FOXBORO — With the exception of practice squad defensive back Daxton Swanson, the Patriots had perfect attendance at practice on Tuesday.

FOXBORO — With the exception of practice squad defensive back Daxton Swanson, the Patriots had perfect attendance at practice on Tuesday.

New England was in sweats and shells on the lower grass fields behind Gillette Stadium, and the team was joined by new defensive end Cam Henderson, who was wearing No. 98. The Patriots continue preparing for their regular-season finale against the Bills Sunday afternoon in Foxboro.

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Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Tim Wright

Tim Wright

Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat — a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback — it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown after 15 regular-season games this year.

WR Julian Edelman: 92 catches on 134 targets (69 percent)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 82 catches on 129 targets (64 percent)
WR Brandon LaFell: 70 catches on 113 targets (62 percent)
RB Shane Vereen: 49 catches on 73 targets (67 percent)
TE Tim Wright: 25 catches on 30 targets (83 percent)
WR Danny Amendola: 23 catches on 37 targets (62 percent)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 catches on 10 targets (60 percent)
FB James Develin: 6 catches on 8 targets (75 percent)
RB Stevan Ridley: 4 catches on 5 targets (80 percent)
TE Michael Hoomananwanui: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
RB James White: 3 catches on 3 targets (100 percent)
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
RB LeGarrette Blount: 4 catches on 4 targets (100 percent)
RB Brandon Bolden: 2 catches on 4 targets (50 percent)
WR Brian Tyms: 1 catch on 5 targets (20 percent)
RB Jonas Gray: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game and how the Patriots will handle potentially resting their starters, and also to look ahead to the postseason.

NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game and how the Patriots will handle potentially resting their starters, and also to look ahead to the postseason. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

With Denver falling to Cincinnati on Monday night, the Patriots clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC and Sunday’s game with the Bills at Gillette Stadium is essentially meaningless, as the Bills have eliminated from postseason contention. The question now is how much will the Patriots starters play, if at all.

“I think you play them,” Harrison said. “I think you go out there and you want to go into the playoffs because you’ve established a week off. I don’t believe you rest your guys two weeks. I think you have to continue to play them and go out on a good positive note. This might be a time you might want to bring in some of the backups and give them valuable playing experience, but I would play my guys at least a half.”

There are a lot of different scenarios with pros and cons to each, but ultimately the decision will be on the shoulders of coach Bill Belichick.

“I think that is up to coach Belichick,” said Harrison. “Obviously you don’t want your starters playing terrible and then pull them and you have that bad taste going into that bye week. I think it’s one of those things as a coach it is your job. If they are playing well, if you have the chance to give some guys like I said, some added experience for younger guys and move some guys around, I think that is something Bill will take a close look at. At the same time you want to protect your guys. You don’t want any of your main guys getting injured in a game like this.”

With the Broncos falling Monday night and now 11-4 on the year, it would seem aside from the Patriots, there is no dominant team in the AFC right now. Even with the loss, Harrison says Denver will be there in the postseason and possibly is still the team the Patriots should be concerned with the most in the AFC.

“I still think you have to take into consideration Denver,” Harrison said. “That whole picture with Peyton Manning, the defense. They didn’t play a good game last night and that is to be expected. Great teams they struggle at times and that is just the whole thing about the National Football League. Cincinnati played probably the best most complete game that they’ve played all year, but I still believe — even the Steelers, they are a sneaky team with that offense and all those young weapons that they have, the defense isn’t great. In particular the secondary. They are a young team up front, but it is one of those things if the Patriots played their game, they can beat anyone in the AFC.”

Manning has struggled of late, reportedly battling injuries as well. Harrison was asked if he thinks Manning will play another season. He said he likely will, but there will be a lot of pressure on him.

“I have no idea at this point,” he said. “He said he wants to play, he said he still feels like he is enjoying himself competing and preparing. I think it is one of those things where he still is going to have a really great team around him. I think he might play one more year, but I think it is a lot of pressure on Peyton Manning because Tom Brady is playing fantastic. Ben Roethlisberger is right there in the AFC.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

We touched on it here last spring, but with the regular season coming to an end, it’s worth revisiting one of our favorite statistical trends: For the last 11 years in the NFL, a team has managed to go from worst-to-first in their division, going from the basement to a playoff spot. Last year, the Panthers (NFC South) and Eagles (NFC East) pulled it off, winning a division title one year after finishing in last place.

Heading into the final week of the regular season, the only team with a shot to pull it off this year is Atlanta. The Falcons tied for last in the South last year at 4-12, and while they’re not much better this season, they’ve managed to take advantage of the most woeful division in football this year. If Atlanta (6-9) can beat Carolina (6-8-1), the Falcons would be able to take home a division title and host a playoff game.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price


FOXBORO — With the No. 1 seed clinched, how much will Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork and other Patriots starters play Sunday against the Bills? It’s the question on everyone’s mind now that the Patriots have nothing to gain with home field clinched through to the Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick has taken different approaches in past years in a similar situation. On Tuesday, the Patriots coach insisted the Patriots’ locked playoff seeding won’t change his approach to managing players and their playing time.

“I don’t think it really has a big effect on what we’re doing,” Belichick said. “Just keep getting ready for Buffalo. That’s what our challenge is. Whatever our position is, it is. That’ll all take care of itself in due course. It doesn’t really have anything to do with right now.

“We’ll do the same thing we always do so it won’t be any different this week than it’s been any other week. It won’t be any different this year than it’s been any other year. We’ll do what we feel is best for our football team, period. Whatever is best for our team then that’s what we’ll try to do.”

While fans will debate the value of playing players to stay fresh versus resting them, Belichick offered some perspective on having so much experience in dealing with these situations in the past.

“I don’t know enough about other sports and playoffs and all that,” Belichick said. “I’m familiar with lacrosse. I don’t think it’s really too applicable here. All I know is what I do and what I’ve done because I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of these postseason situations over that period of time, some as a head coach, some as an assistant coach observing other people do it.

“I think in the end, I try to utilize our staff, which we have a lot of experienced staff members, both on the coaching staff and in other areas of the organization and do what’s best for our football team every single day and every single week and every single year. That’s all I try to do.

“The answer to every question really is the same based on the information, based on the situation, always try to do what’s best for the team. Every year is different, every team is different, every situation is different. That’s why every evaluation has got to be different. Maybe the decision is the same, maybe it’s different, I don’t know. I always try to do what’s best for the team. It’s the same answer to every one of those questions.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
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Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Quarterback Kyle Orton will lead the Bills against the Patriots Sunday in Foxboro. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Quarterback Kyle Orton will lead the Bills against the Patriots Sunday in Foxboro. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Here are five things you have to know about the Bills, who face the Patriots in the regular-season finale for both teams Sunday at Gillette Stadium:

(A disclaimer: Look, in the grand scheme of things, this game doesn’€™t mean anything. The Patriots have wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and the Bills are out of the playoffs after last week’€™s loss to the Raiders. As a result, no one is really sure how this game is going to play out, at least from a personnel perspective. At the same time, there are some statistical patterns that have taken place over the course of the season that might give us some insight on how Sunday’€™s contest might turn out. As a result, the following is our best guess as to what is going to happen on Sunday.)

They have one of the better pass defenses in the league.

The Bills have established one of the better pass-rushing groups in the AFC. As a team, Buffalo leads the league in sacks with 50, with those impressive numbers coming off a 2013 season where the Bills finished second in the league in sacks with 49. Mario Williams has 13.5 sacks, while Marcell Dareus has 10 (although as of Monday, Dareus is a question mark because of a knee injury he sustained in Sunday’€™s loss to the Raiders in Oakland). Jerry Hughes (9.5 sacks) and Kyle Williams (5.5 sacks) round out the group, which is an an impressive collection of pass rushing talent as their is in the league. Overall, their pressure is a big reason why the Bills are third in the league when it comes to pass defense (209.9 passing yards per game allowed). All that being said, quarterback Tom Brady was able to throw for a season-high 361 yards in a 37-22 win over the Bills on Oct. 12 in Buffalo. And that was after starting running back Stevan Ridley went down with a season-ending knee injury during the game. (In addition, Brady’€™s 73 percent completion percentage and 139.6 quarterback rating for the afternoon were both his second-best of the season.)

They are, however, vulnerable against the run.

The Buffalo run defense isn’€™t necessarily bad — its 13th in the league in traditional metrics (105.8 rushing yards per game allowed) and 11th in advanced metrics (Football Outsiders has them 11th in run defense entering this past weekend). But it’€™s clear that when faced with running or passing the ball, many opposing offenses have chosen to go with the former. The Bills have yielded more than 100 rushing yards in seven of the last nine games, and while some of that is situational yardage that didn’€™t necessarily come back to hurt them (including the 158 rushing yards they gave up in a win over the Packers earlier this month), the numbers suggest you can beat them on the ground. Dareus, Hughes, Mario Williams and old friend Brandon Spikes are considered the best run stoppers Buffalo has to offer. In the October contest against the Patriots, New England struggled at times to maintain consistency on the ground, finishing with just 50 rushing yards — however, part of that was due likely to the fact that Ridley went down with a knee injury, forcing the Patriots to make some adjustments on the afternoon.

Their running game has really struggled as of late.

The Bills are coming off their worst single-game rushing performance since 1997, a 13-yard effort in a surprising loss to the Raiders in Oakland. In his first action since fracturing his collarbone in Week 7, C.J. Spiller ran four times for minus-four yards. Veteran Fred Jackson wasn’€™t much better (six carries, 10 yards), while Boobie Dixon had three carries for seven yards. For a team considered to have one of the deepest and most diverse running games in the league, it was a sad performance. Overall, the Bills are 25th in the league in running the ball (91.9 rushing yards per game) and 26th in the NFL in yards per carry (3.7). Jackson is still their No. 1 back, at least statistically (123 carries, 467 yards, 2 TDs), while Dixon (98 carries, 405 yards, 1 TD) and Spiller (73 carries, 283 yards, 0 TDs) round out the backfield. As a team, they’€™ve failed to hit 100 yards on the ground as a team in eight of their 15 games this season.

They have enough pass catchers to really test the New England secondary.

Led by Kyle Orton (64 percent completion rate, 2,842 yards, 17 TDs, 10 INTs), the Bills have developed a relatively well-rounded passing game. Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins (62 catches on 123 targets, team-high 925 yards, 6 TDs) has emerged as one of the better young pass catchers in the league, while running back Fred Jackson (65 catches, 87 targets, 497 yards, 1 TD), receiver Robert Woods (61 catches, 100 targets, 660 yards, 4 TDs) and tight end Scott Chandler (46 catches, 69 targets, 477 yards, 3 TDs). One of the ways that opposing teams have been able to really test the Patriots is with a deep passing game, going after third and fourth options as they try and stress young corners like Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler. Chandler has always been a handful for New England — while he isn’€™t an overwhelming presence a la Rob Gronkowski, his consistency against the Patriots has always been impressive. (He had six catches on nine targets for 105 yards in the October contest against the Patriots in Buffalo.)

They are one of the few teams in the league that feature a special teams unit that’€™s comparable to the Patriots.

The Bills are pretty good across the board when it comes to special teams. Kicker Dan Carpenter has made a league-high 33 field goals, and his 89.2 success rate is sixth in the league. (He’€™s had one field goal attempt blocked this year.) 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. Former Patriots practice squadder Marcus Thigpen has taken over punt return duties from Leodis McKelvin, and broke a 75-yarder for a touchdown against the Packers earlier this month. He doesn’€™t have enough returns to qualify for a spot among the league leaders, but his 14.8 average is best among all returners with at least nine opportunities. Thigpen also averaged 21.7 in his three return chances last Sunday against the Raiders. He’€™s relatively young, but has distinguished himself as a dangerous special teams threat with the Bills in a very short time. And 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).

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price