With the Patriots earning a first-round bye as a result of the overall No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Patriots will not be in action this weekend. They will play next Saturday, Jan. 13 at 8:00 p.m. against an opponent TBD. Without a game to preview, let’s take a look at the three biggest concerns for the Patriots in this year’s playoffs. The team enters the playoffs losing their last two playoff games, and haven’t won a playoff game since 2007.
The three biggest concerns in my mind are obviously first and foremost the defense. Secondly, the health of the offensive line and finally the running game. Here is a more in-depth look at each of them:
1. The defense
Clearly, this is everyone’s concern with the 2011 Patriots. While everyone knows it doesn’t have to be perfect and win games by its self, it just cannot afford to put the team and the offense into a hole to dig out of. A perfect example of this is the past two games which saw the Patriots fall behind 17-0 to the Dolphins and then 21-0 to the Bills. It is unlikely that the team would be able to come back from this big of a deficit in a playoff game, so it is important for the defense to come out strong and just keep the team in the game. Tom Brady and the offense are going to put up points, the defense just needs to keep the team in the game and give Brady and the offense the chance to win. I would say holding the opponent to 24 points or less the defense did its job and gives the team a good chance of winning.
2. Health of the offensive line
The common denominator of the last two playoff games has been Patriots opponents have been able to get pressure on Brady and effect his play. With the injuries on the offensive line this is a concern for the team because if Brady isn’t on top of his game it greatly decreases the Patriots chances. Logan Mankins reportedly sprained his MCL two weeks ago in the Dolphins game, and missed the Buffalo game. He reportedly will be ready to play a week from Saturday. The pressure on Brady in the playoffs has come from up the middle for the most part so it is important center Dan Connolly and right guard Brian Waters to be on top of their games like they have been all season, and of course getting Mankins back.
3. The running game
While the Patriots are clearly a predominantly passing offense, the team still needs to have a running game in the playoffs. What if the weather conditions play a role in the game and the Patriots cannot pass the ball as much as they would like? This is possible considering it is New England and the Patriots have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While it isn’t expected for the Patriots to be a smash-mouth run the ball down the opponents throats, they need to run the ball just enough to be able to if the weather forces them to and also to keep defenses’ honest to help set up the passing game.