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Texans feel things could be different if they meet Patriots again 12.11.12 at 2:31 am ET
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FOXBORO — Leading up to this match-up during the week, many were calling this game possibly the biggest in Texans history. Houston has never taken one loss this far into a season, and traveling to face a Patriots team with a 9-3 record on Monday Night Football only upped the ante.

But it was clear who the superior team was on Monday night in Foxboro.

There’s probably a lot to be said about experience; the Patriots have it in December, January and February. The Texans, not as much.

Since the Texans and Patriots now account for two of the top three teams in the AFC, the likelihood of them meeting again down the playoff road is a high one. Whether this game takes place in Houston or Foxboro is yet to be seen, if it happens at all. And if it does, several members of the Texans said they now know what to look for from this veteran New England team, and themselves as well.

“It’s a teaching moment,” defensive end Whitney Mercilus said after the game. “This is a good team and we can’t slack off. Too many penalties and things like that; beating ourselves. We’ve got to be able to move the ball offensively and defensively. We’ve got to get to the passer and help out our secondary. We can’t get gashed in the run. We’ve got to get better.”

When asked why he thought the outcome might be different should the they meet again, defensive end Antonio Smith paused for a few seconds thinking about the question, and then said, “We know what to expect.”

“Now you know what you’re dealing with,” he said. “There aren’t any surprises. This team hadn’t faced a Patriots team in their house this late in the year when it’s playoffs coming since I’ve been here. I think the last time we beat them was in our house. And hopefully we can get our stuff together and win the rest of these games so that they’ve got to come in our house. It’s just another battle; we’ll see how it is then.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Bill Belichick explains why Champ Bailey can ‘match up against anybody’ in the NFL 10.06.12 at 1:36 pm ET
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Champ Bailey (right) has always been a thorn in the side of Wes Welker, like here in 2009. (AP)

FOXBORO — Wes Welker knows how hard it’s going to be to get open on Sunday against the Broncos, especially when perennial Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey is matched up against him.

“He’s just a great ball player,” Welker said of the 34-year-old corner. “I think he just gets out of bed and he’s just great. He’s very patient and does a good job to get his hands on you and plays really well. Smart guy, instincts, all those things and it’s why he’s stayed around so long.”

There’s been so much focus on future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that it’s easy to overlook another sure-fire Hall of Famer in Bailey. He has more Pro Bowls than any cornerback in history with 11. He is a six-time All-Pro and has been the NFL Defensive Back of the Year twice.

Welker has had a decent amount of success in his battles with him, catching 22 balls in four regular season games for an average of 11.4 yards per reception. He’s averaged just over 64 yards a game but only two touchdowns in the four matchups. He had six catches for 55 yards and a score in the 45-10 romp over Tim Tebow‘s Broncos in the playoffs last January.

“Just have to be very precise and keep him on his toes and make sure you’re really mixing it up on him and being physical and doing things necessary to get open,” Welker said of what a receiver must do against the decorated corner. Read the rest of this entry »

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Free Agent Snapshot: Cortland Finnegan 02.19.12 at 1:55 pm ET
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Cortland Finnegan has been in the NFL for six seasons, all with Tennessee. (AP)

We continue our look at 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason with a breakdown of cornerback Cortland Finnegan. With the understanding that the NFL’s franchise tag window is from February 20 to March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:

Cortland Finnegan
Position: Cornerback
Age: 28
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 188 pounds

Now this would be an interesting pickup. Finnegan is a feisty sort who is never been one to back down from a physical confrontation (just ask Andre Johnson), a strong, man-to-man corner who could bring a jolt to the New England secondary. Finnegan has played in the slot and on the outside, and brings the sort of physical, versatile presence the Patriots need at defensive back.

Pro Football Focus had Finnegan as Tennessee’s most complete defender, with an overall grade of +15.8 (third among all cornerbacks), with a +9.6 grade in overall pass coverage. (By way of comparison, PFF had Sterling Moore rated as New England’s best defensive back, with an overall grade of +5.5, and +4.4 in pass coverage.) PFF also says that when quarterbacks threw at Finnegan, they were 52-for-82 for 456 yards and two touchdowns — not Revisesque numbers, but certainly better than any New England defensive back over the lat season.

It appears unlikely that the Titans will not try and make a move to retain Finnegan — as of last week, Tennessee hasn’t made any movement in talks with the defensive back, and would not franchise him. When it comes to him landing in New England, he would come with some baggage — he was named one of the dirtiest players in the league in 2010 — but it wouldn’t be the first time the Patriots took a chance on someone with a past.

Why it might not work: As was the case with Brent Grimes, the biggest roadblock might be money. Finnegan and Grimes are two of the best unrestricted free agent corners on the market, and will likely be compensated justly. In addition, this story figures Finnegan might be a good fit in Detroit with former Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and also lists St. Louis, Dallas, Oakland, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville as possible landing spots for the cornerback, while saying that Finnegan would command a contract similar to the five-year, $48.75-million deal Johnathan Joseph signed last offseason with Houston.

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Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: Houston Texans 12.27.11 at 9:17 pm ET
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Arian Foster makes the Houston offense go. (AP)

With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is part of a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’ve already profiled the Baltimore Ravens. Today, we’ve got a look at the Houston Texans:

The skinny: If the Texans were ever going to win the AFC South, this was the year: without Peyton Manning, the Colts were down, Tennessee was rebuilding and Jacksonville started slowly and made a coaching change. Houston took advantage, and now, they enter the final week of the regular season at 10-5, having already clinched the AFC South championship. (They’re currently locked in as the No. 3 playoff seed in the AFC.) They have some impressive wins on their resume, including victories over the Steelers (17-10), Atlanta (17-10) and Cincinnati (20-19). However, they also have more than enough stinkers, including defeats to Oakland, Carolina and Indianapolis. From a distance, the Texans appear to be a competitive young team that has had some occasional struggles with success.

Offense: Houston is down to its third-string quarterback, and while T.J. Yates (78-for-130 for 902 yards with three TDs and three INTs) has played relatively well down the stretch, there are plenty of holes in his game. Offensively, the Texans are powered by running back Arian Foster, who has 1,224 yards on 278 carries for 10 touchdowns and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Houston is anticipating the return of wide receiver Andre Johnson (six games, 31 catches, 471 yards, two touchdowns) for the postseason, and if he is at full strength (he’s been slowed by a hamstring problem), he gives the Texans a pair of dynamic skill position players who are among the best at their position.

Defense: Thanks to linebackers Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks) and Brooks Reed (six sacks) and defensive end J.J. Watt (5.5 sacks), the Texans do a good job getting after the quarterback. They’re one of the best teams in the league when it comes to the rest of their defense: second in average total yards allowed (280.7), tied for second in the league against the pass (184 yards per game), fourth in the league against the run (96.7 yards per game) and fourth in the league in points per game allowed (17).

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Wes Welker: ‘I’m still in my prime’ 08.15.11 at 9:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots veteran wide receiver Wes Welker said Monday that almost two years removed from reconstructive left knee surgery, he’s in the best shape of his career.

“This is the best I’ve felt in my career,” he said. “I think my knowledge of the game and being able to be healthy, I think it’s really helped.”

Tom Brady‘s favorite receiver since 2007 blew out his knee in the last game of the 2009 regular season in Houston, missing the playoff loss that year against the Ravens. He rehabbed his knee aggressively and made it back in time for the season opener against the Bengals.

“As long as you’re working hard and getting better on a daily basis, there is no telling where the curve is as far as the backside of your career,” he said. “For me, I feel like I’m still in my prime.”

Welker had 86 catches for 848 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010, making the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement to Andre Johnson of the Texans.

Welker is now in the final year of his current contract with the Patriots, a deal that’s paying him $18.1 million over five year, including just $2.15 million this season. He said he hasn’t given any thought to his career with the Patriots past 2011.

“Not really,” he said. “I’m just concentrating on the here and now, and whatever I can do to help the team win this year. That’s where my full concentration is. I’m not really worried about that at all. I’m just worried about going out there and playing ball. I love playing on this team and I enjoy every day I’m out here. I’m going to let my play take care of everything else.”

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Fantasy Football 2011: A look at receivers 08.02.11 at 6:27 am ET
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In this article, we look at the elite receivers for fantasy football. With more and more teams running three and four-receiver sets, the true studs are getting harder to come by. You can find tons of flex-level receivers, but guys that you really want in your lineup are getting much more difficult to find. This is just one of the reasons you will see more receivers taken in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts than you did a few years back.

The days of most fantasy teams starting their draft by taking two running backs in the first two rounds have gone the way of pay phones and calm political discourse.

Here are Rotobahn’s 12 No. 1′s — the guys who currently receive WR1 grades (in a standard 12-team league) in our rankings. Things could change. For example, Brandon Marshall could make a big move up if Miami lands a better quarterback. But for now, these are the 12 best bets.

1. Andre Johnson, Texans

We all know what a monster Andre2000 is, and he makes a great choice near the end of round one in most fantasy leagues. He’s got a solid QB in Matt Schaub and he is healthy as we enter camp. He’s the best bet to end the year at the top of the fantasy heap.

2. Calvin Johnson, Lions

Calvin is just a step behind Andre, and the main reason is his quarterback situation. It’s not that it’s bad, but we still have concerns about Matt Stafford’s ability to stay healthy. And while Calvin put up some nice weeks with Shaun Hill at the helm, it’s Stafford’s big arm that could really unleash Johnson. In fact, if you could guarantee a healthy season for Stafford, we’d bump Calvin up to the top spot. He’s that talented.

3. Roddy White, Falcons

Roddy busted out in 2009 with his first big season, and continued to shine in 2010. We expect the trend to continue in 2011, and we like him as a high-end WR1 for fantasy purposes. You can make an argument for him to be at the top of the list, but we expect the presence of Julio Jones to cost him a few targets. His yardage could easily slip back to 2009 levels. Not to worry, that still makes him an elite talent.

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Andre Johnson: One ‘smart’ receiver 12.31.09 at 2:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO  –  It’s no secret that Bill Belichick believes Randy Moss is one of the smartest and most instinctive receivers in the game.

Andre has been a giant threat for Houston.

Happy in Houston: Andre Johnson with another big season.

That’s why he was so excited to add him to the roster along with Wes Welker before the 2007 season.

But right up there with Moss in Belichick’s eyes is Houston’s Andre Johnson.

The receiver who came out of the University of Miami in 2003 has been the centerpiece of Gary Kubiak’s offense in Houston. He has been one of the biggest reasons Matt Schaub leads the NFL in passing with 4,467 yards through 15 games.

He can also make the spectacular grab like the one below he made in Week 2 against Tennessee.

Andre Johnson one-handed grab vs. Tenn in Wk 2.

And he has been asked to play in virtually every receiving position on the field and run every conceivable route.

“The number of different things he does, the positions he does them from and when you watch the film where everybody is asking where do we lineup and all that, they go out there and run it,” Belichick said. “Clearly, he’s smart, knows the different formations, the different routes they ask him to run from those different formations. It doesn’t look like it’s a problem. They don’t have a lot of mistakes in the passing game, kind of like when you watch Indy, New Orleans and teams like that.

“You see the pattern, there’s good distribution. They have good passing concepts. Sometimes you watch plays and you have guys running together and it doesn’t look like it’s a very well designed route. You hardly ever see that with Houston.” Read the rest of this entry »

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