In 2018 and for the first time since 2009, the New England Patriots finished a regular season with more than four losses: the Patriots went 11-5, but were still able to secure one of the AFC’s top two postseason seeds. As a result, they will not enter the tournament until next week — and when they are, they will be the only team standing with no losses to one of the other playoff teams this year.
No matter who advances from the wild card round, each team will have at least one loss against another postseason squad on its 2018 résumé — except a Patriots team that went 4-0 this season when playing against the NFL’s eventual final 12:
Week 1: 27-20 over the Houston Texans (h)
Week 5: 38-24 over the Indianapolis Colts (h)
Week 6: 43-40 over the Kansas City Chiefs (h)
Week 7: 38-31 over the Chicago Bears (a)
For comparison, the Patriots’ rivals on the way to the Vince Lombardi Trophy have performed as follows when playing against the NFL’s best teams this year:
New Orleans Saints: 3-1
Chicago Bears: 2-1
Los Angeles Rams: 4-3
Dallas Cowboys: 3-3
Philadelphia Eagles: 3-3
Los Angeles Chargers: 2-3
Indianapolis Colts: 2-3
Houston Texans: 2-3
Seattle Seahawks: 2-4
Kansas City Chiefs: 2-4
Baltimore Ravens: 1-2
What stands out when looking at New England’s four victories against playoff teams is that they all came in the first half of the season. Since then, the roster has seen some turnover — from Josh Gordon to the emergence of J.C. Jackson to the inconsistent usage of offseason acquisitions — while the team itself started to struggle with consistency on both offense and defense and lost two of its last four games.
But even though the Patriots have not always evolved for the better since their early-season wins over playoff contenders, they are still among the NFL’s better team. Meanwhile, their victories still may have some meaning if only from a mental perspective: New England knows it can hang with and defeat the league’s top dogs, while also having some added experience on how to approach potential games against those four opponents in particular.
This knowledge is not nothing, even though Bill Belichick and company will be the first to point out that the regular season — or the past in general — has little bearing on any future events. Then again, there are some lessons we can learn from the past and one of them is to never count out the Patriots no matter their opponent.