Aaron Hernandez is in jail.
The "Spygate Truthers" are circling overhead.
Tom Brady doesn't bother showing up in the first half of games any more.
Stevan Ridley is a fumble waiting to happen.
There's still something not quite right with Aqib Talib.
The Patriots have the rest of the NFL just where they want them. They are the most-resilient worst 10-3 team in recent history.
The latest installment in the "Lord of The Rings - Hobbit" saga opened at midnight Thursday, just a hour or so after the Broncos and Peyton Manning crumbled in the Rocky Mountain cold and lost to the Chargers.
Mr. September Weather lives.
While Frodo is gone, Brady's nine-year quest for that fourth ring [yes, it's been NINE years as of February] got a booster shot in the standings with the Broncos' loss. The Patriots now control their own destiny when it comes to home-field throughout the playoffs. Win out, and the AFC road to the Super Bowl in New York/New Jersey goes through Foxborough.
That means if Brady and Belichick get their 15th crack at Manning in the AFC championship game on Jan. 19, it would come within the frozen friendly confines of their shire at Gillette Stadium. A win and the Patriots would have the chance to win the Super Bowl at snowy and cold Met Life Stadium and hoist the Lombardi Trophy with the lights of Manhattan twinkling off in the distance.
Put that NFL championship trophy in the hands of Brady and Belichick in the middle of Jets' and Giants' home field and you have a New Yorker's worst sports nightmare.
And the ultimate moment of Patriots redemption and triumph.
All that would be left would be for the new "Godzilla" to surface from the Harlem River and wipe out Yankee Stadium before hopping down to smite Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. [There's no reason to do anything to Citi Field since the Mets have been rendered harmless for a decade.]
Sure, we're getting way ahead of our selves. But this is the Christmas season [at least in this space] and we can dream big and ask for the unreasonable, if not improbable.
One "Miracle In Foxborough" under the tree.
While Manning can't seem to win in cold weather, the greatest meteorological threat to the Patriots seems to be warm-weather Florida games in December.
The last time your New England Patriots were shutout was seven years ago on Dec. 10, 2006. The 21-0 loss to the Dolphins came on a warm, sunny and lazy Sunday afternoon in Miami Gardens at what was then called Dolphins Stadium.
Sitting in the 10th row behind one of the two end zones which the Patriots never reached [one TD was called back because it was ruled a lateral on the play was actually a forward pass], yours truly and his son [who turned 13 that day] saw Brady throw for 78 yards in perhaps the worst outing of his career that didn't involve Bernard Pollard.
Brady's passer rating that day was somewhere slightly below Jon Lester's World Series ERA as he was sacked four times and fumbled twice. It got so bad that Matt Cassel came in and took a few snaps as Brady fumed on the sidelines. That game bookended Welker's career with the Patriots, as he was acquired by the Patriots from the Dolphins in the ensuing offseason.
This is no trap game. Far from it. The Dolphins [7-6] are very much alive and well in the playoff race and can still win the AFC East, which the Patriots will clinch with a victory. Ryan Tannehill has slowly morphed into a dual threat, carrying the ball six times for 78 yards in the past two weeks. He's sort a poor man's Cam Newton. The Patriots no doubt have been full briefed on this by their South Florida espionage agents. Miami is only .500 at home and is coming off a monstrous win in the cold and snow last week at Pittsburgh. So they're on "letdown watch" as well.
Joe Philbin has done a remarkable job refocusing his team in the wake of the Richie Incognito non-scandal-scandal.
Never has so much bluster and sanctimony from so many self-appointed guardians of sport and culture led to so little finding of fact or substance.
Equally unfounded has been the push to write off the Patriots this year. If this never-ending string of last-second victories, last-minute touchdowns, scooped up on-side kicks and recovered fumbled punts has taught the NFL and its fans one thing this season it is this: Never Count Out Tom Brady and Bill Belichick As Long They Have a Mathematical Chance.
If there's a way to concoct a Patriots' victory in your mind, the Patriots have found a way to make it happen. Winning ugly never looked this good.
Having the offense sit out the first 30 minutes of each game will not be sustainable in the playoffs. The defense has done little to alleviate the big-game doubts that arose once Wilfork and Mayo were KO'd. Losing Gronk flat out sucks, especially given he way his injury occurred.
Gronk's loss is demoralizing, if not devastating. The Patriots are 5-2 without their large, boisterous tight end this year, and 5-1 with him.
And even though the low but legal hit was triggered because of the NFL's concern for head injuries, Gronk still suffered a concussion on the play as he hit the turf head first.
Well done, commissioner.
Painful to watch all the way around.
But not as bad as it could get for football fans in New York come Feb. 2.
Here are this week's rankings. Teams are listed with their records and rankings in our last poll.
Here's our GIF of the week, courtesy of Philip Rivers. He had lots to say in Denver Thursday night:
1. Seahawks [11-2; 1]: The NFC road to the Super Bowl will go through Seattle on a cold, loud and rainy January night. Good luck with that, rest of the NFC.
2. Patriots [10-3; 3]: They beat the Broncos and Saints this season and have home field throughout the AFC playoffs if they win out. First tie-breaker don't lie.
3. Saints [10-3; 2]: Drew Brees rebounded with 4 TD passes against the Panthers Sunday night after being demolished at Seattle.
4. Broncos [11-3; 5]: Time for Final Jeopardy. Answer: Snakes, house plants and Peyton Manning. Question: What are three things that don't perform well when it's cold? John Elway might have to put a dome on Mile High Whatever It's Called Field in Denver if he expects the Broncos to win big games in December and January with Manning at QB. During and after Thursday's surprisingly delicious 27-20 loss to the Chargers, the analysts and apologists on NFL State Run Media were making excuses for Manning's latest cold-weather choke job because HE didn't have Wes Welker in the lineup.
Tim Tebow still has the Broncos' last playoff win as QB.
5. Panthers [9-4; 3]: Cam Newton was sacked five times by New Orleans last week making the officials an unworkable part of his game plan. But the weekend wasn't a total loss as his Auburn Tigers nailed a spot in the BCS title game.
6. Chiefs [sorry if you're offended] [11-3; 6]: Righted the ship with a 45-10 rout of the rattled Redskins [sorry if you're offended] last week.
8. Bengals [9-4; 7]: Can clinch the AFC North with a victory over Pittsburgh and a Baltimore loss.
9. Colts [8-5; 9]: Clinched the AFC South title thanks in part to teams like this week's opponent - the Houston Texans. Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20. No need to worry here, the Texans are 2-11.
10. Eagles [8-5; 13]: Nick Foles indoors against the Vikings' defense. This should be good.
11. Cardinals [8-5 10]: Carson Palmer continues his march toward Comeback Player of the Year Honors in last week's 30-10 rout of the Rams, completing all 12 passes targeted at Larry Fitzgerald for 96 yards and a score.
12. Lions [7-6; 11]: Baltimore rookie safety Matt Elam, who is all of 22, has given the Lions some bulletin-board material this week. Or is it more like dart-board material? Speaking about Calvin Johnson, Elam actually told The Associated Press: "He's pretty old, so I don't know how physical he'll be. He's a big guy, but he's older. I guess when they get older they're not going to be as physical, you know what I'm saying? We're going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable."
Johnson is 28.
13. Bears [7-6; 12]: 10 victories will be enough to capture the NFC North.
14. Dolphins [7-6; 17]: Two straight wins. Richie Who? Joe Philbin has done a terrific job reclaiming this team and getting it back on a playoff track.
15. Cowboys [7-6; 14]: Tony Romo doesn't play on defense. So he doesn't bear too much blame for Monday's 45-28 loss.
16: Ravens [7-6; 15]: Scored three of those five touchdowns in the final 125 seconds during their game with Minnesota in the snow last week. Wish they could bring "Alcoa Fantastic Finishes" just to re-visit the end of their 29-26 win.
17. Chargers [7-7; 20]: Boston's three favorite rivers this week: Charles, Doc and Philip.
18. Packers [6-6-1; 16]: Wins over the Falcons are starting not to count.
19. Jets [6-7; 18]: Still mathematically in the playoff race. Then again, so are the Celtics.
20, Giants [5-8; 19]: Not going to happen.
21. Rams [5-8; 21]: Someone is benefiting from RGIII's troubles and that would be the Rams, who own Washington's first-round pick thanks to last year's trade. They don't need a QB, so they could trade down or perhaps have a shot at Jadeveon Clowney if Mike Shananhan keeps cooperating.
23. Steelers [5-8; 23]: Genuinely surprised the NFL tagged the Steelers with the loss of a draft pick for Trippin' Mike Tomlin's Thanksgiving Night attempted takedown. Interesting. A fine and the loss of the draft pick. That should give the "Spygate Truthers" in Pittsburgh some pause they next time they try to claim football purity.
24. Browns [4-9; 24]: If you recover the on-side kick, you don't have to worry about the interference call.
25. Bills [4-9; 25]: 4 INTs against the Bucs last week, but facing real competition in Jacksonville.
26. Raiders [4-9; 27]: Matt McGloin is serviceable at quarterback for this team.
27. Jaguars [4-9; 31]: Entered Week 15 with the longest winning streak in the AFC, three games.
28. Buccaneers [4-9; 28]: Has Greg Schiano done enough to keep his job? The Bucs have two more weeks to decide.
29. Vikings [3-9-1; 30]: When you score twice in the final 125 seconds of a game played in a mini-blizzard, it's just not your season.
30. Falcons [3-10; 29]: Just when you think they can't catch the Bucs in the NFC South, the Redskins [sorry if you're offended] come to town.
31. Redskins [3-10; 26] [sorry if you're offended]: Finger-pointing is big in Washington these days. Just try to figure out who benched RG III, or actually RGII'nd string.
32. Texans [2-11; 32]: The Wrath of the Hoodie knows no boundaries. Two losses to the Jaguars in 11 days and it's only getting started.
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