Each week throughout the season we'll ask our Patriots correspondent and Boston Herald writer Ian Rapoport five questions about the Pats. This week, Ian recapped the season finale in which we saw the talents of some of the young receivers and laid out the easiest and most difficult paths for the Patriots to get to Dallas.
1. What was the biggest thing you took away from the way the team played in Week 17?
Rapoport: The biggest thing is that if something happens to their receivers, it's not a complete disaster. Like he showed last year, Julian Edelman can get himself acclimated quickly enough. He won't be the same as (Wes) Welker, but will do enough to be productive. Taylor Price looked OK, he wasn't bad. If something happens at tackle, Quinn Ojinnaka isn't bad either.
2. What would you say to the fans that thought Tom Brady was in the Week 17 game too long?
Rapoport: I understand what people are talking about and it's always a minute too long if he gets injured in the last minute. If (Deion) Branch and Welker go down in the playoffs, how important was it for him to play with those receivers? What if Ojinnaka needs to step in? How important is it that Brady played with him? There were no seven-step drops or scrambles. He was hit twice.
3. How do you expect the Patriots to prepare this week without knowing which team they will face?
Rapoport: The main thing is situations. I'd be surprised if third-down defense wasn't a huge focus. Of all the issues they have, that's No. 1. They played a ton of snaps because of that and were last in the NFL in that category. They will also probably work on goal-line defense and go back and work on some two-minute drills since they haven't had to do much (of that). They may know Saturday night who they're playing and if not, they'll have two teams to focus on Sunday. They'll probably get to work as soon as they can.
4. Which team is the easiest matchup for the Pats in the divisional round?
Rapoport: Probably the Chiefs. The Ravens always play them so tough because they are physical. One thing about the Ravens, it's kind of like after you play them, you need a week off because they're so physical. If the Patriots have a 10-0 lead over the Chiefs, it's over. The Ravens have more talent on both sides of the ball. We saw what happened against the Jets last time, but Rex Ryan will have the defense more ready.
5. What is the toughest matchup for the Pats in the divisional round?
Rapoport: The Colts and the Ravens are the two toughest. I understand Peyton Manning has no weapons and the defense is banged up. It's still Peyton Manning. (The Patriots) built a 17-0 lead and almost watched it go away, and now the Colts can the run the ball. If the Jets beat the Colts, that'd be a really good thing for the Patriots this week. The Ravens always play (the Patriots) tough. It's nice for the Patriots that they won't see the Colts until the AFC title game.