For the majority of the 2015 season the Patriots have been firmly entrenched as one of the favorite to get to the Super Bowl. Winners of their first 10 games, the Patriots were riding high atop the AFC and seemed destined to earn one of the two coveted first-round byes.
Then New England coughed up a late 14-point lead in Denver, and followed that up with a stunning home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, instead of wrapping up a bye New England is actually sitting in the No. 3 spot behind Cincinnati and Denver thanks to tiebreakers.
Obviously there's still a lot of football left to be played with a month remaining in the regular season. And some of the injuries that clearly have impacted the team during the past month aren't considered season-ending. So with the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Dont'a Hightower and perhaps Julian Edelman expected to return at some point, the bye is far from lost for good.
So this week we're looking ahead and asking a simple question for our Samsonite Make Your Case: Do the Patriots need the bye in order to make it to the Super Bowl?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
This is a banged-up team right now and even if some of the players return it would be asking an awful lot for them to play an extra game before hitting the road for the rest of the playoffs to make it back to the Super Bowl. Obviously that wouldn't be an impossible road, but it's one the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots have never been able to successfully travel.
A big part of the Patriots postseason success has come at Gillette Stadium, where the team has an enormous home-field advantage. Away from home they're still good but not quite as dominant. The last time the Patriots won a road playoff game was way back in 2006. Under Brady the Patriots are just 3-3 in road playoff games, and assuming the bye teams take care of business that means New England would have to win twice away from home.
If the Patriots were completely healthy - nobody is at this point of the season - maybe I would feel differently. But I don't like their chances to win three times with at least one of those on the road with a banged-up team. Possible but not likely.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
I know the Patriots have never advanced to the Super Bowl with Brady and Belichick without the bye but that's only because they very rarely failed to secure a bye. More often than not they're one of the top two seeds and haven't needed to travel the more difficult road.
Of more importance in my mind is getting the players healthy between now and the end of the regular season. Rob Gronkowski is already back practicing and so is Dont'a Hightower. Several media reports indicate that Julian Edelman will return in the playoffs. If these keys figures are back in the lineup, the Patriots will be favored to beat any team they face in the postseason - regardless of venue.
If the Patriots can find a way to grab a bye, then obviously their chances are even stronger to return to the Super Bowl. But if they aren't, all is not lost.