The New England Patriots know they’ll be taking the field for a divisional-round playoff game Sunday, Jan. 13, but they won’t know their opponent for that game until after this weekend’s wild-card round.
That leaves the Patriots’ coaches in a bit of a pickle this week. There isn’t enough time or resources to prepare for all three potential divisional-round foes — the No. 3 seed Houston Texans, No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens and No. 5 seed Los Angeles Chargers — so prioritization is key.
“This is different than any game we played this year on a lot of levels,” head coach Bill Belichick said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “There are things that apply to this game that just don’t apply to the other 16 games or 20 games if you want to go all the way back to preseason.
“There’s certainly a differentiation there. It puts it into a different category. We talk about that, explain it and try to recognize how we can use that to our advantage and get the most out of it.”
Of course, this week’s challenges are nothing new for Belichick. His Patriots have earned a first-round bye in each of the last nine postseasons, locking down the latest with a 38-3 victory over the New York Jets in Sunday’s regular-season finale.
The win over the Jets gave New England the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The only wild-card competitor they cannot play in the divisional round is the Indianapolis Colts, who, as the sixth and final seed, automatically would visit the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs if they defeat the Texans this Saturday.
“It’s an unusual situation,” Belichick said, “because the rest of the year, you always know who your next game’s against, whether you have a bye week or you have an opponent the following week or you’re in preseason or whatever it is. You always know who the next team is that you’re playing, and you can set a certain preparation schedule for that opponent regardless of who the opponent is or how long or short the week is that leads up to that game.
“But here, it’s multiple teams. So you have to be prepared for those options, but at the same time, you don’t want to create chaos. I don’t think you want to create a confusing situation where you’re trying to do so much you don’t get anything done, so you have to try to figure out, I’d say at this point, what’s the most productive thing you can do for your team.
“And that might not be the same for every player. It might not be the same for each unit. You might have to find a way to balance some things. But in the end, you’re trying to do the most productive thing you can with the time that you have available. And that might include not doing anything. It might include resting. It might include film work, practice, fundamentals, scheme plays, situations and so forth.
“And it all would probably be helpful. You just have to decide which ones you think would do the most good and structure it that way, and then once you know who you’re playing, then it’s full steam ahead on that opponent.”
The Patriots are seeking their third consecutive Super Bowl bid and their eighth straight AFC Championship Game appearance.
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