Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America
The AFC playoff picture has finally come into focus and NFL fans have a good idea of where things stand for postseason play, regardless of week 17 outcomes in the AFC. The six teams fighting for the Lamar Hunt trophy have been decided and all that remains is jockeying for seeding. The Patriots need a win in Miami or a Raiders loss to claim home field advantage throughout the playoffs. At this point the Patriots look like a definite favorite to head to Houston for Super Bowl LI, however the field may be more difficult than people think. Here is a look at possible matchups for the Patriots in order from least difficult to most.
5. Houston Texans: The Patriots and Texans squared off in a Thursday Night Football matchup back in week three of the 2016 season and the Patriots, led by third string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, yes, Jacoby Brissett, trounced the Texans 27-0. Sure, the Texans have a solid defense and a couple of above-average cornerbacks, but do you really see a team led by Tom Savage coming into Foxboro and beating Bill Belichick? No. Just no.
Concern of a matchup with Houston: 2.5/10
4. Miami Dolphins: Regardless of Sunday’s outcome with the Dolphins, playing a team three times in one season is no fun for anybody. I don’t think the Patriots would particularly love to see Miami in the playoffs, but compared to other possible opponents they would be an easier matchup. Tannehill has made progress recovering from his injury where he sprained multiple ligaments in his left leg but his status is still unclear for the postseason. The Dolphins defense doesn’t scare me much but they do have some really nice pieces on offense. Breakout star running back Jay Ajayi has been great this year and a wide receiver trio of Landry, Parker and Stills is undeniably formidable, but the Patriots defense has shown too much promise over the last month to lose at home to the Dolphins because of their offense.
Concern of a matchup with Miami: 4/10
3. Oakland Raiders: If Derek Carr didn’t go down with a nasty ankle injury last week, the Raiders would have been the toughest team for the Patriots to beat out of the AFC field. There is still a chance that the Patriots drop to the #2 seed and the Raiders earn possession of the #1 seed and having to travel cross-country for a potential AFC Championship game would be unfortunate for New England. Oakland’s defense is led by star Khalil Mack and they certainly know how to get after the quarterback. If the offensive line plays up to their caliber and can hold off the Raiders pass rush, then Brady could pick apart Oakland’s mediocre secondary. With an offense led by backup Matt McGloin, the Patriots defense should be able to keep them to a very pedestrian score.
Concern of a matchup with Oakland: 4.5/10
2. Kansas City Chiefs: Over the past month the Chiefs have the looks of a dangerous football team. They are definitely a better team than they were last year when they lost to the Patriots in the Divisional round but I just don’t think a team with Andy Reid as their head coach and Alex Smith (the game manager extraordinaire) can beat the Patriots in Foxboro. Smith really only has two options. He either throws to Travis Kelce or throws a 2-yard check-down to his backs. Their offense looked good against Denver last week but I don’t think they would have as much luck against the Patriots defense. Belichick is a wizard at taking your best weapon away, in this case TE Travis Kelce, and with limited production from him, Kansas City just can’t beat New England at home.
Concern of a matchup with Kansas City: 6.5/10
1. Pittsburgh Steelers: There is only one reason the Steelers are ahead of the Chiefs in these rankings and it’s because of #7. Ben Roethlisberger is a proven winner and someone who does not fear the Patriots. Big Ben has had a little bit up of an up and down year, he throws too many interceptions but somehow typically finds a way to overcome them in some dramatic fashion just like he did against Baltimore last week. Obviously, with playmakers like WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh’s offense is a tough matchup for the Pats defense. I think the Patriots would be able to slow them down but not completely stop them. The reason I think New England would be able to win this game is because I truly believe that the Steelers just can’t stop Tom Brady. TB12 continuously feasts on their mediocre secondary and I believe the Patriots could easily hang 30+ on the Steelers. In his career, Brady is 9-2 vs. Pittsburgh, 4-0 at home averaging 36.75 points per game, and 2-0 in the playoffs. I’m rolling with Thomas Edward Patrick Brady in the AFC Championship game over the Steelers.
Concern of a matchup with Pittsburgh: 6.6/10
If things were to work out perfectly for the Patriots, here’s what would happen the next couple of weeks.
-The Patriots win at Miami and clinch home field advantage.
-The Chiefs beat the Chargers
-Broncos beat the Raiders, meaning the Raiders drop to the #5 seed and the Chiefs become the #2 seed. I’d much rather see Oakland in the Divisional round than Kansas City.
Those outcomes would set the Bracket like this:
#1 New England and #2 Kansas City on a BYE.
#3 Pittsburgh vs. Miami
#4 Houston vs. Oakland
If this plays out the way all of New England wants it to, the Patriots would play either the Raiders, Texans or Dolphins in the Divisional Round and most likely the Chiefs and Steelers would beat each other up in the other Divisional game. No matter what, the Patriots have to play their best football in the upcoming weeks in order for another chance at a Lombardi Trophy.
I think they will.