Key roster battles on tap vs. Bucs

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Key roster battles on tap vs. Bucs

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
TAMPA BAY - Checking in with a few of the Patriots for whom Thursday night's preseason game against the Bucs is more than a tuneup. Jonathan WilhiteThe fourth-year corner out of Auburn got juked badly on an 84-yard kickoff return last week. With the Patriots' secondary pretty deep at the moment and Wilhite closer to the bottom than the top, he needs to play well on special teams and in the regular defense. Darius ButlerSame boat as Wilhite. Last week against the Jags, he got picked on and abused. He seems to play tentative and in fear of getting beat. Probably not long for this roster which is a tough reality since the team spent a second-rounder. Darnell JenkinsThe Patriots were high on him last year, giving him a fairly generous practice squad deal. But the likeable wideout may be faced with a numbers crunch at the position. With Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Taylor Price, Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate in the mix, an as-yet unproven Jenkins needs a surehanded performanceLee SmithThe strapping tight end from Marshall was drafted in the fifth round. At 6-6, 269-pounds, he's shown that he can block and catch during camp. There's a little battle going on to see who will be the third tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Will YeatmanThis is the other guy in that competition with Smith. A6-5, 268-pounder, Yeatman went undrafted out of Maryland. How that happened is hard to understand because he's been every bit as impressive as Smith during camp. Brandon MeriweatherHe's not had an amazing camp. It may not be poor enough to warrant all the conversation he's generated, but the former first-round safety continues to be a player who can't own the free safety spot at the top of the depth chart. When he plays and how well he carries out his assignments will help decide if he can quiet the wolves at his door. Sergio BrownThe 6-2, 210-pound rookie free agent in 2010 keeps getting as many reps as Meriweather. The team isn't in a position to release any safeties - only Brown, Meriweather and Chung are healthy - but Brown could be the one to make Meriweather expendable. All Those DLsThere are the defensive tackles - Gerard Warren, Myron Pryor, Kyle Love, and Darryl Richard and Kade Weston- fighting to make this team and play alongside Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth. Then there are the defensive ends - Andre Carter, Eric Moore and Mark Anderson - battling to be the edge guy. Some talented players are going to be left behind when the cuts get made.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

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Bovada: Brady third in MVP race behind Elliot, Carr

Tom Brady has racked up some impressive numbers over eight games, but are they enough to surpass Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott or Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the MVP race?

The Patriots have gone 7-1 since Brady returned from his four-game suspension to start the year, and the league's all-time winningest quarterback has completed 68.9 percent of his passes in that stretch (third in the league) for 2,470 yards. He has 19 touchdowns, he's been picked once, and he is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (third), giving him a 113.1 quarterback rating (first). 

According to Bovada, he's currently the third-best bet to win MVP at 15/2, down from 4/1 last week. Ahead of him? Both Elliott (12/5) and Carr (7/2). 

The Carr comparison is an interesting one for obvious reasons. Because they play the same position, it's easier to match up their stats. In 12 games, Carr has completed 65.5 percent of his passes (12th) for 3,375 yards (fourth), 24 touchdowns (seventh) and five interceptions. He's averaging 7.4 yards per attempt (15th), and  he has a rating of 100.3 (seventh).

While Carr has the statistical advantage of playing in four more games than Brady has, he's also led his team to a record of 10-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the moment. (The Raiders hold the strength-of-victory tiebreaker edge over the Patriots, who are also 10-2.)

Meanwhile, Elliott, the talented rookie out of Ohio State who has the benefit of running behind arguably the league's best offensive line, has racked up 263 carries for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He's also posted 28 catches for 322 yards and a score. He leads the league in total rush yards, he's second in the league in rushing touchdowns behind Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, and he's fourth in yards per attempt (4.9).

Gronkowski nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award

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Gronkowski nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski is up for one of the NFL's most prestigious awards, and it's not simply for what he's done while on the football field. 

The Patriots tight end is the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, it was announced on Wednesday. Each year the award recognizes one player for his excellence on and off the field.

“We’re proud to honor these outstanding men who represent the NFL’s best on and off the field,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “Our players have a unique platform to make a difference far beyond the field of play. We salute these individuals who are exemplary in their commitment to making a positive impact in communities across the globe through their dedicated service and philanthropic efforts.”

The winner will be announced in Houston on the night before Super Bowl LI.

Gronkowski was named the 14th Patriots Ron Burton Community Service Award winner in August.

"Rob is just as fun to watch at a community event as he is on the game field," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said at the time. "Giving back to the community is a big part of being 'Gronk.' "