Not long ago, having the top seed in the postseason was viewed as more of a curse than a blessing, with the best regular-season teams routinely losing at home in the postseason. Since 2013, however, winning the top spot in a conference has resulted in a ticket to the Super Bowl for all six teams that have emerged in the pole position after 16 regular-season games.
Sunday’s game between the Broncos and Patriots demonstrated the importance of earning home-field advantage. Few doubt that, if the game had been played at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots easily would have won.
Indeed, a year ago the Broncos knew they’d have to hit the road in the AFC title game against the Patriots, and that apparently played a role in the Broncos not qualifying for it.
“I feel like guys kind of looked over the Colts,” receiver Demaryius Thomas said in a Super Bowl-week visit to PFT Live. “You had guys always talking the night before the game, you had, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to New England and play New England.’ And I think that was one of the big things.”
This year, New England had to play the Broncos in Denver, where quarterback Tom Brady previously had a record of 2-6 before Sunday. His record there is now 2-7, after the Broncos did what they would have had a much harder time doing in Massachusetts.
Ultimately, the Patriots have only themselves to blame for not hosting the AFC Championship. Even after losing to the Broncos to end a 10-0 streak to start the season, the Patriots needed only to win one of their last two — at the Jets or at the Dolphins — to nail down the top seed. But the team that has owned the AFC East stumbled against both of their division rivals, which reconfirms the importance of taking care of business in their own backyard.
For the other three teams that routinely compete with the Patriots, the back-to-back losses to end the regular season could be the long-awaited opening for a shot at ending New England’s hammerlock on the AFC East. Or maybe the Patriots will be even more determined to parlay 6-0 in the division into being the top dog among the six teams that make it to the playoffs.