If the New England Patriots are able to conclude their regular season with a victory over the New York Jets on Sunday, they are guaranteed a first-round bye, finishing no worse than second in the AFC. They can even jump up to the No. 1 seed, if everything bounces their way by the end of the day. On the surface, it's incredibly simple.
But securing home field advantage for at least one round means so much more than that for this year's team.
Entering Sunday, the Patriots are a perfect 7-0 at Gillette Stadium, and have a plus-13.6 average scoring margin at home, which is tops in the NFL, a full 1.2 points better than the second-place New Orleans Saints. Compare that to the Patriots' confusing and bizarre road struggles this season, with a 3-5 record and minus-2.4 average scoring margin, and it's easy to understand New England's need for at least one (preferably two, actually) additional date at The Razor.
"I think if we play well, the crowd’s into it," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of the team's home field advantage.
But it's an advantage that goes beyond just a noisy crowd and Bon Jovi touchdown celebrations, the 41-year-old Brady noted, especially in the sometimes-brutal, bone-chilling New England winters.
"I think the one positive I see from being here is we practice in the elements all the time and I think we’re so used to playing in this climate with the ever-changing weather conditions that we have," Brady acknowledged. "Just understanding how it works in our stadium and I think those things end up being a benefit if we use them the right way."
Brady is not wrong, as the Patriots are a staggering 11-2 in home playoff games with temperatures below 30 degrees, including a divisional round victory over the Titans that saw the Patriots body the Tennessee in sub-25 degree weather.
"We love playing here, we’ve done a great job, communication’s certainly better at home which helps," Brady said. "But going out and executing in whatever conditions, hopefully we handle them better than our opponents."
But that opportunity starts with handling the Jets, fittingly at home, this Sunday.
"We’re just going to do the best we can to go out and play as well as we can against the Jets," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the chance at securing some form of home field advantage this weekend. "That’s all we can do. So, whatever happens after that, happens. Can’t control it. We can control how we play this week and do the best we can."