Before Sunday's matchup against the Steelers there was a graphic flashed on the screen indicating the Matt Cassel, with his performance against the Dolphins 2 weeks ago, became only the 5th player ever to throw for 400 yards in back to back games. Of the other 4 QBs, the three relatively prolific ones, Dan Marino, Phil Simms, and Dan Fouts, went on to play well and win their next game while the relatively unknown player, Billy Volek, threw for only 111 yards in a losing effort.
Looking at those stats I wondered to myself, "Is Matt Cassel, at this point in his career, more like Marino or Volek?" Sadly, by the end of the game I got my answer.
I'm not saying that Cassel's four turnover performance in the Patriots' 33-10 drubing suffered at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers means he's going to end up a never-was like the Volek (now a backup in San Diego), but it does show that Cassel has a long road ahead of him. You can chalk this one up as a learning experience for the young QB who hadn't played a game in poor weather all season, and probably not ever in those conditions in his life, having grown up in California and playing (or sitting) his college ball at USC.
But the Patriots have larger problems than Matt Cassel's ability to play in New England weather, and that is their place in the standings. At 7-5, the Pats find themselves on the outside looking in in terms of the AFC playoff race.
Wild Card Playoffs: Colts own tie breaker (Head-to-head). Even if the Pats win out and the Colts go 3-1 against Cincinnati, Detroit, Jacksonville, and Tennessee (which they probably will), the Pats will lose the first WC tie breaker. For the Pats to get in over the Colts, New England would have to go 4-0 and the Colts 2-2 down the stretch...unlikely.
Wild Card Playoffs: Baltimore owns tie breaker (Conference record). With 5 AFC loses (Pitt, Indy, NYJ, Miami, SD) the Pats would lose to the Ravens in the second Wild Card tie breaker (Ravens have only 3 AFC loses, their fourth being to the NYG).
There is an outside chance New England could steal the tiebreaker from the Ravens. Baltimore has one of the toughest schedules down the stretch playing host to Washington, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville and travelling to Dallas. If the Pats can go 3-1 (only loss to Arizona), and Baltimore goes 2-2 (Losing to both the Steelers and Jags), the two teams would be forced to go to the 4th tie breaker which is Strength of victory (which is defined as combined winning percentage of the opponents a team has beaten). Although this would be close (neither the Pats nor Ravens have beaten any good teams), the Pats would probably pull this one out because they have wins over the Jets, Dophins, and Bills (all .500 or better) whereas the Ravens only have 1 victory over a winning team (Miami). If the Ravens lose to the Jags and Steelers, however, it is more likely they will lose to one of the two NFC East teams as well and the Pats can scoot by with a better record.
Since NFL rules stipulate Wild Card tiebreakers between divisional opponents will be decided by divisional tiebreaking rules, the following scenarios would playout in the event of a tie in the division or wild card between these teams:
Wild Card Playoffs/ Division Playoffs: Patriots own tie breaker (Divisional record). The Dolphins, with a record of 2-2 in the division would at this moment would lose a tie breaker to the Pats in either the division or wildcard because of New England's 3-2 AFC East mark. This could change, however, if the Pats go 3-1 the rest of the way with a loss to the Bills and Miami goes 3-1 with wins over both the Bills and Jets. If both teams were to win out and go 4-2 in the division, they would tie at 10-2 in common opponents, and the Patriots would again lose the in-conference tie breaker having 5 AFC loses and the Dolphins only 4.
Wild Card Playoffs/ Division Playoffs: Jets own tie breaker (Divisional record). Whereas the Pats are 3-2 in the division, the Jets are 3-1. If the Jets were to lose to either the Dolphins or Bills and the Pats win out, the Pats and Jets would be forced to go into the strength of victory tie-breaker, which the Jets would most likely win due to their W against Tennessee.
The Patriots are going to be hard pressed to win tie breakers against any team they are currently in battle with for playoff spots. If they go 10-6, they will most likely not make the playoffs, and if they go 11-5 there is still no guarantee.