By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 11, 2012

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You're John Madden, you're afraid to fly, you have to tell your bus driver which way to New Orleans.

And you can't use your GPS app on your cell. It won't do you any good.

There's two ways you can go. I-10 east all the way into the Big NO, about 315 miles. No sweat, about 5-6 hours. Madden can kill that much time telling you how illegal the Immaculate Reception was.

But what if you have to tell your driver this route: I-95 south to Jacksonville, then I-10 west to Bourbon Street. Yikes. That's 1,500 miles. Three days. Day One would cover that aforementioned lucky catch by Franco Harris. Day Two would deal with the Tuck Rule. Day Three? Probably Super Bowl XI and that Ben Dreith's call was the correct one. And Madden would do all the talking. All of it.

By then, you'd spend all your time in the French Quarter drinking yourself silly just to forget all those 72 hours of babble.

But you'd be at the Super Bowl, hopefully with your favorite team who would be making their fourth appearance at the Big Show in the Big Easy. The game would be eleven years to the day after the first Super Bowl win in Patriot history, in the same city in which it happened. And you would do the smart thing and fly back home, and perhaps never ride a bus again in your life.

For your team to make it to the Super Bowl, the Patriots would dearly love to get at least a first-round bye. Out of the seven previous Super Bowls the Patriots have been in, the Patriots have had a first round bye in every case except the first trip, to Super Bowl XX in 1986. The Patriots had to win three road games to get to that game, and their reward was one of the worst butt-kickings in Super Bowl history at the hands of the Chicago Bears. Following that, they've been either the one or two seed when they've been invited to the show.

The way things look right now, it looks like the Patriots will be good bets to get at least the two seed. They will get that two seed if they win out, as they have forged ahead of Baltimore and win a tiebreaker with Denver, who miraculously has the same record (10-3) as the Patriots right now. The Patriots have one tough game left, this Sunday night at home against the 49ers, then two easy games against Florida teams to finish the season.

At press time, the Patriots are 5 ½-point favorites over San Francisco. The Patriots took the best team in the AFC, Houston, and pushed and shoved them all over Gillette Stadium on Monday night, beating the Texans 42-14 to put them in a position to possibly leap into the top seed for the third straight year. If the Patriots play a similar game against a 49ers team with a quarterback controversy and a stellar defense, they could and should come out winners and be in position to run the table and finish at 13-3.

Now, if all you want is a first round bye, you should be all set if the Patriots win this weekend. But if you want more, you need some help. This will determine whether the road to New Orleans will involve only I-10 or also I-95.

The Patriots do not control their own destiny in earning home field throughout the playoffs. Houston can do that if they run the table. They have two games left against Indianapolis, and one game at home against Minnesota. They should beat the Vikings at Reliant Stadium. It's the two games with the Colts which should be of great interest to the Patriots.

Houston has clinched a playoff berth, but it has not clinched the division. Should Indianapolis run the table, they win the AFC South. If they sweep Houston and wind up tied with them, they win the tiebreaker on a head-to-head sweep. The Colts will be hell bent on trying to beat Houston in both games. And as Tom Brady showed, you can throw on the Texans. Oh, and the Colts now have someone at the helm named Andrew Luck.

If the Patriots can get past San Francisco and run the table, they have an excellent shot at getting the top seed. Either or both of those Colt games are losable for the Texans, especially if the Colts study how the Patriots attacked the Texans' defense and neutralized J.J. Watt. Add to that the fact that the Texans have to be incredibly demoralized from the licking they took at the hands of the Patriots (that last touchdown by the Patriots, a 14-yard run up the gut by Stevan Ridley, showed that the Texans had given up the fight by then), the Colts have to be ready and strike while the iron is hot.

Naturally, this won't serve as any predictor as to whether or not the Patriots can do any better against the Giants if they should happen to play them again in the Super Bowl, but the Patriots would at least like to get there first and foremost. In a year where established teams have been underachieving (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego), some teams have rebuilt themselves quickly (Denver, Indianapolis), and some teams are still learning how to be champion-like (Houston), the Patriots are once again the gold standard of the conference. Not the league, per se, but the conference title is very much once again within their grasp.

As big as Monday's game was, this next game against San Francisco is even bigger. It's an NFC team that is a favorite to win the NFC Championship. It's a team the Patriots, like the Texans, don't see very often. It's a team that Bob Kraft tried to model his team after when he bought the team in 1994. The Patriots have to dial it up again and pretty much expect a carbon copy of the Texans. Most neutral NFL observers will look at this game as a possible Super Bowl preview, and so they should.

Meanwhile, Houston has to lick its wounds, then put Monday night past them and take care of what is currently in their control. Win out and you don't have to mess with I-95. Just stay put at Reliant Stadium, try and win two games, then hit the Eastex Freeway towards Beaumont and follow your nose to New Orleans.

Or let Luck pass you to death. Then pray for no snow up north. Assuming you're the team the Patriots are playing. And all of Texan Nation needs to know that Patriot Nation will be watching, rooting like crazy for a team they have hated since at least 1998.

Wow. Go Colts. That will take some getting used to.


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