|12.28.13 at 12:04 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s Bills-Patriots game:
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:
1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes against the Buffalo running game: The Bills run the ball just about as well as anyone in the league. Buffalo averages 145.2 rushing yards per game (second in the NFL) and 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. They’ll face a team in New England that has, at least statistically, shown better numbers against the run over the last month. In the previous four games, the Patriots have allowed an average of 109.75 rushing yards per game. It doesn’t sound like much, but in that span, New England’s average rushing yards allowed per game has gone from 139.7 yards allowed to 131.7 yards allowed. It’s not much, but it’s an improvement, one, the Patriots hope to continue to build on Sunday against Buffalo. Spikes will likely lead the charge in this department — the linebacker, who is clearly hobbled with a knee issue he’s been battling over the last month, will have the primary responsibility of tracking Spiller and Jackson.
2. Quarterback Tom Brady against the Buffalo pass defense: Brady has owned the Bills’ pass defense for the better part of the last dozen years. The quarterback has led the Patriots to 21 regular season victories over the Bills, recording his highest regular season victory total over any opponent. Additionally, Brady has thrown for more touchdowns (53) against Buffalo than any other opponent, and has more 300-yard games (7) against Buffalo than any other NFL team. The Bills have played very good pass defense as a team over the course of the 2013 season — they’ve gotten good pressure up front (more on that in a second), but they’ve also gotten improved play when it comes to coverage. Buffalo has four different players with four picks, including Kiko Alonso, Aaron Williams, Jairus Byrd and Jim Leonhard. That depth in pass coverage will surely provide some challenges for the Patriots’ pass catchers.
3. The Patriots offensive line against the Buffalo front seven: It’ll be another stern test for the New England offensive line, which has met some really impressive defensive fronts over the course of the year. While they haven’t kept Brady’s uniform completely clean — if he’s sacked twice against the Bills, it’ll equal his career-high for sacks absorbed in a season with 41 (2001 in 15 games) — they have done well given the fact they’ve dealt with injuries to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (lost for the season) and left tackle (Nate Solder, who has struggled with concussion issues as of late but appears likely to play). Buffalo is the only team in the league with four defenders with 7.5 or more sacks — Mario Williams leads the way with 13 — and have shown an ability to get pressure off the edges or up the middle. For the Patriots, part of the game plan will likely be the same it was over the course of several games this season against some of the league’s best pass rushers like Miami, Baltimore and Carolina — Brady has to get the ball out as fast as possible to try and negate the Bills pass rush. As a result, don’t expect too many deep shots downfield. Instead, look for the strength of the Patriots passing game on Sunday to focus on the short and intermediate routes to receivers like Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen.
4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: It’s tough to call Scott Chandler an under-the-radar opponent anymore — he leads the team in receiving yards, and is second on the team in receptions — but the tight end has consistently been a tough cover for New England. In two games against the Patriots last year, Chandler had nine catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns on 16 targets. While he was held to four catches for 38 yards in the season opener against New England, managed to carve out a really nice niche for himself this year with 50 catches on 77 targets for a team-leading 600 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Bills don’t really throw the ball with any sort of consistency, but when they do, Chandler is one of their first options.
5. By the numbers: (tie) One, Brady has thrown more touchdown passes against the Bills — 53 — than any other team in his career, and has a 21-2 record against Buffalo. Two, the Bills are the only team in the league with two running backs (Jackson, Spiller) with at least 800 rushing yards each.
|12.27.13 at 9:13 pm ET|
Four members of the Patriots were selected to the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl, the league announced Friday: Quarterback Tom Brady, guard Logan Mankins, wide receiver Matthew Slater (special teams) and cornerback Aqib Talib have been selected to represent the team in the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl on Jan. 26, 2014 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii.
Here’s a portion of the press release issued by the team:
Brady was named to the Pro Bowl for the ninth time, tying John Hannah (9) for the most Pro Bowls in Patriots history. It is his fifth consecutive selection to the all-star game. He was voted to the Pro Bowl after each of the following seasons: 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Brady heads into the final week of the season with 4,221 yards and 24 touchdown passes. He joined Dan Marino (6), Brett Favre (6), Drew Brees (8) and Peyton Manning (13) as the only NFL players to have at least six seasons with 4,000 passing yards. Brady also guided the Patriots to their 11th division title in 2013, the most division titles among any NFL quarterback.
Mankins was voted to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl, as well, and his sixth overall. He went to his first Pro Bowl in 2007 when he became the first Patriots guard to earn a Pro Bowl selection since 1985 when Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah went to his ninth career Pro Bowl. The Fresno State product is in his ninth season with the Patriots since being selected in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. Since entering the starting lineup in 2005, Mankins has helped New England finish in the top 10 on offense seven times. That mark will improve to eight, as the Patriots enter the final week ranked seventh in offense.
Slater earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection. A productive member of the Patriots special teams units since joining the squad as a fifth-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2008, Slater has become a leader after being voted special teams captain each of the last three years. He led the Patriots in special teams tackles for the past three seasons with 21 in 2010, 17 in 2011 and 20 in 2012. He enters the final week of the 2013 season ranked second on the team with 13 special teams tackles, despite missing four games due to injury.
Talib earned his first Pro Bowl selection this year. Talib forced three turnovers, including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, to help seal the Patriots 13-10 win over the AFC East rival New York Jets on Sept. 12. He defended a pass in the end zone on a fourth-down attempt in the final minute to secure the Patriots 30-23 win at Atlanta on Sept. 29. Talib also played a major role in holding New Orleans tight end Graham without a catch in the Patriots 30-27 win on Oct. 13. Graham entered that game averaging 118.6 receiving yards per game.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|12.27.13 at 4:43 pm ET|
FOXBORO — One day after releasing defensive back Marquice Cole for a fourth time this season, the Patriots cut ties with veteran receiver Austin Collie on Friday for a second time in 2013. The move leaves the Patriots with just 51 players on their active roster, two shy of the limit.
The Patriots added depth at both running back and slot receiver on Friday when they signed Sam McGuffie to their practice squad.
Collie, who was at practice with the Patriots Friday, was originally signed by the Patriots on Oct. 3 and then released on Nov. 5 before being re-signed on Dec. 5 following the injuries to Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Dobson returned last week for the first time in four games while Thompkins missed his third straight game Sunday with a hip injury.
Collie, 28, is in his fifth NFL season after spending four seasons with Indianapolis (2009-12). The 6-foot, 204-pounder originally entered the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick (127th overall) of the Colts out of Brigham Young in 2009. He was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 2, 2013, but was released by the 49ers on Aug. 31.
Collie has played in 49 NFL games with 17 starts and has registered 179 receptions for 1,908 yards and 16 touchdowns. He played in seven games with one start for the Patriots and registered six receptions for 63 yards.
|12.27.13 at 4:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For a second straight week, rookie receiver Josh Boyce will miss a game with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, Devin McCourty is listed as doubtful to play after missing practice all week with a concussion. By injury report standards in the NFL, a “doubtful” designation indicates only a 25 percent chance of playing. McCourty and Boyce were both spotted in the locker room on Friday chatting with teammates but neither spoke with reporters. They were the only two players to miss practice the entire week.
The Patriots finished up practice Friday on a frigid day outside Gillette Stadium. Rob Ninkovich did participate but was limited for a second straight day and is questionable for the season finale. Ninkovich is one of 11 players officially listed as questionable.
Ninkovich, with an ice pack on his injured left ankle, did speak to reporters on Friday and said he would be “all right” to go and play Sunday in the season finale. For the Bills, Thad Lewis will start at quarterback as EJ Manuel (left knee) is doubtful while receiver Stevie Johnson (mother’s death) and safety Aaron Williams (ribs) have both been ruled out.
Here is Friday’s complete Patriots report:
Did Not Practice
WR Josh Boyce (ankle) OUT
S Devin McCourty (concussion) DOUBTFUL
CB Kyle Arrington (groin) QUESTIONABLE
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle) PROBABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
WR Aaron Dobson (foot) QUESTIONABLE
LB Dane Fletcher (groin) QUESTIONABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee) QUESTIONABLE
DL Rob Ninkovich (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
OT Nate Solder (concussion) QUESTIONABLE
LB Brandon Spikes (knee) QUESTIONABLE
OT Will Svitek (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (groin) QUESTIONABLE
|12.27.13 at 1:43 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is very aware of the fact that a first-round bye is just a win away.
Therefore, he doesn’t need the distraction of watching the scoreboard or watching the games on TV before his team takes the field for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff vs. the Bills on Sunday.
The situation is this: Win, and the Patriots will have a weekend to rest their weary bodies and watch the first round on TV for a fourth straight year.
So, to Belichick’s way of thinking, there’s no real need to watch the Bengals-Ravens game at 1 p.m.
“No, I’m not planning on it,” Belichick said Friday morning. “I know when we walked onto the field for the Baltimore game last week, I saw the score up on the board and that’s really the first time I saw that Buffalo beat Miami. There’s nothing we can do about any of those games. Whatever they are, they are. We just have to concentrate on what we’re doing. We need to do it for us. We’re not really worried about what anybody else is doing.”
The NFL created a little more drama between the Patriots and Broncos for the No. 1 seed in the AFC when they moved the Patriots-Bills to a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff. If the Broncos win at Oakland, they’re locked into the No. 1 seed. If they lose, the Patriots would wind up with the No. 1 seed with a win. If the Bengals beat the Ravens in the 1 p.m. game, the Patriots will have even more to play for, as they would need a win over the Bills for a first-round bye.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Belichick said. “It’s not even on my radar.”
Last week at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, the video board showed a split screen of the Bills-Dolphins game on one half and the Bengals-Vikings on the other.
“They kind of messed me up with that,” Aqib Talib said. “I tried to keep my eyes off of it. I had too much to worry about with [the Ravens].”
Many of the Patriots players said they saw the games during warmups but were focused on the Ravens. Belichick was asked Friday how aware are the players of the playoff scenarios?
“They know that if we win, we’re into the second round of the playoffs,” Belichick added. “If we don’t win, we’re most likely playing in the first round of the playoffs and that’s really all there is to know. Who, what, when ‘ none of that, who knows? You have to be a mathematician and have great, great vision to figure that out. We know what we can control. If we can win, we can get into the second round of the playoffs. We know that. I think right now that’s probably all we care about.”
|12.27.13 at 1:11 pm ET|
Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced Friday that Thad Lewis will get the start against the Patriots in place of Manuel, who is out with an LCL injury to his left knee. Lewis led the Bills to a 19-0 win over the Dolphins last week in Orchard Park.
“It was a tough decision,” Marrone said. “EJ was practicing hard all week trying to come back and basically it goes back to the injury didn’t progress as well as I wanted it to. He wanted to go out there and play, but I need him to play at 110-percent for us to win. So he wasn’t going to be able to go out there and play at 110 percent. He could have played but not at the level that we need for us to win. Thad has done a nice job and he’s the backup quarterback so we’re putting him in there and he’ll be the starter Sunday.”
The Bills also ruled out wide receiver Stevie Johnson (mother’s death) and safety Aaron Williams (ribs) for Sunday’s game in Foxboro.
Manuel has had three different knee injuries has now missed six regular season games. Lewis, meanwhile, has thrown for 845 yards this season and has completed just over 60 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
“I think we all, starting with EJ, have a sense of frustration but there’s also a sense of excitement,” Marrone said. “Here’s a guy that did play 10 games and he probably practiced less than anyone else who played 10 games. There were points in those games where he played well, either won the game for us or put us in a position to win. And there were points where he did not play well. From that standpoint, there’s a sense of excitement of having someone coming back, full offseason, getting ready to go and really seeing his game take off.”
For Lewis it’s another opportunity to help solidify himself as the team’s backup quarterback heading into the 2014 season. The third-year signal caller out of Duke will make his fifth start for the Bills Sunday.
“Thad is 2-and-2 playing for us and really doing a good job,” said Marrone. “We know that he’s capable being that backup. It’s a big game for him. As a backup, you’re always trying to prove yourself. It will be very good for us to be able to go into the offseason and having, believe it or not, an experienced I guess quarterback in Thad, maybe not from the standpoint of games played, but from the standpoint of years in the league.
“He brings a lot to our football team. Our team has confidence that they can win with him and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Doug Marrone: #Bills QB EJ Manuel (knee) did not progress as needed. Thad Lewis will start at QB vs. Patriots.
|12.27.13 at 12:56 pm ET|
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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