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The Patriots are No. 4 in PFT’s preseason power rankings

Darrelle Revis AP

For most of Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach of the Patriots, the question has not been whether the team would make it to the playoffs but rather how far they will get once the postseason gets underway.

That appears to be the case this year as well. The Patriots enter the season as the heavy favorites in the AFC East and our panel puts them behind only the Broncos in the conference pecking order.

That’s just where they finished last season after losing to Denver in the AFC Championship Game and switching the order will likely have a lot to do with New England’s health this season. Losing Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and others left the Pats undermanned for their date with the Broncos, but all of the wounded are expected back this year.

Those returns along with the arrival of cornerback Darrelle Revis could be enough to lift New England back to the top of the heap. Check out the entire preview here and then let us know what you think about the Patriots heading into the 2014 season.

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Patriots hit big play to Brandon Bolden, of course

Tom Brady AP

It was one thing when Rob Gronkowski scored.

But when it’s Scott Chandler and Brandon Bolden, you can just tell it’s New England’s night.

Bolden just caught Tom Brady’s third touchdown pass of the night, giving the Patriots a 21-7 lead over the Broncos early in the fourth quarter.

Bolden got behind the Broncos coverage, and even though Brady didn’t hit him in stride, there was enough cushion for a 63-yard touchdown.

Bolden had caught five passes coming into the night, but it was his third for the game, as they struggle though injuries at the skill positions.

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Roethlisberger self-reported concussion symptoms

Ben Roethlisberger AP

So how did Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger end up in the locker room near the conclusion of Sunday’s loss at Seattle for a concussion evaluation? According to the team, Roethlisberger raised the issue himself.

According to the Steelers, Roethlisberger self-reported symptoms on the sideline late in the fourth quarter. The specific symptoms have not yet been identified.

It’s a significant development in the league’s effort to protect players from themselves, and it reflects tangible evidence of a culture change in the NFL. While some will scoff at Roethlisberger given his reputation for embellishing injuries, it’s a great example for players at the lower levels of the sport.

For decades, players who were having concussion-like symptoms kept their mouths shut. They shouldn’t, and maybe thanks to Roethlisberger’s example they won’t.

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Patriots-Texans Week 14 game flexed into prime time

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Getty Images

The Patriots will be back in prime time in two weeks, as the NFL has moved their date with the Texans into prime time.

The league announced today that the New England at Houston game on Sunday, December 13 that had previously been scheduled for a 1 p.m. Eastern kickoff has now been moved to NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

The decision comes as the Texans continue to turn their season around and look like playoff contenders. Today’s win moved Houston to 6-5. The Patriots remain one of the league’s two undefeated teams, so the league is always happy to showcase them in prime time.

When the schedule first came out, the prime time game in Week 14 was supposed to be Seahawks at Ravens. But with Baltimore now 3-7, the league had to get that game out of prime time. That game is now at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, and a better game is in prime time.

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Broncos get run game going to keep it close

Brock Osweiler AP

So much of the talk has been about the quarterbacks playing or not playing, but getting a running game going was the key for the Broncos.

They cut the Patriots lead to 14-7, with Ronnie Hillman’s 19-yard touchdown bringing them back to within a score.

The snow is picking up in Denver and making it a little slick, so the Broncos just muscled out a 10-play, 77-yard drive.

It might not be an accident that it came with Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower getting his leg checked by trainers on the sidelines after limping off. He’s gone to the locker room to get his knee checked, and they’ve announced he’s questionable. And with the Patriots moving well through the air, it might be just what the Broncos need to slow things down and keep it close.

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Tannehill takes issue with Calvin Pryor for celebrating a Dolphins injury

Rishard Matthews AP

Sunday’s game between the Jets and Dolphins included a hit from New York safety Calvin Pryor on Miami receiver Rishard Matthews, which knocked Matthews out of the game with rib and chest injuries.

After the hit, Pryor celebrated. After the game, quarterback Ryan Tannehill took issue with Pryor’s celebration.

“I didn’t notice it honestly,” Tannehill told reporters after the game. “I was just worried about Rishard. I heard some guys talking about it on the sideline, that’s kind of classless move to celebrate while a guy’s injured. Obviously, it was a good hit, a clean hit, but to celebrate when a guy’s down it’s kind of a classless move.”

Pryor was asked only about whether his hit on Matthews set the tone for the Jets. “I would hope so,” Pryor said. “I think it’s trying to bring that energy to our defense and just [trying] to be a leader out there.”

Pryor thereafter took to Twitter to respond to Tannehill.

“I was definitely celebrating the great play I made,” Pryor said. “I would never celebrate someone getting injured during the game. C’mon now.”

Pryor also placed some of the blame for the injury on Tannehill.

Throw a better ball next time [Tannehill and your] teammate would’ve never got injured!!!” Pryor said. “Sorry if you felt I was classless at the moment.”

The real question is whether Pryor noticed Matthews was down when celebrating. Either way, the Dolphins and Tannehill have bigger problems than whether Pryor was celebrating at a time when maybe he shouldn’t have been.

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A pair of Broncos defenders carted off with injuries

T.J. Ward AP

The Broncos have a few problems at the moment, with a pair of defenders injured on the same play.

Safety T.J. Ward and defensive lineman Sylvester Williams left with apparent ankle injuries, with Ward not putting much weight on his foot as he was helped off. The team announced that both were questionable to return.

Both were carted to the locker room moments later, with Ward riding shotgun with Williams stretched out in the back.

David Bruton replaced Ward in the secondary, while Vance Williams came in for Williams.

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Quinn, Blank reiterate confidence in Matt Ryan

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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan heard some loud boos on Sunday in the Georgia Dome. He didn’t hear them from his owner after the 20-10 loss to Minnesota.

He’s absolutely the competitor that I want,” coach Dan Quinn said after the game, per Vaughn McClure of “He’s what we look for and our team looks for the whole way. What we’ll go back and look at is, find out was there a decision that could be made that could be different. If there is in those scenarios, then we’ll find those and say, ‘Where else could you have gone with it?’ Those will be decisions that we look at. But for him, the competitor [and] the style of player that he is, we’re not backing off.”

Arthur Blank separately was asked whether he has confidence in Ryan.

“Absolutely,” Blank said, via McClure. “He’s demonstrated his abilities over eight years. He’ll be fine. He’ll be good.”

Many Falcons fans would say Ryan has been neither fine nor good in recent weeks, which has seen the Falcons go from 5-0 to 6-5.

“Am I worried about Matt?” Blank said. “I’m worried about Matt, and I’m worried about the team. We’re actually 1-5 in the last six games. We were off to a great start. But this unit will figure it out.”

They Falcons are running out of chances, and they’re running out of cushion. The Seahawks have now caught the Falcons in the standings, and the Buccaneers, Bears, Giants, and Washington are only a game behind at 5-6.

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Rob Gronkowski Gronks his way to the end zone for early lead

Rob Gronkowski AP

Other mortal quarterbacks might need wide receivers.

As long as Tom Brady has Rob Gronkowski, he should be OK.

The Patriots are out to a quick 7-0 lead over the Broncos, after a 23-yard touchdown. It was his 63rd career touchdown, moving him past Shannon Sharpe for third all-time among tight ends, trailing just Tony Gozalez (111) and Antonio Gates (101) on the all-time list. Gronkowski is 26.

The Patriots are without both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola (among others), leaving them with the starting duo of Brandon LaFell and Keshawn Martin.

Despite that, the Broncos don’t (or didn’t) have multiple defenders draped all over the star tight end, who was able to slip one tackle and get to the end zone.

The Patriots have lost parts consistently over the course of the year, but there are certain constants, and Gronk doing Gronk things chief among them.

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Jimmy Graham tore his patellar tendon

Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham AP

The Seahawks outlasted the Steelers in a thriller on Sunday afternoon, but they lost tight end Jimmy Graham for the rest of the season along the way.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference that Graham tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. Graham hurt his knee while trying to catch a Russell Wilson pass in the end zone early in a wild fourth quarter in Seattle.

The severity of the injury isn’t a big surprise as the team’s medical staff immediately immobilized Graham’s knee in an aircast before loading him on a cart to head to the locker room. Graham’s season is over and his availability for training camp and the start of next season will likely be in doubt well into next summer. As we saw with Victor Cruz this year, he’ll also have to watch for other injuries as he tries to make a complete recovery and get back onto the field.

The injury came during what might have been Graham’s best game with the team. He had four catches for 75 yards and the Seahawks passing offense had its best day overall as Russell Wilson spread the ball to seven receivers on his way to a season-best 345 yards and career-best five touchdowns.

Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet are the other tight ends on Seattle’s roster at the moment and they’ll be asked to do more the rest of the way with Graham out of the picture and a playoff berth in the team’s sights.

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Roethlisberger exits Seahawks game for concussion testing

Ben Roethlisberger AP

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made an unexpectedly early exit from Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks. As it turns out, Roethlisberger was being checked for a possible concussion.

So when did he suffer the possible concussion?

Via Ryan Glasspiegel of, the head injury may have happened during the fourth-quarter drive that culminated in the Steelers, who were down by five at that point, opting for a field goal on fourth and goal.

Roethslisberger took a clear blow to the head on a third-down play earlier in the drive, drawing a roughing the passer penalty. He remained in the game for a full nine plays after that.

After absorbing the illegal hit, Roethlisberger was face down for a couple of seconds. He then rolled over onto his back for several more seconds. After he was helped up by teammates, he seemed fine.

Roethlisberger may have said or done something after the drive to prompt the team to take the situation seriously, with a preliminary assessment on the sideline resulting in a decision to conduct a closer evaluation in the locker room.

The situation will be scrutinized given last week’s mishandling of Rams quarterback Case Keenum, but there was nothing glaring about Roethlisberger’s behavior after the play. The broader question is whether the league automatically should check a player for a concussion whenever he takes a clear and potent blow to the head.

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Broncos-Patriots can be seen on NBC Sports Live Extra

DENVER - NOVEMBER 28:  Wide receiver Ashley Lelie #85 of the Denver Broncos brings in a catch against cornerback Phillip Buchanon #31 of the Oakland Raiders on November 28, 2004 at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 25-24.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The excellent Dark Sky app tells me that light snow will be starting soon in Denver. And it will be great to see that on TV, during the Sunday Night Football game on NBC.

But you can still see it, even if you’re not near a TV.

The game between the 10-0 Patriots and 8-2 Broncos can be seen at NBC Sports Live Extra. You also can watch the game by downloading the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Meanwhile, it would be another great night to check the PSI of the footballs at halftime; it’s currently 23 degrees and falling.

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Doug Baldwin’s third touchdown caps Seahawks victory

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Doug Baldwin #89 of the Seattle Seahawks scores a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers at CenturyLink Field on November 29, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks and Steelers traded haymakers all afternoon in Seattle, but the Seahawks struck last and that made them winners when the clock ran out.

On third-and-9 from their 20 just before the two-minute warning, Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin crossing the field for a first down but Baldwin shook off Steelers tacklers as he turned upfield and sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown that put Seattle up 39-30 after Steve Hauschka’s extra point.

It was Baldwin’s third touchdown on a day when he caught six passes for 145 yards. It was also Wilson’s fifth touchdown pass of the day, setting a personal record and tying the franchise record. Wilson was 21-of-30 for 345 yards overall, marking the first time that he’s been over 300 yards this season and the Seahawks surely hope to see more of the same in the weeks to come.

The Seahawks also set a franchise record for passing yards allowed as Ben Roethlisberger rolled up 456 yards through the air on a day when both passing offenses were clicking. Roethlisberger wasn’t around for the final two minutes of the game, however. He went to the locker room shortly after Baldwin’s touchdown to be evaluated for a concussion.

All of the big plays made for a wild second half as the lead swung from the Steelers to the Seahawks back to Pittsburgh before the Seahawks took command for good. There were strange decisions, questionable officiating and a huge performance by Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton mixed in along the way, making for a long and entertaining ending to the afternoon’s contests.

Roethlisberger’s final play was a six-yard scramble from the Seattle 10-yard-line, after which Mike Tomlin elected to kick a field goal and give his defense a chance to get the ball back. They weren’t able to do it and a Landry Jones throw to Martavis Bryant down the sideline with 1:37 left was intercepted by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Tomlin will likely face questions about the decision to kick rather than go for it, especially after he eschewed three points in the first half in favor of having Jones pass out of what was initially a field goal alignment.

That pass was picked off, one of four Seattle interceptions on the day, and the Steelers are left to rue the missed opportunities on their flight back to Pittsburgh. They’ll host the Colts next Sunday night in a game that they’ll need to solidify their Wild Card chances.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, will take their 6-5 record to Minnesota for their own game with major playoff implications. The Cardinals win on Sunday means that the Wild Card remains their best chance of getting to the postseason, something they may need to pull off without the help of tight end Jimmy Graham after he was hurt on Sunday. If Wilson can keep putting up big numbers while the defense finds ways to take the ball away, their chances of doing it will look much stronger.

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Vikings mum on whether Irvin was recruited to help Patterson

Cordarrelle Patterson AP

On Sunday morning, Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin said on NFL Network that he’d been asked by Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner to work during the past offseason with receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

After Sunday’s 20-10 win over the Falcons, coach Mike Zimmer was asked whether Irvin was the possible mentor Zimmer had mentioned at the end of the 2014 season.

“I don’t know,” Zimmer said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I’ll leave that to Michael.’’

Tomasson also notes that he asked Patterson about Irvin’s comments, and that Patterson walked away without answering.

Irvin prefaced his remarks by suggesting that he possibly was “talking out of school.” Based on the reactions from Zimmer and Patterson, Irvin apparently was.

Patterson had no catches during the game. For the year, he has two.

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Roughing call helps Cardinals drive for late victory

Carson Palmer AP

The Cardinals drove 85 yards for the game-winning score Sunday, then sealed a 19-13 win at San Francisco with a defensive stand.

A controversial roughing the passer call on Quinton Dial on a second and 10 from the Cardinals’ 32 extended the winning drive, then Carson Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald and J.J. Nelson on big passes to keep the Cardinals moving.

An 8-yard scramble by Palmer provided the winning touchdown with 2:28 left and capped a 14-play drive. The 49ers had tied the game late in the third quarter on a 33-yard field goal by Phil Dawson.

The 49ers got to the Cardinals’ 30 on their final drive before giving up a sack and then coming 2 yards short on fourth down.

Palmer was 24-of-40 for 271 yards. 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert was 25-of-36 for 318 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

The Cardinals won in San Francisco for the first time since 2008. The Cardinals move to 9-2, while the 49ers fall to 3-8.

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Evan Mathis, Keshawn Martin active for Sunday night

Greg Toler, Keshawn Martin AP

We knew most of the big names that wouldn’t be playing for the Patriots and Broncos well before they handed in their list of inactives on Sunday evening, but there were some question marks lingering on both sides.

For the Patriots, wide receiver Keshawn Martin is active after being listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Martin will help fill in for the absences of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, both of whom were ruled out well ahead of kickoff. Linebacker Jamie Collins won’t play after being listed as doubtful as he returns from an illness.

Defensive lineman Trey Flowers, defensive back Justin Coleman, safety Jordan Richards and tight end Michael Williams round out the New England inactives.

Left guard Evan Mathis was also listed as questionable for the Broncos, but he’ll play despite an ankle injury. Max Garcia will start ahead of him, however. Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Christian Ponder are both inactive, leaving rookie Trevor Siemian as the backup to Brock Osweiler. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware, wide receiver Jordan Norwood, cornerback Lorenzo Doss, tight end Richard Gordon and offensive lineman Sam Brenner are also inactive.

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