The offense is firing on all cylinders behind stud Tom Brady, who is playing arguably the best football of his career, possibly even more impressive than his record setting 2007 campaign.
While such accomplishments have become almost commonplace this time of year in Foxborough, this year's run seems almost more special than in past years. In fact, if it weren't for Brady's almost unmatchable performance so far this year, 2010 would be almost a precise replica of the team's first Super Bowl run of the decade against St. Louis.
No stars in the receiving corps or backfield and question marks heading into the season, to go along with an underrated but hard hitting, physical defense.
However, this time around the record is much shinier at 13-2 with one contest left at home against Miami (where the Pats NEVER lose, it should be noted).
Their success so far has many fans in New England and around the country thinking Super Bowl or bust already for this team.
While it is not unreasonable to have such thoughts, there are some teams who pose threats to the Patriots hopes of taking home their fourth title since 2002.
I'm going to come out and say it now: The only teams that have the ability to knock off the Pats in the playoffs this year are the teams who are very familiar with them.
Don't expect teams such as the Steelers and Ravens to come into Foxborough in January and come out victorious, not with the way this offense is rolling. The Pats haven't struggled with Pittsburgh in the playoffs recently, having gone through them in Heinz field in two of their previous three Super Bowl runs.
The Ravens were able to defeat the Patriots in the playoffs last season, but other than that game, the Pats are 14-2 against the AFC North in the regular season since the division was founded, specifically 6-0 versus the Ravens. They are 2-1 in the playoffs.
While these two teams do possess defenses capable of providing a challenge to Brady, they don't have the offense to keep up with a Patriots attack that is the highest scoring in the NFL.
The added security of playing at home throughout the post season and a healthy Wes Welker, unlike last year, should only be helpful.
1. The New York Jets
The teams split their annual two game set this year, with the home team victorious both times.
Ryan proved this very fact during the first of the team's meetings, when his defense was able to fluster Brady and force turnovers. The Jets 28-14 victory was resounding, and the Patriots left the field battered after their lowest scoring performance of the season.
In New England, it was a completely different story. The Pats smashed the Jets to the tune of 45-3, dissolving any questions regarding Brady falling to Ryan's defense for a second time.
The loss was embarrassing for New York, and they haven't forgotten it.
The talk of revenge is one reason the Jets could possibly knock off New England, but let's be honest. The Jets can talk it up all they want and do all the self motivating they need, but that isn't going to beat the Patriots.
It never has and never will, at least not as long as the Brady-Belichick tandem exist.
The reason the Jets could beat the Pats in a playoff environment is by executing their defense exactly as they did in Week 2. The way the Patriots offense is currently performing, this may be almost impossible, but you never know.
Brady is only 2-2 versus Rex Ryan since the latter took the reigns in New York, and there is a reason for this number: Ryan knows what gets to Brady and his players execute.
If they can pull a repeat performance from earlier in the year, then it could be a riveting playoff matchup. If not, they may be nothing more than just a J-E-S-T.
2. The Kansas City Chiefs
You won't find another team in the NFL more familiar with the Patriots and their system than the Kansas City Chiefs.
There shouldn't be—half of the team has flocked there.
Between coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, surprising QB Matt Cassel, and coach of the year candidate Todd Haley, the Chiefs certainly have the personnel to at least make it a game, if not surprise everybody.
Did I mention that current Chiefs GM (and New England former GM) Scott Pioli was one of the most integral pieces in putting together a Patriots roster that were perennial Super Bowl contenders?
Combine the above with young stud weapons Jamaal Charles at RB, Dwayne Bowe at wideout and Tony Moeaki at TE, they also can put together the type of game plan needed to successfully attack the New England defense. Charles and fellow RB Thomas Jones can line up and run through you, while Bowe and Moeaki are big targets that are mobile and can get deep behind the secondary.
Most of their success has come at home, however. Playing in Foxborough could be a totally different story.
But if there has ever been a combination that has been known to give the Patriots fits it's a young, quality quarterback and power running.
The Chiefs have both.
The Patriots will likely face either of these teams coming off of their first round bye, which works out quite well for the purpose of this article. How convenient.
3. The Indianapolis Colts
This one may be a moot point (as I think the Colts will bow out to Baltimore), but hey the possibility is always there.
As corny/awful/insert alternative word here as it is, a Peyton Manning team does always have a chance to win a game. So we may very well see a Manning-Brady part whatever-it-is-now if the Chiefs can beat the Jets.
While I don't think the Colts have the goods this year to beat the Pats in the playoffs in Foxborough, the two teams did play to a rather close affair earlier in the season.
And, as mentioned, Manning does always seem to find a way to pull games out of thin air.
The Colts and Pats are very familiar with one another, they should be given how often they play. If Manning can get hot and avoid those costly INT's he threw last time, then it may just be game on.
As mediocre as Manning has been, Reggie Wayne is still hanging around, Pierre Garcon is ever improving and their running game is finally taking off with the return of Joseph Addai.
If the defense could play half decent and limit the Patriots yards after catch, then they have a shot.
Although I would still pick the Patriots in this game, the Colts offer the second most worrisome competition for the Pats, after the Jets, on the road to Dallas.
4. The Atlanta Falcons
Of course, this matchup may never even come to fruition with such a wide open NFC, but if they can make it through, Atlanta poses the biggest threat to New England.
I have heard lots of talk about the Eagles but, for what it's worth, I don't see Philly making it through to Dallas.
Current Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff was once a lead scout for the Patriots organization, while serving as the team's lead college scout. He spent six largely successful years at the position before leaving to build his own team in Atlanta.
If anybody knows how to build a team to compare to the Patriots, it would be him. Does it hurt that the Falcons have a supremely talented quartet of offensive talents at QB, RB, WR and TE? Hardly.
Combine that with a solid O-Line, and you have a team that could give the Pats defense fits.
Matt Ryan has been everything and more for Atlanta, and Michael Turner has become a top 5 back in the league; Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are like the Chiefs combination, only much better.
Off all the teams that could score with the Patriots, the Falcons are it.
While the defense has been better than expected, I still don't know if it can keep up with Brady.
That will remain to be seen but hey, who knows, this matchup could be nothing more than a what if.
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