Like with a lot of things that happen on the football field, some of them are decided way before the games even begin. The New England Patriots were favored to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game, but being so bad against bird teams this season, there simply was no way they were going to make it to the Super Bowl.
Bird teams? Teams with a bird in their name and their logo. The Baltimore Ravens, the Arizona Cardinals, the Seattle Seahawks and even the Philadelphia Eagles in the preseason. The writing was on the wall even before the regular season began.
The first preseason loss (out of three, if that means anything at all) happened on August 20, losing 17-27 to the Philadelphia Eagles. No one knew what meaning this loss would have. No one knew that the Eagles were going to be terrible, so bad Andy Reid was going to find himself with a new job.
The Patriots? They’re always good, and their schedule hinted at the fact they’ll finish with an impressive record. Playing six games in the very easy AFC East always helps, accounting for 50% of their wins, going 6-4 against non-division teams during the 2012 season.
But then came week 2, and a surprising home loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Remember the Cardinals? That team that overcame having terrible quarterbacks and started the season 4-0 thanks to some amazing defense, until the holes in the offensive line were exposed? They beat the Patriots in Foxborough with the Patriots missing a field goal that would have won them the game in the final seconds.
Next week? A visit to Baltimore, a team destined to win the Super Bowl due to their Philadelphia Eagles game early in the season, and another loss. This one was just as dramatic, but a much better game, as Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady and Justin Tucker hit a field goal as time expired, giving the Ravens a 31-30 win.
The Patriots rebounded until they visited Seattle, possibly the best home team in the NFL in week 6. Another close game, another fourth quarter collapse, as the Seahawks came away with the 24-23 win, this time thanks to a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice with just over a minute left in the game.
The Patriots picked up only one loss (to the 49ers, at home again) in the next home game. A win over the Houston Texans propelled them back into Super Bowl contender status, and a win over the same team in the Divisional round made them favorites against the Ravens.
Alas, the curse of the bird was too much to overcome. The Baltimore Ravens annihilated the Patriots in the second half of the AFC Championship game, winning 28-13 to finally put the Pats behind them in the postseason on their way to the Super Bowl.