With the New England Patriots clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, which gives them home-field advantage regardless of what happens in Sunday's season finale against Buffalo, the natural question is how this might affect Bill Belichick's personnel-related plans.
A few thoughts:
Three weeks is a long break. For players who are healthy enough to play, shutting them down would mean a three-week break until their next game. That's a long time and can sometimes backfire. There is something to be said for maintaining an edge and staying sharp. The Giants, from the 2007 season finale, are one somewhat similar example that comes to mind along these lines. The opposite end of the spectrum is the 2009 Patriots, who lost receiver Wes Welker in the finale to a torn ACL and that seemed to follow them into the wild-card round of the playoffs. So finding the right balance is the key.
Injured players in a different category. For players such as starting left guard Dan Connolly (knee), No. 3 cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring), running back LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and receiver Julian Edelman (concussion), this buys more time. No need to push those injured players.
A chance to recharge for full-time players. Specific to a player like Gronkowski, who played every snap Sunday against the Jets, it makes sense to think he'll see a significantly reduced workload. He's too valuable to the offense to push him into the fourth quarter of the finale. Likewise on the defensive side with Revis, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins etc. It's just a matter of being smart. Not every player can be shut down completely; there simply aren't enough players on the 53-man roster to do that. So it's picking the right spots.
Similar to a fourth preseason game. The feeling here is the season finale can be viewed similarly to a fourth preseason game that comes after the team doesn't perform as desired in the third preseason game; you want to develop some momentum to give certain areas of the team something to hang their hat on. Specifically, that would relate to the offense this week.