By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It stands to reason that the Patriots, who finished the season as the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a 12-4 record, would have the easiest path to a fourth Super Bowl championship if they had the advantage of facing low-seeded teams along the way. The history of the team in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, however, suggests the Patriots perhaps should be rooting for the more challenging path.

With the second-seeded Patriots resting this weekend on their bye week, they await to learn which of three opponents they’ll be facing next weekend: the Texans, Ravens or Colts. The Patriots have faced all three teams this season, beating the Texans and Colts by a combined 63 points and losing to the Ravens by one point back in September.

Since 2001, excluding divisional opponents, the Patriots own a 5-2 postseason record against teams which they had beaten in the regular season. They are 2-3 against teams which had beaten the Patriots in the regular season. Those two wins came against St. Louis in 2001 and Pittsburgh in 2004, with the losses coming against Denver (2005), Indianapolis (2006) and the Giants (2011).

That history is relevant this week, and that 5-2 record against teams they’ve beaten in the regular season provides reason to believe they’d be better suited to face Houston or Indy in the divisional round and then later the Broncos, whom the Patriots defeated in early October, in the AFC Championship Game.

Incredibly, when the Belichick-era Patriots have faced a team for the first time of the year in the playoffs, they’ve gone 8-0. They’ve twice met the Jets in the postseason after splitting the regular-season meetings, and they’re appropriately 1-1 in those postseason matchups.

The Patriots’ track record against lower seeds in the Belichick-Brady era also suggests they may be hoping to see the higher-seeded Houston and Denver in the AFC playoffs.

When the Patriots won their three Super Bowls, they beat a No. 1 seed four times, a No. 3 seed four times, and a No. 5 seed once.

In the six seasons when they fell short of a Super Bowl title, the Patriots lost to two No. 6 seeds, one No. 5 seed, one No. 4 seed, one No. 3 seed and one No. 2 seed.

In total, since 2001, here is how the Patriots have fared against playoff opponents, by the opponents’ seed:

No. 1: 5-0
No. 2: 1-1
No. 3: 5-1
No. 4: 1-1
No. 5: 4-1
No. 6: 0-2

For what it’s worth, too, the Patriots have entered the playoffs twice before as a No. 2 seed (2001, ’04), winning the Super Bowl both times.

Obviously, all of this information comes with the knowledge that when two teams take the field at Gillette Stadium at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 13, the results won’t be impacted by games that took place over the past decade-plus. This is merely an attempt at identifying trends from a team with a whole lot of postseason history.

And those trends say:

  • The Patriots tend to beat teams that they’ve already beaten in the regular season.
  • They’ve never lost when facing a team in the playoffs for the first time of the year.
  • They struggle when facing a team that beat them earlier in the year.
  • They are undefeated against No. 1 seeds, they are winless against No. 6 seeds, and they have lost once apiece to seeds two through five.

If that’s the case, then bring on Houston, Denver and Atlanta.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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