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What the Patriots home playoff history can tell us about the Chiefs chances

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After the Patriots first Super Bowl victory with Tom Brady at the helm, Gillette Stadium was opened for business the following season. It was 2002 and many things have changed across the NFL since then. One thing that has been constant however is the dominance of the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick-led Patriots.

In the 13 seasons since Gillette stadium was built, the Patriots have hosted 16 playoff games. Of those 16, 13 of them were Patriots wins. They have been absolutely dominant at home in the playoffs.

The Chiefs have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Just how can it be possible for the Chiefs to go into New England and come away victorious in January? I took a look back at all of the post season games for the Patriots and tried to find if there was any type of blueprint for beating the Patriots in Gillette Stadium in the postseason.

There will be three parts to this article, the first part focuses on the overall rankings of each team heading into Gillette Stadium, the second part will deal with what happened in the individual playoff games, and the last part will talk a little about how Alex Smith fits in with all this.

I hope everyone is ready to do a little reading ....

Patriots Home Playoff Successes Against Team Rankings

Defense travels well in the NFL so I started by looking at how the Patriots fared against top five points per game defenses at home.

Patriots vs Top Five Points Per Game Defenses
Year Round Opponent Rank Outcome
2007 AFC Championship Chargers 5 W
2009 Wild Card Ravens 3 L
2011 AFC Championship Ravens 3 W
2015 Divisional Chiefs 3 ?

The Patriots have won 13 out of 16 playoff games at Gillette. That's a winning percentage of 0.813. Against top five defenses, the Patriots have a winning percentage of 0.667. Small sample size, obviously, but top five defenses fare a little better on the road against the Patriots in the playoffs.

Patriots Against Top 10 Points Per Game Offenses
Year Round Opponent Rank Outcome
2003 Divisional Titans 5 W
2003 AFC Championship Colts 2 W
2004 Divisional Colts 1 W
2007 Divisional Jaguars 6 W
2007 AFC Championship Chargers 5 W
2009 Wild Card Ravens 9 L
2012 Divisional Texans 8 W
2012 AFC Championship Ravens 10 L
2014 Divisional Ravens 8 W
2014 AFC Championship Colts 6 W
2015 Divisional Chiefs 9 ?

Patriots average winning percentage: 0.813. Patriots average winning percentage against top 10 offenses: 0.800. This is a slight advantage for teams with top 10 points per game offenses.

Maybe it's better to have a good defense in Gillette than it is to have a good offense. The next step is to look at teams who had top five defenses and top 10 offenses (like the Chiefs do.)

Patriots Against Teams with Top Five Defenses and Top 10 Offenses
Year Round Opponent Offensive Rank Defensive Rank Outcome
2007 AFC Championship Chargers 5 5 W
2009 Wild Card Ravens 9 3 L
2015 Divisional Chiefs 9 3 ?

The Patriots have a 0.500 winning percentage against teams with top five defenses and top 10 offenses in the NFL. Small sample size again but it appears this could be reason for some slightly increased optimism for the Chiefs.

Now let's take a look at how the Patriots have fared against teams that are in the top five in forced turnovers.

Patriots Against Teams in the Top Five At Forcing Turnovers
Year Round Opponent Rank Outcome
2004 Divisional Colts 3 W
2007 AFC Championship Chargers 1 W
2015 Divisional Chiefs 5 ?

The Patriots do not frequently turn the ball over so it's no shock to see they win against teams that need turnovers to win. We'll file this one under disadvantage.

What about teams that are top five at protecting the ball?

Patriots Against Teams with Top Five Fewest Giveaways
Year Round Opponent Rank Outcome
2003 Divisional Titans 4 W
2003 AFC Championship Colts 2 W
2004 Divisional Colts 2 W
2005 Wild Card Jaguars 2 W
2007 Divisional Jaguars 4 W
2009 Wild Card Ravens 5 L
2012 AFC Championship Ravens 2 L
2013 Divisional Colts 1 W
2015 Divisional Chiefs 2 ?

The Patriots have fared slightly worse than average against top five turnover teams. Their win percentage is still 0.750 though.

I wanted to look into the Patriots win / loss percentage against teams that were top five in both turnovers given away and turnovers forced but the Chiefs are the first such team the Patriots will face in the postseason in Gillette Stadium.

So to recap the first part I'll add one more little table.

Recap
Rank Win% vs Rank Average Win% Difference
Top 5 Defense 0.667 0.813 -0.146
Top 10 Offense 0.800 0.813 -0.013
Top 5 TO Forced 1.000 0.813 0.187
Top 5 TO Given 0.750 0.813 -0.063

Generally speaking, the Patriots have done slightly worse against teams that have top five defenses, top 10 offenses, and are in the top five for taking care of the ball. The Patriots still win a surprising number of these games.

It is all fun and good to look at these stats but I don't feel as though they provide much information on how to beat the Patriots in New England. Sure a few of these can give a little more optimism but there is nothing here to make me think the Chiefs have very good chances on Saturday. The Patriots are just really, really good at home in the playoffs with Tom Brady and Belichick at the controls.

Individual Games

We'll throw the rankings aside and see how the Patriots won or lost while the games were actually being played.

Patriots vs Opponents Total Passing Numbers
Patriots Have: More Pass Attempts More Passing Yards Better Yards Per Pass Attempt
IN WINS 0.31 0.31 0.62
IN LOSSES 1 1 0.33

The numbers are the percentages of times the Patriots won given the above circumstances. For instance, in games the Patriots won, they had more pass attempts than their opponents 31 percent of the time. But what does this mean? The Patriots aren't having to air the ball out more than their opponents to win playoff games at Gillette Stadium. Oddly enough, in the playoff games the Patriots have lost at home they throw the ball more than the opposing team 100 percent of the time.

Objective No. 1: The goal is to get ahead early and make the Patriots one-dimensional

Obviously Brady has won many, many a game with his arm. I find this to be a really, really odd thing to say but it worked for the teams who were able to do the near impossible and beat the Patriots in their house during the playoffs. And it happens to be one of the models the Chiefs have followed this season.

Patriots vs Opponents Total Rushing Numbers
Patriots Have: More Rush Attempts More Rushing Yards Better Yards Per Rush Attempt
IN WINS 0.77 0.85 0.62
IN LOSSES 0 0 0.33

In each of the games the Patriots lost they did not have more rushing yards or rushing attempts than their opponents.

Objective No. 2: Beat the Patriots in the run game

This doesn't mean if the Chiefs run the ball better than the Patriots they win. Last season the Patriots won a playoff game with 13 rush attempts for 14 yards. It does mean that teams who have beaten the Patriots in the postseason at Gillette have been able to run the ball better than the Patriots.

Patriots vs Opponent Turnover Numbers
Patriots Have: Win TO Margin No Forced TOs No Turnovers Lost
IN WINS 0.69 0 1
IN LOSSES 0 1 0

The Patriots have never lost a playoff game in Gillette Stadium when they did not turn the ball over. They have won the turnover margin in 69 percent of their victories. This means the Patriots are good enough at home to overcome a negative turnover margin. The Patriots have never won a playoff game in Gillette Stadium where they did not force a turnover.

The next objectives are true in every game but:

Objective No. 3 - Do not turn the ball over

Objective No. 4 - Force Turnovers

Since we've talked about what is needed to beat the Patriots, let's talk about some of the things that are NOT needed to beat the Patriots.

Prolific Passing Attack

In the three games the Patriots lost at home in the playoffs at Gillette their opponents had 34, 194, and 240 total passing yards. Mark Sanchez won one of the playoff games for the Jets. The Chiefs do not have to go into the game throwing the ball like 1984 Dan Marino to win. It's shocking to see the Patriots lost a home playoff game where the opposing QB threw for 34 total yards. The game was against the Ravens, Joe Flacco was the QB, and the Ravens ran for 234 yards.

100 Yard Receiver

In none of the games where the Patriots lost did their opponent have a 100 yard receiver. The way to beat the Patriots is to spread your offense throughout your team (which the Chiefs do) so the Patriots can't key in on one player.

Dominate the Time of Possession

In the games I observed there was no linkage between a teams success against the Patriots and the time of possession. It could help to dominate the time of possession but I did not take that away from these postseason games.

Last Second Heroics

When the Patriots have been beaten at home, the average margin of victory for their opponents was 13.67 points. The Patriots have lost by the following scores: 14-33, 21-28, and 13-28. A lot of thought goes into this sort of glorious last second drive beating Tom Brady at home. The truth of the matter is the Patriots don't play close games in Gillette. Of the 16 playoff games at Gillette Stadium, only two of them were decided by three points or less.

When the Patriots win, they win big. Their average point margin in wins is 16.16. The goal for both teams is to get on top, and get on top early.

Where Alex Smith Fits Into All of This

I'd like to toss another stat out just for fun: Alex Smith is 8-0 all time against the AFC East. He is 1-0 against the Patriots. Which leads to a few more fun stats:

  • Smith has a career passer rating of 144.4 against the Patriots.
  • Alex Smith averages 248 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs against the Patriots.
  • Smith has a 77 percent completion percentage lifetime against the Patriots.
So where does Alex Smith fit in all of this. Why did I bring him up? Forgive me for going completely off topic here but who here loves the old MegaMan games? Anyone who remembers playing them knows that certain abilities MegaMan obtains through the game pose advantages against certain enemies and bosses. I like to think that Alex Smith could be the fire beam to Gillette Stadium's playoff ice shields. Let's take a look back at some the items from above.

Objective No. 2:  Beat the Patriots in the rushing battle. Alex Smith can get serious yards with his legs. Just his running ability alone will help the Chiefs accomplish their objective of beating the Patriots in the rushing game.

Objective No. 3: Do not turn the ball over. This is one of Smith's best assets. If he does not turn the ball over against the Patriots, I like the Chiefs chances of winning the turnover battle.

What You Don't Need: A Prolific Passing Attack. Look, we all know who Alex Smith is by now. He's a smart QB who doesn't make mistakes and also doesn't put up gaudy passing numbers. A standard Smith performance, buoyed by a strong defense, is good enough to beat the Patriots.

What You Don't Need: A 100 Yard Receiver. Important with Jeremy Maclin's injury. Smith is well known for spreading the ball out amongst his receivers. This is definitely an advantage for the Chiefs as the Patriots game plan their defense.

What You Don't Need: Last Second Heroics. This is Alex Smith's fifth playoff start. The Chiefs don't need him to be, well Tom Brady, in this game. The Chiefs need a methodical approach from Smith and to play smart football if they get ahead early.

Smith's back to back drives against the Saints in the 2012 divisional round look pretty good on a resume. However, if you're looking at QB resumes in this game we all know Tom Brady's is maybe just a little bit more fleshed out.

The Chiefs will need to play a near perfect game to beat the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. Can they win? Yes. Are they likely to win? Not if they make a number of mistakes.

The Chiefs have the perfect QB (and defense) to replicate what teams have done in the past to beat the Patriots in the postseason at New England. They'll need to take care of the ball, win the rushing attack, get ahead early, avoid turnovers and force a few turnovers of their own. If the Chiefs can do this they have a shot at winning in New England.