EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 22, 2008

Staying Alive

After toying with Arizona, Pats still have a chance

Bill Burt

Pats' playoff hopes

Here's what the Patriots need to happen next week to make the playoffs:

1. They must beat Buffalo.

2. They need Miami to lose to the Jets (at the Meadowlands) or Baltimore to lose to Jacksonville (in Baltimore).

Note: If Miami loses, the Patriots would be the AFC East champs and host Baltimore ... If Miami wins and Baltimore loses, the Patriots would be the No. 6 seed and play at Miami.

FOXBORO — Here's a cheer New England Patriots fans may want to perfect before next Sunday:

"J-E-T-S ... Jets! Jets! Jets!"

That's right. That irritating cheer, invented by toothless "Fireman Ed," will be all yours.

Talk about irony.

A year ago, Eric Mangini and the Jets "nearly" ruined the reputation of the man who molded his football mind, Bill Belichick, when he reported him to the NFL for illegally videotaping coaches' signals.

Now, the Patriots will be rooting for Benedict Mangini.

The Patriots could also sneak in if the Baltimore Ravens lose to visiting Jacksonville, but let's be honest, that's probably not happening.

So how are the Patriots approaching this week? In vintage Patriots fashion, of course.

"I don't care about anybody else," said Patriots linebacker Junior Seau after yesterday's 47-7 pummelling of the reeling Arizona Cardinals. "I care about Buffalo."

Oh, yes, the Patriots have to win Sunday in Buffalo, which somehow won in Denver last night (30-23). Jobs, including the head coach's, may be at stake for the Bills, so don't expect a walkover.

From Tom Brady's knee injury on Opening Day, it has been a crazy season. And I'm not just talking about here on Route 1.

Everybody can beat everybody.

San Diego was 4-8 and now, because Denver couldn't beat Oakland or Buffalo at home, they are a win away from winning their division.

Arizona, the NFC West champ, was 8-4 and, as we saw here yesterday (they were outgained 474 to 45 through three quarters!), they couldn't beat anybody.

Philadelphia, which might be one of the four best teams in the NFC, is officially out primarily due to that rare tie against the Bengals, which even confused quarterback Donovan McNabb.

The Dolphins (11-5) went from 1-15 last year to one win from winning their first AFC East title since 2000.

Tennessee's "franchise" quarterback, Vince Young, loses his mind and the Titans can't seem to lose a game.

Brett Favre retired, cried and then said he was only joking before he was dealt to the Jets. The Jets traded away their previous franchise quarterback, Chad Pennington, who will lead the Dolphins to the playoffs ... if they beat the Jets.

Confusing?

The Patriots are right square in the middle of this mess.

They are 10-5. They've played only two bad halves in two months — the first half against the Jets and the second half against the Steelers. Although that probably had as much to do with their cream-puff schedule. Their non-league games were against the AFC West and NFC West, the worst divisions in the NFL.

But give them credit. They look like one of the better teams in the NFL on Dec. 22, but still might be on the outside looking in by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

"If the Patriots don't make the playoffs, that would be a shame," said Cardinals All-Pro special teams player Sean Morey, a Patriot part-timer in 1999 who was cut by Belichick in 2000. "Take the weather out of it and the fact they were home. That is a very good football team. It's all three phases. Tom Brady's not there but they still move the ball up and down the field. They're well-coached. That's a playoff team."

Contrast the Pats with Morey's team, which is 8-7 but has clinched the NFC West. After yesterday's debacle, that must have been one embarrassed group of Cardinals on their 5-hour flight to Phoenix.

But embarrassment doesn't mean a thing in 2008. In fact, it's almost a prerequisite.

It's been a weird season, and yesterday was one of the weirdest games of the season.

In case you were wondering, it continues next week.

Go Jets.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.