It's going to be hard for the Patriots to duck the Wild Card round.
Despite having lost their four games in 2012 by a total of 11 points and beating the two teams ahead of them in the AFC playoff race, the Patriots are likely bound for a home game at Gillette on the weekend of January 5 and 6.
If form holds, the Patriots will head to Denver for a rematch with the Broncos and Peyton Manning.
Blame the NFC West. The Patriots went 1-3 against the once-hapless division, their only win coming against the St. Louis Rams in London.
So how screwed are the Patriots if they have to win four playoff games to bring home a fourth Lombardi?
Using history as a reference point, not totally screwed.
The Giants were the No. 4 seed in the NFC in 2011 with a 9-7 record and they hammered Atlanta, outplayed Green Bay, lucked out against San Francisco and weathered the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.
In 2010, the No. 6 Packers won at Philly, at Atlanta and at Chicago before knocking off the AFC's No. 2 Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
The Saints and Colts were both No. 1 seeds in 2009 and made it to the Super Bowl where New Orleans won when Manning threw it to the wrong team in the waning moments of a would-be game-winning drive.
The Cardinals were the fourth-seed and the Steelers were a two-seed in 2008 when they had their epic bout in Tampa.
And the top-seeded Patriots lost to the fifth-seeded Giants in the Super Bowl in 2007.
Extra games increases the likelihood of injury to key players. Road games bring on crowd noise, adversity presented by travel and any number of comfort factors on game day.
The mettle and mental toughness of a team is what's relevant. Can a team embrace the adversity it's been handed -- as the Giants have done in their runs -- or will it lament how it got itself in a spot where it's playing on the road?
These are the dynamics the Patriots will face in January. Would it be "easier" if they didn't face the specter of two road games against Houston and Denver? Probably. But the whole thing's supposed to be hard anyway. C'est la vie.