured he’s ready for NFL

Video: Here are Williams 2013 highlights with Boston College.

Read More: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Potential Patriots, Andre Williams,

Reports: Patriots cleared of wrongdoing regarding injury reports

04.25.14 at 8:26 am ET
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The Patriots have been cleared of any potential wrongdoing when it comes to injury reports, according to multiple media outlets.

Both Aqib Talib and Brandon Spikes took their shots at the franchise on the way out the door, saying that the team played fast-and-loose with how it reports injuries. However, an NFL spokesman said the Patriots were acting within the rules regarding Talib and Spikes.

“It was determined that the Patriots complied with the injury report procedures regarding both players,” NFL Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Aiello wrote in an email to ESPN.

“€œI know, I heard they put me on IR and stuff like that. That was just a false report,”€ Spikes said shortly after he signed with the Bills. “€œThat’€™s just how things go there. Almost like what happened with Talib and his hip.

“That was just from the labor throughout the season, man. It was just — you know how it is –€” it’€™s a tough 16 games. All I needed was rest and rehab.”

Spikes’€™ claim was the second in a month. When he signed with the Broncos, Talib said he was listed with a hip injury, but he was quick to say he had no such problem.

“œThe Patriots have their way of reporting stuff, but I haven’€™t had a hip problem since Tampa,”€ Talib said. ‘€œThe injury I had was actually a quad injury. It was reported as a hip injury, but that’€™s how they do things.”€

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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