Curran: Doubt planted that NFL playoff seeding matters

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Curran: Doubt planted that NFL playoff seeding matters

It's going to be hard for the Patriots to duck the Wild Card round.

Despite having lost their four games in 2012 by a total of 11 points and beating the two teams ahead of them in the AFC playoff race, the Patriots are likely bound for a home game at Gillette on the weekend of January 5 and 6.

If form holds, the Patriots will head to Denver for a rematch with the Broncos and Peyton Manning.

Blame the NFC West. The Patriots went 1-3 against the once-hapless division, their only win coming against the St. Louis Rams in London.

So how screwed are the Patriots if they have to win four playoff games to bring home a fourth Lombardi?

Using history as a reference point, not totally screwed.

The Giants were the No. 4 seed in the NFC in 2011 with a 9-7 record and they hammered Atlanta, outplayed Green Bay, lucked out against San Francisco and weathered the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

In 2010, the No. 6 Packers won at Philly, at Atlanta and at Chicago before knocking off the AFC's No. 2 Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

The Saints and Colts were both No. 1 seeds in 2009 and made it to the Super Bowl where New Orleans won when Manning threw it to the wrong team in the waning moments of a would-be game-winning drive.

The Cardinals were the fourth-seed and the Steelers were a two-seed in 2008 when they had their epic bout in Tampa.

And the top-seeded Patriots lost to the fifth-seeded Giants in the Super Bowl in 2007.

Extra games increases the likelihood of injury to key players. Road games bring on crowd noise, adversity presented by travel and any number of comfort factors on game day.

The mettle and mental toughness of a team is what's relevant. Can a team embrace the adversity it's been handed -- as the Giants have done in their runs -- or will it lament how it got itself in a spot where it's playing on the road?

These are the dynamics the Patriots will face in January. Would it be "easier" if they didn't face the specter of two road games against Houston and Denver? Probably. But the whole thing's supposed to be hard anyway. C'est la vie.

Thursday's Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk participates, Cannon does not

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Thursday's Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk participates, Cannon does not

FOXBORO -- There was good news and bad news for the Patriots on Thursday's injury report.

The good? Rob Gronkowski ratcheted up his participation in practice from Wednesday to Thursday and was listed as a "limited" participant. On Wednesday, though he was spotted on the field and participating in some drills, he was listed as a non-participant. 

The bad? Marcus Cannon was on the field to start the session, but he was later listed as a non-participant as he deals with an ankle issue and a concussion.

Also on the not-so-good news front for Bill Belichick's club: Rex Burkhead (ribs) did not participate for the second-straight day, throwing his availability into doubt for Sunday; defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (knee) was also held out of practice. 

On the Texans' end of things, it's worth keeping an eye on the status of their corners Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Joseph. Johnson didn't participate due to a knee issue, and Joseph was limited with a shoulder injury. 

Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Texans game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion)
DT Vincent Valentine (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/knee)
WR Phillip Dorsett (knee)
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
TE Rob Gronkowski (groin)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
WR Chris Hogan (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (thumb)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)

HOUSTON TEXANS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
G Jeff Allen (ankle)
CB Kevin Johnson (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Alfred Blue (ankle)
NT Brandon Dunn (knee)
WR Will Fuller V (shoulder)
CB Jonathan Joseph (shoulder)
G Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee)
DE J.J. Watt (finger)

FULL PARTICIPATION
TE Stephen Anderson (concussion)
CB Marcus Burley (knee)
T Chris Clark (wrist)
WR Bruce Ellington (concussion)
TE Ryan Griffin (concussion)

Malcolm Butler: 'I haven't been performing at the level that I should be'

Malcolm Butler: 'I haven't been performing at the level that I should be'

FOXBORO -- When Malcolm Butler didn't start against the Saints on Sunday, it wasn't something he was told ahead of time. It did surprise some of his teammates, though, during that week's walkthrough when he wasn't working with the starters. 

On Thursday, instead of acting shellshocked, Butler sounded like a player who was set on earning a place back in the Patriots starting lineup.

TODAY'S PATRIOTS REPORT

"I haven't been performing at the level that I should be performing at," he said. "I gotta do whatever I gotta do to help the team. Whatever role that I get, I got a job to do so I gotta do it. Just gotta keep grinding, keep working hard."

Butler found himself working in behind Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe in New Orleans as the team's No. 3 corner. Asked if he was frustrated -- he's making $3.91 million this year and is scheduled to hit free agency after the season -- he acknowledged that those types of feelings have crept in at times. 

"I kind of thought about it like that, but I can't worry about anything but what's happening right now," Butler said. "Complaining or feeling sorry for myself is not going to make me perform better. I just gotta keep rolling. I'm gonna get it rolling. That's what I'm going to do."

In the last year of his deal, and with a highly-paid corner on the roster for the foreseeable future, Butler's name is a logical one to be tossed around as a candidate to be traded, but he said he tries not to pay attention to that speculation.

"As much as I can I try not to," he said. "This is where I play. This is where I'm happy at. I just gotta continue doing my thing."

Still without a long-term deal, Butler explained he has felt sorry for himself at times, but he's done what he can, he said, to push those thoughts aside. 

"We all had those feelings before, but we wake up and realize in reality that it's not going to help you," he said. "It's not going to help you. I just gotta go out there and play hard with a lot of fire and that's what I'm going to do. We'll see."

Butler allowed four catches on five targets for 40 yards and a touchdown against the Saints last weekend. In Week 1 he had a costly pass-interference penalty in the end zone that led to a Chiefs score.

While he has been disappointed in his play thus far this season, he sounded confident that he'd be able to work his way back into defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's group of starters. "I'm finding my way back, better believe that."

Butler added that he hasn't been told if he'll start this weekend against the Texans, but "I'm playing like it, though. I'm practicing like it. I'll be ready. It starts at practice."

"It's still early," he said. "Two games [and] preseason games, but there's no excuses. There's no excuses. I'll be ready to roll. Lights out."

Why so confident in the bounce-back?

"There've been times when I've been through a lot of stuff man," he said. "I made it through that and I made it to the National Football League. If I can handle that and make it to the NFL then I can put my mind together to make it past this situation. Just gotta perform better. It's still early, but need a sense of urgency and we'll see that."

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