AFC Conference Championship: Patriots Still Favorites Without Gronk

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AFC Conference Championship: Patriots Still Favorites Without Gronk
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Tom Brady will try and win his fourth Super Bowl, while Rob Gronkowski will be out for the season.

After defeating the Houston Texans on Sunday, the New England Patriots are playing for their second straight conference championship.

In the midst of the their 41-28 win, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm again. Gronkowki missed five games this season after suffering a broken forearm Nov. 18 against Indianapolis.

And now if the Patriots are to advance past the Baltimore Ravens to Super Bowl XLVII, they'll have to do so without perhaps their best offensive weapon.

Gronkowski caught 55 passes for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games this season. He had at least six catches in six of those 11 games.

So his presence will undoubtedly be missed by Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. But even without Gronk in the lineup, the Patriots are still the favorites to win Super Bowl XLVII.

Brady is the best and most battle-tested quarterback remaining in the playoffs. Colin Kaepernick was sensational in the divisional round, Joe Flacco was clutch against Baltimore and Matt Ryan finally got his first playoff win.

But Brady just won his 17th career playoff game—a new NFL record. He's one of the best quarterbacks of all time and tilts the playing field more than any quarterback remaining in the postseason.

Brandon Lloyd emerged in New England's offense once Gronkowski went down in November. Lloyd caught 74 passes on the year and really started coming on strong during a three-week stretch late in the regular season.

He caught seven passes for 89 yards and a touchdown in Week 14 against Houston, 10 for 190 against San Francisco and six for 62 in a hard-fought win over Jacksonville.

Last year in Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots dealt with a hobbled Gronkowski against the New York Giants. Gronk was merely a decoy for much of the game, perhaps driving the Patriots to add a couple more weapons to the offense.

Lloyd has been a solid addition for the Patriots and after playing in his first career postseason game this past weekend, he'll certainly hope for an expanded role in the AFC Championship next Sunday. Lloyd, along with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, gives Brady a formidable top three targets even without Gronk in the lineup.

Kaepernick's San Francisco 49ers are a trendy Super Bowl pick after Saturday's performance against the Packers, but as long as Tom Brady is under center in New England, the Patriots should remain the favorites to win Super Bowl XLVII.

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