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 12/12/2002

Opportunity Lost...

A week ago I had myself convinced the Patriots were on the fast track to one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs, earning a bye week to watch seeds three through six battle it out the first week of January. After witnessing yet another no-show against quality competition, however, I have caught myself at times wondering if the Patriots will make the playoffs.

I wrote last week that the Jets and Dolphins home games would be must wins regardless of the outcome in Tennessee, and that remains true. The Patriots would be in no better position to win the AFC East standing at 9-5 than they are today after having dropped to 8-6. What's concerning is not that the Patriots lost to Tennessee, it's that just as in the Oakland game, they didn't even show up. The Patriots looked like anything but a playoff team. So while it's true that the AFC East title is as equally attainable today as it was last week, you have to wonder what the Patriots will be able to accomplish in the playoffs should they qualify. I assure you the neither the Lions, Vikings, nor Bears will be their first opponent.

Last season, despite all the Brady hype, it was the defense that carried the team through November and December and on to New Orleans. Sure Brady had some memorable moments in the Snow Bowl and the Super Bowl, but it was the defense that set the stage for their historic run. If the Pats are going make the playoffs again this year, it will have to be the defense that steps up and carries the team once again. It is clear that the offense cannot be counted on to come through in a shootout, particularly against a halfway decent defense, and certainly not on the road.

Regardless of whether the Dolphins win or lose in Minnesota next week, the Patriots must win their next two games to qualify for the playoffs. Even if Miami were to drop to 9-6, the Patriots could not afford to lose to New York, allowing the Jets to get to 8-7. Even if New England were to defeat Miami the following week to end up in a 9-7 tie with the Dolphins, the Jets would win the AFC East if they managed to defeat the Packers in the Meadowlands to force a 3-way tie. Even if Buffalo sneaks in to make it a 4-way 9-7 tie, the Jets would take the crown. I went through this scenario in my last column assuming a 3-way tie at 10-6. Although that can no longer happen, the potential 9-7 3-way is no different.

In a conference where few (if any?) teams have shown they can go on the road and beat winning teams with consistency, home field advantage is huge. Although the '98 Broncos were the last #1 AFC seed to advance to the Super Bowl, you've got to figure this year's #1 will be penciled in for San Diego on January 26th. The best the Patriots can realistically hope for now is the #3 seed, and again, that's if they make it at all.


Before we prematurely bury the Patriots in the AFC "Power Rankings," lets put a few things in perspective here. Granted the Dolphins are coming off a very impressive win at home over the Raiders while the Pats are limping home following a road blowout in Tennessee, but the key words there are "home" and "road."

With two weeks to play in the regular season, just one game separates the supposedly dominant Dolphins from the fading Patriots. That's one lousy game despite the fact that Miami has played all 8 of their home games while New England still has two remaining. The Patriots have completed their road slate at 4-4. While that's not great, it's not that bad either in a league where winning on the road is an accomplishment no matter who you are playing.

The Dolphins will take their 2-4 away record back out on the road having not won a game outside Pro Player Stadium since October 13. In that game, Olindo Mare boomed a 53-yard field goal with 11 seconds on the clock in Denver immediately following a 22-yard pass completion on a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. And you thought the Patriots had cornered the market on luck? Since that game the Dolphins have lost to the Packers, Jets and Bills - all on the road. The Patriots won in both New York and Buffalo by an aggregate score of 82-14. Does that not count for anything?

Sure the Patriots are now 1-6 against teams who are now above .500, but what about the 7-7 Jets, Bills, and Chiefs? Wouldn't those teams today be winning teams in the thick of the playoff hunt if it weren't for their 4 combined losses to the Pats? Don't the Pats get some credit for those victories? The Dolphins are 1-4 against those same teams, 0-3 on the road.

The Bills are 7-5 when not playing the Pats including a series of sweep of the Dolphins and wins at Minnesota and at home over the Chargers. Even though he looked far less than stellar against Bill Belichick, Drew Bledsoe will be named to the Pro Bowl on Thursday. Maybe the Bills aren't the Titans or Raiders, but wouldn't they be had the Bills won their two games against the Pats? The answer is yes.

With the exception of two games, the entire AFC East will play identical schedules this year. How then can the Patriots be dubbed as bottom feeders at 8-6 while the 9-5 Dolphins are the pick du jour to become AFC Champions? The two games the Pats did not share with the Dolphins were at home against the Steelers and last week's road game in Tennessee. The Dolphins instead visited the Colts in week 2 and hosted the Ravens in week 11. Who had the easier schedule? Could the same Dolphin team that couldn't beat the Bills or Jets on the road have defeated the Titans in Tennessee? I guess we may never know, but that's an extremely debatable topic.

Home stretch...

Did the Patriots blow a huge opportunity last week? Yes. Did they lay an egg on the road on prime time for the 2nd time in 5 weeks? Big time. What does that mean going into the Jets game? Nothing.

The Patriots still have a tremendous opportunity in front of them. In a hotly contested logjam in the AFC, they are one of only a few teams who control their own destiny. Win and they're in. Playing at home in December has always been an advantage for the Patriots, even in the lean years, and especially against the Dolphins. Don't get me wrong - this isn't going to be easy.

Despite their major letdown in Chicago last week, the Jets remain one of the hottest teams in the AFC. Since October, the Jets have been right there with the Titans in turning an abysmal start into a season with meaning. Should the Dolphins lose in Minnesota on Saturday, the Jets hopes for a division title will be very much alive, and they would not easily let a 2nd opportunity pass them by. Couple that with the fact the Patriots have not defeated the Jets at home since Tuna Bowl I in 1997, and the Patriots had better be extremely prepared.

Talk all you want about the big showdown upcoming with the Dolphins, but it won't mean a damn thing if the Patriots don't beat the Jets. Last week was a playoff-like atmosphere and the Pats showed up like it was an August scrimmage. This week is not just a playoff atmosphere, but for all intents and purposes it's a playoff game. The loser will almost certainly have doused even a flicker of hope of making the playoffs.

Call me crazy, but I'm still very optimistic here despite the fact I nearly hung myself last Monday Night. The next two games will be extremely tough, but if the Patriots are to truly make their inaugural season in Gillette Stadium a success, they'll have to prove that they have the advantage in that venue and not the opposition. I fully expect the Patriots to come out a house-on-fire next Sunday Night, and the home crowd, despite the letdown last Monday, will be pumped.

On a final note, please be aware that despite its nearly total lack of impact to the Patriots own post-season aspirations, I will be rooting hard for Minnesota on Saturday to defeat the Dolphins. Why? The only thing better than beating the Dolphins at home to win the AFC East is beating the Dolphins at home to win the AFC East while sending the Fish home for the season. Miami, as well as the Pats, would be very hard pressed to make the playoffs as a wild card at 9-7.

Dear Santa, I'm not overlooking the Jets here at all, but please, in the name of all that is holy, don't let the Dolphins sweep the Patriots. I'm honestly afraid of what the next 9 months would be like should that happen.

See you next week, keep the faith, and Go Pats!