The safe play here is to rest 'em, but as we all know Belichick doesn't always go for the safe play (fourth and 2, anybody?), and yesterday he wasn't giving any hints as to his plans. That doesn't make this week different from any other in Fort Foxborough.
Make no mistake though, Belichick has a plan. He always does, and in his infinite football wisdom it should -- and probably does -- include quarterback Tom Brady being nothing more than a Texas tourist.
The next time Brady takes the field should be back at the Razor for a playoff game. Because whether this team is the No. 3 or the No. 4 seed behind Cincinnati, it is not beating either Indianapolis or San Diego on the road without TB 12.
The last time the Patriots played in Reliant Stadium, they won their
Of course, Brady will lobby to play, because he wouldn't be Tom Brady if he didn't. That's just part of his makeup, but there is nothing the Patriots can gain on Sunday by playing Brady -- momentum, mojo, timing, playoff positioning -- that is worth endangering the franchise. Even with a Belichick-generated bye week, Brady will not be 100 percent for the playoffs. He probably won't be 100-percent healthy again until we see him for the start of passing camp in late May.
What Brady has done the last three weeks has been nothing short of heroic. He is playing with badly battered ribs (that injury has been totally undersold), a busted finger, and sore shoulder. What is the point of sending him out for even a quarter to face the defense of a desperate Texans team that will be playing for their playoffs lives? Houston can get in with a win and a pair losses among the Jets, Ravens and Broncos, and boasts Pro Bowl-caliber defenders in defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the possible Defensive Rookie of the Year in linebacker Brian Cushing.
If you need any more convincing that Brady making even a cameo on Sunday is a bad idea then I have four words for you -- Texans safety Bernard Pollard. Yes, that Bernard Pollard, the reason Brady wears a knee brace, the guy who changed the course of the careers of Brady and Matt Cassel with one lunge. He also prompted the league to enact a rules clarification to protect quarterbacks. It's known as the Brady Rule, but should really be the Pollard Policy.
Pollard was let go by the Chiefs as part of Scott Pioli's purge. He hooked on with the Texans and has started all 12 games he has played. Pollard was apologetic about his hit on Brady, but if you're the Patriots you don't want this guy anywhere near No. 12.
It's not only Brady that should take a leave of absence this Sunday; Ty Warren (ankle) and Vince Wilfork (foot) should sit, too. Warren all but said after Sunday's game he was only playing to lock up the AFC East, and the Patriots don't have a more valuable defensive player than Wilfork, who hasn't played since he was seen chucking his mouthpiece and helmet after aggravating his injury against Carolina. Wide receiver Wes Welker, who has almost as many bruises as receptions (122), should get the day off as well. Ditto, Randy Moss.
The argument for playing Brady, and the other offensive starters, for a quarter or so, is that the offense is coming off one of its best games of the season and finally starting to click.
And by playing a banged up Brady at all in a meaningless game it would enable Belichick to stick it to the Colts, who are still reeling from the uproar they created by pulling a healthy Peyton Manning and the rest of their starters midway through the third quarter of a game they led against the Jets, abandoning their pursuit of perfection like a broken down car in the middle of the road.
Plus, there is the whole notion that the No. 3 seed gives the Patriots the best chance to host the AFC title game if they manage to reach it and that they have some sort of competitive responsibility to the NFL since the Texans game has playoffs implications.
None of those arguments seem worth playing a game of risk.
Back in 2005, a time when Brady wasn't coming back from season-ending knee surgery or playing with a major rib injury, the Patriots were in an eerily similar situation.
Similar to this year, they were battling the Cincinnati Bengals for playoff positioning, if you can call it that, because each team treated the No. 3 seed and a date with the Steelers like it was the H1N1 flu virus.
In the season finale against Miami, Belichick decided to play Brady for a quarter and the starting offensive line for a half. Brady played three series and threw eight passes before being replaced by Cassel, who cemented a fishy defeat to the Dolphins when a 2-point conversion pass that would have sent the game into overtime "slipped" out of his hands. The Bengals similarly put a stamp on a loss to the Chiefs in an in vain effort to avoid the sixth-seeded Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
For what it's worth, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said his team would treat its Sunday Night Football face-off with the Jets like any other game.
You need an MIT degree to figure out all of the possible playoff scenarios and permutations, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Brady should not be part of the equation against the Texans.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.