Sometimes there’s nothing more dangerous than playing a team with absolutely nothing to lose.

Let’s face it, heading into tonight’s game the Patriots find themselves in a strange position. ¬†They’re coming in as the #1 seed in the AFC with the second worst defense in the league, and are saddled with the fact that they’ve seen an early exit in two straight postseason games.

While you’re at it, factor in that they’re battling a team that isn’t even supposed to be here. ¬† They’re lead by a guy who isn’t supposed to be an NFL caliber quarterback, and had no business even putting them in this position. To make matters worse, despite leading the Broncos to the playoffs, prior to last week’s game it was reported Tim Tebow would have been yanked from last week’s playoff game had Pittsburgh caused him to struggle early.

Fortunately for Denver, that didn’t happen. ¬†Tebow did just enough to give the Steelers a headstart on preparing for next season, and now the Broncos are here in Foxboro.

The end result is the simple fact that Denver has the luxury of coming out and simply giving all the have tonight because they’re winners no matter what happens. ¬†If they play well and come up short, Denver faces an offseason with a lot of optimism from fans who will be feeling pretty good about next year. ¬†If they win, there will be bedlam in Denver as their team would move on to an improbable AFC Championship appearance.

For New England, anything other than a victory tonight is considered a complete and utter failure.  After all, fans already watched this play out last season.  The Patriots beat the Jets 45-3 during a Monday night game in their final regular season match-up, only to lose a little over a month later 28-21 for their second straight first round postseason exit.

New England blew out the Broncos 41-23 just over a month ago out in Denver, and to see the same thing happen against Tim Tebow and company that happened against Rex Ryan’s Jets is something that would be tough to imagine.


Tom Brady and company will be looking to avoid another first round playoff exit later tonight. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

They’re supposed to beat this team. ¬†There’s no logical explanation why that shouldn’t happen. ¬†If you compare quarterback intangibles, you’re talking about two guys who have a ton of heart, with the edge going to Brady for actually having the NFL arm and accuracy to back it up.

He’s got the tools, and he’s got the talent. ¬†He’s got the NFL’s leading receiver in Wes Welker who this time around isn’t less than a year removed from offseason knee surgery. ¬†He’s got a much improved tight end in Rob Gronkowski who was the NFL’s touchdown leader. ¬†He’s got a healthy Aaron Hernandez. ¬†He’s got everything he needs to help him put up points and ensure that there will be at least one more game played at Gillette Stadium this year.

When you really think about it, there’s no logical way it shouldn’t happen. ¬†However, if New England comes away empty handed, it will be tough to swallow. ¬†Brady will have lost his fourth straight postseason game, and leave him with yet another season during the prime of his career that fans will wonder “what could have been” had they had just a little more talent. ¬†They’ll ponder every different scenario about how much better they could have been had they had a couple of more pieces to put them back on top.

Needless to say, they’re really in a no-win situation compared to Denver.

For the Broncos, they have a chance to show the world they’re for real. ¬†Should they lose, they’ve shown they have potential to be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

For the Patriots, they can either go out and do what they’re expected to, or ¬†walk away with the whispers of another wasted season thanks to yet another early playoff exit.

As Bill Belichick says, “that’s not what we’re looking for.” ¬†Hopefully if all goes well the latter won’t happen. ¬† But unfortunately only one team has the luxury of playing loose tonight – and it isn’t the one hosting this match-up.

In theory that would be the situation for the Patriots next week if they were to make it that far.  An AFC Championship loss would be just a little less painful than a first round playoff exit.  Although, then again, if they make it to the Super Bowl, losing two straight Super Bowl appearances would be tough as well.

Again – they’re really in a no win situation.

Fans in New England have been spoiled by what this team has accomplished over the years, but that’s the price of success. ¬†Fortunately for Denver, the fact they haven’t had any in recent years has them already playing with “house money” with absolutely nothing to lose regardless of tonight’s outcome. That’s what makes them a dangerous opponent heading into this match-up.

Either way we’ll find out how it all plays out later this evening. Hopefully – if all goes well – we’ll see the Patriots finally end their playoff skid and send Tebow and company home with a loss.