The NFL is all about peaking at the right time. In 2007, the Patriots peaked at the wrong time. In 2008, the Patriots peaked at the right time, but destiny kept them out of the playoffs. In 2009, the Patriots appeared to be peaking at the right time, before a 4th quarter "meltdown" in Houston, in what was supposed to be a meaningless game, with the backups playing sporadically throughout. While losing this game didn't kill the Patriots postseason chances (except for the Wes Welker incident, which is isolated), it certainly didn't help momentum.
And in 2010, the Patriots appear to be peaking at the right time yet again. That means, that no matter how meaningless a game is in playoff scenarios, it still has importance to the overall morale of the team. A team that has won seven straight and is really on a roll? Do you think any of the players or coaches really want to disrupt that? Personally, I sincerely doubt it.
That being said, I look to 2004 to see how much the Patriots starters might play. That year, the Patriots had locked up the number two seed with no chance of passing the Steelers. They were playing the 49ers in a meaningless game that many experts expected the Patriots to rest their starters for. Bill Belichick had them play into the 4th quarter, before pulling the likes of Tom Brady for the likes of Rohan Davey. He only pulled the starters once they built a solid lead. I think we should expect Belichick to operate similarly today. I know the Patriots want to win this, so that's what I expect to happen.
Of course, consideration needs to be taken for guys that are injured. Does a banged up Deion Branch get rested, with a rookie such as Taylor Price making his debut? Either way, if the starters go out and execute the way we all hope, we'll be seeing Bryan Hoyer anyways come the 4th quarter. Go Pats!
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