Here's hoping this is the last one of these I'll have to write this year.
I'd like to think that, now that the AFC playoff picture is set, many of you who were fuming over the recent loss to the Miami Dolphins to cede control of home field advantage to the Denver Broncos have had some time to calm down and realize that it isn't as bad as some of us are making it out to be. Yes, it feels weird to lose in December. And yes, it stinks to lose back to back divisional games to close out the year. But you know what? Absolutely none of that matters now. It's a brand new season for everyone, and the Patriots are in pretty good shape. And because of that, instead of my usual five positives we can take away from this loss, here are a whopping NINE reasons why it's still great to be a Pats fan.
A week off. I don't think a team has ever needed a bye week as badly as the Patriots need this one. And I say that with all sincerity. I can't even comprehend how banged up this team is and has been for some time now. The plan has always been to get guys healthy for the playoffs and, once that bye was secured, err on the side of keeping guys healthy and not worry so much about winning games as opposed to just getting bodies back on the field. Well the time has come, mercifully. The Patriots have a lot of time now to rest and rehab and do everything they need to do to get their playmakers back, and they are already on pace to make that happen.
No serious injuries. There were a few scares on Sunday, but nobody on New England got hurt and will miss any time for the first time since I don't even remember when. Tommy B has an ankle issue, but he isn't expected to miss a single snap. No injuries means no additional players for the training staff to accommodate, and everyone is that much closer to getting back on the field and the Patriots are that much closer to being at full strength. I hate that "no injuries" becomes a positive as opposed to a regular occurrence, but that's just the realty for this team in 2015.
Limited playbook. The dearth of playcalls available to Tommy B and Josh McDaniels have never been as obvious as it has been over the past two weeks. Just nothing but screens and stretch runs and short in passes as far as the eye can see. When you're forced to strip your playbook down to its bare bones, it becomes very easy for a defense to render you ineffective. We've been seeing it over the past few games, and we saw it again last Sunday. The good news here is that, should everyone be healthy enough to dust off the good plays and get after it again, teams will have to go back almost two full months in order to find relevant game tape on the Patriots offense. If the Patriots get their offense back, I like their chances.
Miami's draft stock drops. With the win, the Miami Dolphins finished the season at 6-10 and now pick 8th overall. Had they lost to drop to 5-11, they very well could have had a top five pick, depending on tiebreakers and strength of schedule. And while three spots doesn't seem like all that much, picking in the top five of the draft gives teams a lot of power in terms of trade value and flexibility. Miami will be the first AFC East team picking in 2016, and this division still goes through New England., Until something drastic happens, that isn't likely to change next year.
The AFC is still terrible. Patriots. Broncos. Bengals. Texans. Chiefs. Steelers. Which of these teams genuinely scare you, at home or away? Any of them? I'd like to think that every team in the AFC thinks that they have as good a chance as anybody to make it to the Super Bowl, because nobody - not even New England - looks very good right now. I will say that Denver is never an easy place to play, but honestly, do the Denver Broncos scare you against a healthy Patriots team? So even if the Pats aren't anywhere near the team they were at the beginning of the year, that doesn't really matter; the competition in this playoff field is less than stellar.
2 seed an easier road to hoe. As the one seed, Denver is likely to face either the Steelers or the Chiefs in the Divisional Round - arguably the two hottest teams in the AFC playoffs right now. There's a chance that they could face the Texans, but the only way that would happen is if the Bengals beat Pittsgurgh and Houston beats KC, and the odds of both of those things happening aren't great. So, as the two seed, the Patriots have a larger combination of potential games that break favorably for them. The only team that they definitely won't be playing in two weeks is Pittsburgh, and that's just fine with me. I actually like the way the playoffs are shaping up from a Patriots perspective. Now by no means am I saying that New England sought the two seed on purpose, but as far as two seeds go, this is an extremely favorable lie.
Jets are out! I cant think of a bigger "same old Jets" scenario than to get white hot, go on a win streak, take out the Patriots in huge upset, control your own playoff destiny, then lose the final game of the year to a team coached by your former head coach to knock you out of the playoffs. I mean that's just as Jets as it gets - Rex Ryan is once again responsible for the Jets being at home in January. There's something very comforting about that, knowing that while we're all moaning about only having the two seed, the Jets are once again out of the playoffs because they completely blew the last game of the season to complete the sweep by the lowly Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick waited until the last quarter of the season to turn back into Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the Jets are home again in January. Life is good.
Colts are out! This one is just pure maliciousness on my part. I'm on record saying that I don't have any kind of problem with the Colts, and I don't. I honestly haven't thought about Indy in the slightest since their Week 6 matchup. But knowing that both of the teams who screamed the loudest over Deflategate and made some folks' offseasons nowhere near as enjoyable as it should have been, Indy and Baltimore, will be missing the playoffs with extremely disappointing years is something that the jerk in me is relishing in. To make it even sweeter, that wonderful, wonderful man Jim Irsay has decided to retain both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, offering them both contract extensions to ensure four more years of excellence in Indianapolis. I hope when Irsay sobers up this morning and starts trying to piece his night together, he doesn't regret this move.
SUPER BOWL CHAMPS! I always say that you're allowed to dwell in the past for one year after you win the whole thing and the following season is basically a freebie. And that's more or less how I have treated 2015, for the most part. You obviously always want to win, and a repeat would be amazing...but the Pats just won the Super Bowl. It has been less than a year since the Lombardi Trophy came home to Foxoboro (where it still is, by the way). I'm still riding pretty high off of that win. There are a large number of fanbases that are just ecstatic to be in the playoffs (welcome to the dance, Minnesota!) and who lie awake nights dreaming of how sweet it would be to lose a Super Bowl, because that means their team actually made it. Not us, though; nope, it's Super Bowl or bust every year. The two seed is a disaster. One score wins are a cause for concern. Such is life for a Patriots fan - and that's amazing. Four rings, folks. There may be four more on the horizon, or we may never see another one again. Enjoy the ride.