The topic du jour every day this week has been who should the New England Patriots want to play in Foxboro on January 11. It's a nice luxury the Patriots have as they can sit atop the gladiator pit and just watch as the Kansas City Chiefs battle the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers duel the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Patriots will face whichever winner of the two games has the highest seed. That eliminates the San Diego Chargers who have the lowest seed of the four teams.
Among the other three teams, there is one team I fear the most. In fact, I fear that team more than I fear Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. OK, OK, just hear me out long enough before the men in the white coats find me again.
Let's start with the team I am least afraid of-- the Indianapolis Colts. This is not your same old Colts. There is no Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai, Pierre Garcon, or Dwight Freeney.
Andrew Luck is the best quarterback the Patriots could face in the next round, but he is still only in his second season in the NFL. Belichick will dine on Luck-y Charms if he faces the young QB next Saturday night. The Colts offense is centered around their first overall pick in 2012, but he just doesn't have enough weapons around him. His top wide receivers are T.Y. Hilton and and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Colts, simply, don't have any receivers who could scare even a suspect Patriots secondary.
The Colts also have the worst defense out of the three possible opponents for the Patriots. Consider the Colts are a dome team having to play outdoors in the New England winter weather-- it really is a no-brainer. Patriots fans should be rooting for the Indianapolis Colts to come to Foxboro.
The Kansas City Chiefs almost have what it takes to beat the Patriots. Remember when the Chiefs started the season 9-0? Yeah, neither do I. They finished 11-5. It's not the way you want to go into the playoffs losing five of your last seven games.
They have a good defense. They have a great running back. And they have an unspectacular quarterback who is good at managing the game. They also have, in my opinion, a very overrated head coach.
Unlike Indianapolis, Kansas City's front seven has the ability to disrupt Brady. That is key. Rattle Brady and you can beat the Patriots. KC was sixth in the NFL in sacks. But, overall, KC ranked 25th in passing yards allowed. Not good when you'd be facing one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
There is no other team than KC that the Patriots could face this postseason which they would miss defensive run-stoppers Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo more. Jamaal Charles is as elite as they come as a running back. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry, but he also poses a double threat as he had 70 receptions as well.
Charles is electric. But, in today's NFL, it may not be a winning formula if your biggest offensive threat is your running back. KC's quarterback Alex Smith will not beat you with his arm. The Chiefs rely on ball control and pounding you into submission. The Chiefs are not a come from behind team. If they fall behind by more than one score, they are, effectively, neutralized.
Now for the team that scares me the most. The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Patriots back in Week 5, 13-6. That's not why I worry about the Bengals. The Patriots may have won that game were it not for Mother Nature suiting up for the Bengals late in the fourth quarter.
No, the reason I want no part of the Bengals is because of their defense. They allowed the third fewest yards (305.5) per game in the NFL-- trailing only the NFC's Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers.
As I mentioned before, the secret to beating the Patriots is to rattle Brady. It can be done, especially in the playoffs. Ask the Giants and Ravens. Smash Brady in the mouth early and then watch him get happy feet or duck invisible defenders. The Bengals have the personnel to do it. They also have the mentality.
The Bengals also have the right offensive weapons that could wreak matchup problems for the Patriots defense. Cornerback Aqib Talib has struggled covering elite receivers since aggravating a hip injury midseason. A.J. Green qualifies as an elite receiver.
The Patriots, historically, also struggle against good tight ends. Jermaine Gresham is very good. Patriots linebackers are either too banged up (Brandon Spikes) or too slow (Dont'a Hightower) to keep up with Gresham.
Unfortunately for Cincy, they are dealing with injuries to both Green (knee) and Gresham (hamstring). They are listed as questionable in their game versus San Diego.
The other issue for the Bengals is their quarterback. I'm not as condescending of Andy Dalton as some of the Boston media I've heard recently. In fact, I am fairly high on him. Sure, he'll throw interceptions (20), but he plays in a division with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns (remarkably, Cleveland had the best defense of the three).
The Patriots defense has allowed mediocre quarterbacks like Jason Campbell look like All-Pros. Dalton has the ability (and weapons) to keep up with Brady.
Yes, I fear the Bengals more than the Broncos. I have to wrap this up now because I hear the sirens coming. Here are my picks for the games this weekend:
KC at Indianapolis-- Indianapolis wins, 34-20. Home field makes the difference. KC limped to the finish line.
New Orleans at Philadelphia-- Saints win in a shootout, 38-35. Saints' 3-5 road record worrisome.
San Diego at Cincinnati-- Bengals win, 31-10. Biggest potential for a blowout. San Diego playing in Cincy in January? I can still see the looks on Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow, Sr.'s faces when they played there in the 1981 AFC Championship Game.
San Francisco at Green Bay-- Packers win, 14-10. Temperatures have the potential to be below zero at game time. I guess this weekend's weather is appropriate as we head to a Super Bowl in New York (actually, New Jersey) in February.
OK, gotta go. "They're coming to take me away, hee-hee-haa-haa!"