The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos were the best two teams in the AFC the second half of the season. Do not expect that formula to change in the playoffs.
Denver won 11-straight games to enter the postseason, and the Broncos are easily the NFL’s hottest team entering the playoffs.
The Patriots aren’t on quite the same roll as the Broncos, but any team with Tom Brady under center will peak around the postseason.
Both Brady and Peyton Manning are proven playoff commodities, giving their teams a huge advantage in crunch time.
Hall of Fame quarterbacks make a huge difference. However, those are not the only reasons New England and Denver will coast to the AFC Championship.
Simply, the Pats and Broncos are the best all-around teams in the AFC.
New England will face off with Houston in the divisional round. It's a rematch of a Week 14 game in which the Patriots thrashed the Texans, 42-14.
It was a statement game for the Patriots, who were looking to re-establish their superiority in the conference over the then one-loss Texans.
Brady sliced a depleted Houston secondary to pieces, and an opportunistic New England defense had one of its best games of the year.
Houston is healthier this time around. But Matt Schaub and company still don't have the offensive firepower to keep up with New England.
Like the Patriots, the Broncos have a positive recent history in games against their divisional round opponent.
In Week 15, Denver spanked the Ravens, 34-17, in a game that was not even that close.
The Broncos used a balanced attack to pick the Ravens apart. They rushed the ball effectively with Knowshon Moreno, and Manning was his usual outstanding self.
The Denver defense, a unit ranked third against the run and the pass, didn't have much trouble with the Ravens either. Joe Flacco and company didn't muster a touchdown until the fourth quarter, as Denver's pass rush overwhelmed the Ravens’ O-line.
Neither one of these playoff matchups will be as lopsided as the original contest. But not enough has changed for the Ravens or Texans to upset the top seeds in the AFC.
Expect Tom Brady and Peyton Manning to clash in the AFC Championship game.