Which Route Would You Want to the Super Bowl?
The Patriots' Path
The New England Patriots had 1 of their toughest regular season schedules in recent history.
They struggled in the 1st quarter of the season for a few reasons:
First, Brandon LaFell was still acclimating himself to NE's offense in his 1st year with the Pats. So, early on, Tom Brady didn't have a trusted weapon on the outside (as Aaron Dobson hasn't panned out).
Second, Rob Gronkowski was still getting back into game shape after tearing his ACL the season prior.
Third, and maybe most important, the offensive line wasn't giving Brady any time to find his open receivers or establish a running game.
This led to a 2-2 start for the Pats. It also led many to question their preseason predictions as New England was considered a Super Bowl favorite with the addition of Darrelle Revis to their defense.
The Pats righted the ship against the Bengals, Bills and Jets as they headed into the toughest stretch of their schedule with a 5-2 record.
Their opponents, in this 6-game stretch, ended up with a combined record of 60-36 (and 55-25 if you take out the Bears).
And the Pats went 5-1, only losing to Green Bay at Lambeau.
After that, New England took care of business against divisional opponents to secure a 1st round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Ravens' Path
My recap of the Ravens' regular season will be shorter as I don't follow the team as closely as the Patriots.
Baltimore went 10-6 this regular season. When looking at their season, the 1st thing I noticed is their 2 losses to the Cincinnati Bengals.
You just can't lose to the Bengals. It's the Bengals.
But those 2 losses came in the 1st half of their regular season. They are a different team now.
They may be a different team now, but they still lost to the Texans in Week 16, who ended up with a 9-7 record. The Texans are certainly a beatable team, even if the game was in Houston.
With a 10-6 record, the Ravens had to play against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Wild Card Weekend. And out of all the games that weekend, they probably had the most dominant win, holding the Steelers' offense to 17 points and putting 30 up against their defense.
It is important to note that Pittsburgh didn't have their starting RB, Le'Veon Bell, and had to start a RB they just signed earlier in the week. The Steelers' D is nothing to write home about, either.
With the Ravens being the lowest seed left, it set up this weekend's matchup with the Pats.
Which Path is Better?
After an up and down regular season, the Ravens come into Gillette playing their best football of the year. They didn't get a week of rest with a playoff bye, but they are in game-shape and ready to play.
Meanwhile, the Patriots didn't have to play their best in the last 3 games of the season to secure their playoff bye and they lost their last regular season game to the Bills. And their biggest concern this year, the offensive line, didn't play well in that game (or the last 3).
New England did get a week to rest and they don't have to travel as they have home-field advantage.
So, let's put it all together.
I'd rather have the Pats playing their best football going into the postseason, but let's face it, their last game had no implications on anything.
The Ravens aren't scared of going on the road, but the Pats still have the advantage at home. They've had an extra week to rest and gameplan against their possible opponents after Wild Card Weekend.
In sum, you have to take the Patriots' path. They will be more rested and better prepared for this matchup.
New England didn't play their best football at the end of the regular season, but everyone in the organization knows this game's significance and they will bring their best.
The Pats were the better team in the regular season which gave them their path. It doesn't mean anything once the game starts Saturday, but they are the better team and that should show up on the scoreboard when this game is over.