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Final Stretch: Current Playoff Outlook + Patriots/Jets Tiebreakers

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Everyone knows that this upcoming match-up between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets is the match-up of the season. A late season meeting between two teams with the best record in the NFL on Monday Night? Seems perfect. The Patriots aren't strangers to playing the teams with the best records late in the season- last season they met the undefeated Colts AND the undefeated Saints, they played in 2007, they met the undefeated Colts in Week 9, in 2006, they played the undefeated Colts in Week 9 (yes, two years in a row), in 2005, they faced the undefeated Colts in Week 9 (what? three years in a row?), etc, etc. Point is, the Patriots are no stranger to late season match-ups against top teams in the NFL.

So what's on the line for the Patriots on Monday? What's the current playoff seeding looking like? Let's take a look.

NFC

1. Atlanta Falcons (9-2) - Just beat the Packers and are looking like the 2004 Patriots with a balanced run/pass offense and a strong defense

2. Chicago Bears (8-3) - Strong defense has been winning games, but the offense is questionable.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (7-4) - They're a hot/cold team. Their offense is streaky and their defense is suspect.

4. St. Louis Rams (5-6) - New kids on the block, best in the NFC Worst. Still, a potentially strong offense with a young defense.

5 WC. New Orleans Saints (8-3) - Defending champs are possibly the second best team in the NFC. The NFC South is equivalent to the AFC East. Best two teams in the conference. Their defense is less opportunistic than last season and Drew Brees is making more mistakes.

6 WC. New York Giants (7-4) - They're fading quickly. Eli Manning is a turnover machine and the defense just can't hold on.

 

Looking In (within 2 games of a playoff spot):

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) - A surprising young team that has flourish from playing the worst team in each NFC division. Still, they've been holding their own and could slip in with a wild card spot. Young team.

8. Green Bay Packers (7-4) - Odd to say they're on the outside, but they have an extremely injured team. They have a great offense, but an injured defense. Kind of reminds me a bit of the early decade Colts in terms of strong offense and defense that relies on a couple play makers.

9. Seattle Seahawks (5-6) - Same record as the Rams, still a terrible team.

10. Washington Redskins (5-6) - Within two games of the Wild Card spot held by the Giants, the Redskins are an average team with no real strengths.

11. San Francisco 49ers (4-7) - How terrible is the division when a 4-7 team can still win the division? Pretty terrible. This team has underperformed, but some analysts think they're still a division favorite. Yikes.

12. Arizona Cardinals (3-8) - This team is 3-8 and can still be considered playoff contenders, but at least they don't have the supporters the 49ers have. Still, they're within spitting distance of 1st in the NFC West.

See the AFC after the jump!

Here's the AFC Playoff picture:

1. New York Jets (9-2) - Beat the Patriots with a tiebreaker. This is a team built to succeed that is "underperforming", but still winning. Barely. They are strong against the run. Strong against the pass. Strong at running the ball. Full of potential with passing the ball. This is a good team that matches up well against the Patriots. Just have to hope the Patriots don't have to go back to the Meadowlands in the playoffs.

2. Baltimore Ravens (8-3) - The Patriots beat them, they beat the Jets. This is a very strong team. They are basically the New York Jets, but with a weaker run defense.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) - Another surprise team that should have a soft spot in every Patriots fan's heart. Dubbed the Patriots West, this team is putting together a very solid season. Their O-Line isn't devastating, but they do the job to let the offense function. Their defense is coming together as well.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5) - Beat the Colts on a tiebreaker, these Jaguars are sticking around. They've had a lot of luck, but that's got them to first in their division. They don't have a real offense apart from Maurice Jones-Drew and their defense is porous.

5 WC. New England Patriots (9-2) - Our Patriots. The offense is performing like the best in the league, but the defense is letting up more than it should. The defense is definitely playing better as of late. Definitely has to remind people of last year's Saints.

6 WC. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) - Another questionable team. They play well against bad teams. They don't play well against good teams. They play terribly against bad teams. Who are the real Steelers?

 

Looking in (within 2 spots of a playoff spot):

7. San Diego Chargers (6-5) - They're roaring back and should chase the Chiefs for a playoff spot. Would not be surprised if they overtook the Chiefs. This is a dangerous team- don't worry, they get declawed in the playoffs.

8. Indianapolis Colts (6-5) - This team is broken with injuries. They'll most likely still make the playoffs in their weak division, but there's only so much Peyton Manning can do with only Reggie Wayne.

9. Miami Dolphins (6-5) - Within two games of the Steelers for the final playoff spot, the Dolphins cannot be counted out. They'll be fighting for a playoff spot late in the season.

10. Houston Texans (5-6) - They're such a questionable team. The only team with worse defense than the Patriots. This team has a potent offense as well. Who knows what they'll do? If defenses win championships, though, this team isn't going anywhere.

11. Tennessee Titans (5-6) - The Titans have no quarterback. Their defense is getting beat up. Can they win the division? Technically, yes. In actuality? Don't count on it.

12. Oakland Raiders (5-6) - Still in the AFC West hunt. They could still finish the season with another 5-11 record. I'm hoping for it.

So what's the deal for the Patriots? Why must they beat the Jets? Let's look at each team's remaining schedules.

Patriots Remaining Schedule

Jets, @Bears, Packers, @Bills, Dolphins

Jets Remaining Schedule

@Patriots, Dolphins, @Steelers, @Bears, Bills

Let's just consider the last four games after the match-up. Both teams are away at the Bears, both teams get the Dolphins at home and both get to face the Bills. If we play the "should" game, the Jets and Patriots SHOULD have the same record after those three games. Then there's the Packers at home for the Patriots and the @Steelers for the Jets. Hopefully, the Patriots can win one while the Jets lose. However, there's no guarantee as both games should be slug fests. I think it's highly possible that the Jets and Patriots close the final four games with the same record.

That brings us to this Monday Night game. If the Patriots lose on Monday, they're 2 games "behind" the Jets because the Jets will have the head to head tiebreaker. If the Jets lose on Monday, they'll be 1 game behind the Patriots since the head-to-head tiebreaker is nullified. There's little to no chance that the Patriots come back from a two game deficit to the Jets and that means they'll have to settle for the Wild Card spot- and that means three potential games on the road to the Super Bowl. The Patriots definitely don't want to go on the road in the playoffs.

Brief overview of tie breaking procedures:

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs). The Jets currently hold the 1-0 lead.

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division. Jets are 3-0, Patriots are 2-1.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games. Both teams are 6-1 in common games, with the Patriots able to beat the Packers to gain ground (Jets still have Steelers).

4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference. Jets are 7-1, Patriots are 7-2.

5. Strength of victory. Patriots have a slight edge since they beat their loss came to the Browns with a poor record and have beaten teams with high records- the Jets lost to the Packer so they're a step behind the Patriots.

6. Strength of schedule. Only difference is the Patriots play the Colts and Chargers, the Jets play the Texans and Broncos. Currently the Patriots have the greater SoS since the Colts and Chargers have superior records to the Texans and Broncos.

7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed. Patriots are #1 in offense and #11 in defense, Jets have the #5 offense and #2 defense. Jets have the lead.

8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed. Jets are #10 in offense and #4 in defense, Patriots are #1 in offense and #22 in defense. The Jets have the lead.

9. Best net points in common games. Jets are +70, Patriots are +66 (includes future common games).

10. Best net points in all games. Jets are +77, Patriots are +68.

11. Best net touchdowns in all games. The Jets are +6 in TDs (+2 Passing TDs, +3 Rushing TDs, +1 Defensive TDs), the Patriots are +9 in TDs (+2 Passing TDs, +4 Rushing TDs, +3 Defensive TDs). Patriots have the lead.

12. Coin toss

Bottom line? Jets have the lead in most of the tie breakers. The Jets are in control of their destiny, especially because they play the Steelers and can cushion their "common games" differential. The Patriots cannot afford to lose this game if they want to get a first round bye. Is the season over if they lose? Far from it. Is the season guaranteed if they win? Again, far from it. The only thing that's definite is that the Patriots need to beat the Jets if they want to control their playoff destiny.