The New England Patriots' Super Bowl aspirations are not doomed, but they undeniably took a crippling blow last Sunday.
Quite simply, the Patriots have no replacement for Rob Gronkowski's all-around dominance, and their offense, which had blossomed since his return, now faces the daunting challenge of making a deep postseason run without their All-Pro tight end.
It's hard to actually evaluate New England, given its constant injury-related personnel turnover. Though the offense was not pretty without Gronk early in the season, the development of rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, coupled with a healthy Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola should help.
On the othe hand, the Patriots defense has taken a nosedive in the past month with the lack of healthy bodies finally showing up in an inability to shut down opponents.
However, the Patriots will almost assuredly be in the playoffs, and their last three games will offer an opportunity to adjust before the stakes get higher. In the meantime, we can speculate as to how the Pats would fare against AFC contenders in the postseason, given their personnel and strengths on paper.
All of this comes with a caveat: No one knows what creative scheming Bill Belichick will concoct to offset his team's injuries. As Pats fans have painfully learned, a team's health can change in an instant, so the AFC picture today will likely not be the same as by the end of Week 17.
But for now, here's a preliminary look at how the Gronk-less Patriots match up against the current AFC playoff field.
*All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference or Pro Football Focus' premium section (subscription required).