A walk in the weather to ponder the Patriots’ playoff possibilities


When the snow flies, is there a more intimidating venue in professional sports than Gillette Stadium?

Sure, when the sun is shining and the warmth of an autumn afternoon captivates your soul, Gillette may be the nicest stadium to sprawl out and watch football – go catch some dinner afterwards at one of the fine restaurants in the Patriot Place complex adjacent to the Stadium, maybe do a little shopping – hey, let’s go check out the Hall!

But in the dead of winter, on a cold and snowy January’s night, Gillette is a place where the opposition abandons all hope of getting to the Super Bowl.  As intimidating as the Patriots already are with their physical move-the-sticks offense and their violent and improving defense, the snowscape at Gillette is even more imposing…

…I had this thought as I entered the high school’s football field.  A light snow had started to fall, big flakes, looping in from a 45 degree angle and making a perfect 3 point landing on the black cold patch of the track.  I walk this every morning, rain, shine, blizzard…you could say that I’m a big fan of the weather, and the more inclimate, the better.

So, the weather most assuredly favors the Patriots, what with a dry chill, raw wind out of the north east and fans tossing snowballs into the air in tandem, causing an impromptu snowstorm that the opposition can not escape.

January 16, 2011; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; A pair of lobster rest in a pile of snow in the back of a pickup truck for a cook out prior to the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

But to gain this advantage, it is universally accepted that the New England Patriots would have to win every remaining game on their schedule.  This would mean that going into the playoffs, the Patriots would be riding a 10 game winning streak, not an unprecedented accomplishment during New England’s 13 year dynastic run.

How does it all work, though?  The NFL’s tie breaking procedures (see it here) gives us a clear view of what the Patriots need to do to gain homefield advantage and a 1st round bye.  The AFC picture as it stands now:

1. Houston (10-1) Plays at Patriots next Monday Night…

2. Baltimore (9-2) Beat New England in week 3

3. New England (8-3) Wins AFC East with win at Miami on Sunday

4. Denver (8-3) Wins AFC West with win vs. Tampa on Sunday

5. Indianapolis (7-4) Plays Houston twice in final 3 weeks, lost to Patriots 2 weeks ago

6. Pittsburgh (6-5) Plays Baltimore on Sunday

Since head-to-head is the first option to break a tie if two or more teams have the same record, the Ravens are the only team that has that advantage over New England at this point.

Since Baltimore defeated New England in week 3, The Patriots would have to finish a game clear of them, which means that Baltimore would have to lose two more games for New England to even have a chance to finish ahead of them for a top seed.

Such is the outcome of a field goal that may or may not have been good to give Baltimore that disputed win back in October.

On the other hand, even though Houston has a better record than than Baltimore and holds the head-to-head tie breaker over the Ravens by beating them earlier this year, if New England beats them next Monday night, all the Patriots would need is for Houston to lose one more game, a distinct possibility given their defensive struggles.  This is much more likely scenario for the Patriots, but would only give them the 2 seed unless Baltimore completely collapses.

New England defeated Denver earlier this season, as they did the Colts.  Denver is most dangerous and have the best chance of any team in the AFC playoff picture to run the table due to a most favorable schedule.  Anyone who has been in Denver in the middle of winter knows the pain of that brand of cold as well, so it would be best to finish ahead of them at all costs.

Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are not in the conversation at this time.

What all this means is that New England has to take care of their own business, and hope that Houston, Baltimore and Denver all slip a time or two down the stretch.

Then they can come to Foxborough and slip and slide all over the field.