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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Pats have two weeks to prepare

By MIKE SHALIN
January 01. 2018 8:25PM
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks with head coach Bill Belichick as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels looks on during warm ups before the start of the Dec. 24 game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)



WELCOME to another Patriots bye week.

The first one was given to them by the a schedule maker. This one was earned. The Pats are off until a week from Saturday night.

If things don’t change weather-wise, the divisional playoff game against the lowest survivor of the wild card games, could be reminiscent of that 2004 freeze-out against Tennessee.

“That’s rare to have time during the season to be able to work on things that you just need to work on,” Bill Belichick said after Sunday’s game. “You have to either carve out time in your preparation for the next team to do that, or skip over it to a degree and prepare for the team that you’ve got to play. We don’t know who we’re going to play. We’re not going to know that until the weekend, but in the meantime there are things that we can do that will help us no matter who we play and those are some of the things that we’ll take a look at.

“We’ll identify those in the next — we’ve already identified some of them — but we’ll identify how we want to do it, how we can best make the most out of the time that we have available, make it the most productive and, hopefully, serve us well in the next game that we play. It’s an opportunity to do that. You usually don’t get that. Everybody gets it during the bye week in the season, but this is a bonus week to be able to do that. That being said, we’ve got to keep our timing and execution at a high level without playing this week, which we’ll see how we can do that.”

The Pats, looking for banner No. 6, have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and could wind up playing a true road game in the Super Bowl. The Vikings are trying to become the first team to play that game on their home field.

Prime picks

It came as no surprise that the Giants asked permission to talk to New England coordinators Josh McDaniel and Matt Patricia. We told you here the other day the New York Daily News had them as 1-2 on the prospective list.

“I think our staff has done a good job this year, as they have throughout the years,” Belichick said Monday. “I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of great coaches and coordinators on the staff, so that’s been a real positive for me and a positive for our team and our organization. I don’t really know about the rest of it.

“We’ll see how it goes, but those guys have done a great job for me.”

Opponents

The NFL announced the Patriots’ home and away games for 2018. In addition to the home and home against the three teams in their own division, it’s:

Home: Green Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota, Houston, Indianapolis

Away: Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Tennessee

Matthew Slater, who proved again Sunday why he’s a special teams Pro Bowl player regardless of how many games he plays, doesn’t have a beard, which could have helped in the Sunday cold.

“I would love to but I’m unable to,” he said. “That is my dream one day to possibly have a fierce beard but I’m unable to at this point in time in my life.”

Interesting CBS graphic Sunday showed Tom Brady, before throwing two touchdown passes in the game, had exactly as many TD tosses as the TOP FOUR Jets all-time, a list headed by Joe Namath.

Hey, column pal Gethin Coolbaugh thinks the 49ers may have damaged their future with Jimmy Garoppolo’s undefeated run down the stretch. Instead of getting one of the top two or three picks, they will flip a coin with the Raiders to see who picks 9 and 10.

30 wins/.750 percentage

Those are the numbers for the Celtics as the Cavaliers come to town for the first game of the new calendar year.

If you were hoping to see Isaiah Thomas playing for Cleveland, you won’t get your wish. The Little Big Man will debut with his new team at home tonight but will not play the back-to-back — something that makes tremendous sense when you consider the adrenaline rush Thomas would have playing back in Boston.

We assumed he will get that chance Feb. 11, the day the Celtics retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

“My hip is better but I have no rhythm … It feels like I lost my powers,” Thomas says. “But once I get out there it’s going to be too hard to hold me back.”

Which is a good reason for him not to play two games in 24 hours.

It seems like every team that comes into TD Garden brings an ex-Celtic with it. Jae Crowder will be there Wednesday. Cody Zeller returned with the Nets Sunday.

Guess that’s what happens when you bring only four players back from one season to the next.

“It makes you really appreciate how good our team was when you look across the league at how many of these guys are starting and playing great,” Brad Stevens said before Sunday’s game, a tougher-than-expected battle with Brooklyn.

Looking good

Brian Robb of the Boston Sports Journal took a recent look at that ever-changing draft pick the Celtics got from Philadelphia in the steal — um, deal — that brought Jayson Tatum to Boston.

Entering the New Year, the Lakers had the third-worst record in the league. The Celtics get that pick if it falls between 2 and 5.

Robb wrote:

“Celtics fans probably got scared there for a little bit in December when the Lakers won in Houston and went toe-to-toe with the Warriors for a couple of near wins. Since then, the problems have piled up in Hollywood. Lonzo Ball is on the shelf and there is no serviceable point guard behind him to direct the Lakers offense. Brook Lopez is hurt (shocker). Kyle Kuzma is coming back down to Earth and the rest of the young team is hearing the whispers about how they’re all going to be gone next season for whichever big-name free agents the team can land. That’s a bad backdrop to try to turn around the season for Luke Walton. Throw in the possibility of the Lakers selling some rentals at the deadline (Julius Randle) for future picks and the Lakers should stay within the bottom five.”

Bruins hot

The local hockey team bombed floundering Ottawa Saturday night and heads into the new calendar year on a true high — and with real ambitions. The offense is showing it is more than just the top line.

“It’s tough to beat a team that has four good lines and three good D pairings and a couple hot goalies,” said Brad Marchand. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”

David Backes, who came back a month earlier than expected after having part of his colon removed, was named the NHL’s third star for last week. He had three goals and three assists in six games.

Monday, the B’s sent a still-rehabbing Peter Cehlarik, out the last 16 games with a lower body injury, back to Providence. He’ll be back.

With Villanova’s loss to Butler, this is the first time in the history of the AP poll (started in 1948-49) there isn’t a single undefeated Division I team through Jan. 1. … Finally, I think it’s cool that Brian Gionta will captain the United States hockey team in the NHL-less Olympics. A ticket back to the NHL?

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.


Sports columns Patriots/NFL Red Sox/MLB Celtics/NBA Bruins/NHL