Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Day After

Ah, one of my favorite days on the calendar - the chaos and hype has died down, the house is littered with toys, wrapping paper and ribbons, the crazies are out there trying to return the stuff they didn't want, and I'm sitting here at home on the first day of my annual Christmas/New Year's vacation, listening to the chuckleheads on the radio talk about the upcoming NFL playoffs. Oh, and the wife and kids are up at the in-laws this morning. Pure heaven, I tell you.

About those NFL playoffs. Our Patriots have assumed their given spot in this year's dance, and will be either the third or fourth seed in the AFC. This means they'll host a playoff game the weekend of January 6-7, with the opponent most likely being a) Denver or, less likely, b) the Jets of Eric Mangenius.

Of course, the Pats got there with a sweet win on Sunday (football on Christmas Eve RULES) against the tough Jacksonville Jaguars. This one was entertaining as hell. The Pats got off to a quick lead, but let the Jaguars back in at the end. It had diving TD catches by backup tight ends, electric runs by both teams' running backs, impressive piloting from Brady, back and forth ref calls, missed field goals, and - for good measure - a mini-Tuck Rule controversy at the end of the game that went in our favor. If you were gathered with family and friends - and tipping a few back - it was a lot of fun to watch, even if the last couple of minutes tested your buzz.

What's more, while the Pats didn't blow out a quality team, they did beat a quality AFC team on their own turf. With two weeks to go before the playoffs, New England stands as good a chance as anyone to be playing the Tomlinsons in the AFC title game. They're getting healthier at the right time (both Rodney Harrison and Laurence Maroney returned on Sunday, and Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson should be ready for the post-season) and while Brady hasn't been sharp this year, he seems to be developing a better rapport with his Whitman's sampler of receivers. As Mike Reiss points out in the Globe today, the Pats went back to ball distribution against the Jaguars, with Brady involving all receievers in the game plan - much like the demolition job they did on the Vikings on that Monday night earlier in the year. In other words, the Pats are right where they've always been this time of year - eyeing a strong postseason run with the hopes (albeit more distant in this Year of the Charger) of adding more hardware to the Gillette Stadium lobby.

As fans, that's really all we can ask for isn't it?

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