Patriots

NFL playoff picture: Patriots face uphill fight for No. 1 seed after loss to Texans

NFL playoff picture: Patriots face uphill fight for No. 1 seed after loss to Texans

The NFL playoff race saw a major shakeup in both conferences as a result of Week 13's exciting action.

The biggest storyline was the Baltimore Ravens overtaking the New England Patriots as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Baltimore beat the San Francisco 49ers on a last-second field goal, which also dropped the NFC West team from the No. 1 seed in the conference all the way down to the No. 5 seed. You rarely see one result change the No. 1 seed in both conferences.

Let's take a look at the latest AFC and NFC playoff pictures entering Week 14. 

AFC
1. Baltimore Ravens, 10-2, AFC North leader: Bye week

The Ravens are the new leader atop the AFC standings, and they probably won't give it up based on their remaining schedule. A Week 14 game versus the Bills won't be easy, but Baltimore's final three contests -- home to the New York Jets, at the Cleveland Browns and home to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- all are very winnable. ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) model gives the Ravens a 68 percent chance to finish with the No. 1 seed, far ahead of the Patriots at 31 percent.

2. New England Patriots, 10-2, AFC East leader: Bye week
The dream of earning homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and forcing opponents to battle the harsh Foxboro weather conditions in January is fading fast for the Patriots. They lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Ravens in Week 9, so the defending champs must finish ahead of Baltimore to earn the No. 1 seed. New England's remaining schedule, which includes games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, also is harder than Baltimore's remaining slate. 

3. Houston Texans (8-4, AFC South leader) vs. 6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5, second wild card)
The Texans' win over the Patriots on Sunday night was their first against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in 10 years. The victory also helped Houston maintain its lead one-game lead over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. The division race is far from over, however, because the Texans and Titans will play twice over the final four games of the regular season. The Texans are the No. 3 seed over the Chiefs because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker from their Week 6 win in Kansas City.

The Steelers earned a huge win over the Browns on Sunday to maintain their hold on the second wild card spot. They currently hold the tiebreaker over the Tennessee Titans based on a better win percentage (6-3 vs. 5-4) in conference games.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4, AFC West leader) vs. 5. Buffalo Bills (9-3, first wild card)
The Chiefs crushed the Oakland Raiders 40-9 at home Sunday to take a two-game lead atop the AFC West standings. The division is Kansas City's to lose over the final quarter of the regular season. Luckily for the Chiefs, their Week 14 matchup versus the Patriots is their last game against a team that currently has a winning record.

The Bills made a statement on Thanksgiving with a convincing win over the Dallas Cowboys on the road, and it might actually be time to take them seriously. Buffalo has a tough Week 14 matchup against the Ravens, but it's only one game behind the Patriots for first place in the AFC East, which makes the Week 16 game in New England a pivotal one.

In the Hunt
7. Tennessee Titans, 7-5
8. Oakland Raiders, 6-6
9. Indianapolis Colts, 6-6
10. Cleveland Browns, 5-7

NFC
1. New Orleans Saints, 10-2, NFC South leader: Bye week
The Saints got revenge on the Atlanta Falcons with a Thanksgiving Day win over their NFC South rival. New Orleans will move into the No. 1 seed position if the Seahawks beat the Vikings to conclude Week 13. Next up for the Saints is a showdown with the 49ers in New Orleans.

2. Seattle Seahawks, 10-2, NFC West leader: Bye week
The Seahawks own the NFC West tiebreaker over the 49ers as a result of their head-to-head win in Week 10. This tiebreaker, combined with the Seahawks' win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night has vaulted Seattle up to the No. 2 seed. A Week 17 matchup with the 49ers in Seattle looms large, but right now, the Seahawks might be the most feared team in the NFC. How so? Well, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a top MVP candidate, Seattle has a huge homefield advantage, and it has a 6-0 record on the road. 

3. Green Bay Packers (9-3, NFC North leader) vs. 6. Minnesota Vikings (8-4, second wild card)
The Packers pulled away late for a win over the New York Giants at a snowy MetLife Stadium. They own the NFC North tiebreaker as a result of their head-to-head win over the Vikings in Week 2. It's still possible for Green Bay to earn the No. 1 or 2 seed, although it lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to the 49ers in Week 12.

The Vikings still have a chance to win the NFC North with one game left to play against the Packers, who actually are the only team remaining on Minnesota's regular season schedule that has a winning record.

4. Dallas Cowboys (6-6, NFC East leader) vs. 5. San Francisco 49ers (10-2, first wild card)
The Cowboys suffered an embarrassing Thanksgiving defeat to the Bills but remain atop the NFC East after the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the lowly Miami Dolphins on the road Sunday. The Week 16 matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys likely will decide the division title and the No. 4 seed.

The 49ers hung tough with the Ravens but ultimately lost 20-17. The defeat proved to be a costly one for the 49ers because the Seahawks' win knocked San Francisco out of first place in the NFC West and down to the No. 5 seed. It's crazy to think the 49ers could go 13-3 and start the playoffs on the road in Wild Card Weekend, but it's very possible at this point.

In the Hunt
7. Los Angeles Rams, 7-5
8. Chicago Bears, 6-6

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Patriots vs. Bengals Injury Report: Julian Edelman misses practice, Tom Brady limited

Patriots vs. Bengals Injury Report: Julian Edelman misses practice, Tom Brady limited

The New England Patriots had several important players on their Wednesday injury report.

Veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman was the only Patriots player who didn't practice. He's nursing knee/shoulder injuries. The Athletic's Jeff Howe reported Edelman's absence was for "load management." Edelman wasn't the only wideout listed -- N'Keal Harry (hip) was a full participant and Mohamed Sanu (ankle) was limited.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was a full practice participant but is listed on the injury report with a right elbow issue. He anticipated this scenario during his press conference after Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. 

New England's Week 15 opponent is the Cincinnati Bengals, who have seven players on their injury report ahead of Sunday's matchup at Paul Brown Stadium. Three of quarterback Andy Dalton's top weapons on offense -- wide receivers John Ross III (limited) and A.J. Green (did not practice), and tight end Tyler Eifert (limited) -- are listed. Injuries to key players is among the many reasons why the Bengals have a league-worst 1-12 record.

Here are the first Week 15 injury reports for both teams.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-3)

DID NOT PRACTICE
Julian Edelman, WR, Knee/Shoulder

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
JaWhaun Bentley, LB, Knee
Byron Cowart, DL, Concussion
Ted Karras, OL, Knee
Jason McCourty, CB, Groin
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Ankle
Danny Shelton, DL, Shoulder

FULL PARTICIPATION
Tom Brady, QB, RIght Elbow
N'Keal Harry, WR, Hip

CINCINNATI BENGALS (1-12)

DID NOT PRACTICE
Geno Atkins, DT, Non-injury related
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Non-injury related
A.J. Green, WR, Ankle

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
Tyler Eifert, TE, Non-injury related
Sam Hubbard, DE, Knee
John Ross III, WR, Foot
Renell Wren, DT, Hip

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Matt Cassel: How Bill Belichick will handle 'Spygate 2.0' behind the scenes

Matt Cassel: How Bill Belichick will handle 'Spygate 2.0' behind the scenes

When “Spygate” originally went down, we as New England Patriots players were unaware of anything that was going on. 

The story became national news pretty quickly. You'd turn on the television and hear everyone calling us cheaters and saying, “This is the reason why they’ve accomplished what they’ve accomplished.” 

It was so blown out of proportion, and it was all speculation at that point.

We were going into our second week of the 2007 season, and Bill Belichick addressed the team to discuss the elephant in the room.

He said, “Look, this is what’s going on, but it’s nothing you guys need to be concerned with. It’s a league issue, and you guys have nothing to do with it."

It was a general statement just notifying the team: "You’re going to be asked about it. I’ll handle the questioning on it."

The fact of the matter was, he wanted to get back to status quo. He reminded us that we had a game that week, and that we had to focus on that.

After that, it was business as usual. “Spygate” wasn’t this overarching theme he addressed constantly throughout the week. Once he said his peace in that first meeting, we were on to the San Diego Chargers (our next opponent), and then the week proceeded as usual.

I think this week's circumstances are completely different from when that development first broke in 2007. 

The players and football staff have no understanding of anything the production team is doing. ... We never saw those guys.

This situation is something in which the film crew for the Patriots' in-house production team was doing their show, "Do Your Job," on an individual scout.

The players and football staff have no understanding of anything the production team is doing on week-to-week basis. We never saw those guys unless they requested an interview with us like any other media outlet.

They weren’t at practice, they were never in meetings. There’s just no communication between them and the players and coaching staff, unless they're doing a story on one of us.

So, this is outside even the realm of football, really.

It's a mishap by the Patriots' production group in that they forgot or didn't acknowledge the rules, and because of the history, everybody immediately draws the conclusion that Bill had something to do with it and this team is somehow benefiting from this. 

That's false -- especially when you're talking about the Cincinnati Bengals, who have won one game all year. That's what makes it more comical when you consider the circumstances.

My guess is Bill won't make more than one quick statement to the team about this.

He'll say, “Look, none of you guys have anything to do with it. Even as a team and a coaching staff, we have nothing to do with this. You let me address it in the media, and if you don’t have any common knowledge of it -- which none of us do -- then there’s really no reason to comment on it.” 

That’s it. Then it’s back to business, back to the work week and back to getting ready for the Bengals. I don’t think it will be brought up any more than that.

Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.

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