The X-factor designation is typically reserved for an unknown commodity. In football context, it might be a player returning from injury, a player new to his team, or a player in a new position. This week's Patriots X-factor, though, does not fit the typical definition. But there's not much typical about him at all.
The Patriots X-Factor: Head Coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick is anything but unknown. He is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL, having won five Super Bowls during his career - three as head coach of the Patriots and two as an assistant coach with the NY Giants. Belichick is the longest tenured head coach in the NFL, is a three-time AP NFL Coach of the Year, has compiled a 163-62 (.724) record as Patriots Head Coach and is one win shy of the 200th in his career; his 199 career wins are sixth-most in NFL history.
As successful and respected as he is, he can be even more unpredictable and unorthodox. A few examples of this include:
-- Playing WR Troy Brown as a DB in 2004
-- Releasing defensive captain Lawyer Milloy after an embarrassing season-opening loss and then watching his team go 14-2
-- Turning college wrestler Stephen Neal into a starting caliber OG who helped win three Super Bowls
-- Not naming coordinators at times, one time saying: "Titles are fine, nothing wrong with them. But the most important thing is each person's role, that we do everything we can to help the players succeed – everyone collectively getting the job done."
-- Drafting a QB who didn't start a college game at QB (Matt Cassel) and having that guy turn into a Pro Bowler
-- Using a TE as a RB in the playoffs and having him lead the team in rushing for a game
What might Belichick have up his sleeve for this week's game against the Vikings? Will he and Tom Brady go to a quick count or silent count to neutralize the Vikings pass rush? Maybe they'll spread the Vikings defense out and go five-wide out of the gun, as they did to the Vikings in 2006. You just never know with Belichick.
The good news is the Vikings have a veteran and respected coaching staff of their own, led by Mike Zimmer. You can be sure Zimmer and his defensive staff have some ideas of what to expect and you can also be certain they'll be prepared to adjust on the fly. Also, it helps that Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner has plenty of experience facing Belichick, particularly from his days as head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
In the NFL, you win with players. But coaching matters, too. And Sunday's Vikings-Patriots game features a tremendous coaching matchup.