After a shaky season from the perspective of some fans, New England squished the Jets like a bug in the regular season finale at Gillette Stadium this past Sunday, and also sent Todd Bowles packing in the process.
An 11-5 finish won the Patriots the AFC East for a tenth straight season, and also was good enough to lock up a first-round bye and ensure that New England will be watching the Wild Card round from home for the ninth straight year. Pretty mind-boggling stuff.
Want another crazy stat? Try this on for size: New England is the only team out of the 12 that advanced to the postseason, that went undefeated against the rest of the field during the regular season (KC, CHI, IND, HOU), and the only team undefeated at home.
The Patriots will receive at least one home game in these playoffs, but there’s also a scenario where New England could wind up with home field after all.
The Wild Card round kicks off this Saturday with the #3 seeded Texans playing host to the #6 seed Indianapolis Colts, who won on Sunday Night Football in the last game of the regular season to secure their spot. If Houston wins, they’ll automatically come to Foxboro as the highest remaining seed that did NOT earn a bye, and the winner of LAC/BAL will travel to Arrowhead.
This is where things get interesting, because the Patriots have already defeated Houston once this season back in week one, and the Chargers have already gone to Kansas City and won in what was arguably the game of the year, and Baltimore gave Mahomes and co. all they could handle in week 14.
So, in other words, am I telling you there’s a chance the AFC Championship is played in Foxboro? Yes, I am.
But there is still a game to win in order to get to that point, so let’s take a look at how New England matches up with each of their three possible Divisional Round foes.
HOUSTON: NE defeated HOU in Week 1 27-20.
Houston enters the playoffs with the 15th ranked total offense and the 12th ranked total defense. New England defeated Houston back in week 1, and Tom Brady shined tossing a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski that sealed the win. This time around, should Houston wind up here, the Patriots will likely have a more run-heavy attack with James White, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead. New England carries the 5th best total offense in the NFL, along with the 21st total defense. Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins connected 115 times without a single misfire in the regular season, so seeing him matched up across from Stephon Gilmore would be a treat to watch.
BALTIMORE: Did not face NE in regular season.
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This is a scary thought. Baltimore boasts the #1 total defense in the NFL, who held the high-powered Chargers offense to just 10 points a few weeks back. They also have a QB named Lamar Jackson, who has re-invented Ravens football and is carrying that offense on his back into the playoffs with a legitimate chance to make some serious noise. The 9th ranked total offense in the league could be scary going up against New England, so this should be a team nobody in the Patriots locker room should want to see, although they would have a good chance at knocking off the Chiefs.
CHARGERS: Did not face NE in regular season.
Phillip Rivers has certainly earned my MVP vote (if I had one), leading the 11th ranked Chargers offense to a 12-4 record. Melvin Gordon and Mike Williams is a scary duo with Rivers, and if they showed up in Foxboro I’d be willing to bet they’d give the Patriots all they could handle and then some. Not only that, but LA also has a top 10 defense as well, which would not make it an easy task for Tom Brady to reach his 8th straight AFC title game.
However, the playoffs are a different animal, and some teams can live up to the pressure, and others falter. It’ll be a great ride nonetheless. See you in Foxboro on the 13th! Let’s GOOO!!!
–Brendan Howe is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sport Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @Brendan__Howe