By Scott Benson, Greg Doyle, Tim Jordan and Bruce Allen

Next Monday, for the first time in my life, I’ll spend Christmas without either of my two now-grown children.

All for good reason, I’m happy to say. Earlier this week my son flew to spend Christmas with his sister, who is living in Corsica while she does some student teaching at a university there.

She’s a world traveler, as far as Bensons go. It’s not the first Christmas she’s spent far away from home, and I suspect, not the last. That’s why her brother is over there this year – she loves Europe, but I guess even jetsetting ameri-euro-hipsters still miss their families at Christmas. The truth is she always ends up a basket case. I don’t feel much better once I’ve gotten off the phone with her.

So he busted his ass on the boat (he’s a fisherman) and saved up enough extra money to buy plane tickets – his first international flight – to places called Orly and Ajaccio, just so his sister didn’t have another gray, lonely holiday.

As kids, they were like any other brother and sister born two years apart. I was always breaking something up, sending someone to their room, telling someone else to wipe that smirk off their face. It was even worse when they learned to walk.

To see them now, in their mid-twenties, devoted to each other as brother and sister, as family, and as friends – to the extent that one would fly 4000 miles to be there for the other – well, it’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever experienced. When he left here the other night, I squeezed him tight and told him how proud I was of him. Of both of them.

What does this have to do with the Patriots? Nothing. It’s just one father’s Christmas story, about one of the best gifts he’s ever gotten. I hope the tree that your family gathers around this Monday will be surrounded by dozens just like it.

Panel, let’s posit.

Did the Patriots do anything last Sunday to make you feel better about their readiness for the playoffs?

Greg: Yes, plenty of things. Save for one drive, the defense was dominant. The offense did what it had to and ddn’t turn the ball over. The special teams were great. Granted, it was against an opponent who isn’t good to begin with and played poorly to boot. But, the Patriots dispatched them 40-7 and played a clean, solid game. What’s not to like?

Bruce: Well, they took care of the ball and didn’t commit penalties. I feel better about both of those things. They weren’t dominant on offense, even though the scoreboard would tell you they were. The defense forced turnovers, which again is a positive. Overall, even if the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league, the Patriots did what they had to do to make sure this wasn’t a competitive game. They didn’t play down to the level of their competition. So all in all, there were a number of things that made this a positive step forward.

Scott: Yeah, the fact that they virtually eliminated turnovers and penalties. If the Patriots don’t kill themselves, they’ll make it damn hard for anybody else to kill them. Elsewhere, I especially liked that Corey Dillon got 20 carries even though some of his runs went nowhere. Sometimes they go away from the running game even when Dillon (or one of the others) is cranking. That they stayed with it on Sunday shows real commitment to making the running game work, and gives hope that common sense still has a place in the Patriots’ offensive gameplan. They’re not going anywhere – literally – without it. One more thing – a couple of rookies (Corey Mays and David Thomas) really contributed to the win.

Tim: They outclassed a 4 win team. As far as playoff readiness, I am glad they don’t start this week. They seem like a team that needs a couple more weeks of gameplanning for, preparing for, and playing an opponent. As a blogger fanboy, I feel like they have as good of a chance as any team come playoff time.

By the same token, what would a win mean for them this week? A loss?

Bruce: A win would probably ensure that next week’s game in Tennessee is their bye week, similar to the Miami game at home last year. A loss with a Jets loss probably means the same thing. A loss with a Jets win would really tighten things up and make next week’s game almost do-or-die. Let’s just be safe and win this one.

Scott: A win on Christmas Eve obviously means they would clinch their fourth straight division title, but just as obviously, its been an extremely trying season for the players on this team. I don’t doubt that they have confidence in themselves; what they don’t have is a ton of empirical evidence to back it up. Not this year’s team, anyway. A win over a playoff contender – in a very tough place to prevail – would have to build a little capital in that regard. A loss? Well, that means the AFC East is still open for debate, and it will all come down to the final weekend in Tennessee. That just doesn’t seem very appealing – or affiirming for the Patriots – at all.

Tim: My first response to this was how this game could be a rare “win-win” one for them. I was thinking that a loss may serve to leave just the right bad taste in their mouths for a passioned, sustained playoff run. Then I read what I wrote and it looked absurd, akin to pleading them to get their swagger back like they left it with the cute coat check girl. A loss would probably be a harbinger for other bad things to come. The December mulligan was already taken in Miami. They need to win this week. They need the offense to really assert themselves. Show themselves that they can execute against a physical and talented defense. They are 3 point dogs so I guess that tells you what the money men think about their chances of answering the bell against a schizophrenic Jacksonville team.

Greg: Well, it would mean the division championship to start. A loss would be discouraging, but hey, Indianapolis lost down there too recently. If they can win, that will tell you a lot more about the ability of the Patriots to go on the road against a team that is pretty good and also needs a win. If they can do it, it will be very encouraging for the playoffs.

The Pro Bowl teams were announced this week, and just one Patriot (Richard Seymour) was selected. Any reaction?

Bruce: I’m sure one or two more Patriots will be added as injury replacements, so that will work itself out. In the immediate present, it might mean a little extra motivation for those who feel snubbed. They could use every little edge they can find at this point.

Scott: I’m a fan of a good many of the players, and I suppose I’d like for them to get the national credit they deserve, and apparently want. But I cannot bring myself to give a shit about the Pro Bowl. Never have. I don’t even watch the effing thing. Who does?

Tim: I was elated when I saw this. Contrived or not, many players on this team have shown that they respond well to perceived slights like this. This year it seems like the pundits are tacitly getting behind them enough to remove that angle. Almost as if they don’t want to be wrong about the Patriots so they will continue to qualify every doubt with the obligatory “they’ve shown that they are a resilient group in the past, can they keep it up?”. Kind of takes the edge off of the whole “no one respects us or any of our family pets” mantra that they used to successfully fuel all three of their championship runs. Getting slighted helps, but getting slighted equally by fans, coaches, and players is even better. Plus, we got to see Seymour snarl at Fancypants Felger, the Preppy Fraud, at Wednesday’s press conference for proclaiming Sey’s pro bowl honor underserving.

Greg: Just that its an absolute snub for Ty Warren. Others who could have been selected include Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins and VInce Wilfork. It’s too bad at least a few of them didn’t get in and I hope a few are added if injury replacements are needed. Maybe the Patriots can parlay this into extra motivation.

The Patriots defense is currently allowing an average of 13.7 points per game, the second best in the NFL (behind Baltimore, at 13.3). They’ve allowed the fewest touchdowns of any team in the league (19 – actually, the defense has been responsible for only 17). They could better the great 03 defense for the franchise’s all-time PPG mark. Yet, it seems as though they’re rarely evoked in discussions of the best defenses of 06. Why?

Scott: Because they have no depth and the linebackers are old and the secondary is a bunch of second-tier JAG’s. They are the beneficiaries of an easy schedule. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, I’m not a fan of numbers. Numbers can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the numbers are.

Tim: During the first quarter of the Bears game, many very knowledgeable fans in my section were cussing out this defense vociferously while watching Grossman complete long passes or gains due to interference calls. A fellow ticket holder that I often look to for optimism made me feel better about things by noting that the Bears weren’t going to score on a short field. As we’ve seen in the past, the Patriots defense was going to give yardage between the twenties, but they sure as hell weren’t going to give up long scoring plays. This is obviously anecdotal, but I think it’s a fair representation of what can happen when a team wins by playing sound and smart defense. The scoring statistics have been borderline dominant, but it hasn’t looked that way to the Highlights & Nicknames crowd.

Greg: Not sure. They’ve certainly been very good, which gives them a shot in any game in the playoffs. But in the end, who cares what people talk about? If they go into the playoffs and win a few games with excellent defensive performances, people will start talking. Until then, it’s almost better if they’re under the radar.

Bruce: Great question. Is this a situation where Dan Shaughnessy would say “Screw your stats, I go with what my eyes tell me” or has the defense just flown entirely under the radar? Some might say that the defense isn’t nearly as good as the stats would suggest, but we were told so many times before the season that the club had no depth, and yet they’ve had numerous significant injuries and have still managed to keep up this high level of play. Early on in the season, they seemed to have a problem giving up the big play, and they seemed to have addressed it, but perhaps that early image has stuck with those who are judging this defense. Dean Pees has seemingly done a terrific job with this unit in his first season as DC.

Well, it’s time again for the picks. As Minister of the Big Board of Predictions, I’m declaring wire-to-wire leader Bruce Allen the winner of our inaugural pick ’em contest. Out of fatigue, mostly, though Bruce has been in command from the start. I’m just sick of keeping track of the W-L records. So now you can just freestyle it, boys. Accountability is for suckers. Here’s our slate for this week: San Diego at Seattle, Indianapolis at Houston, Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati at Denver, and on Christmas Night, the Jets at Miami.

Tim: San Diego wins their last game of the season against Seattle (Schottenheimer looks like a lieutenant in the Promise Keepers and Holmgren like that creepy guy that takes the bowling league a little too seriously). Houston shocks the surprisingly punchless Colts (Kubiak wears a satin jacket to car club meetings and Dungy is Sammy Davis Jr. without the interesting sex life). Pittsburgh edges the Ravens (Sgt. Slaughter takes the metal chair to Billick and his Prince Valiant haircut). Denver’s defense rises to the occasion at home (Sphincter Face just too much for Deval Patrick). Miami beats the Jets in another bout of wishful thinking (The lonely substitute science teacher prevails against the fat kid with emotional problems).

Greg: San Diego has been very impressive lately. Seattle hasn’t. So I’ll go with San Diego. Indy beats up on hapless Houston. Pittsburgh is on a roll and takes out Baltimore. Denver beats Cincinnati and severely hurts their playoff shot. Miami beats the Jets as well.

Bruce: I’m humbled. I’m going with San Diego, Indy, Baltimore, Denver and the Jets.

Scott: All hail the Chargers. They look like the NFL’s best team as the year ends. The year’s ending, you say? That’s when Marty Ball is at its best. I’m making a wild-ass pick of the Hawks. The Colts haven’t won on the road since they beat the Patriots. But I just watched the Texans, and I can’t pick ’em to beat Indy. I’m with Greg, I like the Steelers over the Ravens. Pittsburgh has allowed a total of 13 points in the last three games, all wins. Doesn’t sound like an environment where Steve McNair is going to flourish. Sounds like Carson Palmer could be done early again, but I’d take the Broncos at home anyway, regardless. Way to stay consistent, Miami – one week after shutting out the Pats 21-0, they go on the road to Buffalo and lose by the same score. This must be a week for the ‘good’ Dolphins to show up. I’ll take them over the Jets.

Deep breath, men…….let’s have a pick for the Pats and Jaguars.

Bruce: I think I say this every week, but I’m really conflicted here. The Patriots usually respond to a situation like this, but I thought that in Miami two weeks ago. The Jaguars have been great at home all year, (with an inexplicable loss to the Texans being the notable exception) and have generally played to the level of the competition, meaning that they’ll be stoked on Sunday. I fear how much offense the Patriots are going to be able to muster against the Jaguars defense, hoping Tom Brady manages to stay upright for the afternoon. A defensive battle seems in the cards. I’m going to go with the Jaguars, 17-7.

Scott: The Jags are 6-1 at home, where they’re the league’s best home defense (only 9.1 points allowed per game). They’re the third best defense against the run, and second-best when they’re running it themselves. We’ve already talked about the Pats defense. How about a 9-7 game won by the Patriots?

Greg: Tough game. I’m not sure on this one. I am also not sure if Wilfork will be back to help against the Jacksonville running game. I’m going to go with a tight Jacksonville win 20-16.

Tim: Pats by 4. 17-14. Really big game for them.

If you’ve been bad this year, you can expect Santa has left a Mediot of the Week in your stocking. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Bruce: I’m going with whoever Doug Most is from the Boston Globe Magazine. He slammed Tom Brady and David Ortiz for supposedly “helping” their opponents. Brady talking to Matt Hasselbeck about Deion Branch and Ortiz signaling A-Rod to “breathe” apparently makes them “bad teammates” in Most’s eyes. The fact that both of these athletes have been World Champions and performed at the highest level in clutch situations in leading their teams to victory is secondary to these traitorous acts that both Brady and Ortiz are guilty of. Most comments strike me as coming from some “intellectual” who thinks he has sports all figured out, but in reality has no clue about the relationships between athletes in this modern era.

Scott: Other than scanning the papers every morning, I’m pretty insulated from the local media chatter. The radio broke in my car, which was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I’m thankfully too far away to get things like the Fifth Quarter and that crap. I don’t even listen to the Pats pre-game or post-game on the home radio, because that would involve me getting off the couch and going over there to turn it on, which seems like too much effort to go through just to hear Andy Gresh. So I don’t have a MOW again. One thing, though – have you noticed how Artrell Hawkins has become the media’s go-to guy for the Pats defense? And its not to butter his own carrots either – he seems to have become the spokesman for them all. I always appreciate these guys – Christian Fauria was another – who will answer the questions and run the interference for everybody else, without ever making it about them. There’s a real value to that, I think.

Tim: I’m going in the oppsoite direction this week. I want to thank a guy who’s been swimming upstream in the sewer of local sports figures for years. Tom Curran, please come accept your 1 lb bag of Double Bubble. I was stunned to turn on the radio yesterday to hear a caller offering some great observations on the Patriots, specifically about their options when a safety helps out at the line of scrimmage. It was a thoughtful call and the guy showed that he was really paying attention and interested in talking about football, not some contrived storyline that keeps Gary Tanguay-Glenn Orbway-Greg Dickerson flush in blood money (the blood is from the audience ears). Curran immediately recognized this and lauded the guy’s effort and asked Shephard (guest hosting) to (a) stop interrupting him and (b) start making strong points like he is. The whole sequence was a breath of fresh air. He also handled Buckley well when the Dyed Closet decided to derail discussion with posits about the Umass punter. Well done, Tom. I’ve been a fan of Curran’s for some time, along with many others that follow this team, and I am happy to see someone like him get a national gig. We sure miss him in that locker room, though.

Greg: This was easy for me this week. Lets go with the Big Show crew, Ordway, Smerlas, DeOssie and Sheppard. Their drumbeat of idiocy regarding the naming of Jeff Jagodzinski as head coach of Boston College was almost too nauseating to tolerate. If it wasn’t so stupid and ridiculous.

Let’s consider. The naming of Jagodzinski first leaked Monday afternoon in a Herald web column. The Big Show decided to attack; afterall, they are oh so knowledgeable on college sports, and what’s wrong with declaring a coach a failure in the name of ratings before he is even introduced at his press conference? Typical slime ball tactics, acceptable any day of the week at ‘EEI.

So what were their specific complaints? Well, numero uno was Fred Smerlas wondering how “any coach worth his salt” could accept assistants from the previous staff on his staff. I found that incredibly ironic. For fifteen minutes later they had Patriots Coach Bill Belichick on, and not a one of them, just minutes after ranting how weak Jagodzinski must be for taking previous regime assistants, bothered to ask Belchick if he was worth his salt for taking Dante Scarnecchia, Brad Seely and Jeff Davidson onto his staff from Pete Carroll’s staff. And while Ordway sometimes limited his complaint to taking coordinators from a previous staff (Smerlas, DeOssie and Sheppard didn’t make this caveat), it is irrelevant. Scarnecchia is Assistant Head Coach, the second highest coach rank-wise on Belichick’s staff, and Belichick took him. So why didn’t they grill Bill? Because they’re inconsistent, illogical morons who probably don’t even realize Belichick kept on three members of Carroll’s staff. And they certainly couldn’t make the connection that the decision to do so has zero to do with being successful and plenty of good coaches do just that, if the assistants are good coaches.

Furthermore, their idiocy ignores the possibilty maybe Jagodzinski wanted to keep Frank Spaziani, the current BC defensive coordinator. To hear the Big Show Buffoons spin it, Spaziani was forced down his throat and his willingness to take him was the only reason he got the job. Of course, in the name of faux controversy, they made this decision two minutes after reading a single article on it, before Jagodzinski was even named coach himself. Never mind that (according to the Herald) it was Jagodzinski’s ideas on the coaching staff, HIS ideas, that could lead to the retention of Spaziani. Did the Four Idiots of 850 ever consider the possibility that, oh, maybe Jagodzinski LIKES Spaziani because he coached two years with him at BC a few years back and they like each other? Maybe Jagodzinski knows Spaziani is a good, qualified coach because he SPENT A YEAR UNDER HIM as running backs coach when Jagodzinski was Offensive Coordinator? Or maybe he is impressed by the fact BC had a very good defense this year, ranked 29th out of the hundreds of Division I teams? Naw, that would be too logical. So ‘EEI went the screaming jackasses route instead.

Finally, Sheppard spent days going on and on about Jagodzinski having NO COLLEGE OR PRO HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE!!! Clearly the fat man was outraged because he spent a good portion of relaying his thoughts on this screaming and spitting into the microphone like a bloviated drunkard. Gee, Pete, no college or pro head coaching experience when he takes over a major program and the highest he’d ever been was an NFL offensive coordinator? You mean like Charlie Weis? That certainly has proven a good way to evaluate who is ready, huh? Yeah right.

Here are other guys who have been pretty successful college head coaches without pro or college head coaching experience. Phillip Fulmer who won a National Championship at Tennessee, Mark Richt has top teams at Georgia every year, Lloyd Carr won a National Championship at Michigan in 1997, some guy named Joe Paterno when he took over Penn State and Bob Stoops, who won a National Title at Oklahoma. There are plenty of others and we already mentioned Weis. All these guys were hired to their first jobs as head men at major schools without previous college or NFL head coaching experience and did well. Tom O’Brien and Tom Coughlin were in the same situation when hired at BC. Coughlin hadn’t even been an NFL coordinator as Jagodzinski has. Yet Sheppard rants on and on about it as if its conclusive.

The only thing conclusive are all four of these guys are idiots of proportions that put them atop the list of biggest fools in Boston. When they’re not scalping tickets or taking money from charities as their own, they’re going on the air drunk and making stupid statements about Jagodzinski all in the name of creating something other drunks can call in and talk about, piling up ratings in the same way traffic accidents gather onlookers. And they’re this week’s mediots of the week.