NFL Playoff Scenarios: Analyzing the New England Patriots' Possible Opponents

Tony SantorsaSenior Writer IIJanuary 2, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24:  Dante Scarnecchia and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watch their team during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It's a wrap—the 2011 NFL regular season is history as we now look towards the playoffs and ultimately Super Bowl XLVI. 

For the AFC, the road to the Super Bowl goes through New England, as the New England Patriots clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference after their 42-21 thrashing of the Buffalo Bills

With the top seed, the Patriots not only have home-field throughout the playoffs but they play the lowest seeded team that is to advance out of the wild-card round next weekend—which means the Houston Texans are not a possible opponent. 

With that being said, what are the possible scenarios moving forward for Bill Belichick and the Patriots?

Scenario 1: Denver Broncos

This could very well be the best scenario for the New England Patriots, but is will unlikely happen as I don't see Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos beating the Pittsburgh Steelers next weekend.

However, Tebow has proved this season that anything is possible—and the more I think about it, the Steelers would be playing on the road and likely will be without running back Rashard Mendenhall. It could happen. 

Scenario 2: Pittsburgh Steelers

This is a scenario I'm sure most New England fans out there would love to avoid as the Steelers beat up the Patriots back in Week 8, 25-17.

However, if the Steelers beat the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans knock off the Cincinnati Bengals, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers would have to pay a visit to Gillette Stadium the following Saturday. 

Scenario 3: Cincinnati Bengals

If the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Houston Texans, no matter what else happens, their next Saturday night will be spent with the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

This is somewhat of a favorable matchup for the Patriots, as they'll be facing a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, but they will have to square off against the NFL's seventh-best defense. 

In general, this is a bad matchup for Tom Brady and the offense but a decent matchup for the NFL's worst defense in the Patriots. 

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