Patriots fans guide to NFL playoffs, wild card weekend

Bengals Patriots
The most likely scenario for the Patriots next week is a Week 5 rematch against the Bengals. Credit: Getty Images


The Holiday season was extended for thousands of school boys and gals in the latter part of this week due to snow and, due to the lack of a dominant team in the AFC, the ravaged Patriots will also be allowed to enjoy more wassail and get to use up the cash on every single $25 American Express gift card they still have stuck in the seat cushions of their Ford F1 50s (the official truck of every goateed 35-year-old Patriots fan from Southern New Hampshire and Aqib Talib).

This doesn’t mean that football will be absent from the weekend menu, of course. Wild card weekend in the NFL is one of the best 28-hour pro sports windows on the calendar and the Pats and their fans should be watching with plenty of intrigue. Here are some story lines from this weekend’s games that could affect the boys in Foxboro:

Don’t sleep on Cincy
The Bengals, who were nipping at the Pats’ heels for a first round bye a few days ago, look to be every bit New England’s equal. Unlike the Pats, they’re healthy. Much like the Pats, they’re fabulous at home and the odds are that they will dispose of San Diego Sunday afternoon (1 p.m., CBS). It’s simple here. If the Bengals beat the Chargers, they will face the Patriots on Saturday night, Jan. 11.

Green with envy
Bengals wide receiver AJ Green is the best receiver in the NFL not named Calvin Johnson, but the Patriots did well against Andy Dalton’s favorite target in Week 5 as they held Green to just five catches for 61 yards. Two notes on that note: the Patriots shutting down Green was even more impressive when you see that he went on a run right after this game when he had five straight 100-plus yard games. Week 5 was also a time when the Patriots defense was still somewhat healthy as Jerod Mayo was still in the mix and Talib wasn’t as hobbled. Mayo had 11 combined tackled in that game before going down with his season-ending injury a week later against New Orleans.

When in doubt, make it up
Remember when the Patriots were so good that they had to make up slights? That’s exactly what Cincy head coach Marvin Lewis did this week when he openly discussed a mostly harmless video from the Chargers’ team web site. Lewis showed his team the video, which “features” someone in the locker room (possibly a ball boy or … OK, fine … it was probably Philip Rivers), shouting, “Who Dey?!” at the end.

The great unknown
The Patriots did not play the Chiefs or Colts this season. If the Chargers upset the Bengals on Sunday, the Pats will play the winner of KC/Indy (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC).

Despite the Patriots having shown flashes of defensive greatness (mostly goodness) early in the season, the injuries have really been glaring on this side of the ball. If there’s one thing Patriots fans have been griping about since the dark days of Ellis Hobbs, it’s that the defense gives up entirely too much yardage through the air. That complaint persists and it isn’t likely to go away with Kyle Arrington as a featured player. That’s why, if one had to guess, the Pats would rather face Kansas City over Indy. Alex Smith did not pass for over 300 yards once this season. And Andrew Luck, who topped the 300-yard mark three times in 2013, is Andrew Luck.

Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS


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