By now we all know what needs to happen for the Patriots to get into the playoffs, but what happens if and when they get there?
There are four potential scenarios that could play out depending on what happens this weekend. Assuming the Patriots beat the Bills, which may be a foolish assumption, but it's no fun to assume otherwise, here they are:
1. Dolphins and Ravens win, Pats out of playoffs: The log jam at the top of the AFC East has a whole lot more to do with the weak schedules the teams have played (AFC West, NFC West) than how improved the Dolphins or Jets are. The only playoff team the Dolphins have beaten is whoever wins the AFC West.
Other than wins over San Diego and Denver, Miami has feasted on the easiest schedule in the NFL. Still impressive considering where they were last year, and when you look at the Jets 0-for-West Coast performance, but it remains to be seen how the Phins match up with top-notch competition.
Though New England has played a slightly more difficult schedule, they've failed to beat a single quality opponent, which could be their downfall should this scenario unfold. What's worse, not playing anyone good or losing to every good team you played?
2. Dolphins lose and Ravens win, Pats win AFC East, host Baltimore: Baltimore's defense is scary, there's no doubt about that. But there's something about a rookie quarterback coming to Foxborough in January making me feel like the Pats could dispatch the Ravens.
If New England could grab an early lead, it might be difficult for Joe Flacco, in his first playoff game, to engineer a comeback. Even last year's junk Ravens team took the juggernaut 2007 Pats down to the wire. This would surely be the same type of battle, but I'd like the Pats chances.
3. Dolphins lose and Ravens lose, Pats win AFC East, host Jets: That's right folks, the final chapter of Jets vs. Pats in 2008 might still be unwritten. I don't doubt Favre can pull off a win against Miami. He's always been the kind of player who plays like junk when you need him to play well but plays lights out when you think he's done, so you can never write him off.
I'd give New England the edge in a third meeting simply because their defense looks SLIGHTLY better than the Jets', while their offense looks GREATLY superior. Had the Pats shown up in the first half of the second time these two teams met the Jets would already be out of it. The Jets can't stop anyone lately, especially not a peaking Patriots offense.
4. Dolphins win and Ravens lose: Patriots take Wild Card, play at Miami: What a game this would be. Not only because the Patriots already throttled the Dolphins at home once, but there's a lot of bad blood between these two teams. Historically the Patriots have a tough time playing at Miami, though it wasn't the case in November. This would no doubt be a hard-fought battle with Miami's home field advantage negating some of the Patriots offensive might.
Even my non-biased gut feels the Patriots are the better team, but the Dolphins play solid football and would not give New England anything.
Regardless of what happens this weekend there is only one season-ending the Belichick dynasty has yet to see: a wild card round playoff exit. The Pats have won the Super Bowl (2001, 2003, 2004), lost the Super Bowl (Giants), lost the AFC Championship (Colts), lost the Divisional Playoff Game (Broncos), and missed the playoffs entirely (2002).
The only ending that remains to be seen is a loss in the Wild Card round. I'd still rather see that than another 2002. Should be a great weekend.
Mike Dussault is a Patriots Community Leader at Bleacher Report, and also a contributor atBostonSportz.com. His Patriots blog can be viewed here, and he can be contacted atPatriotsPropaganda@gmail.com.