Like every team who has clinched a playoff berth going into Week 17, the New England Patriots have two options: rest their starters or play them. Regardless of who plays and who does not, the Patriots should handle the eight-point underdog Buffalo Bills. Seriously, it is Thad Lewis and Doug Marrone vs. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, so the odds are absolutely in the Patriots’ favor for them to hand Buffalo their 13th-straight loss in New England.
With that in mind, the Patriots would wrap up the AFC’s no. 2 seed and be given an extra week to prepare for the divisional round. New England may even garner the no. 2 seed before kickoff on Sunday, but that would only happen if a duo of upsets happen. The Baltimore Ravens would have go to the Queen City and beat the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars would need a road win at the Indianapolis Colts.
As it stands, wide receiver Josh Boyce and cornerback Devin McCourty will be out of Sunday’s game, and there are 11 others on the injury report. Sunday’s forecast calls for rain in Foxborough, meaning a higher risk for injury. I’m sure we all remember the Wes Welker situation in 2009 when the All-Pro tore his ACL and MCL in Week 17, and the Patriots bowed out in the first game of the playoffs.
However, that was a fluky injury that could have happened any week. Besides, the extra week between Week 17 and the divisional round is quite beneficial, and is certainly enough for players to recover from nagging injuries.
Also, it is a bit excessive to sit your starters for two consecutive weeks. I can understand the Kansas City Chiefs resting guys this week because they cannot move out of the AFC’s no. 5 seed, but take a look at the 2011 Green Bay Packers. The Cheeseheads went 15-1 on the season and sat Aaron Rodgers and other starters in Week 17. How did that translate in the playoffs? They were sent home early, dropping their divisional round matchup to the New York Giants 37-20.
The Colts were also a team who fell victim to the rest-two-weeks strategy during the days of Peyton Manning.
It does not help for a team’s players to sit out two weeks in a row, and that’s why nearly every New England starter should play this Sunday against Buffalo. One possible exception would be left tackle Nate Solder, who sat out last week after suffering a concussion in Week 15.
That has sent Logan Mankins outside to play tackle in Baltimore, but other than Solder, expect guys like Rob Ninkovich (who has only missed one game in five years in New England), Brandon Spikes, Will Svitek and Steve Gregory to take the field on Sunday.