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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Super Bowl LI 02.04.17 at 3:55 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will be going for their fifth ring together on Sunday. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will be going for their fifth ring together on Sunday. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON — Here’s everything you need to know about Super Bowl LI between the Patriots and Falcons:

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

The Patriots have been able to get good, consistent and (mostly) steady yardage out of their backs all season long, finishing the regular season with an average of 117 yards per game, seventh in the NFL. Leading the way has been LeGarettte Blount, who had career highs in carries (299), yards (1,161) and touchdowns (18). New England figures to mix in a healthy dose of Dion Lewis (64 carries, 283 yards in seven games) as a changeup presence between the tackles. His make-you-miss ability combined with Atlanta’s occasionally dicey work against smaller backs could mean he’ll get more work that initially anticipated as a runner. As has been the case all season long with Blount, it’s not how many yards he gets; it’s when he gets them. No one is better at closing out games than he is — his work in the second half is a sizable reason why the Patriots ranked fifth during the regular season in time of possession (31:13). If he is able to top 60 rushing yards in the second half, this game won’t even be a contest. When it comes to defending the run, Atlanta was 17th in the league this year, having allowed 104.5 rushing yards per game. Some of the stats have to be placed in context because of game situations and whatnot (there were lots of leads in those games, and they would willingly yield yards on the ground and time at the expense of a big pass play). But in their last nine games (including the playoffs), opponents have topped 95 yards on the ground in eight of them.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

This season, Atlanta hasn’t faced a combination in the passing game like New England. Tom Brady (67 percent completion rate, 3.554 passing yards, 28 TDs, 2 INTs, 112.2 passer rating) and the Patriots are able to get production out of multiple areas, with wide receivers Julian Edelman (98 catches, 159 targets, 1,106 yards, 3 TDs) and Chris Hogan (38 catches, 58 targets, 680 yards, 4 TDs), running backs James White (60 catches, 86 targets, 551 yards, 5 TDs) and Dion Lewis (17 catches, 24 targets, 94 yards) and tight end Martellus Bennett (55 catches, 73 targets, 701 yards, 7 TDs).

The key here? The Falcons have shown some zone over the course of the year, but they’ll need to play sturdy man coverage against the Patriots. Brady practically salivates at the idea of an occasionally vulnerable 3-deep zone like Atlanta has shown at times this year. The real backbreaker here will be in the White/Lewis combo out of the backfield. The Atlanta is one of the worst teams in the league (26th per Football Outsiders) at defending backs in the passing game. Expect New England to lean heavily on that grouping in the passing game. It’s no coincidence that the Patriots were able to get so much production out of their running back spot in their last game against a Dan Quinn-defense; Shane Vereen set a Super Bowl record with 11 catches two years ago against the Seahawks. Considering what happened down the stretch and into the playoffs, while White will almost certainly get some looks, it’s Lewis who has shown a masterful ability to do multiple things. Bottom line? He’ll get plenty of touches.

One more note that will spell doom for the Falcons: The ability of the New England pass catchers to gain yards after the catch. The Patriots were third in the year at YAC this past season as a team (White and Bennett were both in the league’s top 20), while the Falcons allowed a league-high average of 132.9 yards after the catch per game, an odd stat for a defense with so much speed. If Atlanta can’t find a way to limit the passing YAC ability, it’ll be a long night.

The Falcons pass rush has been better as of late, but the group has to figure out a way to get some sustained pressure on Brady. Do you move around some of your best rushers, like Houston did? Or do you stay static and play to your strengths and hope you’ve prepared to a point where you can out-execute the other side? If Atlanta moves some guys around, rookie Deion Jones is a candidate to try and be that guy who brings some heat up the middle. A dynamic young talent who is capable of blitzing or working in coverage, he’s an X factor for the group. If the Falcons play it straight up, Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks in 2016) will be lining up opposite Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon. Per PFF, Cannon hasn’t yielded a sack since September. That strength-against-strength matchup will go a long way toward determining the overall success of the New England passing game on Sunday night.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dan Quinn, Devin McCourty, Devonta Freeman
Scouting Report: What you need to know about Steelers-Patriots 01.21.17 at 4:37 pm ET
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Julian Edelman has had 20 catches on 22 targets the last two games the Patriots have met the Steelers. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Julian Edelman has had 20 catches on 22 targets the last two games the Patriots have met the Steelers. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Here’s everything you need to know for Sunday’s AFC title game between the Patriots and Steelers in Foxboro.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

It appears that LeGarrette Blount (299 carries 1,161 yards, a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns) is over whatever illness that dogged him last week. When he spoke with us earlier in the week, he appeared to be in a bit of a Nyquil-induced haze, but you should still expect him to get the bulk of the between-the-tackles carries this time around against the Steelers. The Pittsburgh run defense has been spotty over the course of the 2016 season, having allowed an average of 100 rushing yards per game (13th in the league). That includes 24 carries for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns from Blount in the September showdown between the two teams. (That was a season-high in terms of yardage for the veteran back.) The wild card here is Dion Lewis, who has seen a steady increase in his rushing workload down the stretch and into the postseason; he’s averaged 15 carries and 59 yards over the last three games of the regular season and first one of the postseason. The Joe Morris clone, who didn’t play in the first game between these two teams earlier in the year, could provide a nice changeup option for the Patriots against a Pittsburgh defense geared to stop the hammer strength of someone like Blount.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

This is the biggest advantage that the Patriots have. While the Steelers’ front seven has made great strides over the second half of the season, the back end of the Pittsburgh defense is vulnerable and exploitable by the likes of Tom Brady (67 percent completion rate, 3,554 passing yards, 28 TDs, 2 INTs in 12 regular-season games). We’ll have more of Brady’s recent run against Mike Tomlin-defenses, but this time around, look for Brady to zero in on the usual suspects. Julian Edelman (98 catches, 159 targets, 1,106 yards, 3 TDs) has 20 catches on 22 targets in the last two Patriots-Steelers game, basically taking what Pittsburgh’s zone defenses offer up. Also look for Martellus Bennett (55 catches, 73 targets, 701 yards, 7 TDs) to get some action, despite the fact that he’s a bit hobbled at this point.

The Steelers’ pass defense splits are really astounding — according to this chart from Football Outsiders, Pittsburgh is the worst team in the league at slowing opposing No. 1 receivers, but one of the best when it comes to No. 2 and other receivers. Basically, Edelman should be in for a massive day. The other area worth watching? Lewis and James White. The two backs will be essential to the Patriots’ passing attack, as the Steelers have also had trouble against pass-catching running backs and White and Lewis (77 catches in the regular season) are two of the best in the league. The Steelers were 16th in the league in pass defense this past season, allowing an average of 243 yards per game through the air.

Look for Pittsburgh to continue to pressure Brady from any and all spots. They could try and get some push up the middle (more on that in a second), and with that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see what they try and do with someone like Bud Dupree. Regardless, the Steelers have done a good job this year keeping quarterbacks on their toes. No team had more sacks in the second half of the season than the Steelers, who recorded 30 in the final nine games of the regular season. James Harrison (5 sacks), Dupree (4.5 sacks) and Stephon Tuitt (4 sacks) lead the team. In addition, Ryan Shazier and Artie Burns have three interceptions each, best on the team, and Pittsburgh’s 23 takeaways were tied with New England for 14th in the league.

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Read More: Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Bud Dupree
The Undefeated: Dion Lewis says he’s not only reason Patriots are 15-0 since start of last season with him in the lineup 01.18.17 at 3:56 pm ET
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Dion Lewis is unbeaten in a New England uniform. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Dion Lewis is unbeaten in a New England uniform. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Dion Lewis cares not for your ridiculous individual stats.

Informed on Wednesday that the Patriots are 15-0 with him in the lineup since the start of the 2015 season, he took a pass when it came to taking credit for the unblemished mark.

“We have a lot of great players so I’m not the only reason that’s like that. It just happens to be that way,” Lewis said before practice. “We’ve got a great team, great coaches and everybody works hard. So it’s not because of me.”

Last year, suffered a serious knee injury in the seventh game of the season, but played a sizable role in helping New England win all seven of those games to start the year. He came back in late November, and was in the lineup for the last seven games of the regular season, as well as the first postseason contest of the year, all of them victories.

Lewis also went out of his way to share the credit with the rest of the backfield.

“Our backfield is very talented,” Lewis said of the group that includes LeGarrette Blount, James White and Brandon Bolden. “Everybody brings something different, so having other guys that can come in and give different matchup problems for a defense, it just gives the defense a lot of extra stuff to worry about.”

“The size of his heart, his will to win. His will to continue to fight, despite the obstacles in front of him, is unmatched,” Blount said of his teammate, who had three touchdowns in the victory over the Texans. “He does a lot of things well for us. He does everything we ask him to do, with no questions asked. And he does everything he has to do to make sure he puts himself in the best position to take full advantage of the opportunities he gets.”

Read More: Dion Lewis, James White, LeGarrette Blount,
LeGarrette Blount feeling ‘good’ heading into AFC championship game against Steelers at 1:36 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount appears to be feeling better this week than he did last week. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

LeGarrette Blount appears to be feeling better this week than he did last week. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — LeGarrette Blount sounded an optimistic note about his health before practice on Wednesday.

After spending much of the week leading up to the divisional playoff win on the injury report with what was described as an illness, the veteran back saw a decrease in his usual workload Saturday against Houston with just eight carries for 31 yards. (It was a stark contrast to what he did earlier in the year against the Texans, when he had 24 carries for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns.)

But when he met the media on Wednesday afternoon, Blount sounded an upbeat note.

“I’m good,” he said before practice on Wednesday. “I’m good.”

Bell wasn’t in much of a mood to talk about his own health, but opened up on his feelings about teammate Dion Lewis and old pal Le’Veon Bell.

“He’s a very dynamic player. Obviously, really hard to tackle in space,” Blount said of Lewis. “He’s been playing tremendous for us.

“The size of his heart, his will to win. His will to continue to fight, despite the obstacles in front of him, is unmatched,” Blount added of his teammate, who had three touchdowns in the victory over the Texans. “He does a lot of things well for us. He does everything we ask him to do, with no questions asked. And he does everything he has to do to make sure he puts himself in the best position to take full advantage of the opportunities he gets.”

Blount and Bell are good friends, and the two were briefly teammates together in Pittsburgh. Blount marveled at Bell’s patient running style, saying that he’s “never seen anyone” run like Bell.

“I’ve never seen anyone do that, to be honest, and be as effective with it as he is,” Blount said. “It’s just something that he does. It’s his style. That’s all I can really say about it.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Dion Lewis, Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount,
Dion Lewis hard on himself after 3 touchdown game vs. Texans: ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do’ 01.15.17 at 2:18 am ET
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Dion Lewis was hard on himself despite his three touchdowns. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Dion Lewis was hard on himself despite his three touchdowns. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Dion Lewis had a game for the ages Saturday against the Texans.

The running back became the first first player in NFL postseason history to have a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and kickoff return for a touchdown in a single game. Lewis also became fifth Patriots player to score at least three touchdowns in a postseason game in their history.

He scored on a 13-yard reception in the first quarter, returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and added a 1-yard touchdown run in the final stanza to lead the Patriots to a 34-16 win.

What stood out more to Lewis was fumbling on a kickoff, which allowed the Texans to score and make it a 14-13 game with just under 11 minutes to play in the first half.

“I did OK,” Lewis said. “There are some things I could do a lot better on – protect the ball [because] I put my team in jeopardy. I’ve got to work on that this week.”

Added Lewis: “It’s nice, but I’m just disappointed because I put my team in jeopardy, so I’ve got a lot of work to do and that’s what most of my focus is going to most be on.”

He finished with 41 yards rushing and 23 yards receiving to go along with the three touchdowns.

The Patriots are now 15-0 when Lewis is in the lineup for them. Lewis and the rest of the Patriots will play in the AFC championship next Sunday for the sixth straight season.

“It’s a great feeling,” Lewis said. “Nothing is guaranteed in this game, everybody knows that so to go to the playoffs and get a win is exciting. We’ll enjoy this the next couple of days and once we figure out who we’re going to play, we know we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

For more on Lewis, check out Mike Petraglia’s column on how important Lewis is to the team.

Read More: Dion Lewis,
Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable recap historic night as Patriots clinch 6th straight AFC title appearance, Vince Wilfork’s last game at 12:52 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots, thanks to Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman, made some NFL playoff history Saturday night in what will likely be Vince Wilfork’s final game in the NFL. The Patriots advance to their 6th straight AFC championship with a 34-16 win over the Texans. Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable have the details inside Gillette Stadium.

Read More: Dion Lewis, houston texans, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots
Scouting Report: What you have to know about Texans-Patriots 01.13.17 at 3:01 pm ET
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Tom Brady will make the 32nd postseason start of his career Saturday against Houston. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Tom Brady will make the 32nd postseason start of his career Saturday against Houston. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Everything you need to know for Saturday’s divisional playoff contest between the Patriots and Texans at Gillette Stadium.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

This may not be a big component of the game in the early going, but it will be before things are all said and done. LeGarrette Blount (299 carries, 1,161 rushing yards, a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns) was able to run for big yardage when these two teams met back in September (24 carries, 105 yards, 2 TDs), and while it’s dicey to try and compare these two teams now to what happened a few months ago, stats tell us that the Texans are still vulnerable when it comes to rush defense; they finished the year 12th in the NFL against the run, yielding an average of 99.7 rushing yards per game. One thing with Blount, as we saw in September? There are few guys in the league better when it comes to executing in a four-minute offense. In the second half of that win over Houston, he had 17 carries for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It’s not so much Blount’s total yards that matter, but when he gets them. One other guy worth watching will be Dion Lewis (64 carries, 283 yards), who got a significant uptick in reps between the tackles over the last month of the season as a changeup offering to the wrecking-ball approach of Blount.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

If they’re all healthy, we’re an advocate for the idea of dressing all five receivers and giving New England the sort of depth in the passing game that they haven’t had in a playoff game in a long time. Basically, give Tom Brady (67 percent completion rate, 3,554 passing yards, 28 TDs, 2 INTs) as many options as possible when it comes to the quick hitters; you get the ball out as fast as possible, it minimizes the chances of the Houston pass rush getting after the quarterback. Expect the bulk of the targets to go to Julian Edelman (98 catches, 159 targets, 1,106 yards, 3 TDs), who has been as rock solid as they come over the second half of the season. Martellus Bennett (55 catches, 73 targets, 701 yards, 7 TDs) and Chris Hogan (38 catches, 58 targets, 680 yards, 4 TDs) will also figure into the mix.

Over the course of the season, the Texans were second against the pass (201.6 yards allowed per game), while their 17 takeaways were tied for 26th in the league. Safety Quentin Demps, who has been dogged by a hamstring issue, leads Houston with six interceptions. Per Football Outsiders, the Texans aren’t great at slowing backs in the passing game, which means there could be more chances for Lewis (17 catches) and James White (60 catches) on Saturday. Meanwhile, Whitney Mercilus (7.5 sacks), Jadaveon Clowney (6 sacks) and Benardrick McKinney (5 sacks) lead one of the better pass rush groups in the league. Look for lots of heavy sets with an extra blocker (Cam Fleming) when it comes to helping the tackles keep Brady as clean as possible. For what it’s worth, Brady has gone up against a Romeo Crennel-led defense on three occasions, and has averaged 20-for-32 (63 percent) for 242 yards, just over two touchdowns, no interceptions and two sacks per game.

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Read More: A.J. Bouye, Brock Osweiler, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola
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