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Chris Licata

SPOT: Do the Patriots Have the Easiest Path to the Super Bowl?

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In a recent article, ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell ranked the NFL's eight remaining playoff teams in terms of their path to the Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots were the clear-cut favorite with 40.1 percent odds to make the big game according to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). That number was a runaway compared to the second best odds -- the Atlanta Falcons with an 18.9 percent chance. Five of the eight teams are given less than 8.4 percent odds to make it to Houston.

Here is what Barnwell had to say about the AFC East champion Patriots:

"The Patriots have the easiest path to Houston because they're guaranteed a game against Houston. Even though the Texans looked impressive enough in beating the Raiders on Saturday, keep in mind that mediocre teams that have made their way into the postseason and won in the wild-card round often get stomped in the following round. After going 8-8 in 2011 and beating Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, Tebow's Broncos lost by 35 points in New England the following week. The 2010 Beastquake Seahawks fell behind 28-0 in Chicago before losing 35-24. The 2014 Panthers beat a Ryan Lindley-led Cardinals team at home and subsequently lost by two touchdowns in Seattle.

Since 1990, underdogs of 14 points or more (as the Texans will likely be this weekend) are 20-179, a winning percentage of 10 percent. FPI gives the Texans a 11.1 percent chance of victory when the three other underdogs in the divisional round have no lower than a 27.1 percent shot. There are no layups in the playoffs, but the Texans are an open jumper. That's an enormous scheduling advantage they have over the Cowboys, and while the Patriots will have a tough matchup regardless of who wins the Chiefs-Steelers matchup, they will get to play them in Foxborough. This is precisely why teams care so much about finishing with the top seed at the end of the regular season, and it's why the Patriots are favored to make their seventh trip to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick."

The Patriots are 16-point home favorites (according to Bovada) for Saturday's AFC Divisional Round game against the Houston Texans (9-7), one of the largest spreads in league history. In Week 3, New England stymied Bill O'Brien's Texans 27-0 despite starting their third-string rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Assuming they take care of business again, they'll either meet the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) or AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) back at Gillette Stadium.  

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