The New England Patriots are gearing up to face the New York Jets on Sunday, and are looking to secure the number one seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Here is a look at a few of the storylines heading into their regular season finale.
One important thing to note here is that Week 17 is a big deal when it comes to incentives, as many players have bonuses tied to the percentage of snaps they play throughout the season or to other metrics such as yards or touchdowns. Controversy can arise if a player thinks his coach is deliberately sitting him so that the team doesn’t have to pay the bonus out. While you may think that Bill Belichick would be the type of guy to sit players in order to save some cash, he’s proven throughout the years that he’s usually on the player’s side when it comes to earning incentives. For example, he played defensive end Chris Long throughout the Patriots’ Week 17 match-up last year in order to help him earn a playing time incentive. With that being said, here are a few of the incentives that are up for grabs Sunday.
Safety Patrick Chung has incentives that pay out if he plays 65% ($200k), 75% ($400k), 80% ($600k if the Patriots also win Sunday and make the Super Bowl), or 85% ($500k) of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this year. Pro-Football-Reference currently has him at 88%, so don’t be surprised if he stays in the game well into the second half to ensure he hits each of the thresholds.
Fullback James Develin has incentives that pay out if he plays 20% or 30% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps this year. He’s currently at 29.8%, so will need to play a bit more than usual to hit the higher threshold. With running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee already ruled out for Sunday, it is possible that Develin will pick up a few of their snaps and earn his bonus.
Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy has incentives that pay out if he plays in 50%, 55%, or 60% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this year. He is currently at 55%, so is unlikely to hit the 60% mark, but will likely play throughout the game to ensure he earns the bottom two tiers.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski can earn an additional $2.5 million if he racks up either 116 receiving yards, 11 receptions, or six touchdowns on Sunday. The suspension really hurt him, as he’d likely just need a few more catches to hit the mark if he had played against the Miami Dolphins a few weeks ago. However, he can also earn the incentive by being named a first-team AP All-Pro, so all hope is not lost yet. Either way, look for him to have a big game Sunday as he tries to earn this incentive.
(Author’s Note: Shoutout to Miguel Benzan of BostonSportsJournal.com for keeping track of these and other incentives. He’s @patscap on Twitter and is a must follow for Patriots fans.)
As I mentioned earlier, with Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee having been ruled out, the buck will fall to Dion Lewis and James White to carry the load on Sunday. White is still dealing with an ankle injury that he sustained against the Steelers two weeks ago, and may or may not be a go for Sunday. As a result, Brandon Bolden might see some meaningful offensive snaps this Sunday. In addition, the Patriots will also likely be looking to try out James Harrison, especially with defensive end Eric Lee missing practice on Friday. Harrison complained about a lack of playing time in Pittsburgh, and the Patriots will want to see what he can do and keep him happy by having him out on the field on Sunday. One last thing to note here is that wide receiver Chris Hogan, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy are once again listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. The Patriots could play either of them (or both) in a limited role on Sunday to help ease them back into things before the playoffs. Or, they could rest them once again and have them go onto the field cold turkey in two weeks.
Backup offensive tackle Cameron Fleming has taken over for LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle in recent weeks after Waddle left the Patriots’ first match-up with the Miami Dolphins a month ago with an injury. Despite Waddle appearing to be the better player, he has battled a lingering knee injury that required surgery when he was with the Detroit Lions in 2014. He was inactive all of last year for the Patriots, with Bill Belichick alluding to the knee injury as the reason why. It will be interesting to see if Waddle can regain his starting job in the playoffs, or if the Patriots ride with the less talented but also less injury-prone Fleming.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Jets 16