The Danger Of Playing Meaningless Games

The New England Patriots tried to do the right thing by playing their starters in a game that mattered little to their playoff seeding. It's what fans blasted the Colts for not doing. What happened was the worst case scenario, New England lost a vital member of their roster -- Wes Welker -- for the rest of the year. Now the debate continues, should teams play their starters or not?

Maybe Colts fans will get off coach Jim Caldwell's back now.

And as upset as the greater Houston area might be with Cincinnati, one can hardly blame them for holding out several key players in Sunday night's blowout loss to the Jets. Especially after what happened to New England in its game against the Texans earlier in the day that could have a significant impact on the playoffs.

The Patriots had little to gain Sunday outside of a No. 3 seed vs. No. 4, but went with their starters and lost star receiver Wes Welker to a left knee injury reported to be a damaged ACL and MCL. New England lost more than a receiver with 123 receptions.

Welker was a critical component to the Patriots thwarting Baltimore's pass rush in a Week 4 victory at Gillette Stadium. He served as quarterback Tom Brady's outlet receiver, taking some of the aggressiveness out of the Ravens' blitz packages. And with Baltimore paying a return visit in the first round of the playoffs, the Patriots will now turn to Julian Edelman, a rookie former college quarterback, to fill the role of the league's most prolific receiver this season.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick declined to elaborate on Welker's injury following the game, but the situation provided precedence coaches will no doubt point to in future seasons. Indianapolis, New Orleans, Arizona and Cincinnati were among the playoff teams that held out several key players in Week 17. The result? They lost by a combined score of 123-24.

But the bigger picture - at least to Caldwell and playoff coaching brethren - is those teams didn't lose any key players Sunday.

"Not the outcome we wanted. We get a chance to regroup and get going again next Saturday afternoon and that's about the size of it," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We didn't want to lose the game. We had something to play for tonight and didn't get it done. You don't get a chance to do this much in the National Football League and I guess we're blessed to have this opportunity coming next week."

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady & trainers check on WR Wes Welker vs Houston Texans Jan 3, 2010 (AP /Donna McWilliam)

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