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In the final episode of the season, ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss previews New England's regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills, breaks down the Pats' wide receiver position and sits down with WR Brian Tyms.

Bills at Patriots preview

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
8:00
AM ET
video When: 1 p.m., Sunday Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts TV: CBS

The New England Patriots are locked into the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, while the Buffalo Bills' long shot playoff hopes were dashed last Sunday when they lost in Oakland. So from that standpoint, nothing can be gained when the teams meet up Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

But don't tell that to coaches Bill Belichick and Doug Marrone.

Each in his own way, they have stressed this week that there are no meaningless games in the NFL.

ESPN Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Mike Rodak (Bills) preview the matchup with some bigger-picture thoughts:

Reiss: Mike, with the Bills having been eliminated from the playoffs, it’s time to look to the future. What do you think the team needs to threaten the Patriots for the top spot in the division?

Rodak: The Bills have put a lot of pieces in place, but quarterback isn’t one of them. Taking EJ Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft was a whiff that put the Bills back three years at that position. Without a first-round pick next May, it’s going to be a challenge for the Bills to find the right quarterback for next season. The reality is that whoever they decide will be their starter -- whether it’s Orton, Manuel, a second-day draft pick, a free agent or a trade acquisition -- will be flawed in some way, and the Bills will still have to make up for it elsewhere on their roster. Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III have both been the subject of media-based speculation, and at least from this perspective, the Bills should consider taking a shot at both if they’re available on the trade market.

Mike, the Patriots won by the skin of their teeth in the Meadowlands last weekend. Was it an anomaly or true cause for concern for the playoffs?

Reiss: More of the former, but that doesn’t mean some of the issues that cropped up should just be swept under the locker room rug. They have to protect quarterback Tom Brady better, establish more of a running game early and generate more of a consistent pass rush. The Jets often play the Patriots tough, and they won more one-on-one matchups on defense; that's a credit to them. In that sense, it had a little bit of a feel of the past two Super Bowl losses for the Patriots, where struggles up front paralyze the rest of the offense for stretches. The Patriots are searching for some answers and more consistency on offense right now, and the return of injured left guard Dan Connolly (knee) and receiver Julian Edelman (concussion) in the playoffs should help them find them.

Specific to the Bills, things seemed to come together pretty nicely for them on defense this year. What contributed most to that?

Rodak: It starts up front with the defensive line, which just sent three players to the 2015 Pro Bowl this week: Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, and Marcell Dareus. Along with Jerry Hughes, that line has been able to produce all sorts of pressure on quarterbacks this season. When you do that, it takes a tremendous burden off the linebackers and secondary. While there are good players in the Bills’ back seven -- Stephon Gilmore (first) and Aaron Williams (second) are both former high-round picks -- the success of the group as a whole is a result of the talent up front. They set the tone. To Marrone’s credit, he has brought in accomplished coaches from the outside as his defensive coordinators -- Mike Pettine last season and Jim Schwartz this season -- who have done well at maximizing the unit’s strengths.

If the Bills are playing for anything in this game, it’s a chance to win at Gillette Stadium for the first time in that building’s history. Given that the Patriots have now locked up the top seed in the AFC playoffs, do you expect them to take the foot off the gas at all?

Reiss: Yes, I view this game as being similar to a fourth preseason contest when the third preseason game doesn’t go as well as planned. I could envision a scenario where the Patriots want to develop a little momentum on offense, and if that comes early, they start making some personnel changes such as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski taking a seat. On defense, key players such as cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, among others, figure to be "protected" as well. The team also has the luxury of allowing some of its injured players extra time to recover, which I’d expect them to do. So their approach preparation-wise won’t change, but I do believe their personnel-related approach will be different than the norm. How significant, and if Brady and Co. play at all, is obviously something we'll be watching closely.

The Bills don’t have a first-round draft pick in 2015 after trading it to move up five spots for receiver Sammy Watkins. Good trade? Bad trade?

Rodak: Bad trade. General manager Doug Whaley’s reasoning was clear when he swung the deal back in May, but the truth is that it hasn’t panned out. Here’s what Whaley said about the deal right after making it: “The high costs not making the playoffs is something we weighed in and we thought this guy was going to get us to the playoffs.” The Bills, of course, did not make the playoffs this season. Here’s what else Whaley said: “This game is about making plays and surrounding our quarterback with playmakers. He’s automatically going to make our quarterback better and us better as a team.” The Bills benched their quarterback at the time, Manuel, after four games this season, so it’s hard to argue that Watkins made him better. From both of those angles, the trade was a failure that left the organization behind the 8-ball in the 2015 draft.

Let’s look ahead to the playoffs. The Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens in the past two AFC championship games. If there’s a team in the AFC that could knock them out this year, who do you think it would be?

Reiss: I’ll pick the Patriots, because I believe if they play up to their capabilities, the only team that can beat them is themselves. We spend a lot of time around these parts worrying about “teams you’d like to avoid” or “problem areas that could sink the season,” and part of that is the talk-radio mentality that often sets the agenda. I play along with it at times, too, but I truly think it’s all about the Patriots this year. If forced to pick one team, I’d still go with Denver.

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Terry McAulay assigned as Pats-Bills ref

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
5:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Referee Terry McAulay has been assigned Sunday's season finale between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Entering Week 16, McAulay's crew ranked sixth in terms of most penalties called per game (17.2).

Penalties have been a hot topic of discussion with the Patriots, who have been flagged for the most accepted penalties in Bill Belichick's 15 years as coach (115, for 1,025 yards).

Though Belichick felt that the Patriots didn't play their best game this past Sunday against the Jets, he said one positive was a lower penalty total (6 total, 5 accepted). Also, cornerback Brandon Browner wasn't flagged in the game after picking up three the week before.

Here is the weekly Patriots breakdown:

PENALTY LEADERBOARD
CB Brandon Browner – 15
OT Nate Solder – 9
CB Logan Ryan – 8
TE Rob Gronkowski – 7
WR Brandon LaFell – 7
CB Malcolm Butler – 5
OT Marcus Cannon – 5
S Patrick Chung – 5
LB Jamie Collins -- 5
OL Jordan Devey – 5
C Bryan Stork – 5
CB Darrelle Revis – 4
Eight tied with 3 apiece

MOST FREQUENT INFRACTION

False start – 20
Holding (offensive) – 16
Holding (defensive) – 14
Pass interference (defense) – 11
Holding (special teams) – 8
Unnecessary roughness – 8
Illegal use of hands – 7
Illegal block above the waist (special teams) – 7
Pass interference (offensive) – 7
Facemask – 4
Illegal contact – 4
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The NFL Live crew make their picks for Buffalo at New England.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray, who was limited to four carries in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Jets and was replaced by Brandon Bolden on the final drive, showed up on the team’s injury report Wednesday. Gray has an injured ankle and was one of 15 players limited in practice.

In addition to Gray, new additions to the team’s injury report this week include cornerback Brandon Browner (groin) and linebacker Jamie Collins (hip).

The rest of the injury report remained the same as last week, with receiver Julian Edelman limited with a concussion. Edelman missed Sunday’s win over the Jets.

Darrelle Revis: Team goals much more important than Pro Bowl nod

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
3:50
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis on Wednesday downplayed being named to his sixth Pro Bowl, saying "team goals" are much more important.

Revis
"We got team goals that we want to accomplish, and the Pro Bowl is definitely not one of them," Revis said. "I think a bunch of guys got in -- Tom [Brady], Rob [Gronkowski], [Matthew] Slate [Slater], Steve [Gostkowski].

"We all appreciate getting honored, but at the same time, collectively as a whole group, as a team, we can just throw that under the bus, because we're focused more on the team."

After a long regular season and the AFC’s No. 1 seed heading into the postseason, Revis repeated the Patriots’ team-centric approach that coach Bill Belichick instills in his players.

Revis and the Patriots have their eyes set on a week-to-week approach that ends with their hands on the Lombardi Trophy.

Revis was asked if it was weird to be named to the Pro Bowl -- a game that he won’t play in if the Patriots make the Super Bowl.

"I don't even know the date or whatever," Revis said. "I know that, but I don't know the exact actual date."

For the record, the Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 25, the Sunday before the Super Bowl, in Glendale, Arizona.

A humbled Revis deflected credit to his teammates and the Patriots’ coaching staff.

"You know, it's an honor to be on a list of great, talented guys, some of the greatest players in the game," Revis said. "It is. It shows you -- especially coming from the ACL [injury] -- but it just shows the important work you put in, and I just have to thank my teammates for making my job a little bit easier.

"It all works together, the pass rush, the schemes that we do that the coaches draw up. I thank the coaches, as well, and my teammates for making my job easier."

Bill Belichick breaks down tipped FG try

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
1:20
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick's weekly breakdown of key plays following a win, on Patriots.com, highlighted some specifics behind blocking kicks.

Belichick made two points about Nick Folk's 52-yard field attempt that Vince Wilfork got his hand on last Sunday.

The first thing was the late movement, "going from a wider rush to a little bit of a tighter rush." The Patriots wanted their rush up the middle because the ball was being kicked from the middle of the field, so they planned for that area for their "surge to hit."

Ultimately, the Patriots got that surge over Damon Harrison, a defensive lineman playing on the field-goal protection unit.

"In the initial alignment, they might think the pressure is coming in the C gap here, [and] around the end and wing," Belichick said. "After the stem, now we end up with [Alan] Branch and Wilfork on Harrison."

Belichick also pointed out how the Patriots blocked a kick the week before (Jamie Collins) and almost had a second in the same area (Jonathan Casillas), which might have been a factor in the play because the Jets were probably aware of it and it "lightened the load for us inside."

Other plays noted by Belichick:

Ayers on kickoff coverage. Akeem Ayers only played five snaps on defense, but was a core contributor on special teams. Belichick referred to his tackle on the opening kickoff as a tone-setting play. Ayers, who was cited for doing a nice job of fitting and attacking the wedge on the play, tied for the team lead with two special teams tackles on the day. "Thought it was a great play to start the game," he said.

Two aspects to Collins' INT. Belichick highlighted the two parts of Jamie Collins' critical third-quarter interception, starting with defensive end Chandler Jones' strong inside rush, then lauding Collins' man coverage on tight end Jace Amaro and ability to high-point the ball.

Red zone defense a strength. Belichick liked the way the Patriots played red zone defense, pointing out Jones' sack (fourth quarter) and how it was a combination of good coverage and rush. On the rush, Jones won to the outside, which was different from his inside rush on Collins' interception.

Hightower's sack sparked by late shift. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was praised for his call on the sack that pushed the Jets back to a 52-yard field-goal attempt, showing how some late shifting by defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Chris Jones and linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins appeared to create confusion for the Jets' front.

All present at Patriots practice

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
12:24
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had perfect attendance for practice on Wednesday. The practice was held inside of Gillette Stadium on a wet day.

The Patriots were in full pads for the first time since Nov. 12. Head coach Bill Belichick has preached that the team needs to close out the season strong despite Sunday's game against the Bills having no effect on the postseason. The full pads provide some extra incentive to put in the extra effort at practice.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who missed Sunday’s game against the Jets with a thigh injury and more notably a concussion, ran a couple routes at practice.

Patriots' offensive line needs to improve

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
10:00
AM ET
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ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discusses one unit that needs to improve before the playoffs.

Catching up with former Patriots, NFC style

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
8:00
AM ET
Every Wednesday, we'll lead off the day with a look at some notable former New England Patriots and their production -- splitting it into two updates between the AFC and NFC:

G Logan Mankins (Buccaneers) -- Started and played all 49 offensive snaps in a home loss to the Packers. The former Patriots captain has started all 15 games this season.

LB Dane Fletcher (Buccaneers) -- Played 52 defensive snaps and 12 on special teams in a home loss to Green Bay, finishing with six tackles. He has played in all 15 games this season, with three starts on defense.

DL Tommy Kelly (Cardinals) -- Started and played 38 of 67 defensive snaps in a home loss to the Seahawks (four tackles). Kelly has now played 677 of 976 defensive snaps for the 11-4 Cardinals.

G Ted Larsen (Cardinals) -- The 2010 sixth-round draft pick started at left guard, playing 62 of 69 offensive snaps in a home loss to Seattle. He has started all 15 games -- 13 at left guard and two at right guard.

S James Ihedigbo (Lions) -- Started and played all 64 defensive snaps in a road win against the Bears, totaling seven tackles (two for a loss) and one quarterback hit. He has played in 12 games this season, starting all of them, and has totaled 67 tackles, two sacks, eight passes defended, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

TE Benjamin Watson (Saints) -- He started and played 30 of 70 offensive snaps in a home loss to the Falcons, finishing with one catch for two yards. Watson has now played 495 of 1,004 offensive snaps and has 18 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns this season.

WR Brandon Lloyd (49ers) -- Played 10 of 72 snaps in a home loss to the Chargers. In 13 games (2 starts), he has 13 catches for 280 yards and one touchdown this season.

ST Ray Ventrone (49ers) -- The longtime favorite of 49ers special-teams coach Brad Seely played three special-teams snaps in a home loss to San Diego. He has played in eight games this season.

CB Sterling Moore (Cowboys) -- Nickelback played 55 of 62 defensive snaps in a home win against the Colts (three tackles, one pass defended). He has appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and has totaled 12 passes defended.

TE Daniel Fells (Giants) -- Started and played 43 of 71 offensive snaps in a road win against the Rams, and had two catches for 20 yards. He has played 382 of 1,048 offensive snaps this season, appearing in 15 games (8 starts) and totaling 16 catches for 188 yards and four touchdowns.

S Brandon Meriweather (Washington) -- The 30-year-old was placed on season-ending injured reserve (toe injury that hindered mobility). He started all 10 games in which he played this season, and had 54 tackles, three passes defended and three sacks this season.

LB Ja'Gared Davis (Washington) -- Wearing No. 58 after being signed off the Chiefs' practice squad, Davis played exclusively on special teams (16 snaps) in a home win against Philadelphia. He didn't show up on the stat sheet.

LB Steve Beauharnais (Washington) -- Played two defensive snaps and 11 on special teams in a home win against Philadelphia after being promoted from the practice squad. Didn't show up on the stat sheet.

DL Kyle Love (Panthers) -- Signed with Carolina prior to Week 16 after not playing this season and was inactive in a home win against the Browns.

(Anyone else you'd like to add to the list? Send a suggestion via Twitter to @MikeReiss).

Catching up with former Patriots, AFC style

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
5:00
AM ET
Every Wednesday, we'll lead off the day with a look at some notable former New England Patriots and their production -- splitting it into two updates between the AFC and NFC:

LB Brandon Spikes (Bills) -- Played 38 of 72 defensive snaps in a road loss to the Raiders, totaling six tackles (two for a loss) and one pass defended. He has played 476 of 1,020 defensive snaps this season (46.6 percent).

[+] EnlargeKenbrell Thompkins
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsKenbrell Thompkins' production helped the Raiders earn a home win over the Bills on Sunday.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (Raiders) -- Played 40 of 72 offensive snaps in a home win over the Bills, and had his most productive day of the season with five catches for 90 yards. He has 14 catches for 207 yards since joining the Raiders.

CB Ras-I Dowling (Raiders) -- Wearing No. 36, he played nine defensive snaps and 12 on special teams in a home win over the Bills. This was his second game since being promoted from the practice squad.

CB Aqib Talib (Broncos) -- Started and played 62 of 63 defensive snaps in a road loss to the Bengals and totaled four tackles, one interception and had three passes defended. Talib, who was named to the Pro Bowl, has played 886 of 1,023 defensive snaps in 14 games, with 17 passes defended, four interceptions and 59 tackles.

WR Wes Welker (Broncos) -- Totaled four catches for 30 yards in a road loss to the Bengals, playing 58 of 69 offensive snaps. In 13 games this season he has played 682 of 927 offensive snaps, totaling 47 catches for 422 yards.

ST Don Jones (Dolphins) -- Inactive in a 37-35 road win over the Vikings due to a shoulder injury. He has four special-teams tackles in three games with Miami after being claimed on waivers from New England.

WR Kamar Aiken (Ravens) -- He played 22 of 73 offenisve snaps in a road loss to the Texans, but didn't have a catch. He has 22 catches for 254 yards and two touchdowns this season.

CB Darius Butler (Colts) -- Played 20 of 63 defensive snaps in a blowout road loss to the Cowboys (3 tackles, 1 forced fumble). He has 45 tackles and seven passes defended this season.

S Sergio Brown (Colts) -- The former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame played 20 of 63 defensive snaps in a road loss to the Cowboys (same as Butler) and chipped in with seven on special teams. He had two tackles on defense (one for a loss), with one pass defended.

QB Brian Hoyer (Browns) -- Came on in relief of injured rookie Johnny Manziel in a 17-13 road loss to the Panthers and finished 7-of-13 for 134 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

C Nick McDonald (Browns) -- Played 35 of 47 offensive snaps in a road loss to the Panthers. The former Patriot, who played 16 games (3 starts) for the team from 2011-12, has started six of the past nine games for the Browns.

QB Ryan Mallett (Texans) -- Was placed on season-ending injured reserve last week with a torn pectoral muscle after making two starts in relief of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

LB Jeff Tarpinian (Texans) -- Played 27 special-teams snaps, second highest on the team, in a home win over the Ravens.

TE Matthew Mulligan (Titans) -- After spending time with the Bears and Cardinals this season, the veteran blocking tight end signed with the Titans last week and played 16 of 67 offensive snaps in a road loss to the Jaguars.

OT Will Svitek (Titans) -- The 32-year-old veteran was a backup after starting for three straight weeks, coming on to the field for just three special-teams snaps in a road loss to Jacksonville.

CB Jemea Thomas (Titans) – The 2014 sixth-round draft choice of the Patriots, who also spent time with Dallas and St. Louis before joining Tennessee, was inactive for Thursday's loss to the Jaguars.

WR Greg Salas (Jets) -- Was placed on season-ending injured reserve (hamstring). He played in 220 of 962 snaps this season and had eight catches for 167 yards.

TE Zach Sudfeld (Jets) -- Played 14 of 63 offensive snaps in a home loss to the Patriots (1 catch, 6 yards), as well as a team-high 23 special-teams plays (team-high 2 tackles). He has played in 126 of 1,025 offensive snaps this season (his primary contributions come on special teams) and has three catches for 41 yards.

(Anyone else you'd like to add to the list? Send a suggestion via Twitter to @MikeReiss).
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster

SELECTIONS

Tom Brady, QB, 10th Pro Bowl selection: This was a no-brainer, and Brady's 10 Pro Bowl berths are a New England Patriots record. Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah had nine selections.

Whom he beat out: With six quarterbacks selected to the game -- Brady, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo -- there wasn't much question about Brady having to beat anyone out. He's obviously a top-six quarterback. From this outside perspective, here's a question: Does Seattle's Russell Wilson deserve a spot? I think so.

Stephen Gostkowski, K, Third Pro Bowl selection: This is the second straight season in which the nine-year veteran has earned the nod. His powerful leg is a weapon on field-goal attempts (32-of-34 for 94.1 percent ranks second in the NFL) and kickoffs. Good timing, too, as he's scheduled for free agency.

Whom he beat out: With Gostkowski and Adam Vinatieri the lone Pro Bowlers, that speaks highly of the Patriots' personnel acumen when it comes to evaluating kickers. I don't see anyone else with a strong enough candidacy to beat either of them. And it's really not close.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Third Pro Bowl selection: He became the first tight end in NFL history with four seasons of 10 or more touchdowns in four seasons, and Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels dubbed him "The Terminator." Need more be said?

Whom he beat out: With four tight ends selected to the Pro Bowl -- Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen and Julius Thomas -- it would have been a shock if Gronkowski weren't on the list. What stands out here is that Gronkowski is the only pure, combination-type tight end of the group. I view the other three more as big receivers.

Darrelle Revis, CB, Sixth Pro Bowl selection: It's hard to quantify what Revis has meant to the Patriots' defense, but he's basically served as the queen piece that helps negate the opponent's top receiving threat. The Patriots rank eighth in the NFL in fewest points allowed, and Revis is a main reason for that.

Whom he beat out: There are eight cornerbacks in the game -- Revis, Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Joe Haden, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman -- so it only makes sense Revis is part of the group. He's obviously one of the NFL's eight best. The more interesting question is if he's No. 1. I'd vote yes.

Matthew Slater, ST, Fourth Pro Bowl selection: He leads the Patriots with 14 special-teams tackles, and the words of Jets coach Rex Ryan from last year still resonate: "That Slater kid is a heck of a football player." The respect opponents show him with double-team blocks says it all.

Whom he beat out: I was impressed with San Diego's Darrell Stuckey from a Week 14 game, but I still think Slater is a cut above.

SNUBS

Devin McCourty, S: I could make a case for him over Cleveland's Tashaun Gipson (six interceptions) and Detroit's Glover Quin (seven interceptions), but his low interception total (two) hurts him, especially when he had one returned for a touchdown that was called back because of a penalty. Safety is a tough position to evaluate because the player could do his job well and the ball would never come his way, which is why interception totals can be deceiving.

Devin McCourty knew what to expect

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
5:55
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Safety Devin McCourty had a pretty good idea of what to expect on Tuesday morning at New England Patriots headquarters. No, there wasn't going to a party for earning the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Not even close.

McCourty
"It's my fifth year. I knew not much was going to change when we came in here today. It's always business as usual, focused on the next game," McCourty said. "We've been in games where we've lost by a lot and the next week we had to focus on the next game. We've been in games where we've won by a lot and Bill [Belichick] has come in the same way. We're on to whatever team is next and this week it's Buffalo."

Say this about Bill Belichick; he's consistent -- with his players and the media.

That's why whenever the topic was brought up Tuesday about the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the response was pretty much the same across the board -- the focus was on the Bills.

Asked his reaction when he learned about the top seed Monday night, which came as a result of the Broncos losing to the Bengals, special teams captain Matthew Slater said he had a "two-second smile and then moved on to the Buffalo Bills."

When tight end Rob Gronkowski was asked the same question, he said simply, "I'm just worried about the Bills."

That summed up the vibe around the team Tuesday.

"The playoffs will come. When it's here it'll be here in full effect," McCourty said. "I think the team understands what it is to be in the playoffs, but right now we want to finish our season right."

Patriots, Spurs follow similar paths to success

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
2:30
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are aiming for their fourth Super Bowl title.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaSince Tom Brady became Bill Belichick's starting quarterback in 2001, the Patriots have the best combined record in the four major American sports. The Spurs are second.
Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are going for their sixth NBA championship.

Different sports. Similar dynasties.

"They're built and designed culturally very similarly," said Scott Pioli, head of the Patriots player personnel department during the championship seasons, "knowing who the leader is and making sure that people are going to fit in with what the leadership wants and how they want to do it."

Stability at the top is crucial to both teams' success.

Brady is in his 15th season, Duncan his 18th. They're humble superstars who set a team-first example.

Bill Belichick has coached the Patriots to 11 division titles in the last 12 seasons and has home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Gregg Popovich has led the Spurs to the playoffs in 17 of his 18 full seasons as coach.

Longtime owners Robert Kraft and Peter Holt have made it clear who has authority -- Belichick on the Patriots, Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford on the Spurs.

(Read full post)

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