By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s finally time for the real season to begin for the New England Patriots. And fortunately for them, they won’t have to leave home.
By virtue of having a 13-3 record and owning the tiebreaker against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots are the AFC’s No. 1 seed. If they are to play a road game again this season, it will take place in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 in Super Bowl LII.
After beating the Jets on Sunday, the Patriots will now enjoy two weeks of rest before hosting a divisional round playoff game. Here is the information on that game.
WHAT: AFC Divisional Playoff Game
WHERE: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass. on CBS/WBZ-TV
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 13 at 8:15 p.m. ET
There are three potential opponents the Patriots could face in the divisional playoff round. The lowest remaining seed that emerges out of the wild-card round will travel to Foxboro for this one. Here are those potential opponents, listed by seed.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
The Chiefs seem like the likeliest opponent, if things play out according to the favorites. That could be bad news for the Patriots, who lost by 15 points to Kansas City on opening night. But a return trip for K.C. could just as easily be a welcome development from the Patriots, who would probably have no trouble getting the emotions ready for a revenge game.
In order for the Chiefs to advance, they must win at home against the Titans next weekend.
5. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
The Titans eked their way into the playoffs but have been a thoroughly unimpressive bunch for much of the season. They land in the top wild-card spot because three of their seven losses happened to have come against the NFC. That included a three-game losing streak from Weeks 14-16 against the Cardinals, Niners and Rams, which dropped the Titans from 8-4 to 8-7 in a hurry.
They don’t really have the firepower to keep up with the Patriots, but if the Titans were to go on the road and win in Kansas City, then they’d have to be taken seriously as a legitimate threat in New England.
6. Buffalo Bills (9-7)
Sports are funny, in that certain moments could never have been scripted. The latest example came early Sunday evening, when seemingly the whole football world celebrated the Bills’ landing a playoff berth in the unlikeliest fashion.
After the Bills beat the Dolphins in Miami, their playoff picture still looked bleak. The Ravens had fought back to take a three-point lead over the Bengals in the fourth quarter. Considering the Bengals had nothing on the line, most assumed the Ravens would finish the job and secure the playoff spot.
But then Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown, and a few moments later, the Bills had secured a playoff spot for the first time since ’99.
It’s a fun story … but actually winning a playoff game won’t be easy. The Bills have to go to Jacksonville to face arguably the league’s best defense in the wild-card round. If the Bills do escape that trip somehow, they’ll have to travel to Foxboro to face the Patriots, against whom they did not score an offensive touchdown in two games this season. The Patriots outscored Buffalo 60-19 in those two games.
WHAT: AFC Championship Game
WHERE: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.**
WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 21 at 3 p.m. ET on CBS/WBZ-TV
**If Patriots win in divisional round
The mission for the Patriots is simple: Win at home against a lesser opponent in the divisional round, and earn the right to host an AFC title game for the fifth time in the last seven years.
For this game, of course, the field of potential opponents increases by two teams.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
The matchup everybody wants, and everybody expects, involves the Steelers making the trek to Foxboro with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Considering that the two teams’ recent meeting ended in heart-stopping (and controversial) fashion, there’s little doubt that this would be the most anticipated football game of the entire season.
What will be critical with the Steelers is threefold. First, will Antonio Brown be back and, more importantly, be himself? He suffered a calf injury in that Patriots game, and though he’s expected to play in the postseason, you just never know with injuries.
Second, will Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell struggle to get started in their divisional round game after being inactive in Week 17. They’re pros, of course, but going almost three full weeks without playing and then having to step into the biggest game of the year is not always easy.
And lastly … will anything change for Pittsburgh? Last year, the Steelers made this exact trip to Foxboro for the AFC title game and got blown out of the building. It was the continuation of a long trend, as the Steelers have not ever beaten Tom Brady in Foxboro. They’ve had five cracks at it, and in those five games, the Patriots have outscored Pittsburgh 183-96. For the Steelers to hope for a different outcome this time around, they’ll have to bring a special game plan.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
One of the most exciting teams through the middle and late parts of the season, the Jaguars ended their year with a bit of a whimper, losing their final two games.
But Week 17 meant nothing to the Jags, who return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Interestingly enough, in the Jags’ two most recent postseason appearances (2007, 2005), their seasons ended in Foxboro.
This year, the Jaguars would just appreciate that opportunity, because it would mean they won their home game against the Bills. But the only way the Jaguars can earn a trip to Foxboro this year is by beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the divisional round.
That’s not an entirely impossible scenario; the Jaguars beat the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh back in Week 5. Leonard Fournette ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns that day, while the Jaguars secondary intercepted Roethlisberger five times. Provided the Jaguars take care of business against the Bills, a rematch between the Jags and Steelers with a trip to Foxboro on the line ought to be a captivating event.
WHAT: Super Bowl LII
WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 4 at 6:15 p.m. ET
The ultimate goal in New England, of course, remains securing another Lombardi Trophy. It won’t be easy — it never is — but with the regular season now officially over, the quest officially begins.