The New England Patriots are in position to reach the Super Bowl for a record ninth time. And all the cards seem to be falling their way.
Dec 20, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterbackTom Brady
(12) throws as tackleSebastian Vollmer
(76) blocks Tennessee Titans outside linebackerBrian Orakpo
(98) during the second half of the New England Patriots 33-16 win over the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
As we only have one more week of football left, one can start looking at possible roads to the Super Bowl. Upsets can certainly alter the playoff picture, but the New England Patriots will likely have a quite simple path to Levi’s Stadium. Things looked pretty different a week ago as it seemed like the Patriots might have to host the red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round and then if they win that, they would likely face the Denver Broncos or Cincinnati Bengals in the conference championship.
Though they lost to the Baltimore Ravens, to me the Steelers are still the team that can threaten the Patriots the most. Their playoff chances have dwindled as their only hope is if a struggling Bills team can turn it around and Rex Ryan can stop his former team from making the playoffs.
The Patriots will lock up the one seed with a win against a terrible Dolphins squad. The Broncos will likely lock up the No.2 seed at home against an injury riddled San Diego Chargers team which leaves the Bengals as the three seed. The Houston Texans will lock up the No.4 seed with a win over the Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs will likely finish their season on a 10 game winning streak by defeating the Oakland Raiders at home and the Jets would then be the sixth seed.
Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiverBrandon Marshall
(15) pulls in pass reception during overtime to setup winning touchdown as he is defended by New England Patriots cornerbackDuron Harmon
(30) at MetLife Stadium. New York Jets defeat the New England Patriots 26-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
Therefore the Jets, Chiefs and Texans are the only possible opponents for the Patriots in the divisional round. If the Bengals have a healthy Andy Dalton they will defeat the Jets, though it won’t be easy. The Patriots will then play the winner of the Texans vs. Chiefs match-up. If the Jets beat the Bengals, they will have to come up to Foxborough and a face a Pats team that is far more healthy than the team that they beat in Week 16.
Despite being injury riddled, the Patriots crushed the Texans just three weeks ago and even though the Chiefs would then be on an 11 game winning streak if they end up going to Gillette, but they have not beaten a lot of quality teams. The only two wins against teams with a winning record that the Chiefs have on their winning streak are against the Steelers and the Broncos. The win against Pittsburgh was against a Landry Jones-led Steelers’ offense and the victory over Denver was the game Peyton Manning threw four interceptions, which is why I don’t see them as a legitimate threat.
The Patriots would dominate both the Chiefs and the Texans in the wild card round advancing them to a conference championship matchup against either the Broncos or the Bengals. The Bengals are a very complete team, but the Patriots tore through them last year dominating them on both sides of the football and I would expect the same again. The Pats did lose to the Broncos earlier in the season but that was without their top two receivers and partly without Rob Gronkowski. They also would not make the same slew of mistakes as in their prior matchup and would be a heavy favorite against either the Bengals or the Broncos.
Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
While the Pats offense hasn’t looked all too good in the past weeks, the Patriots will be getting healthy at the right time. They will have a week off due to the bye week and Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Rob Ninkovich, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are all expected to return for the playoffs and it will give Dont’a Hightower another week to get healthy. The Patriots offense will look a lot more like they did earlier in the season especially if James White continues to play the way he currently is.
There are a lot of worries about the Patriots injuries, but the Patriots defense has really played well and Amendola and Edelman will boost the passing attack making the Patriots the team to beat in the AFC. When healthy the Pats have been the most dominant team in the NFL and unless they have any new injuries in their season finale or early playoff games the Patriots will be primed to repeat.