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Patriots playoff primer

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By PFW staff

PFW examines the Patriots as they prepare for the playoffs, identifying the keys to the offense and the defense, a player to watch, and what they have to do to win the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots
14-2 / First place in AFC East

Keys to offense: The Patriots' offensive juggernaut succeeds when Tom Brady has time in the pocket to pick apart defenses with a short-to-intermediate passing game. Brady likes to get WRs Deion Branch and Wes Welker the ball in space and utilize his rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Both are threats up the seam and in the red zone, accounting for 16 touchdowns. The Patriots need to stay mistake-free. They turned the ball over the fewest times in NFL history (10), and Brady was sacked just 25 times. The breakout running game is good enough to keep defenses honest with the powerful BenJarvus Green-Ellis and shifty Danny Woodhead.

Keys to defense: The opportunistic defense is statistically the worst in Bill Belichick's tenure but leads the league in takeaways with 38. It's a bend-but-don't-break "D" that succeeds when it can force teams into 3rd-and-long situations. It has Pro Bowlers at each level, with NT Vince Wilfork and ILB Jerod Mayo stopping the run and rookie CB Devin McCourty, who has seven interceptions, manning the defensive backfield. The Patriots don't put a whole lot of pressure on quarterbacks, but they disguise their looks enough to confuse opponents into making mistakes.

Player to watch: To defeat New England, a team will have to score a lot of points. Teams likely will throw at CB Kyle Arrington, who has struggled at times. The Pats generally don't give up big plays, but teams will challenge Arrington down his sideline to avoid McCourty. If Arrington can keep receivers in check and make a big play or two, it will go a long way for the defense.

They'll win the Super Bowl if ... the defense continues creating turnovers. The offense will score points, but the defense has shown it will give up points. No one will beat New England if its defense takes the ball away at the rate it did the last eight regular-season games (24 takeaways).

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