Well folks, Week 17 mission accomplished:
Beat the Dolphins in Miami. Finish strong. Earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Play without further injuries. Check, check, check and (exhale) check.
Hard to fathom that our Sundays will no longer be filled with all-day football, but it's always a kick when the level of intensity starts to ratchet up as it will over the next few weeks. Nice to once again have that bye week for the players to rest and heal up, while Patriots fans can do a little couch-scouting and watch some pressure-free games.
So kick back everyone and enjoy the weekend off. Use the Bye to start growing out your playoff beards or playoff mustaches. And whatever you do, don't OD on too much hate-radio or let the purveyors of 'Tomato Can Theory' get you down. This team is solid, motivated, healthy and run by the best coach-QB pairing the league has ever seen.
WILD CARD WEEKEND
Oakland (12-4) at Houston (9-7) -- Sat. 4:35
Miami (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5) -- Sun. 1:05
Detroit (9-7) at Seattle (10-5-1) -- Sat. 8:35
NY Giants (11-5) at Green Bay (10-6) -- Sun. 4:40
1st - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): LeGarrette Blount’s 18 rushing touchdowns are the most for an NFL player since Adrian Peterson did it in 2009. He had 18 rushing touchdowns in his three previous seasons combined. Pretty random career year as he turns 30 years old.
1st - Cameron DaSilva (Fox Sports): The Patriots finished the regular season with the best record in football, but that’s not the only reason they’re No. 1 on this list. They’re the team to beat entering the postseason, showing the best balance between offense and defense of any team in the NFL right now. And with Tom Brady playing at an all-time high level, New England looks nearly unstoppable.
1st - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): So much for the Patriots not stepping on the gas pedal. Goodness gracious. Tom Brady went a ho-hum 25 of 33 for 276 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Leggie Blount walked in for his 18th rushing touchdown of the season. Like anyone predicted that. And while we're riding the nobody-saw-that-coming train, how about the defense, which came into the game leading the NFL in points allowed at 15.7 per game -- and didn't even give up that many? Guess they really miss Jamie Collins.
1st - Mark Maske (Washington Post): It’s all set up for them pretty much as they’d want. The Patriots are the AFC’s top seed for the sixth time. They’ve reached the Super Bowl on four of the previous five occasions. It will be extremely difficult for anyone to go to Foxborough, Mass., and win during the AFC playoffs, and the competition has been weakened considerably by QB issues. The Patriots will be minus injured TE Rob Gronkowski. But QB Tom Brady has plenty of options, including recently added WR Michael Floyd. The Patriots ranked first in the league in scoring defense during the regular season.
1st - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They head into the postseason as the odds-on favorite to win it all. They look to be the class of the AFC by a bunch.
1st - Experts (ESPN): Tom Brady threw 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 2016, which gives him the best TD-INT ratio of any quarterback with 300 attempts in NFL history. Brady has been on point this season, and his efforts helped earn the Patriots a No. 1 seed in the playoffs and the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
1st - Adam Stites (SB Nation): The Patriots never let off the gas all season.
1st - Staff (AP Pro32).
1st - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): The Evil Empire will kick up its collective feet and wait to see which tomato can (likely the Raiders or Texans) will come into Foxborough in a couple weeks to get their butts kicked in the divisional round.
1st - Kerry Byrne (Cold, Hard Football Facts): Quality Standings.
1st - Jenny Vrentas (The MMQB): Tom Brady’s 28:2 TD:INT ratio is the best in NFL history. At age 39, he’s had as good a season as he’s ever had—and the upside of the four-game suspension he served to open the season is that he’s had four less games of a beating than his fellow QBs.
1st - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The No. 1 seed in the postseason will see Matt McGloin, Connor Cook, Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Matt Moore, or a banged-up Ryan Tannehill in the divisional round. In other words, the Patriots will be hosting the AFC title game.
1st - Rick Gosselin (Dallas News): The 14-2 Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFC. But does it really matter? New England was the only NFL team to go 8-0 on the road this season.
1st - Andy Hart (Patriots.com): Wilson-Hart Power Index.