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.
0:41 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith discuss what’s going on between the Patriots and Malcolm Butler after Bill Belichick praised Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe but didn’t have much to say on Butler.
5:39 - John Farrell thinks David Price out of the bullpen can be similar to Andrew Miller with the Indians last year in the playoffs. Our panel on BST break it down.
10:35 - Curran, Holley, Smith, and Phil Perry talk about the NFL ratings being down and why that continues to be.
15:15 - Evan Drellich joins BST after the Red Sox win to explain why Drew Pomeranz could be even more threatening, how good the bullpen actually is, and the offense not driving in runs.
FOXBORO -- The picture at wide receiver wasn't pretty for the Patriots by the time the clock hit zeros in the fourth quarter in New Orleans over the weekend.
Chris Hogan looked hobbled for much of the second half. Phillip Dorsett left with a knee injury. Danny Amendola was ruled out well in advance of kickoff with a concussion and a knee injury. Matthew Slater was ruled out due to a hamstring injury. Brandin Cooks looked like the only Patriots wideout to finish the game feeling spry.
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But as the team prepares for the Texans this week, Dorsett is hoping he'll be back on the field with his teammates for practice.
"I feel good," Dorsett said in the Patriots locker room Monday. "Just a little sore, but I'm alright."
Not only would it help the Patriots offense to have another body available at receiver, but Dorsett understands how crucial it is for him to practice as much as possible. He was acquired in a trade with the Colts just before the season, and he knows he has work to do to get adjusted to his new offense.
"It's just me going out there and getting the plays in practice," Dorsett said when asked about his confidence level in running New England's system. "I feel like practice builds my confidence. If I get to play in practice, I feel more comfortable when it comes to the game."
Dorsett looked comfortable in Week 2, catching three passes for 68 yards. His first grab in the first quarter went for 23 yards and came on a play when Tom Brady, who was hit as he released, threw a floater down the right sideline. Dorsett alertly saw the pass falling short and worked back toward the line of scrimmage to make the catch.
"I think he trusts me," Dorsett said of Brady. "We work a lot during practice and after practice. Hopefully we can continue to gain more trust as the season goes on. It's only the second game. We got a long way to go."
More practice time would be helpful in allowing that relationship to continue to grow. We'll see if Dorsett gets any when the Patriots take the fields behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.