FLORHAM PARK, NJ - The Jets are fighting for their playoff lives, they could win their last two games to end the season 11-5, and on a six game winning-streak, and still miss the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Patriots have not only secured a playoff spot but a first round bye as well. There are only two things left for them to accomplish during the regular season, clinch the number one overall seed and get, and stay, healthy.
Which begs the old-age question in sports, is it more important to go all out to ensure you clinch the first seed or do you sit certain players to get them healthy or avoid more injuries? The Patriots road to clinching the one seed is fairly easy and there's a good chance they could rest most of their starters and still claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the Patriots win one of their two remaining games they will claim home-field advantage and even if they were to lose to the Jets they should be able to beat the Dolphins with mostly, if not exclusively, backups. If the Patriots lose one of their games and the Bengals win out they would tie for the same record and conference record but the Patriots would win the tiebreaker based on their better record against common opponents.
Basically the only way the Patriots won't get home-field throughout is by losing both their last two games and either the Broncos or Bengals winning out. The Broncos and Bengals can't both win out as they play each other next week and while the Broncos would still only tie the Patriots in the scenario with them winning out and the Patriots losing out the Broncos would win the tiebreaker because of the head-to-head matchup.
Dont worry, I can hear you wondering why I, writing for a Jets site, am detailing the scenarios for the Patriots? I hear you and now I'll explain how this could impact the Jets. With the Patriots absolutely riddled with injuries is it possible that Bill Belichick errs on the side of caution and decides to rest players who might be able to play if it was a playoff game but since it's not why take the chance?
I know, I know. I hear you wondering, 'but Belichick wouldn't do that until the first overall seed is clinched and definitely not against the Jets and possibly help them get into the playoffs.' I know, I thought the same thing. Then I saw this article by Tom E. Curran on CSNNE.com. And it's not Curran's writing that gave me pause, but the quotes from Belichick himself.
"We do the best we can to manage all those things (nagging injuries, more serious injuries and players coming back to action)," Belichick said per Curran. "They're all somewhat of a consideration. We just gotta try to balance it. Each part of the question requires some thought and every decision impacts other things as well. You can't act independently. When one thing happens, there's a residual effect to it one way or another. We'll just have to do the best we can to balance all those things out. It's something we'll have to give some thought to and get as much information as possible because there are some guys that are in various states of physical health."
Now there's a lot to unpack in that quote, the first being that's an example of the type of in-depth response Belichick will give when he deems the question worthy. Next isn't necessarily found directly in that quote but when you factor in all the different injuries, and phases of recovery, the Patriots are dealing with things start to get more interesting. I'm not suggesting Belichick will sit Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski but will he play it safe and sit Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower and Danny Amendola?
We already know the Patriots will be without Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount and while he's not been ruled out officially yet Julian Edelman is unlikely to play as well. Last week Devin McCourty, Bryan Stork and Scott Chandler were all inactive due to injuries and Hightower, Amendola and Patrick Chung all left the game with injuries and didn't return. Chung hurt his hip, Hightower had his knee, the same knee he suffered an MCL sprain in that caused him to miss two games and change before coming back for the Titans game, heavily wrapped in ice after the game and Amendola was seen flexing his legs before going to the locker room for the day.
All of these players are valuable players for the Patriots and maybe a few of them will be perfectly fine for Sunday, maybe a few have no chance to play this week and maybe a few could play if it was a playoff game but since it's not, will Belichick decide to sit them or risk further injury?
"The first thing is, strictly, what's the player's medical condition?" Belichick said per Curran. "If he's out, he's out. Then it's, 'Can play but less than 100 percent' and that conversation continues to how it goes in practice, how it looks in practice, how the player feels, possibly what you're gonna be asking him to do in that game if you can determine that."
Belichick went on to talk about how the discussion moves to the injured players position, can someone at that position play through that injury? How much could they expect from a certain player, "How long (can he play) is another question. How many (snaps) and how long? Can a player go out and play two or three plays? Probably. Can he play 60 plays? No, you wouldn't do that. So, you talk about what's the right number in there."
Again don't get your hopes up praying that Brady and/or Gronkowski will sit, Belichick isn't going to do the Jets any favors that big but it's certainly possible that the Patriots could be missing some combination, if not all, of Edelman, Amendola, Hightower, McCourty, Chung, Stork, Chandler and that might just close the gap enough between the Jets and the Patriots to give the Jets a much needed win on Sunday.
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of the JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (cnimbley), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)