<
>

On Patriots' potential playoff opponents

The New England Patriots are not sure who they will prepare for next week in the AFC playoffs. With one game remaining, New England could be the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 seed.

But if the Patriots finish with the third or fourth seed, they will play in the wild-card round against the Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) or Indianapolis Colts (10-5).

Let's examine these potential matchups.

  • Patriots vs. Colts: New England would face Indianapolis next week if the Patriots land the No. 4 seed. This would be a rematch of Week 11, when the Patriots dominated the Colts in a 59-24 victory. Most matchups favor the Patriots. But Indianapolis has won four of their past five games since losing to New England and is a better team than it was in November. Indianapolis rookie quarterback Andrew Luck will be playing in his first playoff game. The Colts also will be motivated in the playoffs after the emotional return of head coach Chuck Pagano.

  • Patriots vs. Bengals: This would be an interesting matchup of a veteran team against a hungry, up-and-coming team looking to make its mark. Cincinnati is making its second consecutive postseason appearance and could present some matchup problems for New England. The Bengals' passing game, led by second-year quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, could be very dangerous against New England's inconsistent secondary. Cincinnati's defensive line also has the ability to be disruptive and get pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots would be favorites in either game. But I think the Bengals are a more dangerous opponent.

New England will get a bye if it lands one of the top two seeds. But the Patriots do not control their own destiny. They need to beat the Miami Dolphins and have either the Houston Texans or Denver Broncos to lose in Week 17.