Controlling your destiny.
Next to winning the Super Bowl, it’s the most desirable thing for an NFL team. The last thing a team wants is to have to rely on another team to improve its playoff chances. You want to “win to get in”, not “win and get help”.
Last night’s Colts-Dolphins game was a perfect example as to why the Patriots need to always keep destiny in their control.
Many Patriot fans might have found themselves huge Colt fans last night. Miami is 1 ½ games ahead of the Patriots in the AFC East, and these two teams are heading towards a December 22 collision at Foxborough. The winner of that game probably wins the division.
But it would have been nice for the Patriots if that December 22 meeting didn’t have so much importance. A Colt win would have taken a little pressure off of the Patriots to have to win that showdown. Instead, the Colts looked like Dolts, and Miami won at home, 41-6.
History tells us that if the Patriots need help, they usually don’t get it. What if last night’s win was the division? Or worse, if a Miami win knocks the Patriots out of the playoffs?
1980 was the most painful lesson on needing help. The Patriots finished 10-6 and did not make the playoffs. Four teams also had ten wins going into Week 16, and if any of them had lost the Patriots would be in. But all four teams won, climaxed by a Monday night win for San Diego at home against Pittsburgh. All five playoff teams that year won 11 games. The Patriots won ten and did not play in January.
The Patriots control their destiny in 2001. Win out and they will at least be in the playoffs. But we’re thinking big here. If the Patriots do win out, which means win the final three games against two weak teams on the road and Miami at home, what does that really mean? Does it mean an extension of the life of Foxborough Stadium, which was supposed to host her last game against Miami? Or better? Or worse?
Let’s say that the Patriots do run the table and finish 11-5 (and we still fear this weekend’s game at Buffalo the most of the three remaining). Let’s play out all of the AFC contenders and see where the Patriots will really land come January.
Miami Their remaining games are at San Francisco, at New England, Atlanta and Buffalo. Patriot Nation will be huge 49er fans this weekend. Revenge and weather should swing the Foxborough tilt the Patriots’ way. Miami wins the last two with ease. Miami goes 2-2 to finish at 11-5.
NY Jets Let the swoon begin. They have Cincinnati, at Indianapolis, Buffalo and at Oakland left. They aren’t likely to lose at home to the also-swooning Bengals. An angry Colt team might sneak up and shock the Jets. Buffalo won’t go down easy, and the Jets figure to lose out in Oakland. The Jets also finish 2-2 and end the season at 9-7.
Pittsburgh This is a team that, like New England, is really hitting its stride at just the right time, They play at Baltimore, Detroit, at Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Running the table is not out of the question here, as the only losable game is the first one. If Baltimore plays tough defense and if the Steelers have to rely on Kris Brown to win the game, advantage Ravens. Give the Steelers a 3-1 finish and a 13-3 record.
Baltimore These guys won the latest Vince. They have home games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Minnesota, and a road game at Tampa Bay. Expect the Ravens to win the home games and lose at Tampa. They will finish at 11-5, even with the Patriots.
Oakland They finish at San Diego, Tennessee at home, at Denver and the Jets at home. The Raiders have not looked as dominating as in the earlier part of the season. 2-2 is likely, and 1-3 is possible if the Titans can smell a shot at the playoffs. The Charger game could also go either way, so let’s say 2-2 (win both home games) and put them, at 11-5.
These are the teams that could wind up at 11-5 or better if they won out. To complete our playoff puzzle, we need to examine just a few more bubble teams.
Cleveland will likely finish 7-9 with three tough road games ahead. Tennessee could finish at 8-8, but will come home at 7-9 if they can’t handle Green Bay at home. Denver is critical here because they hold the tiebreaker against the Patriots. Like the Patriots, they too have a bye week still to come. The Patriots may need to win out because Denver has three winnable games left. Put them at 10-6. Seattle has one toss-up game, at San Diego. Let’s say they win it and go to 9-7 (they lose at the NY Giants).
If this all plays out this way, New England and Miami finish at 11-5, but the Patriots win the division based on a better division record (6-2 to 5-3). Pittsburgh would have home field throughout the playoffs. Oakland also checks in at 11-5, and if the season breaks exactly as stated above, the Patriots would be the second seed over Oakland based on a better record versus common opponents (5-3 to 4-3), as both teams would have an identical 8-4 conference record.
The Wild Card teams would then be Baltimore, Miami and Denver. Denver would be the six seed, but Baltimore and Miami’s seeds would not be known until the end of the season. With both teams being 11-5 and 9-3 in the conference, and not enough common opponents (they have three, you need four), the tiebreaker would be net points in conference games. So, the first round would be Denver at Oakland, and Baltimore against Miami in a venue yet to be determined.
Pittsburgh and New England would be left to play the winners. If Oakland beat Denver, the Raiders would come to Foxborough regardless of the other game. If Denver won, they would go to Pittsburgh automatically. By winning the division the Patriots would avoid perhaps the most dangerous of all scenarios, a road playoff game at Baltimore. A road trip to Pittsburgh would be no picnic either, which in this scenario would be the only road game the Patriots would have to endure.
Without predicting who’ll win the conference or the Super Bowl, here are a few things for Patriot fans to keep their eyes on.
If Miami wins at San Francisco this weekend, forget a division title. Even if the Patriots beat them at home, Miami isn’t at all likely to lose their final two at home to the Falcons and Bills. A win this weekend by the Dolphins will virtually guarantee that they finish at 12-4. It would knock the Patriots down to a five seed, as they will likely lose a conference tiebreaker to Baltimore. Patriot Nation should root for San Francisco like they’ve never done before.
Patriot Nation should also start caring very deeply over how the Raiders do. They have the hardest schedule to predict of all the contenders. Two of their games, at San Diego and Tennessee, are tough games that could go either way. They will likely lose at Denver and beat the Jets at home. Pay close attention to who San Diego starts at quarterback this weekend, and if it’s Drew Brees, it could give the Bolts an emotional lift. You also might want to hope that Tennessee stays playoff-hungry somehow, though their chances are real slim at best.
If the Patriots lose any of their remaining games, they will likely have to hope for a six seed as they will lose a tiebreaker to Denver on head-to-head. You might also want to drink to the good health of Kansas City and Indianapolis. The Chiefs might be able to pull an upset this weekend, but they’re 3-9 and suffering through a very moribund season. The game is at Arrowhead, which helps the upset chances a bit. If Indianapolis isn’t in a “get on the bus” mood during the final week of the season, maybe they give Denver a good game at the RCA Dome.
Naturally, don’t relate any of this to Bill Belichick. He has only one thing on his mind, and that’s Buffalo.
No prob. Leave all this prognostication stuff to the fans and pundits, where it belongs.
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