It feels like endless possibilities exist for the Patriots' playoff fate heading into Week 17, as the team could finish with any of the top four seeds in the AFC, which means the Pats could spend the wild-card round weekend resting up with a bye or hosting either the Indianapolis Colts or Cincinnati Bengals.
Although Patriots coach Bill Belichick has his team squarely focused on the Miami Dolphins, whom the Patriots will host this Sunday, he is fulfilling his fiduciary duties by beginning the process of looking ahead in order to put his team in the best position to win, regardless of against whom and when the Pats play their first playoff game.
"I think that 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 Monday afternoon. "We could be traveling in the playoffs. We have to be looking at where we would stay if we travel somewhere, things like that. You can't be totally oblivious to possibilities that exist out there, 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."
By the time the Patriots kick off Sunday, they could be playing for a shot at a top-two seed or still holding out hope that the Broncos lose to reopen the door to that possibility. That's part of the challenge of looking ahead: So many factors will play into the Patriots' fate.
"It's really hard to be specific on something like that when there are so many possibilities; you're working on a 25 percent chance of something, and whatever you're working on, there's probably a 75 percent chance you're wrong," Belichick said. "I think when it's 90-10, then maybe you can get the jump on it, but it's something that we look at. There are 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, the more you commit a resource to it.
"If we were to play next week, then we would be playing one of two teams," he continued. "We'll certainly start working on both of those teams [Indianapolis and Cincinnati] this week so when we find out if that's the way it goes, who we play, Sunday night, we'll already have the information ready that we can jump on either Indianapolis or Cincinnati, if that's the scenario we're in. We may or may not be in that scenario, but that's the most immediate one, so that's where we'll plan next."
The look-ahead preparation is limited to the coaches and scouting staff, however, Belichick said, as the players will stick to Miami this week.
"It wouldn't be the players. We're preparing for Miami," he said. "But there are always people that are in our organization that are on our coaching staff or on our scouting staff that they do advance work. So while we're working on Miami, their job is to work on the next team. Or when we were working on Jacksonville, they were working on Miami. They always leapfrog one week ahead of us so that as soon as that week is over, the rest of the coaching staff can file into the new opponent.
"From the players' standpoint, they're kind of week to week," he added. "If we 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 won't send them the material to have 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 immediate and most pertinent information for our next opponent. We do that every single week; we always focus on what we're doing."