FOXBORO - With no clue as to who they will be playing a week from Saturday, the Patriots are in self-study mode.
All the better to defeat whomever they will have to play, quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday.
"When it comes down to it, the team that plays the best is going to win," he said. "Our preparation has to be really good and solid and focused, and this is the last time we're going to have a chance to really evaluate ourselves."
The Patriots can play Cincinnati, Indianapolis or Kansas City on Jan. 11 (8:15 p.m.; Ch. 4, 12), and it's a good bet that Bill Belichick has the wheels in motion for game plans specific to each. But in the meantime, Belichick has used the playoff bye week in the past for self-evaluation and tweaking of what the Patriots would be doing regardless of opponent.
So the Patriots headed to the practice field behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, a clear but blustery day, going through the motions almost as if it was a colder version of training camp. With heavy snow in the forecast, some of the next few practices may be headed inside the Dana-Farber Field House - but don't be surprised if Belichick orders an outside field cleaned off for preparation under even more adverse conditions.
"You've got to play to our strength," Brady said, "and part of our strength is going out there practicing every day in these conditions. If you get used to it, you develop the mental toughness to deal with it. You don't want the built-in excuses for why you're giving less than your best.
"We really focus in the meetings, and then go out and practice in these conditions," he added. "We might get a cold and windy day like this one. It's on all of us to be at our very best. It's fun it's a great position to be in, playoff football, and to get a jump on things this week."
After 14 seasons with Belichick, Brady said he has total faith in the preparation he and his teammates - especially the younger ones - will receive from the head coach.
"Coach handles the team pretty well," Brady said. "He's got a great handle on what he thinks the team needs to hear. It doesn't matter if you've played or haven't played, or how many games you've played, you have to be at your best."
Without a specific opponent, Brady said he expected that the Patriots would choose the path most likely to bring them a victory over whomever they'll be playing. It could be a lot of passing, or a lot of running, or an even split - whatever weakness Belichick may be able to exploit when the identity of the opponent becomes known.
"Anything can happen in these games," Brady said. "You never know what's going to happen and how the game's going to play out. If you have to hand off 70 times, that's what we're going to do. Whatever they're having a tough time defending, that's what we've got to find a way to get to.
"Last week we did a great job of running the ball, and the line played was so physical, it was awesome to watch," he added. "Hopefully you can wear the other team out by making them tackle you and making them figure it out."
In the meantime, Brady said he hadn't really decided how closely watch the wild-card games this weekend.
"I've done both," he said. "I've watched and I haven't watched, and sometimes you get really riled up and you start rooting for one team to win or to lose. Whatever it needs to be, that's what it will be."