It appears that if any other AFC team wants to make it to the Super Bowl, they'll have to defeat the New England Patriots at home and that's a daunting task to say the least. Now to be fair the Patriots did not get the best of the Buffalo Bills on Saturday. In fact, they got their worst and the Bills effort might have been the most pathetic performance by an NFL team this season on the road.
The Patriots came out smoking as quarterback Tom Brady threw four touchdowns and looked invincible in the first half. He even side stepped a season ending injury as former Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy hit Brady on the knee but the soft stadium turf proved kind to Brady who avoided an injury. It hardly slowed him down.
The Patriots came out with a no huddle offense that kept the #2 ranked Bills defense off balance in the first three possessions. Brady opened the scoring by finding tight end Daniel Graham from 1-yard out. Then on the next drive, Brady hit wide receiver Bethel Johnson on a nifty run and catch to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
After Buffalo fizzled again on offense with another three and out, the Patriots looked for the kill. But the Bills defense caused a fumble on the ensuing New England possession as Brady coughed up the ball that was recovered by Takio Spikes. But the Bills behind an anemic Drew Bledsoe couldn't even get positive yards on four consecutive plays. They turned the ball over on downs and the Patriots took complete control of the game.
In the second half the Patriots started out with a big kick-off return that put the ball insider the Patriots 20-yard line but Bledsoe again failed to get positive yardage. The Patriots added a meaningless field goal in the fourth quarter. With the win, New England locks up the #1 seed in the playoffs thanks to their 12-game winning streak.
It's painfully obvious that the Patriots have an advantage at home but outside of their win against the Colts on the road, New England was hardly tested by the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Bills. They'll have to play even better at home to keep the streak alive.
Brady was the difference maker and in the playoffs a hot quarterback can only get you so far. The Patriots rushing game, which is improving, needs to resemble an average threat if the team is going to get back to the Super Bowl.
On defense, the Patriots won't be able to blitz like they did against the Bills. Many times in the game they had clear paths to Bledsoe and the Bills might have the worst offensive line in NFL history, let alone this season. Brown's absence didn't help but New England can't get over-confident. Especially on defense where teams can be successful if given enough time to completing passes over the middle.
One thing that surprised me on Saturday was the Patriots showed a lot of their no-huddle offense and that four wide receiver set won't fool any of the AFC playoff contenders like it did the Bills.
Regardless New England head coach, Bill Belichick has done a remarkable job with his no-name offense and defensive units. The Patriots were shunned with only two Pro Bowl selections and they could have easily had many more.
Now the Patriots control their own fate as they await the division winners' lowest remaining seed.
If the teams who are favored amongst the five other AFC playoff seeds hold form for Sunday's NFL contests, the Patriots could face the winner of the Indianapolis Colts/Denver Broncos winner or the Titans/Ravens winner.
All four of those teams have superior offensive lines and all are capable of putting up 35 or more points per game unlike the Bills, Jets and Jaguars who the Patriots faced down the stretch. The Broncos are by far the hottest team in the NFL and both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, the #2 seed want to avoid a possible first round match-up with Denver.
But if seeds hold form and the home teams win in the first round of the playoffs, the Patriots would host the Ravens and the Colts would travel to Kansas City to play the Chiefs. However, both Tennessee and Denver plan on making it to the second round.
However, that's two weeks from now and the Patriots will have time to rest, analyze and get ready for their first playoff opponent. Based on their lack of quality opponents the last three games of the season, New England is going to need to take their play to the next level.
They can't rest on their laurels despite not giving up a touchdown at home over their final six games. They can't sit back and think about their twelve game winning streak heading into the playoffs.
If they do, it will be a short playoff run for New England.