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Patriots Look to Force Themselves Into Playoffs

Tom Brady hopes to lead the Patriots deep into the playoffs (Boston Herald).

With just six games left until the postseason, it’s game time for the AFC. With the Colts taking an iron grip on home field advantage, the race is on for the second spot, currently held by the Bengals. However, the Chargers and Pats are tied with Cincinnati, and still very much alive for the position. The Steelers, Broncos, and Jaguars are fighting for the wildcard spots, a game behind the non-Colts division leaders. With so much on the line, especially with the ever advantageous bye and home field advantage immediately following, it serves us well to look how we came to have a three way tie for #2:

New England Patriots: 31-14 Win Vs. Jets

Four interceptions and a fumble? New England fans are salivating. Tom Brady only managed one touchdown throw, but Laurence Maroney rushed for two and Leigh Bodden returned an interception for another. A pretty balanced attack, with Brady throwing for another 300+ yard game in the process. And the Pats actually converted a 4th down this time. The Patriots looked strong and have all the tools needed to get the first round bye.

Cincinnati Bengals: 20-17 Loss @ Raiders

Now here’s where it gets interesting. The Bengals are 5-0 in their division, and will in all likelihood complete the divisional sweep against the Browns, but the Raiders represented a humiliating roadblock after starting so well. They were leading 17-10 with less than a minute to go, and gave up a deep drive for a touchdown. The Bengals then fumbled the ensuing kickoff return, giving the Raiders starting field position automatically within field goal range, resulting in the final score. If Cincinnati blows out the Browns next week, they will be considered as recovered. If they lose, or even get a close (and thus Pyrrhic) victory, they will have shown they are having trouble against even poor teams down the stretch and will continue their slide.

San Diego Chargers: 32-3 Win @ Broncos

It may have been an extremely weakened opponent, but the Chargers made a statement. They took full advantage of a hobbling Kyle Orton to hold the Broncos to a measly field goal, and scored in every quarter. Their five game win streak is an NFL best when you ignore Indianapolis and New Orleans. Right now, this rejuvenated team is the biggest threat to New England’s hopes for the bye.

Remaining Schedule: New England

Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
@ Saints @ Dolphins Vs. Panthers @ Bills Vs. Jaguars @ Texans

The Saints represent the only real difficult opponent, with the worst opponent not at 10-0 at 6-4. Aside from the Saints, only the Texans have positive net points for the season. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the Patriots to surge forward into the second seed. Final Record: 12-4

Remaining Schedule: Cincinnati

Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
Vs. Browns Vs. Lions @ Vikings @ Chargers Vs. Chiefs @ Jets

Obviously, everyone’s favorite blue jeans vendor Brett Favre will provide a challenge in Week 14, as will the Chargers, who will get a chance to force the Bengals out of the top spot running in Week 15 (both Bengals road games). If Cincinnati wants a bye, they’ll have to earn it. Final Record: 11-5

Remaining Schedule: San Diego

Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
Vs. Chiefs @ Browns @ Cowboys Vs. Bengals @ Titans Vs. Redskins

After upsetting the Steelers, the Chiefs could be interesting, though San Diego did win in Kansas City 37-7 in Week 7. If we see 2008 Matt Cassel on the field, it could be fun. Other than that, the Cowboys and Bengals represent the biggest threat. It all depends if Dallas can become more dominant before they meet the Chargers, who are 2-0 against the NFC East this season. Final Record: 12-4

Wildcard Race:

  • Pittsburgh has two tough Ravens games and the Packers remaining. They’ll really have to fight for a wildcard spot. Final Record: 10-6
  • Denver still has to face the Giants and Eagles, not to mention the Colts; I’m going to go ahead and pencil them in for a loss against the latter now. Final Record: 9-7
  • Jacksonville faces divisional match-ups against Houston and Indianapolis, not to mention New England. Final Record: 9-7
  • Houston faces tough threats against New England and Indianapolis, not to mention a divisional game against Jacksonville. Final Record: 9-7

Playoff Predictions:

AFC Wildcard Round:

#3 New England Patriots def. #6 Houston Texans 31-17 – #5 Pittsburgh Steelers def. #4 Cincinnati Bengals 21-10

  • The Pats’ offense will walk all over Houston (again).
  • The Steelers will be sick of Cincinnati and will take advantage of the Bengals’ fall from grace.

NFC Wildcard Round:

#3 Arizona Cardinals def. #6 New York Giants 21-20 – #5 Green Bay Packers def. #4 Dallas Cowboys 24-14

  • Arizona will face New York in a rematch which will be closely fought, but Arizona will eke out a victory.
  • Dallas will be exhausted after a three way bitter dogfight with New York and Philadelphia for the division title. Green Bay will take advantage just like in Week 10.

AFC Divisional Round:

#1 Indianapolis Colts def. #5 Pittsburgh Steelers 28-17 – #3 New England Patriots def. #2 San Diego Chargers 26-24

  • The Colts will be the Colts, and take down a surprisingly non-division winning Steelers.
  • The Pats will take advantage of field goals while their defense will make sure San Diego doesn’t get the same opportunities. The Pats do have plenty of experience in recent years knocking San Diego out of the playoffs, after all.

NFC Divisional Round:

#1 New Orleans Saints def. #5 Green Bay Packers 38-28 – #2 Minnesota Vikings def. #3 Arizona Cardinals 21-14

  • The Saints will win a pretty high scoring game by being just a little bit more forceful with their offense.
  • The Vikings have been nothing but impressive under Favre, and they will continue against Arizona.

AFC Championship:

#1 Indianapolis Colts def. #3 New England Patriots 28-24

  • It’ll be close, but the Pats will be reeling, with essentially a repeat of last game, except maybe a little less 4th and 2 controversy.

NFC Championship:

#1 New Orleans Saints def. #2 Minnesota Vikings 20-17

  • A tough match between two probable future hall of fame quarterbacks, but New Orleans will come up with the win (again).

Super Bowl:

#1 New Orleans Saints def. #1 Indianapolis Colts 38-35

  • This will be a high scoring fight between two high scoring quarterbacks. And with both teams entering at 18-0, the 1972 Dolphins will have to share the spotlight.

Pro Bowl:

AFC def. NFC 21-13

  • Since Belichick will be coaching by virtue of losing the AFC Championship, the AFC will be gutsy and make the plays they need to.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Congratulations to the Browns for going 1-15 to get the first draft pick. Use it well, Grasshopper.
  • The Lions will undoubtedly lose again on Thanksgiving to the Packers, their last defeat Thanksgiving opponent (2003).
  • John Madden will fail to make an impact on the football scene for the first time ever. Too bad he quit his day job.

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