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5 things you have to know about the Bills 12.27.13 at 9:59 am ET
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Kiko Alonso has become one of the most important parts of the Bills defense. (AP)

Rookie Kiko Alonso has become one of the most important parts of the Bills defense. (AP)

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 Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Fantasy Football: Week 8 starts, sits 10.25.13 at 11:26 am ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2013_hdr_v6

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 Rotobahn.com for full Week 8 lineup rankings. We’ve got you covered.

QUARTERBACKS

STARTS

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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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 Rotobahn.com.

QUARTERBACKS

STARTS

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.

SITS
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.

RUNNING BACKS

STARTS

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 goal-line touches as he always has. He’s viable this week.

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C.J. Spiller: The ‘three-headed monster’ the Patriots have to stop 11.11.12 at 12:04 pm ET
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Jerod Mayo says Patriots will have their hands full with Jerod Mayo Sunday. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

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 Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Setting the scene: Patriots-Bills 09.30.12 at 10:03 am ET
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The Patriots will have their hands full handling Mario Williams without Logan Mankins. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60s are expected for the 1 p.m. ET kickoff between the Patriots and Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Winds should be light out of the northeast between 5-10 mph. Showers are expected to taper off about an hour before kickoff, with an 80 percent chance of rain about an hour into the game.

The Patriots have already ruled out six players, including Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins. The offensive lineman will miss the game with a hip injury that caused him to miss practice all week. Mankins was left behind in New England and did not make the trip to Western New York with the team.

To provide insurance along the offensive line with Mankins out, the Patriots brought back Matt Tennant, signing the free agent on Saturday. Tennant, 25, was originally claimed off waivers by the Patriots from New Orleans on Sept. 1 and was released on Sept. 4, 2012. He is a veteran of two NFL seasons with the Saints. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder was drafted by the Saints in the fifth round (158th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Boston College. He has played in 28 NFL games as the Saints primary backup at center and guard. Last season, he played in 12 regular season games and both postseason games. Tennant was released by the Saints on Aug. 31, 2012. Tennant will wear No. 69.

Donald Thomas, Marcus Cannon Nick McDonald and Tennant are the options for the Patriots to fill the void left by Mankins, with Dan Connolly possibly shifting to left guard and Thomas filling in at right guard, something Thomas did often in training camp and preseason. Cannon played guard in college before the Patriots moved him to right tackle.

Also out are wide receiver Julian Edelman (left hand), defensive linemen Justin Francis (ankle) and Brandon Deaderick (ankle), defensive back Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle).

As a result, the Patriots will need to scratch just one more player 90 minutes before kickoff. After making his debut last Sunday night, tight end Kellen Winslow was released for what Bill Belichick said was “personal reasons.” As a result, the Patriots head into today’s game with just three active tight ends.

One of those tight ends, Rob Gronkowski, is nursing a hip injury that showed up on Friday’s injury report as questionable but is expected to play.

For the Bills, running backs Fred Jackson (knee) and C.J. Spiller (shoulder) are listed as questionable for the game. Jackson missed the last two weeks with a knee injury while Spiller injured his shoulder in the first quarter of last week’s win in Cleveland.

Jackson has been cleared to play and Spiller is expected to play, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.

The Bills will be looking to beat the Patriots in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1999-2000.

After last week’s debacle with the replacement officials in Baltimore, this week marks the first weekend back with the regular officials. John Parry will be the lead referee, wearing No. 132. The 47-year-old Parry has 12 years of NFL officiating experience and has been a referee since 2007. He is familiar with the Patriots, having served as the referee of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

Parry will be joined Dan Ferrell (umpire), Derick Bowers (head linesman), Rusty Baynes (line judge), Scott Edwards (field judge), Ron Torbert (side judge) and Perry Paganelli (back judge).

Read More: Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, Donald Thomas, Fred Jackson Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
In the wake of Sunday’s action, five takeaways for Patriots fans 11.21.11 at 12:42 am ET
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Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills suffered their third straight ugly loss on Sunday, this one at the hands of the Dolphins. (AP)

Five things for Patriots fans to take away from an entertaining day of football:

1. It’s officially time to write off the Bills. The wheels have come off the Buffalo bandwagon completely, so much so that Miami, which is now at 3-7, could ultimately end up winning more games than the 5-5 Bills. Buffalo, which started the season promisingly and was in first place three weeks ago with a 5-2 record, has now lost its last three games and has been outscored 106-26 while doing so. In addition, the Bills continue to lose players at an alarming rate. On Sunday they lost wide receiver Donald Jones and Terrence McGee to serious leg injuries, and running back Fred Jackson left in the second half with a leg injury. This comes on the heels of recent season-ending injuries to starting center Eric Wood (knee), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (foot) and linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles tendon).

2. Should they get themselves a bye and avoid the mess of the opening weekend of the postseason, they Patriots should consider themselves lucky they won’t have to chance it against a team like the Bengals, or perhaps the Ravens. Those two teams went hard at each other on Sunday, and even though legendary Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis missed his first game since 2007 with a toe injury, the Ravens managed to hold off the Bengals, 31-24. The win could end up sending three AFC North teams to the postseason — Baltimore and Pittsburgh are tied for the top spot at 7-3, while Cincinnati is a game off the pace. Even though the Ravens have been maddening at times this year — they’ve lost to Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle but also beaten Pittsburgh and Houston — their veteran savvy and solid running game make them a threat.
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Bye-Week Breakdown: Defensive backs 10.24.11 at 10:56 am ET
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Devin McCourty is not yet ready to be ranked among the NFL's elite defensive backs. (AP)

With the Patriots off this week, we’ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots at the six-week mark. We’ve already examined every one of the offensive positions so far, as well as the defensive line and linebackers. Now, we take a look at the defensive backs.

Depth chart: Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden, Kyle Arrington, Antuwan Molden, Ras-I Dowling, Patrick Chung, James Ihedigbo, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown. (In addition, Phillip Adams and Ross Ventrone have been on and off the roster from the practice squad.)

Overview: The secondary has had lots of movement since the start of camp — notables like Darius Butler, James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather are gone, and as the new faces have played together there have been plenty of rough patches. However, it appears that the Patriots have played more zone coverage the last couple of weeks, which may be the reason we’ve seen more improvement in the secondary.

After a stellar rookie season, McCourty has been targeted a lot through the first six weeks of his second season (check out the stats below) and while he has been physical and competitive on most occasions, he’s clearly not ready to take that next step into elite status just yet. While Bodden and Dowling have been hampered by injury and Molden remains a part-time player, the real find this season has been Arrington. The Hofstra product had always been a quality nickel corner with good physical skills, but he’s made a big leap forward this year, so much so he was leading the league in picks through six weeks with four.

At safety, Chung remains a stable and reliable presence. However, the Patriots are still seeking consistency opposite him. Barrett and Brown have struggled, but Ihedigbo has played well the last two weeks. Against the Jets and Cowboys, Ihedigbo has been slotted next to Chung (the UMass product has missed only five snaps the last two games) and appeared to mostly hold his own. It remains a question as to whether or not he’s a long-term answer at the spot, but he appears to be the safest bet at the position in the coming weeks.

Best moment: Arrington had a pair of picks in the loss to Buffalo, probably the finest moment of the season for an occasionally group of beleaguered defensive backs.
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Read More: Antuwan Molden, Brandon Meriweather, bye week breakdown, Chris Houston Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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