The Patriots will get together as a full team Wednesday to kick off their playoff preparations, and while they won't know their divisional-round opponent for a few more days, they insist they've got plenty to work on in the meantime.
Here are 20 other things that are going on with the AFC's top seed.
1. Quarterback Tom Brady has set a number of records throughout his career, and here are two more from 2010. Brady threw just four interceptions in 492 pass attempts, making him the only player in NFL history to throw at least 445 passes with four or fewer interceptions in a single season. Brady, who completed 324 passes this season, also became the only player in history to complete at least 260 passes while throwing four or fewer interceptions.
2. How impressive was Julian Edelman's team-record 94-yard punt return Sunday? Well, head coach Bill Belichick wasn't exactly thrilled with the blocking on that return, calling it simply OK. "We didn’t exactly have them all blocked," Belichick said, "so I think there is still some room for improvement."
3. We've all seen Belichick sporadically substitute his backup quarterback to keep him ready, like he did Sunday with Brian Hoyer, but it sounds like Belichick did the same with the kickoff coverage crew against the Dolphins, too. Defensive lineman Kyle Love was out there for two plays, and Belichick said Love was "pretty competitive" out there. Judging by the rest of Belichick's explanation, it seemed like Belichick did that to keep everyone ready for every situation.
4. In April's draft, the Patriots know they'll be picking 17th (from the Raiders) and 33rd (from the Panthers), and they'll also select between Nos. 28-32, depending on how long they last in the playoffs. According to the draft pick value chart, which was first developed by former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, the Patriots could trade those three picks and land the fourth overall selection.
5. Consider two things with the draft value chart, though: First, it's certainly no bible for trades on draft day, as it's really only a measuring stick to figure out what may or may not be fair. Second, a three-for-one trade like that would conflict with everything Belichick does during the draft. But at the very least, it's fun to figure out what these picks could be worth.
6. The Patriots will be going through a gauntlet again with their 2011 schedule, which includes home games against the Chiefs, Chargers, Colts, Cowboys and Giants and road games against the Steelers and Eagles.
7. The scheduling process will never be fair, but at least it's completely objective. The Patriots play every NFC division over the span of four seasons, and they play every AFC division over the span of three seasons, all the while playing two AFC teams that finished in the same spot in the division standings (for instance, since the Patriots won their division this season, they'll be playing division winners Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in 2011).
8. Outside of playing 31 regular-season games — that's obviously not happening — there doesn’t appear to be any perfect way to put out a completely balanced schedule. I like the current scheduling system as it is, but for those who dislike it, one idea would be that each team could play 18 games, including six division games (three home, three away) and 12 games against the other 12 teams in their conference. However, that would split up the conferences, similar to the American League and National League in baseball, and that goes against what the NFL has always done. Players and coaches have long since accepted the fact that the schedule can never be completely balanced.
9. Sticking with the scheduling theme, the Patriots' strength of schedule in the 2010 regular season was the 14th-most difficult in the league, based off their opponents' .504 winning percentage. Of the 12 playoff teams, though, the Patriots had the second-most difficult strength of schedule, which should show how battle-tested they've become this season. If you're wondering, the Packers had the most difficult strength of schedule among postseason contestants.
10. Rookie wide receiver Taylor Price looked good in his pro debut Sunday with three catches for 41 yards. Price had a tremendous start to New England's summer camps before falling off later in training camp, and he definitely appears to have the size (6 feet), speed (4.3-second 40) and ability to play in the NFL. He's just been stuck on the depth chart behind Brandon Tate and Matthew Slater, who both make big contributions to special teams. Price, though, was hardly ever used on special teams in college.
11. The timing of the news was eye-opening, but it wasn't exactly shocking to hear of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' split from the Chiefs. Weis and head coach Todd Haley are two guys with strong personalities and great offensive minds, and that combination was the perfect recipe for a clash. Apparently, that's what ended up happening.
12. I don’t know exactly why rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick was suspended this week, but after Belichick has spent a year ridding the locker room of guys like Adalius Thomas and Randy Moss, it wouldn’t be shocking if Deaderick has played his last down of the season. I'm not saying Deaderick is anything like Thomas or Moss, but there's obviously something the rookie has done to peeve a coaching staff that isn’t tolerating that stuff anymore.
13. It's pretty bogus that The Associated Press has decided to wait until the Super Bowl to announce the league MVP, which is usually announced prior to the start of the first playoff weekend. First, it's a regular-season award, and by waiting until they're deep into the playoffs, we'll be curious how much bearing a player's postseason performance had on the outcome. Second, this decision makes it sound like it's more about the AP than the award, which isn’t a first. And third, it was a big deal in 2003 when the Patriots knocked off co-MVP's Steve McNair and Peyton Manning in consecutive playoff games, and those types of storylines will no longer be existent.
14. Safety Brandon Meriweather was asked last week if his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection would sort of give him some momentum as he moves forward with his career. "No," he replied, "I still feel like I'm a young player that needs to get better in a lot of different situations."
15. These numbers aren’t overwhelming, but they're worth noting, especially with the postseason starting. It's always been cliche to say that you've got to run the ball to win in the playoffs, but winning teams don’t exactly need star running backs to get to that point. Only two of the six Pro Bowl running backs are in the playoffs, while five of the six Pro Bowl quarterbacks are in the playoffs. Meanwhile, five of the eight Pro Bowl wide receivers are in the playoffs.
16. Brady recalled a conversation he had about four years ago with former Pats director of player personnel Scott Pioli regarding wide receiver Wes Welker. Brady was watching film on Welker, who was with the Dolphins at the time, and he asked Pioli, "When is this guy's contract up? This is our kind of guy."
17. Edelman had three catches for 72 yards Sunday to go along with his punt return for a touchdown, and it was a good way for the second-year wideout to get back into the mix. He's had a tough season — those were his first receptions since Week 3 — with limited chances due to Welker's health and many more packages with multiple tight ends. At times, particularly after some drops, Edelman looked like he was pressing too hard, and Brady confirmed that last week. "If anything, Julian presses maybe too hard," said Brady, who also spent plenty of time praising Edelman for his work ethic. "He's really hard on himself. He's very critical of himself all of the time, and sometimes I think that some players beat themselves up. Julian is one of those guys because he wants to do it so right."
18. If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, every player who is on the roster for all three games will receive a $142,000 bonus. That's some pretty serious money, especially for the number of rookies whose 2010 regular-season salaries totaled $320,000.
19. Want to know who the healthiest Patriots have been this season? Of the 40 players who were on the active roster from Weeks 1 through 17, just 19 of them did not appear on any regular-season injury reports. Those players were quarterback Brian Hoyer, center Dan Koppen, left tackle Matt Light, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, guard Ryan Wendell, tackle Mark LeVoir, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, running back Sammy Morris, tight end Alge Crumpler, tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, defensive lineman Kyle Love, linebacker Jerod Mayo, linebacker Gary Guyton, linebacker Rob Ninkovich, linebacker Dane Fletcher, linebacker Tracy White, safety Brandon Meriweather and punter Zoltan Mesko.
20. It's worth noting, though, that Love was inactive six times, Fletcher was inactive three times, LeVoir was inactive 10 times and Wendell was inactive once. So, in total, there were 15 Patriots who played in all 16 games without appearing on any injury reports.
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