You can’t say the Patriots only got a second-round draft pick in exchange for sending Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco.
Old friend Jimmy G’s month-long highlight reel in scarlet and gold might be tugging at the heartstrings of many New Englanders, but Garoppolo and the 49ers’ winning effort against Jacksonville on Sunday secured the Patriots a first-round bye in the playoffs.
By the way, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he hasn’t had much time to watch how his former charge has been performing on the other coast.
“I haven’t really seen any of the — you know, maybe a clip or two on TV, but I haven’t been able to watch the games, obviously,” McDaniels said on a Tuesday conference call. “But, happy for him. He’s obviously doing a good job for them in making the most of his opportunities. I would imagine everybody that knows Jimmy is really happy for him and his success.”
He’s been missing out.
Had old buddy Bill O’Brien and the Texans done a similar favor against the Steelers, the Patriots would have secured home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. But Pittsburgh easily prevailed, so New England still must win (or the Steelers must lose) in Week 17 to secure the conference’s top seed.
But then what?
The Patriots have secured a first-round bye, so they won’t play on Wild Card Weekend. The Jaguars and the Chiefs are locked into the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds, respectively, so the Jaguars will play the No. 6 seed (the second wild-card team) and the Chiefs will play the No. 5 seed (the first wild-card team).
If the season ended today, the Ravens would get the No. 5 seed and the Titans would get the No. 6 seed. Both those teams control their own destinies and will make the playoffs as long as they win in Week 17.
The Chargers and the Bills are still in the hunt, but need help. The Ravens play the Bengals and the Titans play the Jaguars on Sunday. Jacksonville is good, and you never know in the AFC North, so neither of those games is a gimme.
To get in, the Chargers need to win and the Titans and Bills to both lose or tie; or to win, and the Titans to lose or tie and the Ravens to win or tie; or to tie, and for the Titans to lose and the Bills to lose or tie.
For the Bills to make it in, they need a win and a Ravens loss; or a win, a Chargers loss or tie, and a Titans loss or tie; or a tie and losses for both the Chargers and Titans.
If the Patriots win Sunday and clinch the top seed, they’d play the lowest-seeded winner of the Wild Card Weekend games. Assuming both division winners would be favored, the most likely opponent would be Kansas City. The Patriots could also face a wild-card team if one makes it through.
If the Patriots lose Sunday and the Steelers win, they would play the higher-seeded winner, most likely Jacksonville.
No matter what happens Sunday, the Patriots and Steelers still seem set for a clash in the AFC Championship. The Steelers have one of the strongest home-field advantages in football, so both teams have a lot to play for Sunday.
Even without Pittsburgh, Sunday would be a big day for the Patriots. Nine of the last 10 home teams have won the AFC title game, the lone exception being the Patriots’ loss to the Ravens in Foxborough at the end of the 2012 season.
Health is a more important factor than home field, so the Patriots have already done the hard part in securing themselves an extra week for key pieces such as wide receiver Chris Hogan, running backs James White and Rex Burkhead, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy to get healthy.
But a win Sunday is still big because, in the playoffs, there’s no place like home.