As we all know the real football season starts in January and is set to begin. In a surprise to no one the New England Patriots find themselves in the postseason for the 7th season in a row and enter the 2015 playoffs as defending Super Bowl champions and owners of the AFC’s #2 seed. However, not all is picture perfect in Patriot-land. The Patriots have been riddle with key injuries, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and played uncommonly bad in the final month of the season losing 4 of their last 6 games and squandering the opportunity to lock up the #1 seed which has gone to the Denver Broncos instead.
Despite all of this though, I’m still confident that the Patriots will make it to Levi’s Stadium with a chance to defend their title and earn one for the thumb. While losing the #1 seed definitely hurts (I do not want to see the Patriots in Denver again. Once was good enough for me this season) fate is going to have the road to San Francisco not go a mile high but, instead, travel down Route 1. Allow me to explain how and why you should still feel confident in Bill and TFB as we break down the AFC Playoff picture.
To understand where this well of confidence in the Patriots is coming from you have to look no further than the Wild Card matchups in the AFC; Pittsburgh(6) vs. Cincinnati(3) and Kansas City(5) vs. Houston(4). In both cases I thing we are looking at the visiting teams emerging victorious. Let’s take a look at the AFC North Bowl first to see why the Steelers will best the Benglas keeping Cincy’s abysmal post season record under Marvin Lewis (0-6) rolling right along.
Bengals vs Steelers: The Return of the Ginger (maybe?) will be featuring one of the best defenses against one of the best offenses in the NFL. I’ll just cut to the chase and say what we are all thinking; the Bengals DBs won’t be able to cover the Steelers WRs all day and with Andy Dalton either sidelined or coming off a broken thumb that means they won’t be able to get into a shootout, which is all Pittsburgh is going to try, and succeed, getting into. Antonio Brown (136 rec, 1,834 yds, 10 TD), Martavis Bryant (50 rec, 765 yds, 6 TD), and Markus Wheaton (44 rec, 749 yds, 5 TD) may be the best receiving corps in the league and with Le’Veon Bell out and his admirable replacement DeAngelo Williams ailing the Benglas have the unfortunate luck of an air it out gameplan also being the Steelers best gameplan to win if not win big. Couple that with a young and hungry Steeler defense facing down the aforementioned damaged Dalton or AJ McCarron and the edge on the field seems to be all on the black and yellow sideline. Mentally, I think the Bengals are ripe for the Steelers plucking as well. A terrible post-season record and squaring up against the royalty of your division probably has them feeling disrespected in that no one outside of Cincy is giving them a chance. Some teams can use that to turn it on and make a statement. Any given Sunday and yaddya yaddya yaddya. It’s just none of those teams have been Marvin Lewis’ and I don’t think that fact will change this year. Steelers win.
JJ Watt and and his meta-sack dance actually make me hate even talking about this game. Anyone that aware of what is in the zeitgeist is just trying to get a contract with Disney to pay bills. There is nothing genuine about Watt other than his skill which enables him to act like a total asshat for as long as he is great. As soon as he starts to slip with age though? That guy is in for a rude awakening. Anyway, the game. This one feels similar to the Cincy/Pitt game in that there seems to be a mismatch at QB play. Alex Smith has been commanding the Chiefs offense admirably all season and is on a 10 game winning streak whereas Houston has been signing guys off the street all season. Yes, they have Brian Hoyer back, for now, but experience in the Texans system falls far short of Smith’s in the Chiefs. The matchup between O’Brien and Reid is an interesting one but one that also mirrors the QB mismatch. Reid’s been around, he’s had deep runs in the playoffs, and he has the Chiefs offense (9th in PPG) humming right along with a formidable defense and above average specials teams. Basically, the quintessential Andy Reid team and a quintessential Andy Reid team is going to steamroll the Texans at home. Chiefs win.
By now you’ve probably figured out or have a bit of an inkling where the confidence is coming from. With the Steelers winning against the Bengals that guarantees a matchup between Pittsburgh and Denver. A game that now could feature Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler but it won’t matter. Big Ben and Tomlin have been in big games before and what will be almost an identical matchup to what the Steelers faced in the Wild Card round will have the same outcome. Yes I believe Manning/Osweiler is better than Dalton/McCarron but the same issues arise for the Broncos defense as it did for the Bengals. I just don’t think they’ll be able to hang with the Steelers WR. Especially after seeing what happened to the Bronco secondary against a Chargers WR group that featured nobody. Talib and Harris looked lost on several plays and with a talent like Antonio Brown on the field expect Todd Haley, Pitt’s OC, to dial up all sorts of shit. A young, revamped Steelers D currently 3rd in the league in sacks is going to get after whichever Bronco signal caller ends up back there. The Broncos only hope is to try and control the game and run the ball but the Steelers offense is so good that I still think Denver will have to score at least 27 to win and I don’t see them getting there. Steelers win.
That brings us to the Chiefs vs Pats. Honestly, this is going to be a tough game. Andy Reid one of the few coaches that commands close to the amount of respect Belichick does. However, Reid has never beaten Belichick (0-4) and playing in Foxboro in January is no place to break that tradition. The Patriots will focus on containing Alex Smith and the Chief ground game. Kansas City has no doubt improved their air attack but Jamie Collins should be able to neutralize Kelce and Butler doing the same to Maclin. Smith isn’t the best at going to his 3rd or 4th option and I think the Patriots will be able to get enough pressure on Smith to force turnovers. The real crux of the game though is going to come down to whether or not the Patriots can get their once feared offense back on track. Brady is nursing some nagging injuries after that low hit from Suh (that sonuvabitch) but Gronk is healthy and hopefully (I mean REALLY HOPE) Julian Edelman will be back and ready to go. The Patriots needed the bye week more than anyone and here’s to hoping Hightower can make it back on the field as well. The biggest issue for the Patriots on offense is if the offensive line can be at least not atrocious against the Chiefs like they were against the Dolphins this past Sunday. They just need to be able to open a few holes and give Brady a little bit of time to death by a thousand quick hits the Chiefs into submission. If they can manage that with the electrical tape, Elmer’s glue, and Marcus Cannon they call the Patriots offensive line then this should be another postseason win in the column on the Hall of Fame resumes. They will because the only time the Patriots O-line lets them down in the postseason its the Super Bowl and we aren’t there yet. Patriots win.
And so that leaves us with the AFC Championship game making its way back to Foxboro for the second consecutive year. The Steelers are a scary team, there is no doubt about that. They have an explosive offense with perhaps the best offensive player in football on their team in Brown and that is without maybe the second best offensive player in football in Bell out for the season. Their defense is a nice mixture of youth and veterans with playoff experience to guide them. The problem I see with this mathcup for the Steelers is one that I believe even Steeler fans will agree with; at the coaching level. The fact is Belichick coaches circles around Tomlin. The Steelers are not the best at making adjustments and tend to walk into a game with one plan and stick to it. I’d also be concerned with Todd Haley if I was a Steeler fan as well. He tends to call games differently against Belichick and the Patriots and I would say the Steelers are one of those teams that seem to get rattled when the Flying Elvis is on the opposing sideline. They call the game differently, they try to get cute or smart and overthink against the Patriots and it usually ends up in a Pittsburgh L with some awkward questions at the end of the day. This game I see being one of those great games but at home, in January with as healthy as an offense since Edelman’s foot injury against the Giants in Week 10 and one of the best defenses in the Belichick era, I’ll take the Pats. Patriots win and book their trip to San Francisco and Super Bowl 50.
See? Now don’t you feel silly about being worried about the Patriots? So shake off that ugly month of football we call December 2015 and get ready for a triumphant January 2016.