Home field an advantage for the Patriots

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Home field an advantage for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- In the week leading up to the AFC Championship game, teams will accept any legal advantage they can get. Even if it's something as simple as being comfortable in your surroundings leading up to the game, they'll take it.

"Anytime you are playing at home this time of year is a key thing," Wes Welker said on Thursday. "Getting the fans into it and being able to play at home and practice at your own field and your own stadium and prepare for the game at your own place and all those things are good. We just have to make sure to take advantage of it."

In a way, the Patriots have their AFC title game opponents, the Ravens, to thank for their home field advantage. Of course, the Patriots earned their 12-4 record and their No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. But if the Ravens hadn't beaten the Broncos in last week's AFC Divisional Round, New England would be leaving on a plane soon for Denver.

The benefits of playing on home field? There are the old standbys: Crowd noise, energy and, as Welker noted, home cooking. 
"We have great fans always coming out, high energy," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "Its going to be another huge game here at Gillette, so I think that everyones going to be jacked up."

But that energy hasn't always translated to wins in the playoffs. The Patriots have made the postseason each of the last four seasons, but in that time they've never had to play a playoff game on the road. They lost to the Ravens in January of 2010. They lost to the Jets in January of 2011. And last season they beat the Broncos and Ravens at home before going to the Super Bowl.

As their record shows, home field doesn't always guarantee success. And the Patriots know it.

"Its good that we get to stay home, but once you get out there on the field, you have two teams going at it, all playing for one common goal," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "I dont care where you play; its not going to change how one team comes out.

"Just because you're at home doesnt mean you're going to be more prepared than the team thats on the road. I think the team were playing now shows that. Theyve won a lot of road playoff games over the last couple years, so I dont think the home field advantage will really be that much of a difference as far as assuming since were at home were going to win."

It doesn't mean that there's no such thing as home field advantage. Only that it has its limitations. Welker said that as nice as it is to prepare for a home game at home, once the ball is kicked, the advantage stops there.

"Not really, not once the game starts," Welker said when asked if he puts stock in home field advantage. "Its a game and you prepare and you just have to go out there and execute the way you did in practice the whole week."

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

BOSTON – There’s certainly some disappointment among Celtics Nation that Isaiah Thomas just missed out on being an All-Star starter in the East.

But one thing we can certainly see with the new voting system … it works way better than the old way of choosing starters.

This was the first year that the NBA decided to allow current NBA players as well as a select panel of media choose who the starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences would be.

The fan vote would count for 50 percent while media and players would each represent 25 percent of the final tally.

From there, the players would receive a fan ranking, a media ranking and a player ranking.

Because of the aforementioned breakdown – fans count for 50 percent while media and players represent 25 percent of the vote – the fan ranking would be counted twice while the media and player rankings would be counted once.

Let’s look at Isaiah Thomas’ situation which ultimately came down to him and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan for the final starting spot in the backcourt.

Thomas was fourth in the fan voting, second in the player voting and first among guards in the media voting. So when you add the fan voting (4 *2) + player voting (2 *1) + media voting (1*1), you get a total of 11 which is then divided by 4 to arrive at a score of 2.75.

Now let’s look at DeRozan.

He was third in the fan voting, third in the player ranking and second in the media voting among guards. So his score when you add the fan voting (3*2) + player voting (3*1) + media voting (2*1), you get a total of 11 which when divided by 4 brings you to a score of 2.75 – same as Thomas.

The tiebreaker was the fan vote which meant DeRozan and not Thomas, would get the starting nod in next month’s All-Star game.

As much as it may suck that Thomas lost out because of this system, he would not have had a shot at being a starter under the old system in which the fans were the ones to pick starters.

In fact, it would have been Chicago’s Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup under the old system.

No disrespect to D-Wade, but he has not had an All-Star worthy season. And had the old system been in place, he would be an all-star and thus take up a roster spot of another player who frankly, is more deserving.

And if you take a glance out West, they too would have had a starter who has not had an All-Star caliber season.

Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia finished second in the voting among Western Conference forwards, fueled in large part to his home country, Georgia, voting early and often for him. Because of the media and player voting, Pachulia wound up sixth among Western Conference big men which is still too high when you consider some of the players behind him – Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – who are all having better seasons.

While no one would say this new system is perfect, considering how this year’s voting would have panned out under the old rules, this change by the league is a good one that should stick around.

NOTE: I was among the media panelists selected by the NBA to vote for this year’s All-Star starters. My selections in the East were Cleveland’s LeBron James, Kevin Love and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt. My Western Conference selections were Kevin Durant of Golden State, Anthony Davis of New Orleans and Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio in the frontcourt, with Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the backcourt.