When you have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, you always have a shot. No contender has this level of elite quarterbacking and elite coaching on the same team.
The New England Patriots can get to the Super Bowl because Brady and Belichick have done it five times, winning three. You can never count this duo out during the championship months of December, January and potentially February.
Brady leads the NFL’s top-ranked and highest-scoring offense. The Patriots run an up-tempo style that can outscore anyone. WRs Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are all threats when healthy. Opponents don’t know whom to stop or double-team, because it doesn’t matter. Brady finds the open receiver, whoever that may be.
Patriots second-year tailback Stevan Ridley also adds an extra element. New England, which isn’t known to be a running team, is fifth in rushing because Ridley has made a huge jump. He is one of the NFL's most improved players.
New England's biggest weakness is its pass defense, but help is on the way. The Patriots made a shrewd trade to acquire talented cornerback and former first-round pick Aqib Talib. He has the talent to be a shutdown corner behind an already-physical front seven. Rookie of the Year candidate Chandler Jones (six sacks) provides a pass-rushing DE, and physical linebacker Brandon Spikes is an enforcer.
The Patriots (6-3) have virtually locked up the AFC East. The Buffalo Bills (3-6), New York Jets (3-6) and Miami Dolphins (4-5) are not threats to the Patriots. New England is essentially guaranteed a division title and a home playoff game. The Patriots could get a first-round bye if they win enough games.
The Houston Texans look great in the regular season. But quarterback Matt Schaub has never won a playoff game. The Denver Broncos are hot, but Brady has Peyton Manning's number -- and that includes a regular-season win this year.
I have a lot of respect for the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. But as a former AFC North blogger, I know firsthand that those teams could destroy each other with two head-to-head meetings remaining this season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's rib injury greatly impacts Pittsburgh's chances to make a deep run.
The Patriots were the last team standing in the AFC last season. They are the reigning AFC champs for a reason.
In a one-game scenario, I'm taking Brady and Belichick over any other team.