FOXBOROUGH – Of tomato cans, playoff juju, and something called the Patriot Way. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Patriot style.
This is why various columnists near and far write all these articles telling you not to worry about the state of your flawed 2018 Patriots. History is very clear on how things work for your favorite team, and it’s happening again. From the hideous road losses during the year to the expected departure of Josh Gordon, things are still just fine along Route 1 in southeast Massachusetts. And just in time for Santa’s annual visit, too.
The Patriots finally righted their ship on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, preventing the first three-game losing streak since 2002 with a very unremarkable 24-12 win over the eminently beatable Buffalo Bills. This layup game was naturally made difficult thanks to three Patriot turnovers, but in the end the defense suffocated rookie quarterback Josh Allen and all his offensive weapons and secured the tenth straight AFC East title for the Patriots.
The tenth straight division title is an NFL record. Only the Atlanta Braves won more division titles in a row (14) in all of pro sports. Say what you will about the level of competition over the years, but it is still a fine accomplishment.
Once this game ended, that’s when the fun began elsewhere.
Actually, the fun began Saturday night at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
The Los Angeles Chargers, playing in a temporary home at the crib of the LA Galaxy, at a stadium that is probably smaller than half of the high school football fields in Texas, were beaten by the suddenly formidable Baltimore Ravens, 22-10. It dropped the Chargers to 11-4. Combined with Pittsburgh losing at New Orleans on Sunday, it now puts the Ravens in charge of the AFC North. But we don’t care about the Ravens just yet. It’s the Chargers we care about. More on them later.
About ten minutes after the Patriot game ended, the Houston Texans lost a tough game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 32-30 on a walkoff field goal. The Houston loss enabled the Patriots to flip with the Texans and regain the number two playoff seed. A win next week at home against the also eminently beatable Jets in the regular season finale clinches a first round bye for the Patriots, who still haven’t played in the Wild Card round since 2009. That should not be too difficult barring some horrifically unexpected circumstances.
Then later into the evening, Kansas City failed to clinch the one seed by losing at Seattle, 38-31. The Chiefs also fell to 11-4. That’s three games that all broke the Patriots’ way in two days.
So the bottom line is this: despite all that has happened to your Patriots this year, the Patriots are still in play for the top playoff seed going into the final weekend of play in the NFL. It is unlikely, but still possible. The Patriots need to win against the Jets, but then need both the Chargers and Kansas City to also lose their finales. None of the three teams will be expected to lose these games. You might have to invoke the “on any given Sunday” rule, but the Patriots are probably still looking at their cherished bye week in two weeks. The only difference is that they will get the three seed instead of four seed, that is if the three and four seeds win at home in the Wild Card weekend.
Next Sunday, the Chiefs will finish at home against the 3-11 Raiders (who play Monday night) against the Broncos. The long time rivalry between the two teams will entice the Raiders to play hard early, but if the Chiefs get a big lead, the Raiders will lapse into “get on the bus” mode and get on with the business of where they will play their home games next year. A Chief win clinches home field for them as well as the AFC West.
Also next Sunday, the Chargers finish at Denver. The Mile High City has been a tough venue for road teams to win in for opponents, and the Chargers are no exception. The Broncos are 6-1 against the Bolts at Denver in the last seven meetings (including a postseason win in 2013). This game is more losable for the Chargers than the Chiefs/Raiders.
But the Patriots need both 11-4 teams to lose. The Patriots win a head-to-head tie with Kansas City, but also win a three-way tie with Kansas City and the Chargers. So if all three teams finish 11-5, the Patriots get the one seed.
If the playoffs started right now, the seeds would be, in order, Kansas City, New England, Houston, Baltimore, LA Chargers and Indianapolis. Let’s say that Houston and Baltimore win at home against rematch opponents. Houston would then travel to New England and Baltimore would go to Kansas City. If Baltimore can go into Kansas City and upset the Chiefs who have a lousy home playoff record over the years (not to mention the coaching brain cramps Andy Reid is susceptible to in the postseason), and if New England continues their domination over Houston at home in the playoffs, you then have a New England-Baltimore AFC title game, the third in this decade, all of them at Foxborough. The Patriots would still get their two home games to the Super Bowl, but they would probably get the one team nobody wants to face in January in the Ravens, with Lamar Jackson and their number one defense.
Still, the Patriots could still get the AFC Championship Game at home even if they settle for the two seed. The Chiefs should wrap up the top seed next week. The Bolts may lose at Denver. The Patriots should take care of the Jets.
In the final analysis, get ready for another fun January. What usually happens in January may happen again. Call it playoff juju, or whatever you want. It’s all there for the Patriots. Things breaking their way has already begun.
Tom Brady throws two picks, the Patriot ground game looks like 1976, and nobody on the Bills gashed the Patriot defense. And the Patriots are still in good position to return to the Super Bowl for a third straight season.
How do you encapsulate this? A Holly Jolly Patriot Christmas. We Three Kings (Brady, Belichick, Kraft) of Foxborough Are. Good King Belichick looked out on the feast of Buffalo.
Happy holidays, everyone, and your team is just fine.