Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Checking in on the Pats Playoff Situation

Right now it is very simple. If the NFL season ended today, the Patriots still would not make the playoffs. But there are still five games remaining for them. Of those five games, three are on the road to below .500 teams (Seattle, Oakland, and Buffalo) and the other two are at home against Pittsburgh and Arizona. I already went over my thoughts on those two home games in my last post so I'll spare you a drawn out explanation and give you the gist of why I think both games are very winnable despite those two teams being the best remaining teams on the Patriots schedule: the Patriots own the Steelers and the Cardinals are a warm weather team travelling east to play in late December. 'Nuff said and yes I still strongly believe that a table running is forthcoming.

Now here is the tricky part. Assuming they run the table, they will get in. Unless of course both Baltimore and Indy pull that off too. Of those two, I think Indy has a great chance to do this and Baltimore not so much. Baltimore has two remaining road games. One at Cincy which they should win and one at Dallas which I think they will lose. Their home slate is tough too with Washington and Pittsburgh coming the first two weeks of December and then they close the season against Jacksonville. Granted Jacksonville will probably be mailing it in at that point but regardless, the Ravens have three of five games against tough, above .500 teams. In eye-balling that group of games I'd guess a 3-2 mark there losing at home to Pittsburgh and on the road to Dallas. That would leave the Ravens at 10-6. Good enough most years to get into the playoffs but probably not this year.

And then there are the Colts. Like the Patriots, I think the Colts are going to run the table. Why? Well first off, in case you had not noticed they are rounding into vintage form. And second, they only play one remaining above .500 team for the rest of the year, and that team is the Titans. Assuming the Titans will have home field locked up by then, there is a decent chance they will be resting a good chunk of their starters. Maybe not though, judging by how that burned a few teams last year in the playoffs. Starters or not though, Indy has them at home and I think they win that game regardless.

As for the rest of the Colts schedule, they also have Cincy and Detroit at home and trips to Cleveland and Jacksonville. Mark those home games in the win column now and do the same for the game at Cleveland this weekend. Sure they could lose to Jacksonville on the road, but I doubt it the way those two teams are going. For right now, pencil in Indy to finish at 12-4.

Now let's bring this back to the Patriots shall we.

If we are going to pencil in Baltimore at 10-6 and Indy at 12-4, then the Patriots need to finish at least 11-5 because right now Baltimore holds the tie-break against the Pats due to conference record. That could change between now and the end of the season, but let's not complicate things. We will just say that if the Patriots want to make the playoffs they really cannot finish worse than 11-5.

Because we are optimists here, we will say that the Patriots run the table and finish 12-4. Where will that leave them? Amazingly to me, it will leave them in one of two places. Either as the second seed with a bye in the first round or a sixth seed and playing a divisional playoff game at the Meadowlands against the Jets. Crazy isn't it?

So how does that work?

If they are to finish 12-4 and get the bye, they will need to play two games better than the Jets over the last five games and take the division. At that point, even if they were tied with Pittsburgh at 12-4 they would get the higher seeding on account of a head-to-head win.

And what two teams could knock off the Jets in the final five weeks?

That is where it gets tough. I think Denver has a good shot of that this weekend to be honest. Why? Because I think it will be a shootout and you never know when Brett Favre will absolutely kill a team in a game like that. After Denver, I really am not sure where the second loss would come from. If I had to venture a guess I'd say it would be at home against Miami in the last week of the season because I don't see them losing at home to the Bills and I don't see them losing in either San Francisco or Seattle. So as you can see, the bye scenario is a bit far-fetched but certainly not impossible.

And that leaves us with the Patriots most likely scenario; finishing at 12-4 or maybe 11-5 and owning the 6th seed in the playoffs. Crazy to think that a team with 11 or 12 wins would wind up only as the sixth seed, but considering that Indy has the 5th seed locked up barring a monumental Tennessee collapse that would rival the state university's football program then it is the only place other than 2 that the Patriots can inhabit. Sure we are treating hypotheticals as fact right now but that is the only way you can actually figure this stuff out.

Therefore, as we stand today, if I had to predict how the AFC playoff picture will look at the end of the season, it would be like this:

1 (bye) Titans 13-3
2 (bye) Steelers 12-4
3 Jets 12-4
4 Broncos 9-7
5 Colts 12-4
6 Patriots 12-4

Looking at that, what are my thoughts? Simple. If the Pats could have just beaten the Jets on that Thursday night game by getting a stop on 3rd and 15 they would have been in position to beat Pittsburgh this weekend and have the two seed be theirs to lose. Now, realistically they are looking at the sixth seed and a potential path to the Super Bowl through New York, Tennessee, and Indy or Pittsburgh. Of course it's doable, the Steelers proved it in 2006 and the Giants did in 2008 but it sure won't be easy. Despite all of that, the fact remains that Tom Brady played half a quarter this year and we can still have big thoughts. That's pretty good.

No comments: