Playoff Primer: New England Patriots

Colts fans are plenty familiar with the New England Patriots, and the hated Pats will have a tough road to travel if they want redemption in Indy. We take a look at the current state of the Patriots and hear from a team insider on their playoff hopes.

How They Got Here:

The Patriots began the year as the oddsmakers' favorite to win the Super Bowl, but those expectations were quickly tempered when New England came within a minute of starting the season 0-2. After a one-point win in their opener against Buffalo — facilitated by a fumble on a kickoff return and a total breakdown of the Bills' secondary — the Patriots traveled to New Jersey and were beaten 16-9 by the Jets.

Tom Brady had returned after missing all but one quarter of 2008, but it was soon clear that New England — while still a solid, well-coached squad — was no longer the powerhouse that came one circus catch away from completing a 19-0 season in 2007.

The Jets game signaled the beginning of a troubling trend for the Patriots, who would go 2-6 in road games (one of their two "road" wins was against the Buccaneers in London) this fall. A 59-0 win in the snow over Tennessee, a successful trip to the U.K., and a 10-point win over the Dolphins, who won the AFC East in 2008, gave New England a 6-2 record when they visited Indianapolis on Nov. 15.

We all know what happened in that game, and it was the beginning of a skid where the Patriots lost 3 of 4. They were embarrassed in New Orleans, 38-17, and lost a week later in Miami, 22-21, to drop to 7-5. However, they ran off three straight — against Carolina, at Buffalo and vs. Jacksonville — to clinch the AFC East before losing their season finale at Houston.

That game in Houston was notable for another reason: the Patriots lost Wes Welker for the playoffs after he tore his MCL and ACL. Although the Patriots are still a force to be reckoned with on offense, the loss of their leading receiver, a defense that has struggled to find its identity, the challenge of winning three games — including two on the road — to reach the Super Bowl have this former favorite looking like a long shot as the playoffs open.

Where They Rank:

Offense:

Sixth in points per game (26.7), third in yards per game (397.3), third in passing yards per game (277.3), 12th in rushing yards per game (120.1).

Defense:

Fifth in points per game allowed (17.8), 11th in yards per game allowed (320.2), 12th in passing yards per game allowed (209.7), 13th in rushing yards per game allowed (110.5).

How They Could Meet the Colts:

The Patriots have the longest road of any of the AFC teams to Indianapolis. First, they need to defeat Baltimore in Foxborough on Sunday. The Patriots are 8-0 at Gillette Stadium this year, so getting at least one home playoff game was importantt.

However, should the Patriots win, they would then have to travel to San Diego, defeat the Chargers, and then travel to Indianapolis for the AFC Championship. Since the Patriots are the AFC's third seed, they can't meet the Colts in the Divisional Round, as the top seed plays the lowest advancing seed from Wild Card Weekend, and it's not possible for the Patriots to be the lowest advancing seed this weekend.

Strengths:

Although he may not have regained the level he was playing at before his injury, Tom Brady had a fine season for New England, and his command of the offense and accurate passing are what gives New England a chance to win. The Patriots are still capable of scoring points in bunches, and, while Welker was putting up some gaudy statistics this season, he is not an irreplaceable athlete.

Randy Moss is, however, and the Patriots will need the veteran to step up his game. Moss cruised through much of the second half of the season. One of the greatest strengths of the Patriots offense (and remember, Brady won three Super Bowls without Moss and Welker) has been the versatility of the offense and Brady will use every weapon available to him, but Moss is still the biggest threat.

The Patriots finished fifth in the league in scoring defense, allowing only 17.8 points per game. They shut out Tennessee in a game in which the Titans gave a minimal effort, and allowed just seven points to both Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.

Weaknesses:

While the Patriots' scoring defense is impressive, those numbers may be not telling the whole story, as the elite offensive teams the Patriots have faced have faced minimal resistance. Indianapolis scored 35 on New Englad, New Orleans put up 38 and Houston put up 34 just last weekend.

Baltimore scored 21 points in their meeting with the Patriots in early October, and since then, has seen its offense evolve with a versatile running attack. If Joe Flacco can put together a full game without mistakes, this is a defense that can be had.

More on this in a bit, but the stars and playmakers that defined the Patriots in the 00s are gone, replaced by journeymen or young players still learning their role.

It's also becoming clearer and clearer that this has been a transitional year for the team, and one that has been filled with uncertainty — at first, over Brady's knee, and, especially since the Indianapolis game, there has been internal strife and a lack of confidence. The Patriots are never an easy out and Bill Belichick demands effort, but the Patriots have looked very uneven for much of the season, and now have a daunting playoff road in front of them. They are very good at turning weaknesses into strengths and can thrive in an overlooked/underdog role, but its up to their defense to prove it can stop the league's best teams.

Insider Analysis:

By Jon Scott of PatriotsInsider.com.

The Patriots are a team that is steeped in playoff tradition and used to winning on the big stage. Unfortunately, this year's team will have to rely on inexperienced players who are in unfamiliar territory. For every veteran in a key position like three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, there's a playoff neophyte like Leigh Bodden who has only known the struggles of moribund franchises like Cleveland and Detroit.

New England heads into the 2009 postseason with new faces in key positions on defense – a defense that has come under fire for giving up multiple 21-point quarters to the Colts, Saints and Texans.

Cornerbacks Darius Butler (rookie), Bodden (Detroit) and Shawn Springs are the starters now, replacing familiar names like Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay (all Super Bowl winners). Safeties Brandon McGowan and Brandon Meriwither are in full time for Rodney Harrison. Derrick Burgess, Tully Banta-Cain and Gary Guyton are in for Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi. The theme of 2009 is change, and these Patriots are full of change.

New England began the year as Vegas' favorite to win this year's Super Bowl on the arm of a healthy Tom Brady and the hands of the dynamic duo receivers in Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Now, they're a longshot to even get to the big game. Based on the way the offense gains yardage, it's hard t count out this team against any opponent. Based on the way the defense gives up points in bunches, you'd be hard pressed to think the '09 version is as remotely talented as the '07 club which was just one minute away from perfection.

It will be a tough road for New England in the postseason, especially considering their woeful record on the road. The Path to the Super Bowl lies through Indy and San Diego, and both places host some of the best offenses in the league. If New England is going to have a chance, they're going to need a lot more out of their defense on the road.


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The Patriots began the year as the oddsmakers' favorite to win the Super Bowl, but those expectations were quickly tempered when New England came within a minute of starting the season 0-2. After a one-point win in their opener against Buffalo — facilitated by a fumble on a kickoff return and a total breakdown of the Bills' secondary — the Patriots traveled to New Jersey and were beaten 16-9 by the Jets.

Tom Brady had returned after missing all but one quarter of 2008, but it was soon clear that New England — while still a solid, well-coached squad — was no longer the powerhouse that came one circus catch away from completing a 19-0 season in 2007.

The Jets game signaled the beginning of a troubling trend for the Patriots, who would go 2-6 in road games (one of their two \"road\" wins was against the Buccaneers in London) this fall. A 59-0 win in the snow over Tennessee, a successful trip to the U.K., and a 10-point win over the Dolphins, who won the AFC East in 2008, gave New England a 6-2 record when they visited Indianapolis on Nov. 15.

We all know what happened in that game, and it was the beginning of a skid where the Patriots lost 3 of 4. They were embarrassed in New Orleans, 38-17, and lost a week later in Miami, 22-21, to drop to 7-5. However, they ran off three straight — against Carolina, at Buffalo and vs. Jacksonville — to clinch the AFC East before losing their season finale at Houston.

That game in Houston was notable for another reason: the Patriots lost Wes Welker for the playoffs after he tore his MCL and ACL. Although the Patriots are still a force to be reckoned with on offense, the loss of their leading receiver, a defense that has struggled to find its identity, the challenge of winning three games — including two on the road — to reach the Super Bowl have this former favorite looking like a long shot as the playoffs open.

Sixth in points per game (26.7), third in yards per game (397.3), third in passing yards per game (277.3), 12th in rushing yards per game (120.1).

Fifth in points per game allowed (17.8), 11th in yards per game allowed (320.2), 12th in passing yards per game allowed (209.7), 13th in rushing yards per game allowed (110.5).

The Patriots have the longest road of any of the AFC teams to Indianapolis. First, they need to defeat Baltimore in Foxborough on Sunday. The Patriots are 8-0 at Gillette Stadium this year, so getting at least one home playoff game was importantt.

However, should the Patriots win, they would then have to travel to San Diego, defeat the Chargers, and then travel to Indianapolis for the AFC Championship. Since the Patriots are the AFC's third seed, they can't meet the Colts in the Divisional Round, as the top seed plays the lowest advancing seed from Wild Card Weekend, and it's not possible for the Patriots to be the lowest advancing seed this weekend.

Although he may not have regained the level he was playing at before his injury, Tom Brady had a fine season for New England, and his command of the offense and accurate passing are what gives New England a chance to win. The Patriots are still capable of scoring points in bunches, and, while Welker was putting up some gaudy statistics this season, he is not an irreplaceable athlete.

Randy Moss is, however, and the Patriots will need the veteran to step up his game. Moss cruised through much of the second half of the season. One of the greatest strengths of the Patriots offense (and remember, Brady won three Super Bowls without Moss and Welker) has been the versatility of the offense and Brady will use every weapon available to him, but Moss is still the biggest threat.

The Patriots finished fifth in the league in scoring defense, allowing only 17.8 points per game. They shut out Tennessee in a game in which the Titans gave a minimal effort, and allowed just seven points to both Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.

While the Patriots' scoring defense is impressive, those numbers may be not telling the whole story, as the elite offensive teams the Patriots have faced have faced minimal resistance. Indianapolis scored 35 on New Englad, New Orleans put up 38 and Houston put up 34 just last weekend.

Baltimore scored 21 points in their meeting with the Patriots in early October, and since then, has seen its offense evolve with a versatile running attack. If Joe Flacco can put together a full game without mistakes, this is a defense that can be had.

More on this in a bit, but the stars and playmakers that defined the Patriots in the 00s are gone, replaced by journeymen or young players still learning their role.

It's also becoming clearer and clearer that this has been a transitional year for the team, and one that has been filled with uncertainty — at first, over Brady's knee, and, especially since the Indianapolis game, there has been internal strife and a lack of confidence. The Patriots are never an easy out and Bill Belichick demands effort, but the Patriots have looked very uneven for much of the season, and now have a daunting playoff road in front of them. They are very good at turning weaknesses into strengths and can thrive in an overlooked/underdog role, but its up to their defense to prove it can stop the league's best teams.

.

The Patriots are a team that is steeped in playoff tradition and used to winning on the big stage. Unfortunately, this year's team will have to rely on inexperienced players who are in unfamiliar territory. For every veteran in a key position like three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, there's a playoff neophyte like Leigh Bodden who has only known the struggles of moribund franchises like Cleveland and Detroit.

New England heads into the 2009 postseason with new faces in key positions on defense – a defense that has come under fire for giving up multiple 21-point quarters to the Colts, Saints and Texans.

Cornerbacks Darius Butler (rookie), Bodden (Detroit) and Shawn Springs are the starters now, replacing familiar names like Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay (all Super Bowl winners). Safeties Brandon McGowan and Brandon Meriwither are in full time for Rodney Harrison. Derrick Burgess, Tully Banta-Cain and Gary Guyton are in for Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi. The theme of 2009 is change, and these Patriots are full of change.

New England began the year as Vegas' favorite to win this year's Super Bowl on the arm of a healthy Tom Brady and the hands of the dynamic duo receivers in Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Now, they're a longshot to even get to the big game. Based on the way the offense gains yardage, it's hard t count out this team against any opponent. Based on the way the defense gives up points in bunches, you'd be hard pressed to think the '09 version is as remotely talented as the '07 club which was just one minute away from perfection.

It will be a tough road for New England in the postseason, especially considering their woeful record on the road. The Path to the Super Bowl lies through Indy and San Diego, and both places host some of the best offenses in the league. If New England is going to have a chance, they're going to need a lot more out of their defense on the road.

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