It's the postseason. You've got questions -- some very good ones regarding the Ravens, the Broncos and the rest of the AFC. And we've got answers. With a mix of playoff (and offseason) queries about the Patriots and some of their rivals, let's get to it with a postseason mailbag.
With all the hype around Denver, do you feel the Pats might be flying under the radar?
-- Colby Hale, via Twitter
Colby, I don't think the Patriots are necessarily flying under the radar, but I do think that people are going out of their way to pump up the Broncos. I think that while Peyton Manning's return is a great story, there are some (particularly those in the national media) who are now falling all over themselves in an attempt to canonize Manning and the Broncos as the de facto favorite. I think the Patriots love this, and if there's a postseason scenario where New England ends up knocking off Denver, the Patriots will make sure to remind people all about it once the game is done.
Why aren't the Patriots going to get to the Super Bowl this year?
-- Nathan Wagner, via Twitter
The only prospect in the AFC that likely gives the Patriots pause is the idea of playing an AFC title game in Denver against the Broncos. Not saying that Denver is a group of world-beaters, but the Broncos figure to be the toughest matchup for New England, at least in the AFC. They have the closest thing to a physical front seven in the conference, and regardless of what you think of him, you have to admit that Peyton Manning playing well down the stretch. Much of the Broncos' success has come at the expense of a pillowy-soft AFC West schedule, but they remain the Patriots' primary competition for AFC supremacy, at least this time around.
In the past Patriots playoff games, how many times has Bill Belichick started the first offensive series with the no-huddle?
-- Dr. Jeff, via Twitter
Going back and taking a look at the last five Patriots playoff games, it appears that New England has decided to pick and choose when it comes to utilizing the no-huddle on its first offensive series. In the divisional playoffs last year against Denver, the Patriots went no huddle on three of the first five plays on their opening drive (which ended with a touchdown). In the AFC title game, the Patriots went no huddle on two of their first four plays on their opening drive (which ended with a punt). And in the Super Bowl against the Giants, they ran just one no-huddle play in the first quarter. In 2010, they didn't use it at all in the first quarter of their divisional playoff loss to the Jets, and the same was true for New England's one-and-done appearance against the Ravens in 2009.
With a weak quarterback draft class, any chance we see a Ryan Mallett trade in offseason? Could Pats get a first-rounder for him?
-- Dan Mullen, via Twitter
Dan, there are a lot of Ryan Mallett trade rumors out there these days, but none that I can verify, at least not right now. The one that kept coming up was (if Josh McDaniels was to go to the Browns) Mallett to Cleveland, but with McDaniels appearing to stay put, I don't know how much faith I'd put in those rumors. However, there's a lot of ugly quarterback play out there right now (as was driven home to me when I put together these QB power rankings last month). If the Patriots identified a need in the draft and managed to pair up with a team that needed a quarterback, I could see Mallett being shipped out. They couldn't get a first rounder for him, but a second-rounder wouldn't be completely out of the realm. (In this context, it's also worth mentioning that while there were character concerns around Mallett when he was drafted, he's been top notch since he's been in New England.)
What are the chances of Richard Seymour and Ed Reed joining Pats next year?
-- Damian Sharkey, via Twitter
Good questions, Damian. Both are free agents. Seymour, zero. That ship has sailed. Reed is a more interesting possibility -- the veteran defensive back and longtime binky of Bill Belichick is a free agent following the 2013 season. Belichick has long worshiped at the altar of Reed. Long before the video of Belichick and Tom Brady surfaced of them talking about game-planning for Reed in “A Football Life,” several players in the New England locker room would roll their eyes and laugh when you asked them about Belichick's love of the Baltimore safety. Reed, 34, isn't the youngster that he used to be. But if there's a feeling that the Ravens are going to start breaking up that veteran defense (and I wonder if the retirement of Ray Lewis is the first step in that direction), Reed might want to start anew. Two things then come into play: First, I can't imagine that if he did decide to leave Baltimore, he'd want to go play for a team that was any less than a championship contender. And two, he'd likely have to take less than what he might make elsewhere if he did want to play in New England. But if he did decide to sign with the Patriots, well, wouldn't that be interesting?
How do you prepare for the possibility of playing three different teams?
-- EJane, via Twitter
Earlier this week, Belichick explained was asked about the logistical process of waiting for a postseason scenario to play itself out. What do you? Who focuses on what? “We have people in our organization who are always kind of the advance people, whether it’s scouts or coaches, that are moving ahead. The coaching staff is always focused on the current opponent or the current situation. Even in training camp, it’s the same thing where we’re working on things in training camp, but we still have people who are advancing our early season opponents and so forth. It’s still kind of the same thing. We have people working on those things, and at some point they will come into play for the coaching staff and the players, but at some point it will also just be a preparation until we know who we actually are going to be matched up with next week.”
Do you think that due to Ray Lewis retiring, that it could bolster the Ravens to win -- not only this week, but also moving forward?
-- Steve Balestrieri, via e-mail
Steve, I think that the Ravens will get an emotional boost from the news that Lewis has decided to retire. No matter what you think of Lewis -- and there's no shortage of opinions on him -- he's the spiritual centerpiece of that team. The question is whether or not it will be enough to lift a team that has struggled over the last six games leading into the postseason. Baltimore is an old team that's banged up, particularly on the defensive side of the football. (That's not even taking into account the fact that there is uncertainty on the offensive side of the football -- I can't remember a team that had its ticket punched to the postseason, but still ended up changing coordinators.) Frankly, I'm not sure just how much they have left in the tank.
I was wondering who determines the divisional playoff schedule, specifically the Saturday and Sunday lineups. I think that a team coming off of a bye playing an opponent on a short week has a distinct advantage and it should be seeded. This year, the Broncos are the top seed and get the Saturday game, but it is not always that way. It’s probably driven by TV.
-- Kenny West, via e-mail
Kenny, you are correct. While there's no definitive way of saying it's TV driven, it's not a coincidence that the most compelling games end up in prime time. In the case of the Patriots, they are still a team that “moves the needle” nationally -- meaning there's a large portion of fans nationally who will tune in to see New England play, regardless of the opponent.
When (yes, when) Jets fire Ryan, could you ever see him taking Patriots defensive coordinator job? He's obsessed with us (see his press conference last week).
-- Tim Leland, via Twitter
Tim, I don't see that happening. I think that Rex will end up getting a job somewhere else -- despite the way things went down for him the last two seasons in New York, there's still a lot of respect for him around the league as a defensive presence. But as far as getting that shot here in New England, I don't think that's going to happen.
How likely is it that Aqib Talib returns next season?
-- Ricky Dade, via e-mail
Ricky, this is going to be one of the great questions of the offseason. I tackled some of that here, but let's say that Talib stays healthy and remains a key part of the secondary for the rest of the postseason run, which goes until the Super Bowl. Fundamentally, Talib and his agent Todd France have to make a decision: Would he be willing to accept something (likely) below his market value, stick around New England and have a good shot at being part of a winner? Or would they take a look at what's a pretty average cornerback market and he somewhere for top dollar, regardless of whether or not he's interested in playing for a winner? For what it's worth, Talib has been effusive in his praise of the New England organization, saying, “it's a different team. You just feel it walking around here -- the atmosphere. It's a winning organization.” It's worth mentioning that Talib will be heading into his second contract -- historically, this is supposed to be the biggest deal you'll net in your playing career. And so he might not be interested in taking a discount. Regardless, it'll make for fascinating offseason theatre when it rolls around.