By: Bob George/BosSports.net
December 24, 2012

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Thank you, Minnesota Vikings.

At every Christmas dinner table a New England Patriot player sits at on Tuesday (for those who partake of the holiday), each player should raise his glass and drink the good health and glad tidings of the day to each and every member of the Purple People Eaters (an old nickname for the Vikes from a few generations ago) for giving the New England Patriots a huge gift on Sunday, a gift which may re-energize Super Bowl hopes around these parts.

Minnesota went into Houston on Sunday and handed the home team a convincing 23-6 loss. It prevented the Texans from clinching home field throughout the playoffs. It also put the Patriots back in play for perhaps a two seed, and sent all of Bronco Nation to their travel agents cancelling any travel plans for January, as they are now in all likelihood unnecessary.

With the Texans losing to the Vikings, and the Patriots taking care of business down in Jacksonville on Sunday at Everbank Field with a resounding 66-3 win over the woebegone Jaguars in an expected blowout, the Patriots can now nail down a first round bye with a win at home next weekend against Miami, combined with an Indianapolis win at home next week against Houston.

Ed. Note -- It is the policy of this website to make any corrections in this space as necessary. The final score of the Patriots-Jaguars game on Sunday was incorrectly reported in this column. The stated final score was 66-3. The actual final score was Patriots 23, Jaguars 16. We apologize for this mistake.

Indianapolis secured a playoff berth on Sunday with a 20-13 win at Kansas City. The Colts cannot win the division or improve their playoff position. They are locked in at the five seed as they win a tiebreaker with Cincinnati, who locked up a playoff berth on Sunday with a 13-10 win against division rival Pittsburgh on the road, eliminating the Steelers from playoff contention.

That might leave you the Patriot fan forlorn as Indianapolis has nothing to play for on Sunday, with Houston needing a win to secure home field and prevent a possible slip to the three seed and having to play a Wild Card game at home. But the Colts will have a mighty big incentive to win, that along with the fact that Houston is currently in a downturn and could come out flat anyway.

The incentive the Colts have is that their beloved head coach, Chuck Pagano, ill all season with cancer, is expected to be on the sidelines on Sunday for the first time all season. In front of the home folks, with a chance to injure the playoff seeding of one of their division rivals, and the fact that Pagano will finally take the field as head coach, all that adds up to one difficult task for the visiting Texans. This is a game where Houston, despite being an early four-point favorite, could very well lose as the Colts will want to win one for Pagano in the worst way. If Indianapolis goes into a "rest the starters" mode, that will be both disappointing and a harsh reminder of when the Colts threw away a perfect season a few years ago and paid dearly for it. Look for the Colts to play hard and try to win the game.

If they do, then the Patriots claim the two seed if they beat Miami at home. The Patriots are an early 11-point favorite to beat the Dolphins. Miami isn't likely to be in a "get on the bus" mode unless the Patriots go up big early. Given how poorly the Patriots have begun games recently, next Sunday's game could resemble the Jacksonville game closely. But in the end, it would be a ghastly shocker if the Patriots do not come out with a win at home against Miami.

Surprisingly, the one seed is also possible for the Patriots, but for that they would need more help than just a Houston loss at Indianapolis.

Denver finishes at home with a game against Kansas City, and is a 16-point favorite in that matchup. If the Broncos manage to win that game, they clinch a bye. If they win and Houston loses, Denver gets home field for the playoffs. If the Broncos and Patriots win and Houston loses, Denver gets the one seed, New England the two and Houston the three. Of the top three teams in the AFC playoff picture, all three can get either a one, two or three seed in various permutations of the teams winning or losing.

Right now, barring a meltdown at home against one of the worst teams in the league, look for Denver to win and be in a good position to get the one seed. It's a game which would be unfathomable if Kansas City were to go in and pull off an upset win. That is why Bronco fans might be even more jazzed than Patriot fans, as they do control their own destiny for a bye, as does Houston. With Houston losing to Minnesota, it made Denver's chances for a one seed possible.

But you only care about your boys. It pretty much boils down to how Houston does at Indianapolis, and Patriot fans need to be huge Colt fans on Sunday. In the Bill Belichick era, no Patriot team has ever gone to the Super Bowl without securing a first round bye. The last three Super Bowl champs have all been six seeds (Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Giants), but the Patriots would rather have that week off, heal up and plan for the next opponent over two weeks.

So, as you roast chestnuts over your open fire, as you go riding in a wonderland of snow (spend the holidays in the Midwest, they've got plenty of the white stuff), if you see your mommy kissing Santa Claus, or if you care only about the reason for the season, take a few days, relax with the family, enjoy the beauty and comfort of this time of year, and rest assured that this author and his family hopes you do just that.

Then on Wednesday, it's back to dreaming of Patriot and Colt wins, the wonderful story of Coach Pagano, and gearing up for what could be a potential and inevitable next chapter in Brady versus Manning. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.


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