Top-seeded Patriots doing self-scouting while waiting to find out their playoff opponent



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FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts — The New England Patriots are moving on from a game they didn't have to win to one they can't afford to lose.

Their 17-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday had no bearing on their status as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Key starters didn't play and subdued fans rested their voices for the postseason.

Any momentum gained by a victory would disappear by the time New England plays its next game at home on Jan. 10.

"I don't really believe that you can get bad habits in football," safety Devin McCourty said. "I think everything is all about preparation each week. You do everything great one week, it doesn't mean next week you created good habits and it'll happen again."

Not knowing their next opponent, the Patriots (12-4) will spend this week scouting themselves, figuring out where they can improve as individuals and a team and then practicing to do that.

Their division-round foe will be determined this coming weekend.

They'll play the wild-card winner with the lowest seed. It would be No. 6 Baltimore if it beats No. 3 Pittsburgh on Saturday. If Pittsburgh wins, the Patriots will play the winner of Sunday's game between No. 4 Indianapolis and No. 5. Cincinnati.

The Patriots beat Indianapolis (42-20) and Cincinnati (43-17) this season. Against Baltimore, they lost in the playoffs in the 2009 and 2012 seasons and won in the 2011 season, but the Ravens roster has changed substantially the past two seasons.

"We'll have to be ready for the different possibilities," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. "Certain members of our staff will be doing the forward preparation on them. But we know where we'll be playing. ... We know the potential for some of the conditions that we'll be playing in."

Winter in New England brings cold, wind and snow that can take a toll on the body.

Belichick said Monday he's "fine" after meeting with club medical personnel about his health immediately after Sunday's game.

His team should be rested and relatively healthy for the playoff game with some regulars playing for the first time in at least three weeks.

Julian Edelman, the Patriots' top receiver, was inactive against the Bills. So was Rob Gronkowski, the powerful tight end who got through the season uninjured after being limited to seven games last season following forearm, back and knee problems.

Edelman is Tom Brady's reliable, sure-handed, go-to receiver. Gronkowski overpowers defenders and demands double coverage that opens space for other receivers.

Without them — and inactive linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer — Brady struggled in the first half against Buffalo. Then he watched from the sideline as rookie Jimmy Garoppolo played the rest of the way.

"Hopefully, Gronk is ready to roll and Jules is ready to roll and the guys up front are ready to roll" in the next game, Brady said. "It's good when you have your very good players out there."

Sunday's game gave backups extended playing time, experience that could come in handy in the postseason.

On defense, Jonathan Casillas started for linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Logan Ryan replaced cornerback Brandon Browner with both regulars inactive.

Still, the Patriots didn't allow a second-half touchdown for the sixth straight game.

"We're trying to improve as the game goes along," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. "I think every play as the game goes becomes more critical. I think our guys understand that and that's something we put a point of emphasis on."

Once the Patriots know their opponent, the emphasis will be on devising a game plan.

"No matter who we play, there are things that we're going to need to work on" this week, Belichick said. "We definitely would want to have the preparation work done so that when we do find out how things unfold that we can just dive right in."


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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