By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 25, 2013

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"We're on to Houston." Not us. We're on to January. And beyond.

Let Bill Belichick worry about this Sunday, and a date with the 2-9 Houston Texans. It's his job to guard against what should be a huge trap game, a matchup with a weak opponent coming off a skull-imploding win over one of the top teams in the conference. It's our job to predict exactly how far this Patriot team will go in the 2013 season.

In an amusing way, the Patriots can look to the Red Sox for inspiration. The Red Sox went into a rebuilding year and won the whole thing. The Patriots really aren't in a rebuilding mode like the Red Sox, but injuries to key players have turned this Patriot season into what seems like a transitory feeling. Like the Red Sox, the Patriots might be in good shape as the AFC seems a bit down this year like the American League was. There is no team in either conference which makes you stand up and take notice that "Oh, yes, that team is the definite favorite to win the Super Bowl."

Things continue to break right for the Patriots in this rather strange season. The Patriots spotted the Denver Broncos 24 points, then rallied for a 34-31 overtime win, the biggest comeback in Patriot history. Elsewhere, Kansas City lost to San Diego, and Indianapolis lost to Arizona. With the Colts' loss, the Patriots now have the inside track to at least the two seed in the AFC. If the Patriots, currently at 8-3, do win out, the Patriots will do no worse than a second playoff seed and a first round playoff bye.

But of course, the Patriots will think big and try for the one seed. The Red Sox were able to enjoy home field for all their playoff rounds, and look what happened (although the World Series home field was thanks to the All-Star Game, not because the Red Sox had the best record in the AL and tied with the Cardinals for the best MLB record).

The easiest path for the Patriots to secure the one seed is for them to run the table, for Denver to lose this Sunday at Kansas City, and for Denver to somehow win the AFC West on a tiebreaker with the Chiefs. The Patriots would then get seeded ahead of Denver because of head to head, and with Kansas City being a Wild Card, a tiebreaker with the Chiefs wouldn't matter.

What is most likely to happen?

The Patriots have five winnable games left, but two losable games as well. They play at Houston this weekend, then host Cleveland, play at Miami, at Baltimore, and finish at home against Buffalo. It is never a sure thing when the Patriots play at Miami. And Baltimore still hates the Patriots with a passion even though they are considerably weaker on defense. Running the table would likely hinge on these two games, games which could unfortunately go either way.

Denver faces a tough battle at Kansas City this weekend. The game will be a rematch of a week ago Sunday where Denver ruined Kansas City's perfect season in Denver, 27-17. The Broncos are a 3 ½-point favorite on the road. Denver will be looking for redemption after Sunday night's crushing loss at Foxborough. But Patriot fans need to be huge Chief fans in this game, as a Denver loss drops them into a tie with the Patriots, and the Patriots win a tiebreaker with Denver based on head to head.

If the Chiefs win, they then take over the division lead from Denver and drop the Broncos into the five seed. The Chiefs would also take over the top playoff seed from Denver, and be one win better than the Patriots at 10-2. So, if the Patriots did indeed run the table, what Denver does wouldn't matter. But what Kansas City does would, assuming Denver runs the table themselves after losing to Kansas City.

Denver could very well do that. They play Tennessee at home, then San Diego at home, then finish on the road at Houston and Oakland. All of these games are winnable for Denver. That would put Denver at 13-3, which would seed them second behind the Patriots if they also go 13-3.

The problem for the Patriots is that Kansas City needs to either go 12-4 or worse, or go 13-3 and somehow lose the division tiebreaker to Denver. They would split the head to head, so other tiebreaker levels would have to kick in which would be impossible to speculate at this time. It would also be impossible at this time to predict who would win a tiebreaker with New England and Kansas City if they both finish tied for the top seed.

Kansas City would finish the year with road games at Washington, Oakland and San Diego, and a home game with Indianapolis. The Chiefs could possibly lose the games against San Diego and Indianapolis, assuming the latter figures out what ails them. The winner of Sunday's Denver-Kansas City game will have the inside track to the one seed. The Patriots will have to hope that Kansas City wins on Sunday and then falters later.

But at least the Patriots have a first round bye in their control at present. The loser of the Denver-Kansas City game would have to play at Foxborough in the playoffs as they would be a lower seed by being a Wild Card. The Patriots would finish ahead of the AFC North and South champs if they won out. Only the AFC West would be up in the air, and how that division plays out will likely determine the direction of the AFC playoffs, and which team will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The nice thing about prognosticating where the Patriots are involved is how well they do in December under Belichick. When you think the Patriots will run the table, they usually do. Coming off a loss like they suffered at Carolina and winning like they did on Sunday night against Denver bodes well for the Patriots as they face inferior competition on paper down the stretch. The Patriots still have to play the games and win the games. Belichick is a master at preventing trap games and lack of focus when it's needed the most.

The Patriots just need to concentrate on what they can control and let the AFC West chips fall where they may. And if New England and Denver do reunite, and if that reunion should be in Denver instead of Foxborough, so be it.

In two of their three Super Bowl wins, they were preceded by road AFC Championship Game wins in Pittsburgh. Just get that first round bye, and let Belichick do the rest.


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