Patriots' Rooting Guide for NFL Playoff Implications of Week 17
The New England Patriots are in a familiar position in Week 17: trying to put the finishing touches on earning a spot in the playoffs.
Last year's tumultuous campaign snapped an 11-year streak of making the postseason. This year, with a healthier defense and Mac Jones at quarterback, they are on the precipice of starting a new streak and making their 17th appearance in 19 seasons.
The road to locking up a spot in Week 17 instead of waiting for the final week of the season begins with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 2-13 Jaguars enter off of losses from fellow cellar-dwellers in the New York Jets and Houston Texans.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, that should be the easy part of the weekend for the Pats. They also need a little bit of help from a few other teams. According to NFL Communications, the Patriots have two ways to clinch a berth with a win and multiple if they were to tie with the Jags.
Here's a look at the three games that could help them clinch this week.
Tennessee Titans over Miami Dolphins
The Patriots' primary competition in the AFC East has come from the Buffalo Bills this season, but the Miami Dolphins have come on strong to end the season. Brian Flores' team has the second-longest winning streak in the league at seven.
That's good enough to have them in a position to grab the seventh and final seed in the AFC playoff picture.
Their margin for error is small, though. A seven-game losing streak at the beginning of the season has them floating around .500. With the Tennessee Titans on deck, a loss combined with a Patriots win would put New England in the playoffs and give the Dolphins just a 4 percent chance to get in.
The matchup with the Titans should give us all a glimpse into how legitimate the Dolphins and their win streak are. As Seth Galina of PFF noted, the Dolphins wins have come up against suspect quarterback competition outside of Lamar Jackson.
Other signal-callers they have faced during the streak include Mike Glennon, Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson, P.J. Walker and Ian Book.
Former Dolphin Ryan Tannehill might not be among the best quarterbacks in the league, but he's much better than that group.
Indianapolis Colts over Las Vegas Raiders
Assuming the Patriots beat the Jags, the Indianapolis Colts are the second team they should be rooting for.
As Pats fans saw firsthand, it isn't too hard to imagine them helping out Sunday. The Colts are among the hottest teams in the league. The only game they have lost since November was a 38-31 defeat to a healthy Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.
Since that loss, they have ripped off impressive wins over the Patriots and Arizona Cardinals.
It may sting to root for the Colts after losing to them so recently, but the Pats' best shot at vengeance will be in the postseason. For now, an Indianapolis win can help wrap up a playoff spot for New England.
As with many matchups in the NFL, COVID-19 protocols are going to make this one interesting. Carson Wentz has been placed on the COVID-19/reserve list, potentially clearing the way for Sam Ehlinger to make a start at quarterback.
The way the offensive line and Jonathan Taylor have established the run game, it might not matter who is at quarterback. Wentz only threw for 57 yards in the win over New England, while Taylor had 170 on the ground.
How well the Raiders can slow down the run game could be the determining factor.
Denver Broncos over Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers continue to be a difficult team to figure out from week to week.
At times, they look like an explosive team you don't want to see in the playoffs. They took the Pats to the wire in a 27-24 loss, beat the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals by 19 points and have a win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
They are also coming off a double-digit loss to the Houston Texans. So there's that.
The Chargers are on the outside looking in. Should the Patriots tie the Jaguars on Sunday, they are one of the three teams that need to lose if the Pats hope to secure a playoff spot in Week 17.
That's not likely to happen, but it would still be nice for the Chargers to essentially drop out of the playoff race given how explosive their offense can be when it is firing on all cylinders. That's why the Pats should have a rooting interest in the Denver Broncos, whose playoff hopes are on life support and who haven't shown the ceiling that the Chargers have this season.
This is another game that will be affected heavily by COVID-19. The Chargers are getting back Austin Ekeler but will be without Jared Cook, Kenneth Murray and Chris Harris, among others. The Broncos' list includes Jerry Jeudy, Bradley Chubb and Tim Patrick.
Both teams are missing key players, so that factors into the variance here, which may help Denver pull off an upset.