New England Patriots Earn Right to Be AFC Favorites
The New England Patriots came into the 2012 season as favorites to repeat as AFC champions. But the team struggled to a 3-3 start which brought questions about whether this team had the ability to reach the heights of a year ago. Since the team’s one-point loss in Seattle in week six, the Patriots have rattled off seven straight wins and with Monday night’s performance have earned the right to be called favorites to advance to a second straight Super Bowl.
While the Patriots came into this game as one of the best teams in the league, the Houston Texans have been able to claim that for the last few weeks. Currently in line to be the number one seed in the AFC, the Texans came in 11-1 with wins in Denver, in Chicago, and against Baltimore. Their only loss this year has been against a tough Green Bay Packers team that leads arguably the best division in the NFL.
Making the win more impressive by the Patriots is that they are far from fully healthy. The Patriots offense is playing without two key receivers in tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman. Gronkowski is still recovering from breaking his forearm three weeks ago against the Indianapolis Colts and Edelman’s season ended with a broken foot last week in Miami. Even though the Patriots can claim the best offense in the league, these are tough losses as the Texans boast one of the league’s best defenses.
Against one of the league’s best defensive lines and unquestionably the league’s best pass rusher J.J. Watt, Tom Brady tore through the Texans defense virtually with ease. He shredded Houston for 296 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. This deep offense with an MVP quarterback proved they can take on any defense in the league no matter what adversity they face.
Though they’ve been much better over the last seven weeks, the Patriots defense is still the weak side of the ball. While they handled themselves well against weaker opponents, Monday night’s battle was expected to be one of the toughest of the season. But they too got the better of the visiting Texans holding their opponents to just 14 points. After conceding at least 20 points in five of the first six games, the Patriots defense has given up that amount in just three of the last seven performances. Their ability to limit a strong Texans offense that includes Pro Bowlers Andre Johnson and Arian Foster has lifted them to a new level.
There are currently four teams that look to be the class of the AFC. The Texans, Baltimore Ravens, and Denver Broncos would all represent the conference well in this year’s Super Bowl but with Monday night’s performance, the Patriots have earned the right to be considered favorites for a second consecutive conference title.