The New England Patriots lost two of their first three home games this season with a defense that was historically bad from a statistical standpoint.
As usual, they found solutions as the season progressed, winning 11 of their final 12 games to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. It was enough for a panel of four NFL coaches and evaluators to rank the Patriots No. 1 -- though not unanimously -- when stacking all 12 playoff teams.
Two of four insiders slotted the Patriots first. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints each drew a single vote. The surrounding debate was entertaining and informative before giving way to a crapshoot feel toward the bottom of the field. Panelists were asked to rate teams on their strengths and playoff readiness, without regard for how home-field advantage or other outside factors might affect results.