After a second straight shoddy start, the Patriots made short work of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and now move into the AFC playoffs not only with a first-round bye, but the top seed in the conference.
Now the real games begin for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The AFC doesn't have any juggernauts like New Orleans or Green Bay in the NFC, which means a trip to the Super Bowl could be entirely up for grabs. That means a fifth trip to the big game is there for the taking for the Pats, but it also means nothing should be taken for granted in Foxboro.
Baltimore and Pittsburgh are the most worrisome for the Patriots, for obvious reasons. Aside from the teams' recent playoff history, they boast the No. 3 and No. 2 scoring defenses, respectively. Ravens running back Ray Rice is one of the toughest backs to tackle in the NFL and the Steelers have been able to overcome nagging injuries to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to win six of their last seven.
The Texans don't have the pedigree, but they are feisty. Injuries to starting quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster and go-to wide receiver Andre Johnson didn't stop the Texans, who slipped into the playoffs despite losing three straight with quarterback T.J. Yates.
If Houston is a surprise, the Bengals and Broncos are flat-out shockers. Rooke quarterback Andy Dalton has given Bengals fans reason to believe — although not to show up to games, apparently — while the Tim Tebow saga has been well-covered.
All five teams could pose problems for the Patriots in the postseason. Which one, if any, should the Pats fear.