T he regular season is over and the New England Patriots are on an unprecedented run of reaching the play-offs 11 times in a row. But the omens are not looking good for the defending Super Bowl champions.
In week 17 they faced a four-win Miami Dolphins team which have lost all 15 times they have faced the Pariots and quarterback Tom Brady in Foxborough. New England also knew that the second seed in the AFC was in their own hands but the Dolphins played Patriot party poopers.
As the game developed, Miami started to exert control but, when Brady threw a touchdown pass late on, it looked once again like the Patriots might sneak a win.
But Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick produced some veteran play as the Dolphins regained the lead with just 24 seconds left on the clock and went on to win 27-24.
With that shock loss, the Patriots dropped to the No 3 seed. Only two third-seeded teams have reached the Super Bowl since 1990. The Indianapolis Colts won it all in 2006 and the 2003 Carolina Panthers lost to the Patriots.
The other reason that the Patriots’ drop in seeding is important is that it means an extra game in the Wild Card round and no rest week.
The last time the Patriots didn’t have a week off going into the postseason was 2009, and that year they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. Tom Brady and his team know that, even if they do come through next weekend’s game against Tennessee, they will still then have to travel to either Kansas or Baltimore the week after.
The additional game means no downtime and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s team leads the league in wins after a bye week. The Patriots are 27-7 when they have a bye week compared with 3-3 when they have played in the Wild Card weekend.
So, while it’s by no means a death sentence for the Patriot’s chances of retaining their champion status, the additional game and the road miles really could be all the difference in what could be Brady’s last season as a Patriot.
While the drama was unfolding in Massachusetts, the Kansas City Chiefs were overcoming the LA Chargers. The game did look like it could swing away from Kansas City but some magic from quarterback Patrick Mahomes gave the Chiefs fans something to cheer as they rounded out a 31-21 win and secured a week off.
The Tennessee Titans were not looking great at the end of week six, but a change to former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has seen then come back from the brink and Sunday’s win over division winners Houston Texans’ second string sealed a wild card and a chance for the Titans to possibly end the Tom Brady era in New England.
The Baltimore Ravens looked strong as they secured a comfortable 28-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will look forward to the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and stability in their passing game next season.
The Green Bay Packers had to rely on a last-second field goal to guarantee their bye week as they came from two scores down on two occasions to win 23-20 over the Detroit Lions.
The New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles secured their play-off spots with wins over Carolina and New York Giants respectively, but the big game in the NFC was the SanFrancisco 49ers taking on the Seahawks to see who would take the No 1 seed.
The 49ers grabbed a dramatic win by stopping Seahawks wide receiver Hollister inside the one-yard line as time expired. The win gave the Niners homefield advantage throughout the play-offs.
The big talking point for the Seahawks was the return of running back Marshawn Lynch, who managed 34 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
The Dallas Cowboys win over Washington means that the Redskins will have the second pick in the draft behind Cincinnati. The Bengals finished the season with a win over the Cleveland Browns, who will be disappointed their season turned sour after some big moves in the off-season, and sacked head coach Freddie Kitchens after the game.