Football is the only one of the four major sports that doesn't have playoff series.
Nope, for football the postseason is as simple as win or go home.
So while Bill Belichick always emphasizes the importance of each week's game during the regular season due to the relatively short 16-game NFL schedule, he acknowledges that things are clearly ramped up even more come January.
"It's a one-game season, so I don't know how much more pressure you can get than that," Belichick responded in his Thursday morning press conference when asked about talking to inexperienced players about playoff pressure. "We're all living in it. Yeah, I mean, I talk to the team about the situation that we're in, what we expect going forward, what to expect, how to approach it. It's different. There's no other game on the schedule. It's a one-game season. It's not like that during the rest of the season. We're in a different season now. We've definitely talked about that, but it really applies to everybody. You can talk about players that have or haven't. I don't think that really means anything. It's more about how we individually and collectively perform and how we prepare to perform. We all need to do a good job of that regardless of whether we have or haven't experienced any of this before. I don't think it really matters."
Belichick held his pre-practice press conference in the media workroom at Gillette Stadium as a huge snowstorm was hitting New England. Though the blizzard-like conditions had the NHL cancelling the night's Bruins game in Boston, the Patriots kept to their schedule for the second of two bye-week workouts.
"Every day is a work day," Belichick said, though his team did hold a rare indoor practice.
Beyond his clear laser focus on the task at hand, other highlights of Belichick's morning press conference included lots of talk about red zone defense, praise for former assistant and Alabama coaching legend Nick Saban and a description of what coaches see when watching football games on TV.
1. Red zone defense a "different game":The Patriots finished the regular season with the fourth-best red zone defense in the NFL, allowing 21 touchdowns in opponents' 48 trips inside the 20. That's a big part of how a team near the bottom of the league finished No. 5 overall in points allowed.
Asked about how his team executed its red zone defense during the season, Belichick had a typical, some good/some bad answer.
"Look, it's a long year. We've had our moments where we've done things well. We've had other moments where we could've been better," Belichick explained. "Again, it doesn't really matter. It's what it's going to be the next time we have to do it. We'll always try to learn from the good things or the bad things to reinforce them or correct them and be ready for what comes up next."
While the level of execution in the red zone may have been up to interpretation at times, Belichick noted that there is no doubt that playing defense near the end zone is a unique beast.
"Once you get into the red area it's a different game," Belichick said. "It's a different emphasis. There's different plays. We have different defenses. The way you defend the field is different because it's different. It's changing your mindset to what's required down there, whichever side of the ball you're on – offense or defense – it doesn't matter. It's just things change. They're different down there. You've got to treat them differently."
Belichick also explained the key role that linebackers coach Brian Flores – who the Cardinals reportedly requested permission to speak with about the team's head coaching vacancy – plays as New England's red zone coordinator on defense.
"Brian does a good job, works hard, has a lot of experience," Belichick explained of the role. "He does a good job of analyzing what we do, what our opponents do, trying to put it all together. He helps Matt [Patricia] and the defensive staff. I think that's kind of the way it is on most staffs. The coordinator is obviously in charge, and then each person on the staff has a different area that they kind of do a little extra research in – red area, goal line, short-yardage, third down, big plays, however you want to break it up."
2. Alabama coach Nick Saban "in a class by himself": Saban was an assistant on Belichick's coaching staff in Cleveland in the early 1990s. The two were then short-time AFC East foes when Saban was the head coach of the Dolphins. For decades the two have remained close friends as the dominant NFL and college coaches in the game. Thursday Belichick reaffirmed the respect his has for the Alabama legend whose team will play for yet another college football national title this coming Monday night in Atlanta against Georgia.
"I think I'm pretty well on the record on what I think of Nick and how much respect I have for him and his greatness as a coach; head coach, position coach, coordinator and his expertise in all areas of the game. I've never coached in college so it really is probably not – I'm not really qualified to speak specifically about the college part of it. But, I mean, Nick's in a class by himself and I think that's pretty well [documented]. I've talked about that a lot."
3. "TV scouting is limited":Most football fans, including Patriots fans, will likely be watching the four playoff games on this coming Wild Card Weekend. New England fans and media alike will be paying particular interest to the battle between the Bills and Jaguars as well as the matchup in Kansas City between the Chiefs and Titans as all but Jacksonville are a possible opponent for the Patriots in the Divisional Playoff. While it sounds like Belichick will also be tuned in to the action this weekend, the coach noted that live-action scouting and the product presented to fans on TV isn't exactly ideal for game plan preparations.
"We watch some TV tape. Some; more coach's tape, but the actual real time that the TV covers it in is sometimes pretty relevant, situationally. Yeah, overall, I mean, TV scouting is limited," Belichick explained. "I wouldn't say it's zero. It certainly gives you the flow of the game and you don't get the flow of the game on the coaches copy, especially if its broken up to offense, defense, special teams, which is usually the way you watch it. Sometimes you watch just continuous plays, but usually, particularly at the beginning part of the week when you're trying to learn as much about the team as you can, it's easier to compartmentalize it and just look at certain sections, whether it's offense, defense or maybe it's first and second down, third down, red area, two minute and try to separate those out so you can get a little clearer picture of what they do in those situations. So, sometimes if you just watch it continuously – I don't want to say it runs together – but it can and you end up looking at things that, 'Well, yeah, they did this but it was because of the situation. It's not what they normally do. The situation kind of overrode it.' But, watching the game live certainly gives you the flow of the game. Again, there's some real time things that happen in a game that override, I'd say, the Xs and Os part of it."