As we head down the nitty gritty of the NFL season, the Patriots and Broncos have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the AFC. Both have been consistently ahead of the competition, and with 11-3 records through 15 weeks of action are clearly the favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
But are there any other teams that should concern Patriots fans in a potential playoff matchup?
The Indianapolis Colts have Andrew Luck and a dynamic offense that can put some fear in even the most stout defenses. Baltimore is a tough-minded team with a formidable defense and playoff-tested quarterback in Joe Flacco. Cincinnati hasn't had postseason success but has been one of the most consistent teams in the conference over the past four years. Pittsburgh is like Baltimore in its toughness and with Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown wouldn't be a pushover for anyone in the playoffs.
That doesn't even mention teams like Kansas City and Miami that have already defeated the Patriots earlier this season.
So even though New England has worked hard to establish itself as the favorite, there are no cakewalks to the Super Bowl.
This week our Samsonite Make Your Case question asks: Other than Denver, which team would you least like to see in the playoffs?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
At some point Andrew Luck is going to break through against a quality opponent in a big spot and rip it up. I would rather not give him the opportunity to do that against the Patriots in the playoffs.
The Colts are not a great team but they do have a great offense. Luck has plenty of weapons to choose from, which is exactly the kind of diversity teams need to combat the Patriots secondary. Unlike against most teams, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner won't be able to control the passing game all by themselves.
Luck has been mistake-prone during the early part of his career and that's the one thing holding him back at this point. But in a playoff scenario, all it would take is one game in which he protects the football and lights up the scoreboard to end your season.
Obviously all playoff opponents are to be respected, but I'd rather not see Luck and his deep crew of weapons.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Handicapping the potential playoff foes is always dangerous business, but aside from Denver the team I'd least like to see is Baltimore, and the reason is simple – history. The Ravens know they can come to Foxborough and win in January because they've already done it – twice.
The Ravens don't have the most talented roster of the playoff teams but they have a combination of factors that may be more important. First, they have a coach in John Harbaugh who is not afraid to match wits with Bill Belichick. He'll have the guts to roll the dice if the situation dictates it, and he won't fall into the conservative trap that so many others do when facing the Patriots. Second, they have a quarterback in Joe Flacco who is not afraid either. He lacks consistency but not ability. Patriots fans have seen what happens when he gets hot, and the weather won't impact his ability to drive the ball down the field.
Last and most important is the Ravens overall mindset. They fear no one and believe they are the better team every week. For those reasons I'd rather see someone else come January.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Call poll.