As New England Patriots fans we have been down this road before, an awesome regular season that garnered the top spot in the AFC. Now that the playoffs are about to start we will see just how good this team rally is. Will it be another postseason of disappointment or one of joy?
The last two seasons the Patriots have been one and done in the playoffs, losing both games at home. In 2010 they lost the hated New York Jets. In 2009 the Baltimore Ravens blew them out. In fact the Patriots have lost their last three playoff games going back to their Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants.
There are a few troubling signs for New England heading into the second season. Here are three that concern me.
Poor starts: Although the Patriots are on an eight game winning streak they have started the last three games in dreadful fashion. Week 15 against the Denver Broncos they fell behind 16-7. The next week, against the Miami Dolphins, they were down 17-0 at the half. Finally in Week 17 they were down 21-0 before they blew past the Buffalo Bills. If they continue this trend into the playoffs a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers would likely crush them. Falling down one score is okay, but trailing by several is an issue. The Patriots offense will become even more predictable, in other words passing on every down, and good defenses will get to Tom Brady.
Passing defense: The Patriots are no longer giving up the most passing yardage per game, now that distinction belongs to the Green Bay Packers, but it is definitely a concern. New England's pass defense has made some mediocre quarterbacks look like All-Pros. The team's survival in the playoffs will probably depend on the amount of turnovers they can generate. Having Patrick Chung back is definitely a plus as well. If the Pats can continue their bend but don't break ways then a long playoff run is possible.
Recent history: I hate to say it but this is the same kind of team that has failed the last two seasons. When the Patriots were winning Super Bowls it was with defense. As much fun as it is sometimes to watch Tom Brady chuck it all around, it would be nice to sometimes play a grind it out style. Unfortunately this team is incapable of that.
Conclusion: In my opinion the Patriots would like to see the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Houston Texans so they could face the Bengals in Foxboro. The Steelers, although a bit banged up, present the biggest challenge of all the possible matchups. I would take the Patriots over the Bengals or the Denver Broncos, but not the Steelers. We will see after this weekend which team the Patriots will draw.
Quick notes: Is it wrong that I took so much pleasure when New York Jets imploded and missed the playoffs? I guess that is what you get when you make Santonio Holmes one of your captains. How long do you think it will be before Rex Ryan tells us the Jets will be in the Super Bowl after the 2012 season?
Also a big congratulations to Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker for the impressive seasons they put together. Welker is my favorite current player and I hope we Patriots fans have at least a few more years of watching this craftsman ply his trade. The fact that Gronkowski broke the record for both yardage and touchdowns by a tight end is impressive. If we are extremely lucky he will be a feared weapon for several years like Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez, and Antonio Gates.
Darren Pare has been a New England Patriots fan for over 25 years and Steve Grogan, Troy Brown and Wes Welker are his favorite all time players.
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