FOXBOROUGH — For all the football knowledge Bill Belichick has amassed in his NFL coaching career — he made his debut as a special assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 — one thing he’s steered clear of is publicly predicting the outcome of upcoming games.
A pair of AFC playoff games this weekend will determine which team faces the Patriots on Jan. 11 at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round. But Belichick sure won’t go out on a limb and say which team he thinks that will be.
“No, how can you? Look at last weekend. I saw something where Pittsburgh had like a 1 percent chance of being in the playoffs, or whatever it was, some ridiculously low number, and yet they were within however close you want to call it to being in the playoffs — a missed field goal, however much that field goal missed by, I don’t know, a foot?” Belichick said, referencing the end of regulation of the Chargers-Chiefs overtime game, which could have sent Pittsburgh into the postseason. “I mean, nobody knows, the league is so competitive that, look, it isn’t even who has the better team, it’s just who plays better, who plays better on that day, how those two teams match up, and who plays better in that one competitive situation.
“It’s not four out of seven, or two out of three, or anything else. You get one opportunity to do it, and whatever team can perform better on that day moves on. Who knows who that’s going to be?”
As the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Broncos are guaranteed to play the worst remaining seed after the wild-card round. If the sixth-seeded Chargers beat the No. 3 Bengals on Sunday, San Diego travels to Denver, and the Patriots will play the winner of Saturday’s Colts-Chiefs game. If the Bengals beat the Chargers, the Patriots will face Cincinnati.
With the opponent unknown, the Patriots will use practices to take stock and sharpen things in-house.
“We’re working on things that we need to work on relative to just the Patriots, no matter who we play,” Belichick said.
Quarterback Tom Brady said after Wednesday’s practice that he might watch the two AFC games this weekend. Or he might not.
“I’ve done both, I’ve watched and I haven’t watched,” Brady said. “Sometimes you get really riled up watching the game and you start cheering for teams to win or lose. You don’t want to ride the wave, so I’ll use my time as best as possible to prepare myself. Whatever it needs to be, that’s what it will be.”
Neither Belichick nor Brady have been interested this week in discussing former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who is leaving Penn State after two seasons to become the head coach of the Houston Texans. O’Brien was with the Patriots from 2007-11.
“That was a long time ago. Yeah. Truthfully, I’m just trying to stay focused on this week, and that’s really not in my thought process right now,” Brady said.
Brady’s current offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has been given permission to interview with the Cleveland Browns for their head coaching vacancy. Brady was asked how he handles the possibility of losing a coach with whom he works so closely, since it’s happened before.
“Yeah, multiple times. But it’s a credit to those guys and what they’ve accomplished, and it’s a very flattering thing when other people are interested,” Brady said. “But they’ll make their decision based on whatever they make their decision based on, and I’ve still got to go out there and do my job, which is ultimately what I owe this team and what I signed up for and what I promised Mr. [ Robert] Kraft when I signed my contract, and what I commit to Belichick and all my teammates, that I’m going to try to do the best I can do.
“It doesn’t matter who’s coaching or who’s running routes or who [I’m] handing the ball off to or who’s blocking or who’s playing defense. I’ve got to go do my job, so that’s where my focus is.”
Down to the wire
Thanks to his career-best 189 rushing yards in the season finale, LeGarrette Blount almost clipped Stevan Ridley for most on the team. Blount finished with 772 yards. Ridley, who rushed for 74 yards against the Bills, finished with 773.
Ridley carried it 25 more times, so Blount’s average was better (5.0 to 4.3). Both players had seven rushing touchdowns.
Another team statistical category that came down to the wire was tackles. Jerod Mayo had led the Patriots each of his first five seasons, but was lost in Week 7 to a season-ending pectoral muscle injury.
That opened the door for two of Mayo’s fellow linebackers, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower. According to statistics supplied by the Patriots last week, Spikes had an eight-tackle lead on Hightower for team-high honors. Against the Bills, the Patriots credited Spikes with three tackles, and Hightower seven. But this week, individual tackle numbers from the Baltimore game have been adjusted, and Hightower’s total went from six to 13 (Spikes’s total from that game remained at seven).
Add it all up, and Hightower, according to the team, finished with 137 tackles and Spikes with 134.
The Patriots were 8-0 at Gillette Stadium in the regular season, one of three teams to go unbeaten at home (joining Cincinnati and New Orleans). “Well, we’ve got great fans who come out and let it rip,” Brady said . . . Aqib Talib hasn’t had an interception since Sept. 29, but the Patriots’ secondary has held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 239 passing yards, and has 16 of the team’s 17 interceptions. So, are the defensive backs peaking at the right time? “I think we’re playing well, but we can get a lot better,” Talib said. “We really break down the tape, so we see more than y’all see. I don’t know if y’all break down the tape — [Talib was told, “Sometimes”] — we see a little bit more than y’all see, so we’ve got a lot of work to do, we can get a lot better.”