Belichick studies Pats’ possible playoff opponents

Bill Belichick doesn’t have much time to rest during the

Patriots’ bye. He’ll study ways to improve his own team and beat

three potential playoff opponents.

Just as he’s done so many times before.

New England’s coach won’t know until late Sunday afternoon who

his team will host the following Saturday night in the divisional

round, Cincinnati, Indianapolis or Kansas City.

”We can maybe do some preliminary work, but there’s a good

chance that if we work on all those teams,” Belichick said, ”then

two-thirds of it is going to be, I don’t want to say a waste of

time, but a waste of time for the moment.”

So he’ll also review recent games of the Patriots (12-4), who

have a first-round bye for the eighth time in his 14 seasons as

coach.

”It starts with just the Patriots,” Belichick said.

They’ll face Cincinnati if the Bengals beat the San Diego

Chargers on Sunday. Otherwise, they’ll play the winner of

Saturday’s game between Indianapolis and Kansas City. The Patriots

lost to the Bengals 13-6 after winning their first four games this

season. They haven’t played the Colts or the Chiefs this year.

Whoever they face, defensive end Chandler Jones knows the

Patriots will have to be even more disciplined than usual.

During the postseason, ”mistakes can’t be just limited, but

they have to be eliminated,” he said.

The Patriots clinched the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with

a 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on a rainy Sunday. LeGarrette

Blount set a franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards by rushing

for 189 and returning two kickoffs for 145. He also ran for two

touchdowns for the second straight game.

The four-year veteran is one of several key players who are in

the playoffs for the first time.

Three rookie draft picks started against the Bills – cornerback

Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon and linebacker Jamie Collins. And

two 23-year-olds who had joined the Patriots as free agents, Chris

Jones and Sealver Siliga, started the game at defensive tackle.

”I almost think it’s a good thing that we’re a young team

because sometimes these guys don’t know any better,” special teams

captain Matthew Slater said. ”Who knows? Maybe if we were an older

team, it would be like, `Oh, man, I’ve been in this situation

before and it hasn’t gone well.’ With these young guys, they just

keep their nose down, they keep grinding, they bring a lot of

energy, they’re dedicated to what they’ve been asked to do.”

They’ve gotten their chances because of season-ending injuries

to defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and linebacker

Jerod Mayo. Two starters in the secondary, safety Devin McCourty

and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, were sidelined against the

Bills.

Perhaps the biggest unexpected contribution for the Patriots

came from Julian Edelman. Getting a chance to play more after wide

receiver Wes Welker left as a free agent for Denver, Edelman caught

105 passes. In his other four seasons, he totaled just 69.

”It’s cool and everything, but you really go out and you play

for other things,” he said, ”like playing in the last game of the

year and winning that game. We put ourselves in an opportunity to

go one step closer to that.”

The Patriots had a bye last season, beat Houston 41-28 in the

divisional round then lost the AFC championship game to Baltimore

28-13 in Foxborough.

In the offseason, they traded with Tampa Bay for Blount. Like

many of his teammates, he provided a surprising boost.

”It’s so hard to know how it’s all going to turn out,”

Belichick said. ”Of course, it’s good to see that guys that you’ve

brought in have been able to fit in, not all of them obviously, but

some of them have been able to fit in and contribute. It’s a long

process and one that takes a lot of different twists and

turns.”

But the Patriots ended up where they usually do, in the

playoffs.

”It’s a good spot to be in, but we’ve got to go out there and

take advantage of it,” quarterback Tom Brady said. ”Anything can

happen if you don’t go out there and give it your best. We’re going

to try to be our best in a few weeks.”

NOTES: The Patriots made three practice squad moves, signing

offensive lineman R.J. Mattes and linebacker Taylor Reed and

releasing offensive lineman R.J. Dill. … In Robert Kraft’s 20

years as owner, the Patriots have made the playoffs 15 times and

are 20-11 with six Super Bowl appearances, including three

championships.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org