The New England Patriots didn’t need to play in the AFC Wild Card round to increase their championship chances. With the Tennessee Titans taking down the Kansas City Chiefs, New England’s road to the Super Bowl got considerably easier. Adding in the Jacksonville Jaguars taking care of the Buffalo Bills, and the outcomes of wild card weekend favor the Pats.
Wild Card Weekend Favors New England
The Chiefs Are Out
It’s no secret that the Patriots struggle whenever they play the Chiefs. In many ways, the Chiefs are the perfect foil for the Patriots. New England’s defense dares teams to beat them with long, sustained drives, which is where the Chiefs thrive. Additionally, there is a very specific formula that Brady and Belichick have struggled against. Teams need to generate pressure up the middle with a three man rush, drop eight into coverage, and have the defensive backs play tight coverage on the receivers and tight end Rob Gronkowski. This is an incredibly difficult defense to pull off due to the defensive talent required. Only two or three teams over the years have been able to consistently do it. Kansas City is one of those teams.
While New England did beat the Chiefs in the 2015 playoffs, Kansas City is responsible for two of the biggest defeats in the Brady-Belichick era. In Week One of 2017, the Chiefs destroyed New England in the season opener, 42-27. The beatdown in 2014 was even worse, as Kansas City spanked New England 42-14 in a game so bad that many people were questioning if Brady’s career and the Patriots dynasty was at its end. Say what you will about Kansas City underperforming annually in the playoffs, New England has to be happy they won’t face them.
Next Week’s Opponent: The Tennessee Titans
In their place is the Titans. Bluntly speaking, they are likely the worst team left in the playoffs. The Titans entered the playoffs with an unimpressive 9-7 record, coming on the heels of a 1-3 skid to end the season. The lone win came against a Jaguars team that had literally nothing to play for.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, considered by many to be a breakout player entering the season, regressed hard. Mariota ended his regular season with an ugly 13:15 touchdown to interception ratio while leading the 19th best scoring offense. The defense isn’t much better, ranking 17th in points allowed. Factor in their relative inexperience in the playoffs, and it’s hard to imagine the Titans pulling off the upset in Foxboro.
The situation gets even better for New England, as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars now have to face off. The Jaguars boast an incredibly physical defense, stacked with talent from top to bottom. To counter, Pittsburgh boasts arguably the best running back in the NFL with Le’Veon Bell, the best receiver in Antonio Brown, and one of the best quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger.
Even though Pittsburgh will probably be favored, it should be an incredibly hard fought game. Whichever team prevails should be absolutely wiped out from the matchup, and come into New England weary and worn out. It might not make much of a difference, but it could be just enough to separate defeat from victory.
Of course, there’s a reason the games are played. New England must first take care of business against Tennessee. They can’t afford to overlook an opponent, but so far the playoff picture has favored the Patriots. If they can take advantage, they should be able to advance to their third Super Bowl in four years.