By: Bob George/
December 05, 2005

No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

”The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” -- The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Ah, those sugar plums. Their meaning is as broad as the Connecticut River Valley.

You can sit there and dream of what you wanted for Christmas as a kid. Maybe you still dream that way as an adult. What used to be bicycles and games and roller skates are perhaps now clothing, jewelry and appliances. Of course, you the adult may also wish for some things like computer games, video games, or maybe an iPod.

What do you the Patriot fan wish for? And don't say a tackle, a strong safety or a shutdown corner.

You want another Super Bowl win, right? Three in a row, something no team has ever done. Bragging rights for another year. More motivation for the Red Sox to get back to the top of the mountain. Another reason to watch duck boats in what has become more traditional than their original intent.

But it won't happen this year. Indianapolis is too good. It's Peyton Manning's season to lose. The Colts want a Vince so bad that they are willing to sacrifice a 16-0 season if they have to. They have already laid a whipping on the Patriots, and in Foxborough, no less. Why bother with super dreams this year when Indianapolis has probably been fitted for their rings already?

And furthermore, the Patriots simply don't have it this year. Too many injuries. Eric Mangini needs another year to fully implement his program. The Patriots play good only against lousy teams, and have forgotten how to beat good teams. Things simply won't break their way.

Reality stinks. Time to go back to sugar plums dancing in your heads.

Our Christmas present to all of you is a brand new pair of rose-colored glasses. This is how the rest of the 2005 Patriot season could turn out. We'll also include a few other teams in the process, and see exactly what lies ahead for your two-time champs.

Unbelievably, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East as early as next weekend. A win at Buffalo combined with a Miami loss at San Diego clinches the division, as the Patriots would win a tiebreaker with Miami based on a better division record if both teams finished at 8-8. With that out of the way, the Patriots could spend the rest of the regular season healing wounds and prepping for the playoffs.

And that preparation could begin immediately. The Patriots would not gain any higher than a four seed upon clinching the division barring some outlandish finishing chokes by Indianapolis, Cincinnati or Denver (the other presumptive division champs). The Colts could technically still lose the division to Jacksonville (and thus wind up a Wild Card and seeded lower than the Patriots), and their next three games are losable. The Bengals could win out and finish at 13-3, but will probably not finish worse than 12-4. The Broncos would need to go 1-3 the rest of the way for the Patriots to finish ahead of them, but they will likely either win three or all four of their final games. Expect the Colts to get their home field.

As for the Wild Card, Jacksonville is a solid bet to lock up the five seed, with Indianapolis at home and three soft games left on their schedule. San Diego, Kansas City and Pittsburgh will battle for the sixth and final seed, with San Diego probably coming out on top. That makes the seeds Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Denver (the latter two are interchangeable; for this discussion the Bengals will take the two seed), New England, Jacksonville and San Diego. This would send Jacksonville to Foxborough and San Diego to Denver for the first round.

If weather holds to form, any Florida team coming to Foxborough in January would be a prohibitive underdog. If Byron Leftwich's health is any concern, it makes it that much tougher for the Jaguars. Meanwhile, everyone's favorite to knock off Indianapolis, San Diego, won't even make it out of Denver thanks to the fact that Marty Schottenheimer is perhaps the worst playoff coach on the planet. So, Denver heads for the Queen City while the Patriots would be off to the Brickyard.

In this scenario, the Patriot season probably ends in the RCA Dome. But the Patriots have history on their side, more than the Colts do. Since 1984, when the Colts moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore, the Patriots are 13-6 in the RCA Dome. The Patriots have won their last two games there, scoring 38 points in each game. This being a 2005 rematch plays into one of Bill Belichick's strong points, as his game preparation for a foe from earlier in the season is the best in the league. Stories came out that the Patriot defensive players begged Mangini to open things up against the Jets, and the result was a near shutout. Granted, the Colts and Jets are at opposite ends of the NFL spectrum, but you never know. It could happen. The Patriots could pull off another doozy against the Colts. At least they have shown they are good at it.

If they could somehow ruin this great Colt season, they would probably root for Cincinnati to hold home court against Denver. The Patriots play generally lousy in Denver (though this would be another rematch game), and can score with Cincinnati (who they beat at home last year, 35-28). If they somehow manage to head for Detroit, they could get a rematch with Carolina, but might want an offensively challenged team like Chicago. Seattle provides some familiarity from last year (a 30-20 win at home), but would be the toughest of these three potential NFC champs.

Some folks think that San Diego will rise up and cut down teams like Indianapolis, Denver and Cincinnati, and would then set up a Patriots-Chargers AFC Championship Game in Foxborough. Again, this would be a rematch game for Belichick. And again, if Schottenheimer knew one iota about how to coach a playoff team, this could happen given how many offensive weapons he has at his disposal. But Schottenheimer's record says that he goes into total brainlock in the postseason, especially in offensive game management. Besides, Manning and all those Colts, who have a better offense than San Diego, would probably shred San Diego's defense. What LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates do well, Manning, Edgerrin James and all those wideouts and tight ends simply do it better.

Well, that's it. Your Patriotic sugar plums. And to all, a good night.