Hot team, cold team to meet in AFC playoffs
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots are about to find out if momentum means anything in an NFL season.
The defending Super Bowl champions have lost four of their past six games as they head into Saturday's playoff game against Kansas City. One more loss, and that's the end of their quest to be the first back-to-back champions since they did it in 2003-04.
''They've been playing at an extremely high level. But at the end of the day it's not really about momentum,'' Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater said.
''It's about executing on Saturday. And whatever team executes better and makes more plays is probably going to leave the game happy.''
The Patriots (12-4) have been the league's best finishers since Bill Belichick arrived in Foxborough: Since 2001, they are 54-10 in December - eight wins better than the next-best team.
The team's record in January and February hasn't been bad, either: Four NFL titles, six trips to the Super Bowl and nine to the AFC championship game under Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
But this season they lost twice in December for the first time since '02, then dropped the regular-season finale in January to finish with a two-game losing streak.
''We just haven't played the way we would've liked here these last six games,'' Slater said. ''We're very spoiled because we're accustomed to having a certain level of success in December and January. But every year is different, every team is different, and I think we're just fortunate and excited about being in the position that we're in at this point.''
Defensive back Devin McCourty said to look no further than Green Bay, which won its first six games and played below .500 from there, losing their last two games to stumble to a 10-6 record. The Packers eliminated Washington in the wild-card round on Sunday.
''When you turn the page and you go into the playoffs, you've got to win that night, that day, go out there and beat another team,'' McCourty said.
''Kansas City coming off the 10-game winning streak in the regular season, they looked just as good against Houston playing good football. And I think that's more important than the so-called momentum is.''
The Chiefs (11-5) won just one of their first six games this season, falling to the brink of elimination before Halloween.
Quarterback Alex Smith said knowing the next loss could knock them out of the playoffs has motivated his team since October.
''You're living in the right now. It's no different this next week,'' he said. ''I don't think the attitude changes. And, to be honest, I think we been playing like that for a while now. It's all we know, a little bit.''
Follow Jimmy Golen on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jgolen.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL