Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Patriots in odd place with Texans rematch
On one hand - after the third-seeded Texans topped the sixth-ranked Bengals, 19-13, in Saturday's AFC wild card - the Patriots are hoping to next Sunday repeat what happened when Houston came to Gillette Stadium in Week 14, when New England romped.
On the other, though, they'll be trying to avoid what happened when they faced this very same situation two seasons ago.
Back then it was the Jets coming to Foxborough. In December, the Pats had pummeled New York in a highly anticipated Monday night matchup, the final about as decisive as can be at 45-3. However, in January, the Jets turned the pain of that pummeling into a motivated performance, making better adjustments than the Patriots did and pulling off a 28-21 upset.
So now it's up to Bill Belichick's team to not let that happen again.
That 42-14 Monday night embarrassment sent the Texans into something of a tailspin, as Houston lost three of the regular season's last four, which cost them a bye, but Saturday they recovered a bit. They struggled to finish drives, which accounted for the closer-than-it-should've-been score, though they outgained the Bengals 420-198 and made the smart move of putting the game in the hands of Arian Foster.
Granted, Andy Dalton is no Tom Brady, but the defensive dominance evident in Cincinnati's 118 net passing yards can't be easily dismissed. And if Foster manages 140 yards on the ground, like he had in 32 carries Saturday, the Texans will certainly give the Patriots a better game this time than they did last.
In fact, they might even be capable of seeing that history repeats itself in the way the Patriots would prefer it didn't.
- - - - - - -
Without an opponent on which to focus, and eagerly waiting for their own team to get back to work, Patriots fans have spent the past week looking forward to the possibilities of this postseason and trying to figure out what to expect. In that process there have surely been assumptions made, stereotypes perpetuated and truisms taken as fact.
But which of those really stand up in football's modern age? Looking at the last decade of playoff results, with an eye especially on what it takes to hold the Lombardi Trophy at the end, let's do a little mythbusting.
-- Myth: End-of-the-season momentum carries into the playoffs.
Busted. Five of the past six Super Bowl champions went 3-3 over the final six weeks of the regular season, and since 2006 no eventual champ team has closed with more than two straight victories. The more meaningful momentum is that which starts this weekend. (For example, consider that the last five times the Super Bowl has featured a team playing its fourth playoff game against a team playing its third, the team with three wins already to its credit has won.)
-- Myth: Having a bye makes a big difference.
Confirmed. Four of the NFL's last six champions have played a wild-card game, however every Super Bowl since the league switched to six playoff clubs per conference has included at least one team that enjoyed a bye.
-- Myth: A bad regular-season defense won't win in the playoffs.
Busted. Of the last six title winners, four have finished the season among the bottom half of the league in points allowed. Three seasons ago the Saints ranked 26th against the pass, while last year the Giants were 29th in that category - same as the Patriots finished this year.
-- Myth: The running game matters.
Busted. Despite long-held belief, in this day and age the stats say it's almost irrelevant whether a team runs the ball or stops the run very well. Six of the last 10 champs had a lower-half run offense - including the 32nd-ranked Giants last season - and the same number were 18th or worse. By comparison, the last three hardware hoisters have boasted a top-five passing attack.
-- Myth: Elite quarterback play is a requirement to win.
Busted. An upper-tier quarterback is virtually required to be considered a legitimate contender, though title hopes can actually survive struggles from those players. Aaron Rodgers had a passer rating of 55.4, and Tom Brady of 57.5, in championship games they won. Joe Flacco beat Brady on a day he went 4-for-10 for 34 yards. Peyton Manning had a 70.5 postseason rating the year of his lone title - yet has lost six playoff games when he was rated higher. Looking at it another way, Drew Brees has only one playoff game rated lower than 93.5, yet he's only 5-4 lifetime, and the maligned Mark Sanchez has postseason wins over Brady and Manning, as well as the in-their-primes Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer.
-- Myth: Home field advantage is meaningful.
Confirmed. The league-wide regular-season winning percentage was.572 for home teams from 2002-11. That jumped to .610 (61-39) in the playoffs; and was even more pronounced after the wild-card round, climbing to .633 (38-22). Worth noting, though, is that a visitor has celebrated its conference title on enemy turf in seven of the past 10 seasons.
-- Myth: The No. 1 seed is much better than No. 2.
Confirmed. Two of the past four Super Bowls have not included a conference's top seed, still, over the past decade nine No. 1s have reached the Super Bowl - compared with four No. 2s. Additionally, since the Pats beat the Steelers in Jan. 2005, the first seed is 3-0 in conference title games against the second.
-- Myth: The Patriots can't win playoff games without big offense.
Busted - in a way. Truth is, these days almost nobody wins without scoring a bunch of points. Prior to Houston's win Saturday, since 2002 NFL teams were 40-94 when their offense scores less than 25 points. They were 70-16 when scoring 25 or more. At 2-4, the Patriots' winning percentage in such contests since 2007 is actually above average.
- - - - - - - -
Dave D'Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Twitter: @davedonofrio..