FOXBOROUGH – On Jan. 13, the Patriots will kick off the postseason against a yet-to-be determined opponent. That they aren’t aware of their competition is not diminishing their anticipation.
“It’s a playoff game. That’s what we’re here for. You play the whole regular season to get into the playoffs,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. “I would hope we’re excited and more amped up to play. It’s a higher level of competition. Not that the regular season isn’t. But the playoffs are the highest. There’s no question about that.”
The team scheduled practice for Wednesday and Thursday. The players have been given Friday through Sunday off.
The coaching staff will prepare for the three possible opponents: Houston, Indianapolis, and Baltimore.
“Now it’s a one-game season,” Belichick said. “We don’t know who our opponent is. We’re doing things we think will help our football team once we know who the opponent is. Then we’ll zero in on that opponent and do everything we can to try and get our highest level of performance against them next Sunday.”
If Houston beats Cincinnati on Saturday, the Patriots would host the Texans. If Houston loses, the Patriots would have to wait to determine whether Indianapolis or Baltimore would travel to Foxborough.
“We’ll work on everybody,” Belichick said. “After the Houston game, we’ll either be full speed ahead on Houston or we’ll put that in the drawer and wait to see what happens in the next game. We have to be prepared for all three of them.”
* There Patriots weren’t spotted during the media-access window of Wednesday’s practice: Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich, and Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots are not required to submit an injury report, but it is likely safe to assume that Brady is simply getting a veteran’s day off. (When he does get a day of rest, it is always on a Wednesday.) Ninkovich left Sunday’s game with Miami with a hip injury; Hightower has been on the injury report with hamstring and shoulder injuries, which could be the reason for his absence. Players were in shells and sweats.
* Belichick acknowledged equipment manager Don Brocher, who died on Tuesday because of complications from leukemia. Brocher was in his 41st season of employment in the organization. “Don was here for the San Francisco game. I don’t think anybody really had a sense of the physical and mental toughness he displayed that night just by being here, doing his job, and being here for us in that type of situation,” Belichick said. “But that was kind of Donny. Never one to complain, never one to talk about how he was doing. He was just there to help the rest of us. We’ll miss him.”
* Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis has announced he will retire after this season. Belichick recalled he met Lewis in 1996 when the linebacker was at the University of Miami. “Tremendous player,” Belichick said. “Tremendous career.”Shalise Manza Young contributed. Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.