By Mary Paoletti
Will Bill Belichick's starters play in Week 17?
It's the hot Patriots topic that will be rolled around and ruminated on from now until Sunday. Last week, New England captured the AFC East crown and top playoff spot with its 34-3 win in Buffalo. What's left? One regular-season game to play and nothing to play for, right?
Not so fast.
There's always something at stake for Belichick: A win. So when the Patriots meet the Dolphins on January 2, Tom Brady will start the opening drive and Vince Wilfork will start in defense of Miami's. How long Brady will play catch with Wes Welker, and the number of chances Jerod Mayo gets to stockpile his tackles tally, really only depend on one thing:
Doing whatever it takes to beat the Dolphins.
A postseason lock can't derail New England's desire -- need -- to win out the regular season. Just look at the last six times the Patriots entered Week 17 with a playoff berth already wrapped up.