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As the Patriots head into Week 17 they know two things—they clinched the AFC East and will get either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. What they do not know is who they will host in their first playoff game. Currently there are seven teams fighting for two wild card spots, which gives us so many different playoff scenarios it hurts my head just trying to comprehend it. However, the Patriots play a crucial role in a couple team’s playoff scenarios and could have a say in who they face in the first round of the playoffs.
For example, if the Patriots rest their starters and allow the Texans to win, they would completely eliminate the Dolphins, who need the Patriots to win. They would also virtually eliminate the Steelers and Jaguars, both of whom only have one playoff scenario in which the Patriots lose. New England could also try to win and eliminate the Texans from the playoffs if they feel they are the stronger opponent. In any case, the Patriots do not have a final say in who does and does not make the playoffs, but they can make it difficult for a couple teams to climb that final hurdle to reach the postseason.
This week, I changed my usual “Five Thoughts” column into seven ranks, as I decided to rank the remaining eligible teams from the easiest to toughest matchup.
At 7-8, the Jaguars don’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs, but the Patriots do need to win their week 17 matchup in order to keep the door open for Jacksonville. It would be great to face them for a second time in three weeks because they would be no match for the Patriots as we saw in last week’s 35-7 blowout. Maurice Jones-Drew is clearly worn out and David Garrard is not good enough to carry this team to a playoff victory on the road. Add in a soft pass defense and you can guarantee that Brady and co. will take care of business. Unfortunately, the Jaguars need help from three other teams in addition to the Patriots, so this scenario is highly unlikely.
No love for the AFC South, but can you blame me? Yes, the Texans have a nice duo with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, but their one dimensional offense isn’t enough to fool even the most average of defenses let alone the Patriots. The Texans are also a middle-of-the-pack defense so you can’t expect them to stand a chance against the Patriots’ offense during the playoffs at home. It would be an odd scenario, because in order for the Texans to have even the slightest of chances, the Patriots would have to lose to them this week, so look out karma police if New England decides to give this game to the Texans and they somehow get help from Oakland and Kansas City.
While the Dolphins stand less of a chance to make the playoffs than the Texans, I would not feel comfortable facing them in a playoff situation. Miami already pulled off one victory against the Patriots this season and division opponents always make for a tough out. While the Patriots should take care of business at home against an average Miami offense, nothing is a given anymore with this team. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they may never get the chance as they need a win over the Steelers and losses from the (deep breath) Jets, Ravens, Texans, and Jaguars (exhale).
The Jets are the first team on this list that gets in with a win. Their Week 17 opponent would be none other than the Bengals, who could have nothing to play for if the Patriots lock up the No. 3 seed earlier in the day. The Jets did beat the Patriots earlier this season, but that was with a rusty Brady without top receiving target Wes Welker. In their second game this season Welker made his presence known with 15 catches for 192 yards. While the Jets’ defense is the best in the league, their offense is quite the opposite, which would likely spell their doom if they had to travel to Foxboro.
Something about the Broncos doesn’t feel right because the Patriots always seem to struggle against them. Also, they play mistake free football on offense and their defense is one of the top pass rushing teams in the league, which could give Brady a lot of trouble in the pocket. This is the first matchup on the list that would legitimately make me nervous as a fan because the Patriots lost to them earlier this year and you know Josh McDaniels will have his team ready to face his old coach and stick it to them for the second time in a season. The Broncos have a total of 10 scenarios in which they would make the playoffs. The only way they are eliminated entirely (assuming they win against the Chiefs) is if both the Ravens and Jets win on Sunday.
Steelers’ linebacker LaMarr Woodley is absolutely right about one thing—the Patriots do not want to face the Steelers in the playoffs. The last thing the Patriots need is to face a hot Steelers team in the first round of the playoffs. With Troy Polamalu close to returning and Ben Roethlisberger surging at the right time, the Steelers could be a dangerous opponent if they are able to sneak into the playoffs. Luckily for the Patriots, they could avoid this situation if they take Woodley’s suggestion and “lay down” against the Texans. With a Houston win, the Steelers would have to beat the Dolphins and hope for the Jets, Ravens and Broncos to all lose their respective matchups. If the Patriots win, the Steelers have two other scenarios in which they could make the playoffs. Something tells me the Patriots will rest their starters and take the loss rather than risk further injury and possibly face a tougher opponent. That’s what we call a win-win scenario.
No, the Ravens aren’t the defensive monster we are all used to seeing, but three guys on this team scare me—Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Ray Rice. Their defense can still get to the quarterback and if you remember, they were one dropped pass away from potentially beating the Patriots earlier in the year.
Rice is a playmaker and exactly the type of player the Patriots have trouble against. He can run with the best of them and also is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. The Patriots don’t have a very strong unit in the linebacker department so Rice would present a huge mismatch.