When the two teams meet next Monday, after 11 worthy days of hype, they'll each boast an AFC-best 9-2 record, and the winner will have a huge inside track at a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs. The loser, meanwhile, will likely finish in second place in the AFC East and open the playoffs on the road.
Think about those ramifications: If the Patriots beat the Jets and then take care of business during the last four weeks of the regular season, they'll have a week off to start the playoffs and then host a divisional game, likely avoiding Baltimore in the process. But if the Patriots fall to the Jets, they'll open up on the road at a place like San Diego, Indianapolis, Oakland or Kansas City. And if they win there, they probably head to New York to face the well-rested Jets.
Those are two vastly different roads to the AFC Championship game.
Plus, the Patriots have advanced to four Super Bowls in the last decade, and each time, they opened the postseason with a first-round bye.
This isn’t just unique to New England, either. Since the league instituted a wild-card playoff format in 1970, just eight wild-card teams have won three playoff games to advance to the Super Bowl (nine wild-card teams have advanced to the Super Bowl overall, but the 1975 Cowboys only needed two playoff wins to get there). And only five wild-card teams have finished the job and won the Super Bowl.
The Jets already have the edge on the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Patriots, based on their Week 2 victory in New Jersey, so that makes this game just a bit more important for New England. If the Jets win next week, they'll have a one-game edge on the Patriots in the standings, and they'll lock up the tiebreaker, meaning the Patriots have to finish the season with more wins than the Jets to take the division. Under that scenario, the Patriots would have to win their last four regular-season games and hope the Jets finish no better than 2-2.
But if the Patriots win next week, they'll hold a one-game edge on the Jets in the standings, and if the two teams finish the regular season with the same record, the tiebreaking scenarios are a little more complicated. Since head-to-head would be a wash, the next tiebreaker is the division record, and both teams would be 3-1 against AFC East teams if the Patriots win next week.
Then it shifts to common opponents (Ravens, Steelers, Browns, Bengals, Packers, Vikings, Bears, Lions), of which the Patriots currently hold a 5-1 record against the Jets' 4-2 mark. From there, the tiebreakers go to AFC record, strength of victory, strength of schedule and a bunch of other complicated procedures.
Anyway, that stuff will be more important in a few weeks, and it will get taken care of by some computers and calculators in the bowels of the NFL offices. For now, it's all about the Patriots and the Jets, on the same field, with oh so much on the line.
It's not just about bragging rights this time. The winner will get a week off in January, and the loser will be at a historical disadvantage on its trek to the Super Bowl.
This was the first installment of a 10-day series that will highlight 10 reasons to get excited for the Patriots-Jets matchup next Monday night.
Sunday: A week and a half of trash talk
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