Mark It Down, New England Patriots Are Best Bet for AFC Champions

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Mark It Down, New England Patriots Are Best Bet for AFC Champions
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Forget about the Houston Texans' perfect record. The New England Patriots are the team to beat in the AFC, and this team has the best chance to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.

The Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Charges all have major issues that need to be ironed out, and the Patriots stand tall above them all. 

Before you skip to the comments section to blast me, I implore you to hear me out. 

There are a number of valid reasons to believe the Pats will represent the AFC next February over the Texans.

 

Tom Brady 

If I had to choose one quarterback to orchestrate a single game for all the marbles, I'm taking Brady 10 times out of 10 over any other AFC quarterback.

Consider this: Matt Schaub has had Andre Johnson—one of the NFL's undisputed premier wide receivers—as his running mate since 2007. During that time, Johnson has caught 37 touchdown passes in 65 games.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Brady, on the other hand, has only had a legitimate No. 1 receiver for two seasons—Randy Moss in 2007 and 2009—during his tenure with the Pats. During that two-season stretch, the two of them combined for 36 touchdowns in 32 games—better than double the totals Schaub and Johnson put together. 

Nowadays, Brady's top receiver is Wes Welker. He's not a No. 1-type receiver by any measure, yet Brady connects with him with alarming frequency. 

If the two quarterbacks switched places, I have no doubt that Brady would get Johnson more than 10 touchdowns—something Schaub has never done. Furthermore, there's no way Schaub would be able to have nearly the same kind of success that Brady has had with the Pats.

Brady makes average receivers like Deion Branch and Welker dangerous threats. 

Finally, Brady has engineered 25 fourth-quarter comebacks and 35 game-winning drives. 

 

Weapons on Offense

As good as Arian Foster and Ben Tate are for the Texans, Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead are better.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
Best TE duo on the NFL. Bar none.

Now that the Patriots have started getting their running game going, this offense is darn-near unstoppable. So far this season, Patriots runners have averaged 165.4 yards per game, 4.3 yards per carry and have 10 touchdowns through five games. 

In the passing game, Brady has a wide variety of targets to choose from. He's connected with 13 different receivers so far this season, believe it or not.

Rob Gronkowski, Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Woodhead...the list of names seems to go on forever. And once Aaron Hernandez returns, this offense will be unstoppable. 

No team in the AFC boasts anything close to the wide array of willing and capable receivers Brady has at his disposal. 

 

Burgeoning Defense

The Patriots got to the Super Bowl last season with one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL, allowing 6,577 total yards.

The team overcame their defensive deficiencies by putting up amazing numbers on offense. 

And, while the team's offense is still one of the most potent in the NFL, its defense has made significant improvements. 

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Rookie Chandler Jones is the real deal.

The Pats still struggle to contain opponents' passing attacks, allowing 291.6 yards per game, but it's markedly better than the 411.1 per game they allowed in 2011.

Even more impressive is their ability to stifle teams' running games. Through five games this season, the Patriots front seven have managed to effectively dominate the trenches and are allowing a mere 82.2 rushing yards per game, 3.4 yards per carry and only two touchdowns. 

This emerging defense also has forced 14 turnovers in five games, leading to an AFC-leading plus-10 in the turnover over-under stat—one of the biggest keys to winning in the NFL. 

Given the amazing offense the Patriots roll out onto the field every weekend, this defense gives the Patriots a chance to win every game. 

 

Bill Belichick

Belichick and his coaching staff are masters of putting together winning gameplans every week. 

Now that the Patriots have made huge strides towards fielding a solid defense, Belichick's ability to scheme against the top teams has greatly improved. 

No other head coach in the past decade has gotten his team to the Super Bowl more frequently than Belichick, and as crazy as it may sound, this may be his best team since 2004. 

Are the Patriots the team to beat in the AFC?

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The Patriots find ways to win, and they always seem to get better as the season wears on. And, while this team has already lost two games, we know from experience that it's not how you start the season that matters. It's how you finish that wins Super Bowls. 

The Patriots have had a rough start to the 2012 season, but this team is starting to roll. By the end of the 2012 season, I have no doubt that this team will be the one standing atop the mountain representing the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78

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