Revenge? I think that can be the theme of the season. Hopefully the Patriots can avenge their early season loss and end the season on a good note- and with total control of homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Unfortunately (fortunately?), the Patriots play at 1pm, which is before the Ravens and Steelers play (at 4pm), and thus the Patriots will have to play out the game for the full 60 minutes.
Note: It's smart of the NFL to make their scheduling the way they have. Bravo. I like how teams with the same things on the line (Ravens/Steelers, 49ers/Saints, Colts/Vikings/Rams) play at the same time in order to provide the highest quality of play. Think about it- if teams knew they didn't have a chance at making homefield advantage (Saints), why wouldn't they rest their starters? It keeps up the level of competition and allows for interesting story lines. Good job.
1. C.J. Spiller - The Patriots have played a gauntlet of playmakers in the backfield. Roy Helu Jr. Willis McGahee/Lance Ball. Reggie Bush. Now they face C.J. Spiller. Spiller was considered a potential bust prospect after not producing for his first season in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Bills had to lose fellow-stud Fred Jackson for the season in order for Spiller to flourish. Spiller is a threat in all facets of the game (passing, running, blocking) and the Patriots will most likely set a spy on Spiller to limit his impact. Of course, if they use the same spy they used on Bush (safety James Ihedigbo), the Patriots will be susceptible to the deep throw like they were against Miami. How will the Patriots account for Spiller?
2. Tom Brady - Brady has a lot on his plate. Home field advantage. Potential injury. One of the greatest records in the NFL. Ending the season on a good note. His competitive fire. How do the Patriots watch out for Tom Brady? Do they let him play the whole game? When do they sit him? How Tom Brady plays will dictate how the Patriots perform.
3. Good Note - Similar to the Brady point, how will the Patriots treat other players on the roster? Who plays through injury? Who returns from their injury? How do the Patriots face the last game of the season? Do they go all out, or do they limit the risk after losing Wes Welker a few seasons ago? It will be interesting to see which players return from their injuries and which players are too dinged up and will sit out. Whoever plays and whoever steps up will have a large role in this game's outcome.
4. Offensive Line - Easy point: Who plays? Will Matt Light sit? Logan Mankins? Who will play center- Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, or Nick McDonald? Does Brian Waters play the whole game? How do the rookies Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon play a part? Is Sebastian Vollmer available? How does Donald Thomas play? So many questions and I just happened to list all of the Patriots linemen. How will they play?
5. 60 Minutes - Still a point until they play the full 60.
The Patriots have the chance to close out the second half of the season with an 8-0 record. They would be the first team in the post-merger NFL history to close a season 8-0 in consecutive years. Of course, that means nothing without post-season success, but it's still a cool fact. The Patriots lead the league in 8-0 second halves with three. The other Patriots teams to finish with an 8-0? The 2003 Super Bowl Champion Patriots, the 2007 Patriots, and the 2010 Patriots. Hopefully they can bookend that record with a 2011 Super Bowl Champion Patriots banner.