Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are prepping for three potential foes next week.
The NFL playoffs begin today and the Patriots aren’t playing either on the first day of playoff action or the second day on Sunday. Don’t worry Patriots fans, it’s not because of some crazy ruling where they have been denied entrance into the playoff dance. Rather, as a result of some late season collapsing from the Houston Texans, the Patriots have secured (back-doored their way into?) a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. So, instead of playing a game of football this weekend, the Patriots are sitting at home, getting some light practice in, getting healthy and watching football instead of playing it this weekend.
Recent history has told us that this might not be the best road to the Patriots’ fourth ring. Since the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2005 as the two seed, only two teams that played their way into first round byes have gone onto win the Super Bowl. The Patriots have to play with their hand their dealt, and I doubt they are lamenting the fact that they don’t have to play football this weekend.
This means that Patriots fans get a stress free weekend of football, as well as a weekend to see who the New England Patriots could be playing next Sunday afternoon in Foxboro. The potential playoff scenarios are this:
Texans and Ravens win: Patriots play Houston in New England.
Texans and Colts win: Patriots play Houston in New England
Bengals and Ravens win: Patriots play Ravens in New England
Bengals and Colts win: Patriots play Colts in New England
As we can tell from this, it is impossible for the Patriots to see the Cincinnati Bengals until the Championship Round, and frankly, this is for the best. The Bengals are the type of team that has given the Patriots fits over the past few seasons. They possess an aggressive defense adept at getting to the quarterback. Led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins (12.5 sacks) and defensive end Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks), it is exactly the type of defense that the Patriots don’t really like to face. In addition, they also have a big play receiver, A.J Green. Strangely, the Bengals getting the six seed benefits the Patriots in the long-run.
So let us focus on the other three teams, the Cincinnati Bengals opponent on Saturday afternoon the Houston Texans, the Baltimore Ravens or the Indianapolis Colts.
Of those three, it is probably the Houston Texans that the New England Patriots most want to see simply because they match-up the best with them. If they were to play, it will be a little over a month since the Patriots blew out the Texans in Foxboro by the final score of 42-14. On that day, the Patriots were the more athletic team, the more physical team, hell, they were simply the better team and nothing since that game has really changed the opinion of those two teams. What lines up best in the Patriots corner if they were to play the Texans is that they would not have to play an elite quarterback. Matt Schaub has been good in his time in Houston, but he has been anything but in the last month of the season. They won’t publically say it, but I bet they want to play the Texans in the second round.
The Colts based on recent returns would seem to be the team that the Patriots would least want to play. They won six of their last seven to get to the playoffs and have been winning weird and strange games down the stretch. Despite the fact that Football Outsiders has them ranked as the worst 11-win playoff team since 1991 they are a team that has simply defied statistics. If the Broncos had the power of God and Timothy Tebow last year, the Colts have #ChuckStrong which has been a rallying cry for the Colts in 2012. Andrew Luck hasn’t completed more than 50% of his passes since November, and yet they keep winning. Like I said, they defy statistics.
Except for this one, on that six of seven run that catapulted them to the playoffs, they beat only one playoff team, the Texans in week 17. On the year, they only beat three playoff teams, the Minnesota Vikings (the sixth seed in the NFC) and the Green Bay Packers, which coincided with the first week of #ChuckStrong and I’ll take that win with a grain of salt. In addition, the Patriots have already beat the Colts, 59-24, in November. Like the Texans, the Patriots have already wiped the floor with the Colts and I would certainly not mind seeing them in the second round.
The Ravens are the opposite of the Colts, sharing more in common with the Houston Texans in terms of recent returns. They have not been playing well. To take from Grantland’s Bill Simmons on Friday:
…when (the Ravens) barely beat Pittsburgh by three (the game Byron Leftwich played with broken ribs); won an OT game in San Diego (with help from Ray Rice’s incredible fourth-and-29 play); lost at home to Charlie Batch (Charlie Batch!); lost in OT at Washington (to Kirk Cousins!); got slaughtered in Denver (lost by 17, wasn’t that close); whupped the free-falling Giants; lost to Cincy (meaningless game).
I’d say sign me up, if it wasn’t the Baltimore Ravens, because I am always terrified of the Baltimore Ravens.
I don’t think they are a very good football team. I think anyone in the AFC playoffs can beat them. I think the defense is old and slowing down. Their offense is:
Coached by Jim Caldwell who until December had never called an offensive play as an NFL coach in any form.
Rely too much on Ray Rice, although he is incredible.
Have the inconsistent Joe “The Brow” Flacco as the captain of the good ship Baltimore.
On paper, the Patriots should fine against the Ravens.
Except the Ravens think they can beat the Patriots. They always do. On the field, it is the AFC’s best rivalry right now. The Patriots are perceived as the finesse speed team that loves to throw the ball and score points while the Ravens are the tough, old-school, defensive minded team that isn’t afraid to lay the wood. No matter how true that statement may or may not be, it’s the belief and the Ravens believe and that’s why they think they can always beat the Patriots.
In addition, this is Ray Lewis’ last hurrah. He announced it himself on Wednesday. If the Ravens needed anymore motivation before a potential game against the New England Patriots, besides the fact they think they got robbed in the AFC Championship Game in New England last year, it’s that they don’t want to send the face of their franchise off a loser in the playoff. Not in the divisional round; not in New England, not against the Patriots. Plus, the Ravens have Bernard Pollard.
Let’s put it this way; there are thirty other teams I’d rather see play the Patriots in round two then the Baltimore Ravens. Thankfully, there is only a 1 in 4 chance of this happening. Let’s hope the odds work are ever in the Patriots favor.