Week Sixteen
December 21, 2004
By Scott A. Benson

Let痴 just start out this week by agreeing that, with two weeks remaining in the regular season, first seed is no longer a realistic possibility for the New England Patriots. That, in essence, is the price they will pay for their Monday night sins.

Sure, there痴 still a chance. The Pats could win out, and the streaking Steelers could lose both. Want to spend any more time on this topic?

As it turns out, the most pressing concern now is the Pats� hold on the second seed, and the all-important bye week. With an ignoble defeat in Miami fresh in mind, and with the homestanding10-3 Jets looming ahead, the concern grows.

The salve for that wound is readily available, thankfully. If the Pats can beat the New York Jets in the Meadowlands this weekend, they will clinch the first round bye and settle any question about their favorable placement in the AFC playoff bracket, once and for all.

As crazy and outrageous as it seems, though, we have to allow for the possibility that the Patriots could be defeated this weekend, throwing the door wide open for their upheaval from the coveted second chair. I know, a Patriots loss in a December divisional game is almost too incredible to fathom, but we must, in the interest of science.

It comes down to this � if the 12-2 Patriots finish at 13-3, and the San Diego Chargers win their final two games (including this weekend痴 trip to Indianapolis) to finish with an identical record, the Pats get the bum痴 rush straight to Wild Card Weekend, by virtue of San Diego痴 superior conference record.

As far as I can tell, that痴 the only true threat against a first round bye for the Pats. A 13-3 Colts squad, for example, would indeed tie the splittin� Pats (again, only for the purposes of wacky, implausible speculation), but Indy would still finish third by virtue of New England痴 increasingly valuable opening night win.

Yeah. You heard me right. The Pats could probably use a win by the Colts this weekend. I know – I feel lost and confused too. First Monday night, and now this.

I suppose the other true threat against a first-round bye would be a total meltdown by the Pats over their final two (actually, three) games, and even I, even tonight, don稚 believe that痴 going to happen.

If the Playoffs Started Today

1. The Pittsburgh Steelers (13-1). I知 an emotional sap this week. The fallout from the Pats loss to the Dolphins is that I知 ready to anoint any team that didn稚 suffer a major upset this week as worthy of a championship. Top honors this week go to the Men of Cowher, who coincidentally found themselves in a similar situation to the Pats this weekend, struggling on the road against an upstart opponent. The difference was, of course, that the Steelers were still able to hang the W up there when it was all done. They finish with the Ravens (home) and the Bills (away). I知 sure they値l slaughter them both. The Steelers are awesome.

2. They are what they are. The New England Patriots (12-2).

3. This brings us to the San Diego Chargers (11-3), former sweethearts of this space who must now meet their very timely demise. Sorry, Chargers. San Diego also has the Chiefs (home) remaining, a game which I sincerely hope I値l be following in a very casual, detached way next week. Sounds like our eggs are squarely in Indy痴 basket.

4. Gads, on Sunday, I知 actually going to be rooting for the Indianapolis Colts (11-3). The less said about this the better. Again, unless the Patriots come to pieces over the final two weeks, the Colts don稚 seem to be our concern for awhile. After Monday night, I can稚 see myself fretting about who the Colts play in the first round anymore. That痴 why I don稚 care that they still have Denver (away) after the Chargers.

5. Let痴 face it; the New York Jets (10-4) can leave a wicked turd in our holiday punchbowl this weekend. Other than that, the division champion Pats can稚 go any lower than fourth seed, and the wild card Jets can稚 go any higher than fifth, so I don稚 see how the Jets are that relevant at the moment, playoff race-wise. But believe me, the whole punchbowl thing is plenty, thanks. The Jets also have the Rams (away) left on their schedule.

6. Incredibly, the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6) could clinch one of the wild card spots this weekend, with a win at home and a 7-10 split combination of losses by their rivals. The Jags face Houston (home) and then Oakland (away).

On the outside looking in:

7. The Baltimore Ravens (8-6) (facing Pittsburgh away and then Miami at home), the Denver Broncos (8-6) (Tennessee away, then Indy at home), and the Buffalo Bills (8-6) (at San Francisco, then home with Pittsburgh), are all lumped in here with the Jaguars. The Bills lose the first tiebreaker (for now) and Jacksonville goes on to prevail in a strength-of-schedule battle with the other two.

Who Can Clinch This Week, and How

The Steelers can clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win. There are other scenarios by which this could happen, but they all involve ties. I thought I heard over the weekend that there have been fewer than 20 ties in the history of the league. Worry about that kind of stuff if and when it happens.

The Patriots can clinch a first round bye with a win.

The Jets can clinch a playoff berth with a win. Yet, even with a loss, they get in if Baltimore and Buffalo both lose, or if Jacksonville and Buffalo both lose, or (of course) if all three of them lose.

The Jaguars (!) can clinch a playoff berth with a win, combined with losses by the Bills, the Ravens, and the Broncos.

Who We池e Rooting for This Week

The A Game: Sunday afternoon, 4:15 PM, New England at New York Jets. Pretty simple. The Pats win, clinch a bye, and are free from here to quietly prepare for the weekend of January 15-16. They lose, and it痴 another week of hand wringing psychopaths like me. And that痴 before you even turn on your radio. If you have any decency at all, you池e pulling for the Patriots.

The B Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, San Diego at Indianapolis. Really amounts to the first shoe to drop on Sunday, with the 1:00 PM start. A Colt win, however unseemly, loosens the knot in the Patriots necktie a little, and allows for the possibility that a first round bye can still be achieved even with a Meadowlands loss. I look at it this way � it痴 either root for the Colts at home this weekend, or the Kansas City Chiefs on the road next week. Which one do you like?

The C Game: Sunday afternoon, 1:00 PM, Baltimore at Pittsburgh. As noted above, the shocking upset by the Dolphins on Monday night has caused us to be a little less nosy about our playoff race neighbors this week, particularly those in Suites 1, 5 and 6. I知 sure they池e all very nice people who only deserve the best (bastards!), but frankly, we have our own problems now. Still, we might as well keep an eye on the Ravens, who with a win could leave the door still cracked slightly for that (sniff) number one seed.

These are indeed my fondest Christmas wishes. Of course, fat lot of good its done me over these last four weeks, but its the magical holiday season now, where miracles happen……..so what the hell.