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.
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.
Tom remains terrific
MVP: A one-man race?
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.
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