The Patriots took care of business on Sunday, thrashing the Dolphins to get themselves a first-round bye. But they’re still going to have to welcome a pretty good team to Gillette Stadium next Sunday in the divisional round of the playoffs.
With the No. 2 seed, the Patriots are set up to play the highest remaining seed from this weekend, meaning the Texans (No. 3), Ravens (No. 4) or Colts (No. 5) could be coming north. The Patriots would likely be favored against all three teams, having beat the Texans and Colts resoundingly and only losing to the Ravens by one point in September, when both teams were very different. But one matchup may favor New England more than the others.
If Houston beats the Bengals and then heads to Foxboro, the Patriots would once again have to face one of the AFC’s best defensive teams. J.J. Watt and Co. took a beating the last time they visited Gillette, but a second chance against the Pats could help the Texans figure out ways to get to Tom Brady and foil New England’s offensive attack. The Texans’ offense, which was inept the first time around and has been woeful in recent weeks, could also be more aggressive in a second matchup.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, is likely hoping for a rematch after being dismantled in Foxboro, 59-24, on Nov. 18. That would, first of all, mean that Indianapolis got past the Ravens, and the 11-5 Colts would only be further playing with house money. After a surprising season in which Andrew Luck has quickly rounded into form, Indianapolis has shown it can stick with the big guns. The Patriots had Luck’s number in the first matchup and are almost always ready for the playoffs, but the Colts could be more competitive this time.
Perhaps the most satisfy showdown for the Patriots would be a rematch with the Ravens. The Patriots were considerably weaker when the two met just three games into the season, while Baltimore was playing well across the board. Now, with longtime Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis talking retirement and Baltimore struggling to regain momentum after a late-season slide, the game promises to be full of emotion. The Patriots have always respected Baltimore, and a win over the Ravens would say a lot about the team’s title chances.