Spike-tacular

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Spike-tacular

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-11) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (8-3)Gillette Stadium

The facts and figures for today's game:

KICKOFF: 1 p.m.

WEATHER: Partly cloudy, temperature in the low 50s. Winds out of the south southwest between 4-8 mph. Click here for NECN's complete weather forecast.

NETWORK TELEVISION COVERAGE: CBS

TV ANNOUNCERS: Marv Albert and Rich Gannon.

RADIO COVERAGE: 98.5 The Sports Hub, the flagship for the 37-station Patriots Radio Network.

RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti and Scott Zolak.

COMCAST SPORTSNET COVERAGE

CSNNE.com STAFF: Tom E. Curran, Mary Paoletti, Art Martone and Danny Picard.

CSN TELEVISION: Mike Giardi and Kevin Walsh.

SPORTS SUNDAY (7:30 P.M.): Michael Felger, Troy Brown and Ty Law in Burlington; Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Ron Borges in Foxboro.

DAYS OF BUCKNER: The Colts are 0-11 for the first time since 1986, when they started 0-13 before winning the final three games of that season.

SMOOTH ROAD AHEAD: The Patriots overcame an early 10-0 deficit to defeat the Eagles, 38-20 last week, moving to 8-3 on the season. New England has the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL (18-37, .327).

HOW MUCH YOU WANT TO BET THIS STREAK ENDS TODAY? Including the playoffs, each of the last six games between these clubs has been decided by seven points or less, with the Colts winning four of these six contests.

DAYS OF CHANGE: The Colts fired their defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and benched starting quarterback Curtis Painter on Tuesday. Coyer will be replaced by linebackers coach Mike Murphy, while Dan Orlovsky becomes Indianapolis' third starting QB this season. Like Painter, Orlovsky is 0-7 as a NFL starter -- his only career starts coming with the 2008 Detroit Lions, who finished that season 0-16.
ACCURATE AGAIN: Tom Brady had not thrown an interception in his last 166 pass attempts in the month of December. That is the longest active streak in the NFL.

EIGHT IS GREAT: Wes Welker has eight touchdown catches this season, tying his career high, which was set back in the 2007 season. Welker had two touchdown catches in last week's win over the Eagles, his third multi-TD game on the season.

Raiders' loss to Chiefs puts Patriots in AFC driver's seat

Raiders' loss to Chiefs puts Patriots in AFC driver's seat

FOXBORO - The Patriots got a desired outcome Thursday night when the Chiefs handed the Raiders their third loss of the season. 

The 21-13 loss dropped Oakland and KC into a tie atop the AFC West at 10-3 but the Chiefs, by virtue of beating Oakland twice this season, have the divisional tiebreaker. Oakland went from the top seed in the AFC to the fifth spot.

More importantly around here, the Patriots now are in position to win out and claim the AFC’s No. 1 seed. 

Prior to the Raiders loss, Oakland would have been the top seed if both they and the Patriots won out.  Now, the 10-2 Patriots have a leg up on the rest of the conference. The Raiders’ road stays tough. They are at San Diego and Denver and host the Colts. 

The Chiefs have a more favorable close to the season with home games against Tennessee and Denver before their season finale at San Diego. 

The Patriots’ road over the final four is no picnic though, beginning with the Ravens and at Denver before the last two hosting the Jets and traveling to Miami. 

 

Belichick taking wait-and-see approach with newly acquired WR/PR Whalen

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Belichick taking wait-and-see approach with newly acquired WR/PR Whalen

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had a need, and they took to free agency to fill that need. But it's still somewhat unclear as to what they'll get in signing receiver Griff Whalen to the active 53-man roster. 

The Patriots made the move on Thursday, releasing defensive tackle Darius Kilgo in order to clear a spot for the former Colts and Chargers wideout. Whalen, who has served as a slot receiver and a punt returner, could potentially slide into those roles with his new club -- particularly as Danny Amendola copes with an ankle injury. 

"We'll see how it goes . . . Been more of an inside receiver," Bill Belichick said Friday. "Done some returning."

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder is in his fifth NFL season. He has caught 47 passes in 41 career games for 509 yards and three scores. He's also returned 46 punts and 29 kicks in his career.

Belichick indicated that while Whalen's returning experience made him an attractive option for them, he's not viewed solely as a returner. The Patriots have needs in the kicking game as well as at receiver with Amendola out. Whalen gives the team important depth offensively as its fourth healthy receiver -- to go along with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell -- and he provides some welcome experience as a punt returner. 

Should the Patriots opt to go elsewhere in the return game against the Ravens this weekend, they could turn to Edelman or rookie Cyrus Jones. The issue there is that one of those options is perhaps the team's most valuable offensive player after Tom Brady, someone the coaching staff may not want to expose to high-impact collisions, and the other option has had difficulty with ball-security since turning pro this spring.  

Asked if Whalen may have an easier time contributing on special teams than on offense after joining the Patriots at this late stage in the season, Belichick said sure.

"A lot fewer moving parts on that," he said. 

The Patriots had the option of calling up a practice-squad receiver or utilizing someone like rookie running back DJ Foster -- who spent time in college as a receiver and has worked out with Patriots wideouts this year -- instead of signing Whalen. But it's Whalen's game-day experience that made him a valuable commodity for the Patriots.

"It's experience," Belichick said when asked how he chooses between a veteran from outside the team versus a younger practice-squad player who has been around the offense for months. 

"And really the contrast of being in a system and moving up a little bit, or having been at that level but not having as much time in the system. It's a conversation that we've had, obviously. Sometimes I kind of feel like you know for sure you're making the right decision. Other times, you're kind of in a wait-and-see mode.

"It's what you feel like is best at that time, but in the end, is there a better way to go? I don't know. Until you get a player in that you haven't had before, it's hard to evaluate. At least the guys you have, you have an idea of where they are. You have to wait and see how they perform at the next level. Guys that aren't on your roster you sort of have to wait and see how it goes.

"We've been in that situation before this time of year. You know, Austin Collie a couple years ago. Guys like that. Just have to see how it works out. We'll see with Griff how it goes. We haven't had him before. Haven't had him in a camp. Haven't had him in our system so we'll see."