After losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15, the New England Patriots have dropped down to the No. 3 spot in the AFC.
For years, football fans have been constantly looking for signs hinting at the demise of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots dynasty.
There is still plenty of football still to be played, but something pretty big just happened. Following last week’s “Miami Miracle” loss in south Florida, the Patriots were shut down by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in Week 15, losing 17-10 at Heinz Field. It was the first time New England has lost consecutive games in December since 2002.
Is it a sign of the apocalypse? Probably not, but one thing is for sure: the Patriots (9-5) are in very real danger of missing out on a first-round bye in the playoffs, something that has been so useful to them over the years.
On Saturday afternoon, the Houston Texans defeated the New York Jets to move to 10-4 on the season. With New England’s loss to Pittsburgh, the Texans officially moved into the No. 2 seed in the AFC, while the Patriots dropped down to No. 3. If the playoffs started tomorrow, New England would have to play in the wild card round for the first time since 2009.
Historically, the Patriots have had no luck without a first-round bye. During the three occasions when Brady and Bill Belichick have not secured the bye week (2005, ’06 and ’09), they haven’t gone further than the AFC Championship Game. All five times they’ve won the Super Bowl, they have been no lower than the second seed.
It’s not time to panic yet, however. The Pats have two easy games to close the season: home matchups against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. If they win both of those — which they absolutely should — and Houston loses one of its last two (at Philadelphia, home against Jacksonville), then New England will lock up yet another off week in January.
But the scary thing is that the Patriots don’t control their own destiny in this situation. If fans are looking for signs of New England’s impending demise, this might just be one.