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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, playoff edition: Patriots enter at No. 5

01.02.14 at 10:55 am ET
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Fittingly, the Seahawks end the regular season where they spent most of it, at the top of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Pete Carroll-led Hawks have ensured that they’ll be playing any and all NFC playoff games in Seattle, a place where they’ve lost just once over the last two years.

The Niners cling to the No. 2 seed as they prepare to take on a Packers team they’ve been successful against in their prior two meetings. The Panthers (3), Broncos (4) and Patriots (5) round out the top five playoff teams.

As wild card weekend approaches, keep in mind that the last three Super Bowl champions played in the first round of the playoffs. If history has taught us anything, any team that has reached the postseason has a shot at the title. We’re in for another exciting year of postseason football. Let the games begin.

1. (1) Seahawks (13-3) — If defense wins championships, the Seahawks have the best shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. The Seahawks finished the regular season at the top of many defensive categories, including points allowed, passing yards and takeaways.

 2. (2) 49ers (12-4) — A tough road lies ahead for the Niners, who look to return to the Super Bowl. They’ll most likely have to travel to Green Bay, Carolina and Seattle to get to where they want to go.

3. (3) Panthers (12-4) — Carolina brings one of the league’s best defenses into the playoffs. The Panthers’ ferocious D sacked opposing QBs a league-high 60 times.

 4. (4) Broncos (13-3) — The precision and methodical offensive attack Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense deliver makes them the favorite in the AFC. Denver set an NFL record with 606 points scored, averaging almost 40 points per game.

 5. (5) Patriots (12-4) — The Patriots are the experienced veteran team in the AFC that no one wants to play. With the number of key injuries this team has suffered, Bill Belichick deserves to be named Coach of the Year.

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Read More: Bengals, Bill Belichick, Broncos, Drew Brees

Fantasy Football: Postseason rankings, strategy

01.02.14 at 10:27 am ET
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The fantasy football season has concluded, but as most of you know, fantasy football lives on with postseason leagues. We’€™re here to help you stack the odds in your favor or at least to avoid doing the opposite.

Playoff leagues can be a lot of fun, and they are completely different than regular-season fantasy football. The key difference is that predicting game outcomes is perhaps the key factor in your team’€™s success. In most situations, you’€™d rather have your player advance than have a big game and lose. That’€™s because once your player’€™s team is finished, so is the player. That means no more points and a big old dead spot in your lineup. For this reason, it is important to project the number of games each team will play.

You may think Philip Rivers is a better quarterback than Colin Kaepernick, but if you think the Chargers are a one-and-done team as I do, and if you think the 49ers have a chance to play four games (the maximum), as I do, then you’€™d be kooky to draft Rivers ahead of Kaepernick.  This is true even if you project Rivers to outscore Kaepernick by a factor of two on a per-game basis. This is how you must think in a playoff draft. Get in that frame of mind — the same frame of mind that makes you want LeGarrette Blount over Jamaal Charles. Yes, really.

Since leagues are different sizes and many use different sets of rules, I am going to keep the rankings somewhat general. The first thing you need to do is to decide how you think the playoff games will go, then follow those predictions. I’ve laid out my current take below, but I won’€™t lie to you, I could flip a few games this week as I continue to think about things and assess the injury situations. Some of these games are very close. Value players accordingly. For example, I think Kaepernick plays twice, but I also think he’€™s the player with the best chance at playing four times. It will take an upset of the Seahawks in Seattle to make that happen, but Frisco probably is the best bet to pull that off at this point.

GAMES PLAYED PROJECTIONS

Broncos, 3 games
Seahawks, 3 games
49ers, 2 games
Eagles, 2 games
Patriots, 2 games
Panthers, 2 games
Colts, 2 games
Bengals, 2 games
Saints, 1 game
Packers, 1 game
Chargers, 1 game
Chiefs, 1 game

If you look at the projections, you might assume that Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson are the players to own. And they certainly are players you’€™d like to have, but a few of the quarterbacks with two projected games played are potentially as or more valuable. I already mentioned Kaepernick, but Tom Brady will have a very good chance at a third game, and I see most of the early round games being competitive. For this, I suggest that you play your own hunches if you have strong ones and if you trust your instincts. That’€™s really what make these postseason leagues so much fun. You get to do more prognostication.

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Read More: Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Jamaal Charles, LeGarrette Blount

Report: Browns will interview Josh McDaniels on Saturday

01.02.14 at 12:39 am ET
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The Browns will interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their vacant head coaching position on Saturday, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

Cleveland will reportedly meet with McDaniels at an undisclosed location in the New England area. The Browns are looking to replace Rob Chudzinski, who was fired after one season where he led Cleveland to a 4-12 record.

According to Mortensen, the Browns have also requested permission to speak with three other candidates: Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Thoughts on Bill O’Brien, George Godsey and Josh McDaniels as NFL coaching carousel keeps spinning

01.01.14 at 9:56 pm ET
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1. Former Patriots offensive coordinator Billy O’Brien could end up dipping into the New England talent pool to help fill out his coaching staff in Houston. Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports is reporting that O’Brien is interested in hiring Patriots tight ends coach George Godsey to work with him in Houston. Godsey was initially hired by New England as an offensive assistant in 2011, and became tight ends coach after Brian Ferentz left the Patriots for Iowa in 2012. It would be interesting to see what might happen to Godsey if New England also let Josh McDaniels leave — McDaniels has reportedly been given permission to interview with the Browns for their vacant head coaching job. Godsey could move into an opening in New England if he does decide to stick around.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked Wednesday on his thoughts regarding the news that O’Brien was set to take over in Houston.

“Well, I love Billy O’€™Brien,” he said, “but right now really we’€™re on the playoffs and our situation. I don’€™t think it’€™s appropriate for me to comment on another coach or another team. I don’€™t even know what team we’€™re talking about here.”

2. There are no new updates regarding McDaniels’ candidacy with the Browns, but Tom Brady weighed in Wednesday on the possibility of losing McDaniels. The quarterback, who has worked with McDaniels in various capacities for several years, called him “one of my best buds,” and added that he was “glad [McDaniels is] my coach.” He added that he wasn’t surprised that McDaniels was getting recognition as a potential head coaching candidate.

“It’€™s a credit to those guys and what they’€™ve accomplished, and it’€™s a very flattering thing when other people are interested,” Brady said. “But they’€™ll make their decision based on whatever they make their decision based on, and I’€™ve still got to go out there and do my job, which is ultimately what I owe this team and what I signed up for and what I promised Mr. Kraft when I signed my contract, and what I commit to Belichick and all my teammates, that I’€™m going to try to do the best I can do. It doesn’€™t matter who’€™s coaching or who’€™s running routes or who [I’€™m] handing the ball off to or who’€™s blocking or who’€™s playing defense. I’€™ve got to go do my job, so that’€™s where my focus is.”

3. The Bucs have hired former Bears coach Lovie Smith to take over in Tampa. Smith is set to replace Greg Schiano, who was let go after two seasons with the Buccaneers and an 11-21 mark. (Schiano is rumored to be in line as a candidate for the Penn State job which was recently left open by O’Brien’s departure.) This won’t be the first Florida stop for Smith, who spent five seasons in Tampa working for Tony Dungy before leaving for the head coaching gig in Chicago. While with the Bears, he had an 81-63 mark in eight seasons, and led Chicago to an NFC Championship in 2006. The news was first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

Read More: Bill O'Brien, George Godsey, Greg Schiano, Josh McDaniels

Bill Belichick knows value of Tom Brady, a running game and the play-action pass

01.01.14 at 8:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For all the subtle things Tom Brady does well, selling the play fake is near the top of the list.

Now, he has a legitimately dangerous running game to go along with it.

Could the play-action be a big factor in the Patriots postseason plans?

“I think that’€™s an interesting question,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “I would say, some defensive play-calling is just based on whether or not you think they’€™re going to run, even if they don’€™t run, if you think they’€™re going to run, that makes you vulnerable to some aspects of the passing game. I would say that most defensive players get their keys from the offensive line and the tight end. Now, unless there’€™s no fake at all, which sometimes you see a quarterback fake this way and the back go the other way and you’€™re like, ‘€˜What’€™s the point?’€™ But if there’€™s any kind of legitimate mesh at all, I would say that the bigger key to the play is the action of the offensive line and the tight end more so than the quarterback and the back.”

Belichick went deep into the Xs and Os of a good play-action offense, and what goes into defending it.

“Although the quarterback and the back can certainly help the play, I’€™m not saying that, but no matter what they do, if it’€™s not tied in with the line of scrimmage: the pad level of the offensive linemen, the aggressive nature like it would be in a running play then I think that the two just don’€™t mesh and a good defensive player will be able to recognize that. It’€™s a combination of all those things. Part of play-action is throwing the ball when you think they’€™re going to run it, when they think you’€™re going to run it. Part of it is the companion of the play-action to the running game. Part of it is the execution of the offensive line/tight ends with the run blocking and part of it is the quarterback-running back mesh, action, whatever you want to call it. I think all those things come into play. You could have the best run-action in the world on second-and-20 and I don’€™t know how many defensive players are going to go flying up in there.

“You could have not very good action on fourth-and-inches and you probably get a lot of guys even if it isn’€™t a great fake. I think there are a lot of different variables on that. I think one of the key things on play-action that’€™s a critical part of the play is just who you’€™re trying to fake. Who are you trying to fake? Are you trying to stop the pass rush? Or are you trying to get a particular player ‘€“ a safety or linebacker or a deep field player, like on a flea-flicker as an example ‘€“ are you trying to get somebody there to react and then you have a complementary part of the pattern that attacks that area of the defense. I think if you’€™re trying to stop the pass rush by play-action then that’€™s one thing. If you’€™re trying to affect a linebacker or a safety to come up then you want to have maybe the type of fake that you think will get him to react based on what he’€™s seen on film or based on a play that you’€™re running that marries up with that action. Then you run some type of complementary route to try to take advantage of that reaction that you hope that you get.

“Then there’€™s all the misdirection plays where you try to get everybody to go this way so somebody goes back the other way, whether that’€™s an over-route or a crossing route or a fake crossing route that comes back the other way or some kind of bootleg or whatever it happens to be but it’€™s kind of a little bit of the same. So, again, what it comes down to on play-action, I think for me and the game planning is, ‘€˜OK, what are we trying to do here? What’€™s the purpose of the play? Are we trying to affect this guy, affect that guy, affect the pass rush, trying to get him to flow? What are we trying to get out of it?’€™ Depending on what you’€™re trying to get, I think that determines what type of play you want to design.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, nfl, Tom Brady

Aqib Talib on Pats secondary: ‘I think we can play a lot better’

01.01.14 at 8:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Of all those most excited about the return Wednesday of safety Devin McCourty from a concussion, Aqib Talib might top the list.

Talib knows that a secondary that’s been playing very well together just got its quarterback back. Combine that with a hip that Talib says is feeling better every day, and there’s reason to think this bye could go a long way to proving very useful to the Patriots and their secondary.

‘€œI think we’€™re playing well, but I think we can get a lot better,” Talib said. “We can get a lot better. We really break down the tape, so we see a lot more than you all. I don’€™t know if you all break down the tape, but we see a little bit more than you all see. We’€™ve got a lot of work to do. We can get a lot better.

‘€œIt’€™s collectively. Of course individually, but we just can get a lot better.’€

What are the specific areas that the pass defense needs to improve?

‘€œBeing in the right spot,” Talib added. “The way we do things, there’€™s a certain way you want to play Cover-2 of man and stuff like that. So, being in the right spot, the correct depth on zone drops, stuff like that.

‘€œWe’€™re going out there, practicing against each other and working on technique stuff; staying in shape, a lot of technique-work.’€

While resting his hip and taking it easy this weekend, will Talib watch the playoff games and his next opponent?

‘€œSure, I’€™m a fan,” Talib said. “I’€™m a football fan, I’€™m tuned in.’€

Read More: Aqib Talib, New England Patriots, nfl,

Devin McCourty is ‘just happy to be back on the field’

01.01.14 at 7:43 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Devin McCourty saw the replay of his nasty helmet-to-leg collision with Ed Dickson on Dec. 22 in Baltimore.

“You watch it and I don’t know that much about concussions and all that but just watching it as a player, it was a weird hit but it is what it is,” McCourty said Wednesday, after taking part in his first practice since that awkward, if not scary, looking hit that bent his neck.

But he assured everyone Wednesday that not only was he cleared from his concussion, he was good enough to be back on the practice field.

“€œI’€™m feeling alright, doing pretty good,” McCourty said. ‘€œI mean it’€™s always good to be back on the field if you miss any time. I’€™m just happy to be back on the field.”

McCourty sat out Sunday’s win over the Bills but spoke like someone who figures to be ready to go when the Patriots get back to action Jan. 11 at Gillette Stadium.

“€œI think it’€™s big for us just to get better during this week,” McCourty said. “It’€™s always different at this time of the year. You’€™ve already been through a full season and I think you’€™ve really got to kick in [and be] mentally tough to find the things that you’€™ve not done so well or the things that you’€™ve done well and just try to attack it this week. We’€™ve got a week where it’€™s not so much about preparing for someone because we don’€™t know who we’€™re going to play yet. It’€™s all about fixing the things we feel we need to fix and trying to get better this week.”

McCourty acknowledged Wednesday that he had never dealt with a concussion before.

“€œNo, but I mean a lot of injuries are usually first time [occurrences],” he added. “So, you just take it one day at a time.”

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Read More: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots, nfl,

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