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Pats' ability to adapt to elements, opponent makes them the best

There's a saying: Never confuse hope for a plan. It's one of my favorites. And with the weather changing in most NFL cities, hoping teams can deal with the elements is not the best course of action. Having a plan is essential, but not every team has one for weather.

The best team in football, the New England Patriots, had a specific plan on Sunday to deal with the Bears, the wind, the snow and the cold. They did not go to Chicago hoping for the weather to change, or relying on their talent alone to prevail. Their preparation was not subject to chance, but rather a developed plan started by their coach, Bill Belichick, many years ago. Belichick always covers every area with incredible detail, but his cold-weather plan has been in his repertoire for a long time -- he is 11-0 in snow games at Foxborough -- and it worked to perfection in Chicago.

Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press
Tom Brady and the Patriots have been dominant in snow games over the last three years, outscoring opponents 142-14, including 109-0 in the first half.
The Patriots in snow games, 2008-2010
Date
Opponent
First half
Final
Off. yds
31-0
47-7
514*
45-0
59-0
619
33-0
36-7
475
*Matt Cassel was quarterback in game

First and foremost, a team must be built in a style that is symbolic of the city it represents. The Patriots play outdoors in the cold, snow, rain and wind. Before selecting any player, they must be certain he can handle the elements. It requires a tough-minded person to deal with Mother Nature at her worst. The foundation for repairing the Patriots began in the offseason and centered on becoming tougher after their humiliating playoff loss at home to the Ravens.

It used to be passing teams couldn't win in the snow or cold, but no longer. The Bills went to four Super Bowls running the K-Gun offense and played in terrible conditions and still effectively threw the ball. It is not just throwing in the snow that matters, but rather how you throw. Belichick's cold-weather plan limits the offensive playbook, but he has the right plays. Passing is much easier in the snow as long as the offense attacks the middle of the field. No throws to the sideline, keep the passing game limited to inside the numbers. Inside routes and redirection routes are critical and can be executed well. A team must shorten the width of the field and then make sure the running game is configured in a north-south fashion.

The Patriots threw well inside the numbers, attacking the Bears straight ahead, and never let the elements impact how they caught or handled the ball. It was classic Belichick. The Patriots set an NFL record for scoring at least 30 points without committing a turnover in five straight games. They have handled the snow, wind, rain and the opposing team with precision. Nothing seems to bother them.

Having a plan for the snow is great, but having a cold-weather quarterback that can handle the elements goes a long way, too. After another stellar performance, is there any doubt now that quarterback Tom Brady is the best player in the NFL and will be named MVP? Brady has been flawless in every setting, but it seems when the weather turns the ugliest, he is at his best. Not bad for a kid from California, albeit Northern California.

Brady throws into the wind as if it isn't even a factor. His ability to drive the ball through the wind with amazing accuracy, coupled with the cold-weather plan of attacking the middle of the field, has Brady playing at his highest level. This New England offense with him at the controls does not have every play in the playbook, but it has the ingredients to succeed each week, no matter the opponent.

The offensive versatility started in the summer, when the Patriots became determined to have their line play with a sense of toughness. With the spread offense being used throughout the league now, teams can become soft if they don't emphasize pad level and physicality from their whole team. This season, the Patriots are coming off the ball with power, so when they have to run, they can do it effectively. They are not a one-dimensional team.

This balance allows them to control the game, how they attack their opponent, and then adjust during the game. But don't get fooled with all their formations and personnel groups -- the Patriots execute, attack and perform with precision. They are not a passing team, but rather one with a balanced offense.

Over the past five weeks, they have won decisively at Pittsburgh and Chicago and dominated the Jets in New England. As one former coach in the league told me this week, it's not difficult to figure out who's the best team in the league.

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MVP: A one-man race?

Going off my holiday list theme from last week, here are my top three MVP candidates.

1. Tom Brady: He has been flawless. As the offense has changed from Randy Moss to their new two-tight end attack, Brady has reconnected with Deion Branch. Brady has been great on the field, but he has also excelled at getting the offense into the right play at the right time. At this point, he is dominating physically and mentally.

2. Michael Vick: Vick is a lock for the Comeback Player of the Year award, but up until Sunday, I thought I would need the final month of the season to decide between Vick and Brady for MVP. While Vick is the main reason the Eagles are a real Super Bowl contender, Brady is playing at another level and it's his award for the taking. Without Vick, the Eagles might -- and I stress the word might here -- be a wild-card team. With him, they can get to the Super Bowl, even with all of their injuries.

3. Matt Ryan: He has taken his game to another level and has played well in closing minutes of games to help the Falcons share the best record in football. I was not always a believer in Matty Ice before this season, especially away from the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome, but Ryan has been spectacular and should garner a few votes.

Three-step drops

» How many emails will I get now when I am critical of Mark Sanchez and his lack of accuracy? He must be in a simple-read, play-action offense, and when teams play Cover 1 against him and dare him to make tight throws, he struggles. I wrote this last week, but right now, the Jets are not as good as they were late last year. ...

Jets could miss playoffs
After starting the season 9-2, the Jets have dropped two straight and have a tough schedule remaining. Steve Wyche examines what could keep New York out of the playoffs. More ...

» Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi needs to face a heavy fine for tripping Nolan Carroll on the sideline. Player safety is vital to the game. His move was classless and he should be strongly punished. ...

» Where has LaDainian Tomlinson gone for the Jets? Older running backs never get stronger as the year moves along. …

» Forget about Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle being an NFL starter, he is not even an NFL backup. He does not have the arm or skill to carry a team, and the Chiefs must find a better option for next year. ...

» The Eagles need to run the ball more as they did against the Cowboys, because teams are always worried about Vick being on the move. The Eagles will never see an eight-man box, in theory at least, as most defensive ends are playing boot action, leaving the inside of the defense vulnerable. ...

» The Saints are peaking at the right time, and their offense is back to making the down-the-field plays they need to be effective. How good was safety Malcolm Jenkins against the Rams? He was around the ball all game and came up with two interceptions after having just one career pick coming into the game. ...

» The Steelers were not great, but their defense was opportunistic and Bengals QB Carson Palmer keeps making mistakes. Troy Polamalu is back to making clutch plays and seems to have regained his quickness. ...

» The Broncos fired Josh McDaniels after a hard-fought loss to the Chiefs last week. This week, Denver failed to compete and I have a funny feeling Kyle Orton will never be as good as he was for McDaniels. ...

» The Browns are better than they showed against the Bills, but every time Jake Delhomme dropped back to pass, I was convinced he was going to throw it to the other team. This loss, along with the next three weeks, will determine if Mike Holmgren keeps Eric Mangini as his coach next year. ...

» Peyton Hillis has to stop jumping and hurdling tacklers. He is too big and just needs to run over them. He can get seriously injured if he does not stop jumping. ...

» Play-calling is hard, but making the right call at the right time is essential. Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter calling the quarterback reverse option with David Garrard carrying the ball was great. So was the Lions' Scott Linehan going with a tight end screen for the winner against the Packers.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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