For the second straight week the Patriots had a slow start in Gillette Stadium against an inferior opponent before storming back to win. Last week they found themselves down 17-0 at the half before coming back to win 27-24 and today they bounced back from a 21-0 first quarter deficit to crush the Bills 49-21.
Those two wins completed a 13-3 regular season for the Patriots, a record that is good enough to make them the top seed in the AFC playoffs which gives Bill Belichick's team home field advantage up until the Super Bowl.
The Patriots are followed by the Ravens (12-4, AFC North champions), Texans (10-6, AFC South champions), Broncos (8-8, AFC West "champions"), Steelers (12-4, Wild Card), and Bengals (9-7, Wild Card) in the AFC.
Both the Patriots and the Ravens get a bye in the Wild Card round which gives them the opportunity to sit back, rest, and prepare for their opponent in the Divisional Round. The Texans host the Bengals and the Broncos host the Steelers on Wild Card Weekend.
The Patriots will get the lowest remaining seed in the Divisional Round. That means they could play the Broncos, Steelers, or Bengals. Belichick and the Patriots would never come out and state who they want to face but you can be sure they would like to avoid the Steelers out of that group.
The win also caps another amazing season in the Tom Brady era. He is now 124-35 as the starting quarterback with the Patriots since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in Week 3 of the 2001 season and when you count his playoff record, the record is 138-40 which includes wins in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX.
The bye week will allow Brady and several other key Patriots to rest and heal their injuries to prepare themselves for a run at the franchise's fourth Super Bowl under Belichick while also trying to avoid the stories about the team's recent lack of success in the postseason. The Patriots have not won a playoff game since winning the 2007 AFC Championship Game and have been embarassed in their last two trips to the playoffs. Their game in the Divisional Round will be more than an opportunity to advance to the AFC Championship Game, it will also give them the chance to put the 2009 loss to the Ravens and the 2010 loss to the Jets in the past and put their entire focus on winning another Super Bowl.
My NFC playoff predicitions will be up early in the week (I'm waiting on the outcome of the Giants-Cowboys game) but here are my AFC predictions:
(6) Bengals over (3) Texans
(5) Steelers over (4) Broncos
(1) Patriots over (6) Bengals
(2) Ravens over (5) Steelers
AFC Championship Game
(1) Patriots over (2) Ravens