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Jonathan Kraft not shedding tears over Ravens’ struggles: ‘Too bad about Baltimore, isn’t it?’ 09.27.15 at 1:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Safe to say the Patriots aren’t shedding any tears about the 0-2 start of one of their chief rivals in the AFC.

Speaking on the Patriots radio network pregame show, team president Jonathan Kraft took a little tongue-in-cheek shot at the Ravens.

“It’s too bad about Baltimore, isn’t it?” Kraft said of the Ravens, who lost at Denver in the waning moments on opening day before spitting the bit last week against the lowly Raiders in Oakland. “It’s really too bad about Baltimore.”

Asked if this might be “karma” coming back to bite the Ravens, Kraft said, “Oh, that has nothing to do with it,” Kraft said. “The Ravens are sweethearts. John Harbaugh, he’s a sweetheart.”

The 0-2 Ravens are hosting the 2-0 Bengals in a critical game for Baltimore today, critical because they face another AFC North rival, Pittsburgh, on the road this Thursday night.

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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh, New England Patriots,
Even NFL game officials recognize coaching brilliance of Bill Belichick 08.09.15 at 10:44 am ET
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FOXBORO — The man responsible for officiating one of the most talked-about plays of the Patriots postseason run says he had no problem with it whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, back judge Tony Steratore shed some fascinating insight on the “receiver ineligible” formation that caused so much consternation and angst from Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

On New England’s second possession of the second half, the Patriots were driving deep into Ravens territory, trailing, 28-14. It was here that Bill Belichick chose to get in the Ravens’ head a little bit. He had running back Shane Vereen lined up off the line of scrimmage outside the tackle box, reporting as “ineligible” to the officials. The play resulted in a 14-yard completion to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the Ravens 10. Harbaugh blew a gasket, and was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty that took the ball to the 5. The Patriots scored two plays later and were back in the game.

The back judge in that game was Tony Steratore, the same official in Foxboro this week to help officiate practice.

“There wasn’t any real delay prior to the play,” Steratore began. “It was absolutely a legal play, a very well-coached play. And it was executed perfectly. So, from a legality standpoint, it was absolutely legal.

“I had not, in my 16 years of experience, I had never seen where an eligible had reported as ineligible. We often times see ineligibles report as eligible. The Patriots did everything [correct]. The player reported as an ineligible [receiver] with an eligible number. The referee [Bill Vinovich] in the game announced and pointed to the player twice and said, ‘he is ineligible, he is ineligible,’ which is mechanically, what our responsibility is. We handled it on the fly, I thought, very well.

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Ineligible receiver
Which teams are most likely to deal on NFL draft weekend? 04.27.15 at 9:39 pm ET
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Bill Belichick has plenty of potential trade partners when it comes to making a draft weekend deal. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Other than 2004, Bill Belichick has made draft weekend deals every year he’s been in charge of the Patriots. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With draft weekend approaching, which teams will be the most inclined to make some moves? From our viewpoint — in no particular order — here are the teams most likely to deal, as well as a couple of scenarios thrown in for good measure. (On this same topic, make sure you read this excellent piece from Andrew Healy at Football Outsiders on draft trade value. His study reveals that the biggest buyer of draft value since 2000 has been New England. The biggest seller? Washington.)

New England and Philadelphia — basically, football BFF’s Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly: Provided they stay in their current positions, these two will likely be trade partners for a very long time. Belichick was a semi-regular draft weekend trade partner with the Eagles when Andy Reid was in Philly, and given his background with Kelly, there’s certainly reason to think that there will be at least one swap this weekend between the Patriots and Eagles. For what it’s worth, since he took control of the Patriots in 2000, by our count, Belichick has made 102 trades. In all, he’s made the most deals with Oakland (9), followed by Denver, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Green Bay (all 6). That’s followed by Houston, New Orleans, Baltimore and Philly (5).

Atlanta: Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff has been known to make a big splash from time to time — remember wide receiver Julio Jones? — and given the fact that Atlanta holds the eighth overall pick in the draft (and has a desperate need for a pass rusher), they could be one of those teams looking to potentially move up to take Vic Beasley or Dante Fowler, Jr., two individuals who may not make it out of the top 5.

Cleveland: In our chat with him on “NFL Sunday,” draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network pointed to the Browns and Ravens as two of the teams who might be more inclined to pull off a draft weekend deal. Cleveland has Nos. 12 and 19 in the first round — the Browns are one of two teams with two first-round selections. And based on what we saw last year with the big deal with the Bills, they certainly wouldn’t shy away from trying to swing a big first-round deal to try and move up. Cleveland certainly has some needs across the board, and will have a real chance to address those issues come Thursday.

Baltimore: Like Belichick, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is a big fan of compensatory picks, and while those can’t be dealt away, the three comp selections that Baltimore acquired this offseason — in addition to the fourth and fifth rounders Newsome got from Detroit in exchange for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata — certainly gives Newsome the sort of potential draft capital he might need if he wants to try and climb the board. One thing that Patriots fans might want to keep in mind here is that Newsome and Belichick are very tight (Belichick has made five draft weekend deals with the Ravens). If the Patriots see a potential target sliding down the board and could put together a package for Baltimore’s 26th overall pick, that certainly remains a possibility.

San Diego sends Chargers QB Philip Rivers to Tennessee for the No. 2 overall pick: This sounds like an interesting deal, but it apparently stalled out over the weekend. It would be a fascinating swap that would fundamentally be a Rivers-for-Mariota deal between San Diego and Tennessee, with multiple picks presumably going in both directions. While that would appear to mean the Chargers would be hitting the reset button with a rookie quarterback as opposed to the 33-year-old Rivers, as Jeremiah reminded us in our Sunday conversation with him, while the front office has changed in San Diego, the Chargers have never been shy about making big draft weekend deals. Individuals like Rivers (2004) and LaDanian Tomlinson (2001) landed in San Diego after draft swaps.

Read More: 2015 NFL Draft, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick
League outlaws Patriots unbalanced line approach that New England used against Ravens 03.25.15 at 1:59 pm ET
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John Harbaugh and the Ravens are likely pretty happy after hearing that the unbalanced line the Patriots used in the playoffs is now illegal. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

John Harbaugh and the Ravens are likely pretty happy after hearing that the unbalanced line the Patriots used in the playoffs is now illegal. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The eligible receiver/ unbalanced line tactics the Patriots utilized in the AFC divisional playoff game agains the Ravens have now been ruled illegal. The league announced Wednesday that they have passed a proposal to make it  “illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation.”

The genesis of the rule change came from the postseason contest between New England and Baltimore when Patriots ran a handful of plays using four offensive linemen and a running back (Shane Vereen) or tight end (Michael Hoomanawanui) lined up as the tackle. Before the plays, the Patriots informed the referee of the ineligible player, and on at least one occasion, the referee announced to the crowd that No. 34 (Vereen) was ineligible, adding “don’t cover (Vereen).”

The Ravens were clearly steamed at the legal sequence after the game. Ravens coach John Harbaugh called it “deception,” and took issue with the idea that “they don’t give you the chance to make the proper substations and things like that.”

He added: “We wanted an opportunity to be able to ID who the eligible players were. What (the Patriots) were doing was they announce the ineligible player and then Tom [Brady] would take them to the line right away and snap the ball before we had a chance to figure out who was lined up where. That was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception.”

In the midst of the confusion, the Patriots were able to capitalize — on three plays, New England hit on pass plays of 16, 11 and 14 yards. While it wasn’t the biggest turning point in the game, it was clear that it contributed to the normally unflappable Ravens coming unglued, as Baltimore twice choked up 14-point leads on the way to the Patriots win.

After the game, Brady was asked about the play.

“Maybe those guys (should) study the rule book and figure it out,” said the quarterback with a smile.

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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, New England Patriots
Free Agent Snapshot: Torrey Smith 02.11.15 at 12:00 pm ET
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Torrey Smith was on New England's radar screen when he was a collegian. Could he intrigue the Patriots as a free-agent possibility? (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Torrey Smith was on New England’s radar screen when he was a collegian. Could he intrigue the Patriots as a free agent possibility? (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller and Hakeem Nicks. Today, it’€™s wide receiver Torrey Smith:

Torrey Smith
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 26 (Jan. 26, 1989)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds

The skinny: Smith is a burner who might not be an elite-level deep threat, but has certainly crafted a nice resume over the last four years with the Ravens. Since 2011, he’s averaged 53 catches and almost 900 yards a season with Baltimore, including 65 catches, 1,128 receiving yards (both career highs) and four touchdowns in 2013. He’s averaged 16.9 yards per catch in that time, one of the best totals in the league of any regular, and has established himself as a solid and dependable big-play target. When the Patriots don’t necessarily covet receivers with terrific straight-line speed, Smith also has the shiftiness and quicks to fit in nicely with the rest of their pass catchers. New England loves players who excel in the 3-cone time as collegians, a good barometer of how they’ll do in the Patriots passing game. Smith’s 6.72 time in the 3-cone as a collegian is certainly the sort of skill set that would mesh nicely with New England.

“He’s always been able to run and [be] the guy that makes all the plays down the field,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Smith in January 2013. “He can also run after the catch on the shorter and intermediate routes. If you give him a big cushion, that’s a problem too. He’s made a lot of big plays down the field on deep balls and that’s opened up things for him underneath as well. He’s been very productive.”

One more thing about him — he’s a very smart pass catcher: including the postseason, he drew 12 pass interference penalties for 261 yards this season, best in the league.

“I love Torrey. He’s been a huge part of what we’ve done since he got here. [He’s been] a great part of the community, all those things, made a ton of plays for us,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh at the end of the season. “Personally, and I think I speak for everybody, when I say that we like Torrey a lot. We’d like to have him back. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

By the numbers: 16.9 —
The average yards per catch for Smith since 2011, when he first entered the league. The last time the Patriots had a regular receiver approach that for a single season came in 2011 when Chad Johnson averaged 18.4 yards per catch, and Johnson certainly didn’t display anywhere near the level of consistency that Smith has shown over the last four years.

Why it would work: The Patriots need a deep threat, and Smith is a well-regarded veteran who would appear to be able to fill the bill. He was on New England’s radar screen coming out of college, and his background while adjusting to a variety of different teammates in Baltimore suggests he’d adaptable when it came to working with new teammates. In addition, the idea of bolstering your own roster at the expense of a conference rival also figures to be an attractive possibility.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Torrey Smith
Which teams have best shot at denying Patriots back-to-back Super Bowl titles? 02.04.15 at 12:33 am ET
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Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner could very well square off in Super Bowl 50 next February. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner could very well square off in Super Bowl 50 next February. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

After knocking off the Seahawks Sunday night and capturing the fourth Super Bowl in the history of the franchise, the 2015 Patriots will attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since New England’€™s 2003-04 team. While it’s wildly early — there’ a lot of time between now and the start of the 2015 season — here are our five best bets when it comes to potential challengers to the Patriots, in no particular order.

Ravens: Joe Flacco, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens are a perennial nemesis for the Patriots, having split their last four playoff meetings with New England since 2009. What has become one of the most underrated rivalries in the NFL should have a little extra spice, given the bad feelings that came out of their most recent postseason showdown.

Broncos: While the status of Peyton Manning is still up in the air, the Broncos appear to be as well-positioned as anyone in the AFC when it comes to trying to mount a challenge for AFC supremacy. Denver is stacked on offense with wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, as well as tight end Julius Thomas and running back C.J. Anderson. It’s a similarly star-studded defense, with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. With or without Peyton, expect them to contend in 2015.

Cowboys: If Dallas can somehow finesse the cap to allow free agents stars DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant to return, the Cowboys appear to be in as good a shape as anyone else in the NFL. They have one of the stoutest offensive lines in the NFL, and a surprisingly competitive defense will get a boost from the return of linebacker Sean Lee in 2015. At the same time, quarterback Tony Romo turns 35 in April, and only five quarterbacks (Tom Brady, John Elway, Jim Plunkett, Roger Staubach and Johnny Unitas) 35 or older have won Super Bowls.

Packers: When it came to second half of the 2014 regular season, Green Bay gave the Patriots probably the best game of the year, knocking off the Patriots at Lambeau in November. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers will almost certainly be a man on a mission in 2015, looking to avenge a bitter playoff loss at the hands of the Seahawks in Seattle. If Green Bay can do enough to stabilize its defense and manage to avoid some of the inevitable hangover that comes with a postseason defeat like the one the Packers suffered against the Seahawks, Rodgers and Company should be in the mix for a title in 2015.

Seahawks: There’s the annual Curse of the Super Bowl loser to worry about — of the 49 Super Bowl losers, only two won the big game the next season, with the last instance coming in 1972 with the Dolphins. But provided the Seahawks stay healthy and can retain their talent, there’s no reason to think that they won’t be part of the championship conversation in some form or fashion. They still have one of the best pass defenses in the game and few players are as dominant at their position as running back Marshawn Lynch. Meanwhile quarterback Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll will be looking for redemption after Sunday’s withering loss.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers
Dean Blandino corrects Super Bowl ref Bill Vinovich on exactly how to handle Patriots substitutions 01.29.15 at 8:33 pm ET
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PHOENIX — Thursday provided yet another glimpse into unbelievably bizarre year of the National Football League.

Just over 72 hours before the league’s premiere event, the NFL’s director of officiating, Dean Blandino, publicly corrected his Super Bowl referee, Bill Vinovich, on how to handle the Patriots’ substitutions of reporting eligible and ineligible.

Vinovich is the same referee that handled the Patriots-Ravens divisional game at Gillette on Jan. 10. It was the way Vinovich announced Shane Vereen “ineligible” moments before the snap that caused Ravens coach John Harbaugh to lose his mind when the Patriots started subbing in the second half to a four-offensive linemen set.

Blandino made it very clear that there had been a protocol in place for officials and referees to hand signal to players that a player (in this case No. 34 Vereen) was reporting ineligible because it was required that at least five players on the line of scrimmage could not step forward.

“Bill was involved in the first game, the Baltimore-New England game, when New England first presented that formation when basically a player with an eligible number reporting as ineligible, which is legal. You can do that. The one you see more often is when you see a tackle reporting as eligible receiver.”

Then, unsolicited, Vinovich offered, “And I also made the announcement, ‘Do not cover No. 34.'”

To which Blandino responded, “Which we won’t do on Sunday.”

Apparently that was news to Vinovich. “We won’t?” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Vinovich, Dean Blandino, New England Patriots
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