The 2016 schedule couldn't have worked out any more conveniently for the Patriots.
At precisely the midseason point – Week 9 – they owned a 7-1 record (tops in the league) and enjoyed their annual bye week. After the break, they again went 7-1 to finish with the NFL's best record of 14-2 and the No. 1 playoff seed in the American Football Conference.
With that top seed comes another perfectly placed weekend off. Bill Belichick's troops will be able to rest during Wild Card Weekend and watch the opening playoff contests to see which foe they'll face next Saturday, January 14, here at Gillette Stadium.
Before then, however, there's some work to be done. The players will meet with coaches and practice outside at least the next couple of days, with the focus on what they call "self-scouting" – improving themselves as individuals and as a collective team.
"This week will fly by," DE Chris Long predicted. "If you don't take advantage of it, it'll be gone, just like that. There'll be almost no point in having the week [off] if you don't take advantage of it."
"This week we can definitely look back at what we did well, what we didn't do well," observed WR Chris Hogan, "and carry that over into this week in practice and work on some of that stuff. This is going to be a regular week for us. We're going to focus on us and what we need to do to get better as a football team. Just start preparing for what next week's going to be like, preparing for a playoff game."
Both Chrises know what it's like to have a weekend off before playing again, but they, as well as a number of other Patriots veterans and rookies, have never done so leading up to the NFL's postseason. So, in some respects, they don't know what to expect.
"A lot of people have asked me that," Hogan chuckled, "and, you know, I don't really know… this is all new to me. Just talking to some of the guys, the playoffs are – you talk about the preseason going into the regular season, [how] the [game] speed kind of picks up. I've heard that from a number of guys where, in the playoffs, the speed picks up a little bit more. The level of play is one-and-done. You're playing for just the next game. Everyone's playing that much harder. I'm excited."
"I think everything happens for a reason," Long continued. "Whatever brought me to this point… I'm just going to be excited, be in the moment. These guys that have been in the playoffs before, they've earned it. So, this year, guys like Marty [Bennett] and myself and other guys, we just came in and tried to earn it with them. And here we are. We have an opportunity to keep playing football as long as we earn it."
"We worked hard to get to this point," added Hogan, who finished 2016 tied with Washington's DeSean Jackson for the highest average yards per catch (17.9) in the NFL.
"I've never been a stat guy. I've made my way in this league playing special teams and then worked my way into playing receiver, taking advantage of all the opportunities I get. That's what it is. I took advantage of a lot of those big-play opportunities and was able to help the team win. I think that's what that stat says.
"I couldn't be happier to be in the position that we're in as a football team. The fact that I was able to contribute throughout the year and be a part of this team – these guys in this locker room are a special group of guys – I'm looking forward to playing in the playoffs with these guys."
"I'm just very thankful to be playing football right now," declared Long. "I'm excited for this opportunity this week to get better. We have an opportunity to work on the things we need to work on. That's something we've earned and we need to be thankful for it and take care of business this week."
This first week of 2017 is only half over, but already, a number of Patriots, past and present, have received various honors.
Matthew Slater, the team's co-captain for special teams, has been chosen by his peers across the NFL as the 2016 Athletes in Action Bart Star Award winner. For the past 30 years, it's been given to the player "who exemplifies character and leadership on and off the field," according to the official announcement.
What makes this even more special for Slater is that his father, Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater, received it 20 years ago, in 1996.
"Oh man, it was really emotional for me," he admitted. "I don't know, it's hard to put into words. It really is."
Slater received word during a surprise gathering with his teammates on Monday. Starr's wife, Cherry, placed a phone call to the room to inform Slater directly.
"She told me my dad and I were the first father and son to win this award and I mean, I don't know. I'm just blown away by it. I really am."
"Honestly, it's been an honor to play with him as a teammate and to learn from him," safety and fellow co-captain Devin McCourty remarked. "I'm proud of him and happy he got the acknowledgment that he's really deserved throughout his whole NFL career and really his whole life. It didn't just start now. Honored just to play with him and call him a friend."
Slater will be presented with his award during a breakfast on the Saturday before the Super Bowl in Houston.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Julian Edelman was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week after catching eight passes for 151 yards, including a tide-turning 77-yard touchdown against the Dolphins on New Year's Day.
Not to be outdone, former Patriots cornerback Ty Law, already a member of the team's Hall of Fame, is now among the NFL's 15 finalists for the 2017 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Law and the others will learn the day before Super Bowl LI if they are chosen for induction by the selection committee.
Check out photos from access to players and coaches during the bye week as the Patriots prepare for the playoffs.
For the first time since the Rams game in Week 13, wide receiver Danny Amendola (right ankle) suited up and joined his teammates on the field.
Wednesday's full-pads session was a maintenance day off, apparently, for QB Tom Brady (right thigh), rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (right knee), and rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones, none of whom took part.