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Mike Petraglia, Chris Price preview what’s really at stake for Patriots in Week 17 vs. Bills

12.23.14 at 4:34 pm ET
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FOXBORO —’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview the Patriots and Buffalo Bills in the Week 17 regular season finale at Gillette Stadium. The 12-3 Patriots have nothing at stake in the game except to stay healthy and get ready for the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Petraglia and Price break down what the Patriots will be looking to accomplish in their playoff tuneup.

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Patriots shuffle practice squad with addition of DL Cameron Henderson, release of DB Daxton Swanson

12.23.14 at 2:09 pm ET
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The Patriots signed defensive lineman Cameron Henderson to the practice squad and released defensive back Daxton Swanson from the practice squad on Tuesday. Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team on the move:

Henderson, 24, was signed by New England to the practice squad on Sept. 9, 2014 and released on Sept. 16, 2014. He originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Atlanta Falcons on April 29, 2013 out of Central Florida. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, was released by the Falcons on Aug. 25, 2014 and was signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad on Dec. 4, 2013. He went to training camp this past summer with Cleveland, but was released on Aug. 25, 2014. He played two seasons at Central Florida after beginning his college career at Vavarro College.

Swanson, 23, was signed to the Patriots practice squad on Sept. 1, 2014 and then released from the practice squad on Sept. 3, 2014 before being re-signed on Sept. 17. He was released again on Nov. 26 and re-signed on Dec. 3. Swanson was originally signed by the Patriots as a free agent on May 22, 2014. He entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Indianapolis Colts on April 30, 2013, out of Sam Houston State. The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder was released by the Colts on Oct. 29, 2013 and was signed to the San Francisco 49ers practice squad on Nov. 18, 2013. He was released by San Francisco on May 12, 2014.

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Pressure Points: Which Patriots defenders have done best job getting after QB this season?

12.23.14 at 1:59 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

Every week over the course of the 2014 season, we’€™ll provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. Like all stats, the numbers have to be placed on context of game-situations and personnel. And while sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. Currently, the Patriots are tied for 10th in the league in sacks with 38. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’€™s a look at the pass-rush numbers for the Patriots after 15 games for the 2014 regular season:

Sacks (via gamebooks)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 8 (54 yards)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 6 (50 yards)
DE Chandler Jones: 6 (49.5 yards)
LB Akeem Ayers: 3 (29 yards)
LB Jamie Collins: 3 (24 yards)
DL Chris Jones: 3 (17.5 yards)
DL Sealver Siliga: 2.5 (11.5 yards)
LB Deontae Skinner: 1 (10 yards)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1 (9 yards)
DL Casey Walker: 1 (5 yards)
DL Joe Vellano: 1 (4 yards)
DB Kyle Arrington: 1 (0 yards)
DE Zach Moore: 0.5 (2.5 yards)
DL Dominique Easley: 0.5 (2 yards)
DL Vince Wilfork: 0.5 (2 yards)

Quarterback Hits (via gamebooks)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 16
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 12
DE Chandler Jones: 12
DL Chris Jones: 6
LB Jamie Collins: 6
LB Akeem Ayers: 4
DL Sealver Siliga: 4
DL Alan Branch: 2
DL Dominique Easley: 2
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 2
LB Jonathan Casillas: 1
DL Joe Vellano: 1
CB Brandon Browner: 1
LB Deontae Skinner: 1
DB Patrick Chung: 1
DL Casey Walker: 1
DB Tavon Wilson: 1

Quarterback Hurries (via PFF)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 30
LB Akeem Ayers: 21
DE Chandler Jones: 19
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 17
DL Vince Wilfork: 16
LB Jamie Collins: 16
DL Dominique Easley: 7
DL Chris Jones: 7
LB Jerod Mayo: 5
DE Zach Moore: 4
DL Casey Walker: 3
DL Sealver Siliga: 3
DL Alan Branch: 2
DL Joe Vellano: 2
S Devin McCourty: 2
CB Alfonzo Dennard: 1
S Patrick Chung: 1
LB Jonathan Casillas: 1
CB Kyle Arrington: 1

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Patriots with nearly perfect attendance at practice Tuesday

12.23.14 at 1:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — With the exception of practice squad defensive back Daxton Swanson, the Patriots had perfect attendance at practice on Tuesday.

New England was in sweats and shells on the lower grass fields behind Gillette Stadium, and the team was joined by new defensive end Cam Henderson, who was wearing No. 98. The Patriots continue preparing for their regular-season finale against the Bills Sunday afternoon in Foxboro.

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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

12.23.14 at 1:32 pm ET
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Tim Wright

Tim Wright

Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely 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 after 15 regular-season games this year.

WR Julian Edelman: 92 catches on 134 targets (69 percent)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 82 catches on 129 targets (64 percent)
WR Brandon LaFell: 70 catches on 113 targets (62 percent)
RB Shane Vereen: 49 catches on 73 targets (67 percent)
TE Tim Wright: 25 catches on 30 targets (83 percent)
WR Danny Amendola: 23 catches on 37 targets (62 percent)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 catches on 10 targets (60 percent)
FB James Develin: 6 catches on 8 targets (75 percent)
RB Stevan Ridley: 4 catches on 5 targets (80 percent)
TE Michael Hoomananwanui: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
RB James White: 3 catches on 3 targets (100 percent)
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
RB LeGarrette Blount: 4 catches on 4 targets (100 percent)
RB Brandon Bolden: 2 catches on 4 targets (50 percent)
WR Brian Tyms: 1 catch on 5 targets (20 percent)
RB Jonas Gray: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)

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Rodney Harrison on MFB talking Patriots possibly resting players Sunday: ‘I would play my guys at least a half’

12.23.14 at 12:47 pm ET
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NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game and how the Patriots will handle potentially resting their starters, and also to look ahead to the postseason. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

With Denver falling to Cincinnati on Monday night, the Patriots clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC and Sunday’s game with the Bills at Gillette Stadium is essentially meaningless, as the Bills have eliminated from postseason contention. The question now is how much will the Patriots starters play, if at all.

“I think you play them,” Harrison said. “I think you go out there and you want to go into the playoffs because you’ve established a week off. I don’t believe you rest your guys two weeks. I think you have to continue to play them and go out on a good positive note. This might be a time you might want to bring in some of the backups and give them valuable playing experience, but I would play my guys at least a half.”

There are a lot of different scenarios with pros and cons to each, but ultimately the decision will be on the shoulders of coach Bill Belichick.

“I think that is up to coach Belichick,” said Harrison. “Obviously you don’t want your starters playing terrible and then pull them and you have that bad taste going into that bye week. I think it’s one of those things as a coach it is your job. If they are playing well, if you have the chance to give some guys like I said, some added experience for younger guys and move some guys around, I think that is something Bill will take a close look at. At the same time you want to protect your guys. You don’t want any of your main guys getting injured in a game like this.”

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If Falcons beat Panthers, NFL’s worst-to-first trend can continue for 12th straight season

12.23.14 at 10:56 am ET
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We touched on it here last spring, but with the regular season coming to an end, it’s worth revisiting one of our favorite statistical trends: For the last 11 years in the NFL, a team has managed to go from worst-to-first in their division, going from the basement to a playoff spot. Last year, the Panthers (NFC South) and Eagles (NFC East) pulled it off, winning a division title one year after finishing in last place.

Heading into the final week of the regular season, the only team with a shot to pull it off this year is Atlanta. The Falcons tied for last in the South last year at 4-12, and while they’re not much better this season, they’ve managed to take advantage of the most woeful division in football this year. If Atlanta (6-9) can beat Carolina (6-8-1), the Falcons would be able to take home a division title and host a playoff game.

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