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And just like that, the New England Patriots are a step closer to a Super Bowl. Again.
There aren’t many people outside of the Boston area excited to spend another Super Bowl Sunday with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, but the Houston Texans did New England a big favor on Sunday by losing to the Philadelphia Eagles. Houston rallied from a 29-16 deficit with less than five minutes left to take a lead, but then Nick Foles punctuated his huge day by leading a game-winning drive in the final minute. Jake Elliott’s field goal as time expired gave Philadelphia a 32-30 victory and kept the Eagles alive in the wild-card race. They would have been eliminated with a loss.
And the Texans’ loss at Philadelphia, coupled with the Patriots’ 24-12 victory over the Buffalo Bills, means New England can clinch the No. 2 seed and a bye with a win next week at home against the New York Jets. Houston and New England are 10-5, but the Patriots hold the tiebreaker.
The irony of Foles, who was Super Bowl MVP in beating the Patriots this past February, helping out the Patriots wasn’t lost on whoever runs the team’s Twitter account:
New England had a nice Sunday.
Patriots catch a break
The Patriots won an amazing 10th straight AFC East title with Sunday’s win. That was never in doubt, and division titles aren’t what the Patriots are after anyway. Getting a bye is a big deal to their ultimate goal, another Super Bowl ring.
It’s amazing the Texans are even in position to get a first-round bye after starting the season 0-3. Then they won 10 of 11 before losing to Foles and the Eagles on Sunday. The way they lost, giving up a lead in the final seconds, was heartbreaking.
One of those first three Texans losses looms large now. In the season opener, the Patriots beat them, which means the Patriots have the head-to-head tiebreaker. That’s why a win next week (or a Texans loss to the Jaguars) clinches a first-round bye for the Patriots. That’s why all eyes in New England were on Foles and the Eagles as they marched downfield to win the game, even after Foles was knocked out for a play after being hit in the chest by Jadeveon Clowney, a hit that drew a controversial 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty.
The Patriots get a bye with a win over the Jets next week. And getting a bye is a bigger deal for the Patriots this season than it has been recently.
Texans blow a chance to stay in lead for a bye
New England has been a below-average road team most of the season, finishing 3-5 away from home. If the Patriots don’t get one of the two byes in the AFC they are looking at possibly having to win back-to-back road games in the divisional round and AFC championship game to make the Super Bowl. That’s not impossible, but seems like a big challenge for this Patriots team.
The Texans let a big opportunity slide past them in the final minutes at Philadelphia. Even if they beat the Jaguars next week, they still need help from the Jets at New England.
It doesn’t seem fair that the great Patriots, of all teams, caught a big break on Sunday. But they did, and it could shift the AFC playoff picture if New England handles business against the Jets.
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