Mission accomplished. The biggest concern heading into Week 17 was about players injuring themselves against a Buffalo team with nothing to lose. With Brady and crew finishing no worse off after the game than when they started, we can all breathe a bit easier. The club also finished the regular season on top of the AFC. In the classic words of Rodney Harrison, 'Nobody thought you could do it.' We here at the Pulpit aren't surprised at the Patriots earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The real surprise is the lack of respect New England gets from the experts around the league.
A prime example is Peter King, who thinks it's "almost scandalous" that the Patriots allowed to throw for 4,703 yards on them this year. Green Bay somehow gets a pass, however, even though the Packers' defense allowed opponents to throw for 4,796 yards on them - 93 more yards than the Patriots D. No fair, Mr. King.
The last two weeks had the Patriots ranked 3rd in the league on average, but after clinching the number one seed and winning their 8th game in a row, a few writers dropped them down a few notches so that now they're closer to 4th. Not much of a drop, but still a drop. It's understandable. This unconventional defense is scaring former supporters away. What team can win a Championship with receivers playing cornerback, special teamers at linebacker and a former college QB-turned-WR playing defense, offense and returning punts. Personally, it wouldn't surprise me to find out Julian Edelman also sang the National Anthem before the game and then stayed on the field for the coin toss.
Green Bay at least has lousy defenders who play their natural positions. I guess that makes all the difference in the world to the experts.
Pro Football Talk ranks them 2nd: Four years since their last playoff win and seven since their last Super Bowl victory, the Patriots seem primed for another title run.
Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) ranks them 3rd: Remember in "Titanic" how James Cameron tried to pull the ultimate diversion with Leo DiCaprio's homeless character pulling the rich chick, so as to make you forget why we all came to the theater? No one cared about that diamond, either. One wonders if that is what's going on with the Patriots. The high-powered offense and the media love affair with Tom Brady is a diversion. When will the defense that can't stop anybody ultimately sink this ship? Believe it or not, it might not be until the Super Bowl. Who in the AFC can keep up with New England in a track meet?
Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) ranks them 3rd: Tom Brady will have to be his best come playoff time based on how that defense plays. It is a unit that did make plays in the second half against Buffalo.
Don Banks (SI) ranks them 3rd: It's almost time to throw out the book when it comes to the Patriots, because logic says we should not be taking a team seriously that gave up the second-most passing yards in NFL history (trailing only this year's Packers). But they're the AFC's top seed, and they can routinely overcome deficits of 17 to 21 points in the time it takes to spell Rob Gronkowski's last name. So, it's Tom Brady's right arm and a defense that's hanging on for dear life in New England. As playoff formulas go, this is a relatively new one.
NFL.com experts rank them 3rd
Peter King (SI) ranks them 4th: Not to rain on the Pats' top-seeded parade or anything, but foes threw for 4,703 yards on New England this year. That's so bad it's almost scandalous -- 1,348 more yards in the air than the Patriots allowed in 2009.
ESPN ranks them 4th: The Patriots are sitting pretty with an eight-game winning streak, a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Vinnie Iyer (The Sporting News) ranks them 4th: Leading receiver: WR Wes Welker. He held off a late yardage surge by much bigger teammate Rob Gronkowski. Welker led the NFL in receptions (122).
Joel Thorman (SB Nation) ranks them 4th: Say what you want about this Patriots defense but they're 15th in the league in points given up and this team has now won seven straight. That's not that bad for supposedly one of the all-time worst defenses.
Brian Billick (Fox Sports) ranks them 5th: Had it not been for Drew Brees, Tom Brady would have had a record-setting year, as both surpassed Dan Marino as the single-season passing yardage leader. Brady has proven time and again that he can withstand the pressure of carrying this team, but he has never done it while dragging the 31st-ranked defense behind him. The Ravens have struggled on the road this season, but I still think they can go into New England and win. Same with the Steelers.
Michael Silver (Yahoo! Sports) ranks them 6th: How crazy is it that none of their 13 victories came against a team with a winning record – and will that absence of quality competition come back to bite them in the playoffs?
AVERAGE RANK: 3.7 (-.6)