|Free Agent Snapshot: C.J. Spiller||02.08.15 at 10:31 pm ET|
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. This is the first player to be featured in the series, which will continue over the coming days and weeks.
Position: Running back
Age: 27 (will turn 28 on Aug. 5)
Weight: 200 pounds
The skinny: Spiller has spent all five seasons of his NFL career in Buffalo after being selected No. 10 overall in the 2010 draft out of Clemson. The running back had been dependable — playing in at least 14 games in each of his first four seasons in the league — until a broken collarbone injury forced him to miss six games this past year. Missing those games cut back his numbers, as he finished the year with 78 carries for 300 yards and zero touchdowns. On the receiving end, he caught 19 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Besides running and catching passes out of the backfield, Spiller can return kicks as well, finishing the year with 306 yards on 10 returns and one touchdown.
When healthy, the Clemson product is a versatile back, as he’s demonstrated an ability to work effectively in the ground game as well as a pass catcher. His best season came in 2012 when he was named to the Pro Bowl, rushing for 1,244 yards and adding another 459 yards on 43 catches. Spiller wasn’t the only featured back during his time in Buffalo, as the team also had Fred Jackson, who for the past five seasons has had at least 437 yards rushing, and 215 yards receiving, including 934 yards rushing and 442 yards receiving in 2011. An issue for Spiller has been his ball security, as he has fumbled 14 times in his five-year career — at least two every season, and seven in the last two combined.
By the numbers: Between 2011-2013, Spiller had at least 561 rushing yards and 185 yards receiving in each of those three seasons, including 1,244 and 459 respectively in 2012.
Why it would work: With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen both set to become free agents, if New England doesn’t bring one or both of them back, Spiller could be a guy to replace both players, as he can match Ridley’s running ability and Vereen’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Clearly, Bill Belichick values versatility so Spiller’s game seemingly would be appealing to Belichick. In 10 career games against the Patriots, the running back has put up good numbers — 88 carries for 407 yards and 27 receptions for 207 yards — so Belichick has seen firsthand what Spiller can do.
Coming off a broken collarbone injury and playing in only nine games this past season, Spiller’s value isn’t as high as it once was, and Belichick has had a knack for going after players in a position like Spiller’s. His rookie deal was for five years and $25.7 million, and a starting point for his next contract seems in the three-year, $9-12 million range, at best. Also, running backs as a whole aren’t as valued as they once were, so getting a duel-threat running back at a good price, with the openings they could have at the position, could be appealing for New England.
|Bills offense has eased off gas pedal in 2014||10.08.14 at 6:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — One of the more interesting developments as it relates to the Buffalo offense over the course of the first five games is the fact that the Bills aren’t moving as fast as they were last season.
Using situation-neutral pace — a formula via Football Outsiders that eliminates second-half plays when one team is far ahead or behind to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the Bills have slowed their frantic pace from the previous season.
Last year, the Bills ran one play every 24.9 seconds, the third fastest of any team since 1997, trailing only the 2013 Eagles and the 2011 Patriots. But through five games in 2014, Buffalo is averaging one play every 27.3 seconds, which is 15th in the league.
There could be a variety of reasons behind the slowdown — situation, personnel, scheme — but as it stands right now, Bills coach Doug Marrone said the decision has “gone well,” and noted that they started making a move in that direction at the end of the 2013 season.
“We have the ability to go fast and slow,” Marrone said. “We just look at it from game-to-game and situations and when we want to speed it up and when we want to slow it down. We’re doing what we have to do to try to win.”
But on Wednesday, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller, who leads the Bills with 62 carries for 215 yards, sounded like a man who wouldn’t mind it if the team hit the gas pedal again sometime soon.
“It’s definitely been different,” Spiller said of the change of offensive pace from 2013 to 2014. “Obviously, we want to get back to what we want to do, speeding it up and getting our tempo. Obviously we also want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and executing at a high level, so hopefully, we will get back to that point. But who knows?”
|5 things you have to know about the Bills||12.27.13 at 9:59 am ET|
The Patriots host the Bills Sunday in the regular-season finale. Here are five things you have to know about the Bills (6-9), who are looking to end the season on an up note.
1. They have a scrappy defense, especially when it comes to stopping the pass.
The Bills are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to pass defense. Buffalo is fifth in the league against the pass, yielding an average of just 210.4 yards per game. It’s a complete team effort, as the Bills are getting good work from their front seven (Buffalo leads the league in sacks with 56, already a franchise record — Mario Williams has a team-high 13), as well as their secondary (four players have four picks: Kiko Alonso, Aaron Williams, Jairus Byrd and Jim Leonhard). Alonso has fast become a defensive centerpiece, as the rookie linebacker out of Oregon leads the team in defensive snaps through 15 games with 1,102, and is fourth in the league in tackles with 145.
2. They can run the ball but can’t really throw it with any consistency.
The Bills have one of the best running games in the league, averaging 145.2 rushing yards per game (second in the NFL). Buffalo is the only team in the league with at least two backs who have 800 yards or more through 15 games — Fred Jackson has 193 carries for 836 yards and eight touchdowns, while C.J. Spiller has 182 carries for 822 yards and two touchdowns. Ten of the last 11 teams have rushed for at least 100 yards against the Patriots, and it’s a safe bet that Buffalo will make it 11 of 12. (The Bills had 136 rushing yards against New England in Week 1.) Their problems come when they have to throw the ball — whether it’s EJ Manuel or Thad Lewis under center, they haven’t had much of any success when it comes to the passing game. The Bills average 191.9 passing yards per game, 29th in the league. Buffalo hasn’t had a single game in which it’s passed for more than 300 yards in a game, with its best outing coming in Week 2 when Manuel went 27-for-39 for 296 yards in a win over the Panthers. The Bills have just as many touchdowns as picks (15 of each), and as a team, they complete just 57 percent of their passes.
3. They do a really good job taking the ball away, but they also give it away frequently.
As previously stated, the Bills are good at forcing takeaways. They have four guys with four interceptions, and are second in the league with 22 picks. Overall, their 29 takeaways are tied with New England for second in the AFC. At the same time, they’re one of the league’s most turnover-prone teams, tied for eighth with 27, including nine in the last four games. Manuel has thrown nine interceptions, backup Lewis has three interceptions and two fumbles lost. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan (who leads all rookie corners with five picks, including two last weekend) and Aqib Talib (with four) could have some chances Sunday against the Bills.
4. As of Thursday night, no one was quite sure who was going to start at quarterback.
Last week, Bills coach Doug Marrone was he was “110 percent confident” that Manuel was going to be good to go against the Patriots, but as the days have passed, it’s become clearer that that percentage is taking a hit. Marrone hasn’t yet publicly announced a decision on a starter — of course, it could just be a bit of gamesmanship on the part of Marrone. But Manuel sat out this past Sunday’s game against the Dolphins because of a sprained left knee, while Lewis has four starts in relief of Manuel and has produced a 2-2 mark, including Sunday’s 19-0 win over Miami. For what it’s worth, Manuel was limited at Thursday’s practice, while Lewis was a full go but listed with a left shoulder issue.
5. They have a lot of fans in Cincinnati.
The Bengals are hoping the Bills can pull the upset on New England. A Buffalo win over the Patriots — combined with a Cincinnati win over the Ravens — would allow the Bengals to leapfrog past New England and into the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff chase.
|Fantasy Football: Week 15 starts, sits||12.06.13 at 12:35 pm ET|
Welcome to the Week 14 starts and sits! It’s playoff time and I’ve done my best to distill the talent pool for you. If your key player is not covered here, check out our full lineup rankings over at Rotobahn or participate in our Sunday morning chat, where I will answer all of your remaining lineup questions. Best of luck to all this week!
Josh McCown, Bears vs. Cowboys
He’s far better than most folks, including us, ever expected. He will get at least one more start, and that start comes at home vs. a struggling Dallas defense that has been giving up plenty of fantasy points. I know it’s tough starting a journeyman in the playoffs, but if you are jammed with an injury to a guy like Aaron Rodgers, McCown may be the bridge to Rodgers and an appearance in the semifinals next week. Do not be afraid to play McCown.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Dolphins
It’s not a great week for quarterbacks, but Big Ben should give you some solid production in a home matchup against a beatable opponent. The big game is a possibility, but it’s the solid floor that I find most appealing. He’s a good option in any league.
Rivers is a safe option this week. You beat the Giants by throwing the ball, so expect a few scores and solid yardage and perhaps a big game if New York can score enough points to push the San Diego offense for four quarters. Rivers has had some mediocre games but no killers. He should come in somewhere between 16-30 points this week in standard scoring.
Alex Smith, Chiefs at Redskins
He’s been better for fantasy than I ever thought he’d be. It’s pretty amazing when you consider how poor Kansas City’s downfield passing game is. Smith makes plays every week with his feet and his arm, and his receivers get yards after the catch, especially Jamaal Charles. Smith can start for you this week if you need him, and he’ll most likely fare well against a soft Redskins defense.
Curse the schedule-maker! Is there anything worse than having your QB1 playing at San Francisco during wild card week? Here’s the skinny on Wilson: You can play him, but you should also consider other options. Based on what we saw last week when St. Louis played San Francisco, he has a chance, because Kellen Clemens missed a lot of throws — throws that Wilson will not miss. So Wilson can be played, just be realistic with your expectations. If he gets you 20 points in standard leagues, you did well.
|Bill Belichick on EJ Manuel: ‘We have to be ready for everybody’||09.04.13 at 5:27 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Doug Marrone may have confirmed Wednesday that rookie quarterback EJ Manuel will get the start over Jeff Tuel for the Bills Sunday against the Patriots but that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick is taking anything for granted.
“We have to be ready for everybody,” Belichick said Wednesday during his press conference. “We all know that could change in one play so we have to be ready for all the guys on the active roster.”
What are Belichick’s impressions of the rookie out of Florida State?
“An athletic guy,” Belichick said of the signal-caller some draft experts had as the most talented quarterback out of college. “He hasn’t played a lot; he played against Indianapolis. Good arm, good athlete and a very productive player in college.”
Manuel was 26-of-33 for 199 yards and two touchdowns in two preseason games.
Belichick dismissed the advantage his defense has going up against a first-year quarterback.
“We’re playing against some individual players but we’re playing against an entire team too and their scheme and what they do,” Belichick said. “We have to have an awareness of the players that are in there but we have to defend the scheme that they run against us and we have to carry out our responsibilities. It’s kind of a combination of those things. We’ll be aware of the skills that Manuel has, that Tuel has, that Spiller has, that [Fred] Jackson has, that [Tashard] Choice has, whoever they are in there, we’re going to have to be ready for all of them. We still have to play our defense and maybe we have a little bit better awareness specifically of one player over another and we should. We still have to play our defense, still have to play football.
And then there’s Stevie Johnson, the wideout who said this week that New England doesn’t have anyone who can cover him, including Patrick Chung, now of the Philadelphia Eagles. Does that make Belichick laugh?
“We can’t really worry about what they’re doing,” Belichick said. “We’re just trying to get ready to go. We’ll try to be ready on Sunday. That’s what we’re going to do.”
As for what Johnson brings to the Bills’ offense?
“He’s an explosive player,” Belichick said, staying on the high road. “He’s got great quickness, catching skills, good route runner. He’s a hard guy to cover.”
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: ‘We’ll be prepared and be ready to roll’ against Bills||09.03.13 at 12:49 pm ET|
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.”
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.”
|Preseason fantasy football rankings: Running backs||08.19.13 at 1:26 pm ET|
Today we take a look at the top 50 backs for fantasy football purposes with write-ups for the top 24 — the backs that start in 12-team formats. If you are looking for even more information, join us at Rotobahn.com, where we break them all down and update content every day. I will be back Tuesday with a look at the receivers, so check back with us for that. You can find my take on the quarterbacks here and the tight ends here. If you are looking for some sleepers, check out my article at Rotobahn that I’ll be posting later today. If you need any clarification regarding these rankings, feel free to tweet a question to @rotobahn with the hashtag #FantasyWEEI. Finally, listen to our running back rankings podcast.
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
AP is all by himself. He should be the first man taken in any league. He’s the best at his position by a large margin and his team is improving around him. And oh yeah … he’s healthy this year with no injuries to rehab. Take this guy if you can and do it with confidence.
Our No. 2 was a Rotobahn favorite as a rookie in 2012. We expect more of the same this year behind an improved offensive line. Martin is the total package with a perfect build for the position. His offensive line will be healthy this year, so his arrow is pointing decidedly up. Is it reasonable to take Foster or perhaps Jamaal Charles or C.J. Spiller? Sure, but we’d take Martin because we love his combo of high-end talent, health and situation. There are no backs on his roster that will dig into his fantasy value.
3. C.J. Spiller, Bills
Spiller is perhaps the most exciting back in the league and he is primed for his best year to date in new coach Doug Marrone‘s offense. Spiller is diverse. While some backs get taken out of the game plan when their team falls behind, Spiller will still be involved … heavily. While some folks are worried about touch totals, we are not. Spiller is not a volume back. Twenty touches is more than enough for him to dominate a game, and he should get that on most weeks. Fred Jackson can still play and he will play, but Spiller is as dynamic as any ball-carrier in the world. The new coaching staff appreciates the need to use that advantage, and Spiller is now fully developed. He’s ready to explode, folks, and he is our third back and is worth even more in PPR formats.
4. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
He’s now a season removed from his ACL injury. He’s also in a new offense that we project to help his stats. Charles should be a more consistent threat with Andy Reid in charge and with Alex Smith under center. He had some minor issues with soreness last year, so there is still room for improvement with the knee. If that happens, and JC is less limited, he could really break out. He’s a great way to start your team in any format and is arguably as good as anybody once AP is off the board. A career year in 2013 or 2014 is very likely as long as he holds up health-wise. Charles has increased value in PPR formats.