November 30, 2004
By Scott A. Benson
With three quarters of the NFL regular season now behind us, it might be a good idea if we try to get a handle on how the upcoming playoffs are shaking out.
Really. I don稚 think it would be too presumptuous. The Patriots are 10-1, and the remaining teams on their regular season schedule have a combined record of 19-36. I think they値l make it (knock, knock, knock).
The question is where, exactly. Naturally, the road to Jacksonville gets progressively bumpier the further you池e seeded from the top of your conference. In both of their championship seasons, the Patriots finished with no worse than the second-best record in the AFC. In �01, that clinched them a first-round bye and a home game. In �03, they enjoyed home field advantage over Tennessee (the day Mr. Freeze actually froze) and Indianapolis (I think those pansies would have preferred to be indoors, don稚 you?) before advancing to their second world championship game in 24 months.
So where they finish, exactly, is important.
I thought that about this time every week, we壇 poke and prod at the playoff picture as the Pats try to map the smoothest route to Alltel Stadium.
You致e got to be kidding me. There are FIVE teams with winning records. I知 not even going to bother.
If the Playoffs Started Today
Random thought: You never see a 訴f the playoffs started today� story on the day of the first playoff game. That seems strange. You壇 think that would be the one day it would be worth something.
First Seed: By virtue of their October win over the Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-1) currently have possession of the Holy Grail � home field.
Second seed: Good news � it痴 the good guys. New England Patriots (10-1).
Third seed: With the third best record of all division leaders, it痴 the San Diego Chargers (8-3). AFC South leader Indianapolis is also 8-3, but the Run It Up Gang痴 three conference losses come back to bite them here.
Fourth Seed: They池e probably a better BCS candidate then they are a playoff team (might we suggest the Legacy Audio Holiday Classic?), but its here we place the fourth division winner, the Indianapolis Colts (8-3).
Fifth seed: The New York Jets (8-3) fortuitously hit a soft spot in their schedule when the normally durable Chad Pennington surprisingly went down with an injury. Must have been a freak thing. Anyway, the Jets hang on for this week痴 fifth spot (is this morphing into a Sunday morning Top 40 countdown?)
Sixth seed: Hey, it痴 the just-vanquished Baltimore Ravens (7-4). They win a tie with Denver because of a better conference record (5-3 to 4-3). The Broncos obviously have a game in hand there. The next tiebreaker is common opponents, and that just sounds like too much of a headache right now. Like they say, it痴 early yet.
Who We池e Rooting For This Week
The A Game: Sunday night, 8:30 PM, Pittsburgh at Jacksonville (6-5). The Steelers, winners of nine in a row, have to be number one on our hit list every week as they alone stand between the Pats and home field (the Pats must finish one game ahead of Pittsburgh as they have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker). Still, I can稚 get excited about the Jaguars, losers of three out of their last four. That痴 OK. We値l have other chances with the Jets (next week in Pitt) and the Ravens (week 16, also at Heinz) or even the Bills and Giants (both road games). A surprise this week would be nice, though.
The B Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, (5-6) Houston at New York Jets. The Pats have a two game lead in the division (actually three, with the Pats current head to head advantage), and a Jets loss/Pats win inches our favorites closer to their second straight division title. Let痴 hope the Texans stay on the high they got from drubbing Tennessee.
The C Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, (4-7) Tennessee at Indianapolis. Speaking of the Titans, here they are. They池e relevant for this week anyway, because in the race for a first-round bye, the Colts trail the Pats by two losses (actually three again, thanks to opening night) with five left to play. We壇 still like more in the way of mathematical certainty.
The D Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, (5-6) Cincinnati at Baltimore. Look, I realize the Ravens are even less of a threat than the Colts at the moment, but they are currently one of the six AFC playoff seeds, and we are contractually bound to root against them. If the Bengals can score a third of what they scored last week, all hope is not lost.
The F Game: Sunday afternoon, 4:05 PM, (7-4) Denver at San Diego. If there was any way both of these teams could lose, that would be great. But you know what? Let痴 pull a swerve and go with the Chargers, giving them a two game lead in their division and keeping the heat on the bound-to-choke-sometime Colts for that third seed.
What about the Pats?
Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, New England at Cleveland (3-8). The Patriots have a two-game lead in their division to protect, as well as the two game conference record advantage they hold over the rest of the lower seeded teams. Naturally, the Pats also have to keep pace with the Steelers if they want a chance for the rematch to be played at Gillette.