Tough Patriots call but home is where the win is
Home is where the heart is. Home field advantage. No place like home.
Yeah, all that stuff.
For the New England Patriots, we all know that home is where the wins are. They are 8-0 at Gillette Stadium going into Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff vs. the Los Angeles/Should-Be-San Diego Chargers.
That home cooking is New England’s biggest advantage. They’ve won 15 straight at Gillette.
Why have they been so good there?
“I don’t know,” said Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, who will play a huge role in this one. “You can chalk it up to many things.”
OK, let’s look at one of those many things: the schedule. The Chargers are perhaps the best team the Patriots will have faced at Gillette this season, with the exception of the Kansas City Chiefs back on Oct. 14, because the Chiefs then had since-exiled running back Kareem Hunt.
The three AFC East games are easy wins. The Colts weren’t the same team back in early October as they are now. Green Bay and Minnesota, as we saw, were extremely overrated. Houston in the opener was, well, Bill O’Brien’s Texans.
On Wild Card Weekend, the home teams went 2-2. So in the playoffs, it can be a wash. Remember, Arrowhead Stadium is supposed to be huge for the Chiefs but they haven’t won a playoff game there since January of 1994. Go figure.
So what’s the deal at Gillette? The Patriots certainly have had a few home playoff duds, losing to Ray Rice and the Ravens in early January of 2010 (Wild Card round), the Jets in an AFC Divisional game in January of 2011 and again to the Ravens in January of 2012. That was the last time.
They’ve played 14 home playoff games since 2010, twice as many as next team, Denver with seven. No wonder they’ve been to eight Super Bowls in the Belichick & Brady Era.
“You can chalk it up to the crowd as far as being a hostile environment,” Flowers said of the Gillette advantage. “You can chalk it up to us going out and out-executing the other team and being the more physical team and things like that.
“When it comes down to football, it’s obviously just the team that executes the most. I don’t know what it is about being at Gillette. I guess we get a little bit of help from the crowd.”
And the Chargers seem to feed off the fact they don’t, going 8-0 so far when having to fly to the other team’s place (their one road loss was at L.A. Coliseum to the Rams, ironically).
So which trend should we go with?
PATRIOTS 24, CHARGERS 23
Look, if L.A.pulls it out, won’t be surprised. They just won’t be intimidated, but we think as fearless as their QB Philip Rivers is, that leads to mistakes and he will make a few. Patriots take advantage of turnovers and hold off a late, uh, Charge.
COLTS 30, CHIEFS 27
Speaking of home field, we’ll know early Saturday evening whether or not the Patriots are playing Sunday for a chance to host the AFC Championship Game for the third straight year. We think they will, if the Colts can run the ball, and the numbers (Chiefs have allowed 132.1 rushing yards per game) say they can. That keeps the ball away from the dangerous Pat Mahomes and negates what ironically is a great K.C.pass rush (league high 52 sacks).
RAMS 27, COWBOYS 17
This L.A.team should come out on top despite the Cowboys defense being tough lateley, Dallas having won eight of nine and the Rams and QB Jared Goff coming back to earth. Dallas has lost its last five Divisional Round games. We just feel the Rams are ready to finally get their first playoff win since 2004.
SAINTS 40, EAGLES 14
Forget it, no Philly Special here. The Saints and Drew Brees are simply super in the SuperDome. Just wondering if after they win will New Orleans coach Sean Payton start tossing around a little of the $225,000 in cash he showed his team this week (Super Bowl bonus money) as a motivational tactic. Wouldn’t hurt.
So let’s get ready in another week to pick Colts at Patriots, Rams at Saints.
LAST WEEK: 2-2
REGULAR SEASON: 75-42-2
Tom King may be reached at 594-1251 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow King on Twitter (@Telegraph_TomK).