(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com )
Welcome to Week 17 of the NFL regular season. The week where some teams will be fighting for their lives while others shut down Command Central to rest their stars for the games that really matter. The week that so deftly mixes in the hum-druminess of an exhibition game with the life-or-death drama of the Super Bowl. The week the Colts may finally be able to rest their stars for a game.
Oh...Yeah...That happened, didn't it?
Well at least Colts head coach Jim Caldwell made sure we wouldn't hear anything more about 4th-and-2 for the rest of the year with his historic Grady Little against the Jets. Although, I'm not sure it's still technically considered a "Grady Little" if you stupidly take your best guys out on your way to a loss as opposed to the other way around. I suppose it's a question for another time.
Tomorrow the Patriots will face the Houston Texans in the Lone Star State as 7 1/2 point underdogs. Apparently the fact the Patriots won't be trying their best in this game hasn't escaped those people betting (legally, of course) on football. Contrarily, the Texans are still technically alive in the playoff hunt and need desperately to win this game.
Assuming Houston can accomplish this against the Pats' second and third teams (no sure thing, however), they would also need two other teams to lose out of Baltimore (at Oakland), Denver (against Kansas City) and the Jets against Cincinnati.
A long shot? Err...Maybe, but certainly possible. And, don't think for a moment that will be lost on the players on the team that has never been in this good of a position at the seasons' end before.
Basically, if you have anything else you could be doing during this game tomorrow, don't be ashamed or too afraid of missing something to go and do it. Unless, of course, you really love exhibition games.
However, the much more relevant issue here is the Patriots chances in the playoffs. Now, with a simulated bye week against Houston, the banged-up Patriots starters will get a chance to rest up for their home playoff game Wild-Card Weekend. But here's the greatest part: "I like our chances!"
Note: This is not a jinx. I'm aware a Rams' player was videotaped saying this minutes before the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2001, but sports radio host Michael Holley says this all the time.
Last week, as Tom Brady and Randy Moss connected for three touchdowns against a mightily decent and aggressively mediocre Jaguars squad, something else was unfolding that may have just as much of an effect on New England's chances. Jim Caldwell was getting ready for the biggest bag-over-the-head punch-in-the-face to his own team in the history of organized sports.
After watching the Pats' defense in pre-"He's on Fire!" NBA Jam mode (you know, where they're not visibly on fire yet, but their shoes are smoking and every break seems to fall their way?) and the offense jell like it hasn't in oh-so-very long, it became clear they are one of the "streaking" teams heading into the playoffs, and therefore one to be taken very, very seriously.
Later that day, there was truly magic in the freezing December air.
Remember that part in Jurassic Park when they first get to the island, and Alan Grant has just seen his first post-extinction dinosaur? It's the part where he's sitting on the ground after hearing In-Gen created a T-Rex, and John Hammond majestically recites: "Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler...Welcome, to Jurassic Park."
Just then, Grant raises his head to look out upon multiple herds of dinosaurs in the fields and through the water. That look on his face? One of astonishment? That one that says "Dear god, that's what I've been waiting for all this time," and kinda-sorta makes all your dreams come true?
That's the exact look I had on my face as I watched Peyton Manning spontaneously combust on the sideline after realizing his head coach was not letting him back into the game in order to keep the teams unbeaten regular season intact.
You read it here: This Colts team is not winning the Super Bowl. Every ounce of momentum they had going for them was violently ripped from their hands by both their coach and the torrential downpour of boos that rained down upon them as they walked off their home field. This isn't the horse to back in the big show now. No way.
Not that this has much to do with the Patriots game tomorrow, but as I said before: It's likely the Patriots won't have much to do with it, either.
One more thing before I go on with my predictions for the game: Happy New Year to all. I hope they were as enjoyable for everyone as they were to me. One more time, I apologize for the lateness and/or lack of recaps and previews around this insane time, and assure you they will be on time and much more in-depth come playoff time (of course, this is assuming I haven't been fired for my performance already).
Here's to 2010, and here's to all of you and yours!
Houston Texans 35, New England Patriots 27