There’s no such thing as an easy road to the championship. When it looks easier than it ever has before (2007 Patriots 1), the floor can still fall out. When it looks bad and you lose your starting QB (1972 Dolphins 2), it can still end up being perfect.
Take a look at the championship teams in recent NFL history. The average championship team over the last six years was seeded 4th and had a record of 11-5. Two wildcard teams have won it all, which is the same amount as the number of teams with 1st round byes that have. This shows that once the playoffs start, it’s anyone’s game. Home field advantage is a good thing to have, but it’s not the most important thing, especially now that Peyton plays outdoors.
So what determines the champion? It’s a combination of a few things. First and foremost you need to get into the playoffs. That hasn’t been an issue for the Patriots with Brady, but it’s something to keep in the back of our minds this year.
Secondly, you need a team that’s prepared to grind out a tough game or four. I’m not talking about defense vs. offense or scheme, but rather the ability to win close, hard games. It doesn’t matter which side makes the plays as long as someone does. More often than not, this part comes down to recent experience. If a team had to fight through injuries, whether they be big names [2012 Ravens, Suggs/Lewis/Webb/etc] or big numbers [2010 Packers, 16 players to IR], it helped. If they had to win your final two games just to get in [2011 Giants, 2010 Packers], it strengthened them. Even struggling for a stretch [2009 Saints, Started 13-0, lost their last three games] can be beneficial. All of those teams won the Super Bowl.
You also need some luck but, since you can’t control that, it’s not worth spending much time on. The focus should be on improving your team while winning enough games to make the playoffs.
How do this pertain to the 2013 New England Patriots, and more specifically, their offense? I’m glad you asked (3). I think we can develop the young talent while the team builds toughness and character through hard games. As the old saying goes, kill two birds with one shotgun.
Belichick often talks about how the goal of the regular season is to get better every day and every week. He has approached the regular season, especially the early part, that way for awhile but the focus has been on getting the starters really locked into their timing. If a new guy or rookie missed time or fell behind, chances are he wouldn’t be able to catch up for the rest of the season.
There’s a noticeable difference this year and I think it will help in the long run. The young guys are playing more. This is partly by necessity, but it was embraced when Bill didn’t keep veteran receivers on the roster, or sign other vets to take the places of the ones that were cut.
I would love to keep Gronk on the sideline for another week, after listing him as probable, and then to ease him in slowly after that. This will strengthen the team in a couple ways. First, it keeps the best TE in the game fresher and less at risk of reinjury. This can be applied to Amendola as well. It also keeps the rookies on the field and under pressure.
I’m now 100% on board with keeping the rookies in the fire, and not just because we’re winning. If NE loses the next three games, which is definitely possible, I’ll still feel the same way. In the best case scenario health-wise, the receiving options for the stretch run and playoffs will be Gronk > Amendola > Edelman/Dobson/Thompkins > Vereen > Sudfeld/Boyce. If your #3-5 options have been the #1-3 options for a decent part of the season, that’s huge. They’ll have experience being relied on for key 3rd and 4th downs, they’ll have experience against better defenders, and most importantly, they’ll have better timing with Brady. If things don’t work out that well injury-wise, which isn’t out of the question with Gronk, Amendola, Edelman and Vereen, the rookies will be even more important.
I hope the coaches remind Dobson all week about how great Julio and Roddy are, and then go to him early and often on Sunday night. They should go to Thompkins over Edelman on 3rd down if the coverage allows it. Get Sudfeld in the mix as more than a blocker. Send Boyce out for every kick return and incorporate him into the screen game. I want to see the rookies featured in a close game against a tough team in a hostile environment this week. The perfect scenario would be for the offense to have a shot at a game-winning drive late. If the rookies thrive, that’s great. If they don’t, let’s see why not, and figure out if it can be fixed or not.
For the first week in a long time, I care less about the result and more about the process.
1: David Tyree’s helmet has better hands than Asante? Are you !@#$%^& kidding me?!
2: Not only did those Dolphins fight through injuries, they also had to deal with Mercury Morris almost every day.
3: Reading it to yourself counts as asking.