Bill Belichick is leading another young team into the playoffs.
Last year's Opening Day roster had the youngest average age, at 25 years, he's ever coached. Though that squad has matured -- and the mean of his current 52-man roster, even with offseason roster shuffling, is indeed one year older at 26.17 years -- it's still pretty green.
Only seven Patriots are 30 or older. There are 33 players age 25 or younger. By comparison, the No. 1 AFC playoff seed Denver Broncos have 13 players age 30 or older and just 20 who are 25 or younger.
Think Belichick's expectations get adjusted for inexperience? Think again.
"I really think at this point in the season, after 16 regular-season games, that all of our players -- even our young ones -- should be pretty well acclimated to what NFL football is about," the coach said Tuesday. "I think the big thing about the playoffs is that it’s the best teams. So everybody is good, everybody has a good team, everybody has good players, everybody has a lot of confidence. You just have to be at your best against that level of competition, which is even higher than you see in the regular season because there are some teams that are obviously better than others.
"There’s no doubt about it, our next opponent will be as good as any team we’ve faced all year. We’ll have to be at our best. I think that’s the key thing about the playoffs. I think the rest of it is [not] really anything that is that out of the ordinary. We just have to recognize how good we have to perform, prepare and be ready for everything, how critical every play is because the level of competition is just heightened at this time of year, given the quality of the opponents."
Now that the bar has been set, the question is whether his players have grown enough over the season to reach it.
History provides evidence to the contrary. Last season's Patriots lost to the battle-hardened Ravens in the AFC Championship. And Belichick's winning Super Bowl teams had average ages of 27 in 2001, 28 in 2003, and 27 in 2004.
It's interesting to note New England's offense, based on the Week 17 starters, averaged 27 years old. But the average age of a player on defense? Just 24. Season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork (32), Tommy Kelly (33), and Jerod Mayo (27) this year have certainly skewed the statistics. Can one side compensate for the other? Does it matter?
Belichick isn't too worried about it.
"Every team and every week and every year and every situation is different."