Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 12/11/2003

Precarious at best...

The Patriots have now won 9 regular season games in a row, a franchise best. In shutting out the Dolphins last Sunday the Pats clinched the division title earlier than ever before, and after 14 weeks are the only team in the NFL to have clinched their division. At 11-2, the Patriots are off to their best start in franchise history and have already tied the franchise record for wins in the regular season with three weeks left to play.

Usually a team with a resume such as this so late in the season can begin resting their starters for the playoffs - but not this team. For all their hard work and accomplishments to date, if the Patriots are serious about making a run for their 2nd Lombardi Trophy, they'd better hope their next loss isn't until the '04 season.

Say what? 12-4 isn't good enough? 13-3 won't get it done? Likely not. The Patriots' current hold on the AFC's #1 seed is precarious at best. The Patriots did not defeat the 11-2 Chiefs this season, so by virtue of the 2nd tiebreaker, the conference record, the Patriots hold a slim lead of 8-1 to 10-2. To borrow a hockey term, the Chiefs have three games in hand, having already completed their AFC slate. It matters not if the Chiefs lose another game this season, for their remaining three opponents are all from the NFC North. If the Patriots lose their 3rd game this season, it will be to an AFC team, and the tiebreaker advantage swings back to the Chiefs on - get this one - "strength of victory." So as long as their 3rd loss is not to the Bills, the Chiefs and Pats will have identical 4-1 records against common opponents - Buffalo, Denver, Houston, and Cleveland.

As if that weren't scary enough - consider another very possible scenario, one in which the Chiefs and Patriots each lose one more contest while the Colts win out playing at home against a Falcon team who's head was just cut off, followed by a very tough home opponent in the Denver Broncos before heading to Houston in week 17. In breaking a 3-way tie among teams from different divisions, head-to-head does not apply, thus rendering the Patriots victory in Indianapolis close to meaningless. The Colts in this situation would get the #1 seed based on superior conference record (11-1), followed by the Chiefs by virtue of the same "strength of victory" tiebreaker over the Patriots mentioned above.

Could you imagine? 13-3 and not even getting a first round bye? In that situation, even if the Patriots were to come out on top over a wild card team at home, they would likely have to then win back-to-back road games to get to Super Bowl XXXVIII - not a pleasant scenario. The Patriots are no strangers to tiebreakers. Last season the Jets and Patriots finished with identical 9-7 records, split their season series, and had identical records in both the AFC East Division and the AFC as a whole. So why did the Jets win a division title and host a playoff game while the Patriots were sent home? Tiebreakers - in that case, record against common opponents - where the Jets had a one game edge.

Do you think the Jets and their fans are aware of the Patriots paper-thin hold on the AFC's #1 seed? Presuming the Patriots are able to get by a feisty Jaguar team (more on that later), do you think it will be tough to win in the Meadowlands on national television on a Saturday night? The Patriots have accomplished so much this season - to date their best in franchise history - but as you can tell, it's far from over.

Unfinished business...

The good news is that the Patriots know all of this. After having swept the season series from the Dolphins for the first time in 6 years and clinching the AFC East title - there was no celebration. The Patriots donned their division champion hats and T-shirts briefly in the post-game locker room, but with very little fanfare. This is in stark contrast to the Red Sox popping the champagne and running through the streets of Boston donning "Wild Card" T-shirts, but I digress. The Patriots were not gloating about a divisional crown, they were already beginning to turn their attention to the Jaguars.

Think about it - you're a young team with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. After stumbling and bumbling through much of the season, everyone is staring to "get it," and rumors are you may be team to watch out for come 2004. Your next game is on the road against the consensus #1 team in the NFL, an opponent who has won 9 games in row and has yet to lose a home game. What more could you ask for? This is the classic "can't lose" situation for the Jaguars, whom I assure you are not dreading flying north to fridged Foxboro, but rather can't wait to board the plane. For a team with no chance whatsoever to make the playoffs, this is Jacksonville's "Super Bowl."

In the past six weeks, the Jaguars have played a schedule that would not exactly be the envy of the NFL. A visit to Baltimore was followed by a home date vs. Indianapolis followed by road games against the Titans and Jets. The Jags then returned home to face the (then still in it) Tampa Bay Bucs in a Sunday night contest, and finally last week faced off against fellow divisional cellar-dweller Houston. That's a tough road to hoe for any team, let alone a young team still experiencing growing pains with a rookie quarterback.

The Jaguars finished that 6-game stretch a very respectable 3-3, winning all three home games in defeating the Colts 28-23, the Bucs 17-10, and shutting out the Houston Texans 27-0. Their road losses to playoff contending Baltimore and Tennessee were by just a touchdown, and the resurgent Jets behind Chad Pennington required a photo finish to come from behind in the final minute to win by a field goal. Think these Jags are just playing out the string? If that's not incentive enough not to overlook this club, consider that despite their 4-9 record, the Jaguars ranks statistically higher than the 11-2 Patriots in both total offense and total defense for the season.

Do I think the Patriots are Super Bowl bound? You bet I do. But I don't think they're unbeatable. Anyone who's been paying attention the past few months knows this - and that includes the Patriots themselves. Rather than worry about extending their current 9 game winning streak to 15, the Patriots are focused on next week and next week only. They know what's at stake, and they know what they need to do to get there.

See you next week, and Go Pats!