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Peter King on M&M: ‘Every AFC team is flawed, and every AFC team has a decent shot’

12.27.13 at 12:56 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated’s Peter King made his weekly appearance with the Mut & Merloni show Friday to talk about the Patriots and news from around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

With the Patriots in line for a No. 2 seed — and the possibility of getting No. 1 or No. 3 — New Englanders have their eye on the playoffs in an AFC that lacks a dominant team.

“The problem with the AFC this year is that is that it reminds me exactly of the AFC last year,” King said. “The Baltimore Ravens could be the 6 seed; I think last year they were 5 [actually 4]. They could be a road wild card team, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Ravens make noise in the playoffs. Or I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Kansas City Chiefs get to the Super Bowl.

“I think every AFC team is flawed, and I think every AFC team has a decent shot. I don’t love a single team in the AFC. How can you? Every one of them has shown in the past month that they can be vulnerable.

“There’s a reason why there’s only been one time in the last 19 years that the two No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl. Think about that for a second. You’ve got all these advantages — you’re playing at home, you have a bye, you get to play both games at home to get to the Super Bowl. And imagine, it’s only happened once in the last 19 years. That, to me, is stunning. And it says that what [former commissioner] Pete Rozelle designed the NFL to be is exactly what it is. Which is, there’s 18 teams right now in play for the playoffs entering the last weekend of the season. Out of the 16 games this weekend, 13 — as of 1 o’clock anyway — have some playoff implications. It’s exactly what the NFL wants.”

Looking at the NFC, King said there’s also a great deal of uncertainty there, as the Sehawks and 49ers appear to have come back to the pack.

“Before Monday I would have said that San Francisco is the second-best team in football. Now I might say it’s Carolina,” King said. “San Francisco was on such a great roll coming into Monday, and then they looked pretty mortal. Just like Seattle looked mortal against Arizona on Sunday, also at home.

“I think the last couple of weeks going to back to New Orleans dismantling Carolina at home three weeks ago, I think that has shown us that every team in the NFC can be beaten, exactly like the AFC. And that’s why I think this postseason is as wide open as any I remember.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, kyle orton, Peter King

Patriots release RB Cierre Wood, sign RB/WR Sam McGuffie to practice squad

12.27.13 at 11:43 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots made a practice squad move on Friday, signing rookie RB Sam McGuffie to the practice squad while releasing RB Cierre Wood. McGuffie also brings experience and roster depth as a slot receiver.

McGuffie, 24, was originally signed by the Raiders on April 29 as a rookie free agent out of Rice. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder was released by Oakland on Aug. 26 and signed by the Cardinals to the practice squad on Sept. 3 before being released on Sept. 17. McGuffie began his college career at Michigan as a running back, seeing action as a true freshman, before transferring to Rice.

After two seasons as a running back at Rice, he made a successful transition from running back to slot receiver as a senior in 2012 and finished with 54 receptions for 603 yards and five touchdowns.

McGuffie gained internet acclaim when he hurdled a player in high school and the video was shown on YouTube.

Wood, 22, was signed to the New England practice squad on Nov. 5. The 5-11, 215-pounder was originally signed by the Texans as a rookie free agent out of Notre Dame on May 10. He made the Houston 53-man roster out of training camp and played in three games before being released on Oct. 21. Wood had three rushing attempts for nine yards in his three games.

Read More: Cierre Wood, New England Patriots, nfl, Sam McGuffie

Patriots practice Friday: Rob Ninkovich present, Devin McCourty (concussion), Josh Boyce (ankle) miss again

12.27.13 at 10:46 am ET
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FOXBORO — After much debate and conflicting reports, it was confirmed Friday that linebacker Rob Ninkovich did attend practice. He told reporters he’ll be ready to play Sunday in Buffalo.

“I haven’t missed a practice all season,” said Ninkovich, who had an ice pack on his left ankle in the locker room after practice.

Asked if he’ll be ready to play in the season finale, Ninkovich said, “I’ll be all right.”

The Patriots practiced in sweats and shells on a frigid Friday morning on the lower grass fields.

Ninkovich didn’t appear to injure himself during Sunday’s win in Baltimore but appeared on Thursday’s injury report as limited with an ankle injury, opening the door to the possibility that he was injured during Thursday’s practice. He was not spotted by most reporters in the team’s stretching drills in the first 10 minutes of practice open to the media. However, TV cameras spotted him late in practice and he did participate.

Practice squad running back Cierre Wood was not spotted and was released before practice while rookie running back Sam McGuffie was signed to the practice squad to take his place, wearing jersey No. 39.

Devin McCourty and Josh Boyce were also not in attendance Friday as the Patriots continued their preparations for the 6-9 Buffalo Bills Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

McCourty suffered a concussion in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Ravens when he went low, trying to make a tackle on Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson.

Boyce missed the game on Sunday altogether with an ankle injury suffered on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the loss in Miami on Dec. 15.

Neither player is expected to suit up for Sunday’s game after missing Tuesday’s walkthrough and practice on Thursday and Friday.

With a win in the regular season finale, the Patriots would improve to 12-4 and clinch a first-round bye in the upcoming AFC playoffs.

Read More: Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, nfl, Rob Ninkovich

Fantasy Football: Week 17 starts, sits

12.27.13 at 10:38 am ET
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Welcome to the final installment of the 2013 starts and sits. Week 17 is always tricky, which is why the vast majority of fantasy leagues opt to use Week 16 as their bowl week. It’€™s tricky because you never know which teams are going to pull their starters early and which teams will play to win for 60 minutes. I’€™ll do my best to warn you off of a few options and to highlight some safer plays. We’€™ll be doing full Week 17 lineup rankings at Rotobahn, so feel free to head over if you require any additional clarity. I’€™ll also be back at WEEI at 11 a.m. Sunday for our final chat, so stop by if you have any lineup questions.

QUARTERBACKS

START

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Browns

They play at 1 p.m., so the Steelers will go out there guns blazing to see if they can put some pressure on the teams ahead of them. They post big numbers when they get the offense going, so Roethlisberger is a solid option in any league this week against a Browns defense that’€™s been shaky lately.

Andrew Luck, Colts vs. Jaguars

He’€™s got a decent home matchup and it’€™s indoors, so we don’€™t need to worry about weather. The Colts have something to play for at this point, though they would need some help from the Patriots and Bengals. It’€™s an early game, so they won’€™t know their fate when they play. Luck is a viable starter in any home matchup. Start him if you need him.

Andy Dalton, Bengals vs. Ravens

The Bengals play early and they can put pressure on the Patriots in the race for the bye if they can win. You can count on the Bengals pushing as hard as they can for four quarters. Dalton is a solid play if you need a Week 17 quarterback. His offensive weaponry makes him dangerous on a weekly basis.

Kirk Cousins, Redskins at Giants

If you really need an option, Cousins should give you solid production, though this is not as good a matchup as he had last week. Washington’s€™ temporary starter is a viable option in 12-team leagues with a hot No. 1 receiver and a stout running game to work off of. There is a chance of rain in the forecast, but nothing as epic as what we saw last week.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, deangelo williams

5 things you have to know about the Bills

12.27.13 at 9:59 am ET
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The Patriots host the Bills Sunday in the regular-season finale. Here are five things you have to know about the Bills (6-9), who are looking to end the season on an up note.

1. They have a scrappy defense, especially when it comes to stopping the pass.

The Bills are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to pass defense. Buffalo is fifth in the league against the pass, yielding an average of just 210.4 yards per game. It’s a complete team effort, as the Bills are getting good work from their front seven (Buffalo leads the league in sacks with 56, already a franchise record — Mario Williams has a team-high 13), as well as their secondary (four players have four picks: Kiko Alonso, Aaron Williams, Jairus Byrd and Jim Leonhard). Alonso has fast become a defensive centerpiece, as the rookie linebacker out of Oregon leads the team in defensive snaps through 15 games with 1,102, and is fourth in the league in tackles with 145.

2. They can run the ball but can’t really throw it with any consistency.

The Bills have one of the best running games in the league, averaging 145.2 rushing yards per game (second in the NFL). Buffalo is the only team in the league with at least two backs who have 800 yards or more through 15 games — Fred Jackson has 193 carries for 836 yards and eight touchdowns, while C.J. Spiller has 182 carries for 822 yards and two touchdowns. Ten of the last 11 teams have rushed for at least 100 yards against the Patriots, and it’s a safe bet that Buffalo will make it 11 of 12. (The Bills had 136 rushing yards against New England in Week 1.) Their problems come when they have to throw the ball — whether it’s EJ Manuel or Thad Lewis under center, they haven’t had much of any success when it comes to the passing game. The Bills average 191.9 passing yards per game, 29th in the league. Buffalo hasn’t had a single game in which it’s passed for more than 300 yards in a game, with its best outing coming in Week 2 when Manuel went 27-for-39 for 296 yards in a win over the Panthers. The Bills have just as many touchdowns as picks (15 of each), and as a team, they complete just 57 percent of their passes.

3. They do a really good job taking the ball away, but they also give it away frequently.

As previously stated, the Bills are good at forcing takeaways. They have four guys with four interceptions, and are second in the league with 22 picks. Overall, their 29 takeaways are tied with New England for second in the AFC. At the same time, they’re one of the league’s most turnover-prone teams, tied for eighth with 27, including nine in the last four games. Manuel has thrown nine interceptions, backup Lewis has three interceptions and two fumbles lost. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan (who leads all rookie corners with five picks, including two last weekend) and Aqib Talib (with four) could have some chances Sunday against the Bills.

4. As of Thursday night, no one was quite sure who was going to start at quarterback.

Last week, Bills coach Doug Marrone was he was “110 percent confident” that Manuel was going to be good to go against the Patriots, but as the days have passed, it’s become clearer that that percentage is taking a hit. Marrone hasn’t yet publicly announced a decision on a starter — of course, it could just be a bit of gamesmanship on the part of Marrone. But Manuel sat out this past Sunday’s game against the Dolphins because of a sprained left knee, while Lewis has four starts in relief of Manuel and has produced a 2-2 mark, including Sunday’s 19-0 win over Miami. For what it’s worth, Manuel was limited at Thursday’s practice, while Lewis was a full go but listed with a left shoulder issue.

5. They have a lot of fans in Cincinnati.

The Bengals are hoping the Bills can pull the upset on New England. A Buffalo win over the Patriots — combined with a Cincinnati win over the Ravens — would allow the Bengals to leapfrog past New England and into the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff chase.

Read More: C.J. Spiller, EJ Manuel, Fred Jackson, Kiko Alonso

Patriots release Marquice Cole for a fourth time this season

12.26.13 at 5:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the fourth time this season, the Patriots have released defensive back Marquice Cole from their roster.

Cole, 29, is in his fifth NFL season after spending time with the New York Jets (2009-11) and the Patriots (2012-13). The 5-10, 195-pounder originally joined New England as a free agent on March 19, 2012, and was re-signed by the team on March 20, 2013. Cole was released by the Patriots on Sept. 1, and re-signed by the team one day later on Sept. 2. After playing in the first three games, Cole was released on Sept. 27 and re-signed on Oct. 1.

He was released again on Oct. 4 before being re-signed on Oct. 7. Overall in 2013, he has played in 13 games and has 10 total tackles, one interception, two passes defensed and eight special teams tackles.

Cole played his first game of the season against the Jets on Oct. 20, playing a season high 62 of 93 snaps in the overtime loss. He averaged just over seven defensive snaps in his final five games, including a season-low four in the Dec. 15 loss to the Dolphins. Cole had one tackle in 18 special teams snaps last Sunday against Baltimore.

Cole originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with Oakland out of Northwestern in 2007. He spent the end of the 2007 season on the Tennessee practice squad and part of the 2008 season on the practice squad of New Orleans. Cole began the 2009 season on the practice squad of the New York Jets before joining the 53-man roster early in September.

Read More: Marquice Cole, New England Patriots, nfl,

Patriots Thursday injury report: Rob Ninkovich (ankle) added to report

12.26.13 at 5:17 pm ET
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The Patriots returned to the practice field Thursday outside Gillette Stadium and there was one more name on the injury report. Rob Ninkovich showed up for the first time this week with an injured ankle suffered in the Patriots’ win in Baltimore Sunday.

Meanwhile safety Steve Gregory (finger/knee) and running back Shane Vereen (groin) joined Ninkovich as limited Thursday and were among the 12 Patriots limited at practice. Gregory, Ninkovich and Vereen were all injured in the win over the Ravens. Vereen left in the first quarter and did not return.

Wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) and safety Devin McCourty (concussion) were the only two players not practicing Thursday. McCourty (concussion) left Sunday’s game against the Ravens with a head injury in the second half, and did not return. In addition, Boyce has been nagged by an ankle issue he’s been dealing with since a loss to Miami earlier this month.

Here’s the complete report:

Did Not Practice
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)
S Devin McCourty (concussion)

Limited Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee)
DL Rob Ninkovhich (ankle)
OT Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (groin)

Full Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)

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

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