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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Dolphins 12.31.16 at 11:29 am ET
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It could be another big day for LeGarrette Blount on Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It could be another big day for LeGarrette Blount on Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

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.

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Read More: Adam Gase, Andrew Franks, Bill Belichick, Cameron Wake
Scouting Report: What you have to know about Jets-Patriots 12.23.16 at 12:26 pm ET
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It sets up to be a big day for LeGarrette Blount and Tom Brady Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It sets up to be a big day for LeGarrette Blount and Tom Brady Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Everything you need to know about this Saturday’s game between the Jets (4-10) and Patriots (12-2) at Gillette Stadium.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

This is a winnable matchup for New England. (Well, they’re all pretty much winnable matchups for the Patriots on Saturday, but this one is really winnable.) New England has one of the best and most consistent running games in the AFC at this point on the calendar. LeGarrette Blount (265 carries, 1,060 yards, 15 TDs) could make a case he was snubbed in his pursuit of a Pro Bowl berth, while James White (36 carries, 143 yards) and Dion Lewis (37 carries, 183 yards) have formed a difficult-to-handle duo as changeup backs. The Patriots have topped 80 run yards per game every week since the bye, which includes a robust 91 yards on 21 carries against the Jets last month; at the time, New York was one of the best run defenses in the league. Going into that November matchup, the Jets were the fourth-best team in the league against the run, allowing an average of 85.4 rushing yards per game. This week, the Jets are 14th, at 99.9 rushing yards allowed per game. That includes losses to the Colts and Niners where they allowed 139 rushing yards and 248 rushing yards, respectively. Expect the Patriots to feature a healthy dose of the run on Saturday for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it’ll help speed the game and get everyone home in time for bed before Santa comes.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

The Patriots should also be able to do some damage against the Jets pass defense. The New York front seven had its big moments against the Patriots in November, but Tom Brady still finished 30-for-50 for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns while not getting sacked in the close-but-not-really-close 22-17 win. Brady (249-for-372, 3,064 yards, 22 TDs, 2 INTs, passer rating of 109.7) slumped a bit last week against the Broncos, but let’s all keep in mind that was the best pass defense in the league. If he’s getting a mulligan this year, it’s that game. Overall, the Jets are 21st in the league in pass defense, allowing an average of 252 yards per game. According to Football Outsiders, the vulnerabilities of the New York pass defense are in slowing second and third options in the passing game, particularly wide receivers. Remember the first time these two teams met? Chris Hogan (33 catches, 49 targets, 631 yards, 4 TDs) and Malcolm Mitchell (29 catches, 43 targets, 372 yards, 4 TDs) combined for nine catches, 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both of them by Mitchell at the expense of You Know Who. Look for more from these two this time around. Don’t forget Martellus Bennett (50 catches, 66 targets, 649 yards, 5 TDs). Meanwhile, expect Julian Edelman (85 catches, 866 yards, 2 TDs) to see a healthy dose of targets — he’s been targeted 139 times this season already and is nearing his career-high of 151, set in 2013. It wouldn’t be crazy to suggest that Edelman has another double-digit target afternoon.

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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Broncos 12.17.16 at 12:24 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount could get a lot of run this week against the Broncos. (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount could get a lot of run this week against the Broncos. (Getty Images)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s game between the Patriots (11-2) and Broncos (8-5) in Denver.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

First, a mea culpa: I was completely wrong last week when it came to New England’s run game. I didn’t think the Patriots would have the stones to run it as much as they did against the Ravens, and I was stone cold wrong. LeGarrette Blount was immense in the win over Baltimore, leading the way against the toughest run defense in the league. With that out of the way, let me tell you that unless Blount (248 carries, 1,028 yards, 14 TDs) gets the ball 20-plus times against the Broncos, something is amiss. At 29th overall, Denver is one of the worst run defenses in the league, as the Broncos allow 127.2 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, Blount and the New England run game is on a roll, with at least 80 yards per game in the last five contests. (That includes 171 rushing yards as a team against the Niners last month.) Expect the Patriots to go all-in on the likes of Blount, as well as James White (33 carries, 132 yards) and Dion Lewis (19 carries, 88 yards) in an attempt to overmatch the Broncos. The real impact should be felt in the second half; if New England is up double-digits in the third and fourth quarter, the Patriots will lean heavily on their big back down the stretch in hopes of getting them to the finish line. A winnable matchup for New England.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

Strength against strength. The Patriots are one of the best passing teams in the league (fourth at 280 yards per game, even without Tom Brady for the first month of the season), while the Broncos boast the best pass defense in the game (183 yards allowed per contest). When you throw in the fact that Brady has traditionally struggled in Denver (he’s pretty much a .500 proposition when facing Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips), it shouldn’t give you the same level of confidence if he was going up against, say, a Jack Del Rio defense. Denver has more interceptions (12) than touchdowns allowed (10). Aqib Talib and Darian Stewart have three interceptions each, while Von Miller (13.5 sacks) and Shane Ray (6 sacks) lead the pass rush. Additionally, the Broncos’ 38 sacks are second in the league to Carolina (39).

On Sunday, Brady (69 percent completion rate, 2,876 yards, 22 TDs, 2 INTs, 113.6 passer rating) will look for a variety of targets, including Julian Edelman (79 catches, 126 targets, 791 yards, 2 TDs), Martellus Bennett (48 catches, 62 targets, 614 yards, 5 TDs) and Malcolm Mitchell (28 catches, 42 targets, 358 yards, 4 TDs). Our guess is that Aqib Talib gets Edelman, at least for a sizable portion of the day. And while those guys can’t be discounted, it’s the running backs out of the backfield who could be the difference-makers on Sunday: the Broncos have occasionally struggled to defend backs in the passing game, and if that remains the case, the James White/Dion Lewis combo (50 catches, 474 yards, 4 TDs for White; 12 catches, 76 yards for Lewis) could be a big focus for Brady and the Patriots’ passing game on Sunday.

One other potential area of focus for the Patriots: Denver has a fluid situation at inside linebacker, as inside linebacker Todd Davis is returning from a strained oblique that knocked him out of last week’s game, while fellow inside linebacker Brandon Marshall has already been ruled out because of a hamstring. With Denver’s defensive line and secondary so strong, there could be some vulnerabilities when it comes to short crossing patterns over the middle.

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Read More: Brandon McManus, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, Emannuel Sanders
Stephen Gostkowski wins AFC Special Teams Player of the Week 12.07.16 at 9:50 am ET
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Stephen Gostkowski

Stephen Gostkowski

FOXBORO — Another AFC weekly award for the Patriots.

Following his 4-for-4 performance on Sunday against the Rams, Stephen Gostkowski was named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week. Of his four field goals, three of which were from 40 yards or longer.

It was his 11th career game with at least four field goals, and it marked the third time in his career that has mas been successful on three field goals of 40 or more yards in a single game.

For the season, Gostkowski is 20-for-24 on field goals this season.

It’s the eighth time this season that a Patriots player has earned an NFL honor.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Stephen Gostkowski: Despite recent struggles ‘I’ve always had my confidence’ 12.04.16 at 6:52 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski kicked four field goals in the Patriots' win against the Rams. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Stephen Gostkowski kicked four field goals in the Patriots’ win against the Rams. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Even though the Patriots only scored two touchdowns in the 26-10 win over the Rams, it meant it was a busy day for kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

After going through some recent struggles, it was a big day for the kicker as he kicked four field goals, including three from 40-plus yards.

Gostkowski entered the game missing four field goals this year, his highest number since 2012.

“It’s a start. It’s one game,” Gostkowski said. “Every week is a different challenge. You just got to battle, keep your head down, stay humble and show up but control your attitude and your effort and make sure both of those are good and have faith in the process that what you’ve been doing is going to continue.”

The kicker is in his 11th season and said he’s been around sports long enough not to get down after a few tough games.

“In athletics, I’ve gone through ups and downs my whole life,” he said. “I’ve always had my confidence when it comes to athletics. It’s sometimes stubborn to a fault. As long as I’m out there and getting a chance to play, I expect to do well. No one is harder on themselves than me when I do bad and I don’t plan on changing any time soon.”

It’s been noted Gostkowski has tweaked his kicking motion a few times over the year, but he said it’s nothing he hasn’t done in past seasons.

“You fine tune every week,” Gostkowski said. “When you play in New England you can have cold weather, hot weather, windy weather, or snow. It’s a daily change out there and it’s not a climate controlled environment so you’re fine-tuning every day. Your body feels different, but you’re going to go through all that during a long season so it’s no different from any other season I’ve had.”

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3 up, 3 down following Patriots 26-10 win over Rams at 5:40 pm ET
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Tom Brady

Tom Brady

FOXBORO — At first glance, here are three up and three down in the wake of Sunday’s 26-10 win over the Rams.

3 UP

Quarterback Tom Brady: The veteran set the mark for most quarterback wins of all time on Sunday against the Rams; his 201st, surpassing his old pal Peyton Manning. It wasn’t a performance that’ll go down among his all-time best — 33-for-46, 269 yards, one touchdown, no picks — but it was a landmark win, and should be treated as such. For the third straight game, the contest ended with a Brady kneeldown.

Running back LeGarrette Blount: Blount ran hard all day, and delivered one of the offensive highlights of the afternoon when he blasted through the line and galloped, John Riggins-style, for a 43-yard touchdown to open the scoring. The big back had 18 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown on the afternoon while nearing a career mark for most yards in a season — he’s 50 yards away.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski: The kicker was perfect on the afternoon, with field goals from 28, 48, 45 and 45 yards. He also connected on both extra points.

3 DOWN

Punt return unit: Tough to do against a world-class punter like Johnny Hekker, but the Patriots got zero in the return game Sunday — on six returns, they had a grand total of seven yards. Ugh.

Kick returner/cornerback Cyrus Jones: The rookie continued to struggle on special teams, as he started the day as the primary returner, but muffed a first-quarter punt. It was recovered by the Patriots, but it continued a troubling trend for the youngster.

Running back James White: We’re nitpicking here, but at first glance, it looked like he whiffed on a block that got Brady flattened in the first half. He was also at least partially culpable for a penalty as part of an illegal shift in the third quarter.

Read More: Cyrus Jones, James White, LeGarrette Blount, Stephen Gostkowski
Scouting Report: What you have to know about Rams-Patriots 12.03.16 at 12:07 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett have the Patriots holding firm at the No. 2 spot. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

With no Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett will be working closely together down the stretch. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Here’s everything you have to know about Sunday’s game between the Patriots (9-2) and the Rams (4-7) at Gillette Stadium.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

New England now features three primary backs, not counting “Brandon” and “Danny,” as part of its ground game. The between-the-tackles work will continue to be done by LeGarrette Blount (212 carries, 869 yards, 12 TDs), while Dion Lewis (11 carries, 47 yards) and James White (28 carries, 112 yards) will offer support, as well as a third-down option for Tom Brady. Blount still figures to be the man, especially if the game gets out of hand early. He’s 138 yards from tying his career-high for yards in a season, and while he probably won’t reach the milestone Sunday against Los Angeles, he’s got a good chance of at least nearing the mark. Look for the occasional two-back set of White and Lewis. We saw it occasionally last week against the Jets, and could be an intriguing combo going forward. Overall, Los Angeles is 20th against the run (112.3 rushing yards allowed per game), and has struggled as of late, allowing an average of 149 rushing yards per contest in the last three games. That includes yielding a season-high 209 rushing yards last week in a loss to the Saints.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

With no Rob Gronkowski in the lineup anymore, Brady (68 percent completion rate, 2,201 yards, 18 TDs, 1 INT, 116.7 passer rating) and the Patriots passing game will change its focus to more of a spread look with an emphasis on multiple (three and four) receiver sets. That’s not to say we won’t see plenty of work for Martellus Bennett (42 catches, 54 targets, 540 yards, 4 TDs), who will be asked to continue to produce at a high level in the wake of the loss of Gronkowski. It’s only to suggest that it’ll be the likes of Julian Edelman (64 catches, 100 targets, 617 yards, 2 TDs), Danny Amendola (20 catches, 25 targets, 213 yards, 4 TDs), Chris Hogan (23 catches, 35 targets, 461 yards, 2 TDs) and Malcolm Mitchell (16 catches, 27 targets, 235 yards, 3 TDs) will get more targets going forward. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the White/Lewis combo, which caught eight passes last week out of the backfield and will continue to account for a sizable portion of the passing game the rest of the way.

Los Angeles is actually pretty good when it comes to pass defense (seventh in the league at 227.5 yards per game). Aaron Donald is a terrifying presence along the interior, and one of the best young linemen in the league. The 6-foot-1, 285-pounder will present a sizable challenge for New England’s offensive line — he has 35 tackles (28 solo) this year, to go along with a team-high six sacks. Defensive end Robert Quinn has four sacks on the year, while ex-Patriot Dominique Easley has 2.5 sacks of his own. Los Angeles is middle of the pack when it comes to forcing turnovers (13 takeaways are tied for 19th in the league). Linebacker Mark Barron leads the team with two picks.

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Read More: Aaron Donald, Brian Quick, Dominique Easley, Jared Goff
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