If the Patriots and the NFL have taught us anything in the past month, it’s that any perceived “crap” team can take down any perceived juggernaut. So yes, the 9-7 Texans and 9-7 Redskins could theoretically meet in Super Bowl 50 one month from now.
But in the month of January, the league typically rewards teams who are hot coming into the dance and teams who have relatively easy paths to the Big Game. It’s why I think the Patriots will indeed make it to Santa Clara, but will ultimately get routed by whichever teams comes out of the NFC.
It has become cliché by this point, but the Steelers really are the team that the Patriots don’t want to face this month. Ben Roethlisberger is the best quarterback not named Brady left in the AFC and as good as the Pats’ secondary has been this season – they haven’t shown the ability to slow down a top-line quarterback in a very long time. You’d have to go all the way back to the Nov. 15 Giants game to see the Patriots get a win over a top QB. And it wasn’t like Eli Manning was bad in that game (24-of-44 for 361 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 96.9 passer rating).
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I mean, if the Pats can’t stop the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill, what will Big Ben do to them? Oh, and if you haven’t heard –Antonio Brown is re-defining the wide receiver position these days.
Fortunately for the Pats, they probably won’t see a healthy Steelers team this postseason. By virtue of their alleged tank jobs the last two weeks, the Pats got the No. 2 seed and will host the Chiefs, Bengals or Texans in the divisional round.
Now, Pittsburgh could certainly go into Denver and beat the Broncos. But if the Steelers do make it that far, odds say that they’ll be a beat-up group by the time they land at Hanscom Air Force Base.
The bye just makes a world of difference this time of year and as odd as it may be to say right now, the Patriots would likely have the healthier squad if it is indeed a Pittsburgh-New England AFC title game.
As for the Super Bowl, just one month ago it looked as though the AFC was the better conference as a whole. The AFC had elite teams like the Broncos, Pats and Bengals and fabulous undercard players like the Steelers and Jets. But the Broncos, Pats and Bengals have all taken steps backwards in recent weeks and the Jets are sitting at home. Meanwhile the NFC looks powerful as all hell right now, so much so that the winner of this coming Sunday’s Seahawks-Vikings Wild Card game should be considered the favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The Panthers and Cardinals will surely cry “A-hole!” at that statement, but Seattle and Minnesota are peaking right now and look dominant. The truth is, any of these four NFC teams (Seahawks, Vikings, Panthers, Cardinals) would be a heavy favorite in the AFC as things are currently constituted.
So, as crazy as this post-Thanksgiving stretch has been for the Patriots – things are actually lining up nicely for them to be the AFC representative at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 7.
New England is firmly in “worry about that when we get there” mode, but just be mindful that the NFC is bringing the wood right now.
Super Bowl 50 will be here before you know it.