So, despite failing to show up against a handful of opponents, regardless of some occasional offensive inconsistency and a defensive backfield with plenty of consistency (albeit that of Swiss cheese), here New England sits, AFC East champs with a first-round bye.
And they could use it. From tight end Rob Gronkowski’s glass arm to the shaky status of cornerback Aqib Talib, this week of rest comes at a great time.
First, a quick review of our (not-so-great) predictions for Games 13 through 16.
FOURTH QUARTER PREDICTION REVIEW
Game 13 Prediction: HOU 30, NE 27
Actual Result: NE 42, HOU 14
Sometimes, being wrong feels right. The Patriots raced out to a 21-0 lead and kept the pressure throughout the second half. Surprising to watch the Texans fold in the face of adversity; we thought QB Matt Schaub could offer more than that.
New England apparently showed the rest of the league a few things, as Houston went from a dominant-seeming 10-1 to an all-too-human 12-4 over their last four games, losing the first-round bye in the process.
Game 14 Prediction: NE 20, SF 16
Actual Result: SF 41, NE 34
Sometimes, being wrong feels wrong. The home team must have been in the holiday mood, as the Pats gave away four footballs on the night. The heroic second-half efforts of Tom Brady, and Lil’ Danny Woodhead knotted the score at 31, but San Francisco got the lead back and held on to win.
Hey, remember back in September when those NFC West games made New England’s schedule look super easy? The Pats went 1-3 vs. those guys.
Still can’t believe they lost to Arizona. The Cardinals didn’t realize that would be their high point of 2012.
Game 15 Prediction: NE 31, JAX 20
Actual Result: NE 23, JAX 16
After two much-ballyhooed matchups, New England figuratively trudged over to Grandma’s house to play Crazy Eights for four hours. They overcame a double-digit deficit to tie it at halftime, then broke out to a 23-13 lead and hung on.
The good? New England’s D allowed only 16 points while getting two red zone turnovers. The bad? Whatever the hell went on between Brady and his receivers. Sitcom fathers and teenage daughters communicate better.
Game 16 Prediction: MIA 27, NE 24
Actual Result: NE 28, MIA 0
Oof, what a prediction. In my defense, I figured the Pats would be out of bye contention (thanks again, Houston late-season swoon!) and would sit starters. Instead, Bradypassed for two TDs while the defense came up with seven sacks and pitched their first shutout of the season.
Two positives heading into the bye: Brady seemed to rediscover some of his rhythm (at least with most of his receivers – see below), and the Pats did a solid job running the football (167 yards) vs. a strong rushing defense (108 yards-against average).
Predicted 2012 Fourth Quarter Record: 2-2
Actual 2012 Fourth Quarter Record: 3-1
Predicted Season Record: 11-5
Actual Season Record: 12-4
A few things to consider heading into the bye week…
Do’s and Dont’a: Hey, um, Dont’a Hightower? We all understand the desire to hit the opposing quarterback, but penalties on third and long don’t really help the cause. The fact you later went out of your way to lay a hit on Ryan Tannehill near the sideline (legal, but you never know in today’s NFL) shows that maybe you failed to take the earlier message into account.
Logan Err Port: The left guard position has not been the same this year, as Logan Mankins has been injured and a bit off. A frequent guest on the Mike Reiss penalty count on ESPN’s Patriots blog, Mankins made another appearance this week with an offsides demerit.
Listen, you can’t question Mankins’ toughness, especially after playing most of last season on a knee held together with athletic tape and an old-school, New-England-style mindset (If I ignore it, it will go away). The O-line works better with him playing. It would just work even more effectively without the slip-ups.
Rob-bing Ninko To Pay Gronk: Looks like one Rob for the other, as linebacker Rob Ninkovich sustained a hip injury during the same game tight end Gronkowski returned. While Ninkovich’s status remains murky for the playoffs, there’s no question how much the bye week will benefit Gronkowski, as he tended to favor his forearm like he was cradling a Faberge egg.
Lighten Up, Francis: Or, now that we think of it, don’t. Undrafted rookie Justin Francis has demonstrated why Coach Bill Belichick and Co. thought it a good ideer to keep him around. Three sacks for the Rutgers alum, who benefited from active participation from fellow rookie Chandler Jones, Brandon Deaderick (one sack), Vince Wilfork (of course) and Trevor Scott (one sack).
Lloyd! Man, if Brandon Lloyd could, like … I mean, if he would just … I don’t know. You know? One week, he seems like he’s really starting to get it, arriving on time to where Brady’s throwing the ball. The next week, the QB-WR tandem hooks up about as often as high school me and Molly Ringwald (she never answered my letters. Hm. Sad).
With defenses clogging up the middle of the field to combat the short routes of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski, Lloyd’s performance will come under a microscope in two weeks.
But for now, the Patriots have time.
Whatever you do, do NOT email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org