The Patriots have another playoff berth in the bag, and they're likely heading for a number 1 seed as well if they can win out since they hold the tie-breaker with the Denver Broncos (11-3). With their last 2 games against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, winning out shouldn't be too much of a problem. The road to Glendale will likely run through Gillette Stadium this year, which gives the Patriots a huge edge since they rarely lose at home. With that said, here are the biggest threats (in my opinion) in the AFC.
1.) Denver Broncos: Let's get the obvious one out of the way. The Broncos hold the 2 seed right now at 11-3, but lost to the Pats back in November, hence giving us the advantage for the 1 seed. They should still prove a handful, even if they end up coming here. We all know about Peyton Manning's arm and all the weapons around him, but what will make the Broncos tougher to deal with is the development of a running game in recent weeks. C.J. Anderson leads the team with 679 yards, but almost 600 of those have come in the 2nd half of the season. A balanced attack is key, as the Broncos found out the hard way last year. Their defense is ranked 2nd against the run, but it's virtually unchanged from the team that the Patriots ripped apart in November. The playoffs are a different animal, though, and the Denver defense is capable of turning it up a notch.
2.) Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are right behind the Cincinnati Bengals for the lead in the AFC North, and they always seem to play the Patriots tough in the playoffs, which is why they're on this list. The year the Ravens won the Super Bowl, they came to Gillette and beat us. The year before that, it was only some bad luck that kept them from beating us and advancing to the Super Bowl instead of us. The AFC North is still very much up for grabs, with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh still in the hunt. Right now, all 3 teams would be in the playoffs, with the Ravens facing off against the AFC South champs, the Indianpolis Colts, and the Steelers and Bengals squaring off in the other wild card match up. Things have changed somewhat for the Ravens, though - Ray Lewis retired and Ray Rice is suspended. The Ravens also lost a number of key players after winning the Super Bowl, but I think if we end up playing the Ravens, it's entirely possible they find ways to keep the game close.
3.) Indianapolis Colts:The only other team that could possibly pose a threat are the Andrew Luck-led Colts, but this is stretching it, given what happened in the playoffs last year. The Pats blew out the Colts at home behind a brilliant performance from Lagarrette Blount. If they end up squaring off again in Gillette, it's entirely possible we see a repeat performance from the Pats, but the Colts have the weapons to cause us some problems if they play like they can.
Those are the only teams I see possibly causing us problems, but if the Patriots win out and clinch the 1 seed, I don't see the Patriots having any problems in the playofs - and that means a 6th Super Bowl appearance for Tom Brady. I'll be honest - some of the teams in the NFC, notably the Seahawks, Cardinals and Packers, worry me more than the Broncos if the Patriots should clinch the #1 seed. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but I think the Patriots clinch the #1 seed and go back to the Super Bowl again.