Patriots

Ben Watson's new reported contract suggests Patriots will keep him around

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USA TODAY Sports

Ben Watson's new reported contract suggests Patriots will keep him around

It's been a roller-coaster 2019 season already for Ben Watson. But it appears the ride has come to a stop.

Watson re-signed with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, eight days after the team released him. According to ESPN's Mike Reiss and The Boston Globe's Ben Volin, the veteran tight end is getting a $1.236 million base salary -- $800,000 of which is guaranteed.

That chunk of guaranteed change is a sign the Patriots want to keep Watson around for the remainder of the season. If he stays healthy, he should see plenty of opportunity, as Ryan Izzo and recently-signed blocking tight end Eric Tomlinson are New England's only other active tight ends with Matt LaCosse sidelined due to injury.

Watson has yet to play in a game this season, missing the first four contests due to suspension and not traveling with the Patriots for their Week 5 game in Washington before he was released prior to Week 6.

The Patriots also benefited from releasing and re-signing the 38-year-old tight end, as they'll save over $1 million in cap space, according to the Boston Sports Journal's Miguel Benzan.

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Would Emmanuel Sanders have been better Patriots fit than Mohamed Sanu?

Would Emmanuel Sanders have been better Patriots fit than Mohamed Sanu?

Hindsight is always 20/20. Hindsight also suggests the New England Patriots may have been better off with the *other* veteran wide receiver.

The Patriots acquired Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 22 in exchange for a 2020-second round pick. Hours later, San Francisco 49ers -- who reportedly had interest in Sanu -- "settled" for Emmanuel Sanders, sending a 2020 third-rounder and a 2020 fourth-rounder to the Denver Broncos for the 32-year-old receiver and a 2020 fifth-rounder.

Fast forward to Dec. 10, when both receivers and their respective offenses are going in opposite directions. Here are Sanu's stats with New England compared to Sanders' stats with San Francisco, including both teams' records since the trades:

Sanu (3-3 with Patriots): 18 receptions, 135 yards, one TD in five games played
Sanders (5-2 with 49ers): 28 receptions, 407 yards, three TDs in seven games played

Those stats come with a caveat: Sanu suffered a high ankle sprain in his third game with the Patriots that sidelined him for one game and has limited his effectiveness in the last two. Sanders, meanwhile, has stayed healthy after recovering from a torn Achilles in the offseason.

But as The Athletic's Mike Sando points out, there's evidence to suggest Sanders would have fit better in New England even if both players were healthy.

Per Sando, Sanders has caught 67 passes of 15 yards or more in the last four seasons, compared to Sanu's 44. Those kinds of big plays have been relatively rare in New England, where the Patriots are tied for 13th in the NFL in passing plays of 25 yards or more.

That's not too surprising considering the Patriots lack of weapons compared to San Francisco, which has an All-Pro tight end in George Kittle and a speedy slot man in Deebo Samuel.

"Sanders would be the intermediate to deeper threat that they don’t have in New England right now," an NFL evaluator told Sando.

Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry eventually could be that deeper threat but has yet to realize his potential. And save for a 10-catch, 81-yard effort against the Baltimore Ravens, Sanu hasn't been able to get open consistently for quarterback Tom Brady.

That begs the inevitable question of whether Sanders -- who averaged 5.9 receptions per game last season compared to Sanu's 4.1 -- would have given New England's offense a bigger spark.

Sanu still has time to carve out an increased role for the 10-3 Patriots down the stretch and into the playoffs. But if Sanders continues to thrive with ex-Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo, it will be worth wondering "what if."

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NFL playoff picture: How Patriots can clinch AFC playoff spot in Week 15

NFL playoff picture: How Patriots can clinch AFC playoff spot in Week 15

There's a lot at stake for the top two teams in the AFC playoff race in Week 15.

The New England Patriots enter the weekend as the No. 2 seed with a 10-3 record, and they are trying to avoid three consecutive losses, something the team hasn't suffered since the 2002 season. The likelihood of another defeat Sunday is pretty small, however, because the Patriots are playing a Cincinnati Bengals team that sits at the bottom of the league standings with a 1-12 record.

What must the Patriots do to clinch a playoff spot in Week 15? It's simple -- win or tie and they're in.

A victory would clinch at least a wild card spot for New England. The defending Super Bowl champions cannot clinch the AFC East on Sunday. However, a win over the Bengals followed by a Week 16 victory over the Buffalo Bills would clinch the division title for the Patriots.

The Patriots also could see their hopes of earning the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs end this weekend. The Baltimore Ravens currently are the No. 1 seed, and they would clinch that spot with a win over the New York Jets, combined with a Patriots loss to the Bengals and a Kansas City Chiefs loss to the Denver Broncos. The Ravens would clinch a first-round bye if any of the following three scenarios unfold:

BAL win + NE loss
BAL win + KC loss or tie
BAL tie + KC loss

The easiest way for the Patriots to clinch a first-round bye is to win their last three regular season games. Winning all of these matchups would guarantee at least the No. 2 seed for Tom Brady and Co.

Updated NFL playoff picture entering Week 15>>>

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