by Michael Davies
The New England Patriots are well on their way of capturing their 5th consecutive AFC East division title (and 10 of the last 11), so naturally it is our duty as Boston sports fans to look ahead to the postseason. The Patriots’ 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football raised a big question: are the Patriots are better off WITHOUT a 1st-round bye in the playoffs?
The injury-ridden Patriots welcomed the bye week with open arms this season. They entered the bye with an impressive 7-2 record, capping it off with their most dominant game of the season; a 55-31 beat down against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offense was clicking on all cylinders and Tom Brady looked like he was back to “normal”. The defense has been a pleasant surprise this season, stepping up when the offense couldn’t get it going.
Of course the Patriots needed some well-deserved rest. Wasn’t this the perfect time for the bye week? No.
The Pats started off too slow vs the Panthers and only managed three points in the first half. It was clear this team piled on a lot of rust in between their 15 days of real action. There were encouraging signs in the 2nd half as the Patriots scored on each of their possessions (expect for the last drive… but that blown penalty is a different story). In the end, the Patriots lost their cool and did not come out victorious.
An underlying issue slipped though the cracks though, the Patriots did not come up with a turnover for the first time in 36 games. Sound familiar? Since 2009, the Patriots have only caused two turnovers in their four playoff losses (-7 margin). When the game followed a bye week, that number dips down to zero turnovers (-2 margin). Although the defense is decimated with injuries this season, it should be an excuse not the make the big play when it counts this season.
I want the Patriots to earn the #3 seed in this year’s playoffs. Brady and the rest of the Pats have been unable to build momentum in recent postseasons, and it’s all about timing in the NFL. Earning the #3 seed means they would play the lowest ranked wild card team at home, but would then have to head on the road for the Divisional Round. I’d rather they play that extra week of football instead of sitting around and waiting for their next opponent. Also, Brady has been impressive on the road in his postseason career, 6-4 (including Super Bowls). I’ll take those chances. Plus, home field advantage in the postseason does not seem as important at Gillette Stadium as it was in previous years (3-3 since 2009).
Around the league, the bye week has not proven to be that valuable. The Super Bowl champion has not had a first round bye since the ’09 New Orleans Saints.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots respond this Sunday against Denver, arguably the best team in the league. As for now, the Patriots need to put the bye week behind them and focus on the big picture. The Super Bowl is now ten weeks away, which puts the Patriots in a good position to get their players healthy and make a strong push come January.