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How the new playoff format would have impacted past Patriots teams

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Related: NFL owners approve 14-team playoff format beginning this season

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Update 3/31/2020: How the new playoff format would have impacted past Patriots teams

With NFL owners voting to adapt the 14-team playoff format, let’s revisit this article from last month when the original proposal was announced.

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Original story 2/20/2020: How the newly proposed playoff format would have impacted past Patriots teams

While coaches and front office executives around the league are preparing for the upcoming scouting combine in Indianapolis and the subsequent free agency frenzy, the NFL’s ownership and player representatives are working on a new collective bargaining agreement. There is some optimism that a new deal will be stuck before the current CBA is entering its final year on March 18, however, with some big changes possibly on their way.

One of them that has reportedly already been agreed upon by the NFLPA would alter the playoff format by increasing the field from 12 to 14 teams and eliminating the first-round bye for all but the number one seeds in each conference. Basically, this would lead to the following three things:

1.) The seventh best team in each conference will make the tournament.

2.) There will be a total of six games on wild card weekend.

3.) The number one seed will be a lot more valuable and an enormous advantage.

So with that in mind, and to get some reference for how the changes would actually look like if implemented, let’s take our fact-tinted glasses off for a moment and put the monocle of speculation on: how would past New England Patriots teams have fared under this newly proposed playoff format? Let’s go all the way back to the 2002 season, when the current 32-team format was implemented and the present divisional alignment created.

2002

  • Reality: The Patriots go 9-7 but miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker against the New York Jets (AFC East winners; fourth seed) and Cleveland Browns (AFC North runner-ups; sixth seed).
  • New CBA format: The Patriots still miss the playoffs as the eighth seed, with the Denver Broncos sneaking in as the seventh due to the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England.

2003

  • Reality: The Patriots go 14-2 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number one seed. They have a bye week and go on to win the Super Bowl.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number one seed.

2004

  • Reality: The Patriots go 14-2 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number two seed. They have a bye week and go on to win the Super Bowl.
  • New CBA format: As the second seed, the Patriots don’t earn a first-round bye and instead host the seventh seed — the 9-7 Jacksonville Jaguars — on wild card weekend.

2005

  • Reality: The Patriots go 10-6 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number four seed. They host the fifth-seeded 12-4 Jaguars on wild card weekend.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number four seed.

2006

  • Reality: The Patriots go 12-4 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number four seed. They host the 10-6 New York Jets on wild card weekend.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number four seed.

2007

  • Reality: The Patriots go 16-0 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number one seed. They have a bye week.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number one seed.

2008

  • Reality: The Patriots go 11-5 but miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker against the Miami Dolphins (AFC East winners; third seed) and Baltimore Ravens (AFC North runner-ups; sixth seed).
  • New CBA format: The Patriots make the playoffs as the seventh seed and visit the second-seeded 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers on wild card weekend.

2009

  • Reality: The Patriots go 10-6 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number three seed. They host the 9-7 Baltimore Ravens on wild card weekend.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number three seed.

2010

  • Reality: The Patriots go 14-2 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number one seed. They have a bye week.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number one seed.

2011

  • Reality: The Patriots go 13-3 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number one seed. They have a bye week.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number one seed.

2012

  • Reality: The Patriots go 12-4 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number two seed. They have a bye week.
  • New CBA format: As the second seed, the Patriots don’t earn a first-round bye and instead host the seventh seed — the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers — on wild card weekend.

2013

  • Reality: The Patriots go 12-4 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number two seed. They have a bye week.
  • New CBA format: As the second seed, the Patriots don’t earn a first-round bye and instead host the seventh seed — the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers — on wild card weekend.

2014

  • Reality: The Patriots go 12-4 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number one seed. They have a bye week and go on to win the Super Bowl.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number one seed.

2015

  • Reality: The Patriots go 12-4 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number two seed. They have a bye week.
  • New CBA format: As the second seed, the Patriots don’t earn a first-round bye and instead host the seventh seed — the 10-6 New York Jets — on wild card weekend.

2016

  • Reality: The Patriots go 14-2 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number one seed. They have a bye wee and go on to win the Super Bowl.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number one seed.

2017

  • Reality: The Patriots go 13-3 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number one seed. They have a bye week.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number one seed.

2018

  • Reality: The Patriots go 11-5 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number two seed. They have a bye week and go on to win the Super Bowl.
  • New CBA format: As the second seed, the Patriots don’t earn a first-round bye and instead host the seventh seed — the 9-6-1 Pittsburgh Steelers — on wild card weekend.

2019

  • Reality: The Patriots go 12-4 and make the playoffs as the AFC’s number three seed. They host the 9-7 Tennessee Titans on wild card weekend.
  • New CBA format: Nothing changes, as the Patriots are still the AFC’s number four seed.

There would have been a lot of changes from the Patriots’ perspective had the newly proposed CBA already been in place during the league’s divisional realignment in 2002: they would have earned a bye week only seven times instead of the twelve they had in reality, and also made the playoffs in 2008 when quarterback Matt Cassel replaced an injured Tom Brady. All in all, the road to the Super Bowl certainly would have been a harder one ini 2004 and 2018.

As noted above, the number one seed would become a lot more valuable than it already is under this newly proposed format. New England’s playoff history illustrates that rather clearly.