It's bad enough that the Patriots got bounced by Baltimore in the first round, sparking an off-season of soul searching and finger pointing, but now they have to watch their two most-hated rivals, the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets, square off this Sunday for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
The only thing worse than the Colts, who are now threatening the Patriots' legacy as Team of the Decade, playing in the AFC title game is the despised Jets serving as their opponent. That's the scenario after Rex Ryan and his crew went into San Diego yesterday and pulled off a 17-14 shocker against the San Diego Chargers.
Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding, who missed three field goals, looked like he was stuck in one of those Southwest Airlines "Wanna get away?" commercials after each wayward swing of his leg.
This is a similar type of nightmare scenario in New England because either the Jets or the Colts are going to the Super Bowl. It's unavoidable.
If you're a Patriots fan, who do you root for? Do you just act like the game isn't even being played, which is the tack that many local sports fans took with the 2003 World Series right up until Josh Beckett vanquished the Yankees. Is it possible for a Patriot fan to pull for Peyton Manning and Bill Polian, to root for Rex Ryan and Kerry Rhodes? Can the NFL just cancel this game?
Trying to find a candidate in the AFC championship race is tougher than finding someone to get behind in the special election between Martha Coakley and Scott Brown for the state's open US Senate seat.
Vociferous Rex, who in his infinite arrogance already has handed out a playoff itinerary to his team that includes the Super Bowl victory parade, said it best yesterday.
"A matchup that nobody wanted but too bad, here we come," said Ryan.
It turns out that both the Colts and the Jets have gotten the last laugh over the Patriots this season. The Colts could go to the Super Bowl with a rookie head coach, Jim Caldwell. The Jets could go to the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady need not apply.
The Colts broke the Patriots' record for consecutive regular-season wins and then didn't even deign to pursue a 16-0 season because Polian, the Colts president, said the Colts didn't feel 16-0 was a historic achievement.
After starting out 14-0, the Colts controversially yanked their starters against the Jets on Dec. 27 while holding a 15-10 lead with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The Colts premeditated capitulation paved the way for a Jets win and an eventual playoff berth. Karma would have deemed that the Colts then would have lost to the same Ravens team that ran over the Patriots. Nope.
Indianapolis, despite not playing for the full 60 minutes since a Dec. 17 win over the Jaguars, scored a resounding 20-3 victory, while holding the Ravens to just 87 yards rushing, on Saturday.
Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who is out for the season with a knee injury, said before the first Jets-Patriots game that New York planned to play that game like the Super Bowl. After beating the Patriots, 16-9, in Week 2, New York celebrated like they had won the Super Bowl and then lost six of their next eight.
Now, they have a chance to play in the actual Super Bowl, the franchise's first since Joe Willie Namath's famously guaranteed a Super Bowl victory over...the Colts.
I'll let you insert your own joke about Ryan and smooching Bill Belichick's rings, but it's clear that no matter what you think about the Broadway Braggart he has proven to be more than an empty sweater vest.
For all the talk about how the NFL has evolved into a passing league -- three of the Final Four quarterbacks are Manning, Brett Favre and Drew Brees -- the Jets are winning with a rookie QB the old fashioned way, suffocating defense and a bruising running attack.
In two playoff games, Sanchez has posted combined totals of 24 of 38 for 282 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Manning was 30 of 44 for 246 yards with two TDs and an interception against the Ravens alone.
The Jets have run for 340 yards in the playoffs, rushing 41 times for 171 against the Bengals and 39 for 169 against the Chargers.
Don't think for a second that both of these teams aren't secretly gloating that the Patriots will be watching them from home.
The Jets have never passed up any verbal shot at the Patriots. Yesterday on NFL Network, Darrelle Revis called Randy Moss a slouch. Back before the team's first meeting on Sept. 20, Rhodes said they wanted to "embarrass" the Patriots.
But having to see the Jets play in the AFC title game hurts more than any sardonic salvo the Jets could launch.
The Colts have been publicly classy with the Patriots, but Polian lives to beat the Pay-tree-otts.
This is a true no-win scenario for Patriots fans. You want to protect the Patriots' Team of the Decade status then you need the Jets to go to the Super Bowl. You want to see Ryan get his comeuppance then you need to see confetti rain down upon Lucas Oil Stadium and Indianapolis lifting the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
Welcome to the winter of discontent -- and disdain -- for New England football fans.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.