FanPost

What Happened in the 2010 Playoffs Can't Happen Again, Right?

The set up for next week's New England-Houston divisional round game sounds eerily familiar. A Patriots team coming off a playoff bye is taking on the same AFC contender that it embarrassed before a Monday Night Football audience in early December. That's the situation that has emerged for next weekend. But we've seen this movie before, of course. In 2010 the 14-2 Patriots humbled the Jets 45-3 in a December Monday Nighter, got a bye, and then laid an egg against the same team in the playoffs, ending abruptly what had seemed like such a great season. Can it happen again? Is the 2012 scenario just like the 2010 scenario?

In a word, no. To be sure, Houston may beat New England next Sunday but the two situations, despite many surface similarities, are actually very dissimilar and if it happens, it will happen for very different reasons.

It can be argued that the bye actually hurt the Patriots in 2010 by breaking up their momemtum, throwing up an artificial STOP sign in front of potent offense and defense that was playing at its best. Consider the scores. The 2010 Pats had an 8 game winning streak heading into the playoffs that began with an impressive 39-26 thrashing of the Steelers in Pittsburgh. After a win over the Peyton Mannings (then housed in Indy) and a Thankgsgiving pounding of the Lions that featured a 28-0 run to end the game, came the famous Monday night game with the Jets and the 45-3 beatdown. But the Pats kept up that blistering pace. They went into Chicago and beat the Bears 36-7 and closed out the year with 35-3 and 38-7 wins over the Bills and Dolphins. Only a 31-27 close call against Green Bay (in the Dan Connolly punt return game) marred the sheer dominance New England showed in the season's second half. The bye took themm out of action just when they were playing their best football as the Patriots had to shut it down for a week when they might have been better served playing through. The combination of the bye week and the interruption and broken momentum it produced combined with some understandable overconfidence in facing (again) a team it had already humiliated was hard to resist. For sure, the Patriots said all the right things about not overlooking the Jets, about how the December game wouldn't mean anything in January, and other bromides. But who believed such comments? Certainly not the Patriots fan base which was already making room for the next Lombardi trophy. And the players? Well, they're human, too. How could they not take the Jets game for granted?

But wait. Aren't we looking at exactly the same scenario unfolding when the Texans, humiliated to the tune of 42-14 on that early December evening, come back to Foxborough to face the Pats fresh off their bye week? Uh oh.

Here's why I think this is different. In 2012 the bye came at exactly the right time. New England has won its last two, not its last eight. Recently not only did they lose to the 49ers, they needed a pair of goaline stands to hold off the Jaguars. New England is in no position to be overconfident against anyone, especially not as banged up and injured as they are. And that's the main reason why this year's bye was so well-timed. Rather than interrupting momentum or breaking the Patriots' rhythm, it allows them to rest, to heal, to get guys who would have been at 50% on wildcard weekend to 75 or 80% for the divisional round. It allows Rob Gronkowski and Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard and Rob Ninkovich time to heal and get fully ready to go. The bye puts the Patriots in the best possible position to beat the Texans on Sunday. Rather than inducing overconfidence and a lull, the bye will help stoke New England's energy. And, having been caught looking two years ago, the Patriots are highly unlikely to be looking past anybody in this year's playoffs. The overconfidence won't be repeated.

Another reason the scenarios are different concerns matchups. We forgot or downplayed two years ago the fact that the Jets beat the Pats in Week 2, that their roster was built to play against New England, and that Rex Ryan's whole reason for being was to challenge Bill Belichick. The Jets matched up well with the Pats because they were designed to do so. Not only were they working off the embarrassment of the 45-3 game, they were also uniquely positioned to handle the Pats and matchup with them in a way that could take away their passing attack, force turnovers, and pounce on mistakes. Is Houston similarly positioned? I don't think so. Again, the Texans may win next week. But they don't pose the challenges to New England that the Jets did. Too many key matchups tilt against them and strongly in favor of the Patriots--especially with a healthy (or healthier) Gronk, Talib, Ninko, and Dennard.

It may all go horribly wrong next Sunday. But for now, to me, any similarity between 2010 and this year's playoff situation is pure coincidence.

The views expressed in these FanPosts are not necessarily those of the writers or SBNation.

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