The New England Patriots accepted the gift the Houston Texans handed them in Week 16 and parlayed it Sunday into yet another first-round playoff bye.
The Patriots beat the Jets, 38-3, in Week 17 at Gillette Stadium to run New England's record to 11-5 — including 8-0 at home. The last time the Patriots lost in the stadium was September 2017 against the Carolina Panthers, winning their past 15 straight there.
This might have been the final game as Jets head coach for Todd Bowles, who reportedly will be fired Monday following a 4-12 season.
Right now, the Patriots have clinched at least the No. 2 seed, guaranteeing them at least one playoff home game. They still can earn the top seed and home field throughout if the Chiefs and Chargers lose later on Sunday afternoon.
That's now nine straight years where New England will receive a first-round bye with one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs. In that span, two NFL teams — the Browns and Buccaneers — have failed to make the postseason a single time.
Playing at home appears to be vital for the Patriots, who are 3-5 away from Gillette this season and were outscored by 19 points in those games. Their point differential at home: plus-102.
The Patriots have never played in a Super Bowl under Bill Belichick in which they did not sit out the opening weekend of playoffs. Sunday was the 13th time the Patriots have clinched a first-round bye in Belichick's 19 seasons. It's also the ninth straight year with 11 or more victories.
But can this New England team regain its Super Bowl mojo over the next few weeks?
It was hard to take too much from Sunday's game, even if Tom Brady (21-of-30 passing, 226 yards, three TDs, no picks) looked mostly great against a shorthanded Jets secondary. The Patriots didn't run the ball especially well early, and the defense allowed Jets QB Sam Darnold to complete a few nice passes.
However, Darnold was sacked four times and Kyle Van Noy picked up one of two Jets fumbles for a defensive score. Overall, this was a good showing for a Patriots team that has endured a tougher regular season than they have faced in recent years, the latest setback occurring when Josh Gordon stepped away from football prior to being suspended.
Things don't look as strong as they have, but doubting the Patriots — especially with at least one home game in the playoffs — still feels foolish now.