By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — These are strange times in the New England region. Strange times indeed.
The northeast corner of the United States of America finds itself struggling this week to grapple with the fact that despite the fact that Tom Brady suited up all year, despite the fact that Bill Belichick roamed the sidelines and crushed some film work on the treadmill, despite the fact that Robert Kraft owns the team, and despite the fact that home games are still held in Gillette Stadium … the New England Patriots somehow will not be hosting a football game during the divisional round of the playoffs.
Oh, the horror.
This has not been the case for 10 years. It was a decade that began with an absolutely stunning loss to Rex Ryan’s Jets in 2010. After that, the Patriots ripped off eight straight victories in the divisional round. They destroyed Tim Tebow’s Broncos, demolished a parade of AFC South losers, suffocated the much-hyped Chargers, outlasted a clock-confused Andy Reid, and outlasted the Ravens in the greatest game in Gillette Stadium’s history.
The average score of those contests? Patriots 38, Hapless Opponent 21. Only the ’14 Ravens and ’15 Chiefs (technically) managed to lose by seven points or fewer.
Every year for eight seasons, the middle of January has been reserved for a Patriots whooping against some poor foe, the unofficial start to the football season in New England.
This year, though, the tradition has died. It was, to put it quite mildly, a good run.
So good, in fact, that you could note this: The Patriots went 8-0 in the divisional round from 2011-18. The Detroit Lions do not have eight playoff wins in their entire history. They have seven. So do the Jaguars and Cardinals. The Buccaneers have six. The Bengals have … five! The Texans now have four.
That’s six entire franchises with fewer playoff victories in their entire histories than the Patriots have wins in the divisional round at home since 2011.
Alas, nothing lasts forever, so it may be time for all of America to hold hands and pay respects by reciting this poignant Robert Frost poem, which no doubt was written for this exact moment:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
When Bobby Frost wrote that one way back in 1923, he no doubt was thinking about his beloved Brady and the boys suffering a wild-card defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, ending a season that appeared for destined for doom for at least two months prior to its ultimate end. The man was a genius.
Anyways. As football fans from coast to coast no doubt mourn this loss for New Englanders, the good news is that there’s plenty of excitement without the Patriots for this weekend’s action.
–Jimmy Garoppolo, sports’ back-to-back-to-BACK Most Handsome Sports Guy winner, will make his playoff debut. He’s 28 years old, and he’s been in the league for six years. Finally, he’ll get to actually play in the postseason. (His two handoffs at the end of the 2014 AFC Championship Game, when the Patriots led 45-7, don’t really count.)
–Packers-Seahawks! Hey speaking of 2014 championship games, who here remembers the 2014 NFC title game? I sure do. That thing was a real hootenanny. Mike McCarthy showed off his affinity for kicking field goals from the 1-yard line. Brandon Bostick boofed an onside kick. Russ was clutch. So was Rodgers! Overtime! Kearse! Bad defense! That game ruled. Most of the involved names have changed, but the helmets are the same. Let’s do it again!
–Do the Titans have some real juice? As noted in the lead story here, it’s not easy to beat the Patriots in Foxboro in the playoffs. The Patriots are now 19-3 at home during the Belichick/Brady regime, and Mike Vrabel’s Titans are now one of those three. That’s GREAT and all, but now they have to face an AFC power that is actually good this year. Seeing how Vrabel prepares his players to follow up the biggest game of their lives will be fascinating.
–The Texans are … playing the Chiefs … that’s cool. OK fine, the playoffs are more intriguing when the Patriots are involved. That’s just science.
Nevertheless, the show must go on. Let’s make some picks.
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
SAN FRANCISCO (-7) over Minnesota
BALTIMORE (-8.5) over Tennessee
KANSAS CITY (-9.5) over Houston
GREEN BAY (-4.5) over Seattle
Did I just take all of the home favorites, despite some sizable spreads?
S’pose I did.
On a larger point, I’d note that wild-card weekend involved 252 minutes of football where no team held a two-possession lead, save for five minutes in New Orleans. Last weekend’s four teams were all very comparable to each other in terms of overall potency … which means none are really on the level of the four teams who spent last weekend getting mani-pedis and/or catching a mid-afternoon showing of “Frozen II.”
You may point out some inconvenient facts to that end, like, for instance, the fact that the Texans beat the Chiefs this season, or that an iffy calf for Mark Ingram could be huge, or that despite a 13-3 record, the Packers are liable to kind of stink at any given moment. That’s all fair.
But around this time of year, it’s always important to not get too swept up in the amazement of wild-card wins. That is to say, it’s easy to get bewitched by teams we all just witnessed winning in dramatic fashion a week ago, which could then lead to us all kind of forgetting that the actual good football teams were all given a weekend of rest for their efforts.
So, while I’m officially going with all four favorites, I will offer up an Upset Potential Scale, ranking from least surprising to most surprising.
UPSET POTENTIAL SCALE
1. Seattle at Green Bay
T-4. The other three games
Outside of a vintage Russell Wilson performance in Lambeau, I just can’t see the other underdogs pulling anything off this weekend. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it.
Last week: 1-3 (What the heck?!)
Regular season: 116-133-5 (Oh dear!)