The New England Patriots didn't start the 2012 season with much of a bang. For many, losses to the Ravens, Cardinals, and Seahawks looked to show the weaknesses of a team on its way down in the power rankings.

To make matters worse, the defense appeared just as suspect as 2011, casting more doubt on their ability to compete against the best teams in the AFC.

With Peyton Manning dispelling all doubts in Denver and Matt Schaub leading the way in Houston, the AFC power rankings were shaping up much differently than in recent years.

But the Patriots took a significant turn after going 3-3 in a seemingly mediocre AFC East division. Now they appear poised to make the customary run into and through the postseason.

Here are five reasons the Patriots will surprise the competition and represent once more in the Super Bowl.