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Ask PFW: We're back

What are your thoughts on this week's game against the Jags, and also, do you know how much emphasis Bill Belichick puts on tackling in practice? I don't want to get to the offseason quickly, but is Rodney Harrison going to retire? What would that decision put on the starting secondary for next year?
Chris C.

I think the Patriots are and should be sizable favorites over Jacksonville. While I believe the Jags are a solid team, I feel the things they do best don't really affect the Patriots. For example, the Jags are big and physical up front, which makes them tough to run against. The Patriots are a pass-first team and don't really mind not being able to run the ball. On offense, Jacksonville wants to establish the run and limit the amount of throws David Garrard has to make. One-dimensional attacks like that, regardless of how well they do one thing, rarely give New England much trouble. I think the Patriots will spread out the Jags defense and take advantage of their edge in speed with Tom Brady throwing all over an average secondary. Rashean Mathis is an excellent corner but I don't see the Jags matching up with all of the Patriots weapons. As for tackling, it's been a point of emphasis for Belichick for more than half the season and it still has been a problem periodically. It's hard to actually work on tackling during practice because of the physical toll it takes on the players, especially this late in the season. But I'm sure it will continue to be stressed by the coaches in the playoffs. I'm not sure about what Rodney's plans are for the future. Any time a player hits 35 it's certainly possible that retirement is near, but he's played at a pretty high level this year and might just want to return. I haven't spoken with him about this and I doubt that he'd answer me honestly at this stage of the season. If he does retire, then James Sanders will need a new partner next year. With Eugene Wilson about to become a free agent there's a chance he won't be back. Perhaps Brandon Meriweather could step in with a significant Year 2 jump, but right now that's all just speculation. Besides, the Pats have some playoff games to worry about first.
Paul Perillo

Since the regular-season game between the Pats and Colts, who has improved more this season and why?
Phillip Tarbox

That's a great question and I wish I had an answer to match. I obviously haven't seen much of the Colts since that November day because we've been pretty tied up watching the Patriots march to an undefeated regular season. At that time the Colts were starting to get hit with several vital injuries that knocked them for a loop for a while. Peyton Manning struggled for a couple of games with Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez out of the lineup, but he rebounded and the Colts offense seemed to get its momentum back. Gonzalez returned from injury and made a much bigger impact down the stretch than he had before getting hurt. But on defense they lost Dwight Freeney, and he was a big part of the reason the Colts were able to slow down the Pats attack better than any other team has so far this season. So the Colts have learned to play with their current personnel while the Patriots continued to win. The blowouts that were commonplace before the bye disappeared for the most part but Tom Brady's ability to perform in the clutch superceded everything and the team kept winning. Neither team has played as well as they did against each other Nov. 4, but they're both still the best in the league.
Paul Perillo

Can the official who called defensive pass interference on the back that Hines Ward dragged to the ground by his facemask be banned from working the playoffs? Was it the same one who failed to see Hines throw a punch at the defender who was chasing him?Joe McMahon

Ward obviously got a hold of the facemask on the play but he was clearly interfered with. In my view it should have been offsetting penalties and a replay of the down. If the defender didn't reach out and grab Ward it would have been a touchdown because the player was beaten off the line. But that doesn't mean Ward is then allowed to grab the facemask, which he clearly did. It was another example of terrible officiating that has permeated the sport on all levels. I know it's a difficult job but I don't think it's done at a very high level.
Paul Perillo

Patriots-Giants. What a game. Tom Coughlin (not my favorite coach) plays his studs for the whole game. Even though he doesn't have to. Bill Belichick (definitely my favorite coach) also plays his big guys for the entire game. (He also doesn't have to). The result: a great game to end the season. Colts-Titans. A farce. Wonderful guy coach Tony Dungy pulls his star QB before the first half is even over while the Colts are still losing. The result: a meaningless preseason type game. Who loses here? The fans, of course. They get cheated out of a real NFL game. If Roger Goodell wants to make a positive impact on NFL football, he would be advised to focus less on BS like "Spygate" - which had negligible (if any) real impact on competition, and instead draft rules that discourage "bogus" games at the end of each NFL season. Reward teams that play to the end and punish teams that slack off. Pull your starters in the last meaningless game? None can play in the first playoff game. Fake an injury? They're out for two games. Restore integrity of NFL football for all games. The NFL season should last for 16 games, not 15 or 14. What do you guys think?Dick Goodwin

I think you'd think a lot differently if this were 2004, 2005 or 2006 when the Patriots starters didn't play the entire game in Week 17. I didn't have a problem with Bill Belichick doing what he thought was best for the team then and I don't have a problem with Tony Dungy doing what he thought was best for his team now. Tom Brady did not play the entire game against San Francisco in 2004 (a 21-7 Patriots win) even though the Patriots had a first-round bye already clinched. Why should he have? Belichick obviously didn't feel like he needed to. The Dolphins game in 2005 was even more strange since it certainly appeared the Patriots really didn't even want to win given the dropkick attempt and the personnel that was on the field. The point is, only the head coach knows what's best for his team. How can someone not involved determine who needs rest and who should play? I'm certainly not going to make those decisions. The Patriots played this game to win against the Giants because their perfect season was on the line. If they had a loss going in, Belichick might have treated it differently and my guess is your take would have been different. Dungy had nothing to play for an in a season full of serious injuries on his team, he chose not to risk it. And I also recall Willie McGinest faking an injury against the Colts back in 2003 so careful about the rule changes you want to implement.
Paul Perillo

With the Colts, Chargers, Steelers, Cowboys, Giants and Redskins making the playoffs that makes six teams that the Patriots beat that are in the playoffs. Pretty good for a team with a "soft schedule."Kirk Halupowski

First and foremost, I don't anyone who has categorized the Patriots schedule this year as soft. There have been a lot of people taking shots at New England this year but I haven't heard a single one claim they've played an easy schedule. With the possible exceptions of Green Bay and Jacksonville, the Patriots played and beat every other "good" team in the league – the Colts and Cowboys on the road. That's about as tough as a schedule can get.
Paul Perillo

I can't seem to find a definitive answer to this, so perhaps you might clarify. I am curious about the re-seeding process after the wild card week. Are the winners re-seeded by record or by original seed? For example, based on the AFC record to date, if Jacksonville beats Pittsburgh and San Diego beats Tennessee, who comes to Foxborough, the lower-seeded Jags or the team with less wins, the Chargers? Yes, looking ahead. BB would have my head ... a cardinal sin. Ex-communication at least.Ray DeMaio

Under the scenario you presented, which is how it unfolded, the Jags would come to Foxborough as the lowest remaining seed (No. 5). Teams aren't actually re-seeded at all but rather stick with their original seed. The playoffs aren't bracketed like the NCAA tournament so if an upset occurs the top seed would benefit by playing the lowest remaining seed. In other words, if the 6 seed wins it would automatically play the Patriots, regardless of the records of the other teams.
Paul Perillo

Just wanted to know why we haven't seen Donte' Stallworth play the last couple of games? This is the first year I have watched football, I hated it, but I am in a football pool and doing very well. I knew nothing about the teams. I picked the Patriots as my team because I liked their logo, and guess what? I picked the No. 1 team in the league.
Brenda Klassen

Well congratulations on your fantasy league victory, Brenda. And thanks for unwittingly explaining why I don't take part in any leagues. But to answer your question about Stallworth, he has been very quiet in recent weeks. He started the season off very slow and then picked things about in October and early November. Now he's been quiet again. As far as I know he's not dealing with any injuries so I don't think that's been the issue. But while he's been quiet, Jabar Gaffney has come on and really contributed as the third receiver while Stallworth has been pushed out of the limelight. I don't think Stallworth has played poorly and dropped a bunch of passes, he just hasn't been producing as much as he was earlier in the season.
Paul Perillo

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