Patriots

Branch (toe) pops up on Patriots injury report after getting stepped on

Branch (toe) pops up on Patriots injury report after getting stepped on

HOUSTON -- Alan Branch has been one of the most consistent players on the Patriots defense throughout the course of the 2016 season. Planted in the middle of Bill Belichick's defensive line, he's been a force against opposing running games in executing the two-gapping technique that the team employs. 

With a matchup against Atlanta's well-balanced offensive attack on tap, he'll play a vital role once again, which is why his appearance on the Patriots injury report Wednesday raised an eyebrow.

The 6-foot-5, 350-pounder was limited in the team's first practice of the week with a toe issue, which he said was the result of getting stepped on. He's feeling good, he explained, which is probably a relief for the Patriots coaching staff.

Branch, 32, has played in 61.2 percent of the defensive snaps this season, which is the highest percentage of his career since 2011, when he played 65.4 percent for the Seahawks. His 723 snaps played this season, a contract year for him, are the most of his career.

"Alan has done a great job for us, and along with his play which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time," Belichick said last week. "So in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays.

"From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays, but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays so all of that is good." 

Along with Branch, Martellus Bennett (knee), Nate Ebner (concussion), Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Hogan (thigh) and Malcolm Mitchell (knee) were all limited in Wednesday's practice. 

For the Falcons, Julio Jones (toe) was limited Wednesday. Center Alex Mack, who's expected to square off with Branch quite a bit on Sunday, was also limited with a fibula injury.

Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year

eagles_carson_wentz_091916.jpg

Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles star quarterback Carson Wentz has a torn left ACL and will miss rest of the season and playoffs, coach Doug Pederson confirmed.

Wentz, a favorite in the NFL MVP race, had an MRI on Monday that revealed the severity of the injury. Wentz was hurt late in the third quarter Sunday at Los Angeles. Backup Nick Foles rallied the Eagles (11-2) to a 43-35 win over the Rams that secured the NFC East title and put them in first place in the conference with three games remaining.

The Eagles have overcome several key injuries and now have to move forward without their most indispensable player. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, return specialist/running back Darren Sproles, star linebacker Jordan Hicksand special teams captain Chris Maragos already went down for the season.

"If there's ever an opportunity for me to rally the troops as the football coach, now might be the time," Pederson said. "You can't lose faith. This has been a resilient football team all season long."

After starting all 16 games as a rookie, Wentz made a giant leap this year. He passed for 3,296 yards and set a franchise single-season record with 33 touchdown passes while only tossing seven interceptions.

Foles led the Eagles to a pair of field goals on consecutive drives against the Rams. He is 20-17 as a starter in six seasons with the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs.

Pederson insisted the offense won't change with Foles.

"He's a highly intelligent football player," Pederson said.

A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles in his second stint in Philadelphia. He replaced an injured Michael Vick in 2013 and led the Eagles to an NFC East title during Chip Kelly's first season as coach. Foles tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 and finished that season with 27 TDs and only two picks. The Eagles lost at home to New Orleans in the playoffs. Foles went to the Pro Bowl and was the offensive MVP.

But Kelly traded Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford after the 2014 season. Foles spent a year with the Rams, a season with the Chiefs and returned to Philadelphia as a free agent this season.

Second-year pro Nate Sudfeld is Philadelphia's No. 3 quarterback. Pederson said he hasn't spoken to personnel boss Howie Roseman about adding a third quarterback yet.

"I'm absolutely ready to go - need be," Foles said after the win over the Rams. "I prepare every day."

Brady winning MVP might not be ideal for Pats fans, according to one important stat. . .

Brady winning MVP might not be ideal for Pats fans, according to one important stat. . .

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A fan base would have to be crazy not to want its star player to be recognized as the NFL's best, right? 

With 14 weeks of the NFL season nearly in the books, Tom Brady is now the favorite -- according to Bovada and OddsShark -- to win the league's MVP award. Former MVP front-runner Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL on Sunday, leading to the recent shift in the odds. Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and a trio of Steelers -- Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell -- round out Bovada's top-six. 

Brady has captured the award twice previously in his career in 2007 and 2010, and there's a reason Patriots fans might be OK with someone else taking home the hardware this season. 

Since 2000, no NFL MVP has won the Super Bowl. 

Call it circumstance. Call it a curse. Call it whatever you want. That's how it's worked out. Matt Ryan kept the streak alive last season. 

The last MVP to hold the Lombardi was Kurt Warner when he led the Rams to a title in 1999. MVPs ending the season with a win was actually pretty run-of-the-mill that decade. Terrell Davis (1998), Brett Favre (1996), Steve Young (1994) and Emmitt Smith (1993) all were MVPs and Super Bowl champs. 

In the Super Bowl era, MVPs have won championships 10 times in 51 years. So history isn't totally stacked against for the game's best player. It's just that recently, MVPs have had a hard time carrying their teams to the finish. Ryan, Cam Newton (2015) and Peyton Manning (2013) were all named MVP on the eve of the Super Bowl -- NFL practice since 2010 -- and lost. 

Things set up pretty nicely for Brady to have a strong finish and solidify his standing as "most valuable" since he'll face three divisional opponents -- two at Gillette Stadium -- and a Steelers team built for shootouts. 

And despite what recent history says about MVPs and the Super Bowl, Wentz's injury could help make 2017 the year that trend is altered. Bovada now has Brady and the Patriots as 9/4 favorites -- up slightly from 12/5 -- to win the championship, with the Steelers (4/1) and their three MVP candidates following closely behind. The Eagles, meanwhile, fell from 6/1 odds to win it all to 9/1.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE