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For the Patriots and their fans, the playoffs start early

The Patriots enter week-17 on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the NFL playoffs, but if it's playoff football that your after the next two weeks will have the same playoff vibe for the Patriots and their fans.

Entering week-16 the Patriots controlled their playoff destiny - win their last three games and they were in. But, the loss to the Bengals didn't end their playoffs hopes.

Now, entering week-17, another loss will put an end to those slim playoff hopes. So, it's win on Sunday or they can call their travel agents and start planning their off-season vacations to a warm island destination.

This Sunday's game on New Year's Day vs the Dolphins is as big as they get.

The Dolphins hold the last playoff spot in the AFC by a slim one game margin over the Patriots. A Patriots win and the Dolphins and Patriots would trade places - giving New England control of that last playoff spot due to the Patriots gaining the tie-breaker advantage after the win with a better division record.

The Dolphins took the week-1 match-up by a score of 20-7 after taking a 17-0 lead into halftime and cruising to the 13-point win in the 90-degree Miami heat. That win made it their fourth in a row over the Patriots.

This week-17 game will be played in New England, but the weather won't be what the Patriots or their fans were hoping for. The forecast is for temps in the high 50's with some scattered showers in the area - not the cold January day that the Dolphins may have been fearing.

If the Patriots were to lose this game they would drop to two games behind the Dolphins with one game remaining, just about eliminating them from playoff contention. Their only path to the playoffs if they lose to the Dolphins is winning their last game of the season in Buffalo and hoping the Chargers lose all three of their remaining games, including tonight - Monday 12/26 - at the Colts.

The Chargers other two remaining games are vs the Rams and at the Broncos, which are both very winnable games against non-playoff teams.

If the Patriots beat the Dolphins on Sunday they will jump into the 7th and final playoff spot in the AFC. They would then need to beat the Bills in Buffalo in week-18 to secure that playoff spot.

If they were to beat the Dolphins this week and lose to the Bills the following week they could still get in if the Dolphins lost their final regular season game to the Jets in Miami and the Chargers lose their final three games. Neither is very likely to happen.

When the meat is taken off the bone it comes down to this: beat the Dolphins this week and they are playing a very meaningful last regular season game. Lose to the Dolphins this week and their Christmas goose is cooked.

This Monday morning you can find the Dolphins favored in this game by 2-points at The Superbook in Vegas, even though they have lost four straight heading into this one.

The Patriots have lost two straight heart-breakers in the final minutes of their last two games, but will need to turn their fortunes around if they want to play more than two games in January.

If it's playoff-type football your looking for you'll want to tune-in at 1:00 on Sunday.

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