Pats starters say they want to play

With a playoff berth clinched, several Patriots players say they

still want to play in the regular-season finale Sunday at

Houston.

Coach Bill Belichick hasn’t disclosed what he’ll do, but guard

Logan Mankins said if Belichick rests his starters and New England

loses, ending the playoff chances of other teams, those teams put

themselves in that position.

“We put ourselves in this position by winning games throughout

the year and if (other teams) didn’t want to have to count on us to

win games, they shouldn’t have lost,” Mankins said. “I think we

were in the same position last year, needing another team to lose,

and that was no one’s fault but our own. Anytime you have to count

on other teams to win for you, you’re in a bad situation.”

That’s exactly what happened to the Patriots last season when

they went 11-5 but needed help to make the playoffs. They didn’t

get it and were home for the postseason for the first time since

2002.

But now they’re 10-5 after clinching the AFC East for the sixth

time in seven years.

Seven teams, including Houston (8-7), are battling for the two

AFC wild-card playoff spots.

The Patriots could rest their starters to allow nicks to heal

and avoid other injuries. Or they could go all out, knowing a win

would give them the No. 3 seed. Then, if Indianapolis and San Diego

– the top two AFC seeds – lose in the conference semifinals and the

Patriots win, they would host the AFC championship game.

Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley said Wednesday that he

thought the Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals, both already in the

playoffs, would “lay down” in their final regular-season games to

prevent the Steelers, who need to win and get help, from making the

playoffs.

The Patriots were not aware of Woodley’s comments at their

Wednesday practice, but two of New England’s four players selected

for the Pro Bowl said they expect the team to try its best.

“Anytime you go out there as a professional, you want to play

to the best of your ability,” wide receiver Wes Welker said.

“Every given week, this is what we live for. We want to go out

there and play every Sunday. We look forward to going out there and

playing, whatever the case may be.”

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who said he expects to return

“sooner rather than later” after missing the last two games with

a foot injury, said the Patriots want to win the game.

“We want to win,” he said. “I’m pretty sure my teammates feel

the same way. That’s how we’re approaching this game. We’re going

to go out there, prepare, practice hard, don’t keep any bad habits

and hopefully put it together on Sunday. Whatever happens after

that, happens.”

Mankins and quarterback Tom Brady also were picked for the Pro

Bowl.

Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who leads New England with 9 1/2

sacks, said he would have no trouble getting worked up to play

Sunday.

“I don’t think it’s that hard because any time the lights come

on and you’re in uniform, you’re going to want to play,” he said.

“You want to play your best. You don’t want to embarrass yourself.

We have a challenge that we have to address and we’re trying to

improve and get better going into the postseason, so this is a big

building block.”

Running back Fred Taylor, who returned last Sunday after missing

10 games with an ankle injury, was more direct.

“Personally, I hate losing,” he said. “I want to win

everything, I guess that’s the most I can say about that.”

When asked how he’ll use his players on Sunday, Belichick said

he’d do what’s best for the team.

Brady, who has been nursing rib and right finger injuries, did

not practice Wednesday. He missed practices the past two weeks but

still played. Wide receiver Randy Moss’s absence from practice was

non-injury related, a designation given frequently to him this year

when he has not practiced on Wednesdays.