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New England prepares for the "second season" as the playoff picture comes into focus. Plus, the Pats' win over New York was a ratings giant for broadcasters, and we'll look back at how the 16-0 Patriots were assembled.

The NFL playoff schedule is set.

New England, of course, the top seed in the AFC, will rest on Wild Card Weekend, but they'll be hosting either the Steelers, Jaguars, or Titans next Saturday, January 12, at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS.

"It's something that we can all be proud of," Belichick said of his team's 16-0 regular season record during a conference call Sunday.

"But we have a lot of football left to play, and the next time we step on the field, we’ll be 0-0 in the second season. So we have still a lot to look forward to."

USA TODAY takes an in-depth look at the most important questions facing the Patriots and the 11 other playoff teams. For New England, it has to do with handling the pressure.

"This should hardly faze the Patriots, laden with veterans from three Super Bowl title teams since 2001," the writer observed. "Given their season would always be defined by their playoff performance, there might be less pressure on the Patriots than during the stretch run to 16-0.

"No matter. As reflected in the four close calls — against the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants — the Patriots' opponents are much more likely to lose composure during crunchtime."

And what about that other team with whom this year's Pats have been identified so frequently: the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 17-0 in their Super Bowl-winning season?

While some former Dolphins are skeptical that the Pats can go 19-0, their former coach, Don Shula, had plenty of good things to say about New England in a story on

"Going undefeated during the regular season is a remarkable achievement," Shula said.

"[The Patriots] have done a great job concentrating on each week's opponent and not letting any other distractions interrupt that focus. If they go on to complete an undefeated season, I will be the first to congratulate Coach Belichick and the Patriot organization."

And about the play of QB Tom Brady, Shula had this to say.

"I hope he continues to play at such a high level in the playoffs, and if he does it will be very difficult to beat them the rest of the way."


Saturday night's win over the Giants was a ratings bonanza for the networks that broadcast the game.

A longtime NFL writer for The Dallas Morning News says the Pats should be favored to win it all, given their late-season history, but they're not the only AFC team building up steam as the playoffs approach.

Now that the regular season is over, we know for sure which teams the Pats will be playing in 2008 (dates and times will be announced in the spring). There will be a lot of interesting rematches on the slate, as you'll see on

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe offers a lengthy, but interesting, look back at how and why the 2007 Patriots were built, going back to the possible catalyst: last season's loss to Indianapolis on the road in the AFC Championship Game.

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