And that, folks, is why you play to win in the NFL, no matter the scenario and possibilities.
One of the negative and arcane thoughts floating around in the aftermath of their week 15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was that the New England Patriots should try to lose in order to gain a better first round match up with a lower seed going into the playoffs – losing that game dropped New England behind both the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos in the race for a top 2 seed and a 1st round bye…
…so with New England sitting with the #3 seed and one game up on the #4 seed Baltimore Ravens, many in the media were toying with the thought that New England should keep some players out to get healthy and try to lose one of their remaining two games,letting the Ravens ascend to the #3 seed and setting up the Patriots for what turns out would have been a far more difficult road to the Super Bowl.
But by winning, the Patriots have created the shortest and by far the easiest path to New Orleans.
In the media scenario, losing and dropping to the #4 seed would have positioned New England to face a familiar foe in #5 seed Indianapolis – whom they handled easily in the regular season – in the first round instead of an unknown quantity in the #6 Cincinnati Bengals. This would have created a scenario similar to what Baltimore has gone through as the #4 seed, going into Denver with a chance to pull the upset.
As it turns out in the crazy world of the NFL, winning cures a lot of things and losing makes you – well – just a loser.
As it turns out the Patriots won out, while the Texans took a nose dive and New England ended up with the #2 seed and a bye – and with Baltimore’s gritty win over the Broncos last night, should the Patriots win their game against the Texans late this afternoon, they will host the AFC Championship Game next Sunday, a scenario so far out of the realm of possibility three weeks ago that the media was coming up with these twisted scenarios.
Had the Patriots lost to create a better first round matchup, they would be at Houston for today’s game and then, were they to win that one, would be on their way to Baltimore for the title game next week.
So as if Sunday’s match up between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots wasn’t intriguing enough, the tough and resilient Baltimore Ravens win over the Broncos last night created an opportunity for the road to the Super Bowl to go through Foxboro instead of Denver, Houston or Baltimore.
So now the Patriots host the Texans in an AFC Divisional Round Playoff game that suddenly is for the right to host the AFC Championship Game next Sunday, thanks to an opportunistic Ravens squad and yet another Peyton Manning meltdown in the post-season.
Baltimore defeated Manning’s Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime on Saturday.
New England’s post-season accomplishments is an embarrassment of riches compared to the Texans’ abbreviated appearances, as the Patriots are looking to host their 4th such title game and play in their eighth overall – with an all-time record of 7-1.
Houston has hosted 2 playoff games in their existence, winning both but having yet to make it out of the Divisional round. They have a chance to do so on Sunday.
But New England is a 9 1/2 point favorite for the divisional playoff game, and are sure to be favored heavily should they be the ones to host Baltimore…
…which is a far cry from what would have happened had the Patriots listened to some in the media and played for a lower seed – an important lesson that former New York Jets coach emphatically tried to drive home to the media years ago when embroiled in his own win/lose debate:
“Hello? You play to win the game!”