Belichick on playoffs: We can't be oblivious to the possibilities

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Belichick on playoffs: We can't be oblivious to the possibilities

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.

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Blakely: Jae Crowder is more than 'just another guy' on Celtics

Blakely: Jae Crowder is more than 'just another guy' on Celtics

As the NBA trade deadline gets closer and closer, A. Sherrod Blakely helps shed some light as to why the Boston Celtics may be unwilling to part ways with Jae Crowder