It was all going to work out great for the Patriots.
They’d beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night and be left with the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins to wrap up the year.
With the No. 2 seed, they’d get a week off as a reward, and then a home game in the AFC divisional round. With a win there, it would most likely be off to Houston. The Pats just crushed them – it would be a cakewalk… then on to the Super Bowl.
Except they didn’t beat San Francisco.
Instead, New England spotted the 49ers a 31-3 lead in the third quarter. An improbable comeback to tie things up at 31-31 lasted only a few seconds before the 49ers took the lead back for good.
So long, No. 2 seed. Hello, wild card weekend.
As it stands now, the Patriots are the No. 3 seed, and based on the Broncos’ – now the No. 2 seed – next two games (vs. Cleveland, vs. Kansas City), it would be quite the surprise to see the Pats back at No. 2 this season.
So, what’s it all mean? It means New England will have to take the long road to the Super Bowl – if they get there at all.
It looks as if the Pats will be hosting either the Bengals or the Steelers in early January if things play out as expected. Both AFC North teams will face off this Sunday. If Cincy wins, it’s theirs. If Pittsburgh wins, it’s theirs to lose in Week 17.
If you’re a Patriots fan, you probably don’t want to see a healthier Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ top-of-the-line pass defense pulling into Gillette Stadium.
On the other hand, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green could run laps around the Pats secondary. And speaking of “Green,” don’t forget good friend BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
But say the Pats win – great. Then it’s on to Denver and the mile-high air to face a Broncos team looking for revenge from their loss to the Patriots back in Week 5 – which also happens to be the Broncos’ last loss.
Are the Pats banged up from the week before? Does an extra week of rest and preparation put the Broncos over the top?
These are questions we unfortunately could be asking in a few weeks.
The Patriots may actually want to lose one of their next two. A loss to Jacksonville or Miami would likely drop the Pats to the No. 4 seed, giving them a seemingly easier path with Indy and Houston in the first two rounds. The Pats beat the Colts and Texans handily this year.