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Free agent snapshot: Marvin Jones 02.20.16 at 11:55 am ET
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Marvin Jones (82) was a very productive receiver in Cincinnati. (David Kohl/USA Today Sports)

Marvin Jones (82) was a very productive receiver in Cincinnati. (David Kohl/USA Today Sports)

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 are not necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class –€“€” instead, they’€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started with Matt Forte, Anquan Boldin, Mohamed SanuAlshon Jeffery, Stevan Ridley, Danny Trevathan, Alfred Morris and Stefan Wisniewski.

Player: Marvin Jones

Position: Wide receiver

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 195 pounds

Age: 25 (turns 26, March 12)

The skinny: For three years, Jones has been the forgotten cog in Cincinnati’s passing attack behind the likes of A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham and Mohamed Sanu. But Jones has posted numbers that has him in position to be one of the top free agent receivers available. He established himself as a No. 2 receiver out of Cal behind Green that could get paid like a No. 1 this season for a team that is looking for a reliable red-zone target. Cincinnati will most certainly make a run at keeping their second-most valuable receiver but as Jones indicated to the NFL Network at the Super Bowl, he doesn’t plan on taking a discount to stay with a team that’s made the playoffs five straight years, only to lose in the first round each time. “I’d like to be back, but at the same time I am a free agent -€“ no hometown discount, definitely not -€“ but I’m a free agent. It wouldn’t be good for me not to test the waters a little bit. So it’s just an exciting process.”

By the numbers: Jones had the best year of his four-year career this past season in terms of catches (65) and yards (816). But he only had four touchdowns, as his red zone totals fell from 2013, when he had 10. Most of that is due to the fact that Tyler Eifert emerged as one of the best red zone targets in football this season and A.J. Green is still one of Andy Dalton‘s go-to guys inside the 20. Jones missed all of 2014 with an ankle injury.

Why it would work: As we pointed out with the likes of Alshon Jeffery and Mohamed Sanu, the Patriots are in need of a proven veteran downfield threat with speed, who can separate and get open, assuming Tom Brady has the time. Jones could definitely fit the bill in this case and he’s shown he can produce in an offense with a lot of talent around him. Certainly, the Patriots are like the Bengals in terms of their offensive weaponry and Jones has proven that he can share the wealth in a winning system.

Why it wouldn’€™€™t work: The Patriots decide they would rather give Brian Tyms, Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson or Brandon Gibson the chance to break loose and win the deep threat job in camp than to commit the likely $20 million it will take to sign Jones, who has been very public about his desire to test the free agent waters and see what’s out there. That’s usually language that gives the Patriots reason to pause on any serious offer.

Our take:  It’s been a mixed bag for the Patriots in free agency when it comes to adding wide receivers so signing Jones might seem to be a long-shot at first glance. Brandon LaFell has had his moments and certainly was productive in 2014 but fell off drastically this season when coming back from injury this year. Danny Amendola had his contract restructured last March but is arguably the second-most reliable receiver behind Julian Edelman on the team. If the Patriots are serious about adding quality depth to their receiving corps, Jones is someone who deserves a long, hard look by the Patriots, as he is one of the best available receivers on the market. He also might not command the kind of money an Alshon Jeffery is looking for on the open market.

Read More: 2016 Free Agent Snapshot, Cincinnati Bengals, Marvin Jones, New England Patriots
Free agent snapshot: Mohamed Sanu 02.14.16 at 11:59 am ET
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Mohamed Sanu (12) could be a free agent target of the Patriots. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

Mohamed Sanu (12) could be a free agent target of the Patriots. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

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 are not necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class –€” instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started with running back Matt Forte and Anquan Boldin. Now we move onto another receiver, Cincinnati’s Mohamed Sanu.

Player: Mohamed Sanu

Position: Receiver

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 210 pounds

Age: 26

The skinny: One of the more underrated, versatile and unique receivers in the game. He’s underrated because he’s been playing behind A.J. Green in the Bengals offense. He’s versatile because he can play on the outside or in the slot, and has for both Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson. And he’s unique because he’s got a live arm which he has shown on occasion, completing his first passing attempts of his career, including two for touchdowns.

By the numbers: Sanu is coming off a very down year, catching just 33 passes for 394 yards and no touchdowns while playing in all 16 regular season games. That’s down significantly (56, 790, 5) in 2014. His best game this past season was against the Chiefs, catching four passes for 84 yards, including a season-long 52-yarder. Over his four-year career, Sanu has 152 catches for 1,793 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Why it would work: Bill Belichick can’t get enough players who can do more than one thing and do them well. Against the Broncos on Monday night in December, he showed off his speed with a run around around left end for a touchdown. He is a reliable route-runner and productive receiver and can throw the ball accurately for someone who isn’t a quarterback. He really can do it all. On top of that, Sanu went to Belichick’s favorite NFL factory, Rutgers. There’s a lot of reasons to think Sanu would easily find a home in New England and be very productive in any offensive/return game role he were asked to perform. Belichick also likes players who aren’t the traditional player in a particular position because he can use them in game plans untraditionally, forcing opposing teams to alter their approach.

Why it wouldn’€™t work: Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Both already have extensive experience working with Tom Brady. Throw in Keshawn Martin, Brian Tyms, Brandon Gibson, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson, and that’s a lot of depth to beat out. Assuming he starts out behind Edelman and Amendola, Sanu would have to transform himself into more of a primary receiver or “Z” receiver, something he didn’t do a lot of in Cincinnati, where Green was the “X” and Marvin Jones the “Z” receiver. Edelman and Amendola already have the true slot and “Z” spots sewn up so if Sanu were to come to New England, he’d have to learn a new system and a new role. That’s a lot to ask for somebody who would be in his first season with Tom Brady.

Our take: As Belichick noted earlier in the 2015 season when talking about notable slot receivers, Sanu is a bit of a hybrid, at 6-foot-2, giving him a size advantage over many nickel and sub defensive backs. If Sanu doesn’t ask for huge dollars, there’s always the chance Belichick could be interested in adding a very valuable and versatile piece to the offense if Cincinnati cuts him loose.

Read More: 2016 NFL free agency, Cincinnati Bengals, Mohamed Sanu, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick on keeping cool: ‘We’ve talked to our team quite a bit about things like that’ 01.10.16 at 1:06 pm ET
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Vontaze Burfict (55) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

Vontaze Burfict (55) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

If Bill Belichick ever needed a game to remind his players of the absolute priority of keeping your cool and composure in a tense game, he got one Saturday night.

The vision of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones self-destructing on the field in the closing seconds of a playoff game will be etched in the minds of every fan, coach and player who thinks of a team choking in the playoffs.

Leading 16-15, Burfict made what appeared to be a game-ending interception over the middle of Steelers quarterback Landry Jones. Instead of flipping the ball to the official and heading to his sideline to celebrate the great play, Burfict made a bee-line to the Bengals entrance tunnel on the other end of the field with several teammates in tow in a bizarre episode that set the stage for what was to follow.

On the very next play, Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball when all the Bengals had to do was kill the clock with the lead. Then, in came the injured Ben Roethlisberger who directed the team to midfield. He threw high and out of the reach of Antonio Brown. Burfict came in from the side and drilled the defenseless receiver and was called for a 15-yard personal foul. Steelers coach Joey Porter came on to check on his player and engaged Pacman Jones, who obliged and got called for another 15-yard penalty. That’s 30 yards of personal foul penalty yards at the end of game.

The Steelers wasted no time, bringing on Chris Boswell to convert a game-winning 35-yard field goal.

“I didn’t see all the game [Saturday] night. But regardless, really our attention is all focused on Kansas City now. We’ve talked to our team quite a bit about things like that. It’s always important,” Belichick said in a conference call Sunday.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Bill Belichick, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots
Steelers shock Bengals, Chiefs will face Patriots next Saturday at 12:05 am ET
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Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports)

Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. (David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports)

It was quite simply one of the most stirring wins in the long playoff history of the Steelers and the most gut-wrenching loss in Bengals history.

Chris Boswell connected on a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to lift the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Cincinnati Bengals, 18-16, in a fight-marred game at Paul Brown Stadium. In the worst loss in Cincinnati sports history, running back Jeremy Hill was stripped of the ball as the Bengals were protecting a 16-15 lead after fighting back from a 15-0 hole. The Steelers, behind an injured Ben Roethlisberger drove down, and thanks to a pair of personal fouls from Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones, converted the game-winning field goal that sends them to Denver next week.

The Bengals lost Super Bowl XXIII to the 49ers with 34 seconds remaining but didn’t commit a key turnover and two 15-yard personal fouls on Joe Montana‘s final drive as they did Saturday night.

As a result, the Patriots will play the No. 5 seed Chiefs, 30-0 winners over the Texans, next Saturday at Gillette. The No. 6 Steelers advance to take on the No. 1 seed Broncos next Sunday in Denver.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis set a dubious mark Saturday night, becoming the first coach in NFL history to lose all seven of his playoff appearances as a head coach.

The ineptitude in Cincinnati is historic. The Bengals have lost eight straight games in the playoffs, dating back to their last win in Jan. 1991 over the Houston Oilers. They have made the playoffs in each of the last five years and lost in the opening round every time. Earlier in the day, the Chiefs ended their eight-game playoff losing streak dating back to Jan. 1994.

With the Steelers missing running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, backups Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman filled in. With the Steelers dominating the line of scrimmage and the Bengals offense completely ineffective behind AJ McCarron, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not called on to make big plays downfield.

Leading 6-0, the Steelers stripped McCarron on the first drive of the second half, leading to their third field goal of the game.

Then, Martavis Bryant caught an acrobatic pass in the corner of the end zone with five minutes remaining in the third quarter to make it 15-0. Bryant, who was called out by Roethlisberger on his radio show early in the week, pinned the ball against his hamstring and then flipped head over shoulders while holding onto the ball. But the Steelers missed a two-point conversion, keeping it a two-possession game.

A game that started with officials setting a “no-fly” zone at midfield in the pregame warmups, the two bitter rivals played it pretty close to the vest in the first half, with the exception of Steelers coach Mike Munchak getting called for unsportsmanlike conduct for grabbing the hair of Bengals safety Reggie Nelson on the sideline.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Adam Pacman Jones, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers
Devin McCourty: Pats ‘in good shape going forward’ if they work to eliminate ‘negative stuff’ 01.08.16 at 11:23 am ET
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Devin McCourty and the Patriots are using the bye week to bounce back from a 2-4 finish to the season. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Devin McCourty and the Patriots are using the bye week to bounce back from a 2-4 finish to the season. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

FOXBORO — The Patriots had plenty of time this week to do some soul searching.

Devin McCourty, as a leader of the team’s standout defense, said that’s exactly what he and the team did as they held walkthroughs and not full practices while four other AFC teams get ready for battle on Saturday.

“I feel like every year I’ve been here it’s been kind of different bye week as far as where the team is physically, where the team is mentally, what we need to do going forward,” McCourty said Thursday. “Honestly, as a player, it’s hard to even remember last year’s bye week. Once it [happens], it kind of blends in together. I’m excited for this bye week. I think as a team, and where we’re at right now, obviously a lot of negative stuff but I think inside this locker room, there’s some things we’ve got to work on and we’re in good shape going forward if we work on them.”

That negative stuff, of course, is the team’s 2-4 finish to the season after a 10-0 start. That’s the worst six-game stretch to end a season in the 16-year tenure of Bill Belichick in Foxboro. Most startling was the 20-10 loss to the Dolphins in the season finale in South Florida, a result no one saw coming. The Patriots secondary yielded six plays over 20 yards in the loss and Miami, not including a 29-yard run from Lamar Miller.

But that is in the past and McCourty made it clear that it’s all about moving forward, getting rest, watching the games this weekend and then getting ready for Jan. 16 at Gillette.

McCourty is certainly one of those who could use the extra week to heal, after returning last Sunday from a high ankle sprain suffered in the win over the Texans in Houston Dec. 13. How is he feeling?

“Probably as good as anyone feels this time of the year,” McCourty said. “I think like everybody, excited to be in this opportunity and just trying to take advantage of the bye week.”

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Cincinnati Bengals, Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
Potential Playoff Opponents: Bengals 01.06.16 at 10:54 pm ET
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Tyler Eifert could be as important to the Bengals as Rob Gronkowski is to the Patriots. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

Tyler Eifert could be as important to the Bengals as Rob Gronkowski is to the Patriots. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

With the playoff picture set, it’s time to size up the possible postseason opponents for the Patriots. We started with the Texans, moved onto the Chiefs. Now, it’s time to size up the Bengals.

The skinny: This is the moment Marvin Lewis and the Bengals have been waiting for. They are back in the playoffs for a franchise-best fifth straight season. They have won the AFC North for the fourth time since 2005. But as everyone knows by now, their story won’t really begin until they win a playoff game. They have lost seven straight playoff games, dating back to the game against the Raiders that ended Bo Jackson‘s career in Jan. 1991 in Los Angeles. Lewis has changed the culture from the 1990s but hasn’t produced a single postseason win in six tries. They lost both games with Carson Palmer as their quarterback (2005,’09). They have lost the last four with Andy Dalton at quarterback (2011-14). Now, thanks to Dalton attempting to tackle a 310-pound defensive lineman with his throwing shoulder and hand, AJ McCarron likely gets the shot on Saturday night against the arch-nemesis Steelers. The Bengals posted their best season in the 13-year tenure of Lewis, going 12-4. The previous two times they’ve won 12 games, they lost to San Francisco in the Super Bowl. This is clearly the deepest and most skilled Bengals team in the Lewis era, and arguably the most-balanced team in the AFC. They were a missed second-quarter Mike Nugent field goal away from beating the Broncos in Denver that would’ve given them the overall No. 1 seed. But as any Bengals fan knows, the little things hurt them in the end and now they must beat a Steelers team in Cincinnati. It would be sweet revenge against a team that tore Carson Palmer‘s ACL in a similar playoff meeting in Jan. 2006 and sidelined Dalton on Dec. 13.

Offense: On a team loaded with weapons in both the passing (A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert) and running (Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill) games, the offensive line is arguably the most important unit. They allowed just 32 sacks this season and kept Andy Dalton very clean during the team’s 8-0 start. The Bengals placed a priority late in the season on getting Hill going, as his numbers were down from his rookie season of 2014. After gaining 1,124 yards in his rookie year, he gained just 794 yards while carrying the rock nearly an identical number of times (222 in ’14, 223 this season). But the biggest difference in the offense this season is tight end Tyler Eifert. He sat out most of ’14 injured but this season, he was the favorite red zone target of Dalton and a huge reason why Dalton was getting MVP consideration midway through the season. He caught 13 touchdown passes, the most of any tight end in football (Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed tied with 11), despite missing two games with a concussion and another with a stinger.

Defense: The Bengals are led by an impact player at each level of the defense. On the defensive line, they have arguably the most disruptive and athletic defensive tackle in football in Geno Atkins. The sixth-year player out of Georgia finished with 11 sacks, tied with Aaron Donald (Rams) and Kawann Short (Panthers) as the most of any defensive tackle in football this season. He was recently diagnosed with sickle cell, a condition that limited his snaps in an overtime loss in Denver. Throw in fellow tackle Domata Peko and ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, and the Bengals can bring plenty of pressure without blitzing. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has refined his game and leads a very athletic and dynamic group of linebackers. Burfict is constantly around the ball and a fearsome tackler. The Bengals secondary has matured around the leadership of cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones. What might have once been thought laughable, Jones (3 interceptions) has helped lead younger corners like Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard (IR) along with veteran DB Leon Hall, who is now more of a slot corner. The safeties are big-time playmakers and ball hawks in George Iloka, Reggie Nelson (8 interceptions) and Shawn Williams.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, A.J. Green, AJ McCarron, Andy Dalton
‘It Is What It Is’ podcast: Bengals, Steelers, Chiefs, Texans, why Matt Patricia might just wind up staying put at 6:10 pm ET
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This week’€™s “It Is What It Is” podcast takes a look at what’€™s going on around the NFL this wild card weekend, namely will Mike Petraglia’€™s hometown Bengals and Marvin Lewis finally win a playoff game. Trags has some tips for Cincy as host Chris Price asks all the right questions. If the Bengals win, the Patriots and Cincy will meet on Jan. 16 at Gillette. If the Bengals bungle it up again, it’€™ll be the winner of the Chiefs and Texans. And how seriously will Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels be considered for open coaching jobs in Cleveland, Miami and New York.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Cincinnati Bengals, Josh McDaniels, matt patricia

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