Note: Through a content-sharing partnership with Sports Illustrated and SI.com, occasional articles and information from the magazine and its website will be used on Boston.com. Here is some Patriots-related commentary from Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" column.
By Peter King, Sports Illustrated
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From King's overview of Sunday's action leading the column:
Now that was a weird day. Sad with the devastating knee injury to one of the real poster children for everything that is good about the NFL, Wes Welker. Flummoxing with the total collapse of the Giants and Broncos. Maddening with starters sitting to some degree in six of the games involving playoff contenders ... and the weirdo Colts deciding that individual records are important a week after deciding 19-0 wasn't. Strangely undramatic for a Week 17, with only two win-and-get-in games, neither of which was any good -- the Ravens handling the Raiders with slight difficulty and the Jets handling the Bengals with none.
Eeriest part of the day: Houston safety Bernard Pollard landing on Welker after he had blown out his ACL and MCL early in Patriots-Texans and fallen to the ground in agony. This was 16 months after Pollard, then with Kansas City, had dove into Tom Brady's knee, shredding ligaments.
"I heard Wes yell out, the same way I heard Tom yell out,'' Pollard told me last night. "It was the same yell. It was terrible. He went down right in front of me. I saw his knee buckle, then I fell on him, and when he went down, I said, 'Just my luck.' ''
What are the odds of the same defender being at the epicenter of the temporary demise of two true New England heroes?
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King lists the Patriots with New Orleans and Minnesota under "They're Threats" while handicapping teams' chances of winning the Super Bowl. Three other teams have a higher ranking as "Leaders of the Pack":
New England (AFC 3 seed). I don't doubt the Patriots can mentally handle the loss of Welker. The big question is what it does to their already wafer-thin receiving corps. "The sad part isn't so much the pain of the injury,'' Benjamin Watson told me before the Patriots left Houston after their peculiar loss Sunday. "It's the pain for Wes, if he's not able to play, of not being able to do the thing he loves to do in the playoffs. He's such a great competitor and valuable guy on the team.''
They'll fill his spot with Julian Edelman, who is a Welker clone -- the same body type, the same frenetic quickness after the catch. Amazing that the Patriots are going to try to win their fourth Super Bowl in nine years with Edelman playing the part of Welker. My money's on Bill Belichick trying to win this month with the running combo of Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor eating the clock and a defense that, until Sunday, had played three very good games in a row.
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On the controversy over players sitting out meaningless late season games:
I'm convinced something should be done -- not has to be done.
Coaches don't want to hear about this ... except one from the AFC who I spoke with late Sunday night and who shall remain anonymous. He was concerned that even though the Jets could well have been one of the best six teams in the AFC at season's end, they got an unfair advantage by playing two teams in the last two weeks that already had playoff spots secured and weren't playing the way they'd play a regular game. "It's a matter of fairness,'' the coach said. "I don't know what can be done, but I'd like to see every team that plays a game with playoff implications have to play their best players.''
And isn't that the crux of the issue? Imagine this year if the Colts played their final two games at home instead of one at home and one on the road. Fans would be buying a 10-game season-ticket (eight regular-season games, two exhibitions), and four of them, under my scenario, would be games the Colts were playing to keep guys healthy, not to win. Fans already detest paying for the preseason. Paying for more games like the preseason is absurd.
I think it's a good idea to have each team intending to sit starting players for some or all of the game have to make that announcement on Friday, as a show of good will to the fans who pay good money to watch the games. I also think the NFL should take a page from baseball tradition: When either team in a late-September game is involved in a pennant race, the unwritten baseball rule is the team not in the race plays its usual starting nine. So tanking teams don't influence the outcome of games.
I realize the Welker injury is going to affect this debate. It should. It's a valid concern, losing valuable players to injury in games you don't have to win. I'm afraid there's no perfect solution to this one, but I do think Roger Goodell is going to direct the Competition Committee, like it or not, to do something about this before the start of the 2010 season.
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King rates the Patriots eighth in his Fine Fifteen. His comment:
8. New England (10-6). How amazing is it that Matt Cassel won 11 games last year and didn't make the playoffs, and Brady won 10 this year and did?
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King's "Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week" probably resonates with Boston sports fans this week:
A cheap travel note. It involves only walking -- 25 minutes on New Year's Day from my apartment in Boston's South End to Fenway Park. But that was the walk each way to the NHL Winter Classic, Bruins versus Flyers, and it was a great day. First, the best thing was standing on the field while the teams walked out for warmups. Everybody smiling. Tim Thomas, the Bruins' goalie, smiling. The Bruins coaches smiling. NHL brass smiling. Jon Miller, the NBC exec whose brainchild this great idea was, pulled out his phone and asked me to take a picture of him, smiling, by the side of the rink.
There's something to be said for a sports event where everyone's happy, even the fans of the losing team. And I must have seen 10 Flyers fans taking photos outside Fenway after the game. Just a cool, feel-good event that was a gas to attend.