5. The Patriots will need to be at full-strength, no matter who they face.
Erik Scalavino of Patriots.com has it right it with his article title from yesterday: “During bye, Patriots focus on Patriots.” And as well they should – the team might think they know who they’ll play on January 13, but they’d be wasting their time doing preparation and homework on an opponent they might never see.
The smartest thing to do, at least until Saturday or Sunday night, is to shift their focus inward. That means reviewing game tape from last week’s win over the Jets – as well as tape and notes from the entire regular season as a whole – in order to better put themselves in perspective as a group with defining features and flaws.
Not every team has the luxury of a full week to focus on themselves (just ask the eight playoff teams suiting up this weekend), so it’s really the only chance an NFL team has to deeply explore their own identity, and zero in on building up their strengths while correcting – or at least disguising – their weaknesses.
The Patriots could also utilize the extra time to get several key players back to full health and participation.
Team captain Devin McCourty left the game against the Jets with a head injury – supposedly a concussion – so his status for next Sunday’s game remains up in the air. Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung also appeared a bit dinged up, and though they made it back into the action, both players are too valuable to the Patriots’ defense to not have at optimum strength.
And although he’s not listed on the injury report, rumors abound that Tom Brady is still struggling with a knee injury he sustained against the Titans. If there’s any truth whatsoever to that story, the Patriots obviously will take all the time they can get to have their star quarterback rested and ready for the challenges ahead.