Week Fifteen
December 14, 2004
By Scott A. Benson

Another week down, another week closer and the Patriots remain the bridesmaids for the coveted first seed of the AFC playoffs.

Only one of the six current seeds lost on Sunday, and it was the team (New York Jets) that we most wanted to see win. The Pats are getting no help in respect to the first seed, not that they deserve it. Their missed opportunity to one-up the Steelers – a resounding Halloween loss in Pittsburgh – still looms.

From the bright side department comes news that the Jets loss, combined with New England’s defeat of the Bengals, clinched the Patriots third division title in four years.

As we stand today, that title assures them only of the fourth seed, and a home playoff game on wild card weekend. That doesn’t sound all that enticing to me.

The Patriots DO have a strong edge – at the moment – to gain (at minimum) a first round bye and the right to host a game on Divisional Playoff weekend. And that’s the whole point really – shortening the distance between two points.

Over the last 10 seasons, the first seed has played in the AFC championship 8 times (though remarkably winning only three of those – I blame the Steelers). The second seed has reached the final 6 times (winning four). 70% of the teams that have played for the AFC championship over that time did so after having enjoyed a first round bye.

Beyond that, the third seed has reached 4 times (winning three). Only twice has a lower seed advanced (both fifths), and neither won the championship game.

By the way, there were six AFC Super Bowl wins over those 10 years, and four of them came from the top two conference playoff seeds.

So, as I was saying, the Patriots presently have the inside track on drawing a bye and a home playoff game. They remain two games ahead of the Chargers and the Colts with three to play. With some machinations this weekend, the Pats could clinch the bye and the high-percentage track towards the conference championship.

Is anyone going to comment on how I’ve subtly shifted the focus from the first seed to the second seed? These Pittsburgh winning streaks will do that to a man. Our Seeds of the Week remain unchanged, again, undisturbed by human hands.

If the Playoffs Started Today

1. The Pittsburgh Steelers (12-1). Stupid Steelers. They keep acting like a championship team. Can they be stopped? In front of them stand the Giants (away), Ravens (home) and the Bills (away). Come on Jamal Lewis.

2. Shhhhhh, quiet, you’ll distract the New England Patriots (12-1).

3. Onward march the San Diego Chargers (10-3) towards our fondest holiday schadenfreude – a third seed playoff berth that sticks it to both Payton and Eli Manning. San Diego has the Browns (away), the Colts (away) and the Broncos (home) remaining. Gonna be tight.

4. Just when you thought you couldn’t hate the Indianapolis Colts (10-3) any more than you already do, along comes Buddy Thomas of the New Bedford Standard-Times. The contemptible Colts have Baltimore (home), San Diego (home) and Denver (away).

5. It’s the friggin’ New York Jets (9-4), who were no help last week at all. I’m sure they’ll get all tough again in another week or so, though, since they’re being so helpful. The Jets have the Seahawks (home), the Patriots (home) and Rams (away). I have to keep pumping up the Jets, though. I want them ready to upset the fourth seed.

6. If there was ever a time for the Baltimore Ravens (8-5) to put it all together, it’s these next two weeks. Throw on those Ray Lewis jerseys, people. The Ravens have Indy (away), Pittsburgh (away) and then (they’ll probably need this) Miami (home) to finish.

On the outside looking in:

7. The Denver Broncos (8-5) apparently trail the Ravens by something called ‘strength of victory’ at the moment. I don’t know what that is and you shouldn’t either. The Broncos face the Chiefs (away) and the Titans (away), but all we care about is their finale with the Colts (home).

8. To be honest, I debated even listing the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6) this week, but then I realized they have Green Bay (away), Houston (home) and Oakland (away) left, and could very well end up 10-6 and in the mix.

9. The Buffalo Bills (7-6) were on thinner ice than the Jaguars. They are a player though – they close the season by hosting the Steelers.

Who We’re Rooting for This Week

The A Game: Saturday afternoon, 1:30 PM, Pittsburgh at New York Giants (5-8). Great. Not only am I forced to watch Eli Manning, I have to root for him too. We’re behind the Giants, reluctantly. I fully expect to see them wiped out. Still, got to love these Saturday games in December.

The B Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, San Diego at Cleveland (3-10). A Pats win and a Chargers loss will clinch that first-round bye for New England, so I’m all about the Browns this week. The Chargers can make up the ground with an upset of Indy next week. For now, time for some of that old Terry Robiskie Magic.

The C Game: Sunday evening, 8:30 PM, Baltimore at Indianapolis. This is shaping up to be quite a weekend. First, a Saturday afternoon well spent, pulling for Eli, followed by Payton Manning, From Legacy to Legend (featuring Ray Lewis) with the three ESPN meatheads. Remind me to stash my hatchet where I can’t find it. All we can hope is the Ravens aren’t just about ready to fade out of the playoffs.

The D Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, Denver at Kansas City (5-8). The Broncos could still capture the 5th or 6th seed, so why not pull for the Chiefs? I certainly don’t want to see another Denver at Indy match up in the wild card round. The fallout from that would be insufferable.

The E Game (TIED): Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, Buffalo at Cincinnati (6-7) and Sunday afternoon, 4:15 PM, Jacksonville at Green Bay (8-5). Just to limit the number of games I’ll have to write a half-assed blurb about next week, I’ve got the Bengals and the Packers.

Who Can Clinch This Week, and How

The Steelers can clinch a first round bye with losses by the Chargers and Colts.

The Chargers can clinch the AFC West with a win and a Broncos loss.

The Jets can clinch a playoff berth with a win and three lemons.

As I’ve been mentioning, they’re still carrying on over there in the NFC like everything is fine, which it isn’t.

What about the Pats?

New England at Miami (2-11), Monday evening, 9:00 PM. The Pats can clinch a first round bye with a win and a Chargers loss. Even if they lose to the Dolphins, the Patriots could still clinch the bye if the Colts and Chargers lost and the Steelers won. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation for that.