AFC East: LaMont Jordan

Patriots get four compensatory picks

March, 22, 2010
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL has awarded a league-high four compensatory draft choices to the New England Patriots.

The Miami Dolphins received one. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets didn't get any.

All the picks were revealed Monday night at the NFL owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes.

Compensatory picks are awarded to clubs based on a secret formula more guarded than Colonel Sanders' recipe. We know the formula involves the number of free agents gained and lost the previous offseason and how well those players performed the ensuing season. We think the formula factors in the players' salaries, playing time and awards.

New England lost five qualifying free agents (running back LaMont Jordan, fullback Heath Evans, receiver Jabar Gaffney, linebacker Larry Izzo and long-snapper Lonie Paxton) and signed only one (safety Brandon McGowan).

The NFL compensated the Patriots with one sixth-round pick and three seventh-round picks. The selections are Nos. 205, 247, 248 and 250.

Miami lost two qualifying free agents (cornerback Andre Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill) and signed two (center Jake Grove and center Joe Berger).

The Dolphins were given a seventh-round pick, No. 252.

Patriots win out in compensatory forecast

March, 10, 2010
In the book of great NFL mysteries, it's listed on the same page as "How did the Raiders wash Fred Biletnikoff's socks?"

The unanswerable question I'm referring to: "How does the NFL determine compensatory picks?"

Nobody knows because the league refuses to provide detailed insight into the formula. We know it depends on the number of free agents gained and lost the previous offseason and how well those players performed that year. Factors include the player's salary, playing time and awards -- we think.

But there's a compensatory vigilante out there who goes by the handle AdamJT13. He seems to have darn near cracked the code and has been giving accurate forecasts for 10 years.

My personal policy is not to link to people who write anonymously, but AdamJT13 has a track record and provides a unique service. With that in mind, here are his compensatory projections for AFC East clubs. The NFL will announce the official rundown in a couple weeks.

Buffalo Bills: None. They signed two qualifying free agents (quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, center Geoff Hangartner) and lost two (cornerback Jabari Greer, linebacker Angelo Crowell). AdamJT13 adds the Bills could get a compensatory pick at the end of the seventh round based on net value of the players lost, depending on the evaluations.

Miami Dolphins: Sixth-round pick. AdamJT13 notes it might be a seventh-rounder, or depending on how the NFL views guard Joe Berger, nothing at all. They signed one definite qualifying free agent (center Jake Grove) and lost two definites (cornerback Andre' Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill).

New England Patriots: Four seventh-round picks for losing receiver Jabar Gaffney, long-snapper Lonie Paxton, fullback Heath Evans and running back LaMont Jordan, but not signing any definite qualifying free agents. Gaffney could be good enough for a sixth-rounder.

New York Jets: None. They signed at least as many qualifying free agents (linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard, cornerback Donald Strickland and maybe linebacker Larry Izzo) as they lost (receiver Laveranues Coles, linebacker Eric Barton, defensive end C.J. Mosley and maybe cornerback Hank Poteat).

Bills RB Rhodes driven to overcome his past

June, 16, 2009
  AP Photo/David Duprey
  When all the Bills' running backs are active, free-agent signee Dominic Rhodes is probably No. 3 on the depth chart.

Posted by's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Dominic Rhodes was at the most exhilarating juncture of his career.

He was reveling in the glory as a Super Bowl champion, and he was more than a bit player for the Indianapolis Colts. He could have been the game's MVP.

Furthermore, Rhodes was headed to free agency. Convinced he deserved to be a starting back after years of mopping up for Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai, the big break was within sight.

Rhodes blew it.

He blew a .09, and he blew his best opportunity to show he could be somebody's leading man in 2007.

"That year, me and Travis Henry were the top backs in the free-agent market," Rhodes said last week after a Buffalo Bills minicamp practice. "I had high hopes for myself. I don't know, man."

Rhodes is certain his past transgressions still follow him. He has been arrested for DUI and domestic abuse. Two years ago, he was suspended as a repeat offender under the NFL's substance abuse policy.

As a free agent again this year, he wasn't pursued nearly as much as he figured. He did turn 30 in January. Signing a running back at that age is tantamount to buying a gallon of milk a day before the expiration date.

  Stan Liu/US Presswire
  After being cut by the Raiders, Rhodes returned to Indianapolis last season and ran for 538 yards and six touchdowns.

But Rhodes was coming off a productive season with the Colts. He gained 840 total yards as Addai's backup. He said he's happy to be with the Bills, but he thought he would've had more options.

"I was upset with how it went," Rhodes said. "I really figured I would get more interest and more teams would be coming to get me.

"But I sat back and realized some of the mistakes I made. I messed up."

Two weeks after running for a game-high 113 yards and a touchdown to help the Colts beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, Rhodes was failing field-sobriety tests at 3 a.m. on the Interstate-65 shoulder in Indianapolis.

Police arrested Rhodes for DUI, but the blunder didn't cost him right away. Three weeks later, the Oakland Raiders signed him to a two-year contract worth $7.5 million. And his legal problems improved. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving and had the DUI charges dropped.

Rhodes was in the clear. Or so he thought.

The NFL suspended him the first four games of 2007 as a repeat offender under its substance abuse policy. Rhodes forfeited almost $353,000 in game checks and fell out of favor with the Raiders' front office. They cut him after the season.

The undrafted overachiever from tiny Midwestern State had done so much to make it in NFL, but he prevented himself from experiencing all that was possible.

"More than the money, when you're 75 or 80 years old, you're going to look back on the opportunities missed," said Carolina Panthers quarterback Josh McCown, who was Rhodes' training camp roommate with the Raiders. "Those are going to be your regrets, regardless if there's a dollar sign attached or not. He realizes that was a missed opportunity. As a competitor in this business, you hate to miss any opportunity."

In 2002, Rhodes was arrested for domestic battery. Rhodes avoided a conviction. The judge placed him in a diversion program and mandated counseling.

"I'm not shying away from the fact I got in trouble," Rhodes said. "It's out there. People know. I'm ready to talk about it and make amends for it and help anyone else who needs help with it."

The timing of his DUI and the four-game suspension torpedoed his chance to become a feature back.

When he joined the Raiders, he fully expected to emerge as the starter. But in the first three games he was away from the team, LaMont Jordan rushed for 70, 159 and 121 yards. In Week 4, Jordan ran for 74 yards, while Justin Fargas ran for 179 yards.

"The four weeks off really hurt him in his heart because he missed being around us and playing the game," McCown said. "That's when it really set in what had happened.

"Even moving forward there was a thought process 'I'll sign with Oakland and win this appeal and go play and be opening day starter and parlay that into something bigger.' When the suspension came down, it was a blow to what he was hoping to get accomplished."

Rhodes played only six games for Oakland. He had only 24 yards through his first three appearances. He started the last two, rushing for more than 100 yards in each loss.

"I wished he would've gotten a chance to work in that offense the whole year," McCown said, "because I think he would have had a big year."

Rhodes returned to his comfort zone last season. Indianapolis was a security blanket.

Benevolent coach Tony Dungy welcomed him back. With such mainstays as Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Jeff Saturday, the offense hadn't changed. After seeing the grass was browner elsewhere, Rhodes was more willing to accept his backup role to Addai.

"We're barely a year and a half removed from my DUI," Rhodes said. "Teams were kind of scared of that. Teams that don't know you are scared. The Colts know me. They know that I'm not a bad guy."

Dominic Rhodes
#33 RB
Buffalo Bills

777 3,114 4.0 77 26

Rhodes, who started four games last season when Addai was hurt, ran for 538 yards and six touchdowns. He caught 45 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. His nine combined scores matched the single-season career high he set as a rookie, when he filled in for James and rushed for 1,104 yards.

"One thing people forget is they think of him as a backup, but I think he's a little better football player than the perception," said former Colts coach Ted Marchibroda, who is a broadcast analyst for the team. "He did a great job filling in last year.

"I think he felt in his first stint with the Colts he should've been playing more, and he made it known. But not this time. He was real happy coming back with the Colts and did a good job."

But the offers didn't roll in. That was a nice development for the Bills, who failed to sign free agents Fred Taylor and Kevin Jones.

"I was excited to see him go back to Indy and hopefully rekindle what he had going there," McCown said. "When I saw he got to play in some games and was starting, I thought 'You know what? He's going to turn this into something good. It's going to work out for him.' I was surprised people didn't take more interest in him."

Rhodes signed a two-year contract that will pay him base salaries of $750,000 this year and $1.25 million next year. The deal included $450,000 in bonuses.

He's probably third on Buffalo's depth chart when everybody is active. Pro Bowl back Marshawn Lynch has been suspended for the first three games because of repeated malfeasance. Popular backup Fred Jackson should be the primary backup.

"The opportunity's there for me to get some touches," Rhodes said. "They wanted me the year I came into free agency after the Super Bowl, so I figured the second time is a charm.

"All I want to do is get out there and make some plays and just keep showing the league what I got and keep playing as long as I can."

Rhodes insists he's more mature than he used to be, that he has amended his lifestyle and learned from his mistakes.

Another misstep could lead to a season-long suspension.

"I have a chip on my shoulder," Rhodes said. "I came from a small school. I'm a smaller back. I run a lot different than most smaller backs. I'm a between-the-tackles guy and I'm always out there trying to prove a point and make sure people notice me when I'm on the field.

"That's just me. I'm always out to prove myself and give everything I got and make sure my teammates know I'm accountable."

Who can blame Taylor? He chooses Pats over Bills

February, 27, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham


Adam Schefter of reports running back Fred Taylor has reached contract terms with the New England Patriots.

Taylor visited the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday and the Patriots on Wednesday. When choosing between those two organizations it's a pretty easy decision to make.

While Taylor has familiarity with Bills head coach Dick Jauron and defensive tackle Marcus Stroud from time spent together with the Jacksonville Jaguars, that kind of lobbying can go only so far.

Taylor turned 33 in January and would like to win a championship ring. The Bills haven't reached the playoffs since 1999 and have gone 7-9 three straight seasons. The Patriots win Super Bowls.

Taylor has been knocked throughout his career as being injury-prone. But Taylor played in 100 of Jacksonville's last 112 games, and he won't have to carry the whole load in New England.

He will join a backfield that includes Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was dissatisfied with the same crew last year and brought in LaMont Jordan before the start of 2008.

Patriots on the clock: Rang chimes in

February, 11, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham senior analyst Rob Rang has taken the time for us to break down how the first round may unfold for AFC East. Next up are the New England Patriots with the 23rd choice.

I provided Rang three needs. He projected the best-available candidates when the Patriots are scheduled to make their initial pick.

The Patriots are looking at cornerbacks and linebackers. I also added running back as a possibility. Keep in mind that when injury-prone starter Laurence Maroney was healthy last summer, they signed free agent LaMont Jordan.

Here is Rang's take:

The Patriots struck gold last year with Jerod Mayo and it would surprise no one if they elected to take advantage of this year's strong crop of outside linebackers. There are numerous players to choose from. USC's Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews Jr. are two that make sense due to their versatility. Cushing is the better player now, but there are some who feel Matthews, a former walk-on, will be a better player than either Cushing or Rey Maualuga in a few years. Former defensive ends Aaron Maybin (Penn State) and Larry English (Northern Illinois) each is athletic enough to play back in space. Bill Belichick's trust of former disciple Al Groh could lead him toward Virginia outside linebacker Clint Sintim. Sintim played outside linebacker in the Cavaliers' 3-4 alignment and, therefore, might be all the more ready to make an immediate impact.

The pickings aren't as great at cornerback as outside linebacker. Many of the top corners lack the size preferred for the position. Illinois' Vontae Davis is a notable exception, but is expected to get a late boost up the board with a strong workout and likely will be off the board. Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore and Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith are each dynamic playmakers, but may be too short for New England's taste.

Considering their willingness to spread the ball around a stable of backs, the Patriots may appear unlikely to take a running back in the first round. However, with underclassmen Chris Wells (Ohio State), Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) and Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh) all capable of making an immediate impact, the Patriots would be wise to consider them. At least one will almost surely be available at No. 23.

Patriots free-agency dossier

January, 16, 2009

Posted by's Tim Graham

As organized as Bill Belichick is, the New England Patriots probably didn't wait for the Scott Pioli situation to shake out in Kansas City before getting started on free agency.

The Patriots are expected to franchise unrestricted quarterback Matt Cassel as an insurance policy for Tom Brady's blown-out left knee. Cassel would receive a one-year qualifying offer worth almost $15 million -- the average of the top five salaries at his position.

Even if the Patriots and Cassel hammer out a deal on their own terms, his salary will gobble up a huge portion of the roughly $18 million to $20 million cap space they currently have. The actual salary cap number for 2009 hasn't been released.

Unrestricted (free to negotiate with any team beginning Feb. 27)

Restricted (Patriots have right to match offer from other team)

Exclusive rights (cannot negotiate with other teams if tendered qualifying offer)

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 13, Bills 0

December, 28, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

The New England Patriots did their part. Now they must wait. Right about the time their flight touches down they'll know their playoff fate.

The Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills, 13-0, in windswept Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots are 11-5, but still might not make the playoffs depending on what happens in two games that kick off at 4:15 p.m.

The Patriots need either the New York Jets or Jacksonville Jaguars to win. If it's the former, then the Patriots would claim the AFC East title. If it's the latter, then the Patriots would make the playoffs as the second wild card.

Buffalo, meanwhile, finished 7-9 for the third straight season under head coach Dick Jauron, who might not keep his job after guiding the Bills to a 5-1 start and then overseeing their collapse.

Conditions were so nasty in Orchard Park, N.Y., that Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel's stat line looked more like a drive breakdown: 6 of 8 for 78 yards.

Patriots running backs Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan combined for 149 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries.

The Bills coped with the loss of Marshawn Lynch, who was deactivated because of a shoulder injury. His replacement, Fred Jackson, ran 26 times for a career-high 133 yards, but the Bills couldn't get into the end zone.

Bills quarterback Trent Edwards was 14 of 25 for 128 yards and no interceptions, but he did lose a fumble.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 47, Cardinals 7

December, 21, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots aren't going away.

In fact, they're looming more than they have all season.

The Patriots went into Sunday the only team among the AFC East-leading threesome not in control of their own destiny, but they remain very much a factor after walloping the Arizona Cardinals 47-7 in the snow globe that was Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots are 10-5 and play the Buffalo Bills in next week's season finale. While the Patriots could win 11 games and not make the playoffs, the Cardinals are 8-7 and have ensured their spot by clinching the harmless NFC West.

The Patriots could become the first 11-win club to miss the postseason since the NFL adopted its current format in 1990 if the Baltimore Ravens beat the Jacksonville Jaguars as expected next week to finish 11-5 and both the Jets and Dolphins win today.

The Ravens hold the tiebreaker and would take the second wild-card berth. The Indianapolis Colts earned the first wild-card entry.

LaMont Jordan scored touchdowns on New England's first two series, and Matt Cassel outplayed the MVP candidate and the Heisman-winning glamour boy he used to back up at Southern California.

Cassel's phenomenal season continued. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

1st quarter notes from Foxborough

December, 21, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- While the Miami Dolphins have surrendered their instamatic 10-0 lead in Kansas City, the New England Patriots continue to dominate the Arizona Cardinals.

A few notes from the first quarter, with thanks to ESPN researcher Mark Simon:

  • The Cardinals have allowed at least 21 points in the first quarter three times in their past four games.
  • LaMont Jordan scored the Patriots' first two touchdowns. It's his fourth career multi-TD game, but his first since Week 12 in 2005. He never before had scored two in the same quarter.
  • Kevin Faulk had the other Patriots touchdown in the first quarter on a 15-yard catch and run. He has 14 career receiving touchdowns and 14 career rushing touchdowns.
  • The Patriots haven't lost a game in which Faulk has scored a touchdown since December 20, 2004. They're 7-0 in that span.

Jets apparently won't be getting much help

December, 21, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

The New York Jets aren't enjoying the 1 o'clock games.

As they await their game against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field, they're coming to the realization they won't be getting any outside help in their bid to win the AFC East.

The Miami Dolphins scored on their first play from scrimmage, a 31-yard Ted Ginn reverse, and have tacked on a field goal to lead the Kansas City Chiefs, 10-0, with that game only 3:08 old. The Chiefs responded with a touchdown, and that score is 10-7 as I type this.

The New England Patriots needed only 3:47 to turn their first possession into a touchdown and scored on their second, too. They lead the Arizona Cardinals, 14-0, with 3:46 to go in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 49, Raiders 26

December, 14, 2008
 AP Photo/George Nikitin
  Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel was exceptional in a 49-26 win over the Raiders less than a week after his father passed away.

Posted by's Tim Graham

Two days before his father's funeral, Matt Cassel staged a wonderful performance to propel the New England Patriots past the Oakland Raiders 49-26 in the rain at McAfee Coliseum.

Cassel had four touchdown passes by the opening drive of the second half. He finished with 218 yards on 18 completions to help the Patriots remain tied with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins atop the AFC East.

All three teams won Sunday and are 9-5 with two games left.

With the Patriots' postseason hopes on the line, many were concerned if Cassel could cope. The alternative would've been to insert rookie Kevin O'Connell. But Cassel insisted on playing, a decision that inspired his teammates.

Five years ago this month and on the same field, Brett Favre threw four first-half touchdown passes to beat the Raiders the day after his dad died.

Cassel's father, Greg, was found dead early Tuesday morning in his Southern California home. Cassel left the team Wednesday but returned to practice Thursday at San Jose State, where the team worked out in between games against the Seattle Seahawks and Raiders.

The Patriots' offense amassed 487 yards. Sammy Morris ran 14 times for 117 yards and a touchdown. LaMont Jordan ran a dozen times for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Randy Moss, playing in Oakland for the first time since he was traded from there, caught five of Cassel's passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns.

Patriots injuries never-ending

December, 9, 2008

Posted by's Tim Graham

If you happen to attend the New England Patriots' next game in Gillette Stadium, take a look around the stands at the jerseys fans are sporting.

There's a strong possibility that player won't be wearing his own.

Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas, Laurence Maroney ... Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan and Ty Warren have missed time, too.

Add fan favorite Tedy Bruschi to the list.

The Boston Herald and Boston Globe both are speculating Bruschi's season might be over because his bad knee could land him on injured reserve.

A source told the Herald that Bruschi's injury isn't serious from a medical standpoint, that he normally would miss only three to four weeks. But with only three games left in the regular season and the Patriots desperate to make the playoffs, they'll probably need to fill Bruschi's spot on the 53-man roster with a serviceable player.

Bruschi went into Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks with a bad left knee, which was knocked by Patriots defensive back Mike Richardson on a tackle.

The only good news is that the Patriots added Bruschi's replacement, Junior Seau, last week. That gave the future Hall of Famer, who will turn 40 next month, a little more time to pick up the game after seeing his first action Sunday since the Super Bowl.

Ugly loss aside, Patriots are in the hunt

November, 30, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- I didn't take a scientific poll, but based on the general disgust in the Gillette Stadium press box and among the concessionaires meandering about the tunnels after Sunday's game, the New England Patriots don't belong in the playoffs.

 Stew Milne/US Presswire
 New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel had his worst game of the season against the Steelers, throwing two picks and fumbling twice.

There won't be too much cheer in the newspaper columns that will be flung on the doorsteps of New England homes Monday morning, or on various blogs or call-in shows.

The Patriots bumbled throughout the second half in a 33-10 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the type of team you measure yourself against in the AFC. The Patriots came up small in so many ways.

But count me among those who are bullish on the Patriots despite Sunday's shortcomings.

They weren't exposed as much as they were overwhelmed by the NFL's most treacherous defense and victimized by enough self-inflicted wounds to sicken Plaxico Burress.

The Patriots are 7-5 and only one game behind the AFC East-leading New York Jets, who were defeated at home 34-17 by the Denver Broncos.

"We blew an opportunity today," Patriots left guard Logan Mankins said. "We'd be in first place. We blew a big one today. As the season goes on each game gets bigger and bigger. It'll be another big week."

The last quarter of the season will be arduous for New England: at the Seattle Seahawks, at the Oakland Raiders, home against the Arizona Cardinals, at the Buffalo Bills. But the Patriots have proven they know how to manage a campaign.

Here are the five ways the Patriots can pull themselves together and make the playoffs a sixth straight season:

(Read full post)

Ty Warren inactive for Patriots

November, 30, 2008

Posted by's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots have deactivated defensive lineman Ty Warren for Sunday afternoon's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Gillette Stadium.

It will be the second time in the past three games Warren has been scratched with a groin injury. Also out for the Patriots is running back LaMont Jordan for the eighth straight game because of a calf problem. Jordan practiced quite a bit this week, raising hopes he would be available.

Here is the complete list of inactives for the game:

Pittsburgh Steelers

New England Patriots

Audibles: AFC East Week 13 preview

November, 28, 2008
Posted by's Tim Graham

Miami Dolphins (6-5) at St. Louis Rams (2-9), 1 p.m. ET

The Dolphins need to chalk up a victory to keep pace with the rest of the tightly bound AFC East.

They impressively rattled off four straight victories before losing at home last Sunday to the Patriots. That one defeat has the Dolphins tied for last place in the division with the Bills and two games out of first place with only five to play.

After going 1-15 last year, the Dolphins could lose all of their remaining games and still consider 2008 a significant improvement, but they've played so well that not making the playoffs will be a major disappointment in the organization.

A loss to the Rams would be a colossal blow not only to the Dolphins' playoff hopes, but also to their psyches.

The Rams are that bad. They rank among the worst five NFL teams in every major statistical category except for passing defense, where they're 21st.

Miami should be able to do whatever it wants offensively, although the team lost top receiver Greg Camarillo to a season-ending knee injury. Undrafted rookie Davone Bess and veteran Ernest Wilford should have greater opportunities to get involved.

Miami could feast on St. Louis' careless offense. Miami is tied for third with a plus-8 turnover ratio. St. Louis is tied for 28th with a minus-7 ratio, thanks to 14 interceptions and eight fumbles.

San Francisco 49ers (3-8) at Buffalo Bills (6-5), 1 p.m. ET

Teams that travel three hours eastward have failed to win a game this year, but the 49ers have been a dangerous opponent in recent weeks, and the Bills can't consider themselves back on track after a single victory -- regardless of how decisive -- in five games.

The Bills are coming off a 54-31 romp over the Kansas City Chiefs. The 54 part looks spectacular. The 31 part should make Bills fans wince.

Cornerback Jabari Greer will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Strong safety and captain Donte Whitner is doubtful. Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel isn't returning from his foot injury either. Linebacker Keith Ellison is questionable, further depleting a position that has needed safety Bryan Scott to convert.

All eyes will be on Bills quarterback Trent Edwards to see if he can build off last week's sharp performance. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more.

Fans hope that's a sign Edwards has his game back together after four straight games in which he looked utterly lost.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4), 4:15 p.m. ET

How legit is Matt Cassel? We'll have a better idea when we see how he performs against the Steelers' unforgiving defense.

Cassel has thrown for at least 400 yards his past two games versus the Jets and Dolphins. Those aren't pushovers, but the Steelers rank No. 1 across the board in total defense, run defense and pass defense.

How Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels choose to attack will be fascinating to see, but don't expect fireworks. The Steelers allow only 2.9 yards per rushing attempt and 168.8 passing yards a game. Opponents are scoring under 15 points against them.

It's uncertain how the Patriots will use their backfield because there's no recent information to draw from. Cassel has been throwing like he's in the Arena Football League. The Patriots might be so inclined again, but who will take handoffs if they decide to run?

Sammy Morris has been playing, but has carried only 13 times the past two weeks. Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis has only nine carries, although he did score a garbage-time touchdown against the Dolphins.

Another back to consider, LaMont Jordan, has been practicing this week and could play for the first time since Week 5.

The Patriots match up favorably on defense. The Steelers have been wobbly. They rank 26th in total offense, 24th in run offense and 18th in pass offense. The Steelers also are 28th in sacks per pass play.

Denver Broncos (6-5) at New York Jets (8-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

Sure, it's a showdown between two division leaders. But the teams aren't remotely similar in how they're perceived heading into Week 13.

The Jets are being debated as the team to beat in the AFC and a Super Bowl contender. Brett Favre is generating MVP talk, but running back Thomas Jones might be having an even b
etter season.

They have won six of their past seven games and five in a row, including back-to-back victories over the Patriots and the previously undefeated Titans. The Jets haven't lost a game in regulation time since Sept. 22.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are coming off a demoralizing loss at home to the deplorable Raiders.

Yes, the Raiders also beat the Jets, but that game was played in Oakland and went into sudden death. The Broncos were trounced by 21 points at home. The Broncos also lost to the Chiefs and despite a winning record have been outscored on the season.

Sunday likely will come down to Denver quarterback Jay Cutler against the New York secondary. The Jets' impenetrable run defense ranks first in the NFL and stonewalled Titans duo Chris Johnson and LenDale White.

But the Jets can be had through the air when teams don't throw near cornerback Darrelle Revis. Cutler ranks third in yardage, but only 16th in passer rating because he has thrown a dozen interceptions.