On Sunday afternoon the Indianapolis Colts will host the Houston Texans in one of the early games. The New England Patriots will then host the Miami Dolphins in one of the late games. The goal of Sunday’s game for the Patriots should depend on what happens during that first game.
The Patriots currently sit in the third seed in the AFC one game behind the Texans and Denver Broncos. While the Texans could certainly lose to the Colts who have clinched the fifth seed in the playoffs, the Broncos host the woeful Kansas City Chiefs who they should handle with relative ease to clinch a first round bye. Having beaten both the Texans and Broncos, the Patriots hold the tiebreaker against both teams meaning if one of the two loses and the Patriots win, the Patriots would move into one of the top two seeds and secure a first round bye.
If the Colts, who are no longer playing for playoff positioning, fall to the Texans, the Patriots will settle into the third seed and host the sixth seeded Cincinnati Bengals unless the 2-13 Chiefs miraculously beat the Broncos. Seeing how the Broncos losing is near impossible, the Patriots would be smart to rest their starters. While resting starters is a tricky concept that can backfire, the Patriots have been quite unfortunate with injuries this season and should not risk another key injury if they are no longer playing for playoff positioning.
If the Colts find a way to beat the Texans who have not played well over the past few weeks, resting key players will not be an option for the Patriots. While it looks like star tight end Rob Gronkowski will be available for the wild card round, the bye would be welcome for the AFC East champions. Unfortunately for the Patriots, a win by the Colts won’t move them up as they have a wild card position and a loss won’t move them down as they hold the tiebreaker over the Bengals.
When the Patriots host the Dolphins Sunday afternoon they will use one of two strategies: (1) either they will rest their starters for most of the game to make sure they stay healthy for the playoffs or (2) they will go for the win and play their key players. That strategy should depend on the result of the Texans game earlier in the day. If the Texans lose to the Colts then the Patriots should go for the win but if the Texans win the Patriots, unable to change playoff positioning, should rest their key players for the upcoming playoff game.