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Michael Taylor 9th Jan 2010 - 14:36

Patriots offence can make do without Welker for now

No matter what the sport the question always remains the same, in a nothing game should you still give your all or just toss in the reserves? Bill Belichick will probably have pondered his decision to this scenario all week long.

The New England Patriots marched into their week seventeen match-up against Houston with the intention of building up some much needed road confidence after a season in which they only managed two wins away from New England.

What actually went down though was as close to the worst case scenario as possible as a 21 point fourth quarter sunk the Pats and, most devastatingly, star receiver Wes Welker picked up a season-ending knee injury.

The pain felt by every New England fan was easily understandable given Welker's immeasurable contribution this year which isn't limited to just his 123 receptions, 1,348 yards or four touchdowns.

Many people see the stocky wide man as New England's playmaker, the man Tom Brady looks towards to consistently move the chains up the gridiron and, because of this, he demands enough coverage to allow Randy Moss to get free.

His absence now throws into question how the Patriots' offence will adjust if they still want to be considered as genuine Super Bowl contenders, although the issue may not be too essential until next week.

The reason being, the wild card tie against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday looks a fantastic match-up for New England on paper.

In principal, you always know what you're going to see from the Ravens offence with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee being handed the ball as often as possible and Joe Flacco being called on when the yard chains dictate it.

The big problem for the Ravens here is that this Patriots defence has put up great numbers against any rush heavy offence they've come across this season.

In eight games against rushing teams this year (Jets x2, Dolphins x2, Panthers, Ravens, Titans and Jaguars) New England have won six, outscoring their opponents 229-107 in the process, and never allowing more than 21 points in a game.

Even if Baltimore can perform at the higher end of this spectrum it most likely wouldn't be enough to see them to an unlikely victory, especially when you consider how strong the Patriots were at the Gillette Stadium this year.

It may be their first game without Welker but, by putting up at least 20 points in every single game in Boston this season, Belichick and Brady have shown they're an unbeatable combination on home turf.

True they'll need to come in with a different game plan but there shouldn't be too many problems finding ways through John Harbaugh's weaker than usual defence given the relative strength of their reserves.

Veteran back Fred Taylor is capable should he be asked to step up, Laurence Maroney has a great opportunity to show he's an elite HB and rookie receiver Julian Edelman showed what he can do in the season finale with 10 receptions and 103 yards.

And, of course, with Tom Brady playing under centre anything is possible - at least this week anyway.

New England have been given -3.0 points on the spread at 4/5 and while it's worth a bet, I'm actually going to give them a little bit more to do and take the -5.0 at 11/10 on the alternative handicap market.

I'm also seriously looking at the 12/1 about Edelman running in the first touchdown of the game just to give me that little extra interest.

He may be a rookie but he showed no signs of nerves when asked to fill Welker's boots last week against the Texans and, at that price, he just screams value.

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

In the wild card round round's third rematch of a week 17 game the Green Bay Packers carry all the confidence after unloading on the Cardinals in a brilliant 33-7 win in Arizona.

Don't expect such a lacklustre performance from Ken Whisenhunt's Cards here though as they now focus on defending their NFC title rather than avoiding the Super Bowl curse.

It doesn't take a genius to recognise the similarities between this year's Cardinals and last year's Cardinals but is there anything to suggest lightening can strike twice?

Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald are still around so you know big plays are always a distinct possibility, however I don't believe they have the defence to go all the way, or even pass by the streaking Packers.

Aaron Rodgers has been outstanding this season in leading an offence lacking a superstar to one of the most potent around while Ryan Grant is a perfect foil to Green Bay's pass oriented set-up.

It took them a while to get going in the NFC North but they eventually managed to clutch hold of the Vikings' coattail and could now be the most underestimated factor in this year's post-season.

I'm taking Green Bay at 10/11 on the money line here and fancying them for even more success over the next few weeks - I just hope my desperation for a Favre - Rodgers rematch isn't clouding my judgement.




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