The Patriots had four losses in the regular season and, effectively, four chances to solidify homefield advantage. In each one of these games, something went disastrously wrong, and they were all things that could have been avoided- or were under the bright spotlight.
The first loss came at the hands of the Broncos, in Denver. The Patriots were up 21-7 early in the 4th quarter, but undrafted rookie Chris Harper fumbled a punt to set up an easy Broncos score. Denver came back to win the game in overtime.
The second loss came at home against the Eagles and included three straight return scores for Philadelphia- a blocked punt, an interception, and a punt return. Special teams sank the Patriots for a second straight loss.
After defeating the hapless AFC South in consecutive games, the Patriots lost two games to close out the year against the AFC East.
The third loss came to the Jets in New York, where the Patriots decided to kick off in overtime. The Jets didn't let the Patriots get the ball back and everyone questioned whether or not head coach Bill Belichick made the right decision.
The fourth and final loss came in Miami against the Dolphins. The Patriots effectively punted away the first half, trying to establish the run and shorten out the clock. The hope was that the team could take control in the second half and lock up homefield advantage. The Patriots fell well short of their goal and saw homefield slip through their fingers.
All four of these games were the Patriots to win, except mental errors and broken rosters prevented New England from claiming the top seed. And now the Broncos will play host in the AFC Championship game.
Of course, things change. The only reason Chris Harper was playing against the Broncos was due to injuries to wide receiver Danny Amendola. And tight end Rob Gronkowski wasn't playing against the Eagles. And Amendola was absent for the Jets game. And the Patriots won't be treating the Broncos like a preseason game in Miami.
Oh, and wide receiver Julian Edelman will be back after missing all of these losses. And linebackers Jamie Collins (out vs Broncos) and Dont'a Hightower (out early vs Broncos, out vs Eagles, Dolphins). And safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty (both out vs Jets).
If you look across the roster, the Patriots were without multiple starters in each of these losses. Edelman, Amendola, Gronkowski, Collins, and Hightower were all gone at some point against the Broncos. Edelman, Gronkowski, Hightower, and starting guard Josh Kline were out at points against the Eagles. Edelman, Amendola, Kline, left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Chung, and McCourty missed the Jets game. Edelman, Vollmer, Hightower, and defensive end Chandler Jones were out versus the Dolphins, while quarterback Tom Brady was hobbled with an ankle sprain.
That's a minimum of four high profile starters taken out of every game. Every single one of these players will be back on the field against the Broncos, and that's the payoff for the risk the Patriots were willing to take.
New England suffered more injuries than any other team in the NFL and they were willing to take a risk with homefield advantage in order to avoid long term injuries. The Patriots lost homefield advantage to the Broncos and they have no one to blame but themselves.
I'm sure that the Patriots are okay with that. They'll take out their frustration on the Broncos.