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Tom Brady, New England Patriots to play for AFC title

The New England Patriots capped a thrilling, unpredictable weekend of football with a very familiar result Sunday night.

Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are headed to their seventh AFC title game after the Patriots throttled the Houston Texans 41-28. Houston put up a better fight than it did a month ago, but New England's offense had too many weapons for the Texans.

The Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens next week in the first rematch of an AFC Championship Game since the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns squared off against one another in 1986 and 1987.

It's almost like the Football Gods want the Patriots to play in New Orleans again. The Patriots were slated to be the No. 3 seed in the AFC until the Texans gagged in Week 17 against the Indianapolis Colts. With the Denver Broncos out of the picture, the Patriots will play host to the AFC Championship Game.

The Ravens are playing at a very high level and always give the Patriots trouble, so it's hardly an easy slate. But it sure beats having to win on the road twice to try to make the Super Bowl.

Brady now has won more playoff games than anyone in history, and Sunday's win had so many familiar aspects to recent Patriots triumphs:

» They won the turnover battle 1-0. Rob Ninkovich's interception of a Matt Schaub pass in the third quarter, followed by a Brady bomb to running back Shane Vereen, essentially ended the game.

» Their hurry-up approach gave their opponent fits. The Patriots got off a number of snaps before the Texans were ready, which led to big plays. Houston's tempo on both sides of the ball simply was slower.

» Their defense was not outstanding, giving up a lot of yardage. But it made enough big plays at key moments to let Brady do the rest.

» No team overcomes injuries like the Patriots. They lost tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm), running back Danny Woodhead (wrist) and defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) during the game. Gronkowski will miss the rest of the playoffs. And yet it really didn't seem to slow down this team. Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

These are the moments Brady lives for. The consistency of the Patriots' post-2004 teams gets taken for granted because it has been a while since their last Super Bowl title. But the Patriots always are contenders, and Brady always is putting the team back in position to get another title.

At this point, it's more surprising when the Patriots aren't in the AFC title game.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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