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AFC Playoff Picture: Potential Opponents For Patriots

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Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots‘ potential playoff picture is a little clearer this Monday morning.

At least they know when they will play their first game. It is just the “who” that needs to be determined. They can also rest on the fact any game they play will be in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium.

New England will host their Divisional Round matchup on Saturday January 14th at 8pm, a game that can be seen on WBZ-TV and heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

The Patriots will host either Denver, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati, depending on how Wild Card weekend goes next weekend.

Here is next weekend’s AFC Wild Card schedule:

Saturday, January 7: #6 Cincinnati at #3 Houston (4:30pm on NBC)
Sunday, January 8: #5 Pittsburgh at #4 Denver (4:30pm on CBS)

If the Patriots are lucky, the Bengals will beat the Texans and then have to travel to New England. Cincinnati lost to Baltimore 24-16 on Sunday for the second time this season, finishing at 9-7. Cincinnati struggled against the better teams this season, with each of their seven losses coming against teams currently in the playoffs.

If Houston wins, with a third or fourth-string quarterback, New England will face off against the Pittsburgh-Denver winner. Certainly the Broncos would be the team of preference, seeing how Tim Tebow couldn’t find the end zone Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, at home, in a game they could have needed to win to make the playoffs. Instead, they backed in to the AFC West title with Oakland falling to San Diego. The Patriots already solved Tebow once, at Denver, and should be able to do the same with a home playoff game.

Pittsburgh is in a pretty decent spot, sitting with their 12-4 record among Wild Card teams. They lost the luxury of a home game but have won three straight on the road in the playoffs before, back in 2005 when Ben Roethlisberger won his first of two Super Bowl rings. While Pittsburgh would be the toughest opponent for the Pats, they would have to come into New England with a hobbled Roethlisberger. Still, they remain the toughest likely opponent for the Patriots with their defense showing in Week 8 they can still get to Brady. This time however, the game would be at Gillette.

Best-case scenario for the Patriots would be the Bengals beating the Texans, and the Steelers having to play at Baltimore in the Divisional Round. Let those two teams beat up on each other, while the Patriots should be able to roll by a Bengals team that consists of a pair of unproven rookies on offense in QB Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green, and a strong, but flawed, defense. Then either Pittsburgh, Baltimore (or even Denver) would have to come to New England for the AFC Championship.

One thing is certain, the road to the Super Bowl goes through New England if the Patriots take advantage of it.

The Patriots have a first-round bye, but be sure to tune in to a special playoff edition of Patriots GameDay Sunday January 8 at 11:30am on WBZ-TV. Then on Saturday, January 14, tune in to the Pats Playoff matchup on WBZ-TV and 98.5 The Sports Hub at 8pm. Pregame coverage begins with 98.5’s Patriots Preview at 5pm.

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