The New England Patriots ended the season losing 4 out of their last 6 games, barely managing a first round bye. This extra week could be crucial for New England as it gives Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and of course Rob Gronkowski more time to recover from injuries. Amendola and Gronkowski are looking for their knees to be 100 percent come the divisional round. Brady and Edelman are also trying to rehab their ankle and foot respectively, and are slated to play on January 16th. Brady and the Patriots lost their home field advantage throughout the playoffs and got roughed up by the Miami Dolphins as Brady took unnecessary hits from Olivier Vernon and Ndamukong Suh. But the Patriots always take one game at a time, and one play at a time, so for right now they are game planning to host a divisional playoff game in two weeks.
The Patriots offense stumbled through the finish line and into the playoffs, and frankly, they have lost their explosiveness ever since Julian Edelman got injured back in mid-November. The last two regular season games for New England, their offense put up 20, then 10 points. That will not be enough to win a playoff game, but Tom Brady thinks they will be a completely different team in two weeks as they get crucial pieces to their offense back.
New England might have found a diamond in the rough with Steven Jackson who will likely be trying to replace the brute force running that Legarrette Blount has provided in the playoffs for the last two years. In 5 career playoff games for the Patriots, Blount has totaled 7 touchdowns and rushed at a rate of 4.8 yards per attempt. Against Miami on Sunday, the Patriots saw a glimpse of how strong and hard a runner Jackson is, and he could provide valuable carries if New England is trying to put a game away late. With offensive lineman, Sebastian Vollmer seeking a return to action, New England’s running game could rejuvenate itself, allowing Edelman, Amendola, and Gronkowski to get opportunities of the play action.
The Patriots could either play the Bengals, the Chiefs, or the Texans, depending on how wild card weekend shapes out, but New England would much rather play the Texans or the Chiefs, for multiple reasons. First, New England blew out the Texans on Sunday Night Football on December 13th in Houston, so if the Texans travel up to an arctic Foxborough, expect more of the same. Also, the last time Kansas City played in New England, the Patriots won 34-3. These two teams offer much more favorable match-ups to New England especially since the game will be at home for the Patriots. The second reason is not that the Patriots are afraid to play the Bengals, (New England won the last match-up 43-17) it is more that if the Bengals won against the Steelers, the Broncos would have a much easier game in the divisional round (the winner of KC-HOU). Assuming the Broncos win that match-up and the Patriots win theirs, New England would have to travel to Denver for the championship game, and that might be a tough game for the Patriots. The best case scenario for the Patriots is that the Steelers win against the Bengals, and go on to knock off the Broncos, giving the Patriots home field again.
New England hopes to hoist the Lombardi trophy once again in 2016, but the Patriots will have to do their job. For now, we’re onto Cincinnati or Kansas City or Houston.