To get to Texas, though, the Pats will have to take care of business against a couple of AFC foes, and though the Patriots do look to be the team to beat, dangerous opponents do loom.
Ironically, the team best-suited to challenge New England may not even make the playoffs at all. The Chargers feature an elite defense and an offense led by a quarterback putting up statistics comparable to those of Tom Brady in Philip Rivers. Their slow start and penchant for having punts blocked, however, have put them on the outside looking in as far as the playoff picture is concerned. The Patriots were able to squeak out a sloppy win over San Diego early in the season, but this Bolts team has improved mightily since.
The Patriots also beat both the Ravens and Steelers this season, but it's hard to say that either would be a team fans would like to see in Gillette. The Ravens knocked New England out at home in last year's playoffs, and both teams feature stifling defenses and hard-nosed approaches on offense. The Patriots are at their best when they can blow teams out. Playing that way isn't too easy to do against the Steelers or Ravens.
The Colts, of course, are another team that is always a threat in New England. They may not have much of a defense, and they may be injury-depleted, but as long as Peyton Manning is taking the snaps for Indianapolis, Patriots fans have reason to worry.
The only potential playoff team that actually beat the Patriots this year was Rex Ryan's Jets, yet Mark Sanchez and company were blown off the field when the teams last faced, and the matchup seems favorable for New England. The Chiefs feature among the league's best rushing attacks and a number of Bill Belichick disciples, but it's hard to say that either they or Jacksonville are teams likely to come into New England and win.
Which potential Patriots playoff opponent do you fear the most? Leave your thoughts below.
Thu, Dec. 23: Is Ryan Fitzpatrick the best player to come out of Harvard University?