By virtue of a strong finish to the regular season (10 wins in their last 11 games), the Patriots finished second in the AFC and earned a first-round bye. Like the rest of us, they'll watch wild-card weekend from the comforts of their couch to find out who will be coming to Gillette Stadium in mid-January.
There's much to like about this New England outfit and, as always, it starts with quarterback Tom Brady. During his weekly radio appearance on WEEI, the 13-year veteran talked about the annual road to the postseason and how, even at the ripe old age of 35, you can never take any of this for granted.
“The only thing we have is now," Brady said via SportsRadioInterviews.com. "There’s no next year. There’s no last year. Only thing we can take care of is what we have ahead of us, which is two weeks from yesterday. The expectations are high around here. I don’t think we go into the season saying, ‘Man I hope we win eight games this year.’ We go in saying we hope we play well enough and put ourselves in a good position once it becomes January.
"We’re in a decent position," he continued. "We’re playing hard, we’re playing tough. We won some close games, we lost some close games. I just hope that still our best football’s ahead of us. I really do. We’ve been waiting for our guys to get healthy. Hopefully we can be as healthy as we can be here in two weeks. I’d love to see what that looks like, when we can finally get everyone out there at one time and put our best out on the field for 60 minutes.”
Which brings us to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who returned to the lineup in Week 17's game against the Dolphins after missing five weeks with a broken arm. In the season finale, Gronk had two catches for 42 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown. So what extra dimension does one of the Pats' best players bring to the offense?
“He’s always just a mismatch," Brady said. "He’s got really great speed. He tracks the ball really well in the area. He’s got great hands. And he’s very tough. He’s very quick out of his breaks. He does everything well. When he’s out there, it’s just a tough mismatch for the defense. He’s got a really unique skill set. That’s why he’s been so productive since the day he got here. So, it was great to see.”
Coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, was typically laconic when asked about Gronkowski's Week 17 performance.
“We got him in the game in a few situations on third down in the right area and things like that," he said earlier this week. "It was good to have him back out there and I think he’s continuing to make progress.”
The extra week off means even more time for Gronk to get healthy. That's good news for the Pats, bad news for everybody else.