After the Patriots lost to the 49ers in Week 15, it seemed that all hope was lost for a first-round bye in the playoffs. But New England is still alive to grab that all-important rest heading into the postseason thanks to the Texans losing in Week 16 to the Vikings. Still, do the Patriots really need the bye to succeed in the playoffs?
If the Patriots win Sunday and the Texans and Broncos lose, New England would grab the No. 1 seed, a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs. If the Patriots win and only the Texans or the Broncos lose, New England will get the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. If the Patriots lose, they could be at risk of getting passed by the Ravens and being left with the No. 4 seed.
The Patriots’ best chance for a first-round bye would come through a Houston loss. The Texans face the challenge of meeting the Colts in Indianapolis with head coach Chuck Pagano coming back from leukemia. The Colts are locked into a No. 5 seed, but it’s doubtful they’ll rest starters with Pagano coming back while facing a division foe. The Broncos are playing the 2-13 Chiefs in Denver, so it would take a huge upset for the Broncos to lose their first-round bye.
In all three years that the Patriots won the Super Bowl, they had a first-round bye. In 2001 they were the No. 2 seed, in 2003 they were the No. 1 seed and in 2004 they were the No. 2 seed again. The Patriots also had first-round byes in 2007 and 2011 as No. 1 seeds when they lost the Super Bowl.
In the years the Patriots did not make the Super Bowl, they were No. 4 seeds in 2005 and 2006, a No. 3 seed in 2009 and a No. 1 seed in 2010. So, as far as recent history suggests, outside of 2010, the Patriots are definitely better off when they’re playing with a first-round bye.
But other Super Bowl-winning teams have succeeded despite having to play four playoff games. Both the 2010 Packers and 2011 Giants did not receive first-round byes, nor did the 2005 Steelers, 2006 Colts or 2007 Giants.
The Patriots could afford to get healthy before they play their first playoff game. They had 21 players listed on Friday’s injury report, including starters Dan Connolly, Alfonzo Dennard, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Brandon Lloyd, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder, Brandon Spikes, Aqib Talib, Sebastian Vollmer and Wes Welker. That’s 14 of the team’s 22 starters.