Does it matter? That's the big question this week as the Patriots prepare to play host to the Indianapolis Colts in a divisional round rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game, which was won 24-14 by the Patriots in Foxborough.
You bet it does. The Patriots have a tough enough time slowing the Colts' juggernaut offense with their best cover men on the field. Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel are exceptional game planners, but they can't turn water into wine. They will try to keep bodies moving around to make things tough on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's pre-snap reads, but in the end the Patriots corners - Asante Samuel, Randall Gay, Troy Brown, Earthwind Moreland and now Hank Poteat will not be able to slow the Colts' passing attack.
Does it matter that the Colts are 1-6 against New England since Belichick took over as the Patriots coach?
Sure. It's proven that coaching is as critical to winning as any other facet of the game and Belichick has been terrific in New England. Given the personnel, Belichick can out-scheme anyone, and his team will be prepared for what the Colts offer. Stopping it with the available personnel is another issue. But there is a reason the Patriots have been able to do what few, if any, other teams have not been able to do, which is slow the Colts offensive attack. That reason is Belichick and Crennel. Manning knows that, but knowing that Poole and Law are out might be on his mind this week.
Does it matter that Manning has never won in Foxborough?
It does. The Colts have had better teams than New England in some of Manning's years, yet he has never performed at his best in New England regardless of the weather. He is 0-6 in New England in all kinds of weather, including a balmy night back on Sept. 9 when the teams met in the season opener, a 27-24 Patriots win.
Does it matter that Manning has almost as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns (19) against the Patriots?
It might if Law and Poole were playing with Samuel and Gay as the third and fourth corners. But Brown and Moreland or perhaps newly signed Poteat are the third and fourth corners. Enough said.
Does it matter that the Patriots offense is pretty good too?
This won't get much attention this week, but the Patriots have scored 27, 24, 38, 38 and 44 points against Indy in the last five meetings. This game could become a shootout and the team that has the ball last could emerge as the winner. As long as Tom Brady avoids turning the ball over and Corey Dillon runs as he has all year, the Patriots should be able to score. Their third down conversions will be huge in this game because they will have to control the ball and try to keep Manning on the sideline. The Patriots have had success throwing and running against the Colts. As long as they don't turn the ball over, they could score with the Colts.
Does the weather matter?
No. The Colts have played plenty of games in cold weather and have performed well. They won in heavy snow in Denver a couple of years ago and they have won plenty of games in the cold. Are they as good in those conditions as they are in the windless, 70-degree RCA Dome? Of course not. Just about every team is better at home, but they are a proven road team that can perform regardless of the conditions. Didn't the Vikings, a dome team, win in Green Bay this past weekend? The team that plays the best will win and that's the case regardless of the game's setting.
Don't expect the Patriots to engage in any war of words this week. They understand how well the Colts are playing. They recognize the Colts offensive production. They know Indy is fast and turns the ball over on defense. This week is about respecting a formidable opponent, not about maintaining some mythical hex.
The Colts seemed to take a similar tact after their game Sunday, although kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who missed a 48-yard game-tying field goal against New England in the season opener, apparently made some comments about New England to channel 8 in Indianapolis in which he called New England "ripe for the pickings" among other things.
Colts nemesis Willie McGinest was asked about Vanderjagt's comments and said, "Great for Vanderjagt. Hopefully he'll make it next time."
McGinest was obviously taking a shot at the kicker for missing the 48-yarder back in September but that's as far as he'd go. "Talk doesn't win games," he added.
But McGinest also understands why Vanderjagt and his teammates would be confident heading into Foxborough.
"They have a right to be confident. They're playing really well. (Reggie) Wayne wanted to keep the pads on and come to Foxborough. That sounds confident. We know they've been waiting on this game. They'll come out fighting. We'll come out fighting. The best team will win. It'll be a dogfight. It always is. Nobody's producing more than they are."
- The Patriots filled the roster spot opened by Law's move to injured reserve
by signing 5-10, 192-pound cornerback Hank Poteat. The 27-year-old former
Steeler was a 2000 third round draft pick and played in 42 games for Pittsburgh.
He was released by Pittsburgh before the 2003 season and played on game with
Tampa Bay that year. He went to camp with Carolina last summer before being
released with an injury settlement after undergoing thumb surgery.
- S Eugene Wilson expects to play this weekend after missing the season finale
against the 49ers with a thigh injury. He confirmed that Monday, saying he
stayed in Foxborough through the team's off weekend. "It's doing better,"
he said. "I've been here rehabbing it and working on it."
- CB Ty Law was not in the locker room Monday and it's not known if Law is
in town after being placed on injured reserve Friday. In a prepared statement,
coach Bill Belichick said, "We are disappointed for Ty. He has worked
extremely hard to return this season and we all hoped it would happen. But,
unfortunately that will not be the case." Belichick essentially refused
any further comment in his first meeting with the media since the move. "I
have nothing to add. He never played. He tried," Belichick said.
- DE Richard Seymour also was not in the locker room when the media was allowed
access Monday, which came after a team meeting when the players were free
to leave until beginning their practice week on Tuesday. Seymour said last
week that he hopes to play and was walking around the locker room with a knee
brace that he admitted was restrictive. "It was a blessing that it isn't
anything that will have me out for six months," Seymour said.
- WR Bethel Johnson returned punts in the season finale and while he had an
86-yard return for a touchdown called back by a block in the back, he also
muffed a chance that he luckily recovered. The Patriots have been terrible
returning punts this season, averaging 5.8 yards per return and looked to
Johnson for a spark that he seemed to provide. Asked if he was confident using
Johnson in that role in the postseason, Belichick said, "I have confidence
in all the players on our team." Still, it would be risky for Belichick
to use Johnson catching punts and risk a turnover that would put Indy on a
short field. Poteat is an experienced punt returner who could be used in that
- QB Tom Brady is 5-0 against the Colts in his career and has completed 67 percent of his passes in those five games with nine TDs and four interceptions for a 99.0 passer rating.