Bean: Patriots don't need to go crazy over No. 1 seed

Bean: Patriots don't need to go crazy over No. 1 seed

The Patriots have been very careful to not finish the 2016 regular season the way they did in 2015, when they lost their final two games to cede the No. 1 seed in the AFC to Denver and were eventually eliminated in . . . Denver. 

The first measures to prevent a similar fate this season were taken last week with a 41-3 drubbing of the Jets. Now the Pats control their destiny and can sew up the top seed Sunday with a win over Miami or a Raiders loss to the Broncos. By all accounts, they’re prioritizing a win over resting star players. 

But last season was last season. Denver's defense was scary. What could the Patriots possibly fear this season? 

With Derek Carr out of the picture, there's probably more space between the Patriots and everyone else in the AFC since . . . when, 2007? Would anything actually worry them if they’re to take their chances with the scoreboard Sunday and give guys like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman a breather? 

This isn’t a plea for the Patriots do necessarily do that; guys want to play because stats lead to money, and given the supply and demand of top athletes, you should want those guys to do whatever makes them happy. But the Patriots know where these guys are at health-wise, and they shouldn’t think twice about giving the necessary ones a quarter or four off if it means it’ll be easier to trounce the flotsam and jetsam they’ll be playing in the coming weeks. 

Drudging up old history in this case might not be too telling given that these are all different teams, but it’s not like the Patriots have needed the No. 1 seed to get to the Super Bowl. In their six trips to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, two of their four victories (2001 and 2004) came as the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Conversely, they were beaten in the divisional round -- at home -- as the No. 1 seed in 2010 by the Jets (a victory that probably kept Rex Ryan employed as a head coach for the next six seasons). And in 2012 they lost the AFC Championship Game at home to the Ravens (they were the No. 2 seed that year, but got to host the title game when Baltimore upset top-seeded Denver).

Yes, they lost as the No. 2 seed in Denver in both 2013 and 2015. But that was then and this is now. With the Matt McGloin-led Raiders as their only potential road opponent if they're seeded second, does it really matter where the Pats wind up? It’s commonplace to go through potential playoff opponents and find a team to fear, but it might be a stretch to say one genuinely exist this year. 

Of course the Patriots should covet the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It’s a feather in the organization’s cap and it would guarantee they wouldn’t have to go anywhere before heading to Houston for the Super Bowl.

From a competitive standpoint, however, it's just not that big a deal this time around.

Prototypical Patriots: Foreman's size, athleticism ideal for 'big back' role

Prototypical Patriots: Foreman's size, athleticism ideal for 'big back' role

The Patriots may have their "big back" for 2017 and beyond by Monday if the Bills decide not to match the offer sheet Mike Gillislee received from New England. Maybe Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio feel as though Rex Burkhead can handle that role. Who knows? Maybe they end up bringing back LeGarrette Blount and use him as their between-the-tackles hammer. 

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

However it shakes out, it's looking less and less like the Patriots will need to draft a big body to serve as their bruiser on first and second down. But at the moment there is enough uncertainty at that position that it's worth rolling through the series of names who fit what the Patriots typically like in their early-down runners.

Having the size to withstand the punishment associated with that role is obviously crucial. Drafting someone who looks like Blount (6-feet, 250 pounds) won't happen this year, but the Patriots have manned that spot with smaller players in the past. Stevan Ridley (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) are some of the more recent examples of Patriots "big backs" who weren't exactly built like tanks yet were entrusted with that job. 

Athleticism helps, too. Backs that size who can run a 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range with a three-cone drill time of under seven seconds and a broad jump of about 10 feet? They're not your run-of-the-mill plodders, and would be intriguing fits in the Patriots offense. 

D'Onta Foreman, Texas, 6-feet, 234 pounds: Perhaps the best combination of size and athleticism that this class of running backs has to offer, Foreman ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, who has combine data going back to 2003, no running back weighing 232 pounds or more has ever run a 40 that quickly. He also recorded a 33-inch vertical and a 10-foot broad jump. Foreman fumbled seven times in 323 carries during his 2,000-yard season for the Longhorns, a number that might force the Patriots to look elsewhere if they're in the big-back market, but after the season he claimed he played with a broken hand that impacted his ability to secure the football. 

Kareem Hunt, Toledo, 5-foot-10, 216 pounds: Another eye-opening combination of power and explosiveness, Hunt ran a 4.62 40-yard dash in Indy, jumped 36.5 inches in the vertical (fifth-best among backs at the combine) and 119 inches in the broad jump. He ran for 1,475 yards and 10 scores last season while proving he has some value as a receiver out of the backfield as well with 41 grabs for 403 yards and a touchdown. Always falling forward, Hunt may not be quite as imposing as past Patriots early-down backs, but he plays bigger than his size.

Corey Clement, Wisconsin, 5-foot-10, 220 pounds: The former Badger checks just about every box from a physical standpoint: At his pro day he posted a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, a 6.91-second three-cone drill and a 10-foot broad jump. The Patriots may shy away for other reasons, though. Per Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, his 2015 was a wash due to "injury, attitude and an off-field incident."

Brian Hill, Wyoming, 6-foot-1, 219 pounds: A first-team All-Mountain West selection after running for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, Hill stood out among running backs from bigger programs at this year's combine. He finished the week in Indy with a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, a 10-foot-5 broad jump, a 7.03-second three-cone drill, and his 11.29-second 60-yard shuttle time was second only to Christian McCaffrey who measured two inches shorter and almost 20 pounds lighter. He may require a Day 2 selection, but if the Patriots are still without a true big-back on the roster going into the draft, Hill could be the pile-mover they're looking for.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson, 6-feet, 215 pounds: The lightest player on this list, Gallman still runs as hard as any of them. His 4.6-second 40, 120-inch broad jump and 4.28-second 20-yard shuttle could be enticing for the Patriots. He was a first-team All-ACC player in 2015 after rushing for 1,527 yards. Last season he ran for more than 500 fewer yards but saw 87 fewer carries and still set a career-high for scores with 15. 

James Conner, Pitt, 6-foot-1, 233 pounds: Conner's athleticism (4.65-second 40-yard dash, 29-inch vertical, 113-inch broad jump, 7.41-second three-cone) doesn't quite stand up to the thresholds the Patriots have for their backs, but his frame, his hard-charging style and mental toughness may earn him a look in the later rounds. He overcame Hodgkin's lymphoma to rush for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Prior to his illness, he was named ACC Player of the Year in 2014 when he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Aaron Hernandez's funeral will be Monday in Connecticut

Aaron Hernandez's funeral will be Monday in Connecticut

The funeral for Aaron Hernandez, the ex-Patriots tight end who committed suicide in prison this week, will be Monday in his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut.

The ceremony and burial will be private.

Hernandez's family issued a statement Saturday:

The family of Aaron Hernandez wishes to thank all of you for the thoughtful expressions of condolences. We wish to say goodbye to Aaron in a private ceremony and thank everyone in advance for affording us a measure of privacy during this difficult time.

Hernandez, serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd, hanged himself Wednesday in his prison cell, five days after he was acquitted in a 2012 double murder in Boston. He was 27.