Found January 03, 2013 on Boston Sports Then & Now:
Alfonzo Dennard has been a pleasant surprise for the Patriots this season. Coming off a shutout of the Miami Dolphins this past Sunday and with the help of an Indianapolis Colts win over the Houston Texans, the Patriots will get to watch the games this weekend in the comforts of their own homes.  The Patriots received a first round bye and will be playing a home playoff game next Sunday at Gillette.  Due to the Broncos having a better record, the Patriots will face the highest remaining seed left after this weekend’s games.  Whether it be Baltimore, Houston, or Indianapolis. The defense really has not been the problem the last few games as the offense has come out flat in recent memory especially the 49ers game and even against a lowly Jaguars team.  The playoffs are a different type of game as the referees seem to let more go and coaches coach the game differently than the regular season.  Last year there was no question the Patriots walked to the Super Bowl with not much work.  The defense showed in the Super Bowl that they needed to improve. The Patriots brought in some young blood and I feel the Patriots defense HAS improved from last year. Chandler Jones has improved the pass rush as well as Justin Francis getting in on the action recently. Hightower has added speed to the linebacker core and Alfonzo Dennard has been a pleasant surprise as a seventh round pick.  There was no question about Dennard’s talent but his discipline after punching a police officer.  The Patriots took a shot with a seventh round pick and so far it has worked out.  Speaking of draft picks the Patriots traded some to acquire Aqib Talib and it seems to have worked out if he can play next week moving Devin McCourty back to safety and keeping Patrick Chung off the field. Will the Patriots defense be able to stop Peyton Manning if that game does happen that everyone wants to see? The answer is maybe.  They played the Broncos earlier this season but now the Broncos are a different team they are winners of eleven straight and seem to be clicking.  The defense should be healthy and be able to at least match the Broncos defense and hope for a shootout type game.  They can stop the likes of Houston and Indianapolis and we know they can stop Baltimore even though they lost to them early on this season on a last second close field goal. Rob Ninkovich who left the Dolphins game injured will most certainly play in next Sunday’s game and the Patriots need him to play as he has been a fumble forcing and recovering machine this season.  I’ll let you smile about the Jets game.  Ninkovich has done a good job moving to the defensive line this season and has become in the Mike Vrabel mold player minus the touchdown catches. The defense is ready for a deep playoff run but I will save my predictions for when they actually play a game. Enjoy this weekend’s games knowing the Patriots will be playing a home game next weekend in the frozen tundra of Gillette Stadium! Follow me on Twitter @Nate_Farrell    
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