New England Patriots in Unfamiliar Territory, Need Help To Make Playoffs

Ryan BurnsAnalyst IDecember 23, 2008

If you're like me, you don't watch Bill Belichick press conferences to gain any new information about the team or to hear any controversial bulletin-board material in regards to the next week's opponent.

Even before the Patriots' 47-7 throttling of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Belichick was aware certain teams had to lose in order to help the Pats' playoff chances. But he would never tell you that. 

Belichick stressed in his post-game press conference, no matter what happens around the league, the Pats can only control one thing—winning football games—something they have done extremely well since 2001. 

A few weeks ago there was a three-way tie at the top of the AFC East between the Patriots, Jets, and the surprising Dolphins. The Pats knew they had to win the rest of their games, but also get some help in the form of losses by their division foes or other teams in the AFC, namely the Ravens and Colts.

This is precisely why this position is so unique for the Patriots, considering they have been playoff locks for the better part of a decade. This season is the first in recent memory they have had to count on other teams to simply get them into the playoffs.

It's not like there weren't a ton of scenarios to get them there. The Patriots could have benefited from Colts losses or Ravens losses the last two weeks, but the Colts won both of those games, and the Ravens won one.

They could have benefited from losses by the Dolphins and Jets, but the Dolphins have won both games and the Jets, led by Eric "Fredo Corleone" Mangini, bungled their game against the Seahawks on Sunday.

This sets up a rather interesting scenario for the Patriots. First and foremost, they have to take care of business versus the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo. If they win, they will win the AFC East IF the Jets can beat the Dolphins at the Meadowlands.

A Dolphins win will give Miami the AFC East title, and a Jets win, coupled with a Patriots loss would send New York to the playoffs, momentarily stopping the Mangini-bashing on WFAN.

The Patriots will also benefit from a Ravens loss from the Jaguars, which I'm sure won't happen.

The last time a team went 11-5 and missed the playoffs was in 1985, when the Denver Broncos were held out of the playoffs. Ironically, if the Broncos lose this week to the Chargers, the Chargers will get in with an 8-8 record, meaning the Patriots could potentially be left home with a much better record.

A playoff berth would be nothing short of miraculous for this team, which has had to deal with adversity from day one, literally, when the most important knee in the NFL was torn apart by some scrub from Kansas City.

Everyone knows about the injuries to Tom Brady and several other Patriots, about the amazing run by Matt Cassel, and about the superb coaching by Bill Belichick. 

But that will all be for nothing if the Jets (and Jaguars) lose this Sunday, effectively eliminating the Patriots from playoff contention.