Patriots vs. Jets preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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video When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. TV: CBS.

Back in the day, it was called the Border War. This time it will be more like the Border Snore -- at least in terms of the overall stakes.

It means something to the New England Patriots (11-3), who can clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it's strictly a pride game for the New York Jets (3-11). That said, it's Patriots-Jets, which means there's always intriguing subtext. The main storylines are Rex Ryan's final home game, presumably, and Darrelle Revis' return.

NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss, who covers the Patriots, and Rich Cimini, who covers the Jets, discuss the matchup.

Cimini: Bill Belichick has faced Ryan more often than any AFC East coach. They’re polar opposites in terms of personality and coaching style, so I’m wondering: If you could inject Belichick with truth serum, what do you think he’d say about Ryan?

Reiss: Reading Belichick’s mind is sometimes as difficult as a quarterback trying to get a read on Ryan’s spin-the-dial defensive schemes when Rex is at his best (e.g., the 28-21 road playoff victory over the Patriots in the 2010 season). But I’ll take a shot at it. I think Belichick has a pretty good feel for him personally after having his brother, Rob, on his staff in the early 2000s and I think he respects him as a defensive coach and a competitor. This hasn’t been the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals over the past six years; Ryan has given the Patriots quite a bit to handle. Now, if that truth serum were a really strong dose, I might envision a scenario in which Belichick rolls his eyes at some of the bravado and says something like: This has been very similar, both on and off the field, to coaching against his father Buddy back in the day. Like father, like son.

Ryan talked about not coming into the AFC East to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. How would you sum up what he has accomplished in the past six seasons?

Cimini: You're right. Ryan was full of bravado when he arrived in 2009, vowing to tilt the balance of power in the division. It hasn't worked out the way he planned, as the Jets have finished as also-rans every year. I really thought they had a chance to close the gap on the Patriots after beating them in the 2010 divisional playoffs, the Jets' biggest victory since Super Bowl III, but Ryan & Co. slid back down the mountain. Ryan is 4-8 against the Patriots, plus that memorable postseason win -- not a very good showing. But Ryan has fared better than his predecessors, and I think that should count for something. He gave it his "best shot," as he likes to say, but he's had the misfortune of being in a division with arguably the greatest coach-quarterback tandem in history.

The site of Revis in a Patriots uniform probably will nauseate many Jets fans. So what do you think: Will Revis stick around beyond this year, or will he chase the money elsewhere?

Reiss: The Patriots are going to take their best shot to re-sign him, and my viewpoint has been that if New England is competitive with the best offers from a total dollars, structure and guaranteed-money standpoint, they will have the tiebreaker edge based on the positive experience that Revis has had in 2014. But they have a team philosophy as it relates to the salary cap that is extremely disciplined, and it’s hard for me to see them blowing that up for one player if the bidding gets to extremely high levels. As for Revis, I would expect him to attempt to maximize his financial opportunity, but I don’t sense that he would “chase the money” if it meant landing in a place that he viewed as being similar to a 2014-Oakland-Raiders-type sitaution. So there’s a balance there. In the end, it’s impossible to answer this question without knowing what the market will dictate. One interesting aspect to it would be if Ryan is let go by the Jets, lands with a new team as head coach, and that team makes a big run at Revis. That would certainly affect the market for Revis and potentially make it tougher for the Patriots to re-sign him.

Few saw 3-11 as where the Jets would be. How would you sum up what has led to this?

Cimini: It's pretty simple, and I'm going to break out another Ryan quote to illustrate my point. He always says the two positions that can win (or lose) games faster than any others are quarterback and cornerback -- and the Jets lost a bunch of games because of poor play at those spots. General manager John Idzik mismanaged the cornerback position in the offseason, leaving his head coach with a thin and talent-deprived unit. To play his scheme, Ryan needs man-to-man corners the way humans need water and oxygen. At quarterback, Geno Smith hasn't developed as well as they had hoped, throwing the offense out of whack. They've been operating with a small margin for error, hurting them in close games. They're 3-6 in games decided by eight points or fewer.

For the Jets to pull off the upset, they have to play their best game of the year and “hope something is missing” from the Patriots, according to Ryan. What could possibly be missing for them?

Reiss: We saw it Oct. 16, when the Jets came into the Patriots’ home stadium and nearly pulled off the upset -- shoddy tackling on defense, and a time-of-possession edge for the Jets of 40:54 to 19:06. If the Patriots can’t stop the running game, that would be one ingredient that could produce a carbon copy of what we saw in mid-October, and maybe this time the Jets could pull off the victory. The other thing that comes to mind is shaky play by the offensive line, which has had some ups and downs in recent weeks. If the Jets can get to quarterback Tom Brady early and capitalize on some of the O-line miscues we’ve seen, that would be another area they could have an edge.

A win over the Patriots would mean a lot to Rex Ryan and this team. What are the key areas you see that could help the Jets spring the upset?

Cimini: Basically, this is the Jets' playoff game -- and, yes, I do think they have a chance to win. It would take a ball-control offense and a plus number in the turnover margin. As the Jets proved in the previous meeting, it takes more 200 rushing yards and a 40-minute possession time to knock off the Patriots. They need a couple of field position-changing plays, either on offense or defense or special teams -- or all of the above. The X factor could be Percy Harvin, who didn't play in the first game. That could depend on the condition of his sprained ankle. He didn't do much last week. If they can get a big play or two out of him, the Jets might have a chance.
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Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The best player of the Rex Ryan era is coming to town this weekend for what probably will be the final home game of the coach's tenure. If life were a storybook, Ryan and Darrelle Revis still would be together, the mad-scientist coach and the shutdown corner combining their unique talents to disarm opposing offenses.

As we all know, Revis was ripped from Ryan's arms two years ago and now, given the sad state of the New York Jets, it's fashionable to play the blame game: Who ran Revis out of town?

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesThe New York Jets defense was never the same after Darrelle Revis left the team.
Was it owner Woody Johnson? How about Johnson's general manager? John Idzik, the human pinata, gets blamed for everything, so it's easy to throw him under the bus -- except he's not the reason. The person most responsible for the Revis divorce is Revis.

Revis was all about the money, and his refusal to bend in contract negotiations left the Jets with little choice but to trade him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. He was adamant about a $16 million-a-year deal, and he ended up getting what he wanted from the Bucs, if only for a season. Revis is a terrific businessman, but let's not paint him as the victim in the break-up. For six years, he squeezed as much money out of the Jets as humanly possible -- which is his right -- but it got to a point where the organization got tired of being an ATM.

Johnson, fed up with the contract squabbles, went into the 2013 offseason with a desire to trade his most valuable asset, and he found a GM willing to carry it out. One candidate who interviewed for the GM job, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Johnson made it clear his preference was to deal Revis to the highest bidder. It was a sound business decision. Revis was coming off major knee surgery and wasn't interested in giving the Jets a hometown discount. The Jets, after a 6-10 season, saw him as a bargaining chip to accelerate the rebuilding process.

Truth be told, Idzik did a good job, extracting a first-round pick for an injured player and using the pick to select Sheldon Richardson -- the GM's one shining moment. Where Idzik may have dropped the ball was last offseason, spurning a potential Revis reunion when the player's people reached out as soon as he was released by the Bucs. I didn't criticize Idzik at the time, assuming he had a legitimate fallback plan to restock the cornerback position. Who knew the plan was Dimitri Patterson?

Naturally, Revis ended up with the New England Patriots, making it worse. Still, the Jets felt they made the right call, saying privately they wanted to stay away from one-year rentals and build with long-term players. It sounded reasonable at the time. Now, of course, they look like fools. They're playing with third-string corners, finishing out one of the worst seasons in franchise history, and Revis could be on his way to the Super Bowl.

"I’m over here, that ship has sailed," Revis said Wednesday, responding to a question about whether he could've helped the Jets. "I missed that boat. I caught the New England Patriots boat"

The real loser is Ryan, who hasn't been the same without his best player. He has coached the same number of games with Revis as without him, and the results aren't close.

From 2009 to 2012, Revis played 47 games with the Jets. They went 27-20 with a defense that ranked fifth in points allowed. In the 47 games without Revis, counting games he missed because of pre-trade injuries, Ryan is 18-29 and the defense is 22nd in points allowed. A better post-Revis plan by Idzik would have helped level the numbers.

The Patriots? For a change, they have a real defense.

"He's had a great season," Ryan said of his former star. "He's playing well, there's no question about that."

He'll never say it because he's a good company man, but Ryan wanted a Revis reunion. In his introductory news conference, Ryan called Revis the best corner in football at a time when no one else was making that claim. Ryan knew what he had, a once-in-a-generation talent. Everything changed on that fateful day in Miami, September, 2012, when Revis wrecked his knee in what became his final game as a Jet.

He could've returned, of course, but this is a business. No one knows that better than Revis.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Muhammad Wilkerson could return this week against the New England Patriots.

Wilkerson
Or he could be done for the season.

The New York Jets are being curiously non-committal on Wilkerson's status. He has missed three games with a turf-toe injury and, although he practiced again Wednesday on a limited basis, it's an up-in-the-air situation.

Rex Ryan objected to the notion that Wilkerson might "shut it down," claiming that phrase suggests his star defensive end might not want to play hurt. But the coach acknowledged, "Is there a chance he might not play (for the rest of the season)? I guess there's a chance, but he's not shutting it down. I don't like the way that sounds."

Wilkerson said he suffered a minor setback last week when a teammate stepped on his foot in practice. He acknowledged he's still "a little iffy about people being around me," meaning other players in the trenches. He's on his second specially designed shoe, hoping it provides enough comfort to allow him to play. With only two games left, they're proceeding with caution.

In other injury news, wide receiver Percy Harvin didn't practice because of his sprained ankle, but all signs point to him remaining in the lineup to face the New England Patriots.

That he's able to run is a minor miracle, based on the diagnosis. Ryan revealed that Harvin suffered a third-degree sprain two weeks ago. By definition, a third-degree sprain is a completely torn ligament.

Harvin earned toughness points for playing 37 snaps in last Sunday's win over the Tennessee Titans. Clearly, he wasn't 100 percent (he had no catches), but he reported the ankle feels "a lot better" than it did last week.

The official injury reports:

New York Jets

Did not practice: Harvin.

Limited: Wilkerson, G Willie Colon (knee), S Jaiquawn Jarrett (shoulder).

Full: S Antonio Allen (hand), K Nick Folk (right hip), RB Chris Johnson (knee), C Nick Mangold (finger), S Calvin Pryor (shoulder).

New England Patriots

Out: DE Dominique Easley

Limited: LS Danny Aiken (finger), CB Kyle Arrington (hamstring), RB LeGarrette Blount (shoulder), G Dan Connolly (ankle), WR Julian Edelman (thigh, concussion), T Cameron Fleming (ankle), LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), DE Chandler Jones (hip), WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder), DE Rob Ninkovich (heel), RB Shane Vereen (ankle), LB Chris White (ankle).

Full: QB Tom Brady (ankle).
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan doesn't regret the "rings" quote.

"Oh, hell, no, because I never came here to do that," he said Wednesday, referring to his classic sound bite from 2009 in which he claimed he didn't take the New York Jets' head-coaching job to kiss Bill Belichick's Super Bowl rings.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Leon Halip/Getty Images"I came here to kick his butt," Rex Ryan said of Bill Belichick. "Obviously, I haven't been very successful at it, but that list is long."
"I came here to kick his butt," Ryan continued. "Obviously, I haven't been very successful at it, but that list is long. I'm not just the only name on that list. I might be the only one that had the guts to say something about it, but that's how I am. That's how I feel about this week, too. No different than any other time I've been here."

Several players said Ryan was more fired up than usual during the team meeting. The Jets face Belichick and the New England Patriots this week, and that always brings out the bravado in Ryan. He told the players they will approach the game as if they're 11-3, not 3-11.

"We don't like them, they don't like us," wide receiver Jeremy Kerley said. "There's a lot of history there."

When he arrived in 2009, Ryan was hoping to make a different kind of history. His goal was to dethrone the Patriots, and he wasn't shy about telling it to the world. When they stunned the Patriots in the 2010 divisional playoffs, it looked as if the Jets had closed the gap. It hasn't turned out that way.

Under Ryan, the Jets' regular-season record is 3-8 against the Patriots. In the same span, the Miami Dolphins are 3-9 and the Buffalo Bills are 1-10. But the Jets have that playoff win, so Ryan can make the case he's had more success than the others in the division.

But not as much as he wanted.

"I don't think you can just saddle that on me alone," Ryan said. "Hell, I think a lot of teams couldn't knock them off. ... To date, I haven't. I know exactly how I came in. It's how I am every day and every year. Yeah, you want to beat them, without question."

 

Patriots' injury report: Julian Edelman, 11 others limited

December, 17, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are dealing with a long list of injuries as they enter the final two weeks of the NFL regular season.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was previously listed with a thigh injury, is now also listed with a concussion. He was a limited participant at Wednesday’s practice.

Another new addition to the injury report is cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring). He injured his hamstring against the Dolphins and did not play the rest of the game.

Starting left guard Dan Connolly (neck/ankle) also missed the remainder of the game against the Dolphins after injuring his neck. He was previously dealing with the ankle injury.

Running back LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and long snapper Danny Aiken (finger) are also new additions to the injury report.

Arrington, Connolly, Blount and Aiken were all limited at Wednesday’s practice.

Defensive end Chandler Jones (hip), rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (heel), running back Shane Vereen (ankle) and linebacker Chris White (ankle) all continued to be limited participants, too.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) remains a full participant at practice.

DAVIE, Fla. – To get a sense of the Miami Dolphins' ideal mindset in the final two games, look no further than the credo written on the wall inside the team's locker room.

“I will never accept defeat,” the Dolphins’ credo states in bold letters. “I will never quit.”

We will find out Sunday if the Dolphins (7-7) live up to their year-long motto when they host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) in a battle of mediocre teams. This game essentially has nothing at stake. Miami still has a small chance for the postseason but was virtually eliminated following back-to-back losses to the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

However, Dolphins players insisted that they will fight to the end. They still have a shot to finish with a winning season for the first time since 2008.

“The thing is that winning two games means something, so we take things one game at a time,” Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. “So beating Minnesota means something. Beating New York means something. But finishing 9-7 and not getting into the playoffs really doesn't mean anything.”

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill even cited a famous football line from former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards.

“You play to win the game,” Tannehill said Wednesday.

Joe Philbin, who is 22-24 as Miami’s head coach, finds himself in a challenging spot the next two weeks. Rumors are swirling that Philbin could be coaching his final two games with the Dolphins after potentially missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Philbin is doing his best to block out the noise, but he still must motivate his players to perform well in the final two games.

For players, this serves as an audition. Change is inevitable on a roster when teams are not successful, and Miami will have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason with high-priced veterans and prospective free agents.

Last year, Miami was in the playoff hunt until the final game. This season feels much different because the season essentially ended in Gillette Stadium in Week 15, leaving the team to deal with two uneventful games before wrapping up another disappointing season.

It will be up to leaders such as defensive end Cameron Wake and Tannehill to keep the team focused.

“You play for each other, you play for your team and you play to represent yourself and what you stand for as a person and as a player,” Tannehill said. “I don’t have any problem getting motivation. I love to compete, regardless of if the playoffs are on the line or not.”
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus topped fan voting among defensive tackles for the 2015 Pro Bowl.

Dareus
Fan voting, which accounts for one-third of the selection process, ended Dec. 15. Final selections, which will be announced Dec. 23 at 8 p.m. ET, will also take into account votes from players and coaches.

Dareus received 331,006 votes, with Chicago Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea (297,826 votes) finishing second at the position.

No other Bills players topped fan voting at their positions for the 2015 Pro Bowl, which will be played Jan. 25 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Last season, Dareus and linebacker Kiko Alonso both topped fan voting at their respective positions but were not initially selected to the Pro Bowl. Dareus was later selected as an alternate.

Patriots preparing for Percy Harvin

December, 17, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Despite the disparity in their records, the New York Jets are always a good bet to play the New England Patriots tough. The Jets' addition of dynamic wide receiver and kick returner Percy Harvin figures to make things even tougher Sunday for the Patriots.

Harvin
Two days after the Patriots narrowly defeated the Jets 27-25 in Week 7, the Jets landed Harvin via a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Since, Harvin has served as the team's primary kickoff returner while also adding a versatile element to their offense.

"He's very fast, explosive," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "He's done a lot of good things in this league. He's a good football player."

"He poses so many problems," added Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater. "He runs so hard, he runs like he's 240 pounds as far as breaking tackles, but he's got the speed of some of the elite guys in the league. He really poses a lot of problems with his skill set. It's not going to be a one-man effort, it's going to take all 11."

Between his time with the Seahawks and Jets this season, Harvin ranks seventh among returners in the league with 759 return yards, 476 of which have come on 19 attempts with the Jets. While he hasn't converted any kickoffs into a touchdown this season, Harvin has shown an ability to do so in the past, with five return scores on his career resume.

As a receiver, Harvin has hauled in 25 catches for 306 yards in his time with the Jets.

"You can do as best you can to simulate it all week but you won't really have a good feel for it until that first kickoff he brings out of the end zone," Slater said. "I think, with that being said, no one can try to give a Herculean effort. It's got to be everybody doing their job to the man and that's what it's going to take to stop him. It's not going to be one guy."

So far this season, the Patriots are among the league leaders in terms of lowest average kickoff return yardage per attempt (20.9). Given that four of the team's last five games against the Jets have come down to the last possession, special teams will play a critical role Sunday, just as they did in Week 7 with Chris Jones blocking a Jets field-goal attempt in the final seconds to seal with win.

"It'll be huge, especially with Percy there," Slater said. "I think he changes the whole dynamic so we definitely have to be on our P's and Q's and do the best we can to contain him."
The NFL draft is several months away and there are still two weeks of football left to play.

However, it’s not too early to look ahead to the offseason. Earlier this week, we previewed the offensive and defensive free agents. On Wednesday, ESPN's Todd McShay offered his first mock draft.

Here are some thoughts on McShay's selection for Miami:

Selection: No. 16

McShay's pick: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

McShay's quote: “Thompson is a unique talent with an outstanding combination of size, speed and athleticism, and he could help upgrade Miami at linebacker.”

Analysis: It’s hard to pinpoint Miami’s biggest need at this early stage. But linebacker could be near the top of the list. The Dolphins have decisions to make with high-priced linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Both underachieved and are candidates to become salary-cap casualties. If that’s the case, Thompson could be a possibility. Miami had a nice find in second-year outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins. But the other two positions are open for next season.

Steve Maneri, Garrett Gilbert join Patriots

December, 17, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There were two new faces in the Patriots’ locker room on Wednesday – tight end Steve Maneri and quarterback Garrett Gilbert.

Maneri, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound former offensive tackle, spent a portion of training camp with the Patriots. Considering his background at a tackle, he is primarily a blocking tight end. Maneri said he does not have practice-squad eligibility, which would indicate that he was signed to the team’s 53-man active roster.

Gilbert, the Rams’ sixth-round pick (214th overall) in the 2014 draft, was released from St. Louis’ practice squad in October. Gilbert has practice-squad eligibility, and it's likely he'll land on the Patriots' practice squad as he practiced with the team Wednesday.

Gilbert played in college at Texas before transferring to SMU, where he had considerably more success than his time with Texas. The addition of Gilbert comes after the the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune reported that the Patriots were trying to sign rookie quarterback David Fales off the Bears’ practice squad, but the Bears promoted Fales to their active roster.

The Patriots have yet to officially announce the roster moves.
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins began their practice week in preparation for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here are some notes from Wednesday’s session:
  • Both starting linebackers Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) returned to practice. The Dolphins definitely missed their starters in Sunday’s 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Misi and Jenkins practicing on Wednesday is a good early sign for Miami. Backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) also is practicing for the first time in four weeks.
  • Dolphins starting right tackle Dallas Thomas did not practice during the portion open to the media. Thomas injured his ankle in Sunday’s game against New England. Backup right tackle Jason Fox would be first in line if Thomas cannot play. Rookie Billy Turner also will get reps during the practice week.
  • Backup running back Daniel Thomas (ankle) also did not practice in portion open to the media. Backup offensive lineman Nate Garner (illness) was not present.

The Dolphins changed their practice schedule this week. They will hold Thursday and Friday sessions partially open to the media.
The Buffalo Bills helped their playoff cause with an an upset win against the Green Bay Packers, but it might not be enough.

Even with a victory Sunday over the Oakland Raiders, the Bills can still be eliminated from postseason contention by Monday night.

In fact, the entire AFC playoff field can be determined by the end of Week 16. Here's how that could happen, per ESPN Stats & Information: Even if the Chargers defeat the 49ers, preventing the Ravens from clinching a spot, it would be bad news for the Bills. The Chargers, with a Week 3 win in Buffalo, hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bills.

Likewise, a Steelers' loss could also have a negative effect on the Bills, as the Chiefs also hold the head-to-head advantage over the Bills.

Patriots-based thoughts from Rex Ryan

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
11:50
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Few coaches, if any, draw as large of a crowd for a conference call as Rex Ryan of the New York Jets. With about 20 reporters gathered around the speakerphone here at Gillette Stadium, Ryan called in for the standard weekly opponent call at 10:45 a.m. ET.

Here are some of the notable topics related to the New England Patriots:

Ryan
Patriots' defense has changed since Oct. 16. Ryan made the point that the Patriots look different defensively from when the teams met Oct. 16. He touched on the Patriots bringing in a "couple big guys" since that point (presumably referring to defensive tackle Alan Branch and defensive end Akeem Ayers) while also pointing out "a lot of different coverages that they haven't played in the past that they're playing now." Asked later about those coverages, Ryan said there are different things a team can do in man coverage and that's what he was referring to.

Thoughts on the Patriots-Jets rivalry. Asked his place in the New England-New York rivalry, Ryan said he had no idea. Then he re-directed, saying, "We all know what's getting ready to happen in this game. We know that both teams give their maximum effort against each other. I don't think each team particularly likes each other. It's on. Regardless of what the record is. We could be playing for first place or whatever, it's the same effort always. It's usually a close game and it's usually a physical game."

More on the Patriots. While Ryan and the Jets don't like the Patriots, there is respect. "They always have it -- six years in a row that they've won the division. You're a little envious, I guess. It's what it is -- they're the ones you chase. We respect them a great deal -- they're led by a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame coach. So they're hard to beat and we recognize that, but that doesn't mean that we'll take our rightful place underneath them. That's not going to happen. We're here to beat them. That's our mentality every time we play them. They're going to get our best shot and we're going to get theirs; we understand that about each other."

Revis
Not going to gush about Revis. The opening question of the conference call was on cornerback Darrelle Revis, with Ryan asked to speak about what he's seen from Revis this season. "No," Ryan answered, before pausing and adding, "I'm just going to go with 'yes' and 'no' answers the whole time. Just kidding." While Ryan lauded Revis, when asked if he was worthy of MVP consideration, Ryan also stopped short of saying too much while citing the possibility of being charged with tampering. "If I comment on him, then I'll get in trouble [for] commenting on somebody else's players. I'll just say he's an excellent player and let the experts figure out where he belongs in the discussion."

How tough this season has been on him. When Ryan was asked how tough the season has been on him given "some of the things swirling about what's going on inside the team," he responded, "Anything that's swirling around inside our team, I'm proud of this team. We've got nothing (in terms of issues). Some guys' reports are probably as far off as any I've ever seen. This team is tight. Our record is the only thing that stinks. We have a great group of guys that care, that prepare, practice hard. It's obviously unfortunate that our record is what it is. But it has nothing to do with the type of character in this room."

Thoughts on competing against Bill Belichick twice a year the last six seasons. Asked how much he's relished matching X's and O's and wits with Belichick, Ryan said, "I don't know how I've fared that way with him, but as a competitor, you like facing the best. That's what he is. Obviously I like doing that, just like any competitor would. I obviously wish I had more success against him, but they do a tremendous job in all phases of the game. They're a really well-coached football team, and his assistant coaches are outstanding as well, and they've been around a long time with him. Obviously, it's a huge challenge. As a competitor, absolutely I enjoy the preparation and the battles against him."

Belichick: Getting ready for Jets' best shot

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
10:35
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Even though the New York Jets are in the cellar of the AFC East with a 3-11 record, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows how tough Rex Ryan's teams play against New England.

"It seems like quite a while since we've played the Jets," Belichick said during his news conference on Wednesday. "Jets are playing well, they're a very competitive football team. They're in every game, they've been in a lot of tight games.

[+] EnlargeNew England Patriots and New York Jets
AP Images/Elise AmendolaIn their first meeting this season on Oct. 16, the Patriots slipped past the Jets, 27-25.
"Seems like every game comes down to the last possession kind of like it did with us, like a lot of our games with them have in four of the last five times we've played them."

Flashback to Week 7, when the Patriots beat the Jets by just two points -- a 27-25 victory sealed by defensive lineman Chris Jones' blocked field goal as time expired.

The previous four meetings between these two teams have been decided by three points or less, with two of those games being decided in overtime. The last time a team won by more than three points was on Nov. 22, 2012, when the Patriots beat the Jets, 49-19.

"We'll see how it goes against the Jets," Belichick said. "We've played other teams and different matchups and all that. The Jets are pretty healthy, they had one change on their offensive line but the rest of those guys have all started 14 games. They've had pretty good consistency at tight end. The running backs are very good. The quarterback's a good runner. We'll see whether we can improve against the Jets in the running game. That's what we need to do."

In addition to a strong run game (they rank second in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 147.1), the Jets also stop the run better than most NFL teams as they rank fourth in opponents' rushing yards per game (87.5).

"Defensively strong front, good at stopping the run," Belichick said. "Physical pass rush team, those front seven guys don't come off the field too much. They're used in a lot less nickel and dime than we've ever seen. They try to keep those guys on the field as much as possible so they're a pretty disruptive group."

The Patriots may have locked up the AFC East, but these final two games against the Jets and Bills have major implications as the Patriots are vying for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Considering the history of Ryan's Jets playing the Patriots tightly, Belichick needs his team to play better than in the past.

"This will be a big week for us and I think we need to play better than we did the last time we played them," Belichick said. "I think that will be good enough. Barely was good enough last time but it'd be good enough this time."

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