Tiebreaker Twist Has Pats Pulling For Rivals

In a strange twist of fate, former Patriot assistant coach Eric Mangini can still affect the Patriots based upon decisions made on Sunday. If the Patriots win, it will be up to Mangini's Jets to help New ENgland make the postseason.

These postseason tiebreaker scenarios make for interesting bedfellows.

After the New England Patriots routed the lifeless Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, they turned their attention to snowy Seattle, where they rooted hard for the New York Jets to lose to the Seahawks. Seattle did its part.

Now -- assuming the Patriots take care of business this weekend in Buffalo -- they need help from those same Jets against Miami. If the Patriots beat the Bills and the Jets beat the Dolphins, New England will win its sixth consecutive AFC East title. If Miami can win at the Meadowlands, the Patriots would then need Baltimore to lose to Jacksonville, otherwise they're out of the playoff picture regardless of what they do against Buffalo.
Got it?

"Whatever else happens, happens," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "There's nothing we can do about that. We just have to do what we can do, which is ... play well against Buffalo next week."

The Patriots no longer control their own destiny in the AFC East because of crucial losses to division rivals New York and Miami. As a result, they can't afford to finish tied with either team because both would end the season with better records against division foes under the possible playoff scenarios.

Likewise, the Patriots also lost key games against conference opponents such as Indianapolis and San Diego, which puts them in another perilous position should they finish tied for a wild-card spot with Baltimore. Baltimore has a better conference record and would win the tiebreaker with New England for the sixth and final playoff spot.

The Patriots would only be human if they engaged in a little scoreboard watching -- especially on Sunday as the Dolphins rallied to beat Kansas City while they were throttling Arizona -- but the players claim they're only focused on what they can do. After all, a loss to Buffalo would eliminate any and all hope.

"I think that they showed the score a little bit throughout the game, but we were concentrated on taking care of our end of it," quarterback Matt Cassel said. "Then we've just got to continue to put together wins from outside and let the chips fall where they may."

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the Patriots would be a tough out in the postseason given the way they've played the last three weeks. They took care of their end of the bargain in Seattle and Oakland, including a blowout against the Raiders, and absolutely embarrassed the Cardinals, who have already clinched a playoff spot in the weak NFC West despite an 8-7 record.

Then again, they might not even get there. They've continued their historic December success, but the way they played in September, October and November might make the difference if they're on the outside looking in come January.

"We don't control any of that," linebacker Junior Seau said. "The only thing that was a guarantee was that we have one more game next week. We have seven days to be together, and that's going to be important for us. We aren't going to take any teams for granted, and we aren't going to be complacent. We are going to finish off what was guaranteed to us, which was one more game."


Cassel's Improvement Not By Accident

--QB Matt Cassel and WR Randy Moss hooked up again Sunday on a long touchdown -- this time a 76-yard bomb on a play fake in the third quarter that gave the Patriots a 38-0 cushion.

"It was the plan all along. It was probably the best throw of my career so far," Cassel said. "I think I threw it one yard behind the line of scrimmage and he took it 77 yards, so anytime those guys can do that, it's a good day at the office for me."

The conditions weren't ideal for throwing, but Cassel admitted the flow of the game and lopsided score made it a perfect time for him to try to connect on a big play.

"I think when you start to get ahead by a few touchdowns and start to know that you've got control of the game, that's when it starts to become fun," he said, "but until that point, you've got to keep pressing forward."

One Expensive Snow Angel

--WR Wes Welker got penalized for making an impromptu snow angel on the field after scoring a touchdown Sunday. The players are definitely having fun with their recent success, as Welker joined Ben Watson in the excessive-celebration department. Watson got penalized in Oakland for stuffing a football under his jersey after scoring a touchdown to honor his pregnant wife.

"I think I just got a little bit too excited there, getting into the end zone," Welker said. "It wasn't anything that was planned. I do remember a game growing up when Dallas played and there was a punt return, I think by Kevin Williams, and I remember seeing him do a snow angel, so I think that was the same type of thing.

"I really didn't think that would be a penalty. I wouldn't have done it if that was the case."

Loving The Winter Weather

--The Patriots are now a remarkable 23-2 in December under Bill Belichick and are also one win away from another undefeated December, which would be their second in a row.

Their ability to play in snowy, windy or rainy conditions is what makes them difficult to beat in the final month of the season.

"No matter how tough it was, you still have to be able to do your job in those conditions," RB Kevin Faulk said. "At the same time, (you) have to be smart and not try to do too much."

Player News
--DE Richard Seymour suffered a back injury in Sunday's win against Arizona, and according to various reports, is doubtful for this weekend's regular-season finale in Buffalo.
--K Stephen Gostkowski showed why Sunday why he's heading to the Pro Bowl, kicking four field goals in snowy and rainy conditions, which left the ball heavy and made for difficult terrain on the field.
--WR Jabar Gaffney continues to be a dangerous weapon in December, catching five passes for 90 yards Sunday against Arizona.
--LT Matt Light started the game despite separating his shoulder last week, but he left by halftime and was replaced by backup Mark LeVoir. His status for this weekend is uncertain.
--RB Kevin Faulk set a career high in single-season receiving yards with 478 after hauling in three passes for 27 yards against Arizona, including a touchdown.

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