They are one of the favorites in the AFC and have a realistic shot to make another Super Bowl. But the conference is tough this year, and Peyton Manning might be in the way of Tom Brady and a trip to New Orleans.
How can the Patriots realistically make Super Bowl XLVII? Read on as I carve out a route for New England from Foxborough to the big game.
The Patriots shut out the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 28-0, giving them the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Tom Brady and Co. will watch two interesting AFC Wild Card Weekend matches that determine who they will play. Since they are the second seed, the Patriots will play the highest-seeded wild-card winner at home.
I have Joe Flacco and the Ravens defeating Andrew Luck and the Colts 34-21. Ray Rice tops 100 rushing yards on the day and reaches the end zone, but it is Flacco who steals the show as he throws for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
You can read my full predictions right here, but I have the Texans defeating the Bengals 28-17 behind the legs of Arian Foster and a defensive stand against A.J Green and a mediocre BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
That projected win by the Texans means they will face the Patriots.
The last time the Texans visited lovely Foxborough, Brady and Co. delivered a 42-14 beatdown. It won’t be as lopsided this time around, but the Patriots will still get the win.
Houston has been inconsistent and are losers of three of its last four games. The game against Cincinnati could never adequately prepare the Texans for the offensive explosion they will find in New England.
No. 12 will carve apart the Houston secondary to the tune of 250 yards and three touchdowns. One to Brandon Lloyd, another to a healthy Rob Gronkowski and yet another six points to favorite Wes Welker.
But this team is balanced, and that is what has separated the 2012 roster from years past.
Stevan Ridley has emerged as the lead back for Bill Belichick, and he gets into the fun as well. Ridley waltzes into the end zone, and fellow running backs Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen also have productive days on the ground.
The Texans aren’t going to be an easy out, though.
Arian Foster will try and find holes, but it won’t come easy against Vince Wilfork and a defense that is ranked ninth in the NFL when defending the run.
That will force Matt Schaub to pass, and he should find completions and touchdowns against a suspect secondary. The defensive backs in New England are improving, and rookie Alfonzo Dennard will pick off Schaub. Patrick Chung and a healthy Aqib Talib are primed for solid games as well.
When it is all said and done, the New England Patriots beat the Texans 33-27 to continue their postseason journey.
The Broncos have been on fire as they ride an 11-game win streak. Manning and his explosive offense will not let up as they pound the points on a Baltimore team that they already beat this year.
That sets up a trip to Colorado for the Patriots.
It is Manning versus Brady in the AFC Championship. Some things never change. Of course, Peyton and his Papa John's Pizzas have switched cities, but he still has to get through New England to reach the Super Bowl.
It will be a classic chess match and one that will be featured when NFL Films chronicles the Manning-Brady rivalry.
Back in Week 5 when the Broncos visited New England, Brady bested his foe 31-21. But that was before Denver hit its hot streak.
The Broncos defense will be a nuisance all day, but No. 12 has faced bigger and badder opposition. He will have a huge game in typical Brady style, vaulting the Patriots to a win.
Manning is no slouch either, and the deciding factor will be the defense. The Pats will attempt to win the turnover battle, and that will be the key to the game. The secondary will keep improving, and the defensive line will dominate the trenches.
It won’t be easy, but New England is back in the Super Bowl for the second year in a row after a 28-24 victory.
After getting through a difficult AFC slate, the New England Patriots are in New Orleans.
Different city, but the same stage for Belichick and his boys. This time the stakes will be higher than ever before.
The Pats have lost two previous trips to the Super Bowl, and another loss would be a huge dark mark on the legacy of Tom Brady.
Thankfully, they won’t be playing the pesky New York Giants this time around. It is unusual to say that a Super Bowl is a must-win game for a team, but that is how good the Patriots have been.
The Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks are too young to capture the big game this year. Yes, I’m aware Russell Wilson and his dynamic offense beat New England by one point in the regular season. But that is the regular season, and the rookie quarterbacks will have a tough time making it past a competitive NFC to New Orleans.
That leaves the three favorites in the NFC.
Green Bay has a suspect run game, and its offense is very one-deminsonal. The San Francisco 49ers bested New England 41-34, but Belichick will not get fooled twice.
The Atlanta Falcons are limping into the playoffs and will be in a dogfight to even win their own conference. With a somewhat-shaky run game and defense, they can not hang with the Patriots.
Will New England win the Super Bowl? Maybe.
But there is little doubt that the Patriots can make the big game and potentially even capture a little Disney magic.