Bill Belichick explained last week that Sunday's game against the Dolphins would be treated like a postseason affair. That made sense considering a first-round bye was on the line in the finale.
But instead of postseason intensity, the Patriots came out flat on both sides of the ball and fell to the Dolphins, 27-24, forcing them to play on wild card weekend as Kansas City leapfrogged New England by virtue of its win over the Chargers.
Now in possession of the third seed, New England will take on the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night with kickoff set for 8:15 p.m. This marks the first time the Patriots failed to earn a bye since 2009, snapping a streak of nine straight years finishing in the top two in the AFC.
The loss was crucial, not only because the bye was lost but also because of the daunting road the team now faces. Even if the Patriots are able to pick up a win over the Titans next week, a trip to Arrowhead Stadium for a playoff rematch with the Chiefs would be in the offing. And the Chiefs will be rested after picking up the 2 seed in unexpected fashion.
No team has advanced to the Super Bowl after playing in wild card weekend since 2012 when the Ravens won it all, so the fallout from the Dolphins loss is significant.
The complete schedule for the AFC next week is as follows:
No. 6 Tennessee at No. 3 New England on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
No. 5 Buffalo at No. 4 Houston on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Baltimore and Kansas City will enjoy the bye as the top two seeds, respectively, and host the divisional round. The Ravens will play Jan. 11 at 8:15 p.m. If the Patriots win they would travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs Jan. 12 at 3:05 p.m.