The New England Patriots’ season officially ended Sunday with a Week 18 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
That much is sure sting for the Patriots and their fans, but some added context makes their 8-9 season feel even worse.
The Minnesota Vikings, who have cliched a top-three seed in the NFC after their win Sunday, finished the season at 13-4. They did so despite having a minus-5 point differential. The Patriots, who have missed the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons, finished their season with a plus-17 point differential.
Does that mean the Patriots are a better team than the Vikings? Not necessarily. It does, however, display a stark difference in ability to take home the close games — which has long been the mark of playoff teams.
The Patriots went 4-4 in one-score games this season, a solid but not unspectacular mark. The Vikings went 11-0 in such games, including a 33-26 victory over New England in Week 12.
Of the 13 teams to clinch a playoff spot by the end of Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game, New England had a better point differential than five through Week 17 — the Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Vikings.
Locked in one of the most hard-fought divisions in the NFL this season, the Patriots will shift their focus to the offseason instead of the postseason. A tough pill to swallow, undoubtedly.