The New England Patriots tend to face relatively little resistance en route to their seemingly annual AFC Championship Game appearance. But once they get there, wins become far harder to come by.
The Patriots, who ran their streak of consecutive conference title game appearances to six Saturday night by beating the Houston Texans in the divisional round, have tripped on the final hurdle before the Super Bowl more often than not during that span.
Since 2011, New England has a winning percentage of 78.1 percent during the regular season (75-21) and 100 percent in the divisional round (6-0). But in the AFC Championship Game, that mark plummets to 40 percent, with three losses in five contests.
A rundown of those five AFC title games:
Beat Baltimore Ravens 23-20 at home. (Lost to New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.)
Lost to Ravens 28-13 at home.
Lost to Denver Broncos 26-16 on the road.
Beat Indianapolis Colts 45-7 at home. (Beat Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.)
Lost to Broncos 20-18 on the road.
As those final scores illustrate, the key to beating the Patriots on this stage is limiting their offense. New England, which has ranked among the top five in the league in scoring every year since 2010, failed to reach 20 points in any of its three losses.
Sunday’s AFC finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be a throwback to the early days of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. Two of the Patriots’ first three Super Bowl runs included a win in Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game — after the 2001 and 2004 seasons — and the teams have not met in the postseason since.
As the higher seed, the Patriots will host Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium, where they haven’t lost in the playoffs since 2012. Brady traditionally has dominated the Steelers at home, going 4-0 and completing 70.7 percent of his passes for 1,413 yards and 15 touchdowns with zero interceptions.
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