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Patriots expect tougher time stopping Foster

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Patriots expect tougher time stopping Foster

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots found a way to turn Arian Foster from punishing runner into powerless bystander.

All they did was charge to a 28-0 lead, make the Houston Texans throw and keep the ball away from one of the most dangerous rushers in the NFL.

A month ago, the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and routed the Texans, 42-14, as Foster gained just 46 yards on 15 carries.

Vince Wilfork, though, figures on a tougher challenge in Sunday's rematch on the same field in a divisional playoff game.

``I expect to see the best,'' the Patriots defensive tackle said Tuesday.

Something, perhaps, like Foster's brilliant performance in Saturday's 19-13 wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals - 140 yards on a season-high 32 carries, to go with eight catches for 34 yards and the game's only offensive touchdown.

That made him the first NFL player to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games.

Not bad.

``Last week, you saw why this guy is one of the top offensive players in the game, not just a back, but a top offensive player in the game,'' a rested Wilfork said after the team's bye week. ``The things that he can do with the ball in his hands, in the pass game and running it ... and he's a great blocker when they ask him to block. I mean he's a special player and we understand that.''

If he gets a chance to show it. He didn't on Dec. 10 at Gillette Stadium.

Foster rushed 12 times for 44 yards in the first half, which ended with the Patriots leading, 21-0. He had just three carries for two yards after that - and none after he scored on a 1-yard run with 6:12 left in the third quarter - as the Texans tried to preserve time by throwing the ball.

But New England (12-4) knew they would have to focus on that.

``Any time that you can get a team one-dimensional, that's a big plus. Every team tries to do that,'' Wilfork said. ``It just bottles up a bunch of things ... knowing when you can expect the pass, you can expect this and you can expect that.

``But when a team is on track and when they are running the ball good, and throwing the ball good, and the play action is good, and the special teams are good, it's tough.''

The Texans (13-4) can be dangerous when they go to play-action, as well, faking a handoff and then throwing. The Patriots know they can't fall for it and leave a receiver open while going after a runner who doesn't have the ball.

They must be disciplined.

``Just fundamentals. Just read your keys and just pay attention,'' linebacker Brandon Spikes said. ``Everybody has a job and my job is to pay attention to the run.''

That means focus on Foster.

He was sixth in the NFL with 1,424 yards rushing and eighth in yards from scrimmage with 1,641. He also was the leading scorer among non-kickers with 102 points - posting 15 rushing touchdowns as well as two on receptions.

``That was really a great example this past weekend of how they like to play football down there - be physical, be aggressive, run the ball, control the clock and really just do a good job of just handling the game,'' Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. ``The run game going the way they have it going, obviously it sets up the play-action pass game.''

For Wilfork, a key is recognizing when Houston's offensive linemen use cut blocks.

``That running back sees it and he hits it right off that cut block. So, up front it's going to be very important for us to try to stay on our feet,'' he said. ``Any team that runs the ball the way they run the ball and has the play-action and the bootlegs and all the stuff that comes after that, it's a big challenge for us.

``But we've faced it.''

The Patriots, the NFL's highest scoring team, will need their usual productive offensive game to offset that and force the Texans to throw.

They've already done it once, right?

``They didn't play their best game. They know that and we know that,'' Wilfork said. ``It starts with their running game. It starts with Foster. The more touches that he gets, in the passing game or on the ground, the better that team is.''

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Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

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USA Today Sports

Predicting the 2018-19 NBA awards and the NBA Finals: LeBron James will win MVP

With the 2018-19 NBA season kicking off this week, it seems like a good time to put my predictions out into the universe. 

I am fortunate to be a voter for both the All-Star teams and the NBA Awards, but I can assure you of this: much of this is impossible to forecast. I decided to only include the first team selections for All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie because the less I predict, the less I get wrong.

With that said, here is how I expect the major awards, plus the NBA Finals, to shake out... 

MVP: LeBron James, Lakers

Going to L.A. to play with such a bizarre supporting cast was all by design so he could win his fifth MVP award, right? Okay, maybe not. But if LeBron carries that team to even a fifth seed the trophy should be his.

Defensive player of the year: Anthony Davis, Pelicans

This always goes to a big man and Davis finished second last year. He's probably going to have a monster season overall.

All-NBA first team: G Stephen Curry, G James Harden, F LeBron James, F Giannis Antetokounmpo, C Anthony Davis

All of these guys are going to make the All-NBA team, it's just a matter of which tier. The toughest one to leave off was Joel Embiid, but you can only pick five.

Rookie of the year: Deandre Ayton, Suns

Luka Doncic has become a popular pick here, but Ayton averaged 18.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the preseason. If that is any precursor whatsoever, he's going to be tough to beat.

Sixth man award: Austin Rivers, Wizards

Rivers is a starting-caliber guard now back to playing off the bench. He should help John Wall and Bradley Beal a ton this year and we know he will get buckets. If he can maintain anything close to his scoring average from last season (15.1), he will be on the short-list for sure.

Most improved: Brandon Ingram, Lakers

Though L.A. has a lot of questions, Ingram seems most likely to benefit from James' ability to make those around him better. He should thrive in a secondary scoring role.

Coach of the year: Billy Donovan, Thunder

The Thunder won 48 games last season, but could improve a lot in Year 2 with Paul George. They have loads of talent and Dennis Schroder will fit nicely on their bench.

Executive of the year: Sam Presti, Thunder

You may be sensing a theme here. I see the Thunder becoming the clear-cut No. 3 team in the West and Presti will get plenty of praise for retaining George and getting something legitimate back for Carmelo Anthony.

All-rookie team: Luka Doncic (Mavs), Miles Bridges (Hornets), Marvin Bagley III (Kings), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), Deandre Ayton (Suns)

This is shaping up to be a really good class. Guys like Mo Bamba (great song), Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Wendell Carter Jr. will likely be in the mix as well. 

All-defensive team: G Chris Paul, G Klay Thompson, F Draymond Green, F Anthony Davis, C Joel Embiid

Thompson should finally get his due this year. He is clearly one of the best defenders at his position, but hasn't received the proper recognition for it.

NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics, 4-2

Picking the champion of the 2018-19 season is too easy and no one should feel good about that. Sports are better when they aren't predictable. But who will finish second is where it gets interesting. I see the Celtics being that team and winning two games in the Finals, though it won't be a close series.

 

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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