By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Incredible as it seems, the AFC race is over. The only way the Patriots will fail to host the AFC Championship Game is if they blow it.
Premature? Yes and no. On the one hand, it’s just the start of Week 7. On the other, the AFC standings currently show the Patriots with at least a 1.5-game lead over anyone else in the field, which doesn’t sound like an insurmountable gap until you factor in the following:
All of those teams still have to face the Patriots – and the large majority of them have to face the Pats in Foxboro.
First, the standings. Here’s what it looks like in the AFC right now:
For the sake of simplicity, let’s take these in order.
Buffalo: Good story, right? And the Bills have what may be the easiest schedule in football – even easier than the Patriots. Buffalo still has games with Miami (twice), Washington, Cleveland, Denver (at home), Pittsburgh and the Jets, who are a combined 8-26. With that defense, the Bills should win most of those, but here’s the problem: the Bills already have lost to the Patriots and still have to play in Foxboro. To host the AFC title game, the Bills must win the division. Ain’t happening.
Houston: Know what the Texans did when they defeated Kansas City over the weekend? They may have elevated themselves to the No. 2 team in the conference – and they effectively locked up the AFC for New England. The only way Houston wins the AFC is if they can beat the Patriots at home on Dec. 1. During the Bill O’Brien era, Houston is 0-5 against New England.
Kansas City: There’s still a lot to like with the Chiefs, who went toe-to-toe with the Pats last year in the AFC title game – in Kansas City. But K.C. is already two games behind the Pats with a Dec. 8 game scheduled in Foxboro, and Kansas City’s next three games are at Denver (never easy) then at home against Green Bay and Minnesota. Nobody should rule out the Chiefs being in the AFC title game again – but if it happens, it’ll be in Foxboro.
Baltimore: If there’s a team in the AFC that should scare you as a Patriots follower, this is it. Under John Harbaugh the Ravens have come here and won in the past. In fact, the Ravens are 2-2 in the postseason at Foxboro – and the Ravens could easily be 4-0. Baltimore is the one contender that hosts the Patriots this season (in Week 9), and the games between Harbaugh and Bill Belichick always seem close. In nine meetings, the Patriots have outscored the Ravens by an average of just two points a game.
The problem? This week, the Ravens visit the Seahawks, who have the third-best home record in football since Pete Carroll took over in 2010. The Ravens have beaten the Patriots in Foxboro in the past, but they’ll probably have to do it again if they want to go to the Super Bowl.
In the end, here’s the point: the Pats still have some tough games on their schedule, but they are in great position because they are likely to have the edge in most or all tiebreakers. There are obviously concerns for the team – the offensive line chief among them – but the odds of hosting another AFC title game are now severely stacked in their favor.