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How have Patriots played it in past when they’ve wrapped up top seed before last week of regular season? 12.23.14 at 1:02 am ET
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With the top seed in the AFC now locked up, how will Bill Belichick and Tom Brady play it this weekend against the Bills? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the top seed in the AFC now locked up, how will Bill Belichick and Tom Brady play it this weekend against the Bills? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the Patriots’ win over the Jets on Sunday and the Broncos’ loss to the Bengals Monday night, New England clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs for the fifth time under head coach Bill Belichick. Previously, they held the top spot in the conference entering the playoffs in 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

However, this year will mark the first time since 2010 where New England will have wrapped everything up before the last week of the regular-season. How have Belichick and the Patriots utilized their personnel in years’€™ past when they’€™ve been locked into the top spot entering the last week? With the understanding that every year is different and playing time will be dictated by a variety of things, history says the starters will likely get the call early, but expect the Patriots to give backups and other youngsters some time as well as the afternoon continues. Here’€™s a year-by-year look at what has happened.

— In 2011, the Patriots clinched the No. 1 seed in the regular-season finale with a 41-23 win over the Bills.

— In 2010, the Patriots clinched in Week 16 with a 34-3 win over the Bills in Buffalo on Dec. 26. In the regular-season finale the following week against the Dolphins in Foxboro, New England started the regulars, but yanked many after about a half. Quarterback Tom Brady actually left the game briefly in the second quarter for Brian Hoyer, but Brady was re-inserted after a few plays. Ultimately, Brady gave way to Hoyer for good with 10:15 left in the third quarter and the Patriots holding a 31-0 lead. New England ended up winning in a runaway, 38-7, as Brady went 10-for-16 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, while Hoyer ended up 7-for-13 for 122 yards and a touchdown.

One thing that certainly stood out about that game was the fact that the Patriots were really trying to help BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season. Green-Ellis ended up hitting the plateau in the second half (he ended with 1,008 yards), and was removed from the game after reaching the mark. That’€™s certainly something that could come into play for a variety of starters on Sunday who might be nearing personal records or other meaningful statistical milestones.

— In 2007, New England clinched home field earlier than ever under Belichick with a 20-10 win over the Jets in a cold, wet rain at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 23. However, the Patriots kept their foot on the gas for the duration of the regular-season, as they were chasing a 16-0 record. Accordingly, New England played its€™ regulars for the bulk of the last two regular-season contests, wins over the Dolphins (28-7 at home) and Giants (38-35 in North Jersey).

— In 2003, New England clinched home-field advantage with a 31-0 win over the Bills in the regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick, Brian Hoyer, Tom Brady
Fantasy Football: Week 13 starts, sits 11.28.14 at 10:14 am ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdr

Welcome to the Week 13 starts and sits! I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, and I really hope that none of you started Tony Romo. It’s money time for a lot of us, and I have some suggestions below as I always do. Full Week 13 lineup rankings have been posted at Rotobahn. So, if you want my take on players not listed here, check them out.

Don’t forget to tune in Sunday morning for another episode of the Fantasy Football Hour with my co-host Jim Hackett. If you have last-minute lineup concerns, you should check out my Sunday chat. It takes place right here at WEEI.com and it runs from 11 a.m. to noon every Sunday.

If you want to keep track of all my fantasy football content, both here and at Rotobahn, follow me on Twitter. I send out links to all fresh content.

QUARTERBACK

Start

Eli Manning, Giants at Jaguars

This is not a hard call. The Giants may be out of it, but they still are trying to get their new offense perfected, and the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. has breathed some life into things. I expect starting-caliber numbers from Manning in Week 13.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins at Jets

I still have some trust issues with Tannehill, but he has a lot going for him in this game. The Jets defense may not be awful, but you clearly throw to beat them. That will help Tannehill, as will his improved cast of receivers, led by rookie Jarvis Landry, who has given him the go-to option he’s lacked since taking over the job back in 2012. The Jets also will be susceptible to deep threat Mike Wallace, as they have issues on the back end. I see fantasy success for Tannehill on Monday night.

Zach Mettenberger, Titans at Texans

He’s not an option to consider for most of you. Having said that, if you need help in a deep format, Mettenberger has proven worthy of consideration. He’s an interesting case in that his college skill talent was better than his NFL skill talent. The rookie played at LSU and his outside weapons were Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. He also had Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue in his backfield. Not bad, right? The plus in this is that Mettenberger has a natural inclination to trust his receivers, and that’s probably rooted in playing with Beckham and Landry — who both make ridiculous catches with stunning regularity. The point of my long-winded explanation is that Mettenberger has a weapon in Justin Hunter, and the key to unlocking him is trust, because he’s a receiver who is never really covered due to his size advantage and leaping ability. This is a quarterback-receiver relationship that could go either way over the long haul, but if things click, they could click in a major way. This is a connection to watch over the rest of 2014, and Mettenberger is a player to consider in 14-team leagues.

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Read More: Brian Hoyer, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Zach Mettenberger
Tom Brady sends good wishes to former backups Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer via Facebook 11.13.14 at 1:48 pm ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady gave a Throwback Thursday shoutout to two of his former backups — Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer — who are slated to meet this weekend when the Texans face the Browns.

Read More: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady,
Tom Brady thinks Brian Hoyer against Ryan Mallett is ‘pretty cool’ 11.12.14 at 11:20 am ET
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Ryan Mallett will be running the show for the Texans this Sunday in Cleveland. (Getty Images)

Ryan Mallett will be running the show for the Texans this Sunday in Cleveland. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Tom Brady can’t wait to see his last two back-ups square off against each other.

Brian Hoyer will lead his 6-3 Cleveland Browns into battle against the 4-5 Houston Texans Sunday in Cleveland. The Texans starting quarterback will be Ryan Mallett, getting his first career NFL start.

Hoyer has his team all alone in first place in the AFC North while head coach Bill O’Brien decided to make a change, giving Mallett the chance after Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled heading into last week’s bye.

“It’s pretty cool,” Brady said. “It speaks to their work ethic and I think what they’ve been able to accomplish. They’ve both overcome quite a bit in their career, so it will be fun to see. We play at 8 o’clock, so I’m sure a lot of guys from our team will be paying attention.”

Of course, Brady will have some extra time to pay attention Sunday afternoon if he’s not napping. The Browns and Texans play at 1 p.m. in Cleveland while the Patriots don’t kick off in Indianapolis until 8:30 p.m.

Brady has already faced another former back-up this season head-to-head, when the Patriots beat Matt Cassel and the Vikings, 30-7, in Week 2.

Read More: Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns, houston texans, Matt Cassel
Bill Belichick on Tom Brady Backup Bowl: ‘Lot of respect’ for Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer at 6:30 am ET
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Former Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett will get his first professional start this weekend against another ex-New England signal-caller in Brian Hoyer. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Former Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett will get his first professional start this weekend against another ex-New England signal-caller in Brian Hoyer. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — This weekend marks the Tom Brady Backup Bowl, a contest that will feature Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer going up against Houston’s Ryan Mallett in a duel of former New England second-string quarterbacks.

Mallett will be making his first career start after taking over the No. 1 job with the Texans. Meanwhile, Hoyer has led the Browns to a 6-3 start, completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,212 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“Both those guys worked really hard here,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “They both did a good job for us. I have a lot of respect for both of them and a personal liking for both guys. We wish them well.”

On the topic of ex-New Englanders, Belichick was also quizzed earlier in the week about two former Patriots who have found a home with the Colts in safety Sergio Brown and cornerback Darius Butler.

‘€œWell, I’€™d say Darius has been in pretty much the same role that he was in last year as a nickel back [with Greg] Toler and [Vontae] Davis usually outside and Butler usually in the slot,” Belichick said of the 28-year-old Butler, who was a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2009 before joining Indy in 2012.

As for Brown, he was an undrafted free agent who spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons with New England before joining the Colts.

“Sergio’€™s had a big role in the kicking game,” Belichick said, “and then when [Laron] Landry was out the last four or five weeks then he had a lot of playing time at safety on defense and has been a little bit less involved in the kicking game.

“He’€™s been in those two roles. It looks like they’€™re kind of independent of each other, so the more involved he is on defense, the less in the kicking game; the less on defense, the more in the kicking game. He’€™s done both.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brian Hoyer, Darius Butler, Ryan Mallett
Rodney Harrison on D&C: Bengals ‘just pathetic’ after latest embarrassment 11.07.14 at 10:12 am ET
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NBC NFL analyst Rodney Harrison joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday to discuss Thursday night’s Bengals-Browns game and the state of the Patriots as the team goes into its bye week. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The Bengals, playing at home against their AFC North rival, struggled all night during a 24-3 loss. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed just 10 passes for 86 yards and threw three interceptions. It was the fifth-worst statistical game for a quarterback since 1960.

Said Harrison: “First of all, if I was a member of that organization, I don’t know if I would’ve went on a limb and paid [Dalton] just based off of everything that’s happening in prime-time games as well as in the playoffs. But everyone acts like it’s a surprise of what’s going on with Andy Dalton and inconsistent play. Marvin Lewis, he has to take a big responsibility, but that’s something we can talk about later. But Andy Dalton, just his performances, the inconsistencies, and we’ve seen it from this team this entire year from the Patriots and the Bears and from the Indianapolis Colts shutting them out. From the tie with Carolina to last night, it’s just pathetic.”

Continued Harrison: “You look at Marvin Lewis, and I see this team last week, he was smiling, he was enjoying the victory. But they’ve been so inconsistent, and part of that is the lack of preparation with the players.”

While the Bengals battle their own problems, the Browns have moved to 6-3 and into a first-place tie in the AFC North.

“I don’t believe in the Browns like a lot of people,” Harrison said. “It’s easy to look at a team’s record and jump on the bandwagon. Just last week, or was it the week before, where they lost to Jacksonville, then everybody kind of jumped off the Browns. Then all of a sudden they’re back. Cincinnati, it’s one of those teams that’s hot and cold. I just don’t believe in the Browns right now. I like what they’re doing, I think Mike Pettine, I mean, he’s probably on pace to be Coach of the Year, not Bruce Arians. But I look at that team still far, far away now.”

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Read More: Andy Dalton, Brian Hoyer, Rodney Harrison, Tom Brady
Brady Backup Bowl? Ryan Mallett set to face Brian Hoyer next weekend 11.05.14 at 3:22 pm ET
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If everyone stays healthy, it’ll be a reunion of former Tom Brady backups next weekend, as Ryan Mallett — who was named the new starter for the Texans on Wednesday — will lead Houston against the Browns, who are quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer.

The 26-year-old Mallett, who spent three years with the Patriots, takes over for a struggling Ryan Fitzpatrick. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien praised Mallett on Wednesday, saying he’s improved across the board since he arrived in Houston in a trade with the Patriots in September.

“Watching Ryan in practice every day, I believe it’s gotten better and better,” O’Brien told Houston reporters on Wednesday. “His huddle command, his knowledge of the offense, he’s been in this system for four years. … I think he’s made a lot of progress whereas he’s never played in a game or hasn’t had many reps in a game. We’re going to give him his shot to play.”

“It sure didn’t seem like it, I’ll tell you that,” the 26-year-old Mallett said when asked if he ever thought he’d get this chance. “I’ll tell you that. It’s been four years. It didn’t seem like it … I was starting to question if I’ll ever get a shot. Well now I’ve got a shot. We’ll see what I do with it.”

Hoyer has been at the controls of a Cleveland team that has a 5-3 mark at the midway point of the season. The 29-year-old, who was cut loose prior to the start of the 2011 season — ostensibly for Mallett, who took over as the No. 2 quarterback in New England — has completed 58 percent of his passes this year, to go along with 2,014 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Read More: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady,
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