L'Eggo my Eggo!
The media sure is serving up heaping plates of waffles lately. On one hand, it laments how the Patriots have the 'easiest route to the Super Bowl ever' and on the other, it's not so sure they are good enough to beat the Dolphins in Miami. (For those who haven't heard, the last time this team won in Miami was back on December 2, 2012 when the stadium was called Sun Life instead of Hard Rock, Wes Welker was still a Patriot and a certain murderous tight end caught 8 passes for 97 yards.)
The Patriots did indeed rest players in Week 17 last year. But what is left out of the sports-radio rants on Bill Belichick's arrogance in thinking he could win with second-stringers, is the fact that the 2015 team was pretty banged up at that point. They had a whopping 19 players on Injured Reserve including Blount, Develin, Lewis, Mayo, Solder, and Wendell. If any additional key players were seriously injured in that game, the outcry would have been worse.
The defense gets this treatment too, as one hand tries to applaud the unit for allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL (15.7), while the other refuses to clap because that top ranking was achieved by playing six of the 10 worst offenses in the league. Oh! the humanity.
The waffling even extends to the quarterback. Many respectable national analysts have now acknowledged the only motivation behind #deflategate was a pack of jealous, frustrated owners and a commissioner who used it to solidify his power over all of the players, at the expense of Tom Brady. But when it comes to the MVP discussion, some of the same analysts say Brady should not even be considered because he was (gasp!) suspended... even though they'll admit in other discussions that his suspension was bogus.
Come to think of it, this thought process is more like spaghetti than waffles.
What this Sunday boils down to is this: The Patriots aim to beat the Dolphins in Miami, earn the number one seed and solidify home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They also want to win without sacrificing any players in the process. If New England wins, their goal will be achieved, Patriots Nation will be euphoric and the media can serve up all the tomato cans and waffles it wants.
Around the AFC East:
New England (13-2) at Miami (10-5)
Buffalo (7-8) at NY Jets (4-11)
Oakland (12-3) at Denver (8-7)
Pittsburgh (10-5) vs. Cleveland (1-14)
Kansas City (11-4) at San Diego (5-10)
Houston (9-6) at Tennessee (8-7)
Baltimore (8-7) at Cincinnati (5-9)
Indianapolis (7-8) at Jacksonville (3-12)
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The Patriots have more work to do to wrap up the top seed in the AFC playoffs and face a relatively difficult regular season finale Sunday at Miami. That’s probably how Coach Bill Belichick wants it, anyway. He generally prefers for his teams to keep pushing hard through the end of the regular season.
1st - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): These ain't the same ol' Patriots. Sure, they are the favorites coming out of the AFC, a certifiable threat to tar and feather the playoff field en route to their fifth Super Bowl title. Yes, Tom Brady is still droppin' dimes, like his second-quarter rainbow to James White to put New England up 27-0. Yep, all that is neato ... But do you know the last time a Bill Belichick team led the NFL in points allowed? How about 2003, when the Patriots won the Lombardi Trophy. The time before that was 1994, the last Browns team to win a playoff game. And the time before that? The 1990 Giants, when Belichick was a stud defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells. That group won the Super Bowl, too. #Defensegate
1st - Lorenzo Reyes (USA Today): As if their Super Bowl path didn't already look promising, half the teams in the AFC's playoff bracket are now relying on backup quarterbacks.
1st - Chris Burke (SI): The only time in their history that the Patriots have finished the regular season with the league’s top scoring defense, 2003, they won the Super Bowl. Unless they allow 34 more points to the Dolphins this week than Seattle does to the 49ers, they will take home top-ranked scoring D honors again.
1st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): New England has been in cruise control with its defense and Tom Brady playing a favorable second-half schedule. The Patriots will get a much-needed tune-up with the top seed still on the line against a fellow playoff-bound division foe. This week: at Dolphins, Sunday.
1st - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): Just like last year, the Patriots need to beat the Dolphins to nail down the No. 1 seed. Unlike last year, the Patriots hope to actually win this one.
1st - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): If they beat the Dolphins this week, they are the top seed. Then what? Then a Super Bowl is likely.
1st - Cameron DaSilva (Fox Sports): The Patriots (unsurprisingly) rolled to a victory over the Jets, proving to be a complete and elite squad on both sides of the ball. They remain the No. 1 team in scoring defense and the offense is in good shape with Tom Brady at the helm.
1st - Adam Stites (SB Nation): The New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys still seem like the respective favorites in the AFC and NFC, but there are a few teams that are looking like threats with some impressive December performances.
1st - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): The Evil Empire, fresh off a Christmas Eve beat-down of the Jets, is positioned to get home field throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Dolphins, who have already clinched a wild card spot. Belichick and Brady should waltz into Super Bowl LI.
1st - Luke Miller (Metro): They may already have a first round bye, but the Patriots enter the final game of the season in Miami with much left to accomplish: A victory locks up home field advantage through the playoffs without waiting to see if Oakland will stumble against the Broncos, moves their road record in 2016 to 8-0, and would see them enter the playoffs on a seven game winning streak, the best in the NFL.
1st - Jenny Vrentas (The MMQB): The Patriots don’t want a repeat of last year. They’re going to Miami hell-bent on locking up home-field advantage in the playoffs the only certain way, by beating the Dolphins.
1st - Staff (AP Pro32).
2nd - Experts (ESPN): Who in the AFC can stop the Patriots right now? They've allowed 33 fewer points than any other team this season, they have the league leader in rushing touchdowns in LeGarrette Blount (17), and Tom Brady has thrown 25 touchdowns to two interceptions. One final tuneup at Miami stands between the Patriots and the playoffs.
2nd - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Not many people have a story like Matt Lengel. He was signed off Cincinnati’s practice squad in the middle of this season. He has one career target in the NFL … and one career touchdown catch from Tom Brady. His first NFL catch was an 18-yard touchdown on Saturday against the Jets. That’s pretty cool.