By Mark Paulette,
Sunday sucked…believe me, I was there at Hard Rock Stadium, watching in disbelief as Kenyan Drake and the Miami Dolphins pulled off a 65-yard, double-lateral desperation scramble to drown the Pats, 34-33.
Watching Gronk tumble over himself like an uncoordinated oaf sucked. Watching Stephen Gostkowski miss chip shots (per usual) sucked. Watching my beloved Tom Brady have a brain fart expected of an 81-year-old rather than a 41-year-old, sucked.
But as sucky and demoralizing as the ‘Miracle in Miami’ was, it changed nothing.
For that, the Patriots can thank the Indianapolis Colts. One week after laying a goose egg in Jacksonville, the Colts were able to trot into Houston and snap the league’s longest active win-streak, leaving the Texans at 9-4 and the Patriots safely in 2nd place in the AFC.
The top-spot in the conference is likely out of reach. It would require at least two losses from the Kansas City Chiefs and one from the L.A. Chargers over the season’s final three weeks. But the idea of the AFC Championship Game taking place at Gillette Stadium on January 20th is still very much in play, and tonight’s game will let us know just how likely it may be.
The AFC’s top-two teams, based on wins and losses, meet in a matter of hours at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chargers, outside of a late collapse last month in Denver, are arguably the hottest team in the NFL. Winner’s of 9-of-their-last-10, L.A. possesses an offense which is tied for 2nd in the conference scoring 28.2ppg while their defense allows less than 21ppg, good for 4th-best in the AFC.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs still sit atop the conference at 11-2, despite showing serious cracks of late. Though, even if the Chargers are able to knock off Chiefs tonight in KC, Andy Reid’s squad would still be in line to take the West if both teams win out in weeks 16 and 17, as KC owns the better divisional and conference record.
So let’s flash forward to the postseason and see how the remainder of that Yellow Brick Road can be redirected to Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Here’s the most-likely and logical route for the Patriots to host the AFC Championship Game:
- The Patriots win their final three regular season games, securing at worst the 2-seed in the AFC. Aka…a 1st round bye.
- #3 Houston defeats the 6th-seed in the Wild Card Round, while the Chargers, a wild card team in this scenario and the #5 seed, go on the road and defeat the champion of the AFC North (Pittsburgh or Baltimore) in the #4 vs. #5 match-up.
- Then, Kansas City would get the ‘benefit’ of playing the lowest-remaining seed by virtue of being the top-team in the conference. In this case, the lowest-remaining seed is none other than the Chargers, who could potentially be a 12 or 13-win team despite the Wild Card seeding. Facing L.A. in the Divisional Round would certainly be no treat for Kansas City, and if the Chargers can prevail and the Pats hold serve vs. Houston, the AFC Championship Game magically finds its way to Foxborough for a 3rd-straight year and 4th time in the last 5-seasons.
So there it is. For the time being, the AFC goes through Kansas City, MO, but it’s not unreasonable to think that come January 20th, the Pats will take the field in their nautical blue tops with the foghorn blaring in the background.
Despite the optimistic tone of this article, that certainly was not the outlook after witnessing the ‘Miracle in Miami’. Below you can hear my ranting on last week’s outcome while attempting to navigate through rush hour traffic in New York City.
Mark Paulette is the executive producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine