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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Patriots move up to No. 4 11.27.12 at 9:39 am ET
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The bye weeks are over and now every team in the NFL has played the same number of games. If we’ve learned anything through the first three months of the current season, it’s that there are a lot of mediocre and below-average teams. There are six teams with a 4-7 record, five with a 6-5 record, and four with a 5-6 record. The Steelers (10) are practically begging to be dropped out of the top 10, but no one is worthy to rise into that elite group.

The Texans (1), Falcons (2) and Niners (3) have maintained stability at the top. At a combined 28-4-1, those three teams continue to roll. Inching closer and closer are the red-hot Patriots. They jump up one spot for the second straight week and sit at No. 4. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers get sacked out of the top five and drop to No. 8.

Week 13′s Monday night matchup should be a much more enjoyable game to watch than last night’s painful display of two equally uninspiring 3-8 teams — the Panthers (27) and Eagles (28). The Giants (7) take on RG3 and the Redskins (15) in an NFC East showdown.

Click here to listen to Mut and Merloni discuss this edition of the Power Rankings.

Houston Texans1. (1) Texans (10-1) — Ten quarters of football in just five days. It’s amazing they have been able to endure and come out on top in both games. Super Bowl-caliber teams are resilient, and the Texans have proven they can overcome any deficit. Expect the Texans to bounce back defensively next week against the Titans.

2. (2) Falcons (10-1) — Week after week the Falcons continue to find ways to win, and doubters continue to question if Matt Ryan‘s team is capable of being successful in the playoffs. It’s a fair question due to the fact that Ryan is 0-3 in the postseason, but the Falcons still deserve to be considered one of the best in the NFL since they’ve found a way to win 10 of 11 times this year.

San Francisco 49ers 3. (3) 49ers (8-2-1) — No defense is as physical and dominant as the Niners. San Fran’s D proved its dominance once again against one of the hottest offenses in the league. Going into Sunday’s game, the Saints were clicking on all cylinders in the month of November. They were averaging 32 points per game and Drew Brees had a 72.5 completion percentage with a 125.5 QB rating. Against the Niners, the Saints offense was held to just 21 points (its second-lowest total of the year). Brees’ completion percentage dropped nearly 10 points and his QB rating dropped nearly 40 points. 

New England Patriots 4. (5) Patriots (8-3) — There is just one team in the NFL averaging over 30 points per game, and that’s the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick‘s team has stampeded over opposing defenses and has averaged 37 points per game. The last four games have been even more impressive. The Pats have put up 190 points. That’s more points than the Chiefs, Cardinals, Eagles and Jaguars have scored all season.

5. (6) Ravens (9-2) — What are they feeding their linebackers in Baltimore? First it was Terrell Suggs remarkably returning from his torn Achilles much earlier than expected. Now, Ray Lewis reportedly will return before the regular season ends after many thought the veteran linebacker’s career might be over due to his triceps injury.

Denver Broncos 6. (7) Broncos (8-3) —Peyton Manning helped the Broncos extend their winning streak to six games in Kansas City on Sunday. The Broncos offense sputtered a bit in it’s first game without Willis McGahee. Facing one of the worst run defenses in the game, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman rushed for 94 yards. Going into the game, the Chiefs were allowing an average of more than 125 yards.

7. (9) Giants (7-4) — The Giants did exactly what they had to do coming off their bye week and two straight losses. If they can stay healthy, no team in the NFC will want to face them in the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers8. (4) Packers (7-4) — The Packers were forced to reshuffle their offensive line after starting tackle Brian Bulaga was lost for the season. Facing a strong Giants pass rush, Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times. The Packers have a major problem on their hands if the pass protection doesn’t improve.

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Upon Further Review: Patriots vs. Falcons 08.21.10 at 1:06 pm ET
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Devin McCourty takes down Michael Turner with a nice open-field tackle Thursday night in Atlanta. (AP)

This is a weekly blog entry we’re calling “Upon Further Review,” one last look at the tape from the previous week’s game and meant to include some things we may have missed the first time around. Basically, it’s one last chance to empty out the notebook before the focus shifts to the week ahead.

•Rookie Devin McCourty was able to flash some physicality, a rare sight recently for New England corners who haven’t had the size or inclination to mix it up with opposing receivers. On a third-down play late in the first quarter, McCourty was matched up on Atlanta’s Roddy White, and he was able to get a really impressive jam on the 6-foot, 212-pound White. The short pass, meant for White, would have gone for a first, but it never got to its intended destination. In the second quarter, McCourty also took down Atlanta running back Michael Turner with what was pretty close to a one-on-one open-field tackle, which set up a third-and-4. There was some soft man coverage that allowed a first-down connection to Atlanta receiver Brian Finneran in the second quarter, but all in all, another good game for the first-year cornerback.

•All three of Wes Welker’s catches were different types of receptions, which showed that the receiver hasn’t lost much when it comes to his overall pass-catching ability. The first was a short pass over the middle where Welker appeared to read the defense and pull in the ball with his back to the coverage, ending up with a six-yard gain. The second looked to be a simple route where he turned upfield. It ended up going as a 14-yarder, and this was perhaps Welker’s most impressive moment of the night because he had to reach back while going full steam to try and bring it in. (This one was something of a missed opportunity for the New England offense — because it was behind him, Welker had to slow down ever-so-slightly, which allowed defensive back Chavis Jackson to haul Welker down from behind. Could have gone for more.) The third was a simple screen, which was nicely sniffed out by Atlanta defensive back Christopher Owens.

•Tight end Aaron Hernandez really did a good job messing with Atlanta linebacker linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. On his first catch of the night, Hernandez came out of the backfield and caught a pass in the flat with Weatherspoon in coverage. As the tight end turned to head upfield, he sensed Weatherspoon closing in, and executed a little hitch, planting one foot forward before quickly stepping back. Weatherspoon ended up over-pursuing on the play, which gave Hernandez a few extra yards as the Patriots converted the third down. And then, on his touchdown catch he turned Weatherspoon inside-out and had the presence of mind to tip-toe along the back of the end zone and hold on to the football. (He almost knocked out teammate Brandon Tate in the touchdown celebration, but we’ll let that slide.)

•Safety Brandon McGowan, who had such a banner start last year in his first season, slid down the depth chart as the 2009 season wore on, and he’s having a poor start to the 2010 preseason. (Right now, he and James Sanders have been supplanted by Pat Chung and Brandon Meriweather.) He had a bit of a rough night — McGowan was on the field with the second defense for the duration of Atlanta’s 16-play, 80-yard fourth-quarter drive. At the end of the series, he failed to bring down Troy Bergeron on his 19-yard catch-and-run touchdown reception. (McGowan went for the big hit, but not only swung and missed, he took out his teammate Terrence Wheatley out of the play.)

•It was an up-and-down night for the New England offensive line. While there was plenty of good (Dan Connolly and Stephen Neal had some big blocks early, and Alge Crumpler delivered a key block on Fred Taylor’s first-quarter touchdown run), there was also enough bad. Neal was hit with a holding call that negated a big run from Taylor. Meanwhile, rookie Ted Larsen was whistled for a pair of false starts, and was absolutely crushed on a third-quarter run attempt by Atlanta’s Trey Lewis that ended up destroying any hope the Patriots had for a positive result. And a series of miscommunications in the red zone in the second quarter led to a forgettable sequence where New England had negative yardage on three running plays in four attempts.

The day after, coach Bill Belichick wasn’t shy about venting his frustration regarding seven plays where the Patriots had negative rushing yards.

“There were some positives. There were some other things that we need to do better. We lost yardage on seven of our running plays, so that’s not very good,” Belichick said. “I think if we had seven sacks, everyone would be up in arms and it would be the big story of the day, but seven running plays that lost yardage nobody seems to care about.”

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Patriots postgame notes 08.20.10 at 12:27 am ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here are some postgame notes following this evening’s preseason contest against the Falcons:

•WR Wes Welker made his preseason debut and caught two passes on his first two plays with a 6-yard pass and then a 14-yard pass from QB Tom Brady. He played during the first series of the game and finished with two receptions for 20 yards.

•RB Fred Taylor scored on a 28-yard touchdown run to culminate a 12-play, 80-yard drive on the Patriots first possession. He finished the game with 11 carries for 54 yards for a 4.9-yard average.

•The Patriots had two 20-yard touchdown runs in the game after RB Sammy Morris scored on a 20-yard run in the third quarter to finish a 9-play, 63-yard drive.

•During that first scoring drive, the Patriots converted three third-down plays. On third-and-seven from the New England 33-yard line, Brady completed an 11-yard pass to RB Kevin Faulk. On third-and-seven from the 47-yard line Faulk ran for eight yards and a first down. Then on third-and-two from the Atlanta 37-yard line, RB Sammy Morris gained nine yards for a first down.
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Halftime analysis from Patriots-Falcons 08.19.10 at 9:36 pm ET
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Strong start for the Patriots this evening in Atlanta — New England holds a 14-3 lead at halftime. A few quick notes on the first two quarters of action:

•Wes Welker didn’t get the start, but was heavily involved in the first drive of the night, a 12-play 80-yard sequence that ended with a New England touchdown. Welker was in for six snaps, and ended the night with two catches for 20 yards. Looked good, make nice cuts and was able to absorb a nasty hit from Atlanta defensive back Christopher Owens that came after a missed block from Randy Moss. (To be fair, it was a tough block for Moss to make.)

•Tom Brady finished the first half 10-for-12 for 85 yards and a touchdown. He took 24 snaps, and helped engineer a pair of scoring drives. He took a bad hit after rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski missed a block (he fumbled the football), but pretty much what you’d expect from No. 12, who hit rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez with a touchdown pass on a four-yard play in the second quarter. After a season where the Patriots’ offense struggled and also had red-zone problems, it was a good sight to see for New England football fans.

•The New England offense did a nice job keeping balance, its first 26 offensive plays, there were 13 rushes for 71 yards and 13 passes for 79 yards. Other than Brady, stat standouts included Fred Taylor, who got the start and carried 11 times for 54 yards and a touchdown (which came on a 21-yard jaunt and featured some great blocking by tight end Alge Crumpler.) Randy Moss had two catches for 24 yards and Aaron Hernandez had two catches for 18 yards.

•The New England defense opened in a 3-4 and stuck with it through the bulk of the first half. No surprises in the starting lineup, which included rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes. Spikes almost went wire-to-wire in the first half, staying in the game even after the starters were yanked late in the second quarter. According to our highly unscientific numbers, Spikes finished the first half with 27 snaps.

•As a group, the Patriots’ defense yielded one extended scoring sequence, an 11-play, 49-yard series run by the starting Atlanta offense, which ended with a 46-yard field goal from Matt Bryant that gave Atlanta a 3-0 lead. But that was it from the Falcons — a missed field goal attempt and an interception (from Jonathan Wilhite) ended Atlanta drives.

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Falcons inactives at 7:07 pm ET
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The Falcons have announced that the following players will not play tonight against the Patriots: WR Michael Jenkins, CB Brent Grimes, CB Dunta Robinson, S William Moore, DB Brian Williams, RB Jerious Norwood, RB Jason Snelling, DT Thomas Johnson and DT Peria Jerry.

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Setting the scene for Patriots-Falcons at 5:09 pm ET
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With only a few hours to go before kickoff at the Georgia Dome, here are a couple of things to get you ready for tonight’s Patriots-Falcons preseason game.

•According to reports, the following players did not make the trip to Georgia, and so they (presumably) have been ruled out for tonight game: wide receiver Darnell Jenkins, wide receiver Matthew Slater, cornerback Leigh Bodden, defensive back Bret Lockett, cornerback Terrence Johnson, linebacker Dane Fletcher, linebacker Gary Guyton, offensive lineman George Bussey, offensive lineman Logan Mankins, offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, defensive lineman Damione Lewis, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, and linebacker Jermaine Cunningham.

•Here’s a look at 10 things to look for tonight from a New England perspective, which includes wide receiver Wes Welker … if he does play. Welker made the trip to Georgia, but there’s still some question as to whether or not he should play. Former Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown said Week 3 of the preseason “feels like the right time” for Welker to return to the gridiron, so he might sit for the second straight preseason game.

•In addition, rookie Brandon Spikes has continued to emerge as a force at the position for the Patriots, and figures to get more of a chance to show what he can do this evening. Ditto for younger players like Dan Connolly and Brandon Tate, both of who will be looking to build on positive performances in the preseason opener against the Saints.

•We’ve also got a look at a handful of players who might need a strong preseason to land a job. That includes veteran inside linebacker Eric Alexander, wide receiver Sam Aiken and cornerback Terrence Wheatley. Wheatley is undergoing a bit of a renaissance over the last week or two, a series that was highlighted with a heads-up play that prevented a touchdown in the preseason opener. But is it enough for him to land a spot on the 53-man roster? Another strong outing tonight would certainly help him out.

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Need something to get you fired up for Patriots and Falcons on Thursday? 08.17.10 at 4:30 pm ET
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Been waiting for a chance to post this since I saw/heard it earlier this summer, and with the Patriots set to play the Falcons this week, this is probably the best opportunity to post this. I know it’s just the preseason, but who does a better job selling football than Jules Winnfield?

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