After two straight playoff blunders in Foxborough, the New England Patriots were faced with a rare sense of pressure heading into the 2011-12 season.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady was another year older and the rest of the AFC showed confidence and passion.
While the Steelers and Ravens still have ferocious defenses, and with the New York Jets showing significant promise, Patriots fans could be thinking this may be their last chance to make a deep playoff run.
As the regular season came to a close, we saw many teams not live up to high expectations.
New England was not one of those teams.
The Patriots won the AFC East by five games, with the 8-8 New York Jets closest to them.
The Pats' 13-3 record earned them a number one seed and first-round bye in the AFC Playoffs.
Of course, a number one seed is fantastic for any sports team to have earned, however Patriots' fans saw their top spot evaporate quickly one year ago.
With Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston in the playoffs, New England fans knew how tough the road ahead would be.
But many times in sports, a lucky bounce or draw can aid a championship run. For New England, that luck came two Sunday's ago.
To make a long story short, New England showed how healthy some key players—Logan Mankins, Matt Light, Patrick Chung—were and executed on almost every drive to dismantled Denver 45-10.
Brady looked sharp and his receivers were dominant. New England's defense, who have been highly criticized throughout their entire campaign, were stingier than ever. It seems as if all the pieces to the puzzle are finally back in place for the Patriots.
No doubt, however, the three remaining teams with New England are fantastic and unique in their own way.
Baltimore will certainly be the toughest challenge for the Patriots yet. The Ravens defense speaks for itself and will surely be ready to take on the Patriots offense. In order to beat the Ravens, the Patriots must be even more impressive than last week.
Knowing that there may not be an offense left in the playoffs that can match the Patriots score for score, they must execute everything to perfection.
With two surprise NFC teams and one powerful AFC team remaining, the Patriots are confident but not content.
Even though Tom Brady is getting older, he seems to be as sharp as ever. Coach Belichick has made successful adjustments the last few weeks on defense. The youngsters are maturing week in and week out.
Is this the best chance for Brady and Belichick to win another Super Bowl?
No doubt, this is a great chance for the duo to snatch another title.
But to say this is their last chance, that doesn't seem to be the case for at least a few more years.
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