Judgment day has arrived for Patriots

ESPN.com Illustration

ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss checks in with a reminder that, thanks to three straight playoff losses, a dark cloud hangs over this Patriots team that faces more pressure to win than any other remaining in the AFC. Sure, they are heavy favorites, getting healthy and feeling good, but ... what if?

"This season will be judged by what they do Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. ET," ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote last week. "This team is one opening playoff loss from some serious questions -- involving coaches and players."

An excerpt from Reiss' column, which can be read HERE:

Players might deflect the impact of the last two years, but a playoff scar still exists in several areas of the team's locker room, mainly with the core group that includes quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Wes Welker, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo, Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater, safety Patrick Chung and offensive linemen Matt Light and Logan Mankins.

How can it not? There are 31 players on the current roster who dressed for the divisional-round Jets loss, and 16 who suited up in the blowout defeat against Baltimore in the wild-card round the year before. Since 2009, the Patriots are 23-1 in regular season games at Gillette Stadium. Home playoff games in that span? They're 0-2.

They might not say it, but they know. The only way to heal that scar is to do what they couldn't the last two years -- win in the playoffs.

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