Even during a bye week there's been no shortage of excitement around Gillette Stadium. News of offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's departure to take the head coach position at Penn State has many concerned around Patriots Nation.
Clearly having a lame duck OC heading into the biggest game of the year is not an ideal situation, but will it be one that dramatically affects the team's performance?
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case ponders that very question.
Will Bill O'Brien's departure be a distraction to the team?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Not sure how anyone can argue that this isn't a distraction on some level or is anywhere near ideal. Even if O'Brien remains with the Patriots through the course of the postseason, his mind will be elsewhere to some degree. He is after all a human being, not a compartmentalized robotic hard drive. He'll be trying to put together a coaching staff and create a foundation for an overhaul job that may be, due to circumstances, the most difficult program rebuilding in NCAA history.
This only adds to the uncertainty of a postseason that already had fans more hopeful than confident. Throughout the course of the year the Patriots offense has had its various early-game struggles and the margin of error for this team heading into the playoffs would seem to be small. O'Brien already missed one day of practice during the bye week. How much more will he miss mentally or physically in the coming weeks? Could that take anything away from the Patriots preparing to take on potentially challenging defenses like those in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Baltimore? Of course it could.
I'm very happy for O'Brien. I think he has a unique but challenging opportunity to create a great life for himself in Happy Valley. But from a Patriots perspective this is yet another hurdle New England must clear, must overcome, in trying to bring another Lombardi Trophy home to Foxborough. There may never been an ideal time for a coordinator to leave, but on the eve of his team's playoff run is about as far from ideal as you can get.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Playoff teams are used to having their assistant coaches garner interest for better jobs and the Patriots are no exception. We all know Bill Belichick has watched many of his top coaches leave for bigger jobs elsewhere and many of those came right in the middle of the postseason fray. While this is not ideal, it does not have to be a distraction.
Bill O'Brien is a very prepared coach and he'll do what Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel did before him and budget his time wisely. During the day it's all about the Patriots and doing everything he needs to do to get the offense ready for that particular opponent. At night he'll have time to work on the logistics of getting to Penn State, preparing to recruit and starting the next phase of his coaching life.
O'Brien isn't the first guy who's had to juggle multiple tasks at a key time. Others have managed to do it quite well - like the Patriots in 2004 that won the Super Bowl with not one but two departing coordinators. I see no reason why O'Brien can't do the same thing.
I know this is setting up as a built in excuse if things don't go well, but a loss in the playoffs should not be blamed on the offensive coordinator taking a head coaching job. If something bad happens in the next month it will be because the players weren't good enough.
Now it's the fans turn to cast your vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.