Eventually, the AFC will conduct another championship game without the New England Patriots.
These guys just keep showing up in January. They’re making an eighth straight appearance in the conference title game, having reached this stage of the NFL playoffs for the 13th time in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. In advance of Sunday’s game at Kansas City, a closer look at the Patriots:
The Patriots are lovable underdogs. Well, that’s how receiver Julian Edelman is framing New England’s latest appearance in the AFC title game. Whether that angle is plausible or not to fans wishing for some variety in the NFL playoffs, the fact remains that the Patriots have figured out a way to stay in Super Bowl contention year after year.
Tribune sportswriter Kurt Kragthorpe introduces the contestants in Sunday’s NFL conference championship games. This installment: New England Patriots.
How they got there
It always helps that the Patriots play in the AFC East. They went 11-5 to win another division title and earn the AFC’s No. 2 seed, although they lost to Miami in a shocking finish that ultimately cost them the home-field advantage Sunday. New England beat the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the divisional playoff round.
Former BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy is hoping to play in a third straight Super Bowl, coinciding with trade from Detroit during the 2016 season. Van Noy has become a mainstay of New England’s defense as the team’s leading tackler, while recording 3.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown) and an interception during the regular season.
Eric Rowe, a cornerback from Utah, also played in the last two Super Bowls, but he was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury in late October.
Moment in BYU/Utah opponent history
Wisconsin running back James White posted 147 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 27-17 victory over BYU in 2013, Van Noy’s senior season. White also caught six passes for 47 yards and one score, while playing for a Badgers team with Gary Andersen as the head coach and Andy Ludwig as the offensive coordinator, among other coaches with Utah ties.
Stephon Gilmore, cornerback. Brady was the traditional answer to this question, and he remains a marvel at age 41 when you consider that two other quarterbacks playing Sunday — Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and the Los Angeles Rams' Jared Goff — have a combined age of 47. Gilmore deserves that label, though, as an AP All-Pro first-team selection. Gilmore will be tested by the Chiefs' array of receivers.
Best player you’ve never heard of
Cordarrelle Patterson, kick returner. The Patriots seemingly always have a special-teams player earn All-Pro honors. Patterson made the second team in his first year in New England, after being a kick-return star for Minnesota and Oakland.
Reasons to cheer for them
This category is always a challenge with New England. Even as popular as Van Noy is among BYU fans, it will difficult for them to hope he beats two other Cougar alumni with the Chiefs, coach Andy Reid and safety Daniel Sorensen.
The best answer might be admiration, or at least acceptance, of a franchise that remains dominant in a league designed to share success. And for those who are tired of them, it’s not true that the Patriots win the Super Bowl win every year. They lost to Philadelphia last February.