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Setting the scene: Patriots battle Ravens in balmy Baltimore

12.22.13 at 1:44 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Unseasonably warm conditions with a chance of thunderstorms are in the forecast as the Patriots take on the Ravens in a crucial AFC matchup for both teams.

Temperatures are expected to approach 75 for the 4:25 p.m. kickoff at M&T Bank Stadium. But the bigger factor could be severe thunderstorms in the area could wreak havoc with playing conditions.

The Ravens have already had two weather delays this season as thunderstorms caused a 43-minute to the start of their season opener in Denver on Sept. 5. Then, on Nov. 17, severe weather in Chicago caused a delay of over two hours in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.

The Patriots have played in heavy rain twice this season. On Sept. 12, the Patriots beat the Jets, 13-10, in a game that featured heavy rain throughout the second half. On Oct. 6 in Cincinnati, torrential rains began as the Patriots were driving for the potential tying touchdown in the final two minutes.

There are multiple playoff implications for both teams.

If the Patriots win, they win the AFC East for a fifth straight season. They would also hold onto the No. 2 seed in the AFC, giving them the second and final playoff bye in the conference heading into the final weekend.

If the Patriots lose and the Dolphins lose, the Patriots would still clinch the AFC East. But if the Patriots lose and the Dolphins win, the Patriots would see their division lead slip to one game.

The situation is much more critical for the Ravens. With a win, they would keep the AFC North title in their own hands. By winning their final two games, the Ravens would capture the AFC North. The Ravens would clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Miami loss and a San Diego loss or tie.

The Patriots will be without receivers Josh Boyce (ankle) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) and left tackle Nate Solder. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson did make the trip and is expected to play. Logan Mankins will likely shift over and play left tackle in Solder’s place. Boyce was ruled out on Friday while Solder (concussion) and Thompkins were ruled out Saturday night.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, nfl,

Week 16 Fantasy Football Live Chat, 11 a.m.

12.22.13 at 9:24 am ET
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Join and fantasy expert Pete Davidson for a Week 16 live chat to help you set your fantasy roster for your playoff games. It starts at 11 a.m.; get your questions in now!


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Final thoughts on Patriots-Ravens

12.22.13 at 6:00 am ET
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1. The league announced the 2014 calendar this week, and here are a few of the highlights for the first six months. Consider this a clip-and-save for football fans who are looking to circle specific dates down the road:

Jan. 11-12: Divisional playoff games
Jan. 19: AFC and NFC Championship Games
Jan. 26: An assistant coach whose team is participating in the Super Bowl and who has previously interviewed for another club’s head coaching job may have a second interview with such club no later than the Sunday preceding the Super Bowl.
Feb. 2: Super Bowl XLVIII, MetLife Stadium, New Jersey
Feb. 17: First day for clubs to designate franchise or transition players.
Feb. 19-25: Combine, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
March 8-11: The open window for teams to contact and start contract talks with players who will become free agents when their 2013 deals expire at 4 p.m. on March 11. A contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4 p.m. ET on March 11.
March 11: New league year, free agency begins. Before 4 p.m. ET, clubs must exercise options for 2014 on all players who have option clauses in their 2013 contracts. In addition, teams must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents with expiring contracts, and clubs must be under the 2014 salary cap before 4 p.m. ET. According to reports, the cap will be between $126 million and $127 million.
March 23-26: Owners meetings, Orlando, Fla.
April 7: Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2013 regular season may begin off-season workout programs. (April 21 is the date teams with returning head coaches may begin off-season workout programs)
May 2: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
May 7: Deadline for prior club to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents.
May 8-10: NFL draft, New York, Radio City Music Hall. First round begins at 8 p.m. ET.

2. The biggest change on the calendar is the decision to push the draft back until early May. With the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine set for the same dates as they have been in the past, it will be interesting to see what sort of impact that will have on the pre-draft process — it will likely cause some of the bigger college programs to tweak their Pro Day schedule in hopes of finding the optimal time to maximize their prospects. In addition, with the extra time, expect teams to take advantage of the process by holding more private workouts with prospects. As for the pre-draft hype, if you’re sick of mock drafts and rumors, you’re going to have to endure two more weeks of speculation and innuendo. Ultimately, the biggest impact might be seen in the smaller window between the draft and camp — it could mean pushing back rookie minicamps and later start dates for organized team activities. Last year, most teams held their OTAs in mid- to late-May after rookie camps. Now, rookies aren’t going to have the same time to get acclimated that rookies have had in year’s past.

3. The decision to take the team to the movies — “Lone Survivor” on Friday came at the end of a relatively relaxed week for the Patriots. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was expansive and open with the media, going in-depth on a number of topics. Quarterback Tom Brady offered some good insight into how the Baltimore defense has adjusted in the wake of losing veterans like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, as well as his relationship with former New England defensive coordinator (now Ravens DC) Dean Pees. And the locker room also offered plenty of good insight this week, both on and off the record. One things worth noting: Belichick has done the “trip to the movies” thing before. He took his team to a documentary on explorer Ernest Shackleton during camp in 2001, and also had a screening of “The Fighter.”

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Nate Solder, Kenbrell Thompkins downgraded to out for Sunday

12.21.13 at 8:16 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Saturday night that left tackle Nate Solder and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins were downgraded to out for Sunday’s game against the Ravens.

Solder, who suffered his second concussion of the season last Sunday against the Dolphins, will likely be replaced at left tackle by Logan Mankins, who relieved Solder when he went down late against Miami. Solder missed practice on Wednesday, and was limited at practice on Thursday and Friday.

As for Thompkins, the rookie receiver has been hobbled by a hip issue as of late, and was limited at practice all week as a result. However, it’s important to note that fellow rookie Aaron Dobson did make the trip — Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Austin Collie will see plenty of reps in his place.

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Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Ravens

12.21.13 at 7:00 am ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Ravens game:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Quarterback Tom Brady against defensive coordinator Dean Pees: These two know each other pretty well — Pees was in New England for six seasons, working first as the linebackers coach and then as the defensive coordinator — and that’€™s shown through when Brady has met the Ravens. Baltimore is the only team that has consistently given him trouble over the years, and that’€™s especially true over the last few seasons. In each of the last four seasons (including playoffs), Brady’€™s worst single-game passer rating came against Baltimore. (For a complete breakdown of Brady’€™s stats against the Ravens, check out my story here, and for more on the Brady-Pees relationship, check out my story here.) On the flip side, Brady enters the game on an undeniable roll. According to ESPN Stats & Info, over Brady’€™s first eight games, he was completing 55.7 percent of his passes, averaging 228 passing yards per game and had a 9:6 touchdown:interception ratio. Over his last six games, he’€™s completing passes at a 66.8 percent clip, averaging 370.8 passing yards per game and finishing with a 14:4 touchdown:interception ratio.

2. Tackles Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder and (possibly) Logan Mankins against edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil: The Ravens generate the majority of their pressure off the edge with Suggs and Dumervil — the two have a combined 18.5 sacks, and have a track record when it comes to making life miserable for quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Meanwhile, the Patriots are struggling at tackle, with Cannon (and occasionally Will Svitek) working in place of Sebastian Vollmer on the right side. On the left, Solder suffered his second concussion in as many weeks against the Dolphins, and was replaced against Miami with Mankins. Solder is questionable going into this game, but the thought of the Patriots going with backup tackles against the Dumervil/Suggs combo is troubling, to say the least. Expect lots of help from tight ends like Michael Hoomanwanui, Matthew Mulligan and (potentially) D.J. Williams. In addition, it’€™s worth reiterating that Brady won’€™t be spending too much time in the pocket, using seven-step drops to try and go deep downfield. Instead, expect the quarterback to be getting the ball out as fast as possible to try and negate the pass rush.

3. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Torrey Smith: Talib has been slowed a little as of late — it’€™s debatable his much is due to matchup issues and how much is because of the hip issues — but he figures to spend a lot of time going up against Smith, the most complete receiver on the Ravens roster. Smith (a team-leading 59 catches, 1,032 yards, four touchdowns, as well as 17.5 yards per catch) doesn’€™t have the elite straight-line speed of Jacoby Jones, but is capable of beating you on a number of levels. A smart and talented competitor, he will present a challenge for Talib, who leads New England with four picks and 13 passes defensed. (One thing worth considering — while Talib and Smith will spend lots of time locked in a one-on-one matchup Sunday, there also could be situations where the corner finds himself opposite Dennis Pitta. The tight end has returned to the lineup for the Ravens, and while he lacks the offensive oomph he had at the end of last season, he still remains a threat for the Baltimore passing game.)

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: Darryl Smith has done an excellent job stepping into the middle linebacker role for the Ravens this season, taking over the responsibilities previously held by Ray Lewis. The ex-Jaguar has been impressive in just about every aspect of his game — he has 4.5 sacks this year — but has been excellent when it comes to working in coverage. He has three interceptions and 17 passes defended in 13 games — the passes defensed set a new single-season record for a Ravens linebacker (Lewis held the previous record with 13). The 6-foot-2, 248-pounder could see some time matched up against New England’€™s tight ends like Hoomanawnaui or running backs like Shane Vereen.

5. By the numbers, per STATS: The Pats have played an NFL-high 11 games this season that were decided by 7 points or fewer, winning seven of them. Baltimore is tied for second, with 10 such games (5-5) — in fact, 10 of the Ravens’€™ last 11 games have had a final margin of six points or fewer.

6. Quote of note: ‘€œ[T]here would be no better feeling than us beating them Sunday and . . . we eliminate their season right there. For me and for a lot of my teammates, there’€™d be no better feeling.’€ — Patriots safety Devin McCourty, speaking with CSN New England about this week’€™s game.

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Bill Belichick takes his team to see ‘Lone Survivor’

12.20.13 at 8:04 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots had a significant schedule change on Friday. It wasn’t because Bill Belichick wanted more holiday shopping time for his team.

No, the Patriots had team meetings early and headed out to the practice field at 10 Friday morning so he could take them to the movies Friday afternoon. Not just any movie but the “Lone Survivor,” a movie based on the Navy SEAL “Operation Red Wings” mission of June 28, 2005.

Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Three were killed and one survived inside Afghanistan.

The movie stars Mark Wahlberg, a friend of Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Belichick took his team to seen another Wahlberg movie – “The Fighter” in 2010.

Read More: Ahmad Shahd, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Lone Survivor

Patriots Friday injury report: Josh Boyce (ankle) ruled out Sunday vs. Ravens

12.20.13 at 6:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — After missing all three practices this week, it comes as no surprise that Josh Boyce has been ruled out for Sunday’s game in Baltimore with an ankle injury. The rookie receiver sustained an ankle injury in the fourth quarter Sunday after a 15-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Nate Solder was limited for the second straight practice and is one of seven Patriots listed as questionable. Solder sustained his second concussion in as many weeks last Sunday in the loss to the Dolphins.

Also questionable are receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) and Aaron Dobson (left foot). They have both missed the last two games. Both practiced all three days and were limited Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Tom Brady (shoulder) was the only player on the injury report who moved from limited to full participation and is again listed as probable.

Here is Friday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
WR Josh Boyce (ankle) OUT

Limited Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin) PROBABLE
LT Nate Solder (concussion) QUESTIONABLE
CB Kyle Arrington (groin) QUESTIONABLE
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) PROBABLE
WR Aaron Dobson (foot) QUESTIONABLE
LB Brandon Spikes (knee) QUESTIONABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee) QUESTIONABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger) PROBABLE
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle) PROBABLE
CB Aqib Talib (hip) PROBABLE
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) QUESTIONABLE
OT Will Svitek (ankle) PROBABLE
LB Dane Fletcher (groin) QUESTIONABLE

Full Participation
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) PROBABLE

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Josh Boyce, Nate Solder, New England Patriots



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