With coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as the constants, the Patriots keep reinventing themselves and making the playoffs, seeking a sixth Super Bowl appearance in this century.
How they got here
The Patriots went 12-4 to earn the AFC's No. 2 seed and beat Indianapolis 43-22 in a divisional playoff game.
Super Bowl-bound if
New England can run the ball much better than San Diego did against Denver last weekend and if Brady can do to the Broncos' secondary what Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen did in the fourth quarter of that game.
The Patriots' offensive line fails to protect Brady. San Diego allowed four sacks of Rivers, preventing its offense from getting into a rhythm before it was too late.
The basic premise is that New England's No. 26-ranked defense will give up a bunch of points and ask a lot of the offense. But the Patriots allowed only seven points in the second half after falling behind 24-0 in a November game with Denver, making an overtime victory possible. That kind of performance would give New England a great shot at an upset.
Brady. It's true that New England produced six rushing touchdowns against Indianapolis as LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards and four scores, but this team will rely on Brady and his unheralded cast of receivers.
Best player you've never heard of
Logan Mankins, offensive guard. Brady is not as efficient as Denver's Peyton Manning in getting rid of the ball, but 40 sacks in the regular season is an acceptable number considering New England's volume of passing. Mankins, who was coached at Fresno State by current Utah State assistant Mark Weber, is the longtime anchor of the Patriots' line.
Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga, from Copper Hills High School and the University of Utah, has become a mainstay in New England. He signed with the Patriots in late October after being released from Seattle's practice squad and is now a starter. Former BYU receiver Austin Collie was released twice by New England this season, but was brought back for the playoffs and caught a pass against the Colts. Reggie Dunn, a former Utah receiver and kick returner, was signed to New England's practice squad last week.
Reasons to cheer for them
New England's consistency is admirable, and recent postseason failures make Brady and Belichick more embraceable. They've won three Super Bowls together, but the last title came nine years ago. And with players from Utah and BYU, the Patriots could become a uniting force in the state, as happened with Baltimore last year.
Reasons to cheer against them
Brady is too perfect and Belichick is too prickly for them to become truly lovable, and three championships in this century is sufficient.
This is the third in a series previewing Sunday's NFL championship game contestants. Friday • New England Patriots
NFL title games
• New England at Denver, 1 p.m.
• San Francisco at Seattle, 4:30 p.m.