Today sucked. There’s no other way to put it. The Patriots gave up 5 straight touchdowns to the horrible Philadelphia Eagles and lost their first home game (other than a throwaway Week 17 last year) since December 2012. This loss feels horrible, as it should, but the Pats are still in prime position to take the AFC.
Everyone and their mother knows that health is the paramount issue for the Patriots heading into the playoffs, but home field advantage or at least a 1st round bye is right one its heels. New England’s chances of getting the 1 seed took a significant hit today, but they’re still in the driver’s seat for a 1st round bye and easily within striking distance for home field advantage throughout January.
The Broncos and Bengals have yet to play each other in Denver on Monday Night of Week 16, and the pair of teams doesn’t have the easiest schedule otherwise, either. Denver’s slate is: vs. Oakland, @Pittsburgh, vs. Cincinnati, and vs. San Diego. Let’s say they lose the game in Pittsburgh, which would be a huge yet totally believable Christmas present for the Steelers to give the Pats. The Bengals’ slate is: vs. Pittsburgh, @San Francisco, @Denver, vs. Baltimore. Let’s say they lose 1 game of the 3 that aren’t against Denver, as well. The Steelers have a good chance of going into Cincy and winning, the 49ers are no slouch anymore, especially at home, and the Ravens play too hard for John Harbaugh to lay down in Week 17. Seems fair to say that the Bengals will lose one.
If that happens, then once either the Broncos or Bengals lose to one another in Week 16, one of them will finish 13-3 and the other will finish 12-4. Now, after looking at it from that perspective, doesn’t the Patriots’ situation look a little bit better for you? If New England wins out, then they’d still take the 1 seed in that case, and they might still take the 1 seed if they tie Cincinnati at either 14-2 or 13-3 if Cincy wins that Denver game and the Broncos lose another one other than that. The Pats might have the advantage over the Bengals in a 2 way tiebreaker and they might beat out the Bengals and Broncos in a 3 way tiebreaker if the Bengals win that Week 16 game, but there are enough potential scenarios for its own blog post.
The point is, if the Pats win out, they’re guaranteed at least a 2 seed and most likely still the 1 seed. If they lose 1 more, they’ll probably get the 2 seed, while there are slight chances of either sneaking into the 1 spot or slipping to the 3 spot.
While the Patriots can certainly win their next 4 games — @Houston, vs. Tennessee, @New York Jets, @Miami, the main problem with today is that they can’t fully rest their starters in any of those games. The Texans game is an important game for the Pats because the Texans are a common opponent with the Bengals and they have the kind of pass rush to scare the crap out of any Pats fan after the debacle vs. the Eagles today. It would be nice if the Pats had the luxury of losing that game in Houston, but now they really don’t. The Titans should be a walkover, and hopefully the Dolphins will have given up on their season by Week 17. (I’d love if they got eliminated from the playoffs exactly in Week 16, because it would seem like a team would just give up with a single game left to play in their season at that point.) But the Jets game worries me because they’ll still have something to play for and they might have zero restraint with going for the knees of Brady, Gronk, or Edelman if they’re all healthy. The Pats won’t be able to rest everyone that game even if Cincy and Denver have lost a game or 2 by that time, and that will be the fault of this Sunday’s horrendous loss to Philly that might have saved Chip Kelly his job.
All in all, the Pats did cost themselves because of the energy they’ll have to expend and the health they’ll have to risk in the final 4 weeks of the season. That being said, don’t think that they automatically damaged their playoff seeding or their Super Bowl chances today. The Pats will be clear favorites in each of their final 4 games, and none of those games will be in the hostile environment of Mile High or feature 3 back-to-back fluke touchdowns. You shouldn’t worry too much about the Pats regarding anything but health and rest in the final 4 games, but you were already worrying about that, anyway. And you should be rooting your ass off for the Broncos and Bengals’ opponents the next few weeks.
We’re on to Houston.