Tom Savage

AFC WILD CARD: Osweiler returns to lead Texans over Oakland 27-14

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AFC WILD CARD: Osweiler returns to lead Texans over Oakland 27-14

Brock Osweiler finally looked like the player Houston spent $72 million on, throwing for a touchdown and running for another to lead the Texans to a 27-14 wild-card playoff win over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday.

Osweiler, benched on Dec. 18, got his job back this week with Tom Savage out with a concussion, and played his best game of the season to give the Texans their first playoff victory since the 2012 season.

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Bean: Patriots don't need to go crazy over No. 1 seed

Bean: Patriots don't need to go crazy over No. 1 seed

The Patriots have been very careful to not finish the 2016 regular season the way they did in 2015, when they lost their final two games to cede the No. 1 seed in the AFC to Denver and were eventually eliminated in . . . Denver. 

The first measures to prevent a similar fate this season were taken last week with a 41-3 drubbing of the Jets. Now the Pats control their destiny and can sew up the top seed Sunday with a win over Miami or a Raiders loss to the Broncos. By all accounts, they’re prioritizing a win over resting star players. 

But last season was last season. Denver's defense was scary. What could the Patriots possibly fear this season? 

With Derek Carr out of the picture, there's probably more space between the Patriots and everyone else in the AFC since . . . when, 2007? Would anything actually worry them if they’re to take their chances with the scoreboard Sunday and give guys like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman a breather? 

This isn’t a plea for the Patriots do necessarily do that; guys want to play because stats lead to money, and given the supply and demand of top athletes, you should want those guys to do whatever makes them happy. But the Patriots know where these guys are at health-wise, and they shouldn’t think twice about giving the necessary ones a quarter or four off if it means it’ll be easier to trounce the flotsam and jetsam they’ll be playing in the coming weeks. 

Drudging up old history in this case might not be too telling given that these are all different teams, but it’s not like the Patriots have needed the No. 1 seed to get to the Super Bowl. In their six trips to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, two of their four victories (2001 and 2004) came as the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Conversely, they were beaten in the divisional round -- at home -- as the No. 1 seed in 2010 by the Jets (a victory that probably kept Rex Ryan employed as a head coach for the next six seasons). And in 2012 they lost the AFC Championship Game at home to the Ravens (they were the No. 2 seed that year, but got to host the title game when Baltimore upset top-seeded Denver).

Yes, they lost as the No. 2 seed in Denver in both 2013 and 2015. But that was then and this is now. With the Matt McGloin-led Raiders as their only potential road opponent if they're seeded second, does it really matter where the Pats wind up? It’s commonplace to go through potential playoff opponents and find a team to fear, but it might be a stretch to say one genuinely exist this year. 

Of course the Patriots should covet the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It’s a feather in the organization’s cap and it would guarantee they wouldn’t have to go anywhere before heading to Houston for the Super Bowl.

From a competitive standpoint, however, it's just not that big a deal this time around.

AFC's murky QB situation a major plus for Patriots

AFC's murky QB situation a major plus for Patriots

The NFL postseason is where quarterbacks’ legacies are built. Though those reputations often become overstated, once you’ve solidified yourself as a “winner” or “loser,” those tags are hard to shake.

By the looks of it, this postseason might see a few guys trying to build their playoff names from scratch, and those guys might have to do it in Foxboro. 

This has been a weird year for quarterbacks. Between the six playoff teams in the AFC, 13 different starting QBs will have been used by the time Oakland’s Matt McGloin starts Week 17 for the injured Derek Carr. Surprisingly, that’s actually as many as were used between last season’s AFC playoff teams. 

None of the AFC playoff teams have had the same quarterback start every game. The Patriots have led the way with three, though that’s partially due to suspension. 

Depending on whether Ryan Tannehill (sprained ACL) is good to go next week for the Dolphins, the AFC’s starting quarterbacks in the postseason could be the following: Tom Brady, Matt Moore, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Savage, Matt McGloin and Alex Smith. Half of those guys have postseason experience. The other three don’t. 

Even if Tannehill does play for the Dolphins, and even if the recently supplanted Brock Osweiler does reclaim his job in Houston, neither of those guys have taken a playoff snap either. If experience under center is as important in the playoffs as everyone makes it out to be, the Patriots, presuming they take the No. 1 seed, could get a crack or two at toying with inexperienced postseason quarterbacks on their home field. 

It’s not like green postseason quarterbacks can’t get far. Tom Brady, Jake Delhomme and Ben Roethlisberger are at least semi-recent examples that they can go to a conference championship (Roethlisberger), the Super Bowl (Jake Delhomme) or even win it all (Brady). 

This might not surprise you, but the Patriots have never lost to a quarterback playing in his first postseason. They’ve played six of them, beaten them all and only allowed a passing touchdown to half of them. 

Here’s a quick run-through: 

  • 2012, Matt Schaub: The Pats may have been more worried about Arian Foster, but Schaub wasn’t bad in his second-career postseason start. He completed 34 of 51 passes for 343 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. The Pats sacked him once. 
  • 2011, Tim Tebow: The divisional round saw the Patriots sack Tebow five times and hold him to 136 yards on 9-of-26 passing with no touchdowns or picks in his second and final postseason game. He’ll always have the previous week’s OT winner against Pittsburgh. 
  • 2006, Philip Rivers: The Patriots went into San Diego and upset the No. 1 seed (and 14-2) Chargers in Rivers’ first career postseason start. Rivers, who was sacked three times, was 14-of-32 for 230 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. He may have yelled a bit about Ellis Hobbs after the game. 
  • 2005, Byron Leftwich: In the lone postseason start of Leftwich’s career, the Patriots sacked the Marshall product four times and held him to 18-of-31 passing for 179 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He did have an 18-yard run, though. Man, Byron Leftwich ruled. 
  • 2004, Ben Roethlisberger: Then a rookie, Roethlisberger had the pleasure of the AFC championship being his second career playoff game. Unfortunately for him, it was against a powerhouse Patriots team and he got picked three times. He also threw a pair of touchdowns on 14-of-24 passing for 226 yards. 
  • 2003, Jake Delhomme: The Pats had their way with most of these other guys, but Jake Delhomme was damn good for the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, throwing for 323 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. This Panthers loss certainly wasn’t on the quarterback (*cough John Kasay cough*). 

Given the landscape of the AFC, it should be smooth sailing for the Patriots as they aim to reach their seventh Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. History says these inexperienced playoff quarterbacks some of their opponents might throw out there won’t make big names for themselves against the Pats.