Pats' Biggest Threat
PEYTON, PASS RUSH DANGEROUS
Though the Patriots have a strong history of success against Manning in the playoffs and already have defeated him once this season (a Week 5 clash in Foxborough), he remains the best quarterback outside of Tom Brady, and the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
Manning was very good during the teams' first meeting in 2012 and continues to play at an effective level as he further develops the Broncos offense. Couple Manning's excellence with explosive receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and this team will be a dangerous one come playoff time.
And while Manning is the primary reason the Broncos are so potent, they also possess the best pass rush in all of football (37.0 sacks already), and one that gave the Patriots some trouble back in Week 5. In fact, more than 25 percent of the sacks allowed by the Patriots in 2012 came against the Broncos, led by a two-sack effort from standout linebacker Von Miller.
The Patriots hold the edge over the Broncos from a head-to-head tiebreaker standpoint, meaning the Broncos will have to be one game better over the next five to overtake New England for home-field advantage in a potential playoff matchup. But with Manning and a lethal pass rush, Denver is a dangerous team wherever they play.
RAVENS ALWAYS A TOUGH OUT
The Ravens likely will emerge as the champions of one of the NFL's toughest divisions, and chances are, the Patriots will need to travel to Baltimore if the teams meet in the playoffs. In Week 3, the Patriots couldn't pull out a win in Baltimore, and the stakes will be even higher in January.
In recent years, Patriots players usually have pointed to the Ravens as their toughest opponent, which can be attributed to tough, physical play on both sides of the ball, as well as good coaching. As a second-year head coach in 2009, John Harbaugh came into New England and handily defeated the Patriots in the wild-card round. Patriots coach Bill Belichick's respect for Harbaugh is well-documented.
Moreover, the Ravens will have defensive end Terrell Suggs to attack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Coming off an offseason injury, Suggs didn't play in Week 3. While his return this season hasn't yielded results on par with his career as a whole, he has three sacks and two forced fumbles in his last four games against the Patriots. Clearly, he's a game-changer.
Finally, the Ravens boast the NFL's best return game. Led by wide receiver Jacoby Jones, the Ravens average 29 yards per kick return and lead the NFL with three returns for touchdowns, all by Jones.
The Patriots' path to Super Bowl XLVI last season had to go through the Ravens, and it would hardly be a shock if those teams meet again to decide who will travel to New Orleans in February.