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On Fred Jackson, 2 former (and suddenly available) ex-Patriots, and searching for meaning behind preseason QB stats 08.31.15 at 9:29 pm ET
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Jimmy Garoppolo has some of the best stats of any quarterback in the league this preseason. But what does that really mean? (Mike Petraglia/

Jimmy Garoppolo has some of the best stats of any quarterback in the league this preseason. But what does that really mean? (Mike Petraglia/

Five thoughts on potential Patriots, old and new, as well as preseason quarterback stats.

1. Fred Jackson was cut loose by the Bills on Monday after eight successful years in Buffalo. The 34-year-old, who has always been respected by Bill Belichick, has always been known as a good hands guy out of the backfield, having averaged 40 catches a year in his eight seasons in the league. That includes 66 last season with the Bills. So would he fit with the Patriots, a team that’s still seeking some help in the post-Shane Vereen era? Despite the fact that New England has more than a few possibilities in camp vying for the third-down job, New England would be foolish not to at least kick the tires on Jackson, who has also shown an ability to run between the tackles on occasion. (He’s averaged 4.4 yards per carry over the course of his career, and has topped 500 yards rushing in six of his eight seasons in the league.) He’s a relatively young 34 in that he didn’t get his shot at the NFL until he was 26, and so the usual expiration date for a running back might not necessarily apply to the Coe College product. Some food for thought.

2. Another release that caught our eye on Monday was guard Donald Thomas, who was cut loose by the Colts. The likable veteran, who spent two seasons with the Patriots (2011-2012) signed a four-year $14 million deal with the Colts shortly after hitting the market as a free agent. But the UConn product never panned out — he tore his right quad and left biceps in Week 2 in 2013, causing him to miss the rest of the season. His 2014 season was similar washout, as he tore the same quad in training camp and never saw the field. While there’s some question about Thomas’ health at this stage of his career, if he’s OK, he would represent a nice pickup for the Patriots, who could use some depth along the interior line. Thomas would be cost-effective, he knows the system and he could bring depth to a position of need. Ultimately, like Jackson, there’s no harm in at least inquiring about him at this stage of the summer.

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Read More: Donald Thomas, Fred Jackson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kenbrell Thompkins
Free Agent Snapshot: C.J. Spiller 02.08.15 at 10:31 pm ET
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C.J. Spiller will be a free agent this offseason, and could potentially be a target of the Patriots. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

C.J. Spiller will be a free agent this offseason, and could potentially be a target of the Patriots. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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.

C.J. Spiller
Position: Running back
Age: 27 (will turn 28 on Aug. 5)
Height: 5-foot-11
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.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson,
Rush to judgment: Why Patriots running game deserves more respect 10.08.14 at 12:41 am ET
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Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were jumping for joy Sunday night. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were jumping for joy Sunday night. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

When the Patriots run the ball, good things happen.

Including Sunday’€™s win over the Bengals, New England has won 39 of its last 40 games when it has at least one back finish with 100 yards or more on the ground. That includes a 2-0 mark this season, as Stevan Ridley topped the century mark against Minnesota and Cincinnati.

But going deeper inside the numbers this year — when the backs have had their chances to run the ball — the ground game has provided good support for an occasionally wobbly passing attack. The Patriots have averaged 122 rushing yards per game through the first five contests, good for 14th in the league.

That includes a 220-yard performance on the ground Sunday against the Bengals, a game where Ridley topped the century mark for the second time on the season and Shane Vereen again displayed why he’€™s one of the more underrated multidimensional backs in the league. Not including three end-of-game kneeldowns from backup Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots ended up with 43 carries for 224 yards against Cincinnati, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.

Vereen, who has 37 rushing attempts for 212 yards (and a touchdown) and 17 catches for 111 yards, is one of eight backs at the moment who can boast of at least 17 catches and 35 carries over the first five weeks of the season. It’€™s a group that includes Chicago’€™s Matt Forte (82 carries, 36 catches), Pittsburgh’€™s Le’€™Veon Bell (87 carries, 24 catches) and Buffalo’€™s Fred Jackson (43 carries, 26 catches). Currently, Vereen is on pace for 54 catches, but if he can get to 60 catches, he would be the first New England running back to hit 60 catches and 60 carries in a season since Leroy Thompson did it in 1994 (65 catches and 102 carries).

On Sunday against the Bengals, Vereen had a gaudy stat line: nine carries for 90 yards (according to Pro Football Focus, 30 of Vereen’€™s 90 rushing yards against the Bengals came after contact) and three catches for 18 yards. In all, he averaged 9.8 yards every time he touched the ball. There were a few highlights for Vereen on Sunday night, but far and away the best one came when he snapped off a 19-yard pickup in the second half that was straight out of a Barry Sanders highlight film, where he flipped a defender around with his quickness.

Meanwhile, it’€™s been a nice bounceback season for Ridley, who has 37 more touches through five games than he had at the same point last year. But more importantly, his fumble-free string in the regular season and postseason has hit 150 touches, dating back to last year’€™s regular-season win over the Broncos in November. In fact, Ridley (84 carries) is one of three backs who have at least 75 carries this year without a single fumble — Bell (87 carries) and San Francisco’€™s Frank Gore (77 carries) are the other two. Against the Bengals, per PFF, 40 of his 113 rushing yards came after contact.
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Read More: Fred Jackson, Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Matt Forte
5 things you have to know about the Bills 12.27.13 at 9:59 am ET
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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.

Read More: C.J. Spiller, EJ Manuel, Fred Jackson, Kiko Alonso
Fantasy Football: Week 8 starts, sits 10.25.13 at 11:26 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 8 starts and sits. This is one ugly week, especially if you play in a big league with a weak waiver wire. With all the byes and all the injuries, there are a lot of fantasy GMs looking for answers. This week is more about finding options than eliminating them. For this reason, you’€™ll see more starts than usual and fewer sits. I’€™ll also make an effort to get into the lesser-known options. If you need more lineup clarity, go to for full Week 8 lineup rankings. We’€™ve got you covered.



Tom Brady, Patriots vs. Dolphins

I have to say that I am a bit surprised by all the Brady doubters out there. I am sure there are less of them in the Boston area, but there’€™s more anti-Brady buzz then I have ever heard, and it might be time to use it to your benefit. I’€™ve made deals for Brady in two leagues this week. In both deals, the owner of the team trading with me thought they were getting a QB upgrade. I gave up Matt Stafford in one deal and Tony Romo in the other. In the Romo deal, I got back Eddie Lacy in addition to Brady, and all I had to throw back was Fred Jackson. I think I’€™ll end up winning both sides of that deal. In the Stafford deal, I got Matt Forte in addition to Brady, and I threw the guy T.Y. Hilton. I feel even better about that deal. The point is, in typical leagues, you might be able to get Brady below his true value. I expect him to post better numbers over the second half, and I am willing to gamble on it and buy low right now. I also like Brady a lot as a starter this week. He’€™s a QB1 in any league size.

Michael Vick, Eagles vs. Giants

He has some risk because of the re-injury factor. Hamstring recoveries always carry that risk. Still, this is a very nice home matchup, and it’€™s a big game for the Eagles and for Vick, who wants to re-stake his claim to the starter’€™s job. He’€™ll do what it takes to get the job done, and he’€™ll make some big plays to DeSean Jackson. He’€™s a QB1 in 12-team leagues.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins at Patriots

Beggars can’€™t be too choosy this week, and though he may not be sexy, Tannehill will keep your team in the game. They let him throw the ball a lot, and we project them to be chasing the Patriots on the scoreboard, which means they should be throwing all game. Tannehill may not have a stellar day, but he should get you decent fantasy numbers.

Carson Palmer, Cardinals vs. Falcons

He’€™s had a tough time this year, but it’€™s not all his fault. The Cardinals have serious issues on the offensive line, and it probably will be some time in 2014 before coach Bruce Arians gets this offense where he really wants it to be. That said, Palmer has a solid matchup this week against an Atlanta defense that has been fantasy-friendly so far in 2013. He can help you if you are in a jam.

Alex Smith, Chiefs vs. Browns

Smith lacks upside this week and on most weeks. However, he does provide a nice floor, because the Chiefs offense has been consistent and he gets enough balls to the backs and with his feet to cobble together decent fantasy output. He can help you this week if you need a QB. He’€™s nothing sexy and a big game is unlikely, but he’€™ll be solid.

Terrelle Pryor, Raiders vs. Steelers

He lacks his typical upside, because the Steelers are disciplined on defense and cut down on big plays. That being said, Pryor is dynamic and he makes things happen one way or the other. He won’€™t run all over the Steelers like he might on some teams, and his receivers will have trouble getting behind the defense, but they will make their share of plays. Pryor is a viable option in 12-team leagues.

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Read More: Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Fred Jackson, Geno Smith
Fantasy Football: Week 12 starts, sits 11.25.12 at 8:13 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 12 starts and sits. With so many games having already been played, I’€™m offering fewer players here than usual. If I fail to cover the player or players that you want feedback on, please feel free to stop by our chat Sunday morning at 11 a.m. We also offer full Week 12 positional rankings at



Colin Kaepernick, 49ers at Saints

If you need a quarterback and Kaepernick’€™s available, I love the move. You might need to be ready to make a switch, and there are limited options due to the late start. That being said, I think he’€™ll start over Alex Smith. Harbaugh wants to win, and San Francisco has more Super Bowl potential with Kaepernick at the helm. If he starts, I expect good fantasy numbers.

Chad Henne, Jaguars vs. Titans

He’€™s locked in with no competition, and this is a very good matchup. Henne’€™s also shown a solid rapport with all of his receivers. If you need a quarterback for Week 12, Henne will work in any format.

Joe Flacco, Ravens at Chargers

He’€™s just not trustworthy on the road and I’€™d much rather go with Henne, just to give you a baseline for comparison. Flacco has upside, and he can always have a good day, but you are pressing your luck when you play him on the road against decent competition.



Ronnie Hillman, Broncos at Chiefs

With Willis McGahee out for the year, Hillman should end up being the most valuable back in Denver for fantasy purposes. He is viable in any league and is a legit RB2 option in 12-team leagues.

Fred Jackson, Bills at Colts

With C.J. Spiller now starting, the first instinct might be to sit Jackson, but we’€™d play him this week in 12-team leagues. The matchup is good and they will still get Jackson the ball enough to be viable, and he is likely to get goalline touches as he always has. He’€™s viable this week.

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Read More: brent celek, Cecil Shorts, Chad Henne, Colin Kaepernick
C.J. Spiller: The ‘three-headed monster’ the Patriots have to stop 11.11.12 at 12:04 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots held C.J. Spiller to just 33 yards on eight carries on Sept. 30 in Western New York, a big reason why the Patriots were able to hold the Bills scoreless during a 38-0 run that helped them cruise to a 52-28 win.

Before those two games, Spiller had games of 169 and 123 yards against the Jets and Chiefs before getting injured in Week 3 against the Browns. He is averaging over seven yards a carry and has 24 catches out of the backfield at nearly 10 yards a clip.

He is the perfect complement to Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice. And the Patriots know that sweeping the season series starts with repeating their Week 4 effort when they held the Bills under 100 yards rushing and allowed a manageable 3.6 yards per carry.

“Obviously, they’re a two-headed monster, really a three-headed monster,” Jerod Mayo said this week. “Choice provides a spark off the bench as well. Anytime a guy is averaging seven yards a carry, you know they can always take it to the house so it’ll take a group effort. The front seven has to do an excellent job staying on blocks and hopefully making plays.

“His role has increased. He’s doing a lot more things for them. He catching a lot more screens, he’s breaking a lot more runs. I don’t think he was averaging seven yards a carry when we played them the first time.”

While the Patriots have been criticized non-stop for their inability to stop the pass, they’re allowing just 88 yards a game on the ground, tied for seventh in the NFL.

“Yeah, it is [satisfying] but you’re only as good as your last performance so we have to go out here and play well,” Mayo said.

Read More: Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, New England Patriots
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