November 18, 2002
Playoff Picture Up in the Air
BY: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
FOXBORO, MA -- There will be those who will take the "Grady Little Approach" and be satisfied with the 2-1 road trip and call it a success, saying that the remaining schedule should be easy enough for New England to run the table and return victoriously to the playoffs.
Here's the bad news, it's not going to be that easy.
Despite the fact that New England's final six opponents have a combined record of 28-32, the Patriots final six games aren't exactly going to be a walk in the park. Granted four out of the final six games are going to be at home, but the Patriots are going to face a tough Minnesota Vikings team at home, followed by traveling to Detroit where the 3-7 Lions have been playing much better recently. They'll then face Drew Bledsoe and the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium, followed by a Monday night match-up in Tennessee to face the Titans in what will likely be a very tough football game in front of a nationally televised audience.
The final two games of the season are at home against a much improved New York Jets team followed by a Miami Dolphins team that by then will have quarterback Jay Fiedler back in the line-up.
Needless to say what has already been considered by many to be a "cakewalk" is going to be a pretty difficult road, with the AFC Crown considered to be the only way for New England to have any chance at a postseason berth. With the Patriots having lost to both the Broncos and Raiders head-to-head, barring any major changes it's doubtful that New England could have a shot of knocking off either of those teams as the Wild-Card will probably come down to one of those AFC West foes.
With Denver and San Diego sitting at 7-3, followed by the Raiders who are now 6-4, it's going to be a tight race down the stretch. It's going to be up to New England to return to their one-game-at-a-time-mentality in order to have any chance of running the table to finish at 11-5 and winning the AFC East since 10-6 no longer seems like it will be enough. If they're unable to do that they're going to have a difficult road ahead of them, and it's a road that could ultimately end up not including the postseason which could in the end be quite a disappointment for a team that worked so hard to "shock the world" as Superbowl Champions in what now seems like a lifetime ago.
They'll have Tuesday off as they prepare to return to practice on Wednesday with the Vikings heading to Gillette Stadium this weekend, and their destiny truly sits in their hands with just six games remaining on the schedule. They'll need to focus on beating the Vikings this weekend before they'll have any chance of moving any further toward a shot at the postseason.
Forget the playoffs, Beating Randy Moss and the Vikings should be the primary thing on New England's mind. If they can do that, the rest should take care of itself. If they can't, the final six weeks will feel like months, and in the end they'll head home for the holidays with someone else eventually holding the Lombardi Trophy.
There's still plenty of football left to be played, and for now the Lombardi Trophy still belongs to the Patriots. Whether or not it stays that way remains to be seen.
Time will eventually tell which direction this team is heading. Hopefully it's the one that has a shot of defending their title.
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