With a spot in the playoffs clinched and nothing left to play for but the third seed, the Patriots' upcoming game against the Texans is a tough one to prepare for. Will the Patriots go all-out for their 11th victory of the season? Will they pack it in and rest their starters? Tomorrow's contest could either be a fun battle against a high-powered offense, or a total snooze-fest where we see Tom Brady pulled after one drive. Of course, Bill Belichick in his typical fashion is remaining extremely tight-lipped about the game plan, so we'll have to wait until game time to actually find out. With all this in mind, I'm going to pass on doing a typical "3rd and Long" Preview. Why bother breaking down the keys to a game that your team might lay down for? Instead, I'm going to break down the pros and cons of the Patriots giving everything for a victory or resting for the playoffs.
Pros: Everyone has been lambasting the Indianapolis Colts for not chasing perfection and rolling over for the Jets. This is yet another chance for the Patriots to prove why their the league's premiere franchise. By going all out, even with little to play for, the Patriots can send a strong message about how their character and attitude measures up to Indianapolis'.
Cons: The Patriots are going to have to put together a difficult four-game winning streak to capture the Lombardi trophy. In only one of their six previous roads to the Super Bowl, have the Patriots played in the Wild Card round, and that was in 1985. Character won't heal Tom Brady's ribs. The Patriots need to grab some rest when they can get it.
Pros: The Colts have proven year after year that pulling back on the reins and "resting up" has a strong record of leading to failure. Having momentum heading into the post-season has been huge for the Patriots in the past. There's still too much to work on to mail in an opportunity to face a playoff-caliber opponent before the playoffs actually begin.
Cons: The Patriots' momentum would be stopped in its tracks with an injury to Moss, Welker, Brandon Meriweather, or (gasp!) Tom Brady. Bill Belichick does realize that Bernard Pollard now plays for the Texans, doesn't he?
Pros: If the Patriots grab the #3 seed, win their wild card game, and then defeat San Diego, AND the Colts lose their divisional round game as they're so notorious for losing, the AFC Championship would return to Foxboro.
Cons: That's a whole lot of "if's". How about this one? If the Patriots claim the 4th seed and win, they'd likely go to Indianpolis instead of San Diego. I've been saying for weeks that the Colts are frauds and the Chargers are the best team in the league. Why go out of your way to claim the seed that puts you directly on a path to San Diego?
Pros: Because if the Patriots play the Colts again, we'll hear about 4th and 2 non-stop for another week! Avoid Indy at all costs!
Cons: I can't say I disagree.
Pros: You could easily turn this into a con, but in terms of creating a storybook ending for the decade, if the Steelers make it into the playoffs as the 6th seed, a 3rd seeded Patriots would play them in the Wild Card, then San Diego, then the Colts, and then perhaps the Eagles in the Super Bowl. How cool would it be to win the fourth Super Bowl of the decade by knocking out the other top four teams of the decade?
Cons: That would be cool. But the chances of the Patriots actually completing a four-game span like that unscathed is pretty slim. I'll take the Jets, Colts, and Bengals as my road to the Super Bowl, followed by a matchup with a Tavaris Jackson-led Vikings team after Favre breaks his arm throwing the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship.
Pros: It's time to have a little bit of pride. This game is a chance to end Houston's season. The Patriots have let teams hang around all season. Let's get a little cut-throat!
Cons: How about this for cut-throat? If the Patriots lose, it gives the Bengals an actual incetive to play on Sunda Night, which could end the Jets' season!
Pros: Ooooooooooh. That's a good one!
So there you have it. To play or not to play? That is the question. There's certainly a lot to think about for the Patriots, but thankfully, no matter which way Belichick decides to play his cards, New England will be hosting a wild card game next weekend. There's very little cons to that!