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Patriots' 60-second rant: Time to play with target on back

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Jan. 05, 2011 @ 3:49 a.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

After a 14-2 regular season concluded by a nine-game win streak, the Patriots are the consensus Super Bowl favorites. Vegas thinks so. Most members of the media think so.

And why not? During the nine-game win streak, the Patriots went from a wild-card contender who lost to the Browns to world beaters. Tom Brady went from having a solid season to having an MVP season. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis went from the undrafted fifth back on the depth chart in the preseason to the team's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. WR Deion Branch went from mediocrity in Seattle to a top receiver in his return to Foxborough. Danny Woodhead went from a no-name short guy to a media darling and an effective replacement for Kevin Faulk. And most importantly, the defense went from one with holes that gave up too many yards to the most opportunistic "D" in the league.

During the season, the Patriots beat four of the five other AFC playoff participants — the Ravens, Colts, Steelers and Jets. The Colts and Ravens gave the Patriots a run, and the Jets beat them in Week Two, but there is more evidence that the Patriots are now heavy favorites.

With that in mind, the January Patriots have to play with a big target on their backs. They haven't really had to play with that mentality this season, that other teams are gunning for them. Some people went as far as calling this a rebuilding year, and with so many injuries, expectations were low. During the streak, the Patriots were underdogs in Pittsburgh and slight favorites against the Jets and Bears.

The one game that comes to mind in which the Patriots entered as big favorites and struggled was their Week 15 squeaker. The Pats were 14-point favorites one week after dominating the Bears in Soldier Field, this time facing Packers backup Matt Flynn in his first start, yet they needed a late interception to seal the victory. Their last loss came in Cleveland when the Pats were four-point favorites and got hammered by the Browns.

They won't be two-touchdown favorites against anyone in the playoffs, but in the minds of fans, they are the favorites, and they need to play better under that type of pressure than they did against Green Bay. Luckily, Bill Belichick has been here before, but the last time the Patriots were considered a dominant, unstoppable force was in 2007, and they went on to lose in the Super Bowl. This team has its flaws, and the defense can certainly be exploited, but considering how the Patriots got here and whom they beat along the way, it's their championship to lose. They just need to remember how to play as the favorite.

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