With most of the spotlight being placed on teams like the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs, it seems like the New England Patriots have flown under the radar this season.
As things currently stand, the Patriots are locked into having home-field advantage for their playoff opener and are the only team in the NFL that still has an undefeated home record. It is worth noting that experts have the Patriots’ odds of winning a single playoff game at -300 with the odds of them failing to do so being +200.
New England has a strong history of winning their playoff opener during the Tom Brady era. To put it into perspective, the Patriots have a 13-2 record during the initial game of a playoff appearance since 2001.
The potential opponents that the Patriots could face are interesting to think about. They are currently slotted to face the Indianapolis Colts and they have been red hot since their 1-5 start to the season. New England defeated Indianapolis 38-24 during Week 5 and has won their last eight matchups.
While Andrew Luck was not the Colts’ starting quarterback for all eight of those previous matchups with the Patriots, he started in the last six meetings. Two of those six losses that Luck has experienced against New England came in the playoffs with one being the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
This current Indianapolis team is different from those in previous seasons. Andrew Luck used to get beat up because of poor offensive line play but he has actually been the best-protected quarterback in the NFL this season, according to sack percentage. He has been able to throw for 4,308 yards and 36 touchdowns with a career-best 67.2% completion percentage.
Indianapolis has been an impressive passing attack and that could be a problem for New England. The Colts currently rank 2nd in passing attempts, 6th in passing yards, 2nd in passing touchdowns, and are 1st in general 3rd down conversion rate. Aside from the interception category, the Pats are in the bottom 10 in each of the main passing defensive stats.
There has been a real improvement from the Colts on the defensive side of the ball compared to previous seasons. Since allowing the New York Jets to score 42 points in Week 6, the Colts have contained teams to an average of 16.3 points and they have forced a turnover in all 15 of the games that they have played.
If there is ever going to be a time when the Colts defeat Brady again, a potential playoff matchup this year may be their best chance in a while. Frank Reich knows what it takes to defeat the Patriots on the big stage and his team has thrived lately.
The other two teams that New England could matchup within their playoff opener are the Tennessee Titans or the Baltimore Ravens. While the Patriots haven’t played the Ravens this season, they lost 34-16 to the Titans in Week 10.
There are characteristics about both Tennessee and Baltimore that could make them difficult to face in a playoff game. It starts with the fact that Marcus Mariota and Lamar Jackson are both mobile quarterbacks that can beat you with their legs.
Tennessee is an interesting team because they rank 3rd in the NFL in turnovers and rank 3rd in both passing and rushing touchdowns. With Derrick Henry providing a major boost to their offense with 492 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns over his last three games, they could be tough to stop.
As for Baltimore, they currently are giving up the fewest points and passing yards in the NFL and have been effective at stopping the run too. They have posted a 5-1 record and have averaged 25 points per game since Jackson took over as the team’s starting quarterback in Week 11.
Winning the playoffs is never an easy task for any team and the potential matchups that the Patriots could face will be no exception. While it’s almost never wise to bet against a team led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the possible matchups that they could face won’t be easy.