After a 41-28 dismantling of the Chargers in the AFC Divisional Round, the New England Patriots improved to a perfect 9-0 on the season in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium.
Unfortunately for them, they’ll have to travel to Arrowhead Stadium to meet the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
There were some questions about if the Patriots could still get the job done entering the Divisional Round, but they were who they’ve always been — a dominant home team. Now we’ll really find out what New England’s made of on Sunday as their struggles on the road this season are well documented..
Forget the fact that Kansas City improved to 8-1 at home last week — the sole loss coming at the hands of the Chargers, who erased a 14-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining — let’s focus solely on what the Patriots have achieved on the road this season. That would be close to nothing.
New England’s 3-5 road record was highlighted by a 38-31 victory in Chicago — a quality win over a Bears team that made the playoffs (despite choking at home in a Wild Card loss to the Eagles). The rest of the Pats’ road games included easy victories over the Jets and Bills, as is seemingly the case every year, but also embarrassing losses in Jacksonville, Detroit, Tennessee, Miami, and Pittsburgh — none of whom qualified for the postseason.
The Patriots averaged 12.2 fewer points in road games than they did in Foxborough, owning a plus-15.9 point differential at home (first in the NFL), versus a minus-2.4 point differential in road games. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have the longest streak in the NFL of holding their opponents to under 30 points at home at 34 consecutive games. The next-longest streak isn’t even half as many.
This leaves the Patriots in one of the toughest spots they’ve been in during the Brady-Belichick era. But if we take a step back and examine the history of the Patriots on the road during the postseason, it’s not all that different than the way this season has gone.
Brady and Belichick have a historic 28-10 postseason record together, but it’s been highlighted by an INSANELY dominant run at home. The Patriots are 20-3 in Foxborough since 2001. Only two quarterbacks have ever defeated Tom Brady in a home playoff game — Joe Flacco (2009 Divisional Round, 2012 AFC Championship) and amazingly, Mark Sanchez (2010 Divisional Round).
That 20-3 home record leaves just an 8-7 record away from home. When you factor in the eight Super Bowl appearances, which the Patriots went 5-3 in on neutral fields, that leaves Brady and Belichick with a 3-4 losing record on the road in the postseason all-time.
Brady started his career with some huge postseason wins on the road, winning both the 2001 and 2004 AFC Championship games in Pittsburgh. But, believe it or not, the last time the Patriots were victorious in a true road game in the playoffs was the 2006 Divisional Round, conveniently enough against the then San Diego Chargers.
The Patriots had dropped the Divisional Round to Jake Plummer’s Broncos in Denver the previous year, and after the win in San Diego in 2006, New England dropped the AFC Championship game in Indianapolis. That would set a trend, as the Patriots last three postseason losses on the road came at the hands of Peyton Manning — 2006 at Indianapolis and 2013 and 2015 in Denver (all AFC Championship games).
You never want to sleep on the Patriots at this time of year. New England will head to Kansas City as three-point underdogs, which is a place it doesn’t mind being. Brady and the Pats are 7-1 in their last eight games as the underdog, and the team’s playing up that narrative this week.
Given the issues Brady and Belichick have had on the road over the years in the playoffs, this game could actually be more meaningful to their legacy than we think. Not only would it mark a ninth Super Bowl appearance, but it would erase maybe the only blemish on their resume — a losing playoff record in the opposing team’s stadium.