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Ask PFW: Playoff preview

So here we are at 14-2, which I am not sure many of us saw coming. Now it all starts again, three more wins and we are champions. I now have the challengers ranked (in order of toughest opponent for us) as 1, Packers, 2, New Orleans, 3, Indy, 4, Baltimore, 5, Philadelphia, 6, Pittsburgh. Where do you see the biggest threats coming from? Teams who can stop the run and make us one dimensional then pin back their ears and rush Tom Brady, like San Diego did, that seems to be the model.Simon Jeffrey

Obviously all of the teams in the playoffs are good, well, except for Seattle but that's a rant for another day. In terms of toughest for the Patriots I'd put Baltimore higher on the list. While the Ravens don't have a very explosive offense and their defense isn't up to Baltimore's normal standards, they are still quite formidable. First and foremost they will not be intimidated coming into Foxborough. That team has won several road playoff games over the past few years and it has already destroyed the Patriots in New England. The Ravens believe they're as good as anyone and if their defense plays to its capabilities that would be a repeat of the regular-season game that went to overtime. I'd also fear Indy simply because of the Colts pedigree with Peyton Manning. The defense isn't as strong and therefore I believe it would be a shootout, which I think would help the Patriots young defense since it wouldn't have to be relied upon to shutdown the opponent in a tight defensive slugfest. The NFC is filled with good, but not great, teams. If the Patriots get there any of them could give them trouble but in my view none would beat them. About the only concern for me would be Philadelphia and Michael Vick. Over the course of a season I have no doubt that Bill Belichick would shut him down. But in a one-game situation I'd fear him having a huge individual day and creating havoc.
Paul Perillo

As the regular season is behind us, we are starting to see more coaches being fired because of poor performance. Is there any chance that Coach BB never named a offensive or defensive coordinator this season since other teams (N.D., Denver, Cleveland) typically throw crazy money toward Belichick's staff while trying to turn their own systems around?John Holly

That's a theory that has been thrown around a lot over the past several months and I must say that I don't buy it. I think if Belichick felt real strong about someone that he would name him the coordinator. I think there were some extenuating factors (that we'll likely never know about) that led him to make the decision to go without them. Belichick has worked more with the defense this season and my guess is he did so because he felt he had to. As he always says, the decisions he makes are with the team's best interests in mind. I believe that to be the case and if there are coaches that become available in the future that he covets I think he wouldn't hesitate to sign them. Losing members of your staff is part of football and everyone has to deal with it.
Paul Perillo

Love reading your weekly questions and I'm a real big fan. My question was brought up by my friend who claims that the Patriots have been running the same offensive system for the past 10 years. I ask if this is true? I also would like to get your thoughts on why the Patriots get no love from analysts and fans? I mean Brady being over the hill or being considered the third best quarterback in the NFL? Come on Brady and Manning are on a whole other echelon in the current NFL and possibly in history.Marc Nunes

The Patriots have indeed been running the same offense throughout Belichick's tenure in New England, which is now 11 years old. There have been some tweaks and adjustments made along the way – Deion Branch alluded to some of those when he first returned a few months ago – but for the most part the system is the same. Brady has been fortunate to play under one head coach throughout his time in the league, unlike many other quarterbacks who have to learn new systems every couple of years. I agree with your thoughts about Manning and Brady being the two best and the rest playing a level below. I don't agree that the Patriots haven't gotten any love, though. Every time you turn on the TV some analysts are trying to figure out if any team is capable of beating the Patriots. No one's asking if anyone can beat Atlanta in the NFC. Based on the Patriots remarkable ascension up the NFL ranks this season, fans and media alike have showered the team with more than its share of props.
Paul Perillo

Is this an El Nino year for concussions? Or the players are reporting the symptoms more willingly, and if by doing so they are also making a subtle statement about the 18-game plan?
Jake F.

I'm not sure it has anything to do with any statement with regard to the 18-game season, but clearly the league has done a good job this season of increasing awareness for concussions. The strict guidelines they've implemented have made it necessary for teams to treat them more seriously, and while in the past players may have talked their way back into games, this season the teams are keeping everyone out. On top of that, players are required to pass cognitive exams administered by independent parties. This has led to more players missing games due to concussions, but not necessarily more concussions.
Paul Perillo

I wonder if Eric Moore is fast enough to be converted to OLB and play on the opposite side of Jermaine Cunningham?Stan Cohen

Well, that's the position Moore has played over the last month. Don't be fooled by the fact that he normally plays with his hand down as part of the defensive line. He's serving as an edge pass rusher no matter where he's lining up. The question regarding his future is if he has the ability to learn the nuances of OLB play – like setting the edge against the run, dropping into coverage, etc. I don't expect Belichick to ask him to do any of those things in the playoffs, but perhaps if he returns we could see his role expand a bit depending on his ability to do those things. But as far as rushing the passer and making plays, he's been terrific in a situational role.
Paul Perillo

Do you think the Patriots played Tom Brady as long as they did in the last meaningless game against the Dolphins to cement his claim as this year's MFP - or to keep him from two week's layoff - thereby avoiding "rust" and lack of sync with the offense?
Dick Goodwin

Does anyone honestly think Belichick would play someone simply to cement his chances to win an MVP? Even if he would, what if Brady had thrown a few interceptions? Regardless I believe Brady already had the MVP sewn up and we'll find out just before the Super Bowl. Belichick usually manages his roster in the situations like the Miami game, giving some guys some time off to heal while playing some others who might benefit from the added opportunities. Brady obviously didn't need the work but he likely benefited from the chance to throw to some different players with Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez out. Overall, Belichick doesn't make these decisions based on the potential for individual awards.
Paul Perillo

So I'm looking at the playoff bracket and, if I'm reading it right, the Patriots will play the lowest winning seed team. Both the Colts and the Chiefs finished 10-6. In the event both teams win their games, who will the Pats face in the second round?Gabriel Moreno

The Colts are seeded three while the Chiefs are 4 (Indy beat KC in the regular season) so if both teams win the Patriots would play Kansas City as the lowest remaining seed. In fact, the only way the Patriots would see the Colts would be the AFC Championship since New England can't possibly play the No. 3 seed until that round.
Paul Perillo

Mark Ingram can do it all: run, catch, and block. He is likely a top-10 pick. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has proven to be durable and good enough to get 1,000 yards. Danny Woodhead is a good change of pace back. Are they good enough to pass on a talent like Ingram? Should the Pats trade up to get Ingram? Take him with the Oakland pick if he is still there?
Mike S.

Ingram is a terrific college running back but I wouldn't go out of my way to draft him. If he were available at the end of the first round (he won't be) I wouldn't be opposed to taking him. But overall I don't like the idea of taking running backs that high. The Oakland pick will be No. 17 so it's possible he could be available then. Personally I don't love Ingram and I don't feel he'll be anything special at the NFL level. Therefore I wouldn't be interested in taking him in the first round. I think the Patriots can get by with a committee approach and it's worked effectively this season.
Paul Perillo

What do you think of the possible picks of Pats in first and second rounds of the 2011 draft? As I read most people should pick an elite pass rusher (OLB), WR, RB, and possibly an interior lineman. I agree that all of the above positions could be a good choice but I also think that a Richard Seymour type of DE is also a need. Do you think that the pats should pick a DT/DE in the early rounds?
Jozsef Bakk

There's plenty of time for draft talk after the season and hopefully that won't be for another month. But in general terms I'd say a pass rusher remains a glaring need, as does a traditional 3-4 defensive end, as you said. The offensive line also will need to be addressed, particularly if the Patriots lose Logan Mankins as a free agent. As I said earlier, I wouldn't put running back that high on the list. New England will likely take one in the first three rounds, but I'd rather it be later than sooner.
Paul Perillo

Anyway to bring back David Givens?
Marlene Frallic

Funny you should mention this because I recently heard Givens talking about giving his career one more shot before officially retiring. He's still only 29 years old and according to him his knee has made some progress and has him thinking about trying a comeback. Obviously the main obstacle would be health, but if the knee holds up I could see the Patriots giving him a chance.
Paul Perillo

It seems like I have seen Darius Butler with more playing time over the past few weeks. In your opinion, is that because he has improved his tackling skills and has worked his way into deserving more time or is it due to injuries or is BB trying to spotlight his cover skills to enhance offseason trade value? What type of trade value would he bring in the off-season from a Corner-needy team like Detroit?Tim C.

Butler has seen more time as injuries have impacted the secondary a bit. Jonathan Wilhite is out for the year with a hip injury. At times the safeties have been a little banged up and Butler's probably gotten some extra time due to that as well. His play has been about the same as it had been – at times OK and disjointed at others. He seems to be in position most of the time but doesn't always make plays. He's also had some penalties called against him because he seems to lose track of where he is with regard to the ball. Butler has the physical tools to be a good corner but thus far is having trouble putting it together. At this point, I don't see much value in him on the trade market, but I also don't think they'd deal him after only two seasons. Belichick likely wants to get him back in the offseason program and see if there's enough there to continue working with.
Paul Perillo

Happy New Year chaps, I was wondering what your thoughts were on a possible trade for Brian Hartline from Miami? I've been impressed each time I've seen him and I believe he would give us a viable and reliable deep threat. I know the Dolphins rate him highly but with all the draft choices we have and figuring in his salary/cap figures I'm sure we could get it done. Last WR we got from Miami turned out OK. Your thoughts please gentlemen. Cheerio.Symon Bloomfield

I'm sensing you speak with an accent … is it Austrian (How 'bout another shrimp on the Barbie). Anyway, I'm not a big Hartline fan. He's a decent extra receiver but he's not a guy that strikes much fear into opponents. If he were available I would think Brady could find a way to make him more useful in New England than he's been in Miami with subpar quarterback play. But I don't think he's worth investing too much in to acquire.
Paul Perillo

Does Paul Perillo expect the Ravens to believe Tom Brady hasn't lost in Foxborough since 2006? Back in 2005, when the Patriots ended the Steelers NFL-recognized 16-game winning streak in Week 3, we laughed, because the Steelers had, you know, lost to New England three games earlier for the right to go to SB 39. And when the winless Dolphins flummoxed the Pats with the Wildcat in 2008, at least it ended an NFL-recognized Patriots streak that ignored, you know, that Giants game. Brady hasn't won a postseason game in Foxboro since the day Philip Rivers played and LT didn't. Shouldn't PP be playing the Rodney Harrison "no respect card" instead? I am delighted the Pats have Home Field Throughout, but Paul, don't contribute to the hype!
Ed Bryant

It's not my job to determine which NFL records we decide to adhere to and which ones we're supposed to ignore. In this particular case, I happened to agree with you 100 percent. Any winning streak that has losses sprinkled in is useless in my mind. Just as the examples you pointed out indicate. But I don't make the rules and the league says that Brady has won 28 straight regular-season home games and that's an NFL record. I work for Patriots Football Weekly so the last thing I'm going to do is ignore a Patriots record. Oh, and it's also not my job to ignore hype. Generating it is part of my job.
Paul Perillo

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