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Alex Speier

Facing playoff opponent for first time doesn’t faze Patriots

Confidence won’t be an issue for the Ravens as they swoop into Gillette Stadium Saturday to face the Patriots in the NFL playoffs.

But should it be?

Obviously, the Ravens have a pair of playoff wins in New England in the last five years. As much as any organization, they have a history that suggests they need not be intimidated by playing the Patriots on the road.

Nonetheless, Baltimore and coach John Harbaugh will be attempting to achieve something that has never been accomplished by a team facing Bill Belichick’s Patriots in the playoffs.

The Patriots own an 18-8 playoff record in 15 seasons under Belichick. But when facing an opponent they did not see in the regular season — as will be the case with the Ravens in this divisional-round matchup — they are 9-0, compared with an 8-7 record when meeting a team in the playoffs that they faced once in the regular season and 1-1 when meeting a divisional foe they faced twice.

The nature of that streak, which includes at least one win in each of the four playoff rounds and four in the divisional round, makes it seem like more than just a statistical blip. Might there be a reason for such success?


Is the difference Belichick incorporating elements of surprise and unexpected wrinkles in his game plans while preparing his team for those tactics by the opponent, particularly given the prevalence of bye weeks preceding those meetings?

Hard to say, though the difficulty of sweeping multiple meetings with a team is hardly a foreign notion.

That said, the performance of the Patriots under Belichick during the regular season hasn’t borne out that notion. During his reign, the Patriots have been swept by a team in two regular-season contests just twice, and not since the coach’s first year in 2000. New England has 20 regular-season splits and 24 regular-season sweeps. Overall, that’s a 68-24 record in games inside the division (against teams for which they must prepare twice) — a .739 winning percentage that aligns almost exactly with New England’s overall .729 winning percentage under Belichick.


Perhaps that 9-0 record against teams they didn’t see in the regular season has some element of flukiness. Indeed, Baltimore probably feels that way given that it nearly tripped up a Patriots team it hadn’t seen in the regular season in the AFC Championship game three years ago, ultimately seeing the Patriots sneak by with a 3-point win to advance to the Super Bowl.

Nonetheless, while recent playoff history between the Patriots and Ravens tilts clearly in Baltimore’s favor, another broader pattern suggests that the task in front of Baltimore is immense, while the Patriots merely need to hold form to advance to the AFC Championship game.

Patriots in the playoffs

How they have fared under Bill Belichick (2000-15) based on in-season familiarity with opponent.

Overall playoff record: 18-8 (.692)

vs. first-time playoff opponent:

Record: 9-0, +8.6 points per game average margin

Wild card: 1-0, +25.0

Division: 4-0, +9.0

Conference: 2-0, +5.0

Super Bowl: 2-0, +3.0

vs. playoff opponent for second time:

Record: 8-7, +2.3

Wild card: 0-1, -19.0

Division: 4-1, +10.8

Conference: 3-3, +0.7

Super Bowl: 1-2, -1.3

vs. playoff opponent for second time after win:

Record: 6-3

Wild card: 0-1, -19.0

Division: 4-0, +17.0

Conference: 2-1, +3.0

Super Bowl: 0-1, -3.0


vs. playoff opponent for second time after loss:

Record: 2-4

Division: 0-1, -14.0

Conference: 1-2, -1.7

Super Bowl: 1-1, -0.5

vs. playoff opponent for third time:

Record: 1-1

Wild card: 1-0, +21.0

Division: 0-1, -7.0

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.