The 2011 postseason could not have panned out more perfectly for the New England Patriots, who have a rare opportunity to vindicate ghosts of playoffs past en route to the Super Bowl.
Despite being favored to win Super Bowls almost every year over the last decade, the Patriots have been eliminated from the playoffs five times by five teams since their last Super Bowl victory in 2004, and they've got a bone to pick with all of them.
In 2006, the Colts bumped the Pats out of Super Bowl contention with a crushing win in the conference championship. This year, the Peyton Manning-less Colts finished with an abysmal record and the Pats handed them a loss during the regular season.
Now the Pats look to go to Indy and steal a Super Bowl on Manning's turf. What a cherry on top. Colts. Check.
When Rex Ryan makes his bombastic preseason Super Bowl prophecies, Pats fans dream of silencing him. Last year the Patriots had the chance to do just that, but instead dropped their third playoff game in a row, allowing the Jets to inch one game closer to Super Bowl XLV.
This year, the Pats beat their New York rivals twice in the regular season, dashing their inflated playoff fantasies. Jets. Check.
Before the Pats met the Broncos in the 2011 playoffs, New England had a 2-6 record against Denver since 2001—including a 2005 playoff game in which the Broncos extinguished the Pats' postseason hopes.
But the Patriots exacted revenge in the divisional round of this year's playoffs, steamrolling Tim Tebow's Broncos and winning in rare blowout fashion. Broncos. Check.
Pats fans cringe recalling that the 2009 divisional contest between the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens opened with Ray Rice running 83 yards for a touchdown. New England never quite recovered, falling behind 24-0 in the first quarter. Baltimore continued to trample New England at home, beating the Patriots 33-14 to advance to the conference championship.
This year, the Pats held Rice to 67 yards on the game and hung on to beat Baltimore 23-20, a victory enveloped in the satisfaction of revenge. Ravens. Check.
The New York Giants ended the Patriots' 2007 season in agonizing fashion at Super Bowl XLII. New England was one obscure third-down helmet catch play from perfection.
The Patriots also played the Giants in Week 9 of the 2011 season, losing to them for the second time in a row in a last-minute drive led by Eli Manning.
When it comes to Feb. 5, 2012, no NFC team incites or motivates the Patriots more ferociously than the New York Giants. With oddsmakers putting a razor-thin three-point line between the two teams, the Pats' thirst for revenge could be the deciding factor that puts a fourth ring on Tom Brady's finger.