By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
January 06, 2010

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If we didn't have friends like Kim in our lives, the world would be a lot more strange.

I'm talking, of course, about the non-fans in our lives that keep us from going off the deep end and having both our professional and personal lives become an emotional roller coaster with every knee injury, special teams fiasco and botched draft. These people seemingly go on with their lives oblivious to the nuances of the NFL season.

They think nothing of going to a birthday party for a relative on a Sunday afternoon in October. They are also pretty good at almost looking like they care the morning after a Super Bowl defeat when you try to describe just how your life will never be the same after that fluke catch by a fifth-string receiver. They help you re-focus on the fact that you have an important meeting that we have to get our head around.

Despite sobering us up from time to time while still accepting our passion, friends like Kim can sometimes unknowingly boil down internal football debates into refreshingly clear terms.

Take for example the exchange we had the other morning. She had to know when the final four teams left in the playoffs would be decided for a project at her daughter's school that centers around the kids putting boxtops into whatever team's pot that they think will win the Super Bowl. After giving her the information, I soberly told her that it would take a lot for the Patriots to be one of those four teams.

"Other teams would have to stink more than them, basically," she suggested

That may be somewhat of an oversimplification but given the ups and down of the 2009 season, it's more accurate than inaccurate.

Heading into Sunday's game against the Ravens, there is not one part of the Patriots game where you feel like they have a clear advantage over an opponent. Wes Welker's crushing injury took away the passing game advantage. We have no idea what to expect out of the running game. And the defense can look like a championship defense one minute and then an embarrassment the next.

Realistically, if the Patriots win on Sunday—and I expect they will in a close one—the season will have essentially squeezed out as much juice as could be hoped for. Any wins in San Diego or Lord forbid Indianapolis would be gravy, gravy and still more gravy.

In many ways, it has the same feel as the 2006 playoff season when wins against the Jets, Chargers and a near-win in Indy was being played with house money. It got so bad that you thought that assistant coach Ivan Fears was going to line up at receiver. Corey Dillon was on his last legs and a promising rookie Laurence Maroney was not quite ready to take over full time.

That 2006 team which would have likely had their way with the Bears in Super Bowl XLI can be a decent comparison for the 2009 version. As we speak, fans in Pittsburgh, Miami and Denver to name a few cities would love just a chance in the tournament. And right now, that is exactly what the Patriots have.

A chance.

They will have to have a pass defense that doesn't give up a lot of big plays, yields the small stuff but then tightens up in the red zone like its ancestral Patriot defenses have done in the past. The offense will necessarily be different without the games best slot receiver in it. But that doesn't mean it suddenly becomes inept. Rather, a case could be made that other members of the offense will know they will have to strive just a little bit further to make up the difference. This is a very similar concept to what we saw last year when the offense performed admirably under the direction of Matt Cassell.

And that finally brings us to the intangibles such as coaching. If Bill Belichick and his staff don't try to get too cute and win on style points as they have tried to do in recent outings, they would be better served. There is an obvious Patriots head coaching advantage to use in the playoffs against the likes of the Harbaughs, Turners, Ryans and Caldwells of the world. The question is whether it will be squandered through non-rhytmical play calling and questionable game strategy.

Maybe the Patriots don't have to stink less than the other teams to become one of the four teams left in the school boxtop contest as my friend Kim suggested. My cereal box is half full.