Patriots coach Bill Belichick's response when asked to look ahead is usually predictable: We're just trying to get ready for the next opponent.
Not so, in Week 17.
"I think there's a certain amount of planning and looking ahead that, as a head coach, you need to do, or organizationally, you need to do," Belichick said on his Monday conference call. "We could be traveling in the playoffs, we have to look at where we could stay, things like that. We can't be totally oblivious to the possibilities that exist out there."
You've probably heard most of them.
If the Patriots beat Miami and Houston loses to Indianapolis, New England gets a bye. If the Patriots beat Miami and Denver loses to Kansas City, New England gets a bye.
The Patriots would clinch home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs if they beat Miami and both Denver and Houston lose next weekend.
The Broncos would clinch home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs if they beat Kansas City and the Texans lose.
"Because you don't know on something like that -- we don't even know when we're going to be playing next, or who we're going to be playing next -- there's quite a few possibilities. So it's really hard to be specific on something like that when there's so many possibilities. Whatever you're working on, there's probably a 75-percent chance you're wrong. I think when it's 90-10, maybe you can get a jump on it.
"There's certain things that you kind of have to prepare for. I think the higher probability it is that you know what you're going to do, then the more you can commit a resource to it. If we were to play next week, then we'd be playing one of two teams, so we'll certainly start working on both those teams this week so that when we find out, if that's the way it goes, who we play Sunday night, we already have the information and we can jump on either Indianapolis or Cincinnati -- if that's the scenario."
Belichick noted how different it is from the regular season. For 17 weeks, teams know who their next opponent is and how long they have to prepare.
With so much still in the air heading into the regular season finale, Belichick and his coaching staff focus only on the most immediate playoff scenario. This year, that means wild-card weekend. It also means a possible Saturday game and a short week of prep. But no matter what, the Patriots will be ready to go Sunday night or Monday morning.
Does this mean New England is straying from its 'We're only worried about this week' mantra? No.
There are members of Belichick's scouting and coaching staffs who are responsible for advance work. While the players were getting ready for Jacksonville, those people were looking to Miami. That's how, as soon as that Dolphins game ends, Patriots coaches will be able to dive right into the first playoff opponent.
Much of this toil goes on behind the scenes.
"From the players standpoint, they're kind of week-to-week," Belichick explained. "If they play next week in the wild-card weekend, the team that we don't play the players will never even really know that we worked on them because we would have never presented the material to them, gone over it or anything like that.
"The challenge for the coaches, and the scouting staff, and the organization, is to stay ahead of the curve so that when we have the players in here we give them the most immediate and pertinent information for our next opponent. We do that every single week; we always focus on what we're doing.
"It's really hard to work on two or three teams. You might do that in training camp where you work on a day and then on the 13th you open the season. Even then it's kind of tough because you're trying to juggle two or three balls in the air and that's hard for any player, rookie, veteran, or coach for that matter."
Speaking of rookies, the Patriots have 13, including the practice squad. Seven of the nine on New England's 53-man roster get snaps in almost every contest. Belichick said one thing to consider is how many games the rookies have played to this point. It might seem like 20 tilts, four preseason and almost 16 regular season, are a good thing as far as experience goes.
But the coach sees it differently.
"In college football you play 12 games and a lot of those teams there's a couple of them that might be against a lower-level school or a team that's an out of conference team that's maybe not that hard to get ready for. So this is kind of like two college seasons. They get the physical wear-and-tear, but it's more than that. I think it's the mental wear on them where every week there's a new game plan, adjustments, match ups, techniques it's all a little bit different because of the way your team does them.
"That's kind of the challenging part mentally, to prepare all week, take the test on Sunday, and then come back in on Monday and start the full preparation process all over again. Physically, it's a drain, and I think mentally, it adds up, too. We try to keep them bouncing back from it each week and get into a routine so that it isn't a real high effort one week then it drops way down the next because they can't sustain it at that high professional level, that 98, 95-percent level of consistency."
Just one more variable to consider.