Having already clinched the AFC East title three weeks ago in Miami, the New England Patriots headed into the dreaded two week stretch against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers tied for the second seed. Having beaten the Denver Broncos and playing the Texans, the Patriots were possibly eyeing the top seed in the AFC. But after Sunday night’s loss, all hopes of a first round bye are virtually gone.
The Patriots came into this two game stretch at 9-3 sitting tied with the Broncos and just two games behind the Texans for the top seed. After winning convincingly in their game against the Texans last Monday night, hopes for a first round bye in the playoffs were at a season high. But the Patriots were completely outplayed by the 49ers Sunday night for three and a half quarters falling behind by 28 points. Even after coming back to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the original deficit was too much to overcome as the Niners finished the game on a 10-3 run.
The reason for the pessimism over the Patriots ability to clinch a bye is the upcoming schedule for the two competing teams. The Patriots have two remaining games that they should win with ease. Next week they travel down to take on the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. The following week they will return home to finish the season against the Miami Dolphins. While the Dolphins challenged the Patriots in Miami three weeks ago, it will likely be a different story in the freezing temperatures of Foxborough.
As for the Broncos, they end their season which two home games against equally poor opponents. Next week the Broncos will face the Cleveland Browns who sit in last in the AFC North. The following week they will finish their season against the Kansas City Chiefs who are possibly the worst team in the NFL this year. Those are two games the Broncos should win with ease.
The only way the Patriots will get a bye is if they get lucky and catch the Texans. Next week the Texans will host the Minnesota Vikings and MVP candidate Adrian Peterson who continues to gain on Eric Dickerson’s record of most rushing yards in a season. If the Texans fall in that game it will come down to their matchup at the Indianapolis Colts. While that would have seemed like an easy win at the beginning of the season, the Colts have played well under rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and sit in a wild card spot right now. While competitive, neither the Vikings nor the Colts should take down the AFC’s top seed especially with that spot on the line.
If the Patriots, Texans, and Broncos win their final two games as they should, the Patriots will finish with the third seed, one game behind the Broncos and two behind the Texans. With that third seed the Patriots would host a wild card game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Colts, or the Pittsburgh Steelers. The following week they would head to Mile High to face the Broncos who they beat in Foxborough earlier this year.
Going into these last two games the Patriots were hoping to put themselves into a position to secure a bye in the first round of the postseason. After handling the Texans last week, that possibly looked much more likely. But the Patriots fell to the 49ers Sunday night ending that opportunity. It looks as though the Patriots will now have to settle for the third seed and host of a wild card game.