Tag Archives: 2016 NFL playoffs

New England Patriots News 1-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 22, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 1-22, and AFC East Notes for this week.

With a win, this evening, either the Patriots or the Steelers return to the Super Bowl for a record ninth time. It just highlights that the two franchises from the AFC continue to play at an ultra-high level while the league is trying to push parity.

The Patriots with a victory are just one win away from title number 5.

On Saturday afternoon, I got to speak with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown who were in town to do some recruiting at Grafton High School.  Grafton’s Ifeatu Melifonwu is a CB/S that is a name to keep your eye on in the future. He’s a 6’3, 190-pound senior who is an athletic freak.  While his preferred position is on defense, he scored 25 touchdowns this fall for the Indians who made it to the state title game. His older brother Obi Melifonwu is graduating from UConn this spring and entering the NFL draft.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh with Grafton coach Mike Binkowski (left) and head coach Chris McMahon on Saturday.

Brown is a native of Spencer, Mass and has four children who still reside in the state. Harbaugh said that the team was already starting their strength and conditioning programs but it would begin in earnest after National Signing Day. For Harbaugh to fly out from Michigan to visit with the young man yesterday, they must have serious interest in him. Harbaugh was relaxed, personable and interacted with many of the fans in attendance after the game.

Chip Kelly to NE? May Not Be So Far-fetched:
Both ESPN and NESN are reporting that the recently fired head coach of the 49ers Chip Kelly may be heading to New England.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that after he interviewed recently for the Jacksonville Jaguars opening at offensive coordinator, one he didn’t get, that Kelly “was headed to New England to meet with Belichick.”

Getting the offensive coordinator position seems very unlikely now with the news that current OC Josh McDaniels will not be taking a head coaching job. One scenario could be with Bill Belichick, giving his good buddy Kelly an offensive assistant role in the booth, until he lands a new head coaching job. He did a similar thing with Packers DC Dom Capers a few years ago.

Goodell Going Back to Atlanta is a Good Thing:
Most Patriots fans want to see Roger Goodell come to New England so that they can vent their frustration on the Commissioner after the Deflategate fiasco.  Goodell, however, has decided to go back to Atlanta for the second week in a row. Wisely.

No good can come from Goodell coming to Foxboro to face the ire of Patriots fans, and it is a possibility that some oiled-up fans may take it a step farther and attempt physical harm to the Commissioner, what one member of the media stupidly called for.

That would be a stain, the kind of which the Patriots and Robert Kraft would never be able to shake. Instead, fans will have to live with the possibility of seeing Goodell hand the Lombardi Trophy to Kraft, Tom Brady, and Belichick if they win tonight and again in Houston in two weeks.

Besides, Goodell is just the spokesman for 31 other owners who were all too willing to buy into the phony science and petty jealousy. They, not just Goodell wanted to exact their pound of flesh from New England. Kraft, in an interview with the New York Times, hinted as such.

“Sometimes the league screws up, and I think they really messed this up badly, Kraft said… “There’s jealousy, there’s envy and there’s stupidity. Sometimes, life is unfair. You have to suck it up, move on and not use it as an excuse.

Patriots Add TE Depth With Housler Signing:
The Patriots are playing for the AFC Championship tonight but have already started planning for 2017 with the move they made on Thursday by signing TE Rob Housler to a reserve/future’s contract.

Housler didn’t play in 2016, being released by the Chicago Bears in the final cut-down to the 53-man roster at the end of training camp. He played from 2011-2014 for the Arizona Cardinals after being drafted in the 3rd Round, (69th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft.

During his time in Arizona Housler caught 105 passes for 1133 yards and a touchdown. In 2015 he spent time with both the Browns and Bears. Looking ahead to next season, his roster spot may hinge on whether or not the team resigns Martellus Bennett. Rob Gronkowski is returning from injured reserve and the team still has Matt Lengel and Michael Williams who went on IR.

He had two productive seasons in 2012 with 45 receptions for 417 yards and in 2013 with 39 receptions for 454 yards and a touchdown with the Cardinals.

Who Do You Like Today:
After last week’s Divisional Playoffs I went 2-2, having whiffed on Dallas and KC which puts me at 5-3 in the postseason. I’m sticking with the Patriots at home and Green Bay with the big win on the road against the Falcons.

Eastbound and Down, AFC East Notes:

Bills’ Williams Named to the Pro Bowl:
The Buffalo Bills have announced that DL Kyle Williams has been named to the Pro Bowl in 2017 to replace Miami DL Ndamukong Suh who can’t play due to an injury.

This is the fifth time in Williams’ career that he has earned Pro Bowl honors after being named a Pro Bowler in four straight seasons back in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Williams played in 15 games during the 2016 season for the Bills, notching 64 tackles, 5 sacks, 15 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss. Williams has tallied 40.5 sacks in his career—the most by any defensive tackle in Bills team history.

Dolphins to Play the Saints in London:
The Miami Dolphins will be playing in London again in 2017, playing the New Orleans Saints at Wembley Stadium.

The game will be played in either Week 3 or 4 on September 24 or October 1 according to NFL sources this week.

Another game to be played in either Week 3 or Week 4 at Wembley Stadium will be between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins will lose one of their home games in Miami as they’ll be dubbed the “home team” for the Wembley contest.

Teams traditionally get a bye week after playing in London so Miami’s bye week will be an early one in 2017.

Two other games, to be played on Week 7 or Week 8 at Twickenham Stadium, will be between the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns, and between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. Those game dates will be Oct. 22 and Oct. 29.

Former Jets’ Great Gastineau Has Dementia:
The Jets released the sad news that former defensive line great, Marc Gastineau is suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. The former DL, now 60, admitted this in a radio interview this week.

Gastineau, speaking to WOR Radio in New York, he was pushing the USA Football’s Heads Up program to promote safety in the sport.

”When my results came back, I had dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Those were three things that I have. … It’s something that I want every player that goes out and plays to be protected in the best way they can be protected,” Gastineau said.

ESPN posted a transcript where Gastineau claims that his own playing style was the cause of his brain injuries and that the new USA Football program will make it safer for kids, including his own, to play the game safer than when he played.

“I led with my head all the time,” he said. “Do you remember Marvin Powell? He was one of the best linemen in the NFL. He and I used to have wars [in practice]. … People would come and gather round because when we hit each other, I mean, you would hear pops, like a shotgun going off.”

”I’m not going to say that I’m not going to let my child play when I know there are techniques out there that if I would have had them, I know that I wouldn’t have the results that I have now,” he said.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots: Full Team Stats, Odds, More

John Morgan
January 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm ET

Sunday’s American Football Conference Championship Game pits the two teams that have ruled the AFC this millennium. Including next month’s game in Houston, either the Steelers or Patriots will have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl ten times since 2001.

In the 1994 season Bobby Ross and Stan Humphries ended the Buffalo Bills’ reign of four straight AFC championships, with their San Diego Chargers blown out by San Francisco in the 49ers’ last Super Bowl victory. Since then the Pats (7) and Steelers (4) have combined for eleven conference championships, laying waste to the NFL’s vision of parity and every team taking a turn as the best in the league.

The Patriots have had sixteen consecutive winning seasons; Pittsburgh has had only one losing season since 2000, back in 2003. New England has won ten or more games 15 times since 2001, including 14 straight times. The Steelers have eleven double-digit winning years in that time span, including the last three in a row. The Patriots have won four Super Bowls this century to Pittsburgh’s two. Any and every Steeler fan will quickly respond to that fact by pointing out that the Black and Gold still lead the Patriots by the count of six Vince Lombardi Trophies to four overall – even though in most cases they are not old enough to remember four of those victories.

 

The Basics: Who, What, When, Where and Why

Who: 13-5 Pittsburgh Steelers (#3 seed, AFC North champs) at 15-2 New England Patriots (#1 seed, AFC East champs)

What: 2016-17 American Football Conference Championship Game

When: Sunday January 22 at 6:40 pm ET on CBS

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough MA

Why: Winner represents the AFC in Super Bowl 51 at Houston on February 5

 

Weather, Odds and More

Weather: Cloudy with 30% chance of light rain in the late afternoon. Chance of precipitation increases to 70% later in the evening. Winds from the northeast at about 15 mph. Game time temperature of about 33° F.

Keep in mind that this is New England, so the forecast could very well change between now and kickoff.

Coaches: Mike Tomlin is in his tenth year as head coach of the Steelers, having taken over for Bill Cowher in 2007. He has a 103-57 (.644) regular season record, finishing no worse than 8-8 in 2012 and 2013. Tomlin’s teams have made the playoffs seven out of ten times, compiling an 8-5 (.615) post-season record. Under Tomlin the Steelers lost in the wild card game three times and the division round once. Tomlin is 2-0 in the AFCCG and 1-1 in the Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick has compiled a 261-125 overall record in 22 seasons as an NFL head coach. In 17 years with the Patriots Belichick has amassed a 237-115 (.673) regular season record and 24-10 (.706) post season record. Under his guidance the Patriots have won four Super Bowls, six conference championships and fourteen division titles. This will be a post-merger record sixth consecutive time the Patriots have advanced to the AFCCG, and eleventh time they have done so under the Hoodie’s watch. The Pats are 5-5 in those games but only 1-3 in their last four conference championships.

Odds: This game opened up with the Patriots a six-point favorite, and that line has remained relatively steady thus far. Most outlets publish the over/under at 50½, with a handful of venues still listing the total at the original 51 points. New England has covered better than any other team in league this year, going 14-3 against the spread. The Pats 7-2 home ATS record is also the best in the NFL. After last week’s game at Kansas City Pittsburgh is 10-7 ATS, 6-3 on the road. Both clubs went over six times and under ten times in the 2016 season.

 

 

Head-to-Head Series Record: In franchise history the Patriots are 14-15 versus Pittsburgh, but the Pats have owned the Steelers in the Belichick-Brady era. The Patriots are 9-3 dating back to the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field fifteen years ago. Brady is 9-2 versus Pittsburgh and 4-0 against the Steelers in games in Foxborough. The Patriots defeated Pittsburgh 41-27 on January 23 2005 en route to their third Super Bowl victory. That came three years after upsetting Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl plans, sandwiched between the Snow Bowl (aka Tuck Rule) game and knocking off the supposed Greatest Show On Turf.

 

There is also this full game for your viewing pleasure. The NFL is very proactive about keeping these gems out of the public’s hands, so be forewarned; I don’t think it will be available for very long.

 

These two clubs met twice prior to Belichick’s arrival in the post-season. On January 3, 1998 the Steelers nipped the Pats 7-6 in the division round; the only touchdown came in the first quarter on a 40-yard scramble by Kordell Stewart. One year earlier Curtis Martin rushed for three touchdowns and 166 yards, as the Patriots cruised to a foggy 28-3 victory. The next week The Pats defeated Jacksonville, more probable than not bringing Mark Brunell to tears. Unfortunately Bill Parcells was too busy making contract plans with Leon Hess to notice that kicking to Desmond Howard was a bad idea.

 

Team Stats and Rankings

Here is a look at how the two teams compare statistically; the numbers reflect an average per game (or per play), rather than aggregate totals. Per-game and per-play stats are used rather than gross totals because that makes the rankings more meaningful, and because they provide a better context in regards to what to expect in any given game.

Numbers in green indicate a top-ten ranking while underlined green is top-five; red indicates a bottom-ten ranking and underlined red is bottom-five. Please note that the information below includes post-season games, so it will likely differ from official stats found elsewhere which are only for the regular season.

Pittsburgh is a well balanced team with legitimate championship aspirations. On offense the Steelers have explosive quick-strike weapons as well as the capability of methodically controlling the ball to drive the length of the field.

 

New England Patriot Offense versus Pittsburgh Steeler Defense

Scoring per Game: Patriots 27.9 (4th); Steelers 19.7 (8th)

Points per Play: Patriots .423 (4th); Steelers .320 (9th)

Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 3.2 (4th); Steelers 2.2 (8th)

Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Patriots 2.4 (4th); Steelers (12th)

Red Zone Touchdown Percentage: Patriots 64.1 (8th); Steelers 47.5 (5th)

Yardage per Game: Patriots 386 (4th); Steelers 334 (9th)

First Downs per Game: Patriots 21.8 (7th); Steelers 19.3 (10th)

Yards per Play: Patriots 5.8 (7th); Steelers 5.4 (13th)

Yards per Drive: Patriots 6.66 (1st); Steelers 32.2 (15th)

Points per Drive: Patriots 2.53 (5th); Steelers 1.87 (11th)

Drive Success Rate: Patriots .742 (5th); Steelers .694 (13th)

Third Down Conversions per Game: Patriots 6.4 (2nd); Steelers 5.3 (24th)

Third Down Conversion Percentage: Patriots 45.2 (4th); Steelers 40.5 (23rd)

Punts per Score: Patriots 0.9 (10th); Steelers 1.1 (12th)

Plays per Game: Patriots 66.1 (7th); Steelers 61.6 (4th)

– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –

Rushing Yards: Patriots 116 (9th); Steelers 95 (9th)

Yards per Carry: Patriots 3.9 (25th); Steelers 4.2 (18th)

Passing Yards: Patriots 270 (4th); Steelers 239 (11th)

Yards per Pass Attempt: Patriots 7.8 (3rd); Steelers 6.5 (11th)

Completion Percentage: Patriots 65.7 (8th); Steelers 65.2 (28th)

Passer Rating: Patriots 106.8 (2nd); Steelers 87.1 (14th)

TD Passes-Interception Differential: Patriots +30, 34-4 (3rd); Steelers -7, 22-15 (8th)

Complete Passes per Game: Patriots 22.7 (16th); Steelers 23.9 (26th)

Incomplete Passes per Game: Patriots 11.9 (7th); Steelers 12.8 (20th)

Quarterback Sacks per Game: Patriots 1.5 (5th); Steelers 2.4 (7th)

Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Patriots 9.3 (2nd); Steelers 16.2 (7th)

 

Pittsburgh Steeler Offense versus New England Patriot Defense

Scoring per Game: Steelers 24.8 (11th); Patriots 15.6 (1st)

Points per Play: Steelers .390 (10th); Patriots .250 (1st)

Touchdowns per Game: Steelers 2.8 (12th); Patriots 1.6 (1st)

Red Zone Touchdowns per Game: Steelers 1.7 (17th); Patriots 1.4 (2nd)

Red Zone TD Percentage per Game: Steelers 55.4 (14th); Patriots 51.1 (8th)

Yardage per Game: Steelers 373 (7th); Patriots 325 (8th)

First Downs per Game: Steelers 20.8 (12th); Patriots 18.1 (2nd)

Yards per Play: Steelers 5.9 (6th); Patriots 5.2 (9th)

Yards per Drive: Steelers 33.8 (10th); Patriots 28.8 (8th)

Points per Drive: Steelers 2.26 (8th); Patriots 1.42 (1st)

Drive Success Rate: Steelers .724 (9th); Patriots .662 (5th)

Third Down Conversions per Game: Steelers 5.2 (13th); Patriots 4.6 (2nd)

Third Down Conversion Percentage: Steelers 41.6 (11th); Patriots 35.6 (4th)

Punts per Score: Steelers 0.9 (9th); Patriots 1.7 (1st)

Plays per Game: Steelers 63.7 (15th); Patriots 62.6 (10th)

– – – – – Rushing and Passing Game – – – – –

Rushing Yards: Steelers 117 (6th); Patriots 89 (5th)

Yards per Carry: Steelers 4.4 (9th); Patriots 3.9 (8th)

Passing Yards: Steelers 256 (10th); Patriots 235 (11th)

Yards per Pass Attempt: Steelers 7.1 (10th); Patriots 6.3 (6th)

Completion Percentage: Steelers 64.2 (14th); Patriots 61.5 (10th)

Passer Rating: Steelers 93.0 (12th); Patriots 82.2 (5th)

TD Passes-Interception Differential: Steelers +17, 35-18 (8th); Patriots -6, 22-16 (7th)

Complete Passes per Game: Steelers 23.0 (14th); Patriots 23.0 (18th)

Incomplete Passes per Game: Steelers 12.8 (14th); Patriots 14.4 (6th)

Quarterback Sacks per Game: Steelers 1.3 (2nd); Patriots 2.2 (16th)

Sack Yardage Lost per Game: Steelers 10.9 (7th); Patriots 14.2 (16th)

 

Turnovers

Turnover Differential: Patriots +12 (3rd); Steelers +7 (7th)

Patriot Takeaways: 1.5 per game (14th); 26 total

Steeler Giveaways: 1.2 per game (13th); 21 total

Steeler Takeaways: 1.6 per game (13th); 28 total

Patriot Giveaways: 0.8 per game (2nd); 14 total

 

 

Penalties

Penalties per Game: Patriots 5.8 (5th); Steelers 6.8 (19th)

Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 51.1 (6th); Steelers 65.6 (27th)

Opponent Penalties per Game: Patriots 6.9 (11th); Steelers 6.7 (15th)

Opponent Penalty Yards per Game: Patriots 59.1 (13th); Steelers 58.0 (17th)

 

Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average

Efficiency: Total Weighted DVOA: Patriots 34.0% (1st); Steelers 20.0% (3rd)

Team Efficiency: Offense DVOA: Patriots 21.1% (2nd); Steelers 11.1% (8th)

Team Efficiency: Defense DVOA: Patriots -1.5% (16th); Steelers -4.7% (11th)

Special Teams DVOA: Patriots 2.7% (7th); Steelers 0.0% (16th)

 

If you are still reading at this point, congratulations. Apologies for the lack of brevity. Pittsburgh has a very good team and deserves to be in this championship game. That being said the Patriots are just a bit better in all phases. Between the better coaches, better quarterback, and home field advantage the Pats should win. Enjoy the game, it should be a classic.

Prediction: Patriots 30, Steelers 20

Patriots – Steelers AFC Championship Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
January 20, 2017 at 9:44 am ET

The New England Patriots head to the AFC Championship Game for a record sixth time in a row and take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday evening at 6:40 p.m.

The game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (15-2) defeated the Houston Texans in the Divisional round 34-16 despite not being at their best offensively. The Patriots turned the ball over three times although Dion Lewis set an NFL record with a rushing, receiving and a return for a touchdown. The Patriots defense forced three turnovers with interceptions of Brock Osweiler.

The Steelers (13-5) defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round 18-16. The Steelers offense also struggled and failed to score a touchdown relying on six Chris Boswell field goals. The Steelers defense stopped a two-point conversion with seconds left in the game that could have sent it into overtime.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Steelers meet for the 30th time but just the 10th in Pittsburgh. The Steelers own a 15-14 edge overall in the history between the two teams. However, since Bill Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000, the Patriots have had great success against the Steelers taking 10 of 13.

In their last meeting, earlier this season the Patriots won 27-16 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh was without Ben Roethlisberger and had Landry Jones at quarterback. Tom Brady completed 19-26 for 222 yards and LaGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and two TDs on 24 carries.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

QB Play, Balance, Why Patriots-Steelers Find Success

Steve Balestrieri
January 19, 2017 at 9:20 am ET

The Patriots and Steelers will battle it out for the AFC Championship on Sunday evening and this is the way it should be. Back in September, many people had these two teams meeting for the championship and that is exactly the way it played out. And it is no surprise that the teams with the best balance and quarterback play are still standing in the end.

Despite what the NFL would have you believe and through their best efforts about parity in the NFL, this still is a quarterback driven league. Since 2003 the AFC has been represented once in the Super Bowl by a QB not named Brady, Roethlisberger or Manning. That was in 2012 with Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.

For the fans sick of seeing one of those three in the big game, it isn’t going to change because either Brady or Roethlisberger will be representing the AFC again as the two teams clash in New England despite Manning hanging it up this season.

Brady missed the first four games of the season but then proceeded to set a new standard for Touchdown to Interception Ratio by throwing 28 TDs to just two INTs. Brady completed 67.4 percent of his passes and finished with a QB rating of 112.2 which is ridiculous for a QB at the age of 39.

Roethlisberger shook off an injury in the middle of the season that caused him to miss two games but still threw for 3819 yards and 29 touchdowns with a QB rating of 95.4. With him under center, the Steeler offense is a balanced juggernaut that can score points in a hurry.

And balance is why both teams are here at the end. The Patriots and Steelers remain balanced in the running and passing games on both offense and defense to keep their opponents off balance.

New England had the 7th ranked rushing offense in 2016 averaging 117.0 yards per game. Their passing offense was 4th with 269.3 yards per game. Overall the unit was 4th in the NFL averaging 386.3 yards per game. Pittsburgh’s offense had the 14th ranked rushing attack with 110.0 yards per fame. The Steelers had the #5 passing offense averaging 262.6 yards per game. Overall Pittsburgh was the 7th ranked offense in terms of yardage with 372.6 yards of offense every week.

That balance doesn’t allow opponents for keying on any one specific area of the offense to stop. If a defense tries to load the box and bring eight men up to stop the run, then they’ll burn you with a pass. Want to drop six defensive backs in the dime to slow down the passing game? Then they’ll hit you with a run and make you pay.

This competitive balance carries over to the defensive side of the ball as well. The Patriots and Steelers have the most balanced defenses of the four teams left in the Super Bowl hunt.

New England was the #3 rush defense in the league in 2016 allowing just 88.6 yards per game. The pass defense checked in at 12th with NE opponents passing for just 237.9 yards per game. The Patriots defense was1st overall in points allowed and 8th overall in yards allowed with 326.4 yards per contest.

Pittsburgh’s defense allowed just 100.0 yards per game on the ground (13th) and 242.6 yards via the air (16th). Their 342.6 yards per game allowed on average per game was 12th best in the NFL. Neither team has a particular glaring weakness on the defensive side of the ball.

Looking at the NFC’s two finalists, Atlanta’s run defense is rated 28th in the NFL and the Green Bay pass defense is the 31st in the league. While much of the time, you can throw many stats out the window once the playoffs begin, the two AFC teams have the better balance on each side of the football to carry them to a Super Bowl victory in Houston.

Does it guarantee success? Not hardly. But I’m going out on a limb here and saying the winner of the AFC’s championship game on Sunday will win Super Bowl LI in Houston. Just what the fans of 30 other cities want, another Brady/Roethlisberger championship.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2017 at 7:45 am ET

Every Game Now is a One-Week Season

The Patriots take the field in the Divisional Playoff game against the Houston Texans on Saturday night in Foxboro. Kickoff is slated for 8:15 p.m. and the weather is supposed to get cold again with temperatures in low-to-mid 20s at the start of the game.

The Pats worked hard this season to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes thru Gillette. They’re taking a Houston team, basically playing with house money. Until the Raiders lost two QBs, nobody gave them much of a chance of reaching this round and few of the experts covering the NFL give them much of a shot this week. That’s why they play the games on the field.

I would expect Bill O’Brien to be very aggressive this week. Look for the Texans to empty the playbook and throw as much at the Patriots as they can. 4th and 1 at anywhere near mid-field, they’ll go for it….at least they should.

With a win on Saturday, the Patriots will set another record, passing the Oakland Raiders and be playing in their sixth straight conference championship. Nothing says sustained excellence better than that. So, with that in mind….

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

Quarterback Tom Brady: The Patriots QB had a tremendous season after coming off his league-imposed “vacation” for Weeks 1-4. Brady continues to amaze, even at the ripe old age of 39. In truth, he’s playing better now than he was at 29. In 2016, he set a new NFL record for touchdown to interception ratio, throwing 28 TDs to just 2 INTs. He’ll also add to his record just by taking the field on Saturday and play in his 32nd postseason game, the equivalent of two NFL seasons.

He’ll be facing a Texans defense that knows the Patriots well. DC Romeo Crennel held the same position here for the first three Super Bowls of the Patriots era. Linebacker coach Mike Vrabel played an integral part of those teams. Houston head coach Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator here. So, Houston knows what the Pats like to do, especially in certain downs and situations. Crennel will try to change his pre-snap looks to something different once the ball is hiked to slow Brady’s thought process down and give his pass rush that extra half-second to get home.

Of course, Brady knows this too, he’ll be ready for the shifting line just before the snap, to the secondary members shifting at the snap. It all will come down to execution. Brady will have all his WRs at his disposal this week. The team misses Rob Gronkowski, but they’ve adapted to absence the best that they can at this point. Brady will lean on his buddy Julian Edelman heavily, especially early in this one.

Cornerback Logan Ryan: The Pats corner has traditionally been tasked with covering the Texans best wide receiver and their most talented offensive player, DeAndre Hopkins in past meetings. He’ll probably get the nod there again. In two meetings between the teams in 2015 and in Week 3 this season, Ryan covered Hopkins and allowed only 5 catches on 11 targets for 96 yards with two passes defended.

Ryan began the year on the right, #2 CB opposite Malcolm Butler. But the team leaned on the 25-year old’s versatility and shifted him inside to the slot. That allowed the defense to move the bigger Eric Rowe outside with Butler. The results have been much better playing from the entire secondary. Ryan leads the team with 92 tackles and is solid in run support as well as three QB hits and a sack blitzing from the slot. He has logged 11 passes defended and a pair of interceptions on the year.

Look for Ryan to be tasked with covering Hopkins again with some over the top help and trying to bracket the Texans top receiver. He’s elevated his play down the stretch, allowing just around 40 percent of passes thrown his way to being caught.

Wide Receiver Julian Edelman: Edelman entered this season as a bit of question mark, at least physically. After his foot surgery in 2015, he re-injured it in training camp during a joint practice and things were looking a bit dicey. But after a somewhat slow start, Edelman answered the bell for all 16 games and turned in an excellent 98 catch, 1106-yard performance in 2016.

Now he’s healthy and leads the deepest group of wide receivers the Patriots have had in the Brady/Belichick era. He’ll be playing in his 13th playoff game of his career against the Texans and just needs two catches to pass Wes Welker for most post-season catches (69, you know what that means Gronk?) in Patriots history. But for Edelman, he’s like Brady and the rest of the Patriots under Belichick. Personal stats mean nothing, the only thing that matters is getting the win.

Look for him and Brady to try to get the chains moving quickly on Saturday night. Houston has a good pass defense that allowed just 201 yards per game during the regular season. The Patriots will attempt to use the quickness of Edelman to get those short, crossing routes open and create some space for the other receivers to work in.

Defensive End Trey Flowers: The Patriots defensive end has had a breakout season in 2016. After having an impressive training camp last year in his rookie campaign, he suffered some different injuries that caused him to play in just a single game. But the soft-spoken native of Alabama has really stepped up his game in 2016.

The Patriots under Belichick and Matt Patricia, like for their defensive players to be versatile and Flowers has fit the bill perfectly. He’s played defensive end and has frequently been pushed inside on passing downs as a smaller, interior pass rusher. He’s been just as good at setting the edge in the running game as rushing the QB from the edge and push the pocket from the inside. Frequently lauded by the coaches for his solid play, he’s been playfully nicknamed “Technique” by his teammates. But since the midway point of the season, Flowers has logged seven sacks, most on the team.

He’ll go against Duane Brown for part of this upcoming game. The Texans LT missed the first contest and he spearheaded an effort against Oakland last week that kept the Raiders pass rush from sacking Brock Osweiler once. Flowers will be looking to get into the pocket and disrupt the timing of the passing game. Patricia will move him around both inside and out but look for the 2nd year pro playing in his first playoff game to be a factor.

Offensive Tackle Nate Solder: Much of the talk during last week’s Wild Card game centered around the uber talented Houston DE/LB Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney is an athletic freak who had a tremendous impact on the game, blowing plays up in the backfield, creating pressure and intercepting a screen pass in the flat. Looking to neutralize him will be Patriots LT Nate Solder.

Solder was limited to just four games in 2015 before being placed on IR. He’s returned and has played outstanding this season. But with the unexpected emergence of RT Marcus Cannon, little has been mentioned about Solder’s play. He hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 10.

This promises to be a great matchup. Clowney was limited by injuries early in his career and came on at the end of 2015. Now fully healthy, he’s been the force that many foresaw for him when he was the #1 pick in the draft. Solder will have his hands full with the talented pass rusher and if need be, the Patriots will double him up. But look for the coaches to match them one-on-one initially.

Who Do You Got This Weekend: With the Divisional Round of the 2016 NFL Playoffs here, it usually means some of the best football of the season. These games are normally some of the best to watch and this week’s slate has some intriguing matchups. Last week, I went 3-1, whiffing on the Giants and their own version of the Love Boat cruise.

So, for this week:

New England over Houston- see our breakdown here.

Atlanta over Seattle- Matt Ryan finds holes in the LOB without Earl Thomas. Seattle just hasn’t been that good on the road this season, with the exception being their game in NE.

Kansas City over Pittsburgh- This will be one of those weird games where either the Chiefs win a close one or get blown out. I see the Chiefs holding serve over an explosive Pittsburgh offense with a late field goal to win the game. The home field advantage here, being in Arrowhead is the difference. But the “X-Factor” is LaVeon Bell for the Steelers. KC didn’t have a very good rush defense, and Bell can turn the game in a hurry.

Dallas over Green Bay: Ditto for home field. The Cowboys offensive line and their running game will be the difference at home as they control the clock and limit how much Aaron Rodgers and the Pack’s offense has the ball. Word to the wise for Dallas. You’ve ridden a rookie QB all the way to home-field advantage for the playoffs. Let him do the things he’s done all season. Don’t be like the OC for Alabama and get all conservative with Dak Prescott now.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as well have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Texans Divisional Playoffs, Keys to the Game

Steve Balestrieri
January 12, 2017 at 5:45 am ET

The New England Patriots will play the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round of the 2016 NFL Playoffs from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday night at 8:15 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (14-2) were on a bye week after winning the top seed in the AFC. They finished off the regular season by beating the Miami Dolphins 35-14 to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 road record. Now they’re rested and ready to go

The Texans (10-7) beat the Oakland Raiders 27-14 in the Wild Card game in Houston. Brock Osweiler threw for a touchdown and ran for another and the defense led by Jadeveon Clowney shut down the Raiders offense, holding them to just 203 yards and forced three turnovers.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Texans will be meeting for just the 9th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 7-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 4-0 advantage at home, including a 41-28 playoff win over the Texans in 2012.

The Patriots dominated the Texans 27-0 in Week 3 of the 2016 season with Jacoby Brissett, the Pats rookie 3rd string QB at the helm. The defense shut down and shut out the Texans that night forcing three turnovers while rushing for 185 yards.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots Playoff Opponents, Five More Texans Impressions

Steve Balestrieri
January 10, 2017 at 8:35 am ET

Patriots Prohibitive Favorites in Rematch With Houston

The Patriots return after their bye week for the Divisional Round of the 2016 playoffs to take on the Houston Texans. The two teams will meet on Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. in Gillette Stadium and the broadcast will be aired by CBS.

The two teams met back in Week 3 of the NFL season with the Patriots taking a 27-0 shutout win at home with Jacoby Brissett under center. However, the Patriots, especially QB Tom Brady have been quick to point out that Texans have their respect particularly the Houston defense.

Many of the players and fans will point to the overconfidence of facing the Jets after the 2010 season and just a little more than a month after the “Butt Fumble” blowout. The Jets shocked the 14-2 Patriots that year in Foxboro.

Here are our further Five Impressions of the Texans:

Osweiller Back At QB…For Now: When the Texans signed Brock Osweiler away from the Broncos, they thought they were adding a franchise QB to the team that would lead them for years to come. It has been a rough year for the big, tall QB.

Houston was just 29th in passing in the league in 2016, averaging only 198.5 yards per game. Back in September, Osweiler was on par with those numbers completing 24 of 41 passes for 196 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was benched late in the season for Tom Savage, who played well. But Savage was sidelined with a concussion, and it Osweiler begins to falter, he may have a short leash.

Osweiler played well last week in the Wildcard Game against the Raiders. In the first half, he completed 12-18 for 146 yards and a touchdown and appeared much sharper than he had been for most of the season. In the second half, the Texans scaled back the offense because A. they had a lead and B. because the trust factor wasn’t there for Osweiler and they didn’t want to allow Oakland back in the game with a turnover.

This week, facing Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, they shouldn’t have that kind of luxury and Osweiler will be expected to produce far more if the Texans want to advance.

Miller May Be the “X-Factor” for Houston’s Offense: Back in September, we wrote here that Lamar Miller, signed as a free agent from the Dolphins was a great pickup and would be a big upgrade in both the running and passing games for the Texans.

And he indeed was, he carried the ball 268 times for 1073 yards and five touchdowns for the Texans this season. He added 31 receptions for 188 yards and a score thru the air in 14 games. He missed time at the end of the season due to an injury but returned for the Wild Card matchup and was able to boost the Houston running game. He carried 31 times and ground out 73 yards and a touchdown against Oakland last week.

Houston was the 8th ranked rushing team in the NFL this season averaging 116.2 yards per game. The Patriots were the #3 team against the run this year allowing just 88.6 yards per game. If Houston is going to pull the upset here and advance, they’re going to need a big game from Miller, both in the running and passing games to take the pressure off Osweiler. Miller had 80 yards on 21 carries in the first matchup here.

Clowney, Leads the “Big 3” For the Texans Defense: With J.J. Watt on IR this season, placed there right after the New England game, the pressure was on the rest of the unit to step up. And it started with the former #1 pick DE Jadaveon Clowney. Limited by injuries early in his career, the “Bust” label was being tossed around when discussing the athletic freak from South Carolina. But no longer.

He came on at the end of the 2015 and topped that off with a very impressive 2016 logging 40 tackles and half a dozen sacks. He’s athletic, strong, and very fast off the edge. He can disrupt and blow plays up, as we witnessed against the Raiders last week and be a game changer for this defense. He’ll be matched up against Nate Solder for much of the game and will be a handful for the veteran left tackle.

Whitney Mercilus is the outside linebacker on the left side for Houston and he leads the team with 7.5 sacks on the season. He gives the Texans bookend pass rushers that can get after the QB and disrupt the opposing team’s offensive rhythm. He’ll be going against Marcus Cannon this week.

Benardrick McKinney was singled out by Bill Belichick for praise this week, as the Patriots were very interested in the Mississippi State linebacker when he came out of college for the 2015 NFL Draft. Belichick was effusive in his praise for the big LB, stating, “He’s a very good football player,” Belichick said. “We did a lot of work on him coming out of Mississippi State. He’s the kind of player that played outside and inside linebacker.”

“He also played a little bit at defensive end, is an excellent blitzer, runs very well, is long. He’s 6’4 so he gets to a lot of plays with his length, particularly in pass coverage, a hard guy to throw over or around, a very good tackler, good range, good speed, good instincts, good wrap-up tackler… It’s very unusual to find a player with his skills that can do so many things in the running game, in the passing game, on the line, off the line. He’s an excellent player, one of the best players we’ve played against all year. He played well against us.”

In the first meeting between the two teams, McKinney logged 16 tackles and a sack of Brissett. The Patriots may look to counter the linebackers of Houston, (McKinney, Mercilus, and Brian Cushing) by putting them in space and forcing them to cover the tight ends and running backs this week.

Tight Ends Key to the Passing Game: When the Texans drop back to pass, the focus will naturally be centered around their most talented pass catcher, WR DeAndre Hopkins. But to be successful, Osweiler will need to get his tight ends involved.

Houston has two big tight end targets in the passing game and both have been effective. C.J. Fiedorowicz caught 54 passes for 559 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. Ryan Griffin made 50 catches for 442 yards and a pair of scores. When the Texans need to move the chains, Osweiler will lean on the big men in the middle of the field. The Patriots have had issues in the past at covering tight ends and these two should see plenty of targets.

Hopkins will see plenty of looks outside, he was targeted 151 times on the season, but the Patriots will look to take him away with bracketed coverage. Will Fuller the speedster from Notre Dame got off to a hot start with a pair of 100-yard games to begin the season, but more than half of his production was logged in the first four games. He will need better production this week.

Osweiler has to get into a rhythm this week, and to do so and beat a Patriots defense that will force them to work their way down the field, they’re going to need their tight ends to step up and move the chains.

If Texans Seem to be Familiar, They Are: In September, we wrote the Texans were really a Patriots-South coached team with a lot of familiar faces on the staff. The level of familiarity between the two staffs was startling. Once again…

There are a lot of Patriots connections with the Houston Texans and head coach Bill O’Brien is building himself a team on a solid foundation of New England talent.

O’Brien was the QB coach and the offensive coordinator with the Pats from 2007-2011. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crenel started in New England as the DL coach in 1993 and became the DC here from 2001-2004, including the first three Super Bowl wins.

Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey was the Patriots tight ends coach and was here from 2011-2013. Linebacker coach Mike Vrabel is one of the hottest coaches in terms of getting top job offers. He was a standout member of the Patriots during the first three Super Bowl winning teams as a linebacker and goal line tight end. Special teams’ coordinator Larry Izzo was a standout STs player on the Patriots between 2001-2008.

And of course, the biggest Texan of them all is Vince Wilfork. The big man spent 12 seasons with the Patriots. Wilfork played in 158 games and tallied 517 tackles, 16.0 sacks, three interceptions for 48 yards, 35 quarterback hits, 28 tackles for loss, 12 fumble returns, four forced fumbles and 26 passes defensed.

When looking at the organization that O’Brien is building around him in Texas, it is easy to see where the emphasis on creating a winning atmosphere is coming from.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Fitzy’s Wicked Pissah #1 Cast

John Morgan
January 3, 2017 at 10:30 pm ET

The New England Patriots are the number one seed in the playoffs. The Pats finished the NFL 2016 regular season with a 14-2 record. Despite the best efforts of Roger Goodell on behalf of certain despicable owners such as Jim Irsay, Woody Jones, John Mara, Jerry Jones, no other team finished with a better record than the Patriots.

 

Warning: portion of audio is NSFW.

 

Even if you don’t believe in karma, there was certainly plenty of schadenfreude in the 2016 season. The primary co-conspirators in the witch hunt known as deflategate, the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, both missed the playoffs. 345 Park Avenue watched their beloved Jets tumble from 10-6 to an atrocious season that could not end soon enough.

Vocal dissidents such as John Mara that don’t understand what happens to air pressure in tires because they’ve been chauffeured everywhere their whole life had to deal with one embarrassing breach of ethics after another. A 28-2 touchdown to interception differential shuts up any fool that still believes that the earth is flat and the ideal gas law is bunk.

Integrity? If there is any in this sport then it will culminate in Tom Brady holding up the Lombardi Trophy in Houston on February 5.

 

NFL Wild Card Playoff Scenarios Entering Week 17

John Morgan
January 1, 2017 at 9:00 am ET

There is relatively little intrigue in regards to which NFL playoff teams will make the playoffs. Entering the final day of the 2016 NFL regular season ten of the twelve playoff teams have been determined. Four NFC teams are battling for two post-season berths, but one (Tampa Bay) has virtually no chance of making it. One other team (Washington) has to win against a club with nothing to play for (Giants). Two others face each other tonight in a de facto playoff game. Unless Green Bay at Detroit ends in a tie the season continues for the winner, while the losing squad can clean out their lockers and schedule tee times.

 

AFC Wild Card Playoff Scenarios

Pittsburgh and Houston are locked in as the number three and four seeds respectively. That leaves three games to determine the conference playoff seeding. The three AFC games that actually matter today are Miami at New England, Kansas City at San Diego and Oakland at Denver. There are a total of eight possible combined outcomes to those games.

  1. Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs win
  2. Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs lose
  3. Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs win
  4. Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose
  5. Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs win
  6. Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs lose
  7. Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs win
  8. Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose

 

 

 

Before we get to the wild card round, let’s look at the team getting a bye. New England claims the number one spot and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with either a win or an Oakland loss. Kansas City needs a win plus an Oakland loss to gain a bye as the number two seed; the Chiefs cannot advance to the top slot.

If Miami loses then they will be at Pittsburgh regardless of what happens elsewhere. If Oakland loses and Kansas City wins then the Raiders are at Houston. And if Miami win and Kansas City loses then the Dolphins are at Houston and the Chiefs are at Pittsburgh.

  1. Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, NE #1, Oak #2
  2. Patriots win, Raiders win, Chiefs lose – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, NE #1, Oak #2
  3. Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, Oak at Hou, NE #1, KC #2
  4. Patriots win, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, NE #1, KC #2
  5. Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, KC at Hou, Oak #1, NE #2
  6. Patriots lose, Raiders win, Chiefs lose – KC at Pit, Mia at Hou, Oak #1, NE #2
  7. Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs win – Mia at Pit, Oak at Hou, NE #1, KC #2
  8. Patriots lose, Raiders lose, Chiefs lose – KC at Pit, Mia at Hou, NE#1, Oak #2

 

 

 

 

 

That last scenario is what Miami fans are hoping for. It would mean that the Dolphins would face Tom Savage at quarterback in the first round. Then if Kansas City wins the Fins would be up against Matt McGloin at QB in the division round.

 

 

NFC Wild Card Playoff Scenarios

Dallas is number one and New York number 5 in the NFC. Atlanta and Seattle are division champs that could get a bye at number two, or play next weekend at home as either a number three or four seed. Washington is in as the number six seed as long as the Lions and Packers don’t tie. Detroit could finish as high as number two seed, but for that to happen Seattle has to lose to the Niners. The Lions could also miss the playoffs entirely if they finish the season with a third straight loss and Washington wins. The best Green Bay can do is a number three seed, or they too could miss the playoffs. Tampa Bay needs a miracle.

 

Assuming Seattle defeats San Francisco:

  1. Falcons win, Packers win, Wash wins – Wash at Seattle, Giants at Packers; Falcons #2, Lions out
  2. Falcons win, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Seattle, Giants at Packers; Falcons #2, Wash out
  3. Falcons win, Lions win, Wash wins – Wash at Seattle, Giants at Lions; Falcons #2, Packers out
  4. Falcons win, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Seattle, Giants at Lions; Falcons #2, Wash out
  5. Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash wins – Wash at Falcons, Giants at Packers; Seattle #2, Lions out
  6. Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Falcons, Giants at Packers; Seattle #2, Wash out
  7. Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash wins – Wash at Lions, Giants at Falcons; Seattle #2, Packers out
  8. Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Lions, Giants at Falcons; Seattle #2, Wash out

 

 

 

 

 

And if the Niners somehow pull off the upset of the year and beat Seattle then the number five Giants will play at number four Seattle. Here is the rest of the field with that scenario.

  1. Falcons win, Packers win, Wash wins – Skins at Packers, Falcons #2, Lions out
  2. Falcons win, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Packers, Falcons #2, Skins out
  3. Falcons win, Lions win, Wash wins – Skins at Lions, Falcons #2, Packers out
  4. Falcons win, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Lions, Falcons #2, Skins out
  5. Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash wins – Skins at Packers, Falcons #2, Lions out
  6. Falcons lose, Packers win, Wash loses – Lions at Packers, Falcons #2, Skins out
  7. Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash wins – Skins at Falcons, Lions #2, Packers out
  8. Falcons lose, Lions win, Wash loses – Packers at Falcons, Lions #2, Skins out

 

 

 

 

 

NFL Week 17 Playoff Picture: AFC #1 Seed Still Up For Grabs

John Morgan
December 29, 2016 at 7:00 am ET

Week 16 took much of the drama out of the final Sunday of the 2016 NFL regular season. Ten of the twelve post-season entries have been determined, but there is still plenty of drama available to make week 17 intriguing.

After having to travel to Denver last year Patriot fans are well aware of the importance of home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Bill Belichick will surely remind the team of last year’s 20-10 week 17 loss at Miami, complete with embarrassing film clips in team meetings. Add in the benching of a starter and it is doubtful there will be any lack of intensity in Miami Gardens.

In terms of other games, the one with the most impact is Green Bay at Detroit. Barring a tie the winner moves on as NFC North champion while the season ends for the loser. New England fans seeking an easier road to the playoffs will root for an Oakland loss at Denver and a victory by the Chiefs at San Diego. That would mean the Patriots cannot play both KC and Pittsburgh – the only two AFC teams with quarterbacks who were starters at the beginning of this month.

Note: for the sake of both clarity and sanity, outcomes dependent on ties have for the most part not been included.

 

AFC Playoff Picture

The AFC field was finalized last week, thanks in large part to Baltimore’s loss to Pittsburgh and Denver’s loss at Kansas City. On top of that two teams – Pittsburgh at #3 and Houston at #4 – cannot move up or down regardless of this week’s outcomes.

13-2 New England Patriots
At Miami, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; favored by 9½.
Can finish as #1 or #2 seed.
– Clinch #1 seed with win at Miami.
– Clinch #1 seed with Oakland loss.
– Drop to #2 seed with both loss to Dolphins, plus Raiders win.

12-3 Oakland Raiders
At Denver, 4:25 pm ET on CBS; 1-point underdog.
Can Finish as #1, #2 or #5 seed.
– Clinch #1 seed with both a win at Denver, plus a New England loss.
– Clinch at least the #2 seed with either one of the above.
– Drop to #5 seed with both a loss to Broncos, plus Chiefs win.

10-5 Pittsburgh Steelers
Home vs Cleveland, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; favored by 6.
Locked in as #3 seed.
Note: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are all not expected to play.

9-6 Houston Texans
At Tennessee, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; 3-point underdog.
Locked in as #4 seed.
Note: quarterbacks will be Tom Savage vs Matt Cassel.

11-4 Kansas City Chiefs
At San Diego, 4:25 pm ET on CBS; favored by 6.
Can finish as #2, #5 or #6 seed.
– Clinch #2 seed with both a win and a Raider loss.
– Clinch at least #5 seed with a win.
– Also clinch at least #5 seed with a Dolphins loss.
– Drop to #6 seed with both a loss, plus a Dolphins win.

10-5 Miami Dolphins
Home vs New England, 1:00 pm ET on CBS; 9½ point underdog.
Can finish as #5 or #6 seed.
– Clinch # 5 seed with both a win, plus a Chiefs loss.
– Remain a #6 seed under all other scenarios.

 

NFC Playoff Picture

Green Bay, Detroit, Washington and Tampa Bay are vying for two playoff slots. Even though the Redskins are currently on the outside looking in, their playoff chances are very good. With the Packers and Lions playing each other Sunday night the loser of that game could be done. Washington controls its own destiny, gaining a playoff berth with a win as long as the Packers and Lions don’t tie. Tampa Bay on the other hand needs seven games to go their way to extend their season, including a Giants-Skins tie.

13-2 Dallas Cowboys
At Philadelphia, 1:00 pm ET on FOX; 3-point underdog.
Locked in as number one seed.
Biggest news in Dallas is how a Cowboy fan got revenge on the fiancee who dumped her.

10-5 Atlanta Falcons
Home vs New Orleans, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; favored by 6½.
Can finish as #2, #3 or #4 seed.
– Clinch #2 seed with a win at New Orleans.
– Also clinch #2 seed with losses by both Seattle and Detroit.
– Clinch at least #3 seed with loss by either Seahawks or Lions.
– Drop to #4 seed with (a) loss to Saints, plus (b) Seahawks win, plus (c) Lions win.

9-5-1 Seattle Seahawks
At San Francisco, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; favored by 9½.
Can finish as #2, #3 or #4 seed.
– Clinch #2 seed with both a win, plus a Falcons loss.
– Clinch at least #3 seed with a win.
– Drop to #4 seed with loss to 49ers.
Think Seattle regrets that early season loss to the Rams now?

9-6 Green Bay Packers
At Detroit, 8:30 pm ET on NBC; favored by 3½.
Can finish as #3, #4 or #6 seed – or can miss playoffs.
– Clinch #3 seed with a win, plus Seattle loss.
– Clinch at least #4 seed with a win.
– Still clinch a playoff spot as #6 seed with loss Washington loss.
– Eliminated from #3 seed if Seattle wins.
– Eliminated from #4 seed with loss to Lions.
– Completely miss playoffs with both a loss, plus Washington wins.

10-5 New York Giants
At Washington, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; 7-point underdogs.
Locked in as #5 seed.

9-6 Detroit Lions
Home vs Green Bay, 8:30 pm ET on NBC; 3½ point underdogs.
Can finish as #2, #3, #4 or #6 seed – or miss playoffs entirely.
– Clinch #2 seed with a win, plus losses by both Atlanta and Seattle.
– Can clinch at least #3 with a win, plus loss by either Atlanta or Seattle.
– Clinch at least #4 seed with a win.
– Clinch a playoff spot and at least #6 seed with a Washington loss.
– Eliminated from first round bye with win by either Falcons or Seahawks.
– Eliminated from #3 seed with wins by both Falcons and Seahawks.
– Loss to Packers eliminates Detroit from #4 seed or better.
– Eliminated from playoffs with both a loss, plus a Washington win.

8-6-1 Washington Redskins
Home vs New York Giants, 4:25 pm ET on FOX; favored by 7.
Can only be either #6 seed or miss playoffs.
– Clinch #6 seed with a win, as long as Detroit-Green Bay does not end in a tie.
– Eliminated from playoffs with a loss.
– Eliminated from playoffs with a Lions-Packers tie.

 

Tampa Bay Bucs Playoff Picture

The Buccaneers deserve their own category simply because their playoff scenario is stranger than Rex Ryan’s proclivity for hidden cameras in an orthopedic surgeon’s office. Not only do the Bucs need a game to end in a tie, they also need two meaningless non-conference games to end in their favor. Oh, and for the Niners to beat Seattle too.

8-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Home vs Carolina, 1:00 pm ET on FOX; favored by 5½.
Can finish as #6 seed or miss playoffs.
Clinch playoff spot with every one of the following:
– A win vs Carolina, plus
– Washington ties Giants, plus
– Packers lose to Lions; plus
That would mean Tampa can top Green Bay based on Strength of Schedule if:
– Dallas beats Philadelphia, plus
– San Francisco beats Seattle, plus
– Indianapolis beats Jacksonville, plus
– Tennessee beats Houston

No problem.

 

 

Happy New Year everyone!