The New England Patriots face a small dilemma in Week 17, when they travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins at 1 p.m.
A win or Raiders loss would clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. But the Patriots saw what happened to Oakland in Week 16, when the Raiders’ Super Bowl hopes essentially were dashed when quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg.
So, should New England head coach Bill Belichick rest his starters knowing the Raiders, without Carr, could lose to the Denver Broncos at 4:25 p.m., or that his Patriots probably could beat Oakland on the road with Matt McGloin at quarterback regardless? Or do the Pats go full bore, treat Week 17 like any other game and clinch home-field advantage while risking injury?
Chances are they take a little from Column A and a little from Column B. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower sat out against the New York Jets in Week 16 as he deals with a knee injury, so it seems unnecessary to play him in Week 17. The Patriots also rested wide receiver/special teamer Matthew Slater in Week 16 as he deals with a nagging foot injury.
Running back Dion Lewis (illness) and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (knee) missed practice Wednesday. If either player isn’t at 100 percent, there’s no need to have them travel. Lewis is coming off multiple offseason knee surgeries, and Mitchell tore his ACL in 2013 and had multiple knee surgeries in college. It’s best to be safe rather than sorry with both offensive playmakers.
Quarterback Tom Brady also sat out of practice Wednesday with a thigh injury. He played in Week 16 and should be fine to go in Week 17. Is it worth risking Brady? It might not matter. He’s going to do everything in his power to play, and it’s very unlikely the Patriots would sit their starting quarterback with anything still on the line.
Brady played in Week 17 last season against the Dolphins when their game plan was to clang Steven Jackson and Brandon Bolden into Miami’s defensive line 23 times for 66 yards, ultimately losing 20-10.
Patriots fans were itching for the No. 1 seed and to go all out against the Dolphins until Carr broke his leg. The combination of watching a quarterback suffer a season-altering injury plus a decrease in difficulty of playing the Raiders on the road has some supporters changing their minds.
It’s still safer to try to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, though. The Patriots are at their best at home, and the risk of traveling to Oakland and trying to win in the playoffs on the road is too great.
So, as Belichick alluded to Monday, expect to see the Patriots’ starters Sunday. Football players play football, after all.
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