After a week off, we are scheduled for a Saturday home game against either Houston, Oakland, or Miami. I know nothing is guaranteed, but I don't mind playing any one of those three teams. Which means we cannot play Pittsburgh and KC. One of those teams has to be eliminated before facing NE. Would you guys agree that the way the seeding worked out couldn't have been better for the Patriots? Thanks for all you do. Dave DeLuca
Teams that earn the No. 1 playoff seed generally find themselves in favorable position, but yes, the seemingly weakest teams in the AFC postseason are the potential Patriots opponents in the Divisional round. Houston isn't a strong division winner, and Oakland suddenly reeling at the quarterback position, they don't appear as dangerous as they did a month ago. Miami, meanwhile, will have a difficult task having to go to Pittsburgh this weekend.
Anything can happen, of course, but right now, it looks like the Texans will be coming to Foxborough on Jan. 14. Erik Scalavino
I agree with [QB Tom] Brady [who said following the Miami win] that 14-2 is a GREAT place to be. Yet, the Patriots' schedule and opponent strength were almost ideal this year. That's why that loss to Seattle at home, with full roster, while the Seahawks had no [defensive tackle Michael] Bennett, makes me not want to face that team in Super Bowl? Is this the only team would you say we don't want to see?Stan Cohan
It's a good thing fans aren't players in this league, because if I were a coach or administrator, I'd hate to hear that anyone on my team was fearful of facing any opponent. I understand your underlying point, Stan, that certain matchups are more difficult than others, but the Patriots, let's not forget, earned the best record in the NFL this season for a reason. They are the team that most others probably wouldn't want to see at any time on the schedule.
You won't find a more confident club in the league than Bill Belichick's Patriots. They couldn't care less who they're going to face. They always believe that if they prepare properly, they have the ability to defeat anyone. And given their superior coaching staff and the best quarterback in football history, they should feel this way.
I wrote an entire commentary in this week's edition of PFW in which I scout this year's playoff teams and how they would stack up in a game against the Patriots. I suggest you get yourself a copy (or subscribe online at pfwonline.com). Erik Scalavino
Happy New Year from PA! I am so glad the Patriots wrapped up the number 1 seed in Miami! Which aspect of the defense concerns you the most heading into postseason play? The secondary worries me against teams like the Steelers and Chiefs. Is Malcolm Mitchell's knee injury serious? Hopefully he and Danny [Amendola] are healthy for the Divisional round. Thank you for all the work you guys do all season!!!Michael Pizzoli
Thanks for the kind words, Michael. First, with the way New England's defense has been playing in the second half of this season, it's hard to find any areas to take to task. My biggest concerns would be consistency and health. Can the D continue its recent aggressive style and results throughout the playoffs? If so, the Patriots will be a formidable foe to anyone they face.
On the other side of the ball, I'm not too concerned right now about Mitchell or Amendola. It seemed to me that the team was being overly cautious with the former. Mitchell has been a tremendous addition to the offense as a rookie, and his brief appearances in the locker room last week suggest that his injury isn't too serious. Fellow wideout Julian Edelman even indicated to me in postgame comments at Miami that he expected to see Mitchell back on the field as the Patriots begin to prepare for the postseason.
Meanwhile, Amendola also made a cameo in the locker room last week for the first time since injuring his right ankle against the Rams. He looked like he was walking normally and briskly through the locker room. I would expect him to be on the practice field this week or next, in the lead-up to the Divisional round. Erik Scalavino
Hi guys, thanks again for ably keeping all of us Patriots fans up to date with the latest news on our favorite football team. For several weeks now I can't help but notice that Trey Flowers' name keeps coming up in the middle of big plays on defense. This has led to a new catch phrase that I enjoy using as often as possible: "You just got planted by Flowers!"What is his contract situation, and how do you see him fitting into the Patriots' long term plans on defense? Is he someone you envision sticking with the Pats? When would discussion of a contract extension start? Thanks!Aaron Gower-Hall
Clever catch-phrase, Aaron. And you're right, he's gotten better the more playing time he's been given over the course of this season. He's blossoming (pun intended) into the kind of player the Patriots hoped he'd be when they drafted him out of the University of Arkansas last season.
Like every player drafted outside the first round, Flowers (4th round a year ago) has a four-year rookie contract. That means he's currently locked up through the 2018 season. His 2015 rookie season was spent on IR, but he's making up for lost time at the moment. I'd like to see him play this well for more than just half a season before I start thinking about extending his deal. However, if he continues this level of play next season, he might be in line for a new contract before the current one expires. Erik Scalavino
It's that time of year again when the Patriots coordinators have their interviews. What do you think the chances are that one or both of the [OC Josh] McDaniels/[DC Matt] Patricia tandem get a head coaching job this offseason? And could/would the NFL put a freeze on coaches hiring until after the Super Bowl so coordinators on good teams, who are usually prime head coaching prospects, don't have to interview for jobs while game planning for the playoffs?Tyler Flanagan
I have read that some teams will interview with McDaniels and Patricia. So my questions, how do you think a job interview before a playoff run may motivate or distract a coach like them?Victor Galicia
I'd say there's a very good chance that one or both of New England's coordinators is offered a head coaching job in the NFL this month (or early next). Whether or not they accept remains to be seen. It's difficult to say with any certainty, one way or the other, without having intimate knowledge of what either man is hoping to receive in terms of compensation, authority, location, etc. – all the variables that you would expect someone to consider when contemplating a job offer.
It's not ideal for playoff teams like New England to have others trying to pluck people off their coaching staffs at this time of year. However, the Patriots have been through this many times before, so, they're better equipped than most teams to deal with such scenarios.
Furthermore, while human nature would lead you to believe that a person would be distracted in their current job by the prospect of a new or better one elsewhere, it happens all the time, both in the NFL and the real world. Some people can handle it better than others.
My sense, from the limited dealings we've had with McDaniels and Patricia over the years, is that both men are more than capable of focusing on the task at hand, which is to help the Patriots (and themselves as individuals) win another Super Bowl title. The "greener grass" opportunities will sort themselves out in due course. But the reason players and coaches get into this business in the first place is to do what the Patriots are currently doing: striving for a championship. That's more than enough incentive for McDaniels and Patricia to keep their eyes on the ball, if you will, for the time being.
And no, the league has no plans to put an end to the practice of assistant coaches being interviewed for other jobs during the playoffs. In fact, they even have allotted time for such interviews to take place on the NFL's official "Important Dates" calendar. Erik Scalavino
I'm going to go out on a limb and say Josh McDaniels is going to get a head coaching job next year. If that is the case, who would be next in line for the OC job? Likewise, if Patricia leaves, who would be next for the DC job? Will Steve [Belichick] move up or any chance [Jerod] Mayo comes in as a linebacker coach?Olivia Sarai
If the rumors are right about Josh McDaniels leaving, who would replace him as the next offense coordinator or who would be a good fit on replacing him? And I thought he said some time during the season he doesn't want to leave the Patriots. Rob Peak
McDaniels has said recently that he both wants to be a head coach again someday and that he loves his OC job with New England, that Foxborough is a great place for him to work. That could mean he wants to be the head coach of the Patriots someday and is willing to wait around for Bill Belichick to retire to pursue that opportunity in earnest. Or, it could mean that he's not willing to leave the Patriots unless a truly comfortable position opens up elsewhere.
If he were to leave after these playoffs, however, the obvious choice to promote from within to replace him would be Brian Daboll. He's a longtime Patriots assistant in his second stint with the club (currently the tight ends coach) and has served as an offensive coordinator for three different teams (Miami, Cleveland, and Kansas City).
However, as I've stated on our radio show/podcast numerous times, I'm not convinced that Daboll would stay in New England if McDaniels left. Those two are famously close friends off the field and have a great working relationship on it. So, it wouldn't surprise me if McDaniels asked Daboll to accompany him to a new city to be his OC there.
If that were the case, I could see the team promoting Jerry Schuplinski, who's currently the assistant QB coach (behind McDaniels). You may recall that McDaniels originally had the title of quarterbacks coach and served as de facto OC in the mid-2000s before being given the title outright. A similar scenario could unfold for Schuplinski.
On the other side of the ball, there really isn't as obvious a choice. Any number of current assistants could step up, although I'm not sure the younger Belichick has enough experience yet to assume such responsibilities. Perhaps a more seasoned assistant like Brendan Daly, the defensive line coach, Josh Boyer, the cornerbacks coach, or Brian Flores, the linebackers coach, would be better suited at this point.
I'm sure if Mayo, the former linebacker and co-captain, would be welcomed on Belichick's staff if he so desired, but thus far, he's given no indication that such a move is imminent or even something he's seriously considering. Erik Scalavino
This might be an odd time of year to ask, but when does Gronk's current contract end? I also remember Gronk saying he doesn't work this hard for "no reason," implying he wants a more lucrative contract. From what I understand, Gronk is being underpaid, considering his production. Now with the injuries and the recent success, do you think the Patriots would give him a big money contract? I would think they would have to if they want to keep him, but I don't see them selling the farm to keep him. Either way, I'm sure he will get paid because plenty of teams overpay for way less talent. Along those lines, does Bill actually do the financial and contract negations? No, right? So who does – I'm sure Nick [Caserio] doesn't handle those responsibilities either.Michael Bevens
Rob Gronkowski is under contract through the 2019 season. In early 2016, the Patriots exercised the option to activate the final four years of the contract extension he inked a few years back.
At the moment, Gronk is recovering from yet another serious back surgery – his third, dating back to his college days. Given that fact, I'd be surprised if either side is actively seeking talk about a new deal. The current one is certainly financially palatable for the team, and while there's no doubt that Gronk is the best tight end in football, he's not exactly earning minimum wage. There's no urgency to redo his contract right now.
Sadly, we at PFW are not involved in the team's contract negotiations, but our sense is that the head coach indicates which players he'd like on his roster, with the help of Caserio, the director of player personnel (a.k.a. the chief scout), while members of the front office and ownership handle the finer points of the contracts themselves. Erik Scalavino
Hey Ask PFW guys how is it possible that the NFL scheduling department can schedule the Patriots to play In Denver 3 years in a row and Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick don't complain about it? I get that the NFL wants certain teams to play each other every year for ratings, as we have had to play the Colts or Broncos (while Peyton Manning was on those teams), however, they used to alternate where they would play.
Now it seems the commissioner Roger Goodell-run NFL is trying to stick it to us anyway he can with this scheduling trick. Am I the only one upset about this scheduling disparity? Please explain how they can get away with this.Richard Tippetts
It's amazing how many times we've answered this question here in this space, and on the radio show, yet still receive such questions. Thankfully for you, Richard, I just last week posted an analysis of the 2017 Patriots opponents on patriots.com (click on the bold text to read it), in which I explain the scheduling formula that determines who plays whom and where. Trust me, there's nothing nefarious going on. Erik Scalavino
I'm well aware of how the schedule is decided, but I have an interesting thought concerning NFC opponents. What would your opinion be if instead of facing a division from the NFC once every 4 years, the NFC games are based on standings from the previous season? (Which if it happened next year, we'd face all the NFC division winners). I might not have worded that very well, FYI. Anyway, go Pats!!Jeff Erekson
No, you worded it just fine, Jeff. It's an interesting idea, it just doesn't address the issue that prompted the current formula in the first place – the fact that the NFL wants every team to face every other team at least once every four years. Variety, after all, is the spice of life, it's been said. In your example, too many teams would keep seeing the same teams in the other conference too frequently. Erik Scalavino