|Getting to know Patriots’ potential divisional round opponents||01.02.17 at 10:57 am ET|
With the playoff picture now set, we know Miami, Oakland and Houston are the three teams that could end up coming into Foxboro for the divisional playoff round next Saturday. Here’s a quick look at where each one of those teams stand coming into the postseason.
Miami (finished regular season at 10-6, second place in AFC East): The Dolphins are a little like last years Chiefs in that they struggled in the early going, found something that worked (in this case, give the ball to Jay Ajayi and get out of the way) and got on a hot streak. There are plenty of questions on both sides of the ball heading into the postseason — can they win with a backup quarterback instead of Ryan Tannehill? And can they find a way to fix one of the leakiest run defenses in the league? — but they’ve made the postseason. And considering the fact that this is their first postseason appearance since 2008, that should be more than enough when it comes to this stage of their development.
Numbers you need to know — Offense: 218.8 passing yards per game (26th), 114 rushing yards per game (9th), 22.7 points per game (17th); Defense: 242.2 passing yards per game allowed (15th), 140.4 rushing yards per game allowed (30th), 23.8 points per game allowed (18th).
History with the 2016 Patriots: New England won both games against Miami this year, 31-24 and 35-14.
What we’d be most excited to see? BFF’s LeGarrette Blount and Ndamukong Suh getting after it in a playoff situation.
Oakland (finished regular season at 12-4, second place in AFC West: Man oh man, what might have been. If the Raiders had managed to stay healthy — specifically, quarterback Derek Carr — Oakland had the potential to be a terrific thorn in New England’s side. But Carr suffered a serious knee injury late last month, and the Raiders have had to turn to backup Matt McGloin. McGloin is no Derek Carr. Oakland is still talented enough to win a wild-card game. (Give Khalil Mack 10 guys from Foxboro High on the defensive side of the ball, and he could win the thing on his own.) But the injury to Carr will be too much for them to overcome when they get to the divisional playoff round.
Numbers you need to know — Offense: 253.2 passing yards per game (13th), 120.1 rushing yards per game (6th), 26 points per game (7th); Defense: 257.5 passing yards per game allowed (24th), 117.6 rushing yards per game allowed (23rd), 24.1 points per game allowed (20th).
History with the 2016 Patriots: None.
What we’d be most excited to see? The simple idea of another Patriots-Raiders divisional playoff game on a (potentially snowy) Saturday night in Foxboro? The NFL should send Walt Coleman to referee the game just for [bleeps] and giggles. That, and Tom Brady facing a Jack Del Rio defense.
Houston (finished the regular season 9-7, first place in AFC South): Even though the Texans are the fourth seed (hey, someone had to win the AFC South), they’re the weakest of the six teams in the postseason. Houston has a good defense, but there’s very little offense there to speak of, primarily because of the wild instability at the quarterback position. Brock Osweiler has put up some godawful performances in 2016, but backup Tom Savage might not be ready for prime time either.
Numbers you need to know — Offense: 198.5 passing yards per game (29th), 116.2 rushing yards per game (8th), 17.4 points per game (tied for 28th): Defense: 201.6 passing yards per game allowed (2nd), 99.7 rushing yards per game allowed (12th), 20.5 points per game allowed (11th).
History with the 2016 Patriots: New England crushed Houston in a Thursday night contest in September, 27-0, with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.
What we’d be most excited to see? A reunion of all the former Patriots on the Houston roster, as well as the coaching staff. Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel, Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel coming back to Foxboro in a playoff environment? The stories would write themselves.
|Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Dolphins||12.31.16 at 11:29 am ET|
Everything you need to know when it comes to Sunday’s game between the Patriots (13-2) and Dolphins (10-5) at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida.
(Disclaimer: No one is quite sure how this thing is going to shake out, because there’s a risk/reward factor here: Both teams have something to play for, but they’ve also clinched playoff spots. Will each team play it straight up and go for the win? Or will they rest some starters to get healthy for the postseason? For purposes of this exercise, we’re going to assume both teams are going to play to win on Sunday, which means this will be a traditional game preview.)
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
LeGarrette Blount (285 carries, 1,110 rushing yards, league-leading 17 TDs) has been the Patriots back of choice all year long, and with the Dolphins having one of the worst run defenses in the league, it only makes sense that New England is going to do plenty of running. Miami is 30th in the league in run defense, having allowed an average of 141.8 rushing yards per game, but that only tells part of the story: The Dolphins have kept opponents under 100 yards on the ground in just three of their 15 games this year, and have yielded 200-plus rushing yards on a pair of occasions. That includes a whopping 272 yards last week against the Bills. Two things to keep an eye on, however: one, Blount’s between-the-tackles opportunities have dipped slightly over the last couple of weeks. It could be purely matchup-based, but there could also be a feeling that the Patriots are monitoring Blount’s snaps down the stretch, as he’s already hit a career-high when it comes to carries and yards. And two, Dion Lewis (53 carries, 235 yards) has gotten a lot of those reps. It’s an opportunity for Lewis to get as much work as possible so he’s completely ready for the postseason. While we’re going to see Blount get some good work against Miami, look for Lewis to get his share of opportunities. (Plus, the Patriots want to do everything they can to keep Lewis in the lineup — after all, they haven’t lost a single game he’s been a part of since the start of the 2015 season.)
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
Tom Brady (67 percent completion rate, 3,278 passing yards, 25 TDs, 2 INTs, passer rating of 110.7) looks to keep New England on a roll in the regular-season finale. While there will be the running game to fall back on, considering some of the matchups and some of the potential soft spots in the Miami pass defense, expect wide receiver Julian Edelman (90 catches, 146 targets, 955 yards, 2 TDs) to see lots of short work over the middle, as the Dolphins linebackers have occasionally struggled in coverage. Tight end Martellus Bennett (52 catches, 68 targets, 668 yards, 6 TDs) will see his fair share of work as well, as Miami has also had issues defending tight ends.
One other area worth keeping an eye on for New England is that intermediate to deep part of the passing game. Malcolm Mitchell is listed as doubtful coming into this one, and with Danny Amendola already on the sidelines, it should provide plenty of opportunities for Chris Hogan (34 catches, 54 targets, 653 yards, 4 TDs) and newcomer Michael Floyd. It’ll be a sizable test for Floyd, who should get a lot of work as he tries to get up to speed for the postseason. In last year’s regular-season finale, the Patriots used the game as a chance to see whether or not Steven Jackson had anything left in the tank. We’re admittedly broad-brushing it here, but Floyd should get a similar sort of audition on Sunday.
The Dolphins’ defensive strength is against the run, but the pass defense — specifically, the Miami pass rushers — have shown an ability to get after Brady and New England in the past. Cameron Wake (11.5 sacks), Andre Branch (5.5 sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (5 sacks) will all provide a test for the New England offensive line. Overall, the Dolphins are 13th in the league in pass defense (240 yards per game). Cornerback Tony Lippett leads the team with four interceptions on the season. This will mark the first time that Brady will face Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who is in his first year as DC with the Dolphins.
|5 things we learned about AFC on a Patriots-free Sunday||12.11.16 at 11:44 pm ET|
1. The Steelers still have some life. Pittsburgh went into Buffalo and beat the Bills, 27-20, in a game that was nowhere near as close as it sounded. (The Steelers went up 24-7 and sat on the ball down the stretch.) Le’Veon Bell had a ridiculous 38 carries for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Given their slate the rest of the way, it wouldn’t be a shock if Pittsburgh (8-5) ended up surpassing the Ravens for first place in the AFC North. At the very least, the Patriots could do the Steelers a big favor in the race for the division crown if they can beat Baltimore on Monday night.
2. The Broncos might not even make the playoffs. Denver was shocked in Tennessee by the Titans, sending the Broncos to 8-5 on the year. Denver has home games against the Patriots and Raiders and a road date in Kansas City against the Chiefs, a rough road in the crazy AFC West. Given the way the division is going, the Broncos’ margin for error continues to shrink. Regardless, a win over Denver next week would — at the very least — mean New England is assured of not having to travel to Colorado for the playoffs. It could also be a final blow to the Broncos playoff hopes.
3. The Dolphins won, but it’s going to be tough for them to make the playoffs. Miami gutted out a 26-23 win over the Cardinals in South Florida to improve to 8-5 on the season, and give the Dolphins their seventh win in the last eight games. But along the way the Dolphins lost their quarterback, as a torn ACL will sideline Ryan Tannehill the rest of the season. As a result, Matt Moore will be asked to step in and lead Miami. Moore has starting experience for the Panthers and Dolphins, but has been Tannehill’s backup since 2012. Miami closes out the year with road games against the Jets and Bills (both under .500) before finishing up the regular season at home against New England.
4. The day started promisingly for the Bills. The ending might cost Rex Ryan his job. The Bills started Sunday afternoon at 6-6, but with four winnable games the rest of the way, including three home dates (against the Steelers, Browns and Dolphins, and on the road against the Jets). But Buffalo was hammered by Bell and Pittsburgh on a miserable afternoon in upstate New York. The game played out against a backdrop of a pregame story from CBS’ Jason La Canfora that suggested Ryan could be “out as early as Monday.” Not a good combination for a coach who was riding a “playoffs or bust” mandate entering the season.
5. Expect the Patriots to see Bryce Petty on Christmas Eve. The youngster got the start for the Jets and led New York to an overtime win against the Niners in San Francisco, going 23-for-35 for 257 yards, with six sacks and one interception. Unless something crazy happens, expect him to get the call for the Jets when they meet New England in Foxboro on Dec. 24.
|Fantasy Football: Week 3 waiver wire||09.20.16 at 10:15 am ET|
Great Odin’s Raven! What a week! There were injuries everywhere you looked on Sunday, leaving fantasy GMs scratching their heads and searching for answers. Based on the numbers, Jamaal Charles and his fantasy owners were better off with him sitting out — avoiding the carnage that was Week 2. The same might be said for Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady’s owners. This is an unconventional week of preparation for fantasy GMs. There are going to be a lot of nervous people out there, and the bidding will be aggressive in leagues that use FAAB auctioning for free agents. In waiver leagues there will be tons of claims. I’m starting off with the running backs first this week because that’s where all the stress is.
Here are the backs who are either out for Week 3 or in some form of peril.
Ameer Abdullah (foot) — Seeing a specialist, out Week 3
Adrian Peterson (knee) — Highly questionable for Week 3, could be out multiple weeks
Doug Martin (hamstring) — Questionable for Week 3
Arian Foster (hamstring) — Questionable for Week 3
Thomas Rawls (leg bruise) — Could play Week 3
Rashad Jennings (wrist/thumb) — Questionable for Week 3
Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) — Out for Week 3
Danny Woodhead (ACL) — Out for the year
Some of this injury information is still fluid. I will update these situations and get into the relative value of the replacement options during this week’s waiver wire podcast over at Rotobahn, and in the expanded waiver wire at Rotobahn. Both will be posted before your commute home and they will get you up to speed fast.
Tevin Coleman, Falcons, 57 percent
Atlanta is sticking to a split backfield, and that makes Coleman a must-own player in all formats. If there’s an injury to Devonta Freeman, Coleman becomes a potential stud, and it’s crazy that so many Freeman teams are choosing to leave this guy on the waiver wire! Scoop him up and have a great upside talent on your bench or even in your lineup.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings, 25 percent
He must be picked up at every available opportunity. McKinnon is an elite athlete with big-play potential. They did not overuse him last week because he’s been nursing a foot injury, but he should be ready for more this week and then even more after that. This is a potentially special running back and no way am I adding Matt Asiata if if have the option to add McKinnon.
Charles Sims, Buccaneers, 52 percent
He is a must-add player for Doug Martin owners and for anybody else who has bench space in any format, but particularly in PPR leagues. Sims has stand-alone flex appeal when Martin is healthy, but he could be an RB2 against the Rams if Martin is forced to sit with his sore hamstring. In better matchup, he has RB1 potential if starting.
Jordan Howard, Bears, 8 percent
He is the only running back in Chicago who is capable of being a true lead back. I suspect that he will own the early down and goal-line work at some point this season, and perhaps at some point soon. Howard is, quite simply, better than Jeremy Langford. Add him in all 12-team leagues.
|Scout’s Take: 3 keys to victory for Patriots, Dolphins in Sunday’s contest||09.17.16 at 11:55 am ET|
We have relied on the wisdom of Dan Hatman several times in the past, and with good reason: the current head of The Scouting Academy has served as an NFL scout for the Eagles, Jets and Giants. He sees the game from a unique perspective, and with that in mind, we asked him for three keys to success for the Patriots and three keys to success for the Dolphins for Sunday’s game at Gillette. Here’s what he provided.
For the Patriots…
1) Continue their use of spacing the defense by formation to attack the middle of the Miami defense with their tight ends and Julian Edelman. Seattle was able to consistently do this last week, and the Patriots have better weapons here, especially when Rob Gronkowski is available.
2) It’s a good week to leverage LeGarrette Blount in the A and B gaps. The Dolphins front plays wide to contain outside zone runs and is aggressive upfield. Trap blocking, counters and other mechanisms to influence the Miami front will help to put a bigger running back like Blount in good situations to attack downhill.
3) On defense, be prepared for bunch formations and crossing routes designed to loosen man coverage or tight coverage. The Dolphins work the seven- to fifteen-yard range heavily with this, and use Kenny Stills as the vertical threat, an area where Ryan Tannehill is more than willing to take a shot.
For the Dolphins…
1) Dolphins pass rushers need to work to stay on the edge, as the Patriots tackles struggle more with true edge rush than when rushers convert to power moves. The Dolphins also have an excellent “twist-game” coach in Jim Washburn, and will need to stress the Patriots’ offensive line with that element.
2) Don’t sit back in umbrella coverages and rally to tackle the Patriots. They live on consistent yardage, even in small quantities, and they will “dink and dunk” all the way down the field. The Dolphins need to be proactive, challenging all releases within five yards and tightening up.
3) Continue to throw to Kenny Stills. His drop was bad last week, but proving you can effectively attack all three levels of the field is critical to creating good matchups in other areas of the field. Working Stills from the slot makes it hard on the linebackers and safeties who need to carry him vertically.
Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Sunday’s Dolphins-Patriots contest at Gillette Stadium:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
The Patriots are going to need to generate some yards on the ground consistently to keep the Miami pass rushers guessing. (Duh.) And while New England might not hit that 100-yard. 4.0 yards per carry plateau that serves as the benchmark for single-game success in the minds of many, it will still play a sizable role in the offensive game plan. LeGarrette Blount will again be tasked with the job of between-the-tackles wrecking ball, looking to keep it third-and-manageable for Jimmy Garoppolo. If all goes according to plan, look for Blount to replicate the 22-carry, 70-yard, one-touchdown performance he had last week against Arizona.
On the other side of the ball, Miami was a mixed bag against Seattle’s Christine Michael (15 carries, 66 yards) and Thomas Rawls (12 carries, 32 yards) in its Week One loss. It’s hard to rely on statistical models at this point in the season; as a result, much of this match is going to come down to game context. If the Patriots are able to gain a second-half lead, history tells us that Blount is at his best when he’s the lead back in a four-minute offense, chewing up clock and clearing a defense. If New England is trailing or even, the numbers will be slightly off.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
Maybe the matchup that will go the longest toward deciding the ballgame. If the Patriots can find a way to slow down the Miami front — primarily, Ndamukong Suh — that should give Jimmy Garoppolo enough time in the pocket. It’s that simple. New England did well enough to give Garoppolo adequate time in the opener, as the youngster went 24-for-33 for 264 yards and one touchdown. (Part of that was the line and part of it was Garoppolo’s own quick release.) But while the Arizona defensive front is talented, but nowhere near as physical as this bunch. Suh looks like he’s fully engaged, which is bad news for the rest of the league. He’s part of a group that includes Mario Williams (who is expected to play despite leaving last week’s game because of concussion issues) and Cameron Wake (who is still being utilized as a situational guy as the Dolphins work him back slowly after last year’s Achilles’ injury).
Don’t be shocked if you see multiple tight end sets (man, Martellus Bennett really did a good job as a blocker against the Cardinals) and a heavy dose of James Develin as the Patriots try and do whatever it takes to slow down the Miami pass rush. Expect Garoppolo to lean on the usual suspects, including Julian Edelman, who as a perfect 7-for-7 on targets last week (the first time he did that since 2013), as well as Bennett, Chris Hogan and James White. White had maybe his steadiest game as a pass catcher, with five receptions on seven targets for 40 yards. Other than Kiko Alonso, the Miami linebackers aren’t great in coverage. And outside of safety Reshad Jones, the secondary isn’t that good either. Bottom line? If Garoppolo can get time and hang in against some quality rushers and the occasional blitz, this is a winnable matchup for New England.
|Ryan Tannehill mostly mum on Tom Brady’s Deflategate drama, but acknowledges Pats’ QB has faced ‘tough situation’||09.14.16 at 6:54 pm ET|
Ryan Tannehill isn’t about to give the Patriots any sort of bulletin-board material.
The Miami quarterback was asked Wednesday afternoon for his thoughts on what’s happened to Tom Brady over the last year-plus in regards to his off-field battles. Tannehill only acknowledged that Brady has been through a “tough situation,” but wouldn’t go any deeper.
“It’s a tough situation,” Tannehill said of what Brady has gone through since the 2014 AFC title game. “But, honestly, I’m just focused on what we’re doing here and trying to find a way to beat the Patriots.”
Tannehill’s response contrasts with the thoughts offered up by Arizona’s Carson Palmer, who was asked about Brady’s Deflategate drama in the days leading up to last week’s Patriots-Cardinals game. Palmer basically said that if you get busted, you suffer the consequences.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
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