While the New England Patriots will enjoy a weekend off, four of their rivals in the AFC will have to put on their game day attire today or tomorrow and play in the NFL’s wild card playoff round. The third-seeded Houston Texans will host the six seed Indianapolis Colts later today, while the fifth seed — the Los Angeles Chargers — will travel to Baltimore to square off against the fourth-seeded Ravens.
Of the four teams, three are potential divisional round opponents for the Patriots when they enter the tournament next week: the Texans, the Ravens and the Chargers are all seeded in the right slots for the AFC’s number two team, New England. However, no matter what happens this weekend, it seems like a certainty that the Patriots will enter the playoffs as the heavy favorites regardless of the team lining up across from them.
There are three reasons for that:
1. The Patriots will be playing at home.
2. The Patriots are at least equal to their upcoming opponents when it comes to top-to-bottom talent — from the coaching staff to the depths of the roster.
3. The Patriots have historically enjoyed tremendous success against whoever they will face next Sunday.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the second of the two reasons why the Patriots will be the clear-cut favorites next week, because especially against one team it seems like a stretch: the Ravens, arguably the team New England’s fans fear most. This thought primarily stems from two games, both won by Baltimore. The Ravens visited Gillette Stadium for both the 2009 wild card round and the 2012 AFC Championship Game and came away victoriously twice.
Yes, the organization has enjoyed a lot of success when playing in New England compared to other clubs across the NFL. However, the Ravens also have lost three straight against the Patriots and are just 10-3 all time against them. To make matters worse, rookie quarterbacks like Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson are a combined 0-11 when having to travel to play against a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team.
The history does not look any better for their other two opponents — quite the opposite, actually: the Philip Rivers-led Chargers are 1-7 all-time against New England, including 0-2 in the playoffs. The Texans, meanwhile have lost 10 of their 11 meetings versus the Patriots, two of the defeats coming in the postseason. Safe to say that New England will enter next Sunday’s game favored over both squads as well as the Ravens.
But is this status really warranted, despite the three reasons outlined above? To a certain degree, yes. No matter who the Patriots will face next week all, however, the game will be a challenge. After all, they will square off against very good teams as colleague Rich Hill illustrated earlier this week when he took a look at the scoring differentials in the NFL on both offense and defense:
Texans: +60.7 (10th); offense: +39.1 (8th); defense: -21.6 (14th)
Ravens: +101.5 (5th); offense: +2.6 (14th); defense: -98.9 (1st)
Chargers: +79.9 (7th); offense: +28.0 (10th); defense: -51.9 (3rd)
New England, for comparison, is ranked as follows:
Patriots: +86.1 (6th); offense: +47.9 (5th); defense: -38.3 (9th)
As can be seen, the Patriots have a solid ranking on both offense, defense, and overall — but so do their opponents. The Ravens, thanks to their outstanding defense, pose a particular threat, with the Chargers and Texans not too far behind. All three teams have proven themselves able of playing winning football no both sides of the ball and will, in turn, be interesting matchups for a New England squad that has struggled with inconsistency all year long.
While the Patriots will be the heavy favorites going into divisional round weekend no matter who they play, the reality is a bit different: history has little meaning, while all three potential opponents are certainly capable of coming into Foxboro and pulling off the upset. New England needs to be ready for a dogfight no matter who comes out of wild card weekend.