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Patriots Earn Needed Week of Rest As NFL Playoffs Begin

Published by Bleacher Report on Mon, 29 Dec 2014

The New England Patriots waltzed into the postseason with an anti-climatic 17-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills. They may not have won the final game of the regular season, but they did win a week of respite.Instead of focusing on an opponent during the week leading up to Wild Card Weekend, the Patriots can reflect on their play, get healthy and add layers to their offense and defense.Self-ScoutingLooking in the mirror can sometimes be just as beneficial as watching tape of other teams. Until their opponent is known, expect the lion's share of effort from the Patriots' coaching staff to be introspective.Taking a critical eye to your own work can be a tough task, similar to playing yourself in chess or editing your own college essay.You know why you called a certain play on 3rd-and-short, but what does a potential opponent think'Looking for situational trends will put you one move ahead of your opponent. If a team notices that you have run 80 percent of the time on 2nd-and-long, inserting some play-action passes could give you an advantage.New England and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels did make things a little difficult on the next opponent, throwing in a variety of one-off plays in the second half. The Patriots threw in a Wildcat formation, some read-option and a nifty end-around play.Doctor's OrdersWhile Nate Solder and Brandon LaFell seemed to sufferminor'injuries, according to the CBS broadcast, it appears that the Patriots emerged relatively unscathed from their Week 17 foray. That was largely due to Bill Belichick's decision to rest multiple key playerssome for the entire game.The completely irreplaceable Rob Gronkowski was firmly encased in bubble wrap prior to the game, declared inactive along with the likes of Dont'a Hightower, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer. The latter three have all nursed injuries as of late.A healthy Gronkowski is the key to the Patriots offense. Without him, the run game will be bottled up and receivers will be starved for space in the passing game.Expect the current New England roster to be near 100 percent when it kicks off its playoff run in two weeks. The lone exception appears to be Solder, who would have to be replaced by Vollmer at left tackle. Marcus Cannon would then take Vollmer's spot at right tackle, a more natural position for him.Installation PlanLook for Belichick to have a newor possibly oldwrinkle for the playoffs. In this year's case, I expect McDaniels, Belichick and Brady to revisit a strategy that they have used sparingly since Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals: the hurry-up offense.Brady has hurried his team to the line at times, but the beauty and simplicity of the pure no-huddle, up-tempo offense that New England ran against the Bengals was nothing short of beautiful. Find the right personnel on the field for the opponent and keep them there.I anticipate seeing a large amount of "12" personnel with Shane Vereen, Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright in the game. With that set of players, they can transform from a power-run formation to a five-wide set every other play.Don't be surprised if Belichick shocks us all with something we haven't seen before.
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