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Catching up with … the Steelers

10.13.12 at 2:40 pm ET
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It’€™s been some time since the Steelers weren’€™t players in the AFC playoff picture — with their track record, they should be considered contenders until decisively proven otherwise. That said, the Steelers have some issues, as evidenced by their 26-23 loss to the Titans on Thursday night.

The Titans, as Patriots fans can recall from Week 1, are not a good team and currently have 37-year-old Matt Hasselbeck as their quarterback. Yet, a last second Rib Bironas field goal knocked the Steelers down to 2-3 on the year with losses to the Raiders and Titans … who have collectively beaten one team that is not the Steelers so far this season.

Pittsburgh still has Ben Roethilsberger under center and Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin running that defense, which should make up for many of the personnel issues they have. That said, the defense is not getting any younger and they can’€™t seem to keep a running back on the field, leaving their playoff chances in a state of flux. Here’€™s what we know about the Steelers:

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Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, Troy Polamalu,

Can the Patriots (or anyone) stop Bruce Irvin?

10.12.12 at 1:22 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bruce Irvin was a surprise pick at 15th overall in the 2012 draft, but he’s looked every bit like a home-run pick for the Seahawks thus far.

The former criminal-turned pass-rush specialist [for more on that, click here] has presented a major challenge to offenses, and it’s shown with his 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble through five games. His upside as a speedy defender capable of getting to the quarterback was enough for him to be the first defensive end off the board, ahead of the likes of Quinton Coples and Chandler Jones.

So has Jones, who was viewed as a better and more complete prospect entering the draft compared to the seemingly one-dimensional Irvin, been keeping tabs on the other rookie pass-rushers? Does he put much into Sunday’s game matching two of the better young pass-rushers in the game against one another?

“I compete with no one but myself,” Jones, who played in the Big East against Irvin, said Friday at Gillette Stadium.

Though Jones might not be worried about Irvin, the Patriots’ offense and its coach sure are. In trying to prepare for Irvin, Bill Belichick said the team has had a player (he wouldn’t say who or which position they played) mimic the speedy pass-rusher in practice so the offense can be better prepared when they see the real thing on Sunday.

“We’ve tried to do that,” Belichick said. “We look at our roster and try to match up our scout team players similar to the type of players we’ll be facing that week when possible. Receivers, tight ends, pass-rushers, defensive backs. Yeah, we would take our guys that are more like their guys and try to put them in those positions, or somebody that would give us an approximate look of that person’s style of play, definitely.

“We do that every week. We take guys and talk about it with the staff, who’s going to be who, who’s going to be [Chris] Clemons, who’s going to be Irvin, who’s going to be [Sidney] Rice, who’s going to be [Marshawn] Lynch, who’s going to [Robert] Turbin, who’s going to be Leon Washington, who’s going to be everybody.”

It’s common practice for teams to have players play the part of certain opponents in preparation for that player. Last week, second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett played the role of Peyton Manning by mimicking the Denver quarterback’s on-field mannerisms.

“Sometimes it’s just by the position that that person plays and the person that we have that plays that position more familiar with it, so it helps our guys to take the reps for that,” Belichick explained. “Sometimes it’s to replicate their player. But our younger players, our practice squad players, some of the guys that don’t play as much, we also want to try to put them in a position where they can execute plays at their position rather than move them somewhere else and playing them out of position. We try to put them where they play so their reps are higher quality reps in their personal development.”

Irvin isn’t the only rookie who’s made an impact for the Seahawks. Not only is their third-round pick starting at quarterback in Russell Wilson, but fourth-round pick Robert Turbin has proven to be a capable backup for Lynch.

“They’ve got a lot of good young players,” Belichick said. “It seems like most of their team is under three years other than just a handful of guys. They’ve gotten good production out of [their rookies]. Turbin’s been impressive when he’s played in there for Lynch. Wilson obviously, Irvin’s been a good pass-rusher for them. [Bobby] Wagner‘s been very productive for them at middle linebacker. He’s made a lot of plays. It looks like they’ve got a good solid group.

Added Belichick: “They’ve drafted well. Pete [Carroll]’s put together a real good football team. I think he’s done a great job of turning that roster over. He’s got a lot of young players, but they’re good players. I’ve been real impressed with what he’s done, no question.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bruce Irvin, chandler jones, Pete Carroll

Aaron Hernandez misses practice, could be game-time decision vs. Seahawks

10.12.12 at 12:26 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had a bag packed for Seattle and coach Bill Belichick said he “could be a game-time decision” for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, but Hernandez was one of three Patriots not on the field as the team held practice on Friday.

In addition to Hernandez, who has been out since leaving the team’s Week 2 loss to the Cardinals with an ankle injury, Tracy White (foot) and Steve Gregory were also (hip) were also not present for practice. Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) was back at practice for New England.

Belichick didn’t go into detail regarding whether Hernandez will play on Sunday, but at the very least it appears that he will be making the trip to Seattle and that he’ll be evaluated further prior to the game.

“We’ll just have to see how it goes here,” Belichick said. “He practiced late last week and did some things yesterday and Wednesday, so we’ll see how he is today, see if that set him back or didn’t set him back or how that went. Then we’ll have the day to evaluate it on Saturday and we’ll see where we’re at on Sunday. I don’t know if [he] could be a game-time decision. Maybe we’ll know sooner depending on what information we get today or before we leave. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Read More: Aaron Hernandez,

Fantasy Football: Week 5 starts, sits

10.12.12 at 11:29 am ET
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Welcome to Rotobahn’€™s Week 6 starts and sits. There are plenty of quality options on the bye this week, so feel free to go to Rotobahn.com and use our full lineup rankings if we don’€™t highlight your key lineup choices here. As usual, we’€™ve done our best to avoid the obvious choices and to talk about players that are on the fringe of lineups in 12-team leagues. Good luck to all in Week 6!

QUARTERBACKS

STARTS

Andrew Luck, Colts at Jets

He should be able to find the holes in the Jets defense. He’€™s also a good bet to pick up points with his feet against New York’€™s slow linebackers. Luck has a solid fantasy floor in Week 6.

Andy Dalton, Bengals at Browns

The Browns get top CB Joe Haden back, but we like Dalton enough to play him as a bye week replacement. The key is that he has been using all his weapons, so if they take A.J. Green away, guys like TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Andrew Hawkins can make big plays. Dalton is our 13th ranked QB in Week 6.

Christian Ponder, Vikings at Redskins

If you have bye issues at QB, Ponder can help. The Minnesota passer has been steady all season long. He should post high-end QB2 numbers in Week 6. Start him with confidence.

SITS

Alex Smith, 49ers vs. Giants

Smith is capable of having a big game against a good defense, but this game could be a defensive struggle and there are better options out there this week. If you need to play Smith, go for it, but we’€™d at least check out some other options. Check out our lineup rankings at Rotobahn.com if you need any more ideas.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins vs. Rams

I like the Dolphins rookie, but this is a rough matchup, so consider other options before playing Tannehill on a less-than-average week for him. The Rams have been playing some very solid defense in 2012.

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Read More: Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Brandon Bolden

Michael Lombardi on D&C: Seahawks ‘will be a challenge’ for Patriots

10.12.12 at 10:58 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to preview Sunday’s Patriots-Seahawks game and discuss news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Lombardi assessed the Seahawks defense and the Patriots’ chances going into Week 6.

‘€œIt will be a challenge. We lose sight of the fact that when you talk about Seattle, and certainly [CenturyLink] Field up there, it is a tough place to play. I’€™m not saying it’€™s a tough place to win, they’€™re 6-4 over the last 10 games up there,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œAnd this Seattle defense, because of the crowd noise and if you do things like Green Bay did and leave the edges open and allow the Bruce Irvins and the Chris Clemons to run all over the field and create plays with their athleticism, that’€™s your own fault. That’€™s really what I don’€™t think New England will do.’€

Lombardi said the Seahawks defense is physical and will be ready to play hard against the Patriots offense.

‘€œThey want to play fast, they want to play smart, they want to be able to be in the right place,” Lombardi said. “And you can tell what they’€™re going to be able to do. They’€™ve got a few blitzes. But pretty much, they’€™re not saying to you, ‘€˜We’€™re going to get in a chess match with you.’€™ They’€™re saying, ‘€˜We’€™re going to punch you in the mouth. We’€™re going to beat you.’€™ ‘€

Asked if the Seahawks are a legitimate playoff contender this year, Lombardi said the struggling offense makes that difficult to determine.

‘€œI think they’€™re borderline a playoff team. This defense is tough. When they play the good offenses in the NFL, the offenses that have a little bit more than just five or six plays in terms of trying to attack them, I think they’€™ll run into some issues,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œBut the reality of it is, this [Seahawks] offense is not very explosive. And so because it’€™s not explosive, every game you play you could get into a situation where you could lose to a lesser opponent because you can’€™t put the game away.’€

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Matt Flynn, Michael Vick, Mike Lombardi

Nuggetpalooza: Interesting stats behind an interesting Patriots vs. Seahawks tilt!

10.12.12 at 10:55 am ET
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The Patriots, now 3-2 and seemingly hitting their stride, head to the Pacific Northwest to face the somewhat-surprising Seahawks. Playing in Seattle, against the “12th man” and the deafening noise level, is a challenge, to put it mildly. It should be fascinating to see how the fast-paced New England offense handles it. Here are some numbers that I found interesting within this weekend’s matchup:

* – New England has scored 30 or more points in its last seven and 14 of its last 15 road games. Seven straight road games with 30-plus points ties the club record and is one away from the longest such streak since 1970 (eight by the 1999-2000 Rams). Only one other team, the 1984 Niners, has even reached six such road games in a row. Seattle might be a tough opponent to extend the streak against as the Seahawks have allowed 30 or more points only twice in their last 11 home games (none in their last seven). But the Patriots are a different animal. Prior to New England hanging 30 on them a few weeks ago, the Ravens had allowed 30-plus points at home just once in their previous 34 games.

* – Two NFL teams have yet to allow a first-quarter touchdown this season: The Patriots and the Seahawks. It’s the first time that Seattle has gone five straight games without allowing a touchdown in the first period since the 2005-06 season, when they put up a 12-game streak. The Patriots’ last such streak of five games or more came during the final five weeks of the 2010 season. The longest streaks without allowing a first-quarter touchdown since 1997:

19 – Steelers (1998-1999)
15 – Dolphins (2002-2003)
15 – Giants (2002)

Note this: The longest such streak since 1997 by the Patriots was 11 games (2000-2001). Also, an interesting note about that 15-game streak by the Giants in 2002 is that they didn’t allow a score in the opening period over their first 15 games before letting down in the 16th and final game of the season. The next week, they allowed another first quarter score to the 49ers en route to a 39-38 loss in the wild card game.

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Five reasons why it didn’t work for Pete Carroll in New England

10.12.12 at 1:09 am ET
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Pete Carroll, who coached the Patriots from 1997 through 1999, took a few moments this week to reflect on his time in New England. Carroll, who was with USC from 2001 through 2009 before taking over in Seattle, had an eventful time with the Patriots, but said Wednesday it was a great experience.

‘€œI loved living there and representing those fans ‘€” I thought they were awesome,’€ said Carroll, who took over as coach in Seattle in 2010. ‘€œThey were so intense and loved the team so much ‘€” in all the sports, not just football. Whether it was basketball, hockey, baseball ‘€¦ this is a great fan base, and I loved being connected with them. And I appreciated it more the tougher they got on us, because I knew how much they loved it and how much they cared about it.

‘€œIt was a really big deal being there. I regret not being able to get it done the way we wanted to. We did some really good things and we were close, but I learned so much coming out of that experience that it changed me. I’€™ve had a lot of good stuff since then, and I’€™m grateful for that, but I wish I would have been able to ‘€¦ I’€™m never going to give up on a situation ‘€” I’€™d have loved to been able to fix it and finish it, but we didn’€™t get to.’€

In our opinion, despite the fact that Carroll won more regular-season games in his three seasons with the Patriots than Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells in their first three years in New England, there were five primary reasons why it didn’€™t work between Carroll and the Patriots.
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