Going into this week’s games the New England Patriots were looking for help to have a shot at what would be a much appreciated first round bye. On Sunday afternoon they got that help. Now the Patriots have a clear path to that bye if they can get through the two tough games that remain. That gives the Patriots more to play for Monday night.
The Patriots 9-3 record placed them second in the AFC tied with the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. While the Patriots hold the tiebreaker over the Broncos having beaten them back in week five, they lost their Sunday night matchup in Baltimore in week three. That meant that the Patriots needed to finish at least one game ahead of the AFC North leaders.
The Patriots unexpectedly got that help Sunday when the Ravens fell to their neighboring Washington Redskins. Now, tied only with the Broncos, the Patriots have a clear path to a first round bye if they can take care of their own games. But that’s much easier said than done.
The Patriots final two games shouldn’t be problem. In week 16 they’ll head south to Jacksonville to face the lowly Jaguars. The following week they’ll finish their regular season schedule at home against the Miami Dolphins who they beat with relative ease last week to clinch the division. But it’s these next two games that will cause sleepless nights for the AFC East champions.
Monday night the Patriots will host the 11-1 Texans who are one of the most balanced teams in the league. With the Patriots and Broncos just two games back, they too are still playing for a bye. The next week the Patriots will welcome the San Francisco 49ers. Currently sitting with the second best record in the NFC, the 49ers will be playing to secure both a bye and a division title which has yet to be decided.
Injuries have been a common occurrence for the Patriots this season. The defending AFC champions have struggled to keep key players healthy and right now are without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. A first round bye would go a long way to ensuring health on both sides of the ball which is pivotal for the Patriots to repeat as conference champions.
With the Ravens loss Sunday a first round bye is now within reach for the Patriots. But Monday night’s showdown with the Texans is the first of two consecutive games that could derail that mission. A win and the AFC East champions will likely have that much needed bye to regain full health but a loss is likely to end that hope. This upcoming game was already important for several reasons but with the Patriots now in control of their fate, even more importance is added to this contest.