Is anyone afraid of the Patriots?
Sure, the offense is imposing and there's that Bill Belichick guy moving pieces around on defense, but how intimidating is New England heading into the playoffs?
This team has shown more weaknesses than last year's 14-2 squad, even though this year's team may match the mark of finishing the season on an eight-game win streak, thanks to a soft schedule.
The Patriots have three losses — to the Bills, Steelers and Giants. They needed a two-minute-drill comeback to beat the Cowboys and, most recently, had to recover an onside kick to seal the deal against the winless Colts. The 21 points that the Patriots allowed to Dan Orlovsky and the Colts in the fourth quarter was telling.
The defense is last in the league in total yards and 30th on third down, and the rushing attack that was ninth in the league last season has fallen to 21st.
But the Patriots are the Patriots, and Tom Brady is still in charge of the league's second-best offense. The defense will be at full strength with LB Brandon Spikes and S Patrick Chung come playoff time.
On the other side of the NFL, there are the undefeated Packers, a team that, like the Patriots, helps show how little you can pay attention to defensive stats these days. Green Bay has the second-worst defense in terms of total yards and is 29th in third-down defense. The Packers, though, are the defending champs and currently undefeated.
Could Brady have marched New England downfield for a win the way that Aaron Rodgers did to help Green Bay get the win over the Giants last week? Probably, we've seen it before.
And the Packers' defense has shown similar holes to the Patriots'. It gave up 435 yards to a Christian Ponder-led Vikings team earlier this season.
The big difference is the personnel. Green Bay has Charles Woodson — the Patriots don't have anyone in the secondary whom opposing quarterbacks avoid, especially considering the sophomore slump Devin McCourty is having.
Neither team has been a sack machine, but the Patriots don't have a player like Clay Matthews whom offensive lines have to key on and quarterbacks have to be aware of at all times.
The Patriots were takeaway machines last year, and have improved of late, but they trail the Packers by four takeaways this season.
At times early on, it looked like Brady and Rodgers were on a collision course that would result in a Super Bowl matchup for the ages. The teams are similar and are winning, but the Packers are the much more feared opponent right now. The AFC teams will be confident heading into a playoff matchup with New England, even with Brady and the offense moving like they are, unless the defense and the running game turn things around.
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