Can Patriots finally seize their last shot?


Somehow, someway, the Patriots control their own destinies once again with two games left to play.

Not because they’ve earned the right to — no, definitely not because of that. Rather, neither of their primary threats to knock them out of the playoffs, the division rival Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, seem to want to win either.

The Jets are so hard up for luck that they’re turning back to Mike White, who started the year as the third-string quarterback and probably still hasn’t fully recovered from broken ribs, to save their season after choosing to bench Zach Wilson for a beer-league flag football quarterback.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, couldn’t put away a not-so-great Packers squad and has now potentially lost Tua Tagovailoa with another concussion for its most important game of the year on Sunday in Foxborough.

Say what you want about Tagovailoa’s recent stretch of sketchy play, but Teddy Bridgewater is simply not better and threw as many interceptions (3) as touchdowns during his brief action this season. We all know how much the Patriots love facing a backup quarterback.

A win would give New England a conference record tiebreaker over Miami and put them in position to get in with a Week 18 against a Buffalo Bills squad that might rest starters if it’s assured one of the top two seeds in the AFC.

The question: should we have any hope the Patriots will actually take advantage of this opportunity they’ve lucked into?

New England has been one of the worst early game offenses in the league, ranking 25th in EPA/play in the first and second quarters this season. Their starts in the last three games have been especially hideous, including a first half against the Bengals where Kurt Warner found himself asking “What are we doing?” multiple times when watching the offense.

Another slow start could hurt them against a still-dangerous Dolphins squad. Bridgewater might not be that good, but he has a lot of margin for error when he can throw to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Give credit to the Patriots defense for standing up to the critics and slowing down some decent offenses of late, including straight-up blanking the Bengals in the second half after allowing 22 points in the first half last Saturday. But how much more can they be expected to do with all the injuries they’ve had? At some point, the offense has to do its job.

Then, even if the Patriots are able to (for once) live up to expectation and beat Bridgewater and Miami on Sunday, let’s not get our hopes up too high about the Bills resting their starters in Week 18 just yet.

Buffalo does currently own the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but Kansas City has the same 12-3 record and should win over the inept Denver Broncos, who just fired their head coach, and disappointing Raiders. Even if the Bills beat the Bengals on Sunday, they can’t afford to sit in the last week of the season if they want the top seed.

Additionally, the Bengals, whom the Bills play this coming Sunday, are 11-4 and nipping at the conference leaders’ heels. If Cincinnati beat Buffalo in Week 17, then the Bills really have to play to avoid possibly dropping to the No. 3 seed.

New England (assuming it beats Miami) would basically have to hope the Bills beat the Bengals and decide they’re not that interested in the No. 1 seed, preferring to rest up in the last week before epically wiping the Patriots off the face of the Earth in the Wildcard Round for the second straight season. Because that’s comforting.

But that would require Buffalo to willingly cede home field advantage to the Chiefs should the two teams meet in the playoffs, and that’s probably not something they want to do after the way last year’s playoff matchup ended up.

Plus, wouldn’t it be a heck of a weekend to snuff your division rival’s playoff hopes out while earning a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs?

Like it or not, this season has an expiration date, and it’s coming within the next three weeks at most. Some might even prefer to see New England drop these last two games and have a shot at a top-10 pick over watching another first-round playoff exit. But if you want to see the Patriots get themselves into the dance and prove 2022 wasn’t a complete waste of everyone’s time, these next two weeks will be very telling.

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