It’s a good problem to have, I guess.
Some in New England still see it as a problem, nonetheless. And that’s deciding how to handle your roster in the final weeks of the regular season, when you’ve clinched the division and a first-round bye.
So when the Patriots travel to Miami to take on the 10-5 Dolphins Sunday at 1 p.m., there will be those who believe Bill Belichick should just pack it up and head into the playoffs as healthy as possible, without going all out for a win in Week 17, regardless of what’s at stake.
Every situation is different. And this year, I don’t think the Patriots can afford to play games. They have to do everything they can on Sunday to win and clinch what’s at stake: the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Right now, every playoff berth in the conference is clinched. But every seeding isn’t.
The Patriots are currently the No. 1 seed with a 13-2 record. The only team challenging them for that top spot is the 12-3 Oakland Raiders, who are in Denver on Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
The Dolphins have clinched one of the two Wild Card spots and are currently the No. 6 seed. Miami still has something to play for, though. If they can somehow defeat the Patriots, and Kansas City somehow loses in San Diego on Sunday, then the Dolphins would move up into the No. 5 seed and travel to Houston for the Wild Card round.
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That’s a much more favorable first-round playoff matchup than having to go into Pittsburgh to take on the No. 3 seed Steelers, which Miami would have to do if it stays in the No. 6 spot.
With the Chiefs/Chargers game at 4:25 p.m., it’s safe to say that the Dolphins are going to do everything they can to at least take care of their own business at 1 p.m. against the Patriots.
However, Miami won’t have a shot if the Patriots choose to take care of their own.
All New England needs is a win on Sunday to clinch the No. 1 seed. The Patriots can also clinch that top spot if Oakland loses in Denver. The only way the Pats can drop down to the No. 2 seed, is if they lose to the Dolphins, and the Raiders go into Denver and win.
Even without Derek Carr, it won’t be impossible for Oakland to defeat an 8-7 Broncos team that’s collapsed down the stretch, losing their last three games and being eliminated from playoff contention. But with that game not kicking off until 4:25 p.m., the Patriots won’t be able to wait around to find out.
They’ll have to go into Miami at 1 p.m. and play to win.
I don’t say that with any other previous season in mind. I say that while thinking of the now, and what’s at stake this season, and the road to Super Bowl LI.
Could the Patriots go into Oakland and win in the playoffs if they had to? Of course they could. But why not make sure the Raiders — or any other opponent — have to come to New England?
Oakland showed us in Kansas City a few weeks ago that it wants no part of a cold-weather game. But even if it’s not the Raiders, still, the Patriots should be doing everything in their power on Sunday to guarantee that the AFC Championship will be played in Foxborough.
They can do that with a win over the Dolphins.
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