When the dust settled on Sunday, Patriots fans were left with a disappointing scenario as the number 1 seed. The Pats’ most likely opponent after a first round bye? The Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh will play the slumping Tebows in Denver, while Houston takes on Cincinnati. Most expect the no. 5 seed Steelers to smash the Broncos and advance, while rookie QB Andy Dalton and the no. 6 seed Bengals have their hands full in Houston. Unless Cincy pulls off an upset or Tebow re-conjures his lost magic, Pittsburgh will roll into Foxborough on January 14. The Steelers already beat the Pats this year, and have the winning pedigree to come in and upset New England.
However, Pittsburgh will have to play without perhaps their best offensive player: RB Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall has been diagnosed with a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. A weakened Steelers team leaves Baltimore looking like the only legitimate threat to the Patriots’ reign in the AFC (Houston doesn’t look like a Championship caliber team minus Matt Schaub & Andre Johnson – and the Bengals are…well…the Bengals). The Patriots may have the easiest road to the Superbowl they have seen in recent memory. Despite a shaky Defense, the Pats should have a solid shot at making it to Indianapolis. Defeating the team that comes out of the stacked NFC is another story, but two home games against inferior teams are all that stand between New England and a Superbowl berth.