|12.27.14 at 1:00 pm ET|
Because the relative worth of Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Bills is debatable — and because of that, trying to figure out potential matchups might very well be an exercise in futility — we’ve decided to eschew our usual game preview. Instead, we’ve created a checklist for New England fans as to what to look for come Sunday. Here are 10 things (in no particular order) the Patriots would like to accomplish Sunday against Buffalo:
1. Stay healthy: There are plenty of other elements for the Patriots to consider going into this one, but the singularly most important thing is to steer clear of injury heading into the postseason. (Because, as we all know, health trumps momentum at this time of the year.) That includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Given how Bill Belichick has approached these games in the past — and given the fact that they have two weeks between this game and their playoff opener — it’s reasonable to think that each one of these players will at least play some before being pulled.
2. Try and gauge the overall state of the offensive line: Despite the fact that it looks like Marcell Dareus might not play on Sunday, if Buffalo does roll out the same front seven it’s had over the course of most of the first 15 games, it’ll provide a nice test for the New England offensive line. The Bills are one of the best pass defenses in the league — they lead the league with 50 sacks — thanks in large part to the group that gets after the quarterback. Mario Williams has 13.5 sacks, while Dareus has 10. Jerry Hughes (9.5 sacks) and Kyle Williams (5.5 sacks) round out the group, which is an impressive collection of pass rushing talent as there is in the league. Left guard Dan Connolly (ankle), guard/tackle Cameron Fleming (ankle) and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) were all questionable as of Friday afternoon, so a few backups could see time. But regardless, the New England line will face a stern test from a Buffalo front that should prepare them nicely for the playoffs.
3. Develop some confidence and consistency on offense heading into the postseason: Our scout hit on this in his game preview earlier in the week, but it bears repeating that the New England offense is looking to head into the playoffs on a better note than last week. In that contest against the Jets, the Patriots struggled to achieve any sort of real offensive rhythm, with only two drives that could best be described as anywhere near crisp and efficient. In the 2010 regular-season finale — a game similar to this one in that the top seed was already decided going into the game — the Patriots were a little sluggish out of the gate before Tom Brady and the rest of the offense got things together with a nice series at the start of the second half. It’s likely that the coaching staff will be looking for the New England offense to go out on a similar high note in this one before Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the backups take over.
4. Try and figure out your best option at nickel corner: The Patriots are going to be without Alfonzo Dennard on Sunday, but given how frequently he’s been a healthy scratch this season, it’s reasonable to question how much he’ll be in New England’s plans come the postseason. (EDIT: The Patriots put Dennard on season-ending IR Saturday evening.) With the assumption that Kyle Arrington will remain in the slot, that leaves Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, as well as the possibility of seeing Devin McCourty in a limited corner spot (something he’s done occasionally over the course of the second half of the season) for postseason. Smart quarterbacks and deep receiving corps have done well zeroing in Ryan and Butler over the last month, and that figures to be the case heading into the postseason. The Patriots need one of these younger players to assert themselves and seize control of the job.
5. Work on defending tight ends: The Patriots have struggled to contain good tight ends over the course of the season (Football Outsiders has them 29th in the league when it comes to defending tight ends), and they’ll get a chance on Sunday to go up against a guy who has done a really impressive job against them the last few seasons in Buffalo’s Scott Chandler. The Iowa product is not a high-profile target, but in eight games against New England he has 27 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns. That includes six catches on nine targets for 105 yards in the October contest against New England in Buffalo. “He’s got good skills — long, tall guy,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick of the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder. “Big target, big catch radius; he’s a hard guy to match up on. We’ve had a lot of trouble with him.” As a result, Sunday could represent a good barometer of where the Patriots are when it comes to their ability to slow elite tight ends come playoff time.
|12.27.14 at 12:14 pm ET|
In his first move as “consultant” to Jets owner Woody Johnson, Charley Casserly has already started contacting possible replacements for GM John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan, according to a report from NJ.com. In addition, Ryan has already cleaned out his offices at One Jets Drive in anticipation of being fired on Monday.
The Jets, who are 3-12 heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Dolphins in Miami, appear poised to make sweeping changes, starting with the hiring of Casserly. It’s not clear as to what sort of responsibilities Casserly will have, but he has apparently received the blessing of Johnson to make major changes. That includes bringing in a new coach and GM. In addition, it’s believed Casserly won’t be the only “consultant” hired by Johnson and the Jets: numerous reports say Casserly has reached out to former Packers GM Ron Wolf to assist with making whatever changes the Jets have coming.
Viewed through a Patriots’ prism, the decision to bring Casserly on board in New York means there could mean the renewal of a Casserly-Bill Belichick feud. Casserly is one of Belichick’s more underrated sparring partners, as the Patriots coach has taken a couple of shots at Casserly over the years for a variety of incidents. The most notable came in 2010 when Casserly — then working for CBS as an analyst — revealed that quarterback Tom Brady was suffering from three broken ribs. That prompted an agitated Belichick to return fire.
“Who’s been wrong more than Charley Casserly since he left the Redskins? His percentage is like a meteorologist,’ Belichick said. ‘He has no relationship to this team. I’d say less than zero. Based on what? He’s never at a practice, never at a game.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|12.26.14 at 4:57 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots will host the Bills Sunday afternoon in their regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium and will already be without two players.
After missing Friday’s practice, running back Jonas Gray (ankle) has been ruled out for Sunday’s game, as has cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard didn’t appear on the injury report until today as he was limited in practice with a hamstring injury.
In addition to those two players, 15 players are questionable. Sebastian Vollmer appeared on the injury report for the first time this week with a back injury. He was limited in practice and questionable for the game. Julian Edelman (concussion/thigh), LeGarrette Blount (shoulder), Kyle Arrington (hamstring) and Dan Connolly (knee), who all missed the game last week were limited all week and are listed as being questionable.
Tom Brady (ankle) was a full participant in practice all week and is listed as probable.
Here is the complete injury report:
CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), limited
RB Jonas Gray (ankle), did not practice
LS Danny Aiken (finger), limited
CB Kyle Arrington (hamstring), limited
RB LeGarrette Blount (shoulder), limited
CB Brandon Browner (groin), limited
LB Jamie Collins (hip), limited
OL Dan Connolly (ankle), limited
WR Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion), limited
OL Cameron Fleming (ankle), limited
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), limited
DE Chandler Jones (hip), limited
WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder), limited
DE Rob Ninkovich (heel), limited
RB Shane Vereen (ankle), limited
OL Sebastian Vollmer (back), limited
LB Chris White (ankle), limited
QB Tom Brady (ankle), full participation
|12.26.14 at 2:56 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich will be seeing a familiar face on the other side of the ball when lining up Sunday against the Bills and quarterback Kyle Orton. Orton was the quarterback during Ninkovich’s time at Purdue and he even caught two touchdown passes from the 32-year-old.
“Yeah, an old teammate,” Ninkovich said Friday. “Again, he’s a good quarterback. We go back a long ways, caught a couple of touchdown passes from him. I’m sure I will enjoy going after him a little bit.”
When the Patriots played the Bills on Oct. 12, Orton had just replaced starting quarterback E.J. Manuel. With more than two months under his belt working with the Bills’ offense, it’s a much different offense than it was in their prior meeting. In 11 games as the Bills quarterback, Orton is 271-for-424 for 2,842 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“We saw him, again he was early in his progression, he first got there and now he is the starting quarterback,” said Ninkovich. “He’s had a bunch of time with the wide receivers and just the timing of everything so again, the more time a quarterback can spend with his receivers and his running backs and tight ends especially, they can get a feel for what he wants and again, he’s a good quarterback and can make a lot of great throws. They’ve done some good things on offense with him in there.”
Even with Sunday’s game essentially meaningless, as the Patriots have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Ninkovich is still focused on the game at hand and not looking past the game, especially facing the Bills, a tough division team looking to improve to 9-7 on the year.
“For me I enjoy it,” said Ninkovich. “It’s a division game. Buffalo always plays us tough. They are a good football team. They have weapons everywhere — I mean running backs, tight ends, quarterback, receivers, they have a lot of good football players on that team so it is going to be another challenge for us and it is another challenge in the NFL. That is what I am here to do. I am here to play football and I am excited to play Buffalo at home.”
|12.26.14 at 12:39 pm ET|
ESPN’s Adam Schefter checked in with Middays with MFB on Friday to talk about Patriots and NFL news heading into the final Sunday of the regular season. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
Asked which team the Patriots would least want to face in their first playoff game, Schefter said it’s more about the Patriots than the team they’re playing.
“It’s really about them, not about the opponent. If they’re going to play the way that they have, I don’t think anybody’s going to beat them in Foxboro if they play their brand of football,” Schefter said. “But what team is most likely to take them out of that realm? I think we’ve seen the Ravens do that before. I don’t know if the Ravens are going to make the playoffs at all. Obviously they’re on the outside looking in right now. It’s going to be tough. But a lot of funky things can happen.”
Darrelle Revis‘ future in New England is uncertain, as he signed a two-year deal last offseason that is backloaded, leaving the team in a situation where it’s unlikely to keep him on that pact.
“I think the Revis story is still playing out,” Schefter said. “Darrelle Revis has been a great player for a long time. I’ve always look at him as a businessman — that he’s going to go where the best deal is. If the best deal is in New England, then fine. Does he like it there enough? If they win a Super Bowl, where he gets a Super Bowl on his resume, and he says, ‘Now I can just go for the best deal truly.’ Or is it worth it to compromise a little bit there to continue playing on in New England where you’ve got a shot to win the Super Bowl? That’s possible, too. The Darrelle Revis story obviously has yet to be written. I think he’d be open to going back to New England. But when I think of Darrelle Revis I think business first, always.”
Added Schefter: “The circumstances were such last year that it just played perfectly for both sides. And I’m sure that they both would like to be together next year in a perfect world. But again, we’ll see how Darrelle approaches that and what his thoughts are there. I’m sure he’s been very happy playing there this year, but again, it’s going to come down to money.”
Looking around the league, Schefter said that the Lions-Packers game that will decide the NFC North winner is the most intriguing game of the weekend.
“The fact that the Lions have not won in Green Bay since 1992 — 23 straight games, 22 regular season, one in the postseason, I mean, really, it’s hard to imagine that,” Schefter said, adding: “It’s the longest streak in NFL history, longest losing streak of one team to another in NFL history. You don’t see that. It’s very unusual.
“At some point the Lions are going to snap it, and I think they’re good enough to do it this weekend. But to go into Green Bay and win there now is a tall, tall order.”
For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.
|12.26.14 at 12:09 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Running back Jonas Gray was the lone Patriots player not spotted at the start of practice Friday afternoon held on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium.
This wasn’t the only Friday practice Gray has missed this year, but this time might be different as the running back has been on the injury report with an ankle injury he suffered in the first half of Sunday’s win in New York.
Gray has been listed as limited in practice this week. He left Sunday’s game, but did return, although was very limited and Brandon Bolden received the majority of the carries in the fourth quarter.
Stay tuned for the injury report, which will be posted later in the afternoon.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|12.26.14 at 11:48 am ET|
Terry McAulay will work as the referee for Sunday’s Bills-Patriots game at Gillette Stadium, according to FootballZebras.com.
This is McAulay’s first Patriots game of the season, and first since he served as the lead official for a New England-Houston game at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10, 2012. A veteran official, he’s worked several big games over the last decade-plus, including Super Bowl XLVIII.
Here’s a look at who has worked as the lead official for each New England game this year, and the corresponding penalties for each game, not counting the flags that were offset or declined.
Sept. 7 at Miami: Walt Anderson — 9 penalties, 100 yards (Dolphins — 4 penalties, 26 yards)
Sept. 14 at Minnesota: Tony Corrente — 15 penalties, 163 yards (Vikings — 7 penalties, 58 yards)
Sept. 21 vs. Oakland: Pete Morelli — 6 penalties, 59 yards (Raiders — 6 penalties, 49 yards)
Sept. 29 at Kansas City: John Parry — 3 penalties, 30 yards (Chiefs — 4 penalties, 35 yards)
Oct. 5 vs. Cincinnati: Jerome Boger — 12 penalties, 114 yards (Bengals — 4 penalties, 37 yards)
Oct. 12 at Buffalo: Walt Coleman — 9 penalties, 60 yards (Bills — 8 penalties, 107 yards)
Oct. 16 vs. Jets: Bill Leavy — 9 penalties, 64 yards (Jets — 7 penalties, 70 yards)
Oct. 23 vs. Chicago: Brad Allen — 7 penalties, 38 yards (Bears — 5 penalties, 41 yards)
Nov. 2 vs. Denver: Walt Anderson — 9 penalties, 71 yards (Broncos — 10 penalties, 72 yards)
Nov. 16 at Indy: Pete Morelli — 5 penalties, 53 yards (Colts — 4 penalties, 27 yards)
Nov. 23 vs. Detroit: Tony Corrente — 11 penalties, 89 yards (Lions — 9 penalties, 54 yards)
Nov. 30 at Green Bay: Ed Hochuli — 4 penalties, 25 yards (Packers — 4 penalties, 22 yards)
Dec. 7 at San Diego: Bill Leavy — 6 penalties, 70 yards (Chargers — 8 penalties, 61 yards)
Dec. 14 vs. Miami: Bill Vinovich — 5 penalties, 51 yards (Dolphins — 5 penalties, 35 yards)
Dec. 21 at Jets: Brad Allen — 5 penalties, 38 yards (Jets — 2 penalties, 14 yards)
Dec. 28 vs. Bills: Terry McAulay —
For more on McAulay’s work as a referee, check out his page at Pro Football Reference. For more information on this week’s assignments, click through to the always reliable Football Zebras. And for more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
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