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What stands out most about the Falcons to Bill Belichick? 01.24.17 at 2:47 pm ET
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Bill Belichick is impressed with the Falcons' speed. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bill Belichick is impressed with the Falcons’ speed. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots haven’t dug too deep into the Falcons and how they operate, but if one thing has stood out in their initial look, it’s their speed.

On a conference call Tuesday, Bill Belichick was asked about the mark general manager Thomas Dimitroff, a former Patriots executive, has put on the team and the first thing he mentioned was their speed.

“I’d say the stamp on the team, the thing that I would notice the most is just the speed, the team speed that the Falcons have,” Belichick said. “They have a lot of fast guys. Defensively they close up space very quickly. Their linebackers run well. Their defensive line, although they have a couple of big, strong, physical guys in there, overall they have usually nine or 10 players on the field that I would say are fast. They’re either as fast or faster than probably what the average speed of their position is in the league. I’d say that’s a big stamp that he has put on the team. They’re explosive offensively and they have a lot of athletic players on defense and they play a lot of guys, too.

“It’s a lot different than Pittsburgh who basically played the same players the whole game. Atlanta rolls those guys in and out of there quite a bit and they have a lot of players in their front. They use guys in the secondary, too, so they play quite a few players. They’re fresh, they pursue hard, close space quickly and are aggressive. He’s done a very good job with the Falcons football team. They’re an impressive team to watch. They do a lot of things really well, but they look like they’re faster than almost every team they play.”

Judging by their speed, it’s likely the Super Bowl game plan will be much different than what the Patriots did against the Steelers on Sunday.

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How Alan Branch has turned into a beast in the middle of Patriots defensive line, and what it means in Super Bowl LI at 2:41 pm ET
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Jan 14, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Alan Branch (97) and teammates on the field against the Houston Texans in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Alan Branch (97) has been the anchor of a dominating defensive line in the second half of the season. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

One of the biggest reasons that the Patriots were able to contain the Steelers run game – and their offense overall – Sunday night was a groin injury to Le’Veon Bell that he had been dealing with for some time.

But right there with Bell’s injury was the work of Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch.

It’s hard to think that, at 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds, a man like Branch could be overlooked. But on Sunday, as NFL expert Michael Lombardi noted on Monday, he took on Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and won several battles, pushing him backwards and containing him at the line so the rest of the line could get up field.

When Branch had his four-game suspension rescinded by the NFL at the beginning of December, it kept one of the best and most productive players on the field for the stretch run. Branch and his celebratory dance were alive and well on the Patriots defense.

Branch played 48 of 69 snaps with four tackles Sunday in the 36-17 win over the Steelers. Only defensive end Trey Flowers (58) played more on the defensive line. On the game-turning red zone stop late in the second quarter, he was on the field on first and second down, when the Patriots hit DeAngelo Williams for losses of 1 and 3 yards before coming off the field on the third down incomplete pass by Ben Roethlisberger.

What Bill Belichick noted Tuesday in his conference call is how much more stamina Branch is playing with this year. He has played a career-high 626 snaps on defense (60 percent) and 153 on special teams. By comparison, Branch played just 432 defensive snaps in 2015.

“Yeah, Alan has done a great job for us, and along with his play which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time,” Belichick said. “So, in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those.”

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Read More: Alan Branch, Atlanta Falcons, Maurkice Pouncey, New England Patriots
Patriots will wear white jerseys in Super Bowl LI at 12:59 pm ET
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The Patriots will wear white jerseys in Super Bowl LI, it was announced Tuesday.

Historically, white jerseys for the Patriots in the Super Bowl have been a good thing; New England is 2-1 when wearing white jerseys in the Super Bowl, with wins in Super Bowl XLIX and XXXIX. The only time they lost in white was to the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. (For the record, New England is 2-2 when wearing blue in the Super Bowl, and 0-1 in red.)

White jerseys have been good across the board; teams wearing white jerseys in 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls have emerged victorious.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Less than halfway through regular season, Patriots already have 81.1 percent chance to win division 10.26.16 at 11:13 am ET
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You can overestimate the importance of divisional games, especially when it comes to Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and Bills in upstate New York.

A win would allow New England to build on its division lead — the Patriots hold a two-game edge on Buffalo — and also increase its odds when it comes to winning another division title. According to Football Outsiders, in this week’s edition of Playoff Odds, the Patriots currently have an 81.1 percent chance to win the division.

In addition, FO has the Patriots at 95.7 percent to make the playoffs, and a 78 percent chance to earn a first-round bye. Both of those totals are the highest among any NFL team on the board.

When it comes to the AFC playoff picture, New England remains the favorite to reach Super Bowl LI with a 38.8 percent chance of winning the conference title. In addition, FO gives the Patriots a 20.8 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, the best of any team — Seattle is second at 12.5 percent.

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Bovada lists Patriots as favorites to win Super Bowl 51 10.13.16 at 11:08 am ET
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The Patriots are still the favorites to win Super Bowl LI, according to Bovada.

New England is 7/2 to win the title, followed closely by the Vikings and Steelers (7/1), while the Packers (8/1) and Seahawks (17/2) aren’t far behind. For some perspective, the Bears, Dolphins (500/1), Niners (1000/1) and Browns (3000/1) bring up the rear.

Predictably, the Patriots are also the choice to win the AFC at 7/4, with the Steelers (3/1) and Broncos (3/1) rounding out the top three. And New England is also the easy choice in the AFC East at 1/10.

And despite the fact that he just returned from his four-game suspension, Tom Brady now has the third-best odds to win MVP this year at 13/2. Brady trails Matt Ryan (9/2) and Ben Roethlisberger (5/1).

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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