For the first time since 2009, the New England Patriots will have to play in the first round of the playoffs. That is because they were bumped down to the no. 3 seed in the AFC after their 27-24 lost to the Miami Dolphins and a 31-21 win by the Kansas City Chiefs against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 17.
With the regular season now over, let's take a look at how the AFC playoffs stack up:
Wild Card round
- (6) Tennessee Titans at (3) New England Patriots
- (5) Buffalo Bills at (4) Houston Texans
- (1) Baltimore Ravens bye
- (2) Kansas City Chiefs bye
The first round matchup for the Patriots couldn't be any worse. Among the three teams they could have faced (Raiders, Steelers, Titans) they are now only facing the most talented and red-hot team at this point in the season, but they are also facing head coach Mike Vrabel, who is a former Patriot that has shown he can beat New England in the past.
The Titans have running back Derrick Henry, who claimed the NFL rushing title with 200+ yards against the Texans in Week 17. He is a powerful back that, when pick up speed, is one of the most destructive RBs in the league. Him, paired with players like quarterback Ryan Tannehill and rookie receiver AJ Brown, have made a surprisingly lethal offense this season.
The Wild Card game could easily go either way for New England. As banged-up as they are, the Patriots do still have more talent than Tennessee. However, with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman struggling as much as they did in the regular season finale because of their respective ailments, it's tough to make the case that talent will trump the lesser talent in the playoff game.
Bill Belichick and company have six days to figure out what they must do at Gillette Stadium next Sunday to advance to the divisional round of the postseason. Right now, that seems like it may be a bit too much to handle.