With just one week of regular-season action to go the Patriot have clearly established themselves as the team to beat in the AFC. Their 13-2 record ties them with Dallas for the best mark in all of football, and with the league's top-rated defense and Tom Brady, it would seem New England's trip to the Super Bowl is there for the taking.
But there are five other playoff teams in the AFC and each has won enough games during the season to continue their seasons into January. The Steelers have been inconsistent offensively but have the ability to get hot and a defense that seems to be improving. Kansas City is a steady team that lacks flash but generally doesn't beat itself and could cause some problems.
Elsewhere there will be backup quarterbacks to deal with as Oakland's once-promising season was dealt a blow with the loss of MVP candidate Derek Carr while Houston (Tom Savage) and Miami (Matt Moore) also will be working without their starters.
All have more questions than the Patriots, but which has the best chance to pull off an upset? That's our Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week as we hit the New Year.
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
The Steelers have the kind of offense the Patriots haven't really seen all year. When the teams met the first time Ben Roethlisberger was out with a knee injury. This time they'll have to deal with the full Steelers offense, and they can be quite scary when operating on all cylinders.
Pittsburgh has three of the best players in the league at their positions with Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. They will test the Patriots top-ranked defense and force the secondary to come up with some plays to keep the score down. And Pittsburgh defense, which isn't overly imposing, is improving as well.
Perhaps most importantly, Pittsburgh won't be intimidated coming to Foxborough. The only team that can match the Patriots offense point for point is Pittsburgh and that's why the Steelers represent the biggest challenge to New England's Super Bowl hopes.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
The Chiefs may lack flash but they are a solid football team with all the ingredients for playoff success. They have a solid coach in Andy Reid who has won games in the postseason before, and a quarterback in Alex Smith who avoids mistakes and makes sound decisions that win football games.
On defense Kansas City can get after the passer without blitzing with three quality edge players in Dee Ford, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. That trio keeps the heat on opposing passers and that allows the Chiefs to generate turnovers, a category they lead the league in.
A banged-up Chiefs team came to Foxborough last season and gave the Patriots all they could handle before losing 27-20. That experience might be the thing that puts the team over the top, and that's why Kansas City is the team that presents the biggest challenge to the Patriots.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.