Most Likely Opponents
I Say: Bring on the Broncs
We're only a couple days away from finding out who the New England Patriots are going to face on Wild Card Weekend. (Personally, I liked it better when more Wild Card teams than division winners played on Wild Card Weekend.)
Anyway, the common concensus, which often turns out to be wrong, says that the two teams the Patriots are most likely to face are the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos. The question is: Which team would be best to play in Foxboro.
It's an interesting, if not entirely irrelvant, rumination.
The Jets and Broncos are two teams with whom Patriots fans are very familiar. The division rival Jets almost always give New England fits. Before early November's 17-14 home loss, the Patriots had beaten New York in seven straight, but many of them were uncomfortable wins: 23-16 and 21-16 in 2003, 13-7 and 23-7 in 2004, 16-3 and 31-21 last year.
The problem is that those Herman Edwards's Jets teams weren't that good, and they still put up a pretty good fight.
This year, New England escaped Week 2 with a 24-17 win, a game the Patriots dominated only to let the Jets back into it in the third quarter. And then, of course, the November game in which New England played only the second and fourth quarters.
For a first-year head coach, and a very young one at that, Eric Mangini has done a fantastic job with the Jets. (Imagine what he could have done with Kansas City.) New York was 4-12 in last place in the AFC East last year. They're currently 9-6. If not for New Orleans, people would be talking about the Jets as the team having the miracle season.
I, for one, want no part of these guys.
Even with Rodney Harrison back and the Patriots secondary now bolstered -- or at least organized -- Chad Pennington and the Jets receivers just have their way. They get open, Pennington finds them, and most of New England's d-backs can't tackle.
And while the Jets defense is ranked 25th in yards allowed, they're 13th in points allowed. They have given up more than 14 points only once since their bye week, a 31-13 loss to Buffalo. The 14 they gave up was to New England. Before the bye, the least they allowed was 16, and that was Week 1, 23-16, over then-inept Tennessee.
Just about the only advantage to playing the Jets would be that their injury situation is worse than New England's. That's not exactly the big edge I'm looking for.
Then there's Denver, who, after an opening week loss to St. Louis, went 7-1 through mid-November. Since then, they've switched from a reliable but inconsistent veteran quarterback to an inexperienced rookie (Jay Cutler: 8 TD, 4 INT, 7 fumbles). They lost four straight before back-to-back wins over Arizona and (thanks to a one-in-a-thousand muffed extra point) Cincinnati.
The Broncos have enjoyed great success against New England the last several years. Many of Tom Brady's worst games have been against the Broncos, in Foxboro as well as Denver. And Jake Plummer, not Jay Cutler, has had some excellent games against New England.
Rookie quarterbacks' record against Bill Belichick defenses is pretty well known: They don't do well. Belichick teams also very rarely lose twice to the same team in the same year - Denver just last year being one of those exceptions. (Of course, the Broncos playoff win a year ago remains suspect at best.)
Through Week 6 this season, Denver had allowed an NFL low 44 points. That's 7.3 points per game, and that included a 17-7 win over the Patriots in which New England scored just the second touchdown the Broncos had allowed to that point. Denver remains sixth in points allowed with 18.6 ppg. (So let's see ... that's 279 points, minus 44, carry the one ...) That's 26.1 ppg from Week 7 onward.
After allowing an average of 7 for the first six weeks, Denver has allowed fewer than 20 points just twice since (a 17-13 win over Oakland in Week 10 and a 19-10 loss to K.C. in Week 12).
And similar to what I said in talking about playing Tennessee this week, in facing Denver I have just one thing to say to Tom Brady: "Don't throw near Champ Bailey."
But who I'd want them to play is immaterial to who they ultimately play. Oh, and by the way, they have to play Tennessee on Sunday. But who New England gets in the Wild Card game we should find out in about 49 hours.