- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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After taking care of business against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in a convincing 43-22 win, the New England Patriots have begun their preparation for the AFC Championship Game, which will be played next Sunday in either New England or Denver, pending the outcome of today’s San Diego Chargers-Denver Broncos game.
Regardless of the opponent, head coach Bill Belichick knows the Patriots are in for their toughest test of the postseason.
“I do think this: Whoever we play, these are the two best teams in the AFC,” he said Sunday morning. “And, in order to play next week, you’ve got to play well this week. Whichever team that is today that plays the best, will deserve to play next week.
“We played well enough last night to deserve to play next week, so whoever we’re playing is the other best team in the AFC,” he added.
If the Broncos take care of business at home, it’ll set up the second matchup between the Patriots and Broncos this season, as they previously endured an overtime thriller during the regular season, won by the Patriots 34-31 in New England.
Playing the Chargers would mean facing an opponent for the first time this season, though Belichick noted he doesn’t believe there’s an advantage in playing a team for the second time around versus a new opponent.
Moreover, he added that no matter where the game is played, records and previous meetings will be irrelevant.
“I think we’ve all seen in the playoffs that it’s really about that game, that matchup on that day, and whatever happened during the regular season or some other year or some other time – whatever reference point you want to take – it’s really not that significant,” he said. “What it’s about is how things go on that particular day.”
While the Patriots have not faced the Broncos before in the AFC Championship Game, the team has extensive history against Peyton Manning in the playoffs. They faced off against Manning three times in the postseason during his Colts tenure.
In 2007, the Patriots held off the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game en route to Super Bowl XLII.
The Broncos were the top seed in the AFC this regular season, catalyzed by a record-setting offensive attack and season by Manning. The Chargers, however, are riding a five-game winning streak, which included a win over Denver one month ago today.
The Patriots will watch the game today, as they’ve already concluded their preliminary preparations for both teams, before gearing up for their opponent once the game is finished.
In order to win next Sunday, Belichick knows his team will need to be at its best, be it against Denver or San Diego.
“And that means us being our best at the biggest game of the year,” he said. “And all of us, players, coaches, making good decisions, good execution, good communication, playing good situational football, playing good down-after-down consistent football, that’ll be our challenge this week, whoever it is we play.”