REPORT CARD ENTERING PLAYOFFS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- You can't argue with Tom Brady's numbers. This might've been his greatest season ever, even better than his performance in 2007 when he threw 50 touchdown passes. The difference this year is Brady was more efficient and made fewer mistakes. The emergence of rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez played a factor, as did the return of Deion Branch.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- When Kevin Faulk suffered a season-ending injury shortly after the Patriots traded Laurence Maroney, the run game appeared to be in trouble, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis recorded his first career 1,000-yard season and Danny Woodhead provided a spark as a change-of-pace back to keep the Patriots among the best in the league in rushing. Coupled with tremendous production from their offensive line, the Patriots never missed a beat despite the injuries.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Patriots had serious problems defending the pass at the beginning of the season, but they made progress as the weeks went by, specifically in terms of forcing turnovers. Rookie CB Devin McCourty led the team in interceptions and the Patriots eventually developed into one of the best ball-hawking defenses in the league. They still give up a lot of yards from time to time, but they've limited the number of points they've allowed by coming up with timely takeaways.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The front seven has been up and down all year. Injuries to Ty Warren and Mike Wright have left the team thin at times, and NT Vince Wilfork has had to play different roles. Through it all, they've been relatively consistent at stopping the run, though there have been weeks in which they've been unable to prevent the opponent from controlling the clock. This, along with the pass defense, could be the team's only weakness heading into the postseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Even without kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots tend to have the edge in special teams each week. Shayne Graham has filled in nicely and the coverage units have been solid. More important, the Patriots have a not-so-secret weapon in WR Julian Edelman, who could play a factor with a big punt or kick return in the postseason.
COACHING: A-plus -- No one makes the right call more often than Bill Belichick, and no one has gotten more out of his talent either. Even with injuries on both sides of the ball, and some question marks in the secondary, the Patriots won 14 games this season. That is a remarkable feat regardless of the circumstances. In any matchup, Belichick has the clear edge, and that could be enough to push the Patriots over the top in an otherwise hotly-contested playoff showdown.
This report courtesy of The Sports Xchange