Some things to think about during this week off from Patriots football:
The Patriots have won at least eleven games in nine straight seasons.
The last time they failed to reach double-digit wins was in 2002. “Hot in Here” by Nelly was at the top of the charts. The original “Spider-Man” was in theaters.
The last time the Patriots played a game on Wild Card Weekend was in 2009. “Boom Boom Pow” and “Poker Face” topped the charts and “Avatar” appeared in theaters.
And my personal favorite: The Patriots were the only team in the National Football League to not lose a game at home this season.
Brady and co. will have a chance to defend Gillette Stadium at least one more time. The Patriots will host the Chargers, Ravens, or Texans in a divisional round matchup on January 13th at 1:05.
So, with the Patriots divisional round opponent to be determined this weekend, who should the Patriots be rooting for, and who should they be rooting against?
The Texans certainly appear to be one of, if not the most, attractive candidates for the Patriots’ second-round opponent. You may remember that matchup in December of 2012 when New England dismantled Houston 42-14 in what is now referred to as the “letterman jacket game”. In that same season, the Patriots sent them packing in a 41-28 divisional round victory.
The Texans haven’t defeated the Patriots since 2010. In fact, in the entire history of this matchup, the Texans have never once defeated the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Houston’s top-five rush defense (82.7 YPG) would take on New England’s top-five rush offense (127.3 YPG). Tom Brady, and one of the NFL’s best offenses (393.4 YPG), would be dealing with a Texans’ pass defense that ranks in the middle of the pack at best. Stephon Gilmore would likely shadow DeAndre Hopkins in an elite individual matchup. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson and his 35 rushing yards per game would have to shoulder the rest of the offensive workload against a rested Patriots defense that appears to have found their groove in the last few weeks.
The Ravens are a unique candidate among the three. People often remember 2013, when they beat the Patriots 28-13 in the AFC Championship and went on to win the Super Bowl. Or 2010, when Ray Rice took the first play of the game 83 yards to the house and the Ravens won 33-14 on Wild Card Weekend.
However, the Patriots have won the last three contests. Including the 2013 divisional round game where Julian Edelman did his best Tom Brady impression. The Ravens have given the Patriots a considerable amount of problems over the last decade, but that was with Joe Flacco under center. This year it will be 21 year-old rookie Lamar Jackson, who will become the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game this weekend.
Bill Belichick’s Patriots have faced rookie quarterbacks eleven times at Gillette Stadium. The rookie quarterbacks are 0-11.
Don’t let history alone make this decision for you, though. The Ravens enter the playoffs with the NFL’s best overall defense. Allowing just 293 total yards per game, the Baltimore defense would be a handful. Meanwhile, Jackson won six of his seven starts as a pro and is averaging nearly 100 rushing yards per game.
Have confidence in Belichick against the youngest quarterback in NFL playoff history? Or not take any chances with an elite defense and a team that has caused problems in the past? After another season of doubt surrounding the Patriots and their so-called “cliff”, my money is on Belichick and Brady to silence the noise against a familiar opponent.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers will enter the playoffs as co-owners of the best record in the AFC at 12-4. And yet, they are playing in Baltimore on Wild Card Weekend. This is a team that has flown largely under the radar in the AFC playoff landscape, thanks to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Meanwhile, Philip Rivers has led his team to its first playoff appearance since 2013. The 37 year-old Pro Bowler has thrown for over 4,300 yards and 32 touchdowns, and the Chargers reached 12 wins for the first time since 2009. They have the league’s 9th ranked defense (333.7 YPG) and the league’s 11th ranked offense (372.6 YPG).
The Patriots have won their last four, and seven of their last eight, against them. However, with weapons like Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James on both sides of the ball, led by an experienced veteran in Philip Rivers, these Chargers could pose a problem for the Patriots.
The Colts visit the Texans Saturday afternoon, and the Chargers visit the Ravens Sunday afternoon. The Patriots will return from their bye-week on January 13th at 1:05.
-Ethan Roy is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @_ethanroy