After beating the Denver Broncos, it’s easy to buy into the belief that the Patriots are once again the team to beat in the AFC. With the tie-breaker over the Broncos now secure, the Patriots need only to tie the Broncos to claim the top seed in the AFC, unless of course the Kansas City Chiefs are able to reclaim their spot atop the AFC West.
The Patriots were able to topple the Broncos after trailing by 24 points at halftime by simply capitalizing on turnovers and mistakes by the Broncos without giving up those same mistakes that put them into a big hole to start with. The Broncos were finally able to push back late in the night, but couldn’t produce anything in overtime.
Again, it’s easy to think that the Patriots are once again the team to beat, especially after coming back from 24 down to Peyton Manning in one half of football plus overtime, but frankly, we’re jumping the gun if we want to call them a Super Bowl favorite from the AFC.
The Patriots have been a streaky team this season. New England has been able to beat some of the top teams in the league such as the Saints and Broncos, but they’ve also lost games to middle of the road teams such as the Jets and Bengals. Because there seems to be no pattern for their good games versus their poor games, it’s tough for me to rationalize a declaration that they’re the best the AFC has to offer.
To his credit, Tom Brady has seldom, if ever, been the cause of the Patriots’ faults this season. In fact, considering he’s playing with an offense of primarily no-name players, it’s not difficult to argue that he’s playing as well as he’s ever played.
In fact, Brady has tossed no more than a single interception in any game this season. In addition to that, Brady has failed to toss a touchdown pass in just two games. In both those games, the Patriots lost. In their only other loss, which came on a controversial decision to the Panthers, Brady threw one touchdown and one interception. In other words, when Brady plays poorly, the Patriots lose. When he’s on top of his game, New England beats anyone, including the league’s best teams.
At this point, the Patriots are playing solid football, but as a roster, they’re not the most talented team. The Denver Broncos have lost just a pair of games all season, and both teams that beat them are locks for playoff berths, barring an unforeseen collapse by the Colts or Patriots.
As the season has unfolded, it seems to me that the Broncos are still the team to beat in the AFC. Their roster has more talent throughout than the Patriots’ roster contains, and losing one overtime game to the AFC’s second best team (yeah, I said it) isn’t enough to justify a changing of the guard.
That being said, home field advantage is a huge deal in the NFL, and should the Broncos slip up just one more time, the Patriots could be all over them. If the Broncos played this weekend in Denver, I think the Broncos win that game. If, however, they had to travel to Foxboro again, the game may play out entirely different.
As the standings are, the Broncos should still be considered the favorite in the AFC, but if the Patriots are able to stake a claim as the conference’s top team, we may be looking at an entirely different situation. This may be a rare case in which the standings actually do matter at the top of the conference.