Bill Belichick doesn't get it. Rest his starters Sunday against the Dolphins?
First of all, the Patriots have the opportunity to lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win next weekend in Miami. If they lose, they'd need a Raiders loss later in the day to keep them in the top spot.
Second, even if Belichick wanted to give his starting units a rest, it would be logistically impossible. The arithmetic just doesn't make sense, he explained when the topic of resting starters was broached during a conference call on Monday.
"Look, I really don’t understand that question," Belichick said. “I don’t know how many starters we have but we have a lot more than . . . We can only inactivate seven players so this isn’t like a preseason game where you have 75 guys on your roster. This is a regular-season game.
"I don’t really understand that whole line of questioning. I’m not saying I’m a great mathematician or anything but the numbers just don't add up for that type of conversation so there’s no use getting involved in it."
Belichick's right in that he can't find 22 new players to start on both sides of the football for the regular-season finale. There just aren't enough players at enough positions to field two completely different starting lineups. That much is clear.
But there may be an opportunity for Belichick to rest certain key individuals, as he did late in his club's Christmas Eve domination of the Jets, 41-3. Both quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Julian Edelman, for instance, were able to get breathers in that one.
While it's unlikely the Dolphins roll over the way the Jets did -- they still have something to play for -- it's feasible that the Patriots could find a way to get some time off for tight end Martellus Bennett, left tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis, corner Malcolm Butler, safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Dont'a Hightower (who missed Week 16 with a knee injury), depending on the score.
And they may want to. They're already without one of their best players in Rob Gronkowski, and they need only to look to the injuries sustained by Tennessee and Oakland over the weekend to know how quickly playoff hopes can go up in smoke.
The Patriots know they need to win in order to control their own destiny and ensure they're spending January at Gillette Stadium. But if at some point on New Year's Day that becomes a foregone conclusion? Then the math becomes easy, and Belichick won't hesitate to get his most valuable players out of harm's way.