Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that should New England (9-5) win its final two games and Cincinnati lose next Sunday at Kansas City, a team that enters the final week of the season with playoff hopes, the Patriots would be the AFC's No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Already saddled with a game on Wild-Card Weekend for the first time since the 1998 season (a 25-10 loss at Jacksonville), the Patriots would like to secure the higher seed, putting them in the bracket opposite Indianapolis. Their obstacles on the road to the Super Bowl would then be a home game against Pittsburgh or Kansas City, a visit to Denver, then presumably a trip to Indianapolis for the AFC Championship game. Otherwise, the Patriots would host Jacksonville, and with a win would face Indianapolis in the divisional round. Albert Breer of the MetroWest Daily News offers a similar report.
Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe writes that tonight's Patriots - Jets game will mark the end of "Monday Night Football" on ABC, a run that has included 36 seasons. The new incarnation of "Monday Night Football" will be seen next season on ESPN.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe offers a story on Tom Brady. In many ways, Brady is competing with himself to see how much better he can be. He isn't trying to be better than Manning or Brett Favre, and he isn't trying to stay better than up-and-comers like Carson Palmer or Ben Roethlisberger. Tom Brady is trying to be better than Tom Brady. And in 2005, he has done just that, throwing for more yards than ever in a season, and to this point posting the highest passer rating of his stellar career. "As I see him grow and mature and experience all that he's experienced, he's still very humble about wanting to get better, wanting to learn and expanding his repertoire," said Tom Martinez, the former coach at the College of San Mateo, who has worked with Brady on his throwing motion for some 15 years. ''What I'm very impressed about with him is he's constantly trying to get better. Since I met him in the eighth grade, he has always asked, 'What is it I need to do to get better?' "
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that the Patriots will go full steam into the final Monday Night Football game on network television (ESPN takes over the rights next year) against the Jets. The Pats' line chart has been going up steadily since Thanksgiving, and Belichick knows the Pats can't afford to have it level off. They don't have that luxury this year. Defensively, improvement is going to be hard to come by, at least statistically. The Pats have given up just 10 points and one touchdown the past three games. And their run defense has been obscene: 41, 14 and 30 yards allowed, respectively. Watch to see if the Pats can start fast tonight. If they take a comfortable lead into intermission, then maybe the coaches will start to peel back in the second half and rest players. And next week's game against Miami is another matter all together. With no playoff bye awaiting them, the Pats will likely use that week to get healthy and mentally rested. Tonight is all about continuing the upward trend.
The Boston Herald offers a preview of tonight's Patriots - Jets game at the Meadowlands. The Pats are coming off their most dominating win of the season, a 28-0 shutout of the first-place Buccaneers. They boast an MVP candidate in quarterback Tom Brady, a defense that's impenetrable against the run, and a group of veterans who have been there before and are embarking on their favorite part of the season. They have a very good shot of finishing 11-5. If only things were one-50th as good in New York, where the Jets stink, the fans are rioting, and alcohol sales have been banned from tonight's game. The Jets are missing just about every star on their roster, from Curtis Martin to Ty Law to Chad Pennington. They're playing out the string, forced to take solace in the fact that they're just a game out of the Reggie Bush sweepstakes.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that three weeks ago, the New York Jets struggled to establish anything against the Pats attacking defense. But since that game, they have opened up their offense a little more, and last week, quarterback Brooks Bollinger threw for 327 yards against a pretty talented Miami defense run by one of Belichick's respected colleagues, Nick Saban. Curran also notes that normally, the Patriots run their in-season practices either on the team's fenced-in practice fields or inside the Dana Farber Field House. But over the past few weeks, the team used the Gillette Stadium field to run some of their late-week practices. And since that field is about 75 yards from the entrance to the media workroom, the team places security personnel there to make sure the media is not spying into any new schemes the Patriots may be practicing.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant writes that it has been only three weeks since the Patriots, then scraping along a game above .500, dominated the Jets 16-3 at Gillette Stadium, holding them to 12 first downs and 164 net yards. That started a three-game winning streak for the Patriots, buoyed by a revived defense, that clinched their fourth AFC East title in five years before the rematch with the Jets tonight.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.