Who’s going to screw up the New England Patriots’ season this year?

New England Patriots Playoff Success

The last time the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl was the 2004 playoffs. Since then, they’ve been a 4-seed, a 4-seed, a 1-seed, not in the playoffs, a 3-seed, a 1-seed, a 1-seed, a 2-seed, and a 2-seed. In two of those nine seasons, they’ve been to the Super Bowl and lost. (Both times to the Giants, and both times on fairly insane play sequences.) In the last two seasons, they’ve lost in the AFC Title Game — one time at home to the Ravens (on the Ray Lewis Retirement Tour), and last year on the road in Denver (the Broncos proceeded to get mauled in the Super Bowl).

Right now, the Patriots are 8-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They just throttled the Colts, a team many believe is on the rise to beating teams like the Patriots and Broncos, and their six games left are Lions (Matthew Stafford is terrible on the road), @Packers (a great game), @Chargers (not a good team right now, but that’s a long trip), Dolphins, @Jets, and Bills. You could pretty easily argue that, barring a bunch of injuries, they might finish 13-3 and be the AFC’s No. 1 seed again.

So … is this the year they get back to the Super Bowl and win it? Or is someone going to knock them off again?

Here’s the thing: it’s not actually very good to bet on No. 1 seeds. From 2001 until now, only three No. 1 seeds have won the Super Bowl: the 2003 Patriots, the 2009 Saints, and the 2014 Seahawks. In the past 14 years, there’s only been two Super Bowls that pitted the No. 1 in the AFC and the No. 1 in the NFC — that would be 2009 (Saints-Colts) and 2014 (Broncos-Seahawks), proving that Peyton Manning is important.

Before last year, the three previous Super Bowl winners were a 6-seed (Packers), a 4-seed (Giants), and a 4-seed (Ravens).

Check out this from before last year’s playoffs: 12 times since 1975, the AFC No. 1 seed has lost in the Divisional Round (a No. 1 seed’s first game):

No. 1 Seed NFL Playoff Performance

Remember a couple of years ago, when the Packers were 15-1 in the regular season and seemed destined to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? They had a bye week, as most 15-1 teams tend to get, and then this happened:

That was a Packers team that was 8-0 at home, and 15-1 overall. And yet they lost, at home, in a major playoff game, by 17 points.

I think a lot of stuff factors into a No. 1 seed getting out of the conference playoffs, including:

  • Luck
  • Kicking
  • Defense
  • Draw (Opponents)
  • Injuries

There are six games left for most teams at this point, so projecting playoff matchups is probably fairly futile. But if you look at the Patriots right now and assume they’re around that 1-2 spot, then these are the teams that might factor into the rest of the AFC playoff equation:

  • Chiefs
  • Broncos
  • Colts
  • Bengals
  • Steelers
  • Ravens
  • Chargers
  • Texans
  • Dolphins
  • Browns

If the Patriots were No. 1, the Dolphins can’t be higher than 5-6 region. No. 1 draws the worst winner of the 3-6 game and the 4-5 game, so get this: if the Broncos win the AFC West and the suddenly red-hot Chiefs move to the 5-seed (and then don’t choke away a lead like they did last year vs. the Colts), then you potentially have a Chiefs-Patriots playoff game. Remember what happened when they met this year?

Now of course, the playoff game would be in New England, and playoff games tend to be a little bit tighter than their regular-season equivalent, but still… interesting scenario, and you could see the Pats fall on their face in a game like that (although they tend to win in the Divisional Round, minus that flop against the Jets a few years ago).

Point is, anything can happen in the playoffs — and I’d actually argue having a No. 1 or No. 2 seed is a bad thing. That week off can be deadly; the most notable example of that is the Jessica Simpson-Tony Romo Mexico situation, although you can also argue that resting for a week and then playing a hot team who was at game speed the week before can kill your playoff hopes.

I’m not advocating the Pats throw the division and take the 5-seed, because that’s (probably) three road games to win the AFC. But for the sake of Sam Adams-swilling Bostonians the world over, I hope they have the right run through the conference this time.

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. I think the Patriots may have a really good chance to get back to the Super Bowl this season. The way you beat them is with ball control running on offense and pass rush on defense–get Brady off his spot and out of rhythm. I don’t see a team that can go into New England and do those things–the AFC isn’t as physical as it was a couple years ago. Denver and Indy don’t play that style of ball. KC might be, but they’re unpredictable. Baltimore maybe…but the Ravens aren’t what they used to be either, they’re actually a better offensive team now with Kubiak as their OC.
    But you are right in saying the playoffs are unpredictable. Should be an interesting postseason.

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