The 2011 Patriots secured the AFC's number one seed, wrapping up a 13-3 record and setting numerous franchise and league records on the offensive side of the ball in the process.
A successful season, right? No. Not by the Patriots' standards.
For the past two years, the Patriots have had "successful" regular season campaigns only to falter in the home playoff-opener. Every Patriots fan remembers Ray Rice's 83-yard scamper to open the 2009 Wild Card Patriots-Ravens matchup, which led to the Pats being trampled by a final score of 33-14 in front of a shocked Gillette Stadium.
And every Patriots fan cringes when reminded of the abrupt end to the 2010 season filled with such promise, a year in which the Patriots came into the playoffs on an eight-game tear with Tom Brady as hot as any quarterback in NFL history. The 2010 Patriots fielded one of the more dominant teams in the history of football that year, but that was all for naught as they fell 28-21 to the Jets in a contest that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
The Patriots haven't won a playoff game in nearly four years, an eternity for the Foxborough faithful. Their last playoff victory came in the AFC Championship Game over the Chargers in January of 2008. Pats' die-hards know all too well what came after that.
For the Patriots' 2011 chapter to be considered a success, they must make a deep playoff run in the AFC, and some even believe only Brady, Belichick and Co. hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season's end will alleviate any lingering pain from recent postseason woes.
First though, the Patriots will have to go through Tim Tebow and an emotionally-charged Broncos team, and whoever they may potentially face in the AFC title game. Let's take a look at the teams the Patriots could potentially face if they do in fact reach the big dance's finale.