NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS UPDATE 

lWILL PATS NEED RIDLEY; COULD FANTASY OWNERS TRUST HIM?

Following up on an item in this week's Team Notes. ... As NFL.com's Marc Sessler noted, deactivated last week against the Texans, Stevan Ridley is no sure bet to play Sunday against the Browns. After fumbling in a league-leading three straight games, Ridley has lost the confidence of head coach Bill Belichick, who leaned on a combination of Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount in Week 13.

ESPN.com's Mike Reiss suggested this week that "the days of Ridley as the lead back, logging 45 percent of the offensive snaps, are probably over."

If so, Sessler believes that's a risky play. Ridley's ball-control problems trail back to before this season, but he also leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns since Week 6.

Profootballfocus.com ranks Ridley as the 11th most elusive back in football, and his 57.6 yards per game leads the team. New England -- with Vereen, Blount and Brandon Bolden -- boast one of the league's deeper stable of backs, but Ridley is the best pure runner of the bunch.

Lesser teams would have no choice but to put him on the field.

New England's 88 yards on the ground against Houston marked the team's third-lowest output of the year. Granted, they played from behind and leaned on Tom Brady's 365 yards through the air, but Ridley's absence was felt.

As in year's past, New England's offense is heating up at the right time. The return of Rob Gronkowski and the reliable play of Julian Edelman have the Patriots shredding teams through the air.

"Still, Sessler wrote, "there's going to come a time down the stretch when the ground game will be asked to guide this team out of a dark corner. That's playoff football."

And while Ridley's performance in the playoffs won't be of much use to fantasy owners, getting him back in the mix in advance of the postseason could benefit us. Or at least those of us with the intestinal fortitude (or who are desperate enough) to roll with him should he work his way back into the rotation.


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