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Tim O

Tim O’Sullivan: Enjoy the Patriots’ ride –they may continue to surprise you

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaps into the arms of center Ryan Wendell (62) as he celebrates after throwing the winning touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaps into the arms of center Ryan Wendell (62) as he celebrates after throwing the winning touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Calgary Flames left wing Lance Bouma, left, crashes into Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski along the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    Calgary Flames left wing Lance Bouma, left, crashes into Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski along the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaps into the arms of center Ryan Wendell (62) as he celebrates after throwing the winning touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaps into the arms of center Ryan Wendell (62) as he celebrates after throwing the winning touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaps into the arms of center Ryan Wendell (62) as he celebrates after throwing the winning touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
  • Calgary Flames left wing Lance Bouma, left, crashes into Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski along the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaps into the arms of center Ryan Wendell (62) as he celebrates after throwing the winning touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. The Patriots came from behind to win 27-26. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Let’s admit it. We’re spoiled, at least when it comes to the Patriots.

If the Pats aren’t setting records, or running away with the league’s best record, or at least guaranteeing themselves a first-round bye by Thanksgiving, there’s a lot of fretting and complaining in New England. Sure, there’s plenty to worry about this year – Rob Gronkowski’s destroyed knee, a defense decimated by injuries, a crumbling offensive line – but why focus on the negative?

Despite all the setbacks, the Patriots are still 10-4. They still control their own fate when it comes to the No. 2 seed and a bye. There’s still a chance they could find a way to MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII, and they don’t care how cold or snowy it might be in New Jersey on Feb. 2.

Like the worries, the raised expectations in New England are understandable. That’s just what happens when your team wins 10 division titles in 12 years and plays in seven conference championship games and five Super Bowls during that span. But why focus on the past? Enjoy this year for what it is – a wild ride of last-minute drama, Tom Brady talent and Bill Belichick scheming.

Yes, there’s a chance the Patriots could miss the playoffs. If they lose their last two games, and Miami and Baltimore win their last two, New England could miss out on the postseason for the first time since 2008. But Brady hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2002, and it sure feels like he’s not going

to allow that to happen again this year. He’s been pulling out last-second wins all season, he can surely pull out one win in the next two weeks, either at Baltimore on Sunday or home against Buffalo in two weeks.

Taking care of business against the Ravens won’t be easy. The defending Super Bowl champs aren’t intimidated by the Patriots, they’ve won five of their last six games, and they’re fighting for their playoff lives, but there are also some good reasons they’re 8-6.

Baltimore is 29th in the league in rushing offense (82.9 yards per game), so that might be a problem if the Ravens want to take advantage of New England’s porous run defense (132.5 yards per game allowed, 31st in the NFL). Baltimore hasn’t been all that great throwing the ball, either. After winning the Super Bowl MVP and signing a six-year, $120.6 million contract extension, Joe Flacco has a career-worst 17 interceptions this season and is averaging just 247.1 passing yards per game.

Still, Flacco has been clutch recently, and no one will be shocked to see the Patriots lose in Baltimore. It would, however, be a shock to see the Pats lose at home to Buffalo with the playoffs on the line.

So, let’s assume New England reaches the postseason for the 11th time in 13 years. Who really scares you in the AFC? Kansas City? Let’s remember that these are still the Chiefs who were 2-14 last year and had lost three straight before beating up on the hapless Redskins and Raiders the last two weeks. Cincinnati? Let’s remember that Marvin Lewis is 0-4 in the postseason. Indianapolis? The Colts are 3-3 in their last six and the losses have been by an average of 24.3 points.

And then there’s Denver. Yes, the Broncos offense is scary. But let’s remember that Peyton Manning is 9-11 in the playoffs, and 0-4 in the postseason when the temperature is below 40 degrees. Plus, the Patriots already beat Denver once this year. Sure, that was at home, with Gronkowski, and it took a miraculous second-half comeback and an overtime gift from old friend Wes Welker to get it done. But the Broncos got some fortunate bounces in the first half to build their 24-0 lead, and Manning was just 19-for-36 for 150 yards, by far his worst game of the season.

Now, it’s possible the Patriots could lose to any of those AFC teams because the loss of Gronkowski, the defense full of holes and the limping offensive line are real concerns. But it’s also possible the Pats could beat any of them, including the Broncos in Denver.

Winning against a team from the powerhouse NFC is a different story, but upsets happen in the Super Bowl, as all of New England knows. Plus, who would want to face the Patriots in the first-ever cold-weather Super Bowl?

No, the Patriots won’t be the favorites to lift the Lombardi trophy, or even to beat Manning and the Broncos if that rematch happens. Heck, New England will be a 3-point underdog in Baltimore on Sunday. But these Patriots have found ways to win despite all odds all season long, so why worry about it now?

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)

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