It's OK, go ahead and root for Jets
C'mon, admit it. You've always wanted to root for Brett Favre, anyway. Some of you always have.
Well, now you can root, root, root for Brett Favre, Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Kris Jenkins, Alan Faneca, Kerry Rhodes, Shaun Ellis, and all the other J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. You, too, can bond with Fireman Ed. For three hours today you can bleed Green and White. You can channel Broadway Joe and the Sack Exchange. If you're old enough, you can tell tales of Harry Wismer and those bygone days in the Polo Grounds.
Sorry, but it has come to all this. The Patriots have had a spectacularly wonderful and fulfilling post-Tom existence. They've won 10 games. But 10 wins, which generally speaking is usually enough to ensure postseason participation, isn't enough to pass AFC muster in the year 2008. Shockingly, 11 might not even get the job done. Who'da thunk it? Thanks to the astonishing resurgence of the Dolphins - All hail to the Tuna! - the field is cluttered at the top with quality teams, and the Patriots are on the wrong side of all the relevant tiebreakers. Win, they must. And then the rooting and the praying begin.
We all expect the Patriots to take care of business in Buffalo today. If they don't, there is no point in us having this little chat, is there? I admit to being excessively yahooey in my analysis following the slaughter/annihilation of the disgraceful Cardinals, who, their fineable sloth notwithstanding, will be involved in Roger Goodell's tournament, regardless. They have One-And-Done inscribed on their cheesy foreheads, yes, but that will be faint satisfaction to you all should the New England Patriots become the first team since the institution of the 12-team, two wild-card playoffs to go 11-5 without being invited to the dance.
Back to the Bills. I somewhat regret using such anticipatory words as "destroy" and "trashing" in reference to today's game in Buffalo. True, the Bills have gone in the wrong general direction after a 4-0, 5-1 start. They had lost seven of eight as they took the field for an expected pounding in Denver last Sunday. But a funny thing happened to the Broncos on their way to the AFC West clinching. Despite an early 13-0 lead and despite racking up 532 yards of total offense (yup, no misprint, that), the Broncos could not close the deal. The Bills, with nothing tangible to play for (unless you count their jobs and that of the coach), kept plugging away and plugging away, and when it was all over the Bills had 30 points and the Broncos had 23, which is why only stupid people bet.
So, OK, the Bills have not descended to total stiffdom. Marshawn Lynch is a pretty tough guy to tackle, and they will be at home and there will be that matter of the jobs, so they're not likely to pull an Arizona and concede the game to the visiting Patriots. The Patriots may not, in fact, "destroy" them. There may not, in fact, be a "trashing." But there surely oughta be a W. Can we agree on that?
By the way, don't the Patriots owe the Bills and coach Dick Jauron something for causing unnecessary angst? (At the time, we didn't know the Jets were planning on losing to the Seahawks.) You are no doubt aware that on Dec. 14 the Bills were 5 yards and one first down away from a kneel-down conclusion to victory over the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. The Jets were done, finished, kaputski, and then Jauron, the pride of Swampscott and New Haven, overruled his offensive coordinator and called for a pass, rather than another Lynch plunge.
It was really not so much that he called for a pass. It was that he entrusted this precious W to J.P. Losman, who was only playing because Trent Edwards was injured, and who lost his job, in large measure, because of atrocious decision-making. So here I am, like many of you, sitting in my comfy chair, the Buffalo W a lock, when I see Losman, not having seen anyone open, start perambulating to his right with various Jets in pursuit.
I jump out of my chair and I scream, "Where are you going?" It's the gospel truth; ask my daughter, Jessica, who was seated 5 feet to my right on the couch. And then, of course, blitzing safety Abram Elam whacked the hapless Mr. Losman from behind, separating him from the ball. And then there was Ellis scooping it up and running toward the end zone!
The Patriots must make the Bills pay, correct?
At least we don't have to listen to the conspiracy theorists, who were in ultrahigh dudgeon when they found out the Jets-Dolphins game had been switched to a 4:15 start.
"If the Jets know the Patriots have won, they'll lay down against the Dolphins!"
"Goodell is trying to screw the Patriots!"
"Can't you do something?"
So, the league did something. It just so happens the Ravens' home game against the Jaguars also plays into all this. If the Ravens lose and the Patriots win, the Patriots would be the second wild card. If the Ravens lose and the Jets win, the Jets would be the second wild card.
Denying that any of this factors into the decision, the league listened to the howling and switched the Ravens and Jaguars to 4:15, too. End of conspiracy theory.
Memo to conspiratorialists: The league would very much like the Patriots to make the playoffs. The Jets, Dolphins, and Ravens are not ratings grabbers outside of their locales. The Patriots are.
Now in case your question is, "Well, shouldn't I be rooting for the Jaguars, too? If they beat the Ravens and the Patriots beat the Bills, the Patriots would be the wild card."
Let me ask you a question. If the Oklahoma City Thunder were playing the Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden tonight, how would you like their chances?
I think you get the point.
No, the only hope for the Patriots after they defeat (see, no hyperbole this time) the Bills is for the Jets to win, at home, against the Dolphins.
You can do it. I know you can do it. Repeat after me.
"J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets Jets!" Hey, it's for a good cause.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.