FOXBORO — The following Patriots players are inactive for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Bills: running back Jonas Gray, cornerback Brandon Browner, offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer, wide receiver Julian Edelman, tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Gray had already been ruled out on Friday with an ankle injury.

It’s clear the Patriots are being very cautious with their players as the game is essentially meaningless with the Patriots already wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Connolly and Vollmer were listed as questionable with knee and back injuries respectively. Defensively, Hightower (shoulder) and Browner (groin) were both listed as questionable, but it’s likely the team is being very cautious with them as well.

Edelman missed last weeks game with a thigh/concussion injury, and although he did practice on a limited basis this week, he will miss his second game of the year. Gronkowski will be a healthy inactive, as he wasn’t on the injury report this week, but the Patriots can not afford to have their tight end get hurt in a meaningless game, so they are not taking any chances.

Alfonzo Dennard isn’t on the list as he was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Saturday. Josh Boyce will be active after being promoted to the active roster on Saturday, as will running back James White for just the third time all season. Kyle Arrington (hamstring) and LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) will also be active after missing last weeks game.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots have extended director of player personnel Nick Caserio’s contract through the end of the 2020 season.

Nick Caserio

Nick Caserio

FOXBORO — According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Patriots have extended director of player personnel Nick Caserio’s contract through the end of the 2020 season.

Caserio had been one of the biggest names rumored in potential general manager openings, but Caserio won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. He’s played a big part in the success of the team this season, having a major role in trading for Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in middle of this season.

“Nick obviously is the key guy in all this, but on any individual one there could be other people that are involved,” Belichick said earlier this year when asked who was the point man in their in-season deals. “€œThere wouldn’€™t be any [transactions] that wouldn’€™t include Nick, I’€™ll put it that way. But there are some where I’€™d say Nick is maybe the guy who has the most information, sometimes it might be somebody else who it gets processed through Nick or myself. There’€™s no set formula.”

He’s been with the Patriots since the 2001 season and has been the director of player personnel since 2008. Caserio did interview for the Dolphins general manager job last year, but ultimately stuck in New England.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Live Blog Patriots vs. Bills, live blog
 

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WEEI

Join Pete Davidson of WEEI.com and Rotobahn.com for a fantasy football live chat, Sunday starting at 11 a.m. Let Davidson help you set all your lineups …

Live Blog Week 17 fantasy football live chat
 

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WEEI

FOXBORO — Cloudy skies and temperatures approaching 50 are expected for the regular season finale between the Patriots and Buffalo Bills here at Gillette Stadium.

There is the chance of showers for the 1 p.m. kickoff with skies becoming partly cloudy by the second half. A slight breeze is expected out of the west at the start of the game but winds could pick up by the start of the second half, with gusts of 10 to 15 MPH possible.

The Patriots enter the game with nothing at stake except to stay healthy for the playoffs. They are 12-3 with the AFC East and No. 1 seed in the AFC already clinched. With that comes home field advantage throughout the playoffs until the Super Bowl.

The Bills enter the game 8-7 after blowing their chance to make Week 17 relevant when they lost in Oakland last Sunday. They were eliminated from playoff contention.

The biggest question is who will play and who will sit for the Patriots. Tom Brady figures to start but come out midway through. Julian Edelman is likely to sit out as a precautionary measure after suffering a concussion in the week leading up to the Jets game at MetLife Stadium. Josh Boyce was activated Saturday from the practice squad and is expected to take his place. Running back Jonas Gray was also ruled out Saturday.

Rob Gronkowski has played in every regular season game but is likely to see limited time, if any at all, in the finale.

A win today against the Bills would extend Bill Belichick‘s record of seasons with 13 wins to six.

With the Patriots figuring to rest most of their significant starters in the second half and players like Julian Edelman likely sitting out, this represents a golden opportunity for the Bills to finally break through and win a game at Gillette Stadium.

They are 0-12 against the Patriots at Gillette and have lost 13 straight in Foxboro, dating to their last road win, 16-13, in New England on Nov. 5, 2000.

Tom Brady is expected to start and but almost certainly will likely not play the whole game. He is a remarkable 23-2 against Buffalo in 25 regular season games. If Brady can avoid the Bills’ formidable front, he figures to again put up big numbers. He has 58 career touchdown passes and eight 300-yard games against the Bills. His career quarterback rating against Buffalo is 101.9 with a 64.6 completion percentage.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

The Patriots made several personnel moves on Saturday night, signing wide receiver Josh Boyce to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and placing cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on injured reserve. In addition, the Patriots signed defensive back Daxton Swanson to the practice squad and released defensive lineman Cam Henderson from the practice squad.

Josh Boyce

Josh Boyce

The Patriots made several personnel moves on Saturday night, signing wide receiver Josh Boyce to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and placing cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on injured reserve. In addition, the Patriots signed defensive back Daxton Swanson to the practice squad and released defensive lineman Cam Henderson from the practice squad.

Here’s a portion of the statement issued by the team on the moves:

Boyce, 23, was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round (102nd overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Texas Christian. He played in nine games with three starts as a rookie and finished with nine receptions for 121 yards. Boyce was released by the Patriots on Aug. 30, 2014 and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1.

Dennard, 25, is in his third season with the Patriots after joining the team as a seventh round draft pick (224th overall) out of Nebraska in the 2012 NFL Draft. He played in six games with four starts in 2014 and registered 15 total tackles and one interception.

Swanson, 23, has spent most of the season on the New England practice squad. He was released from the practice squad on Dec. 23. Swanson was originally signed by the Patriots as a free agent on May 22, 2014. He entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Indianapolis Colts on April 30, 2013, out of Sam Houston State. The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder was released by the Colts on Oct. 29, 2013 and was signed to the San Francisco 49ers practice squad on Nov. 18, 2013. He was released by San Francisco on May 12, 2014.

Henderson, 24, had two stints on the New England practice squad this season. He originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Atlanta Falcons on April 29, 2013 out of Central Florida. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, was released by the Falcons on Aug. 25, 2014 and was signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad on Dec. 4, 2013. He went to training camp this past summer with Cleveland, but was released on Aug. 25, 2014. He played two seasons at Central Florida after beginning his college career at Vavarro College.

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

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Rob Gronkowski could hit his goal of playing in all 16 regular-season games in 2014 Sunday against the Bills. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski could hit his goal of playing in all 16 regular-season games in 2014 Sunday against the Bills. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Because the relative worth of Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Bills is debatable — and because of that, trying to figure out potential matchups might very well be an exercise in futility — we’ve decided to eschew our usual game preview. Instead, we’ve created a checklist for New England fans as to what to look for come Sunday. Here are 10 things (in no particular order) the Patriots would like to accomplish Sunday against Buffalo:

1. Stay healthy: There are plenty of other elements for the Patriots to consider going into this one, but the singularly most important thing is to steer clear of injury heading into the postseason. (Because, as we all know, health trumps momentum at this time of the year.) That includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Given how Bill Belichick has approached these games in the past — and given the fact that they have two weeks between this game and their playoff opener — it’s reasonable to think that each one of these players will get some time against the Bills before being pulled.

2. Try and gauge the overall state of the offensive line: Despite the fact that it looks like Marcell Dareus might not play on Sunday, if Buffalo does roll out the same front seven it’s had over the course of most of the first 15 games, it’ll provide a nice test for the New England offensive line. The Bills are one of the best pass defenses in the league — they lead the league with 50 sacks — thanks in large part to the group that gets after the quarterback. Mario Williams has 13.5 sacks, while Dareus has 10. Jerry Hughes (9.5 sacks) and Kyle Williams (5.5 sacks) round out the group, which is an impressive collection of pass rushing talent as there is in the league. Left guard Dan Connolly (ankle), guard/tackle Cameron Fleming (ankle) and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) were all questionable as of Friday afternoon, and so a few backups could see time. But regardless, the New England line will face a stern test from a Buffalo front that should prepare them nicely for the playoffs.

3. Develop some confidence and consistency on offense heading into the postseason: Our scout hit on this in his game preview earlier in the week, but it bears repeating that the New England offense is looking to head into the playoffs on a better note than last week. In that contest against the Jets, the Patriots struggled to achieve any sort of real offensive rhythm, with only two drives that could best be described as anywhere near crisp and efficient. In the 2010 regular-season finale — a game similar to this one in that the top seed was already decided going into this one — the Patriots were a little sluggish out of the gate before Tom Brady and the rest of the offense got things together with a nice series at the start of the second half. It’s likely that the coaching staff will be looking for the New England offense to go out on a similar high note in this one before Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the backups take over.

4. Try and figure out your best option at nickel corner: The Patriots are going to be without Alfonzo Dennard on Sunday, but given how frequently he’s been a healthy scratch down the stretch, it’s reasonable to question how much he’ll be in New England’s plans come the postseason. With the assumption that Kyle Arrington will remain in the slot, that leaves Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, as well as the possibility of seeing Devin McCourty in a limited corner spot (something he’s done occasionally over the course of the second half of the season) this upcoming postseason. Smart quarterbacks and deep receiving corps have done well zeroing in Ryan and Butler over the last month, and that figures to be the case heading into the postseason. The Patriots need one of these younger players to assert themselves and seize control of the job.

5. Work on defending tight ends: The Patriots have struggled to contain good tight ends over the course of the season (Football Outsiders has them 29th in the league when it comes to defending tight ends), and they’ll get a chance on Sunday to go up against a guy who has done a really impressive job against them the last few seasons in Buffalo’s Scott Chandler. The Iowa product is not a high-profile target, but in eight games against New England, he has 27 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns. That includes six catches on nine targets for 105 yards in the October contest against New England in Buffalo. “He’s got good skills — long, tall guy,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick of the 6-foot-7, 270-pounder. “Big target, big catch radius; he’s a hard guy to match up on. We’ve had a lot of trouble with him.” As a result, Sunday could represent a good barometer of where the Patriots are when it comes to their ability to slow elite tight ends come playoff time.

6. Reach necessary playtime incentives, and allow some players to achieve personal goals: There are some players who are looking to hit financial incentives in this one, but no one is anywhere near  the sort of payday that Vince Wilfork could land. The veteran defensive lineman has a $1.25 million bonus looming if he plays 70 percent of the snaps this season, and can land another $500,000 if he finishes with 70 percent of the snaps and the Patriots finish in the top 10 in points allowed. Per Tom E. Curran, Wilfork has played in 74.1 percent of the snaps this year coming into Sunday’€™s game. That means the veteran needs to play if he wants to keep that total over 70 percent. (For what it’s worth, he played in 64 of a possible 69 snaps last game against the Bills, or 93 percent.) Miguel Benzan has a nice look at the numbers here — in addition, Benzan notes Julian Edelman has a $500,000 bonus waiting for him if the Patriots win 13 games. And then, there are personal goals: Gronkowski was very clear this summer in wanting to play in all 16 regular-season games in 2014 this summer. While it’s not to suggest he’ll go wire-to-wire in this one, to able to say that he bounced back from injury-ravaged 2012 and 2013 seasons by answering the bell all season long in 2014 would certainly be tremendously gratifying.

7. Get some in-game snaps for players in the middle and back end of the roster: Given the chance to get some extended reps in regular-season action, there are a handful of players who could get an opportunity to put some good play on film. That could lead to one of two things: one, they could become attractive if they are on the open market this offseason. And two, they could prove themselves to be valuable in certain situations when the postseason rolls around. It’s all about taking advantage of your opportunities, and if players like James White, Zach Moore and Brian Tyms are able to play significant snaps and show that they can have some sort of impact, it’ll bode well for them going forward.

8. Make sure special teams is fine-tuned as possible: The Patriots special teams unit is already one of the best in the league — the group has been at or near the top of the NFL all season long, according to the numbers from Football Outsiders — and figure to have a sizable edge in the postseason in this department. As a result, New England will utilize this contest against the Bills to make sure that things are clicking on all cylinders. The Patriots will face one of the better special teams units in the league this week in Buffalo, and it’ll be a good test for them going into the playoffs. Former New England practice squadder Marcus Thigpen has delivered a jolt as a punt and kick returner — he had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Packers earlier this month, and while he doesn’t have enough returns to qualify for a spot among the league leaders for punt returners, his 14.8 average is best among anyone with at least nine opportunities. Kicker Dan Carpenter has made a league-high 33 field goals (with just one blocked, and his 89.2 success rate is sixth in the league. Meanwhile, punter Colton Schmidt has a respectable 43.3 average, and has placed 29 of his 61 punts inside the 20 while not having a punt blocked all season. And finally, the Bills have limited teams to an average of 20 yards per kick return (fourth-best in the league) and 6.2 yards per punt return (fifth-best in the league).

9. Get a sense for where Buffalo stands at this stage in their development: Use the game as a teachable moment in hopes of trying to figure out just how much a young Bills’ team has grown over the last year. Buffalo has made great strides on both sides of the ball over the last year-plus, and even if they lose on Sunday, the Bills’ 8-8 record would represent the best mark for the franchise since they finished 9-7 in 2004. It’s a good resume for a young team: The 2014 Bills are not only guaranteed of at least a .500 record with wins over the Packers and Lions, but four of their losses were by a touchdown or less this year. They have matured into a very good young defense, one that went the entire 2014 season without one of its top playmakers in linebacker Kiko Alonso. On offense, despite the uncertainty at the quarterback position, Buffalo is the only team in the league which has five different targets with 40 or more catches. Led by Kyle Orton, (64 percent completion rate, 2,842 yards, 17 TDs, 10 INTs), the Bills lean mostly on receiver Sammy Watkins (62 catches on 123 targets, team-high 925 yards, 6 TDs) who has emerged as one of the better young pass catchers in the league. Meanwhile, running back Fred Jackson (65 catches, 87 targets, 497 yards, 1 TD), receiver Robert Woods (61 catches, 100 targets, 660 yards, 4 TDs) and Chandler (46 catches, 69 targets, 477 yards, 3 TDs) round out an impressive passing game. Is Buffalo capable of taking that next step in 2015? Sunday could provide some answers.

10. Win the game: Ultimately, you want to be able to go into the postseason on a positive note. While the game doesn’t have any sort of impact on their overall playoff seeding, winning the regular-season finale allows the franchise to go into the playoffs on a positive note. It would be the first 13-3 season for the Patriots since 2011, and would allow New England to boast of the best regular-season record in the league. There’s no such thing as the President’s Trophy in the NFL, but it would be a nice accomplishment, considering where this team was at the end of September.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

In his first move as “consultant” to Jets owner Woody Johnson, Charley Casserly has already started contacting possible replacements for GM John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan,