Jimmy Garoppolo has one of the best preseason stat lines of any NFL quarterback. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jimmy Garoppolo has one of the best preseason stat lines of any NFL quarterback. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The five things we’re looking for when it comes to Thursday’s preseason finale between the Patriots and the Giants:

Who is playing

As simple as this sounds, when it comes to a lot of players, whether or not they end up playing in the preseason finale can serve as an indication of their roster chances. If there are a few players who might be perceived as being on the bubble at this point in the summer (Chris Harper? Travaris Cadet?) who don’t play, history tells us that they have a good shot at making the final 53-man roster. There are a few exceptions to the rule, like Reggie Wayne (for reasons we’ll discuss shortly). But at the same time, don’t look for regulars like Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Jerod Mayo Thursday evening.

The snaps at quarterback

While there won’t be anywhere near the same level of scrutiny this time around — it would be surprising if Tom Brady plays, given his traditional workload in the preseason finale as well as the events of the last week — it’s still worth keeping an eye on. At least statistically, Jimmy Garoppolo is having one of the best preseasons of any quarterback in the NFL through the first three games, going 61-for-80 for 554 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Based on the improvements Garoppolo has shown over the course of the summer, the Patriots would love to see him continue on that same arc heading into the regular season. It’s also likely we’ll get our first glimpse of Ryan Lindley, who was signed as a camp arm earlier this summer after Matt Flynn couldn’t get on the field. Lindley has not seen any game action to this point in the preseason.

For the record, Brady has played in the fourth preseason game of the year on four occasions: 2002, 2003, 2010 and 2011. Here’s a look at his workload and production in each of those games:

2011: 5-for-9, 116 yards, 15 snaps vs. Giants
2010: 4-for-8, 51 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 13 snaps vs. Giants
2003: 8-for-10, 63 yards, 1 TD, 12 snaps vs. Bears
2002: 7-for-10, 59 yards, 20 snaps vs. Redskins

Reggie Wayne

The veteran receiver got 21 snaps in his preseason debut with the Patriots last week against Carolina, and had zero catches on one target. Even though the final preseason affair usually is given over to youngsters and other potential bubble candidates, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wayne get a handful of reps Thursday against the Giants in advance of the regular season.

The final chapter in some positional battles

Coming into training camp, there were a few positional battles that were worth monitoring, most notably the third-down back and second corner. With strong performances over the last two games (as well as solid efforts throughout the course of the summer), running back Dion Lewis and cornerback Tarrell Brown appear to have the inside track on both jobs. That’s not to say the Patriots would cut the rest of the candidates, only to suggest that when it comes to Lewis and Brown, those jobs are theirs to lose at this point on the calendar. That being said, there’s still a chance for someone to make some noise when it comes to adding depth at either one of those positions. Cadet and James White are the two with the best chances to chip in at third-down back (Cadet may be playing for a spot on the roster Thursday night), while Logan Ryan and Bradley Fletcher lead a group of challengers who still could make a case for the second corner spot.

The new guys

The Patriots added return specialist Jalen Saunders and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels on Tuesday, and while expectations should be tempered when it comes to both of them (if they even end up playing), it’ll be interesting to see how much action they get. Daniels is a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder out of Notre Dame, an undrafted free agent who was signed by Minnesota. He didn’t play last season, but in 2013 with the Fighting Irish he caught 49 passes for 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, Saunders is a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder who is now on his fifth team since being drafted by the Jets in 2014 (Jets, Saints, Seahawks, Cardinals and Patriots). He’s played in 15 games in the NFL with 15 punt returns and an 8.3 average per return. He also has three kick returns to his credit with an average of 46.3 yards per return. While there’s the real likelihood at one of these players was signed as a stopgap for Thursday night by a team that’s shorthanded at both spots, if they make a good impression with the opportunities that will be given to them, they could end up sticking around.

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Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

According to Sarah Wroblewski of Fox 25, there’s a slight chance of showers Thursday night at Gillette for Patriots-Giants.

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Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The NFL Network released a new snippet of the upcoming “Do Your Job” documentary, set to air Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. In this segment, Patriots coach Bill Belichick discusses the birth of one of the season’s leading catchphrases.

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Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Pete Morelli will serve as the referee for Thursday’s preseason finale between the Patriots and Giants, while the line judge for the contest will be Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first female full-time official, according to Footballzebras.com.

Pete Morelli will serve as the referee for Thursday’s preseason finale between the Patriots and Giants, while the line judge for the contest will be Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first female full-time official, according to Footballzebras.com.

The 63-year-old Morelli was initially hired by the NFL as a back judge in 1997, and was promoted to referee in 2003. He’s worked four Patriots games since the start of the 2013 season, including last year’s game against the Colts in Indy and the home contest against the Raiders at Gillette Stadium.

Thomas, who was hired in April, is in her first full-time season as an NFL official. She was the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first to officiate a bowl game and first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium.

For more on Morelli’s work as an official, check out his page at Pro Football Reference. And for more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio checked in with Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday morning to discuss possible outcomes in the Deflategate appeal hearing. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Mike Florio

Mike Florio

ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio checked in with Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday morning to discuss possible outcomes in the Deflategate appeal hearing. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Florio noted that as a federal judge, Berman has his job for life, and he likely isn’t worried about how his decision will be received. However, he undoubtedly wants to avoid having his ruling revoked upon appeal. That might lead him to find a middle ground that both sides would be willing to accept.

“He can do whatever he wants as long as he’s not concerned about being potentially reversed on appeal,” Florio said. “And my point is this: Apart from what the law would allow — and I think he would be reversed on appeal if he would try to find a way to cut this in half by surmising that two of the games of the suspension were for general awareness or whatever of the alleged deflation scheme, and the other two games were for failure to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation. If he would try to do that, but no one would appeal it, it doesn’t matter if it’s something that he’s not — air quotes — allowed to do within the confines of the law.”

Added Florio: “I was on radio yesterday … talking about what I see as the four options, and that’s one of the theoretical options. And as I was talking more about it, it hit me: Now, wait a minute. If no one appeals, it doesn’t matter. He can do whatever he wants if no one appeals. So it stops being a legal issue and it becomes a potential PR issue. If Tom Brady is willing to accept two games for failure to cooperate, exoneration of anything related to the alleged deflation scheme and his knowledge, involvement, whatever, if he just says, ‘€˜I want this to be done, I’ll take the two games, I’m not going to appeal,’ it puts the NFL in a tough, tough spot.”

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Florio said Berman might feel comfortable based on his discussions with the two sides that this is something that would best satisfy everyone.

“We don’t know much about what’s been said behind closed doors,” Florio said. “But this judge has been on the bench for 17, 18 years, practiced law for decades before that. Through the hours of meeting with these folks, my guess is he would have been able to glean some sense of how strident, of how determined — and the NFL is very determined on this. But the NFL would be in a very tough spot if Tom Brady doesn’t appeal. I mean, everybody wants this to be over. The fans want this to be over.

“This ruling, in theory, comes out less than a week, or roughly a week before the first game of the regular season. Everybody wants to clear the decks of the Deflategate stuff. Here’s a ruling from the judge splitting the baby in half, two-game suspension. Tom Brady says, ‘I’m fine with it if the NFL is fine with it.’ And what’s the NFL do with that? The NFL’s backed into a corner at that point. From a PR standpoint, how does the NFL say, ‘No, we choose to prolong this even more. We don’t think two games is enough. We want four games, and dammit, we’re going to keep pushing for more.’ ”

Flora said in this sense Brady’s case is comparable to that of Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy, who was charged with domestic abuse and initially suspended 10 games before his punishment was dropped to four games on appeal.

“What made me think of this was the Greg Hardy situation. Greg Hardy fought to have his suspension reduced from 10 games to four games, and he was determined to get it down to two games, because the NFLPA firmly believes that he only should have been suspended two games under the personal conduct policy that was in place when the conduct happened. You have to separate what you think of what Greg Hardy did from what the rules were at the time the conduct happened.

“But Greg Hardy and the NFLPA never pushed in court, because I think from a PR standpoint it becomes a potential debacle if you are perceived as going to court to get more than what the general public thinks you should be getting.  And that’s what the NFL would have to consider here. And I think there is a chance, as hard-headed as the NFL has been throughout this, there’s a chance the NFL, faced with that choice of being the one to keep this going — Brady’s ready to walk away — the NFL, faced with the choice of being the one to keep this going, very well may say, ‘We just don’t want to do this.’ ”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

DraftKings Kick off this football season with the biggest fantasy football contest ever on DraftKings! Prizes worth $10 million are up for grabs, including $2 million for first AND $1 million for second! PLAY IN THE WEEK 1 MILLIONAIRE MAKER, CLICK HERE.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

In this article we tackle the running backs, and, like in real football, some are easier to bring down than others. There are more complex backfields in the NFL these days than ever before. I’ve done my best to break the runners down into tiers to give you a feel for where the value breaks are. For those of you who will be drafting teams over the next 10 days or so, I will be updating these ratings frequently — sometimes more than once per day. You can find it all over at Rotobahn, and it’s free as can be.

If you’ve missed any of my other preseason articles, you can access them here:

Quarterbacks
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Redraftable rookies
Players who can outperform their ADP

A lot has happened the last few weeks. In fact, in the few days since I posted the tight end rankings, we have lost Jace Amaro for the year and Julius Thomas for next three weeks or so. Since I posted the wide receivers, we’ve lost both Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin for the season. Things move fast in August, so again, use my most updated materials when it comes time to draft. To know when updates occur, follow @Rotobahn on Twitter.

I’ll be back on Friday with an updated list of players to target based on their average draft position. On Sunday morning, Jim Hackett and I will be back with another edition of the Fantasy Football Hour.

Tier 1 (1-4)

Eddie Lacy, Packers
Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

The elite in all drafts at any position. These are the top four players on my board, and the separation between them is razor thin. In fact, I am mixing up what I do at the top of drafts. Lacy is the safe choice because his offense is so stable due to Aaron Rodgers. If you are looking for the most upside without giving away early games, then you go Peterson. If you play in PPR, my choice would be Bell, though you have to deal with a two-game suspension to start the season. If you play PPR and you can’t stomach the suspension, then Charles is a solid option at the top. The truth here is that you really can’t go wrong. These players are going to get it done for you barring injury, and they all project to be fully healthy at this time.

Tier 2 (5-9)

DeMarco Murray, Eagles
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Jeremy Hill, Bengals
C.J. Anderson, Broncos
Matt Forte, Bears

Just a mini-step down from the top tier. Murray is a stud on a team that knows how to run the ball. The reason he’s not in Tier 1 is Ryan Mathews, who will steal enough carries to limit Murray’s statistical upside. Murray is still a lock RB1 in my view. Lynch is a lock starter like Murray, and you can take him up with the Tier 1 options if you have confidence in his health. I have mild concerns about his age and carry totals in recent years, but he’s too good to let him slip very far. Hill and Anderson are the up-and-comers of the group. Hill is a monster runner with three-down capability, but he gets undercut a little bit by Giovani Bernard’s presence. Anderson is a somewhat unproven back, but he is in a fantastic situation with Peyton Manning at quarterback and with new coach Gary Kubiak running the scheme. Kubiak tends to settle on a main runner, and all signs point to Anderson as that guy. Forte is getting on in years and he will not be in Marc Trestman’s scheme any more. That should cost him a lot of receptions, so take note if you play in a PPR league.

Tier 3 (10-12)

Frank Gore, Colts
Lamar Miller, Dolphins
Mark Ingram, Saints

Though they are ranked as RB1 options, there is a drop-off from the elite and near-elite options. Gore, as much as I like him, is 32 years old and he’s got serious mileage to go with the age. If Gore was 25, he’d be ranked with the elite — no question. His age is baked in to this ranking. Still, despite the risks, you have a great runner playing behind Andrew Luck. In seasonal leagues, I’m very willing to roll with Gore, especially if he is my second running back. Miller is an ascending talent. He’s a good option if Gore’s age scares you. Miller has breakout potential. It would not shock me if he was a first-rounder in 2016 drafts. Mark Ingram has disappointed many a fantasy owner over the years. The thing is, he’s playing the best ball of his career and he’s playing behind the best offensive line of his career . I also like his schedule quite a bit. If his injury history worries you, consider using Khiry Robinson as a handcuff option in deeper leagues.

Tier 4 (13-17)

Ameer Abdullah, Lions
Melvin Gordon, Chargers
LeSean McCoy, Bills
Justin Forsett, Ravens
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

We are into the clear RB2 level now. Some of these backs have big upside, but I have concerns with each back on some level. Abdullah will start off in a time share. He has the talent to blow that backfield up, but it still needs to happen. His main competition, Joique Bell, just got healthy. My guess is that Abdullah is the primary back by the end of September. Gordon has a similar issue in that he will not be a full-time back because of Danny Woodhead‘s ability in passing situations and in the red zone, which will cost Gordon a few scores. McCoy will go a lot higher than I have him ranked, but I just don’t trust him. Teams will be stacking the box to stop him. Consider what McCoy did for Chip Kelly last year, and then consider that his new situation is worse. Forsett is older and he has no track record of staying healthy as a workhorse back save for last season. I do think you can bump him up a tier in PPR scoring, so feel free to do that. Marc Trestman’s offense should lend itself to many receptions for Forsett. Stewart could have a big year and he’s great for all scoring formats. The obvious issue is his health. He’s had a very tough time staying healthy. That said, 2014 went well once he got on the field and he is 100 percent right now.

Tier 5 (18-23)

Carlos Hyde, 49ers
T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
Arian Foster, Texans
Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Latavius Murray, Raiders
Joseph Randle, Cowboys

I am a huge fan of Hyde, but his offensive line is not as good as it’s been in recent years and his team may not have many leads to protect, and that hurts the value of an early-down back. Reggie Bush is there to work passing downs, and it’s hard to predict that Hyde will get much of that action. If the Niners were better, I’d move Hyde up, but their problems as a team will make Hyde a little inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Yeldon is a fine back out of Alabama and he projects to play on all downs and in all situations. He may get worked in slowly, because there are some good veterans in Jacksonville. Still, the Jags brought in this kid to be the main guy, and I expect that to happen fairly quickly. Foster is very tough to value because we do not know when he will return from his groin surgery. If you are a risk-taker, I suggest waiting until late-Round 4 or early-Round 5 to pull the trigger. Martin has let a lot of fantasy GMs down in recent years, but he’s looking very good in preseason and the Bucs should open things up with a better downfield passing game. I like Martin a lot as a value RB2. Murray is a bit like Hyde in that he could be more of an early down back with Roy Helu there to handle passing downs. Will the Raiders be protecting many leads? It’s an issue, but Murray’s talent is real, so he’s a solid high-upside RB2. Randle may require some patience as the Cowboys claim to be using a running back-by-committee approach. I just don’t see Darren McFadden staying healthy for long, and that could and should open the door for Randle to make a big impact at some point. I like him as a value RB2.

Tier 6 (24-29)

Todd Gurley, Rams
Andre Ellington, Cardinals
Alfred Morris, Washington
C.J. Spiller, Saints
Chris Ivory, Jets
LeGarrette Blount, Patriots

There’s a lot of potential in this group, but plenty of problems, too. Gurley has RB1 upside on a weekly basis as soon as he is healthy enough to carry the load. But when will that be? The Rams are treating his rehab like a shuttle launch. They won’t let him take off unless conditions are perfect. It makes sense. Perfect sense. Still, there’s no way to tell how they will choose to break him in. I look at drafting Gurley a little bit like drafting Arian Foster. I am willing to take the risk, but I need to build my team’s core first. The fifth round is where I can reasonably take that kind of shot, and that assumes my draft is going according to plan. Ellington has more upside in PPR formats and I love that he fits into Bruce Arians’ scheme. The obvious issue here is his injury history, which is thick and rich. I’m willing to take a flier on Ellington, but I won’t sleep well at night if he’s my RB2. Much better to have him as a strong RB3 or flex option. Backing up Ellington with rookie David Johnson is a very sound move in big formats. Morris will go higher than I have him ranked, and I suggest you embrace that and let somebody else have him. There’s just too much wrong in Washington to buy into an early-down pounder. This is a team that projects to be playing from behind early and often. Spiller has enormous potential, especially in PPR leagues. The issue is his knee scope and the fact that he’s in a backfield that already boasts Mark Ingram, who will be the main guy on early downs. Still, if you can land Spiller at RB3 prices, he offers a high ceiling once he gets healthy, which should be soon. Ivory is looking like the Jets’ lead back and he will be good for as long as he stays healthy, but he is a big risk in terms of health and he is a game-dependent back on a team that has the potential to be behind often. He’s an RB2 when healthy and he can be had at RB3 prices in some drafts. Blount has the suspension for Week 1, so that hurts his value a bit, but I like what he can do for you in non-PPR leagues and he’s reasonably priced.

Tier 7 (30-36)

Ryan Mathews, Eagles
Isaiah Crowell, Browns
Tre Mason, Rams
Rashad Jennings, Giants
Duke Johnson, Browns
Devonta Freeman, Falcons
Tevin Coleman, Falcons

Mathews has the most upside of anybody in this group. All he needs is an injury to DeMarco Murray and he’d be an elite RB1 option. As it stands, Mathews is a decent weekly flex play in 12-team formats. Crowell has upside if he can earn enough playing time, but he plays in a deep backfield. Mason would be higher, but his hamstring injury threatens to limit his appeal in the early weeks of the season, and that is when he was supposed to have the most value. By the time he’s 100 percent, Gurley could be leading the way. Jennings has RB1 weekly potential, but only as a feature back. It appears that Shane Vereen and Andre Williams will get significant playing time, thus diluting Jennings’ impact. Duke Johnson is one of the backs I am targeting in this tier. His recent concussion is a red flag and that knocks him down a peg, but if his ADP slips a bit he still could be a good gamble, especially in PPR leagues. Freeman and Coleman are too close to call. In the end, they could end up splitting the backfield if both do well and stay healthy. Both backs are good fits for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan‘s scheme. If one back takes control, you’ll have a steal on your hands, especially in big formats. Either back could be a bargain if they slip a little bit. It’s usually Freeman who slips farther. Look for him in the 10th round or so.

DraftKings Kick off this football season with the biggest fantasy football contest ever on DraftKings! Prizes worth $10 million are up for grabs, including $2 million for first AND $1 million for second! PLAY IN THE WEEK 1 MILLIONAIRE MAKER, CLICK HERE.

Blog Author: 
Peter Davidson

Tom Brady might be nervous while he awaits a ruling from Judge Richard Berman on his Deflategate suspension appeal, but he isn’t showing it.

Tom Brady might be nervous while he awaits a ruling from Judge Richard Berman on his Deflategate suspension appeal, but he isn’t showing it.

At the team’s annual charity event Tuesday night at Gillette Stadium, Brady took part in a brief panel discussion with some teammates, and he wasn’t hesitant to poke fun at his situation. When asked if he did anything this offseason to celebrate the team’s Super Bowl title, Brady drew laughs when he cracked, “Yeah, it’s been such an enjoyable offseason.”

Brady went on to say his favorite offseason activity was following Julian Edelman on Instagram.

“When he rubbed the mud all over his body, that’s probably the one I enjoyed most,” he said (via the Boston Herald).

Brady also commented on his dedication to healthy eating and how he tries to pass it along to his younger teammates.

“All of us athletes work pretty hard to stay in shape, and to be really disciplined with what you do,” Brady said. “It takes a lot to come out here and to perform at a high level every single day with the pressure and expectations of trying to accomplish what we try to accomplish every single year. The commitment the players make, and the commitment the coaches make to try to establish such a high level of play year in and year out, is something I learned from being here. I try to pass those things on to the next generation of great Patriots players.”

Added Brady with a laugh: “Sometimes they don’€™t listen very well, but you just keep saying it. Just like I tell my kids. Then you have to repeat it over and over again, and ultimately, maybe it sinks in.”

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar