sunday_links.jpgby Scott Benson

Stay classy, then San Diego.

This much is known already today – if the Patriots can get by the Jets in this afternoon’s Wildcard matchup at Gillette Stadium, they’ll earn the right to wing westward for a divisional round date with the AFC’s standard bearers for 2006, the San Diego Chargers.

Indy’s pummeling of Kansas City yesterday also ensures that today’s home playoff game will be the only one for New England this season.

Make it count, my fellow fans. To help you get ready, here’s a look at the Sunday papers.

It’s a Globe tradition. Save the best shit stirring for the playoffs. Today, with no coaching change in the offing, and no drug stories available, Jackie MacMullen brings us Asante Samuel, who picks today to go public with his unhappiness over his pending contract negotiations. Basically, same shit, different player, and you can already see where this one might be going. I don’t get Samuel, who’s been a quiet guy (name me one Samuel quote), picking the start of the playoffs to start positioning himself to ‘Get Paid’, as his tattoo instructs. I mean, I get it – when better, than when the attention is on you? But it’s a grab for a personal goal just at the time we count on these guys to put them aside for a few minutes. Why isn’t Dan Graham hitting up a scribe to give him a hand with his wallet, for example? I don’t really know, but I know what it looks like. And I know what Samuel’s comments look like too.

Anyway, you’ll never convince me the Globe doesn’t try to lob these shells when they have the most ‘effect’. Here’s a feature piece that goes back to Samuel playing high school quarterback, for crissakes, but there’s this fairly explosive (given last off-season) news story sloppily tacked on the front of it. It doesn’t flow worth a damn. And don’t tell me the Globe just got this tidbit a few hours ago, and they put it up on the site as soon as they had it. This is the editorial judgement, quite simply, of a bunch of pricks.

One guy who’s proven to be above the Morrissey Mindset is our pal Mike Reiss, who looks at today’s matchup of familiar rivals. Mike also notes (conveniently, in his Notebook) that the Pats will have to pay special attention when on special teams today. Christopher L. Gaspar has been plugging away down in New York all week, and in his Notebook today, he reminds us that the Jets have one of the premier 3rd down offenses in the league. He also has a look at the NFL’s comeback player of the year, Chad Pennington. Jim McBride gives the edge to the Pats in his scouting report.

Ron Borges has a solid feature on a difficult year for Richard Seymour, who has battled injury throughout. Ron slaps around Mike Felger pretty good with this one. Ron blazes again with his weekly Football Notes, featuring a post mortem in Oakland – has there been a falling out with old friend Al Davis? – and a bit about Nick Saban, who is all of a sudden referenced as “Bill Belichick’s best friend in coaching” (as if we wouldn’t know who Saban is otherwise) the week he flees the Dolphins under questionable circumstances. Ron also touches base with a Navy doctor and Pats fan in Kuwait, who will be drawing inspiration from the Patriots today. This was very nice. Even though Ron slips in a bit about “childish obsession(s) with sports.” Hasn’t Ron spent nearly all of his adult life writing about sports for a living? A look inside the cynical mentality of a sports journalism veteran. Go write about cars or something, then. Anyway, I thought Ron had been sort of dull with the Notes all season, but he’s cranked up his game for the playoffs. I have that familiar taste of bile again.

Amalie Benjamin has a couple of sidebars today: a look at a late-season surge by the Pats offensive line, and another on veteran Jarvis Green, who long ago wrested away Willie Clay’s ‘big play’ title, especially for his work in the playoffs.

Seriously, Dan Shaughnessy devoted his column today to a look back at Mo Lewis’s hit on Drew Bledsoe. I’m not linking it, of course. Lewis’s hit ‘changed the franchise’ here in New England! Did it? Oooooooo! Honstly, the funniest thing about this late season Pats run has been watching people like Shaughnessy and Tony Mazz post these football columns. They look like fish flopping around on hot pavement.

At the Herald, Michael Felger says the Pats got caught napping in their last game with the Jets, and he doubts it will happen again. Mike says the Patriots’ blitz pick up is the game within a game today. This has been a theme all week – I am going to be severely disappointed if people are running free on Tom Brady after all this build-up. Felger also goes Inside the Huddle for a look at the other AFC playoff contenders and how the Pats measure up, then runs through some Quick Hits about Nick Saban, and alleges a stats-conscious Pats team. Lastly, Felger has bits on Richard Seymour and Cleveland OC Jeff Davidson, which are so short they might have been well placed in, oh, Quick Hits.

Albert Breer looks at how the Patriots are handling the increased intensity of the playoffs. Albert notes that 17 Pats will play their first playoff game today. John Tomase, seemingly underutilized in this morning’s paper, offers his weekly What to Look For scouting report. I’m still applauding Tomase’s digging on the Rodney Harrison injury last Sunday. Karen Guregian says the Jets run game has struggled without the great Curtis Martin, though the normally reticent Pete Kendall suggests it’s been good enough.

The Herald closes with Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post saying that the hiring of Eric Mangini is the third best decision in the history of the franchise. Which goes to my point on Friday – these guys haven’t done a thing in 40 years. Speaking of the delusional rantings of the New York media, you can find more here at Bruce Allen’s New York Sports Pages. Good luck.

In the ProJo, a well-done, though uncredited (Art? Is that you?), story takes the long view – the Patriots may be beginning a major run at history today. If New England can win four more games, they’ll be just the third team in league history to take four titles in six seasons (the others were the 60’s Packers and the 70’s Steelers).

Shalise Manza Young has a nice turn on Dean Pees, the underappreciated coordinator whose defensive unit set a team record for fewest points allowed. All this talk about a former DC and very little about the current one, but Young takes a step towards evening it up here. Joe McDonald has his weekly analysis of the matchups, and curiously gives the advantage to the Jets offense over the Patriots defense. I’m hoping I just read that wrong.

Jim Donaldson decides, in light of the ‘He won’t say his NAME!’ controversy, to play the Name Game. I admit – when I saw the first ‘name’ was Adam Vinatieri, I stopped reading.

Well, this is what we watch for, really. The pure enjoyment of witnessing fierce competition, amazing athleticism, and inspiring toughness and guile. Then there’s the all-important partisan Pride of Place. Our hope that our team will be the one to win the big game, the one to survive and forge ahead. That we’ll be the fans who celebrate, not regurgitate, who head back to our real lives tomorrow with a little spring in our step, not a slight slump in our shoulders. Childish? This is just fun, dammit – a little bit of fun, for people whose lives each hold their own challenges that must be faced, and get faced, every day. We’re sorry we’re enjoying ourselves, Ron. Its the worst kind of screwed up that we should have a sportswriter – of all people, a man who makes a living off our backs – begrudging us for it. Screw him, and screw them. Enjoy yourselves today.

Keep checking the latest news at Reiss’s Pieces, and if you’ve got a mind to keep reading this morning, please be our guest at the Patriots News Mash Up. I’ll be back after the game.