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Miami Dolphins Michael Thomas (31) intercepts a ball intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Austin Collie (10) as Dolphins cornerback Will Davis (29) defends during the second half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 24-20. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Kragthorpe: Patriots’ presence in AFC title game is nothing new
NFL » New England has 3 Super Bowl titles, but last one came nine years ago
First Published Jan 16 2014 09:26 am • Last Updated Jan 17 2014 10:03 am

The New England Patriots continually defy an NFL system that’s designed for the sharing of success. They’re in the AFC championship game for the eighth time in 13 seasons, a run of high-level consistency that may never be matched — although the Patriots may add to it in the coming years.

In advance of Sunday’s game at Denver, a look at the Patriots:

At a glance

Editor’s note

This is the third in a series previewing Sunday’s NFL championship game contestants. Friday » New England Patriots

NFL title games

AFC championship

» New England at Denver, 1 p.m.

NFC championship

» San Francisco at Seattle, 4:30 p.m.

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Team’s theme

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

story continues below
story continues below

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.

Homeward-bound if

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.

Biggest variable

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.

Best player

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.

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