Breaking Down How the Patriots Match Up Against Every Potential Playoff Opponent
Each matchup offers advantages and disadvantages for each team. Here is a quick look at how the Patriots stack up, as well as who should be favored in each possible game.
Note: In terms of chances to the play the Patriots during the playoffs, teams are listed in order of most likely to least likely.
Advantage: Andy Dalton's Inconsistency
Ask any fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. There is good Andy Dalton—dropping deep passes over A.J. Green's shoulder for touchdowns—and bad Andy Dalton—overthrowing receivers by 10 yards into the arms of waiting defensive backs.
Bad Dalton is often seen on the road, where he would play the New England Patriots if the Bengals triumph over the Chargers. His quarterback rating is 17.6 points lower—80.8 vs 98.4—on the road.
Disadvantage: Giovani Bernard
The Patriots showed in Week 17 that they have trouble against shifty running backs like C.J. Spiller. Spiller made defenders miss at will.
In the Bengals' 13-6 victory in Week 5, Bernard was still being introduced to the offense. However, he was still able to break off a 28-yard run. He finished with 62 yards on 13 carries.
Spread: Patriots -3
With the Bengals on the road and defensive lineman Geno Atkins on injured reserve, the Patriots should have a slight advantage.
Kansas City Chiefs
Advantage: Dearth of Receivers
Dwayne Bowe—the only Kansas City Chiefs receiver that strikes any sort of fear in opponents—is battling a concussion problem and didn't play in Week 17. Donnie Avery, Dexter McCluster, Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins and Chad Hall shouldn't be too much of a problem for the likes of Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard.
If the cornerbacks can take care of the receivers on their own, that will free up the Patriots safeties to help with the talented Jamaal Charles
Disadvantage: Jamaal Charles
Charles is an absolute force, both as a receiver and a runner. He excels in the screen game, where the Patriots have struggled. The Patriots will need to avoid getting Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes matched up with Charles in coverage.
The speedy Jamie Collins could pull tough duty marking Charles.
Spread: Patriots -5.5
If the Patriots can stem the tide of the waning Chiefs pass-rushers, they should be able to move the ball. The Chiefs will have a tough time keeping up on the scoreboard.
Advantage: Poor Offensive Line
With the exception of Gosder Cherilus and Anthony Castonzo, the Indianapolis Colts offensive line hasn't had a good year. The interior line—guards Hugh Thornton and Jeff Linkenbach and center Samson Satele—has been especially porous.
Look for defensive linemen Chris Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones to have big days if the Colts visit Gillette Stadium.
Disadvantage: Robert Mathis
The Patriots match up well against the Colts defense, but Mathis is a player that needs constant attention. New England will need to dedicate an offensive tackle and a tight end or running back to keeping Mathis in check.
Other than Mathis—and perhaps Cory Redding—there hasn't been a Colts defender who has shown that he can bring consistent pressure.
Spread: Patriots -6.5
If the Patriots can get out to an early lead, a one-dimensional Colts team won't be able to keep up. With the ineffective Trent Richardson playing, this matchup will mask any issues New England has with defending the run.
Advantage: Von Miller's Absence
With Von Miller on injured reserve, the Denver Broncos will have to rely on Shaun Phillips to bring pressure off the edge.
With Miller and Phillips both on the field, teams can't fixate their scheme on just one player. With just one, offenses can shift their blocking scheme to one side of the field.
Disadvantage: Tight Ends
The last time these two teams played—an epic New England Patriots comeback—the Broncos were missing dynamic tight end Julius Thomas, while the Patriots had Rob Gronkowski healthy.
This time around, the tables have turned. Gronkowski is on injured reserve, while Thomas is now healthy.
With Thomas on the field, the Broncos can field three threats—Thomas and wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas—over 6'3". That sort of height will give the shorter Patriots cornerbacks trouble.
Spread: Broncos -2.5
The Broncos are at home, so they'll likely be the favorites. That could change if the weather gets bad in Denver.
San Diego Chargers
Advantage: Poor Secondary
The San Diego Chargers secondary gave up 258.7 yards per game through the air, good for 29th in the NFL. The Patriots would certainly see that as an open invitation.
With the exception of safety Eric Weddle and perhaps Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego's defensive backs have been atrocious. Corners Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall would be picked on early and often.
Disadvantage: Tight Ends
Like Denver, San Diego has some big weapons. Tight ends Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates are both guys that are nightmares to match up against as a safety or linebacker.
If the Chargers can work formations to get them up against Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes, they will move the ball.
Spread: Patriots -6.5
This game has all the makings of an 80-point shootout. Ultimately, the Patriots have more playmakers in their defensive secondary and Tom Brady is much more careful with the football than Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers.
Advantage: Deep Passing Attack
Russell Wilson is one of the more prolific deep passers in the league, throwing 60 balls over 20 yards down the field. Deep balls accounted for over 25 percent of Wilson's 3,357 throwing yards.
The Patriots, however, have been excellent against the deep ball. According to Doug Kyed of NESN.com, New England has only allowed opponents to complete 30.9 percent of throws over 20 yards. Opponents have scored five touchdowns, but the Patriots have come up with six interceptions.
Disadvantage: Press Coverage
Historically, the Patriots have struggled against tight coverage and pressure in the playoffs. That is exactly what the Seahawks attempt on nearly every play.
If Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are unable to stretch the field vertically, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will have a tough time getting open underneath.
Spread: Seahawks -2.5
At a neutral site, the Seahawks' advantage is significantly diminished. That said, they will likely be a favorite against any opponent that doesn't have Peyton Manning.
Advantage: Receiver Depth
With the exception of Steve Smith—he literally gave Aqib Talib fits in their first matchup—and Ted Ginn, the Panthers lack big-time receiving threats. A healthy Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan should be able to give the Patriots defensive line time to get some pressure on Cam Newton.
Now, bringing down Newton is another thing altogether.
Disadvantage: Cam Newton Scrambling
The Patriots missed countless chances to bring Newton down in the backfield. Each time, Newton would shrug off a sack attempt and either find an open receiver or scramble down the field for a first down.
Keeping Newton in the pocket and finishing will have to be points of emphasis for New England against Carolina.
The first game ended with a controversial call by referee Clete Blakeman, waving off a penalty by phenomenal second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly on Rob Gronkowski. A second matchup will likely go down to the last seconds as well.
San Francisco 49ers
Advantage: Special Teams
On paper, there aren't many spots you can point to and say that the New England Patriots have an advantage against the San Francisco 49ers. One phase of the game where they should be favored is on special teams.
49ers punter Andy Lee has been great, but Ryan Allen has been right there. Stephen Gostkowski, however, has been perhaps the best kicker in the NFL.
Julian Edelman is a returner who could play a big part in this game. He is a threat to score each time he touches the ball.
Disadvantage: Big Receivers
Anquan Boldin scored two touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens in last year's AFC Championship Game. Patriots defensive backs surely don't want to see him again in the red zone.
The Patriots have been able to move the ball on the 49ers defense in the past, but they struggled to stop Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense. In the frigid New Jersey air, this game could go either way.
New Orleans Saints
Advantage: Power Running in Bad Weather
If the weather gets bad—or even good for February in New Jersey—the Patriots offense won't miss a beat. It has played in humidity, torrential rain, snow and sun.
Disadvantage: Cameron Jordan's Pass Rush
Interior pass-rushers have given Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly problems this year. Logan Mankins even had problems with Cameron Jordan. If you get pressure in Tom Brady's face early, it limits what the Patriots offense can do.
The Patriots will need to neutralize Jordan with play action, double-teams and the occasional hold.
Spread: Patriots -2.5
If this game were being played in San Diego, Miami or New Orleans—three typical Super Bowl locations—the Saints might be favored. In the Northeast, the Patriots will be favored.
Green Bay Packers
The New England Patriots have lost multiple top players to injury this year. The Green Bay Packers are right there as well.
Casey Heyward, Bryan Bulaga, Jermichael Finley and Johnny Jolly are just a few of the names that Green Bay is missing.
Unlike the Patriots, the Packers don't have quite the 53-man depth chart that the Patriots have been able to assemble. New England might be better than anyone in recruiting and developing end-of-the-roster players.
Disadvantage: Eddie Lacy
Eddie Lacy runs like he is angry. If the Packers can get him in a groove, the Patriots have had games in which they've struggled to stop the run.
Sealver Siliga has helped plug a lot of those holes, but New England is still giving up 134.1 yards per game on the ground.
Spread: Patriots -4
If the Patriots can take Lacy out of the game, Aaron Rodgers might not have enough firepower at his disposal to keep up with Tom Brady.
Advantage: Defensive Secondary
With the exception of the impressive Brandon Boykin—and perhaps Bradley Fletcher—the Eagles secondary hasn't performed up to expectations. Look for the Patriots to target former New England safety Patrick Chung, who hasn't improved since his time in Boston.
The Patriots, however, have a secondary that is starting to regain its early-season form. Aqib Talib is nearing 100 percent, while Logan Ryan has emerged as a solid starter. Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington are luxuries at the No. 3 and No. 4 corner positions.
Disadvantage: LeSean McCoy's Shiftiness
The Patriots lacked the ability to bring down C.J. Spiller in Week 17. He made defensive linemen and linebackers look silly. McCoy has similar—if not better—lateral explosiveness.
Open-field tackling will be at a premium if these two teams meet in the Super Bowl.
Spread: Patriots -5.5
Nick Foles has been incredible, but the Eagles will have a tough time keeping up with the Patriots unless Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry can really bring the heat off the edge.