If the AFC Championship isn't played at Gillette Stadium in two Sundays, the New England Patriots have no excuses. If they can't beat the Denver Broncos - a team that finished the regular season 8-8 and lost to New England 41-23 in Week 15 - then the Patriots deserve every ounce of criticism and every accusation of choking they will get. Everything has broken perfectly for the Patriots in the last month. As every other AFC team with a shot at the No. 1 overall seed flopped, the Patriots kept winning. And they emerged with home field advantage and the bye. And when the Steelers - perhaps the most daunting adversary in the AFC - had injuries pile up. New England benefited. When the Patriots should have been playing the Sunday Night Football game at Denver in Week 15, they got out of it. And now the Broncos are the only team that has to play on a short week coming into the Divisional Playoff round. The Steelers team the Broncos beat on Sunday was a shell of the 12-4 team that was at its best until the first week of December when Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain. In addition to a hobbling Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh was without free safety Ryan Clark and running backs Mewelde Moore and Rashad Mendenhall, defensive end Brett Keisel, andnose tackle Casey Hampton. Playing at altitude without the quarterback of their secondary (Clark), the Steelers got lit up by Tebow throwing over the top of them. You can look at the Patriots and ask why they wouldn't get lit up by the Broncos offense as Pittsburgh did.It's allowed. Butthe Patriots offense is a smidge more potent than the Steelers. Denver never had to get into a pass-first mode against Pittsburgh. The Patriots should be able to put them there. How will newly-re-signed offensive assistant Josh McDaniels (the Patriots made his hiring official in a statement Sunday night) assist in preparing for Tebow? -- It was McDaniels that drafted Tebow in Denver two years ago. Honestly, it shouldn't make much difference going into this game. Everything the Patriots need to know about Tebow has been revealed in his 12 starts this season. He's inaccurate short, dangerous medium-to-deep, runs well with the ball, exposes the ball when he's in the pocket and on the move and cannot throw when moving to his right. He generally doesn't throw many picks. He plays to the last instant of the game, he has incredible self-confidence and charisma and his teammates believe in him. The Patriots are facing a good Denver defense but not one that they had a ton of trouble with when they met in December. In that game, the Patriots scored on four of their first five drives and six of their first nine. For a team that's struggled mightily to start games well, the Denver game was an exception. On the flip side, the Broncos won't come into New England thinking they can't compete with the 13-3 Patriots. Their wounds were self-inflicted in their loss to the Patriots. Two fumbles and a muffed punt led to 13 of the Patriots 20 second-quarter points when the game was blown open. Still, the Broncos are not on the same level as the Patriots. Not by any stretch. Denver is the beneficiary of a Steelers team that fell on hard times. To think that Tebow - inspiring, charismatic and wrongly discounted as he is - will put together two excellent games in the playoffs against elite teams is too much to ask. The Patriots should have no problem next Sunday with the Denver Broncos. The Broncos cannot beat the Patriots. The Patriots need only to avoid beating themselves.
FOXBORO – Back in March, Eric Weddle batted his eyes longingly at the Patriots. The two-time All-Pro safety’s time was done with the Chargers and he wanted to spend his NFL autumn with a team that had a chance to win it all.
He didn’t land in New England, but he didn’t too badly, winding up with the usually competitive Ravens.
On a Thursday conference call with New England media, Weddle confirmed that there was mutual interest expressed.
“Obviously, I was interested,” he acknowledged. “I have nothing but high regard, respect and admiration – and envy, quite honestly – of the success of the New England Patriots over the years. Obviously, battling them in my career, it’s always been a great game. I love the way they play, love the foundation, love everything about it. It was definitely on my radar. There were talks both ways, it just didn’t end up [working out].”
The numbers massed at the position with Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon played a role in the two sides not being able to reach accord, according to Weddle.
“I’m good buddies with Patrick Chung,” he said. “I grew up playing with him and Devin [McCourty] is one of the best to play, so I don’t know if it would have worked out personnel-wise. But obviously, I could have seen myself fitting in there seamlessly.”
Weddle’s New England attraction apparently wasn’t love that bloomed late in his career. Toward the end of his conference call, Weddle said, “I’m still wondering why they just didn’t draft me in ’07; I could have been still playing there now.”
As reporters puzzled for a moment trying to recall the 2007 first-rounder, Weddle chipped in with the answer: “[They took] Brandon Meriweather.”
FOXBORO - The Patriots got a desired outcome Thursday night when the Chiefs handed the Raiders their third loss of the season.
The 21-13 loss dropped Oakland and KC into a tie atop the AFC West at 10-3 but the Chiefs, by virtue of beating Oakland twice this season, have the divisional tiebreaker. Oakland went from the top seed in the AFC to the fifth spot.
More importantly around here, the Patriots now are in position to win out and claim the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Prior to the Raiders loss, Oakland would have been the top seed if both they and the Patriots won out. Now, the 10-2 Patriots have a leg up on the rest of the conference. The Raiders’ road stays tough. They are at San Diego and Denver and host the Colts.
The Chiefs have a more favorable close to the season with home games against Tennessee and Denver before their season finale at San Diego.
The Patriots’ road over the final four is no picnic though, beginning with the Ravens and at Denver before the last two hosting the Jets and traveling to Miami.