Losing to the 49ers might turn out to be a good thing for the Patriots.
The Patriots have a young team that has gradually been coming together over the season. Having to play every weekend might not be a bad thing for a young team that has a tendency to be inconsistent.
The loss to the 49ers illustrates issues that the Patriots continue to have and need to be prepared for in the coming weeks. Teams are going to try and disrupt the offense by getting to Tom Brady.
Most teams don't have the talent or personnel to do that, but the teams in the playoffs just might.
The Patriots also need to be able to get to the other team's quarterback in order to protect their secondary.
Those two items will determine if the Patriots can get back to the Super Bowl this year and win.
The worst thing to happen to the Patriots on Sunday was potentially losing out on a first round bye. But, honestly, with a rhythm passing team like the Patriots, that bye week sometimes causes the offense to struggle and it has in the past.
If the Cincinnati Bengals are able to come into Gillette Stadium and beat the Patriots, then the Patriots aren't nearly as good of a team as they have showed this season.
Neither Houston or Denver is likely to lose the last two weeks of the regular season, locking in the Patriots as the number three seed in the AFC.
I still think the Patriots have a better team than Houston and Denver, but the Patriots have struggled on the road in playoffs, especially in Denver.
Bill Belichick has rebuilt the Patriots defense over the past couple of seasons while still trying to contend. Last year's Super Bowl appearance might have happened a year early in the Patriots' plans.
The defense doesn't need to be perfect, they simply need to avoid putting the Patriots into a 31-3 hole like they had on Sunday night against the 49ers.
The NFC looks to be completely wide open right now and you could make a case for any of the playoff teams to make the Super Bowl if things break right.
Given the lessons the Patriots have learned the past two years, they should be able to beat any of those four teams and become Super Bowl champs again.
But, it is all going to come back to getting to the quarterback and protecting Tom Brady.
We'll see if the Patriots are ready come playoff time.
Game recap used from Barry Wilner/AP Sports.
Player info from NFL.com.