The Patriots don't know who they'll be playing in the divisional round action on Jan. 13 at Gillette Stadium. As such, practice this week is about Bill Belichick finding areas for improvement throughout his roster as it heads into the postseason.
According to the Boston Globe, one area of the Patriots that appears to peaking at the right time is the linebacking corps led by Dont'a Hightower. After a couple weeks as a healthy-scratch inactive, the Globe has Adrian Clayborn saying he needs to "roll with the punches." The Globe notes that Devin McCourty, Dwayne Allen and James Develin were absent from practice on Wednesday. The Globe has former Boilermaker Ja'Whaun Bentley paying tribute to Purdue super-fan Tyler Trent, who passed away this week after a long battle with cancer.
The Boston Herald says Rob Gronkowski is trying to turn the clock back to peak in the postseason. Once a struggling unit, the Herald says the Patriots run defense has turned the corner heading into January action. The Herald notebook has Belichick expressing his "great admiration" for retiring Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. The Herald notes that the NFL head-coaching carousel – including Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores reportedly interviewing for open jobs this week – could leave the Patriots in a tough spot.
The Providence Journal observes that the improvement on the New England run defense coincided with Danny Shelton returning to action after a couple weeks on the bench. The ProJo notes that plenty of teams covet McDaniels and Flores.
WEEI.com writes McDaniels decision over the next few weeks will be telling for the future of the Patriots. WEEI.com passes along word that the coordinator apparently turned down a request for him to interview with the Bengals for their head coaching vacancy. WEEI.com ponders who the Patriots should want to play in the divisional playoff. WEEI.com details just how short Tom Brady and Gronkowski came in their chase to reach contract incentives this season.
NBC Sports Boston passes along embattled Steelers receiver Antonio Brown sharing an old social media direct message he got from Brady. NBC Sports Boston also has McDaniels turning down the Bengals. NBC Sports Boston explains why the Patriots should be rooting for the Texans this week.
NFL.com breaks down how all 12 teams got to this point in the postseason. NFL.com also has a tracker for all the comings and goings among coaches this winter.