Patriots Schedule Easy Path To Championship?

Is it possible the Patriots are in the playoffs due to an easy schedule? One question this week stirred the pot that that Patriots may have walked into the postseason by defeating inferior competitors.

Competition Too Easy?

   --Leading up to this past weekend's game, one reporter derisively called Saturday's playoff game between the Broncos and Patriots the first "double-bye" in postseason history, suggesting New England had a relatively easy path to the conference title game.

   You can't argue with the logic, especially after the Patriots dismantled the Broncos, 45-10, behind six touchdown passes from quarterback Tom Brady. For the time being, the Patriots have exorcised their most recent playoff demons by winning their first postseason game since 2007.

   Now a much bigger challenge looms on the horizon with the second-seeded Baltimore Ravens coming to Foxboro on Sunday for the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens eliminated the Patriots in the wild-card round three years ago, so the Patriots understand the type of challenge they're about to face.

   As Brady put it, this will undoubtedly be their toughest opponent of the season.

   "There's no one that's going to overlook a team like that. It would be impossible to do," Brady said Monday. "They present a ton of challenges in all three phases of the game. You watch them (Sunday), they're physical, they're tough, they can cover.

   They've got some of the best players in the history of the NFL at their position, in (Terrell) Suggs and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. You've got phenomenal players there."

   What the Patriots faced Saturday night against the overwhelmed Broncos seemed almost unrealistic at times. Denver never took any shots down the field, nor did it put up much of a fight defensively. The Ravens won't fold as easily; they're still one of the league's elite defensive teams and, outside of the 49ers in the NFC, arguably the best defensive team remaining in the playoffs.

   "We've really got our work cut out for us," Brady said. "We'll be excited about the challenge. We'll use the week to prepare like we always do, and really try to be at our best -- hopefully be better than we were this past Saturday night."

   Though it's hard to nitpick based off Saturday's performance, the Patriots might need to look into their run defense, which struggled early when the game was still somewhat competitive. Once the score got out of hand, neither Willis McGahee or Lance Ball presented much of a threat.

   Three years ago in Foxboro, Baltimore's Ray Rice opened the game with a touchdown run up the middle on the first play from the scrimmage. That set the tone in a lopsided win for the Ravens. The Patriots need to be better in that area Sunday, or else the Ravens will keep the ball on the ground early and often.

   "This is nothing about '09 or '10. This is nothing about last week or last season or last month or 10 years ago. It's about this week," Brady said.

   "The clock's ticking. And every second that goes by, we're one second closer to getting to that game. We've got to use our time wisely, to repair, get our rest, and be ready to go out and face our biggest challenge of the season."

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