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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 17: Seahawks still No. 1 despite loss 12.24.13 at 8:48 am ET
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The Seahawks stumbled but didn’t fall in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Despite suffering a setback in Week 16, Seattle stands pat because of its overall dominance. The 49ers, Panthers, Broncos and Patriots, who all have secured playoff spots, round out the top five.

As we head into the last week of the season, division titles and playoff spots still are up for grabs. Four teams are fighting for one spot in the AFC: the Chargers (11), Ravens (13), Dolphins (15) and Steelers (17). The NFC is wide open, with three divisions and a wild card spot on the line. The Eagles (12) will look to become the 11th consecutive team in the NFL to finish in last place and then go on to win the division the very next year, and it will take a win over the Cowboys (19) on Sunday to accomplish that feat. Philadelphia’s odds of winning the NFC East improved dramatically on Monday after it was reported that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will be sidelined due to a back problem.

The conclusion of the 2013 regular season promises to be a wild one. Be sure to check in next week after all is decided for the playoff edition of the Power Rankings.

1. (1) Seahawks (12-3) – The NFC took notice that the Seahawks are vulnerable in Seattle. They lost at home for the first time in two years. Penalties and a struggling passing attack hurt Pete Carroll‘s team Sunday. 

 2. (2) 49ers (11-4) — They’ve clinched and now have won five straight. The Niners are the type of seasoned, well-balanced team that is capable of going into Seattle and winning if the situation were to arise.

3. (3) Panthers (11-4) — The Panthers have the tools to reach the Super Bowl. Cam Newton has proven this year that the big moment doesn’t negatively affect him. Carolina’s defense forces turnovers, rushes the passer well and allows the fewest points per game in the league.

 4. (4) Broncos (11-3) — Much is being made about the loss of Von Miller, but the Broncos won their first six games this season when the Pro Bowl linebacker was suspended. If Denver doesn’t reach the Super Bowl, it won’t be because Miller is out.

5. (6) Patriots (11-4) — You can’t count this team out as long as Tom Brady is behind center and Bill Belichick is on the sideline. They’ve proven that this year more than ever.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bills, Chris Johnson, NFL Power Rankings
Rob Ninkovich on M&M: ‘We’ll be prepared and be ready to roll’ against Bills 09.03.13 at 12:49 pm ET
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Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday morning to discuss Sunday’s game against the Bills that marks the beginning of the season.

For Ninkovich, facing a division rival makes the first game of the season that much more energizing and exciting.

“Buffalo is always a fun place to play,” Ninkovich said. “There’s a ton of energy there. You get the beer cans and the eggs and everything on the bus when you’re coming in, so it’s really a fun atmosphere to play at. The fans always seem to really like us there and enjoy our presence.

“That first game is always a very exciting game and everyone has a ton of energy and it will be exciting. I’m ready to get to Buffalo already. It’s Week 1, it’s a great game to be at. … We’ll be prepared and be ready to roll there.”

Buffalo may feature a new quarterback in undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, but as Ninkovich noted, the Bills still feature a dangerous offensive core with weapons such as running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Stevie Johnson.

“They definitely have some weapons with Spiller, Johnson and [running back Fred] Jackson, so you definitely have to make sure that you have those guys contained. Every single one of those guys have big-play ability,” Ninkovich said. “You have to make sure that you have the edge [against Spiller] every single time, because you have to be aware of him being able to not only trying to get to the edge, but cutting back and running back across the field and test the other edge, so you just have to be super aware of him and where he’s at.

“The ball could be running away from you, but in a split second, it’s coming back to you, so you just have make sure that you have the ball contained and bring it back to all your buddies.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

On the release of defensive ends Justin Francis and Marcus Bernard: “It’s the one unfortunate part of the business that you have to deal with. You know, guys coming and going. There’s guys that make those decisions for a reason and you just take it for what it is and you move on and you roll with what you’ve got. Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan are both great football players, so I’m happy to have those guys as teammates.”

On playing with a roster that includes 14 rookies, the most of any NFL team: “It’s definitely, definitely a young football team. Right now … you just have to really make sure that we prepare well and get those guys ready to go. It’s definitely a lot different from what it was five years ago when I first got here, I’m one of the only guys to still be around, so you just see the turnover there and these young guys just have to … get ready to play a long season here.”

Read More: Bills, C.J. Spiller, Patriots, Rob Ninkovich
Key Moment: Fitzpatrick connects with Jackson late to lift the Bills 09.25.11 at 4:36 pm ET
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Following a Patriots’ touchdown to tie the game at 31 with 3:33 remaining, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski delivered a touchback, giving Buffalo the ball at their own 20. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick got the ball out to its own 49, and then connected with running back Fred Jackson on a sweet pass play over the middle that got the Bills deep into New England territory with 1:43 remaining. A 39-yard gainer, Jackson caught the ball at the Patriots’ 35-yard line and raced downfield past a fleet of New England defenders.

The call was initially ruled as a touchdown, but after a review, the ball was placed at the Patriots one-yard line. After a few kneeldowns from Fitzpatrick, Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell connected on a 28-yarder as time ran out to give the Bills a 34-31 victory. It snapped New England’s 15-game win streak over Buffalo, and kept Buffalo undefeated on the season.

Read More: Bills, Fred Jackson, Patriots, Rian Lindell
Halftime analysis: Patriots 21, Bills 10 at 2:32 pm ET
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The Patriots and Bills are done with two quarters in Buffalo, and New England holds a 21-10 lead on host Buffalo. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢As was the case over the first two games, the Patriots’ offense has been pretty crisp. New England scored on its first two opportunities, with Tom Brady connecting with wide receiver Wes Welker on a 14-yard scoring strike on the first drive and Rob Gronkowski on a one-yarder on the second. Brady also found Gronkowski with a 26-yarder in the second quarter to give New England a 21-0 lead midway through the second. Overall, Brady is 16-for-22 for 222 yards and three touchdowns.

‘€¢However, he ended the half with an interception — his second of the season — when Buffalo defensive back Bryan Scott made a great interception on a tipped ball deep in Bills’ territory. (Buffalo turned that into a field goal just before the end of the half to make it 21-10.)

‘€¢Defensively, the Patriots were able to put the brakes on the Bills’ offense with a pair of picks from cornerback Kyle Arrington. The Hofstra product collected the first on the Bills’ second play from scrimmage on a tipped ball, and his second came when Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (who ended the first half 20-for-28 for 224 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions) tried to force the ball into double coverage. Buffalo was able to cut the deficit to 21-7 with just under two minutes left when Fitzpatrick hit Stevie Johnson over Devin McCourty on a 15-yard pass play.

‘€¢Overall, as was the case last week with the Chargers, Buffalo has been able to get big chunks of yards (primarily in the passing game), and the Patriots haven’t been able to get much pressure on Fitzpatrick. But the Patriots have made the plays (namely, the turnovers) and have played well enough on third down to keep the Bills at bay for much of the first two quarters.

‘€¢The Patriots have gotten a very good performance out of their special teamers. Zoltan Mesko, who was a question mark coming into the game because of a knee injury, punted twice and looked very solid. (He got off a 57-yarder in the second quarter.) New England has also done an excellent job at containing Buffalo’s kick and punt returns, with Matthew Slater and Ross Ventrone picking up special teams tackles.

Read More: Bills, Patriots,
Postgame Notes: Patriots 34, Bills 3 12.27.10 at 12:29 am ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here are a few notes from Sunday’s Patriots-Bills contest:

PATRIOTS EARN SECOND STRAIGHT AFC EAST TITLE
The Patriots won the AFC East Championship with the victory today and earned homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. New England clinched a playoff berth with the win at Chicago on Dec. 12. The Patriots have qualified for the playoffs 18 times in its 51-year history. The Patriots have earned 12 playoff berths in the 17 seasons since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994, a dramatic contrast to the six total playoff berths that the team earned in its first 34 years of existence. New England has won 13 division crowns and has qualified as a Wild Card team on four occasions (1998, 1994, 1985 and 1976). The Patriots also qualified for the playoffs in 1982 as part of a 16-team tournament following a players’€™ strike. It is the third time that the Patriots have earned homefield advantage (2007 and 2003).

BRADY EXTENDS NFL RECORD WITH AT LEAST TWO TOUCHDOWNS AND NO INTERCEPTIONS IN EIGHT STRAIGHT GAME
Quarterback Tom Brady extended his NFL record by throwing at least two touchdowns without an interception in each of his past eight games. Brady passed Don Meredith’€™s previous record of six straight games with two or more touchdowns and no interceptions (1965-66) last week vs. Green Bay.

BRADY HAS THROWN AT LEAST ONE TOUCHDOWN PASS IN ALL 15 GAMES
Brady has thrown at least one touchdown pass in all 15 games of the 2010 season after finishing with three touchdown tosses against the Bills. Brady has started the season with at least one touchdown in the first 15 games for the first time in his career. Brady started the 2007 season with at least one touchdown in the first 13 games. Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, only five quarterbacks have thrown for at least one touchdown in each game.

BRADY HAS 11TH GAME WITH TWO OR MORE TOUCHDOWNS IN 2010
Brady had his 11th game with two or more touchdowns in 2010. He has had four 3-touchdown games and two 4-toucdown games. The Patriots are 69-12 when he throws for two or more touchdowns in a game.

BRADY SETS NFL RECORD FOR MOST CONSECUTIVE ATTEMPTS WITHOUT AN INTERCEPTION IN A SINGLE SEASON
Tom Brady extended his interception-free streak to 319 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, setting an NFL record for the most consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Brady eclipsed his old record of 183 consecutive pass attempts without an interception (set in 2009) on Thanksgiving at Detroit. Brady’€™s 319 pass attempts without an interception stretches from the overtime period vs. Baltimore (10/17) through today’€™s win over Buffalo. Brady’€™s last interception was on the last play of regulation vs. Baltimore (10/17). Brady has had previous streaks with 183, 175 and 173 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.
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Read More: Bills, nfl, Patriots,
Halftime analysis: Patriots 24, Bills 3 12.26.10 at 2:31 pm ET
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There are two quarters in the books in Buffalo, and the Patriots hold a 24-3 lead on the Bills.

It’€™s been a good day to be a running back: Danny Woodhead (8 carries, 72 yards, one touchdown) and BenJarvus Green Ellis (10 carries, 66 yards) have pretty much done whatever they’€™ve wanted throughout the first half, thanks in large part to some absolutely crushing blocks up front from the New England offensive line. (In particular, Alge Crumpler was absolutely devastating.) The Bills haven’€™t been too shabby when it comes to toting the rock either, as Fred Jackson has eight carries for 61 yards.

Both teams showed an extraordinary ability to run the football early on, but the only real difference is that the Patriots stayed committed to the run. Meanwhile, the Bills got off to a great start on the ground ‘€” their first six plays were running plays ‘€” but strayed from it as the first half continued. (In truth, they have had to start throwing the ball in hopes of staying in the game.) Buffalo got a 26-yard field goal from Rian Lindell in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead, but New England parlayed a strong ground attack to touchdowns on its second and third series, with Woodhead delivering a 29-yard run to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead in the first quarter and an eight-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski to make it 14-3 early in the second. After a 34-yard field goal from Shayne Graham, New England closed out the first half scoring with a 4-yard touchdown strike from Brady to Crumpler to make it 24-3.

The only time the offense really did stall was toward the end of the first half when the Patriots reached the Buffalo 16-yard line, but back-to-back drops from Wes Welker left New England with a 34-yard field goal from Graham to make it 17-3 with 3:57 left in the first half.

The New England defense has been soft against the run, but they have come away with some stout work in the red zone. On Buffalo’€™s first drive, the Bills were able to get down to the Patriots’€™ 8-yard line, but Buffalo was forced to settle for a field goal. Later in the first quarter with the Patriots holding a 7-3 lead, the Bills got to the New England 17, but the Patriots were able to force their first turnover of the afternoon when linebacker Gary Guyton sacked Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and forced a fumble. Jerod Mayo recovered the football, and New England would cash that in with its second TD of the afternoon to make it 14-3. The Patriots would come away with another turnover late in the first half when safety Patrick Chung picked off Fitzpatrick with just over two minutes left in the second quarter.

When it comes to the Patriots’€™ pass defense, New England has done an excellent job getting after Fitzpatrick. They got the strip sack from Guyton, a pair of absolutely devastating hits by inside linebacker Jerod Mayo on Buffalo’€™s Stevie Johnson and David Nelson, and the pick from Chung late in the second half.

Read More: Bills, halftime analysis, Patriots,
Bills list three on Friday injury report 12.24.10 at 3:54 pm ET
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The Bills only have three players listed on their Friday injury report:

Questionable
C Geoff Hangartner (knee) Limited Participation

Probable
T Demetrius Bell (knee) Full Participation
LB Chris Kelsay (knee) Full Participation

Read More: Bills, injury report,
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