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Could the Patriots not make the playoffs?

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What a difference a week makes. Heck, what a difference four days can make.

Thursday night the Denver Broncos lost to the San Diego Chargers. That made the New England Patriots the number one seed in the AFC. The road was paved for the Patriots to have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Fans were giddy. The media was giddy. With all the significant injuries the Patriots had suffered, they had positioned themselves to have a legitimate shot at reaching the Super Bowl. How great would it be to play Pete Carroll in the Super Bowl?

Then Sunday happened.

First, the Patriots had to beat the Dolphins in Miami. Tom Brady and the Patriots have always struggled in Miami and Sunday was no different.

On the bright side, the Patriots didn't sleepwalk through the first half. They got out to a 10-0 lead. Rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce, who was seemingly in witness protection for the first half of the season, made an impact and looked like he might be someone who could step up in the absence of Rob Gronkowski.

Alas, we all know how the game turned out. The Patriots could not muster a last minute comeback and lost, 24-20. The 2013 Patriots have consistently overcome adversity. It was almost expected the Patriots would come back and win.

Jeff Howe, Patriots beat reporter for the Boston Herald, tweeted before the Patriots final drive, "Brady needs to go 80 yards with 75 seconds and three timeouts. This could be his easiest comeback this season."

Maybe Howe intended it a bit tongue-and-cheek, but that is how spoiled we've become. We've seen late comeback victories against New Orleans, Denver, Houston, and Cleveland. Picture the incredulity in thousands of Patriots fans faces when Brady's last gasp attempt at the end zone fell into the hands of a Miami defender. That wasn't suppose to happen.

Now, the very real possibility exists the Patriots could (gasp) not even make the playoffs.

That's how quickly things can change. The Patriots went from being the possible number one seed throughout the playoffs to now, maybe, not even making it to the playoffs.

The Patriots can silence all those silly thoughts by winning one of their final two games. Of course, they could have silenced all those silly thoughts by having beaten Miami.

The Patriots play at Baltimore next Sunday. They host Buffalo on the final Sunday of 2013. I don't have to tell you about New England's difficulties with Baltimore. If Tom Brady is Superman, the Ravens (and the Giants) are his kryptonite.

Even if the Patriots lose to Baltimore, they just need to beat Buffalo at Gillette in the final game. The Patriots have beaten the Bills 19 out of the last 20 times. Should be easy, right? Not if you remember it took a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with five seconds left to beat the Bills in Buffalo in Week One, 23-21. And Buffalo has Fred Jackson (he scares the Dickens out of me).

The Patriots sit at 10-4. Optimists will say the Patriots could easily be 13-1. I say New England just as easily could be 5-9. That's how close the games have been. It could be argued as many as eight games have been decided by one play, one call (or non-call), one kick, one dropped pass. The last five games have been decided by four points or less.

The depleted Patriots are not blowing anybody out, people. Those days are over. So don't think this will be easy.

The Dolphins and Ravens are both two games behind the Patriots. The resurgent Dolphins' final two games are against the Bills and the Jets. They should win both. If they do and the Patriots lose both games, the Dolphins will win the AFC East due to a better conference record.

The Ravens play the Patriots and Cincinnati the last two weeks. Their road is the toughest.

If the Patriots don't make the playoffs, their collapse might rank right up there with the 2011 Red Sox collapse. Injuries make it a distinct possibility. After Rob Gronkowski's season-ending injury, I wrote an unhealthy Aqib Talib would be the breaking point for this team. After watching Talib struggle to cover Cleveland's Josh Gordon and being relegated to covering slot receivers against Miami, it's pretty obvious Talib is not healthy.

Offensively, I would like to see the Patriots run the ball more. There is no reason Brady should have to throw the ball 55 times against Miami. LeGarrette Blount ran the ball effectively against the Dolphins. He should have had more than eight carries.

Can we please forget for a second about Stevan Ridley's fumbling problems? The playoffs are near and the Patriots need Ridley if they want to play deep into January.

With offensive lineman Nate Solder suffering his second concussion in eight days, the Patriots have even more reason to establish a running game. If the Patriots don't find more balance, Brady could join the list of injured Patriots.

And we all know that would signal the end to any hopes and aspirations New England has of playing at MetLife Stadium on February 2nd.



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