Close your eyes and go back to the 2013 season (but don't actually close your eyes so you can read the article).
The record setting and AFC-leading Denver Broncos traveled to New England to face a Patriots team experiencing serious turnover on offense. The visiting team jumped out to a big early lead thanks to turnovers, but an injury to a key defensive player, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, shifted the tide as the home team clawed back to ultimately win the game in overtime thanks to a muffed punt.
The visiting team entered the game without a key player on defense, starting safety Rahim Moore, and a key receiver on offense, tight end Julius Thomas, and the return of all three of these injured players shifted the tide after the Broncos managed to hold on to home field advantage and host the AFC Championship rematch game.
So let's see. The AFC-leading Patriots were fielding an absurd offense as they traveled to face a Broncos team that is still trying to figure out their quarterback position. New England converted on a Chandler Jones interception, but the loss of linebacker Dont'a Hightower allowed the Broncos to run the ball, in a similar way that the loss of Rodgers-Cromartie allowed the Patriots to move the ball through the air in 2013.
The Patriots were missing a key defender, linebacker Jamie Collins, that only exacerbated the hole in the defense that the in-game injury opened, and they were certainly missing a key offensive player in Julian Edelman (or Danny Amendola or Dion Lewis. Take your pick).
And then there's the muffed punt. Just like the Broncos muffed a punt to let the Patriots win in overtime, the now-released Chris Harper muffed a punt in the fourth quarter at a time where New England was about to bury the Broncos.
New England still holds the inside edge on AFC homefield advantage and the Broncos have to face the Steelers and the Bengals. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Patriots maintain their homefield advantage.
More importantly, the Patriots should have Hightower for the possible rematch. They should have Collins and Edelman and Amendola and Gronkowski (heck, I'll even throw in nickel corner Justin Coleman). The injuries shifted the outcome of the game and, fingers crossed, those injuries will not be a problem in the playoffs.
So the Broncos might have won the regular season game. The Patriots are focused on getting healthy and being ready to host a healthier rematch with greater stakes.