By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s not exactly like the Patriots Made a Statement™ with their win over the Jets on Sunday. It’s easy to feel good about it, though, because it was thoroughly dominant. But it was also against a team with everyone keeping one foot on the bus all afternoon.
But! It did complete a perfect season for the Patriots on their home turf. And it guaranteed that they will get to play on their home field at least one more time in 2018. The Pats’ problems on the road (3-5 on the season) were well-documented, but perhaps the Patriots’ flawless home performance was poorly-documented.
Consider it documented. The Patriots have yet to lose at home with the divisional round up next, and Gillette Stadium currently looks like a place that no other team should feel good about visiting in January.
If you’re desperately searching for a stat to cling to as far as the Patriots’ chances of getting back to the Super Bowl, it’s their 8-0 record at Gillette. They’re the only NFL team to finish undefeated at home this season. Despite their uneven play away from Foxborough, they completely took care of business at 1 Patriot Place.
Worst-case scenario for the Pats is No. 2, with the Kansas City Chiefs looking to sew up the top spot. Silver lining? They’ll be one Chiefs home loss away from having a chance to host the AFC Championship Game anyway. The Chiefs franchise hasn’t won a home playoff game in nearly a quarter-century.
The Chiefs also got their chance at Gillette already. Patrick Mahomes and the K.C. offense certainly stepped up, but their defense had no answer for Brady and the Patriots. And if the New England offense continues to roll like it did against the Jets on Sunday, it’ll be hard on any opposing defense to come into Foxborough and slow them down.
New England finished the 2018 regular season averaging 32.9 points per game at home, with a plus-130 point differential. The defense most found its mojo at Gillette, too, rebounding from the Chiefs game with statement performances against teams like the Packers and Vikings, in addition to shutting down the Bills and Jets and their rookie quarterbacks.
It’s still way up in the air how the AFC playoff picture is even going to line up, let alone who could possibly be coming to Foxborough in two weeks. But keep the Chiefs, Chargers, Ravens, and Texans at the top of your mind, because those are the most likely candidates. (UPDATE: The Chiefs have officially locked up the No. 1 seed. So the Patriots will play either the Chargers, Texans, or Ravens in the divisional round.)
And yet, despite the talent up and down all of those rosters, it’s hard to feel good about any of them actually upending the Patriots at Gillette. The Texans and Colts already came here and proved unprepared for that kind of accomplishment. The Chiefs weren’t ready on defense. It’s hard to feel any better about Philip Rivers and the Chargers doing enough to pull the upset.
The Ravens lurk ominously, even if it’s something of a mirage. Only John Harbaugh and Terrell Suggs remain from those Ravens teams that historically showed up and competed fearlessly against the Pats, particularly in Foxboro. The real concern if that team heads to Foxborough yet again is that they have the kind of personnel that’s given the Patriots trouble this season. Their combination of a tough, talented defense and a dynamic, mobile quarterback could make them dangerous.
But still … in Foxborough? Would Lamar Jackson really waltz in here and do what barely any rookie quarterbacks have ever done? No matter how you look at the Ravens or any other contender that comes to Gillette, it’s still a massive risk to bet against the Patriots at home with the way they’ve played there.
And even through all this, there’s still the specter of a possible road game looming for the Patriots in the playoffs. The road, as it has been all season, is a different story. But that only further reinforces how important it was for the Patriots to secure a first-round bye. This year’s Patriots can use as many home games as possible, and for good reason.
If you really need a reason to feel good about the Patriots’ fortunes in January (February?), rest easy knowing that most teams with an eye on Atlanta have to go through Foxborough first.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.