New England Patriots: A history of diverse Divisional Round opponents

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Rob Ninkovich
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Rob Ninkovich /

As the New England Patriots prepare to take on the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round game, lets take a look at some of the team’s opponents in past seasons.

Early in Tom Brady’s career, the New England Patriots were often faced with tough divisional round opponents who put up close games that went down to the wire. But since 2011, that has not been the case. Named “The March of the Tomato Can” game by local writer Dan Shaughnessy, these games have rarely been as close.

Tier 1: 2001-2006

At first, the divisional round games were classics. First was the “Tuck Rule Game” in 2001, then the frigid 17-14 win versus Tennessee in 2003, then an iconic snow game against Peyton Manning’s Colts in 2004. Brady’s first playoff loss came the following season in Denver in 2005. That game was famous for a near pick six by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. After that, however, the Patriots won a thriller in San Diego against LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers during the 2006 season.

FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 31: Tom Brady /

Tier 2: 2007-2010

These next games during the prime of Brady’s career actually tended to be very forgetful. The only divisional round win during this period came against the lowly 2007 Jacksonville Jaguars. In consecutive seasons after, the New England  Patriots failed to make the playoffs, went one and done in the Wild Card round, and lost a heartbreaker to Rex Ryan’s Jets. Between the David Tyree catch, Ray Rice running rampant on the ’09 defense, and Santonio Holmes dancing on the field, these are harsh memories.

Tier 3: 2011-2013

All of these were cakewalks. It started with a 45-10 trouncing of Tim Tebow’s Denver Broncos when Brady threw for 363 yards and six TD’s. It continued the following season when Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans got embarrassed at Gillette Stadium for the second time in five weeks. New England won the game 41-28. The next year Andrew Luck’s Colts came to town and the Pats changed their game plan, proceeding to run the football for 234 yards. This complimented a defensive effort that included four takeaways. The combined score for these three games? 129-60. (An average score of 43-20)

Tier 4: 2014-present

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The most remarkable mini-era of Brady and Belichick’s storied tenure together may be these most recent seasons. Like most, they have come as a result of near flawless regular season performance, leading to MORE first-round byes, and a continued tradition of hosting Divisional Games in Foxborough.

In fact, I believe it was the home-field advantage that gave New England the edge during this era. Had the Patriots not been at Gillette in 2014 when they faced two 14-point deficits against Baltimore, they may have lost that game and failed to advance. Had they played in Arrowhead Stadium rather than in Foxboro against the Chiefs in 2015, their 7-point victory may not have been. And while last year’s matchup with Houston was not close in the fourth quarter, their home-field advantage led them to host Pittsburgh the following week instead of traveling to the Steel City.

Significance of Divisional Round Opponents

During this six-year stretch, the New England Patriots have appeared in 3 Super Bowls, 6 AFC title games, and have won two championships in each of the last three seasons. Much of this success has come to the frequency of home playoff games. In fact, Tom Brady and Co. have only played in two road games in this span, both AFC Title Game defeats in Denver. Both were losses.

Ultimately, the Patriots excellence should be attributed to the fact that no matter the divisional round opponents or beyond, they excel when they’re at Gillette coming off a bye. Hence, they take care of business during October, November, and December to avoid playing road games in January.

Next: New England Patriots defensive matchups with Tennessee receivers

I expect this year, and especially Saturday, to pay similar dividends. Let’s hope because we’re #NotDone.