As we head down the stretch, which AFC team poses the biggest threat to the Patriots' return to the Super Bowl?
Stephen: At one time I'd say the Houston Texans posed the biggest threat, but with their recent play, I don't see them as much of a threat. Like last year, the biggest threat to the Patriots' Super Bowl run is the Baltimore Ravens. New England already dropped a close game to Baltimore earlier this season, and these two teams are very familiar with each other. It's hard to count against Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Co., although the going is easier without Lardarius Webb or possibly Ray Lewis in the lineup.
Jason: I don't think the Texans pose an enormous threat. They've been exposed in the passing game the past few weeks. If they can't stop Matt Stafford, they won't stop Brady. And I can't say the Ravens because I hate them with a passion that burns deep in my soul. So the team that really scares me is Denver. The Broncos defense is legit, and Manning can direct a scoring drive at the drop of a hat. The formula for beating the Pats is score points and get after the quarterback. The Broncos can do both.
Derek: I think it's pretty interesting that we're going to end up with three different answers to this question. I don't think the Ravens are the biggest threat because of their injuries to Lewis and Webb. Joe Flacco simply isn't going to be able to keep pace with Tom Brady without his defense at full-strength. Week 3 was a close game, but the replacement refs won't be around to blow 18 calls to bail out Baltimore this time around. Baltimore has looked awful the past few weeks and has only managed to get to 9-2 because teams like KC, Pittsburgh, and San Diego managed to out-awful them. The Broncos are certainly worth opponents and Peyton Manning isn't to be taken lightly. However, when they've played good teams, it hasn't gone so well for them and they seem to be making a living on beating up on sub-par competition.
I was tempted for a second to get cute and say the Miami Dolphins, as they have two games against New England and could seriously ruin the Patriots playoff positioning with some wins, but ultimately, my answer has to be the Texans. They're slumping at the moment, but they have far more weapons than Baltimore or Denver. Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt... This is the team could easily derail the Pats if they bring their "A" game and New England only brings an A-minus.