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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Patriots move up to No. 4

11.27.12 at 9:39 am ET
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The bye weeks are over and now every team in the NFL has played the same number of games. If we’ve learned anything through the first three months of the current season, it’s that there are a lot of mediocre and below-average teams. There are six teams with a 4-7 record, five with a 6-5 record, and four with a 5-6 record. The Steelers (10) are practically begging to be dropped out of the top 10, but no one is worthy to rise into that elite group.

The Texans (1), Falcons (2) and Niners (3) have maintained stability at the top. At a combined 28-4-1, those three teams continue to roll. Inching closer and closer are the red-hot Patriots. They jump up one spot for the second straight week and sit at No. 4. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers get sacked out of the top five and drop to No. 8.

Week 13’s Monday night matchup should be a much more enjoyable game to watch than last night’s painful display of two equally uninspiring 3-8 teams — the Panthers (27) and Eagles (28). The Giants (7) take on RG3 and the Redskins (15) in an NFC East showdown.

Click here to listen to Mut and Merloni discuss this edition of the Power Rankings.

1. (1) Texans (10-1) ‘€” Ten quarters of football in just five days. It’s amazing they have been able to endure and come out on top in both games. Super Bowl-caliber teams are resilient, and the Texans have proven they can overcome any deficit. Expect the Texans to bounce back defensively next week against the Titans.

2. (2) Falcons (10-1) ‘€” Week after week the Falcons continue to find ways to win, and doubters continue to question if Matt Ryan‘s team is capable of being successful in the playoffs. It’s a fair question due to the fact that Ryan is 0-3 in the postseason, but the Falcons still deserve to be considered one of the best in the NFL since they’ve found a way to win 10 of 11 times this year.

3. (3) 49ers (8-2-1) ‘€” No defense is as physical and dominant as the Niners. San Fran’s D proved its dominance once again against one of the hottest offenses in the league. Going into Sunday’s game, the Saints were clicking on all cylinders in the month of November. They were averaging 32 points per game and Drew Brees had a 72.5 completion percentage with a 125.5 QB rating. Against the Niners, the Saints offense was held to just 21 points (its second-lowest total of the year). Brees’ completion percentage dropped nearly 10 points and his QB rating dropped nearly 40 points. 

4. (5) Patriots (8-3) ‘€” There is just one team in the NFL averaging over 30 points per game, and that’s the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick‘s team has stampeded over opposing defenses and has averaged 37 points per game. The last four games have been even more impressive. The Pats have put up 190 points. That’s more points than the Chiefs, Cardinals, Eagles and Jaguars have scored all season.

5. (6) Ravens (9-2) ‘€” What are they feeding their linebackers in Baltimore? First it was Terrell Suggs remarkably returning from his torn Achilles much earlier than expected. Now, Ray Lewis reportedly will return before the regular season ends after many thought the veteran linebacker’s career might be over due to his triceps injury.

6. (7) Broncos (8-3) ‘€”Peyton Manning helped the Broncos extend their winning streak to six games in Kansas City on Sunday. The Broncos offense sputtered a bit in it’s first game without Willis McGahee. Facing one of the worst run defenses in the game, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman rushed for 94 yards. Going into the game, the Chiefs were allowing an average of more than 125 yards.

7. (9) Giants (7-4) ‘€” The Giants did exactly what they had to do coming off their bye week and two straight losses. If they can stay healthy, no team in the NFC will want to face them in the playoffs.

8. (4) Packers (7-4) ‘€” The Packers were forced to reshuffle their offensive line after starting tackle Brian Bulaga was lost for the season. Facing a strong Giants pass rush, Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times. The Packers have a major problem on their hands if the pass protection doesn’t improve.

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Read More: 49ers, aaron rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, Falcons

Fantasy Football: Week 13 waiver wire

11.27.12 at 9:21 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 13 waiver wire. It’€™s crunch time for fantasy players, and if you are reading this, that means you’€™re still alive. Let’€™s endeavor to keep it that way, shall we? The keys are no longer about building a deep bench or thinking ahead to cover your bye weeks. At this point, we should have the depth and there are no more byes. What we really want now are players who can move the needle — players who might be able to make an impact in the event we need to replace a starter due to non-performance or injury. Luckily, there are a few such players out there in a lot of leagues. Let’€™s take a look.


Colin Kaepernick, 49ers

For those of you who frequent Rotobahn, you know how much we like this kid. We actually thought he’€™d take the starting gig sooner, but the lockout cost him valuable time as a rookie and Alex Smith played far better than most, myself included, anticipated. Even now, there is some doubt as to whether he starts in Week 13. We’€™re still buying.

Chad Henne, Jaguars

Henne has paid his dues in the league and he’€™s looked very good in his two-game stint as starter. He’€™ll continue in the starter role for the rest of the year as long as he stays healthy. One thing to like about Henne is the schedule he’€™ll be playing. In the next four weeks, he goes up against the Bills, Jets, Dolphins and Patriots. Those are solid matchups for a quarterback.  There aren’€™t many better remaining schedules out there as far as passing yards are concerned. Henne will be playable every week if you need him.

Sam Bradford, Rams

The former Oklahoma Sooner has been serviceable for the most part, but I expect him to finish stronger. The Rams have a very nice closing schedule for passing the football, and Bradford looks quite capable of taking advantage based on how he’€™s played in recent weeks. The worst matchup is this week’€™s home game with San Francisco, but after that, he’€™ll face the Bills, Vikings and Bucs. That’€™s some solid opportunity.

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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

11.27.12 at 8:16 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game through the first 11 games of the 2012 regular season:

WR Wes Welker: 80 catches on 115 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 53 catches on 75 targets
WR Brandon Lloyd: 49 catches on 88 targets
RB Danny Woodhead: 24 catches on 29 targets
WR Julian Edelman: 20 catches on 29 targets
TE Aaron Hernandez: 19 catches on 27 targets
WR Deion Branch: Nine catches on 20 targets
RB Shane Vereen: Seven catches on 10 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: Six catches on 11 targets
TE Daniel Fells: Three catches on eight targets
RB Brandon Bolden: Two catches on two targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: Two catches on three targets
TE Kellen Winslow: One catch on two targets
TOTALS: 275 catches on 419 targets

By position
Wide receiver: 158 catches on 252 targets
Tight end: 78 catches on 115 targets
Running back: 39 catches on 52 targets

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There’s something special about these Patriots

11.26.12 at 10:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have always preached the value of special teams, and this year is no exception.

‘€œWe really look at the special teams as being a third of the game,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on a conference call Monday afternoon. ‘€œThe field position part of it is huge, trying to start offensively on a shorter field or play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field-goal team and making game-changing plays in the kicking game. That’€™s always one of our goals every week.’€

Belichick said that it all starts with good field position, an area where the Patriots done well, thanks in large part to kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Zoltan Mesko and the coverage units. According to Football Outsiders, through 11 games, New England’€™s opponents have averaged the worst average starting field position in the league (an average of the 23.18-yard line).

Meanwhile, the Patriots’€™ average drive has started on the 30.05-yard line, seventh-best in the league. (By way of comparison, the Giants lead the league in starting field position, opening drives at the 31.27.)

‘€œField position is huge ‘€“ trying to start offensively on a shorter field or trying to play defensively on a longer field, as well as taking advantage of our scoring opportunities on the field goal team and making plays, game changing plays in the kicking game, which is one of our goals every week,’€ he said.

‘€œStatistically, that field position edge eventually comes into play, not necessarily on any individual series or possession, but over the long haul. We all know the importance of field position and scoring opportunities and making big plays in the kicking game.’€

On Monday, Belichick lauded the work of his special teamers — as well as the two special teams coaches — for the role they have played over the course of New England’€™s recent five-game winning streak.

‘€œI think that Scott and Joe Judge, our two special-teams coaches, do a great job of coaching the players,’€ he said. ‘€œTaking the young guys and improving them, watching some of our younger guys perform for us in the kicking game, as well as some of our veteran players, bringing it all together.’€

That work has manifested itself throughout the course of the season with great field position, but it’€™s also shown up in the box score the last two games. Two weeks ago, Julian Edelman had a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in a win over the Colts. Last Thursday, Edelman scored when Devin McCourty forced a fumble off a kick return from New York’€™s Joe McKnight.

‘€œI think those are huge momentum plays,’€ said special teams captain Matthew Slater. ‘€œWhen you look at a game, you’€™re not counting on special teams to score every game — it’€™s just not realistic for that to happen. But when it does happen, it brings a huge momentum swing to the game. In the case of the last two weeks it’€™s been huge for us, as far as getting momentum going and allowing us to get some separation against our opponent.’€

While Slater isn’€™t the one scoring touchdowns, Belichick celebrated his hard work and ability to create some consistency among the special teamers.

‘€œMatt Slater has done a great job as the captain of the special teams with his leadership and making it a total cohesive unit even though it’€™s six different units but it’€™s still more players on all of them,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œHe’€™s doing a great job with that this year.’€

‘€œWe’€™re a very close-knit group of guys,’€ said the 27-year-old Slater, who was named a Pro Bowler last year for his special teams skills. ‘€œWe understand what our role is in this league, we understand how we’€™re going to keep jobs in this league, and we take a lot of pride in what we do.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko

Trevor Scott: ‘I’ll definitely be prepared to have a more active role this week’

11.26.12 at 6:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In the wake of the four-game suspension for defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott knows that his role will likely change.

‘€œI really don’€™t know what’€™s going to happen in terms of depth chart or whatever, but I’€™ll definitely be prepared to have a more active role this week,’€ the 28-year-old defensive end said Monday evening. ‘€œIf it does increase, I feel like I’€™ll be ready for it. You can’€™t control what goes on, but I will control what I can do on Sunday. I’€™ll go through preparing well this week and just ready for the game.

‘€œYou hate to see somebody like Jermaine go down like that, but it’€™s out of my control.’€

Scott is in his first season with the Patriots, having signed with New England as a free agent on March 19. The University of Buffalo product, who spent the first four years of his career with the Raiders, had a career-high seven sacks in 2009, and finished with 13.5 sacks in four years with Oakland. But to this point in the 2012 season with the Patriots, the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has mostly worked in relief as a defensive end, as well as a special teamer. He’€™s played in nine games, and has six tackles.

Asked about the lack of playing time to this point in the season, Scott shrugged.

‘€œIt’€™s not going to help if I get down on myself and worry about that,’€ he said Monday. ‘€œI really don’€™t have an control over that. I just have control over what happens when I do get in the game, what I’€™m going to do.’€

Scott’€™s best game came against the Colts on Nov. 18. In that one, he was on the field fairly regularly after Chandler Jones went down with an ankle injury. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 32 of a possible 78 defensive snaps, and had a quarterback hurry and a defensive stop (defined by PFF as a solo defensive tackle that constitutes an offensive failure).

But now, with Cunningham on the shelf for four games, his role with the Patriots will almost certainly increase.

‘€œ[My preparation] doesn’€™t change,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™m just going to keep doing what I’€™ve been doing all week, and we’€™ll see what happens.

The Patriots went through a similar situation last season when veteran defensive end Andre Carter went down with a calf injury in December. In that instance, Mark Anderson — who had been a situational pass rusher to that point in the season — saw an uptick in his snaps down the stretch after he was pressed into regular service. Anderson was able to give a boost to the New England pass rush late in the regular season and into the playoffs. (Down the stretch, Anderson went from playing roughly 50 percent of the defensive snaps to essentially 100 percent late in the year and into the postseason.)

‘€œEvery year there’€™s always going to be some issue you’€™re going to have to deal with. That’€™s just the way football goes. It’€™s another thing that we’€™ll just deal with,’€ said defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

‘€œI think everyone in this locker room is a family. We’€™re a tight group of guys. I think that anything that happens — just like in any family — everyone is going to come together. I think just like any other time, you come together and work through it.’€

While Ninkovich and Scott will likely take on expanded roles, rookies Jake Bequette and Jones (the latter of whom is still working his way back from that ankle injury) will also be asked to do more in the wake of Cunningham’€™s suspension.

However, the best possible scenario for the Patriots right now may be that Scott steps in and gives them what Anderson was able to provide down the stretch in 2011.

‘€œWe have it set up so that as soon as somebody goes down, it’€™s the next man in,’€ Scott said. ‘€œYou’€™re expected to perform just as well as anybody else. So that’€™s why we work hard every week, stay mentally and physically prepared.’€

Read More: Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott,

Is Tom Brady having the most efficient year of his career?

11.26.12 at 3:50 pm ET
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FOXBORO — After 24 touchdowns in 11 games, and just three interceptions thrown in, you could certainly make the argument that Tom Brady has never been more careful with the ball. Certainly, he’s making a run at his remarkable 2010 campaign, when he threw 35 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

For all of the video-game passing stats he’s posted, like 52 300-yard passing games and being just one of five NFL QBs with a career average of 250 yards passing per game, there’s one NFL mark he’ll probably tell you he’s most proud of: Throwing at least two touchdowns without an interception in each of his last nine games of 2010.

It’s a big reason the Patriots have committed an NFL-low eight turnovers while taking away the ball 32 times, for an +24 ratio, 11 better than the next-closest team (Bears +13).

And that makes Bill Belichick a very happy man. Belichick was asked during Monday’s conference call if he could have ever wished for a more skillful quarterback who takes care of the ball.

“I think we all know the importance of the turnovers and the turnover ratio, and it’€™s a goal for us every week,” Belichick said. “Tom has done a great job of it and has always made that a high priority of his personal execution as a quarterback. He handles the ball on virtually every play; even if he hands it off, there’€™s still a certain degree of ball handling and ball security involved up until the point he gives it to somebody else. He works hard at that, he works hard at his mechanics, his technique and certainly decision making. He does a very good job at all those things.

“That being said, each week is its own challenge and just because things have been a certain way in previous weeks, they could always change. I think you have to continue to work on those things on a weekly basis, which he has and which I’€™m sure he’€™ll continue to do to make sure each game we go into, our goal is always to play turnover free and to get them on the other side, whether it’€™s on special teams or defense. Each week, it’€™s a renewed goal but it’€™s one that has to be reached or attempted to reach again. There’€™s really no carryover from anything that’€™s happened in the past that’€™s going to affect it in the next game. As good as it’€™s been, which is nice and probably has quite a bit to do with our record, going forward we’€™re going to have to continue to work at it and probably work harder than we have in the past to make sure that we do take good care of the ball when we have it. And we’€™re always looking for those opportunities when we can be disruptive on defense and special teams.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, nfl

In the wake of Jermaine Cunningham’s suspension, who will have to step their game up?

11.26.12 at 3:22 pm ET
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The four-game suspension of defensive end Jermaine Cunningham for violating the NFL’€™s policy on performance enhancing substances will put more responsibility on the shoulders of veteran Trevor Scott, and perhaps rookie Jake Bequette, going forward into the final month of the season. In addition, it could hasten the return of rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, who went down with an ankle injury in a Nov. 18 win over the Colts and sat out Thursday’€™s victory against the Jets. Regardless, it will leave the Patriots’€™ pass rush thin as New England heads into an important four-game stretch.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Cunningham, who had been moved around some over the course of the 2012 season from defensive end to the interior, had six quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks over the first 11 games of the season. However, because of the suspension, he’€™ll now be sidelined for the next four games, which means he’€™ll sit out upcoming contests against the Dolphins (Dec. 2), Texans (Dec. 10), 49ers (Dec. 16) and Jaguars (Dec. 23). He’€™ll be eligible to return to the team on Dec. 24.

Here’€™s a look at the three who will be asked to step their game up in his absence.

‘€¢Scott is in his first season with New England, and has seen occasional work in relief of Jones and Rob Ninkovich at defensive end. According to Pro Football Focus, the 28-year-old has played 110 snaps this season, most of which came against the Colts after Jones went down with his injury. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder, who had a career-high seven sacks in 2009 with the Raiders, will see a bump in playing time over the next four games for New England.

‘€¢Bequette was a third-round pick out of out of Arkansas who has fundamentally taken a redshirt season this year. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has mostly sat — he’€™s only gotten into two games this year and has no stats — while others like Scott, Cunningham, Francis and Jones have gotten the bulk of the reps. (He was named a Practice Player of the Week in late October.) But with Cunningham’€™s ban, Bequette will likely get bumped up the depth chart, and could see some situational work over the next four games as a result.

‘€¢While the Patriots don’€™t want to try and rush the 6-foot-5, 220-pound rookie back, they’€™d love to have him return to the field sooner rather than later. One of the two best pass rushers on the team, he has nine quarterback hits and six sacks through the first 11 games of the season (second only to Ninkovich).

Read More: chandler jones, Jake Bequette, Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott
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