It’s going to start next Monday night when the Pats welcome the Jets to Gillette. The Pats are the early favorite (3.5) in this game pretty much because they’re the home team. But after that it doesn’t get much easier. Let me explain.
Say the Patriots beat the Jets. The Pats will hold a one game lead in the division at 10-2 to the Jets 9-3. But let’s break down where each team goes after Monday night’s tilt.
The Jets have the Dolphins at home then travel to the Steelers and Bears in back to back road games before they end at home against the Bills over the final four weeks after the Pats game. You have to think that they’re going at least 2-2 in the worst case scenario. The Steelers and Bears on the road present the toughest remaining challenge after the Pats whereas division rivals Miami and Buffalo should be easy wins.
The Pats meanwhile will also have the Bears on the road, host the Packers, at the Bills the day after Christmas and hosting the Dolphins on January 2nd. You’d think the same as the Jets that a worst case scenario would have them also at 2-2 over that stretch. The Bears at Chicago will be no easy task (although I predict a defensive scheme that will confuse Jay Cutler) same with Green Bay at home.
I guess in both scenarios I’m underestimating both Miami and Buffalo (both play the Jets and Pats tough) but I think as the season is winding down, true playoff toughness shines through. If you’re thinking that the Patriots are one of the true Super Bowl contenders, they beat the beatable teams.
Bottom line, if the Patriots don’t win this week they’re likely going to be the #5 seed in the playoffs despite a better record than the other division winners. Every tiebreaker falls to the side of the Jets. So even if the Pats beat the Jets on Monday, they need to match the Jets record over the final four weeks. If they finish tied atop the east, the Jets own the tiebreakers.
Here’s hoping that the Patriots are in the midst of one of those magical runs from the early 2000′s where they just start rolling over every team on the schedule. Personally I don’t care if it’s by a point or a blow out, so long as they keep winning.