But despite the lack of an exciting opponent in Week 17, there are some interesting storylines to comb through. So put down your kazoos and party hats for a moment and chug through this Patriots mailbag.
Which free agent did the Pats miss on who would’ve helped them this year?
–@BradyMagic, via Twitter
Another good question, and who doesn’t love some good hindsight this time of year? For starters, let’s give credit where it’s due. The Patriots did a very good job in free agency by landing defensive end Andre Carter and right guard Brian Waters, and Bill Belichick also had very high praises Friday for safety James Ihedigbo. And remember when it seemed like they wouldn’t be able to keep both left guard Logan Mankins and left tackle Matt Light? Another good job there.
Anyway, the one that really sticks out is safety Dashon Goldson, who was in town for a workout before he went back to San Francisco to have a Pro Bowl year. There’s obviously no doubt that he would have helped out the secondary.
Heading into the season, the Patriots appeared to be in great shape at cornerback, but Leigh Bodden‘s injury and subsequent release, Devin McCourty‘s drop-off and Ras-I Dowling‘s injury changed the shape of that position. So it’s hard to second-guess the Patriots there, but guys like Carlos Rogers (a Pro Bowl starter who has vastly outplayed his one-year, $2 million contract) and Jonathan Joseph (a Pro Bowler who was a big-money free agent and probably not on New England’s radar for that reason) would have been huge assets.
One area where the Patriots whiffed were the two high-profile trades. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth lived up to his reputation of only playing when he wanted to play, which made him a liability from a play-to-play basis, and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has been a non-factor. I thought Haynesworth was mostly a luxury, so I don’t think the Patriots would have targeted another high-profile defensive tackle, but they were clearly in the market for a third wide receiver. I was surprised Ochocinco didn’t work out, and I’d guess most would agree with that sentiment.
The wide receiver market was very undesirable, though. One guy I’ve looked at more over the last month is Jabar Gaffney, who was traded to Washington for defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon, who you probably haven’t heard of because he was cut after training camp. Could the Patriots have gotten Gaffney back for, say, Landon Cohen or Darryl Richard?
As for the free agents, Belichick said the Patriots looked at Plaxico Burress, but Burress said the Patriots never made actual contact. He might have been helpful. Also, someone like Malcom Floyd might have been an asset, too. Again, it wasn’t a great crop of receivers, and the Ochocinco experiment seems to be more about him than a miscalculation by the organization, so it’s hard to fault them for that one.
What are your thoughts on why a fullback so late in season — for the playoffs and bad weather or just short yardage?
–@patriotssox1, via Twitter
It’s a good question. The move coincided with left guard Logan Mankins‘ injury, and as you saw, the offensive line was a mess for a large portion of Saturday’s victory against the Dolphins, which was understandable given the circumstances with Mankins and left tackle Matt Light. The addition of Lousaka Polite could just be an effort to get an extra guy in the backfield to help keep Tom Brady upright, which isn’t a bad idea.
The other thing, the Patriots have struggled on the goal line in the last couple of games, at least in terms of handing the ball off to a running back, which I believe has something to do with all of Brady’s sneaks in that area. Polite could give a boost in that situation.
But you’re right, it’s odd to see them add a fullback in Week 17, especially since they haven’t had a fullback since Heath Evans departed after the 2008 season.
Do you expect Bill Belichick to play his starters for the full game?
–@osbornekojak, via Twitter
Well, I absolutely expect the starters to play if they’re healthy, but we’ll see how long they remain in the game. I think that depends on the score. This game is still important because the Patriots are chasing the No. 1 seed, whereas last year’s finale was meaningless in terms of the standings. If the Patriots build up a huge lead in the second half, I’d think a few of the starters to get a few minutes to rest.
Do you see the Patriots re-signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis next season? The way Stevan Ridley has been the past two games, it seems like he’s starter material.
–@rr5rhoads, via Twitter
That’s a tough call. Ridley is starting to look like the better running back, but the Patriots love Green-Ellis for his dependability and ball security. If he’s willing to sign a contract that pays him as a complementary back, I’m sure the two sides would love to keep their relationship going. But if Green-Ellis can get paid like a 1,000-yard rusher, I wouldn’t blame him at all for taking the money to go elsewhere.
Yet, that remains to be seen because I’m not sure he’s got the second-level explosion that would entice a team to pay him as their feature back. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve the opportunity. I’m just trying to relay how teams think when they’re going after someone in free agency. It’s definitely a storyline that intrigues me, though.
Which team in the AFC do we not want to face in the playoffs?
–@Hasko, via Twitter
My answer won’t really surprise anyone, but I think the Ravens and Steelers pose the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. At this point, it seems inevitable that the Patriots will face at least one of them, but they probably don’t want to go through both. I detailed some scenarios in this week’s Two-Minute Drill, so check there for a little more depth on the subject. Quickly, though, I think the Patriots should root for the Jets or Bengals to get the sixth seed because they’ve got the best chance to knock off the Texans, which would keep the Steelers or Ravens from traveling to Gillette in the divisional round.
Will Brady’s left shoulder be something for Pats nation to worry about?
–@stamApede, via Twitter
Yes and no. I say yes because you never want your best player to be dealing with any type of injury, especially when he’s also one of the all-time greats. But I say no because it’s the non-throwing shoulder and doesn’t sound like a serious issue. I think the greatest risk will come over time. If someone sacks Brady and lands on top of him as he falls hard on his left shoulder, it could impact him over the rest of that game. Obviously, that’s going to be something to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.
Leave your question for Jeff Howe’s mailbag by sending them to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.