Here’s Patriots’ Path To Most Desirable First-Round Playoff Matchup

Root for the Ravens


Dec 28, 2022

Even if the Patriots earn a spot in the playoffs, many believe Bill Belichick’s team will be nothing more than Round 1 fodder for a superior AFC team. And that might prove true, especially if New England winds up playing the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills or Cincinnati Bengals.

However, there’s a path toward a far more desirable first-round matchup.

There remains a way — multiple, actually — for the Patriots to visit the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round. Obviously, that wouldn’t be a cupcake matchup, but it would be easier than facing the Bengals, Bills or Chiefs.

New England lost to Baltimore by 11 points in a Week 3 showdown at Gillette Stadium. But the Patriots arguably were the better team that day and would’ve beaten the Ravens if not for a pair of ill-timed Mac Jones interceptions. Moreover, in the weeks since, the Ravens have revealed themselves as a flawed and unreliable team on both sides of the ball.

And then there’s Lamar Jackson. The superstar quarterback, who torched the Patriots in Foxboro, missed the last three games due to a knee injury and his status for Week 17 is up in the air. Even if Jackson is back in time for the postseason, it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be 100%.

New England no longer can finish higher than seventh in the AFC. So, for the 7-8 Patriots and 10-5 Ravens to meet in Round 1, Baltimore must earn the second seed.

Here’s the most straightforward way for it to happen:

Patriots: win out (vs. Miami Dolphins, at Bills)
Ravens: win out (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, at Bengals)
Chiefs: lose out (vs. Denver Broncos, at Las Vegas Raiders)

The Patriots must beat the Dolphins on Sunday to stay alive in the playoff hunt, but they still could finish with the seventh seed even if they lose to Buffalo the following weekend. You can click here for our breakdown of how New England could clinch a postseason berth with an 8-9 record.

Ironically, both the Ravens and the Patriots might be rooting for a rematch.

If the season ended today, fifth-seeded Baltimore would visit the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round. You could argue the Jags are a scarier first-round opponent than the Patriots, largely due to the sizable gap between their respective offenses.

Also, if Baltimore eventually moves up in the standings by winning the AFC North, it could be left with a Round 1 matchup against the Bengals, Dolphins or Los Angeles Chargers. And if it falters down the stretch and sinks to the sixth or seventh seed, a first-round showdown with the Bills, Chiefs or Bengals could await.

Again, the Ravens surely would rather face the Patriots than any of those teams. The only other scenario that Baltimore might be rooting for is for the Titans to win out and in doing so clinch both the AFC South and the AFC’s fourth seed.

Baltimore might feel that Tennessee is an easier opponent with quarterback Ryan Tannehill potentially done for the season due to an ankle injury. The Titans also have a porous passing defense.

None of this will matter if the Patriots don’t take care of business Sunday afternoon against the Dolphins, who might be without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Kickoff from Gillette Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.

Thumbnail photo via Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports Images
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