In a recent piece on NFL.com, analyst Dan Jeremiah ranks the four teams who participated in conference championships games in 2011 by the most likely to return to a conference championship game in 2012.
The list starts with the Patriots, and Jeremiah points to Tom Brady, the division the team plays in, and the athleticism added to the defense in Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower as reasons why New England will be able to return to the championship game.
He asserts that questions remain on the defense, including how to replace the production lost from Mark Anderson and Andre Carter (who may still return to the Patriots), who finished with 20 sacks as a pair.
Rounding out the list are the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2, the Baltimore Ravens (who the Patriots defeated in last year’s AFC Championship Game) at No. 3, and the New York Giants at No. 4.