Las Vegas

Meet the Underdog New England Patriots

Tom Brady has made a list, and he's checking it twice.

The 41-year-old quarterback, after shredding the Los Angeles Chargers in a 41-28 runaway in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game, made it known that he's aware of the pessimism which surrounded the New England Patriots for much of the 2018 season.

"Everyone thinks we suck and we can't win games," Brady nonchalantly told CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson in a postgame interview.

It's rare for anyone within the walls of Gillette Stadium to acknowledge the noise which permeates from the outside – be it from ESPN's Max Kellerman, Fox Sports 1's Nick Wright, or any number of other outlets on both a local and national level – but rarer still for the Patriots actually to be in the position of the underdog in the eyes of the oddsmakers in Las Vegas.

The Patriots were favored by 4.5 points over the Chargers on Sunday, the lowest total of any of the four home teams on divisional weekend. Contrast that with next Sunday's AFC Championship Game, which will mark the first time in 12 postseason games that the Patriots enter the game as underdogs, a string dating back to the 2013 AFC Championship Game in Denver.

It'll be the seventh time under Bill Belichick that New England has been an underdog in Vegas in the postseason. The first five instances came during the infancy of the dynasty, twice in 2001 and three more times between 2005 and 2006.

Their opponent this coming Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs, are currently 3-point favorites for the contest at Arrowhead Stadium in Missouri.

Devin McCourty said after the win vs. the Chargers that while the outside noise doesn't affect the way New England prepares for a game, it's still seen and heard inside the locker room.

"We were going to prepare and be ready to go, whether you pick us or you don't pick us," McCourty said at the podium. "But we see it. We see our quarterback's too old, we're not good enough on defense, the skill players aren't good."

Rob Gronkowski has become a frequent target of Patriot critics this season due in large part to his drop-off in production. While he figured prominently in New England's taming of Chargers' pass rushers, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, on Sunday, Gronkowski finished the game with just one catch for 25 yards.

"You've got to ignore it in a way where it doesn't ruin your preparation, ruin what you're trying to do, ruin what you're trying to accomplish that week," Gronkowski said of tuning out the negativity. "So, if you take it in, if you take it for motivation, that's great. But other than that, you can't let it get you down."

As tumultuous a regular season it was at times -- the Patriots' 11 wins were their fewest since 2009, which is also the last season they finished with a losing record on the road prior to this one -- it's hard to recall a better stretch of football for New England between Week 17 and its first playoff game in recent years. There may be something to be said for having the stakes be what they were for the Patriots in their regular season finale, even if it was against the hapless New York Jets: the ability to earn a first-round bye.

New England's 38-3 win on Dec. 30 was its largest margin of victory (35 points) in a regular season finale under Bill Belichick. Add in Sunday's 13-point win over the Chargers, and the combined margin of victory between Week 17 and the first playoff game for the Patriots is the highest since 2011.

"This isn't just a magical process that happened this week," center David Andrews said. "It's a combination of all the hard work all year, and we were able to just put it together."

Lingering questions about the championship mettle of a Brady-Belichick team generally subside long before the playoffs begin. Even when it appeared the Patriots had turned the corner following disastrous back-to-back road losses in Jacksonville and Detroit in September, the team regressed into some bad habits on the road in November and December.

No matter now that the team is back in the AFC Championship Game, extending its own franchise record with eight straight appearances.

The Patriots have peaked at various points of the football calendar through the years, and this just might be the latest it's shown signs of all coming together.

For a team that's played in three of the last four Super Bowls, they might be an imperfect underdog. But for all of the talk of their imminent demise, Brady's message at the podium after Sunday's win over the Chargers hardly resembled someone resigned to the end times: "I just like winning."

Contact Us