AFC East: Adrian Peterson

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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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.

NFLN survey/Super Bowl player: Jets

January, 22, 2014
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Our NFL Nation network of team reporters polled 320 players across the league -- 10 from each team -- to produce a confidential survey that covered eight probing questions/hot topics. Next up ...

Question: Who’s the player (active, non-teammate) you’d most like to see in the Super Bowl?

Winner: Adrian Peterson, running back, Minnesota Vikings

Our take: Peterson scored 59 votes (18.4 percent), narrowly defeating Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (56 votes). To be honest, the voting was all over the map, as a total of 88 players received votes. Only two Jets landed in the votes column -- Mark Sanchez and Muhammad Wilkerson, each of whom received one. Yes, somewhere out there in the NFL, Sanchez has a huge admirer. You know what? After coming close to the Super Bowl in his first two seasons, then falling out of favor and wrecking his shoulder, it would be a tremendous comeback story if he made it.

Interestingly, there was no love for Peterson and Gonzalez among the Jets' voters. The leading vote getters were Michael Vick and Alex Smith, with three apiece. Believe it or not, the polarizing Tony Romo scored two votes.

Spiller trying to meet high expectations

September, 11, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Sunday's loss was a disappointing start to a season full of high expectations for Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller.

Spiller
All week, the New England Patriots talked about the importance of stopping Spiller, and they followed through. On 22 touches -- 17 carries and five receptions -- Spiller managed just 55 yards, an average of 2.5 yards per touch.

To Spiller, it was just a taste of what teams will try to do against him this season.

"Now I kind of get a feel for what Adrian Peterson faces week in and week out," Spiller said Wednesday. "When teams come in and stack the box, that's a sign of respect."

Spiller said he reverted to "old habits" on Sunday, giving him less of a chance to succeed against a Patriots defense that ranked ninth in the NFL against the run last season.

"(I) just tried to make too many plays," Spiller said. "I was forcing instead of just letting that big play come, I was looking for that big play each time. It hurt me. Now I know how to put it behind me. I'll just start taking what they give me."

In addition to fumbling on his second carry of the game, Spiller also said he was frustrated by not being able to beat a safety after clearing the first level of the defense.

"I let the safety tackle me one-on-one. I got frustrated right there in that moment. I feel like I should win that battle every time. My offensive line did a great job of getting me to the secondary. They expect me to win and I didn't," Spiller said. "I feel like I should win that battle. If they're blocking their tails off, everybody else is doing their job, it's my job to make those guys miss and turn that into a big gain."

Spiller said he let his frustration "linger on too much," but looks to focus on putting his struggles in the opener behind him.

"I knew going into the game what their focus was going to be, and I think it's going to be like that for the rest of the year. The main thing for me is, I can't get frustrated. I have to keep a smile on my face, good or bad play," he said. "Move on, and just take what they give me. Sunday showed a bad example of too much frustration and letting them kind of dictate how I play."

With Spiller struggling, the Bills turned to Fred Jackson, who was noticeably more effective against the Patriots defense. However, the Bills got little help from their wide receivers, who finished with collectively just five catches in the game.

"If they're going to come up and stack the box and put extra guys in there, we just need our other playmakers to step up and make plays," Spiller said. "I have no problem with other guys making plays. Eventually it's going to loosen up. If I can take those early on, eventually those big ones will come."

Bills defense: Trick or treat?

August, 17, 2013
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On the surface, Friday night's preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings looked like an impressive showing by the Buffalo Bills defense.

After all, they held the Vikings to just three points through the first three quarters. The Bills had four sacks, forced a fumble, and limited Minnesota to just 41 first-half rushing yards. They even added a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

This part is true: the Bills defense kept the Vikings on their heels, especially early in the game. Never did Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel look comfortable under center.

But before anyone gets carried away with the success of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's pressure schemes, let's remember one thing: Ponder and Cassel were two of the NFL's worst quarterbacks last season.

The Vikings held their best player, running back Adrian Peterson, out of action on Friday night, but beyond that, Minnesota did not seem to anticipate the aggression of the Bills defense in the teams' second preseason contest.

"Everybody has their way of approaching the preseason, and that’s their choice," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. "They did some good things. It’s preseason. They have the option to do whatever they want to do. We didn’t spend a lot of time preparing to play Buffalo."

"Just their whole defense was pretty exotic. They had some exotic personnel and different schemes, it was a little different and sometimes it was a little hard for us to identify," Ponder added.

Was the Vikings not being ready for Pettine's defense the Bills' problem? Not at all. And come the regular season, when teams do prepare for it, Pettine still has ways of keeping defenses off balance.

After the New York Jets were routed 45-3 by the New England Patriots in Dec. 2010, the Pettine-coached Jets defense turned to a coverage-heavy, extra defensive back- scheme in the teams' ensuing playoff game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, expecting blitzes and pressure looks, was stymied, and the Patriots fell to the Jets, 28-21.

It's that unpredictable element that the Bills hope Pettine will bring to the defensive philosophy this season. It won't always be about pressure and sacks.

But for right now, the performance of the Bills defense on Friday night shouldn't be made into anything more than a step in the right direction. It was encouraging, but not excellent.

Fabric of the game does big business

July, 6, 2011
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TomlinsonAP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe gloves LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a win over the Denver Broncos in Week 6 last season are for sale.
For sports card collectors, perfection is the goal. All four corners must be sharp. The photo needs to be centered. It has to be just so. Thankfully, there's hasn't been threat of bubblegum stains for decades.

In today's memorabilia market, however, cardboard is about as mundane as it gets. There are bigger thrills than busting open a pack to find another high-gloss Rated Rookie who might never crack a starting lineup.

Jarrod Oldridge looks for a bigger jolt. He buys his memorabilia by the shipping container.

"You open that box up and the smell comes out, the aroma of the unwashed apparel with the grass and mud and blood," Oldridge said. "You smell the game.

"You get goose bumps. Your heart's pounding."

Oldridge is involved in one of the hottest segments of the memorabilia industry -- game-used equipment.

He owns J.O. Sports Co. in Las Vegas and has exclusive contracts with several NFL teams to sell helmets, jerseys, spikes, gloves, game balls and just about everything else you can imagine from the field. Three of his clients are the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

Oldridge's website isn't quite as personal as Mean Joe Greene throwing his jersey at a kid in exchange for a Coke, but fans have access to the fabric of the game. Many of the game-worn jerseys -- and in some cases full uniforms -- are unwashed. That's the way collectors prefer them.

"You want the thing ripped off the guy's back," said Oldridge, who pitched for Emporia State. "It's a new wave of collecting. When I was a kid collecting baseball cards, I'd get a Mark McGwire rookie or a Bo Jackson. That was the best feeling you could have as a collector. You got the prized possession.

"Back then, you never could've thought you could own the jersey Adrian Peterson's wearing on his card."

Rich Mueller, managing editor of Sports Collectors Daily, can't think of another way collectors can get closer to the action than game-used equipment.

I suppose a hobbyist can make the experience more personal by collecting DNA samples. Then again, much of Oldridge's inventory is suitable for forensics inspection. Perhaps the next step is scraping some blood off a jersey to clone an NFL star and watch the game with him in your man cave.

[+] EnlargeSteve Johnson
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeThe jersey from Steve Johnson's three-touchdown game against the Bengals last season is available for purchase.
"If you've got in your hands the uniform the guy was wearing when he broke the tackle to score the touchdown and win the game, how much closer can you get than that?" Mueller said. "That's part of the allure. Collectors want a tangible memory of a game.

"And a lot of them are one-of-a-kind items. The T206 Honus Wagner card is one of the rarest collectibles on the market, but there are 75 to 100 of those in existence. Brett Favre wore only one helmet from his final game. That's a piece of NFL history."

Of particular interest to AFC East fans might be the jersey Bills receiver Steve Johnson wore when he scored three touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. He lifted that jersey to expose his "Why so serious?" T-shirt underneath. The jersey Lee Evans wore when he caught three touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens is for sale, too.

Also available are jerseys All-Pro center Nick Mangold wore last year against the Dolphins, the gloves Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery wore when he snagged a touchdown to help beat the New England Patriots in Week 2 and the gloves Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a four-point victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 6.

Dolphins material is limited because J.O. Sports Co. reached its agreement with them a couple weeks ago. As for the Patriots, Oldridge might need to strap on a helmet to protect his forehead from repeatedly striking a wall.

"Every team is different," Oldridge said. "The Patriots have just been notoriously difficult when it comes to their uniforms."

The big four sports handle game-used equipment differently, much to Mueller's wonderment. These items are commodities. Leagues presumably would maximize revenues if they handled them internally. Major League Baseball does, hiring on-site authenticators to affix holograms to merchandise for resale.

The MeiGray Group, a company founded by a pair of passionate collectors in 1997, has worked out deals to sell game-used NBA and NHL items. They also dominate the minor-league hockey ranks.

And to think clubs used to recycle uniforms until they fell apart, would pass them along to farm teams or sell them to sandlot groups. Mueller wrote about a pile of 1938 New York Yankees jerseys given to a church softball team for $9 apiece. In the bunch were game-worn Lou Gehrig pinstripes.

Today, uniforms are scooped up almost the minute they land in the hamper or fall to the locker-room floor as a player walks to the showers.

"It may sound sick," Oldridge said. "But as a man who played sports, the collectors, everybody who ever slid into second base or got his bell rung on the field, it's just great."

O-linemen fight for Power Rankings respect

May, 31, 2011
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Next up in ESPN.com's Power Rankings series were the best offensive players who aren't quarterbacks.

I was surprised to see only three offensive linemen appear on the ballots of our eight panelists: Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas and New York Jets center Nick Mangold.

Only four voters, including me, mentioned more than one lineman. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and NFC South blogger Pat Yaskinkas must have been assembling fantasy teams because they didn't name a single grunt.

My ballot:
  1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings running back
  2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals receiver
  3. Andre Johnson, Texans receiver
  4. Chris Johnson, Titans running back
  5. Calvin Johnson, Lions receiver
  6. Jake Long, Dolphins left tackle
  7. Antonio Gates, Chargers tight end
  8. Nick Mangold, Jets center
  9. Roddy White, Falcons receiver
  10. Jason Witten, Cowboys tight end

Nobody can argue against how crucial offensive linemen are to a team's success. And since we removed quarterbacks from the equation, they make even more sense to appear on this list. If a team has an established quarterback, then the next thing to do is protect him.

Without offensive linemen, there's not enough time for the star receivers to get open or lanes for running backs to bolt through.

The importance of left tackles was underscored when the Dolphins selected Long first overall in 2008. Long has lived up to the expectations at a critical position by making the Pro Bowl each of this three seasons. He was voted All-Pro last year.

Mangold is the best center in the game. While centers aren't necessarily viewed as prominent enough to draft early, Mangold's dominance is indisputable. He has been an All-Pro the past two seasons and a Pro Bowler three straight. That's why he made my list.

'Madden 12' cover down to Vick and Hillis

April, 18, 2011
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All AFC East delegates were eliminated previously, but for the record: Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick are the finalists to appear on the "Madden NFL 12" cover.

Every team had a representative in the round-per-week tournament. ESPN.com voters are deciding the winners.

Hillis, the 10th seed on his side of the bracket, scored another upset. He soundly defeated the top seed, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Hillis also knocked off Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (second seed) and Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (sixth seed).

Vick was seeded third in his bracket. He advanced with a victory against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

The AFC East nominees were New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead, Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long.

Woodhead lasted the longest, making it to the elite eight before Rodgers ousted him.

Fans cut Woodhead from 'Madden 12' race

April, 11, 2011
4/11/11
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I doubt Danny Woodhead will pout about it.

He's not the type.

Woodhead's quest to be on the cover of "Madden NFL 12" is over. The New England Patriots running back had fun with the campaign but received only 44 percent of the votes in his head-to-head matchup with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis took three out of every five votes against Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and advanced to meet Rodgers in the final four.

On the other side of the tournament bracket, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick got 61 percent of the vote to eliminate San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson collected 62 percent against New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.

Vontae Davis aids Rwanda hearing mission

March, 30, 2011
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A couple hours ago, I wasn't feeling too good about the NFL atmosphere, what with all the headlines about gunplay and underage prostitution and heroin and purple drank and lawsuits and labor sniping.

That, of course, shouldn't taint all NFL people.

Vo. Davis
Vo. Davis
Admirable acts are being carried out every day by players, teams and the league.

Freelance writer Steve Terrill wrote a feature about a group of nine players who spent a month touring Rwanda with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to fit functionally deaf people with hearing aids.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis was part of the group, along with his brother, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

"The first time I helped someone to hear, I was so moved. I was emotional," Fitzgerald told Terrill. "To see a child hear their mother's voice for the first time and see their family's reaction is one of the moments I will never forget. We all have basic needs, and hearing is one of those needs."

If you're feeling a bit jaded about what's going on with the NFL these days, do yourself a favor and read this piece. It will do your football conscience some good.

Running back rankings and how I do them

March, 15, 2011
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ESPN.com debuted its positional power rankings series last week with wide receivers. The two articles I wrote about my ballot (and my breakdown of the AFC East) sparked lively discussions about my process.

Readers demanded to know my criteria. My explanation seemed to chafe a few. I stated that my ballot simply reflected my personal taste about how they performed last season.

Stats are a part of equation. They must be to an extent. But if I wanted to go purely on stats, then I would post a link to ESPN.com's fantasy leaders.

I steer clear of metrics. You can pick and choose a specific mathematical equation and make it support any case -- even though you might be comparing a slot receiver catching passes from an elite quarterback to a No. 1 receiver who's constantly double covered on a run-oriented offense. Can't do it.

In the end, it comes down to subjective judgment. Feel free to disagree. An exchange of ideas is the whole point. I don't need to agree with you, and you don't need to accept my list as gospel. Agents won't use the AFC East blog in contract negotiations. The Pro Football Hall of Fame won't use my power rankings to determine induction.

In response to a question about underrated Buffalo Bills running back Cookie Gilchrist for the documentary "Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League," legendary runner Jim Brown summed up my sentiments.

"Who gets compared to me and all of that, I couldn't care less about," Brown said. "I don't compare a rose to a petunia. They both have their own kind of beauty. It all depends on what you prefer."

And for those who require statistical reasoning, I share with you a quote another Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer told me a couple months ago for a story about Andre Reed's induction hopes.

"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," said Paul Warfield, a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins team. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work. You're supposed to be able to do a lot of things.

"As a receiver, catching the ball is primary and important. But I don't think it takes very much skill or maneuverability to step a couple yards off the line of scrimmage and someone pops you with a pass several times."

So, as you peruse my ballots the next several Tuesdays, that's where I'm coming from.

This week's power rankings position is running back.

My ballot:
  1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
  2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
  3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
  4. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
  5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
  6. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
  7. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
  8. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
  9. Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
  10. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

The most obvious omission was St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. I thought long and hard about including him, but I couldn't talk myself into it. Jackson scored only six touchdowns and had little impact in the passing game. Of the 17 backs who rushed for 1,000 yards, his 3.8 yards per carry were better than only Cedric Benson's average.

Some might point out that defenses girded up to remove Jackson from the game, but there are other runners on that list who had worse quarterback situations than the Rams did. I think people still see Jackson as the all-around superstar from 2006.

Hillis was another tough call because of his fumbles. But he was Cleveland's entire offense. Opponents still couldn't stop him. He also added 61 receptions for another 477 yards and a couple touchdowns, numbers that get overlooked.

I'll come back later Tuesday with a ranking of AFC East backs.

Wrap-up: Vikings 38, Bills 14

December, 5, 2010
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The Buffalo Bills scored the first touchdown and then got swatted in a 38-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome.

What it means: After a string of highly competitive games, the Bills suffered one of the their worst losses. The Vikings rolled even with quarterback Brett Favre, receivers Percy Harvin and Greg Lewis and right guard Steve Hutchinson sidelined. The Bills are 2-10.

Hero: Adrian Peterson thrived against the NFL's worst defense. Bills rookie linebacker Arthur Moats knocked Favre out of the game on the third play, but the Vikings didn't need him. Peterson rushed 16 times for 107 yards and three touchdowns.

Goat: Bills cornerback and kick returner Leodis McKelvin had a rough afternoon. Vikings receiver Sidney Rice made a scintillating play to outjockey McKelvin and come down with a 31-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. McKelvin fumbled the ensuing kickoff, helping the Vikings score 28 points in a 5:45 stretch.

Streak extended: Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick needed almost 56 minutes to lengthen his streak to 13 games with a touchdown pass, finding David Nelson for a 12-yarder with the game out of hand. Fitzpatrick also fumbled twice, losing one.

Defensive highlights: Buffalo's defense had its moments despite the lopsided score. Cornerback Drayton Florence had his first multi-interception game and his first interception return for a touchdown. Donte Whitner and McKelvin picked one apiece.

What's next: The Bills and Cleveland Browns have played some awful games in recent years. Remember that 6-3 gem last year? Next week's meeting should be livelier, with Trent Edwards and Derek Anderson long gone. The Browns defeated the Miami Dolphins 13-10 in Sun Life Stadium.

Video: Bills at Vikings predictions

December, 3, 2010
12/03/10
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ESPN analysts Darren Woodson and Mark Schlereth each pick the Minnesota Vikings to beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in the Metrodome.

Peterson spells doom for Bills' weak run D

December, 2, 2010
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AccuScore has had problems getting a handle on the Buffalo Bills this year.

AccuScore correctly predicted the Bills' first victory three weeks ago. In other games, however, the Bills have turned projected blowouts into tight finishes, most recently last week's overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bills' repeated competitiveness apparently won't make their numbers any less lopsided for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome.

The Vikings won 77 percent of AccuScore's 10,000 simulations. The average margin was four points.

AccuScore, however, is assuming Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson will play. If he can rush for at least 100 yards against Buffalo's rock-bottom run defense, then Minnesota's chances skyrocket to 90 percent.

Minnesota is holding opponents to 3.6 yards a carry, but if Fred Jackson can punch his average over 5 yards and score at least one rushing touchdown with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing no interceptions, then Buffalo becomes a modest 53 percent favorite.

Patriots moving on nicely from Randy Moss

October, 31, 2010
10/31/10
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Brandon TateJim Rogash/Getty ImagesBrandon Tate's 65-yard touchdown reception gave the Patriots a lead they would never relinquish.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There was no disputing how much the New England Patriots feared Randy Moss.

The Patriots weren't going to let him return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday and make them look bad for trading him to the Minnesota Vikings. The Patriots played him physically, and they played him deep.

Their approach opened underneath and intermediate routes for Percy Harvin and didn't provide much run support to gang up on Adrian Peterson. But the strategy worked.

The Patriots essentially removed Moss from the game and then moved on from him with a 28-18 victory over the Vikings. Moss caught one pass for 8 yards and gave up on a play that should have been a touchdown, while the Patriots' new deep threat went 65 yards for a back-breaking score.

The game couldn't have developed any better for validating the controversial Oct. 6 Moss trade. The Patriots A) won without him, B) refused to let him do any damage and C) received team-wide contributions from the players expected to pick up the slack of his departure.

"I guess you can say it's a relief to get this one out of the way," Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "But there's relief to get every one out of the way. There's always going to be a storyline in every game you play."

Moss' homecoming provided a substantially bigger plot than most weeks. If not for Brett Favre Ankle Watch, the return of a controversial figure to play the team that traded him away three weeks prior would have been the hottest topic.

The Patriots ostensibly put the trade behind them. Had they not kept Moss in check, had he helped the Vikings beat the Patriots with the type of explosive performance he's famous for, then second-guessing would have been rampant.

Bill Belichick made sure Moss wouldn't hurt them Sunday. They gave up the underneath to Harvin, as many Patriots opponents did to Wes Welker when Moss was on the field with him.

Harvin had six receptions for 104 yards. Peterson ran 25 times for 92 yards and a touchdown and added five catches for 50 yards.

Welker hasn't had that kind of space since Moss departed. In those three games, Welker has 14 catches for 102 yards.

But it hasn't mattered. The Patriots are undefeated over that span and have climbed atop the AFC East after the New York Jets were shut out by the Green Bay Packers.

That's why what happened Sunday renders the Moss trade more of a footnote than an ongoing debate. The Vikings threw at him three times. He had zero catches in the first half, one for 8 yards in the second half. He drew a 24-yard pass interference call on safety Brandon Meriweather, but Moss gave up on the play when the flag was thrown and he failed to catch the ball at the goal line for what would have been an easy touchdown.

Perhaps just as significant as muzzling Moss were the performances of several players who must come together to fill his void for the rest of the year.

Second-year receiver Brandon Tate showed off open-field speed with his first NFL offensive touchdown in the third quarter to give the Patriots a lead they wouldn't surrender.

Tate bailed out Tom Brady on a play that broke down. Brady pirouetted to avoid the pass rush, so Tate improvised. Tate bolted up the Vikings' sideline to separate from cornerback Asher Allen. Brady made the toss to a wide-open Tate at about the Vikings' 45-yard line. Tate ran diagonally across the field, pulling away from Allen and bidding safety Madieu Williams adieu.

"He's so dangerous in the open field," Brady said. "He's tough to tackle. It was great to see the back of his jersey, running. That was pretty sweet."

Running back Danny Woodhead had a rushing touchdown and led the Patriots in receptions with five for 45 yards. In the fourth quarter, he picked up a colossal first down on a third-and-12 reception with the Patriots up by just a field goal. Woodhead gained 16 yards to keep the chains moving, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis eventually scored to punctuate a monster second half. Green-Ellis ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns after the intermission.

Although Brady has conceded the Patriots' offense isn't as good without Moss, the team is getting along just fine, thank you.

"The coaches do a great job of using all the guys," said Deion Branch, the receiver who replaced Moss in roster terms. Branch was stretching his tight hamstring on the sideline when Tate sprinted into the end zone. "We're one solid group, a pretty good group. Nobody's selfish. We all want the football, but there's only one ball.

"It just goes to show you the depth that we have. Julian [Edelman] can do the same things. He's not on the field, but his time will come, too."

The day after the Patriots traded Moss, Belichick called a news conference and reminded everyone there's a reason they've won more games than any other team over the past decade. To paraphrase: "We know what we're doing." Belichick might as well have worn his three Super Bowl rings and theatrically wiped his brow when he said it.

"You know how I feel about Randy," Belichick said shortly after his team pushed to 6-1 and embraced Moss on the field. "I've talked about him many times. He's a Hall of Fame receiver and made a lot of great contributions here. I'm glad I had the opportunity to coach him. He was a special player to coach.

"But today he was the competition. That's the way it is in this league."

Final Word: AFC East

October, 29, 2010
10/29/10
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
David Butler II/US PresswireWith a win Sunday, Tom Brady will have won 23 straight home games.
Tom Brady should emerge Sunday night with his streak still intact. There are contradictory reports about whether Brett Favre or Tarvaris Jackson will be Minnesota's starting quarterback. But it's safe to say Favre's incredible streak of 291 games (315 counting the postseason) has never been in more jeopardy. Brady is working on his own streak. He has won 23 straight home games. A victory over the Vikings in Gillette Stadium would put him one away from Favre's NFL record set from 1995 to 1998.

It's time for the Dolphins to give Sean Smith another shot at right cornerback. Smith started 16 games as a rookie last year. But after a shaky camp and preseason, he lost his job to veteran reserve Jason Allen before the regular season began. Smith obviously lost his swagger. Allen occasionally makes a big play and has three interceptions, but he's clearly a target. Steelers receiver Mike Wallace singed Allen for a 53-yard touchdown last week. The Bengals are a tough opponent to help Smith back on track, but as a player who thrives on confidence, a solid performance Sunday could get him going again.

I'm officially rooting for Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to stay hot. The Bills are 0-6 and don't have much to look forward to. Their national relevance is rooted in being winless, but Fitzpatrick's play has given Bills fans something positive to talk about. He's a career backup, an underdog who was overlooked by the Bills before taking over for Trent Edwards in Week 3. Fitzpatrick's 102.2 passer rating ranks second to Peyton Manning's 103.4. Fitzpatrick has played only four games, but he has 11 touchdown passes, the same as Brady and Tony Romo. Only six quarterbacks have more.

Jets rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson is playing his way off the field. At the news conference to discuss why they selected him 29th overall, Jets coach Rex Ryan declared Wilson would be their punt returner and nickel corner. As star cornerback Darrelle Revis' holdout dragged on, Wilson was in line to start and eventually did (three games) after Revis yanked his hamstring. But Wilson, who has committed three penalties for 54 yards, has been losing time to Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman. "His role is shrinking," Ryan said of Wilson. "There is only one way to get a bigger role, and that's to show it on the practice field. When you do get your opportunities in the game, you have to step up. That's it."

The Patriots must stop Adrian Peterson if they're going to stop Randy Moss. It won't matter who Minnesota's quarterback is in this regard. Jackson has the ability to hang a ball in the air for Moss, too. The way to negate that possibility is keeping both Patriots safeties deep. That can't happen if the Patriots' front seven can’t contain Peterson, who has that rare combination of speed, strength and a knack for evading tackles.

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