The New England Patriots have broken all the rules in the NFL.

In a league designed to create parity, they continue to win.

And win. And win.

Even this year, an uneven season that saw the Patriots look uncharacteristically vulnerable at times, they won 11 games. In almost every NFL city that would be considered a banner year. Here, in New England, fans moaned.

But the playoffs have arrived. Sunday, the Patriots have a chance to advance to the AFC championship game for the eighth consecutive time. That would extend the NFL record they already own.

All they have to do is beat the Los Angeles Chargers in their AFC divisional-round game starting at 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots are favored, but the Chargers may be the better team.

History would indicate that the Patriots will win. They haven’t lost at home this year, in fact, and have won their last 15 home games. And they haven’t lost in the divisional round in eight years. The Chargers haven’t advanced to the AFC championship game since 2007, when they lost to the Patriots.

But, as Coach Bill Belichick has been known to say, what happened last year, or 10 years ago or even last week, doesn’t mean a thing this week. All that matters is how you play on Sunday.

And this year, we really don’t know what to expect from the Patriots.

They were good enough to beat four playoff teams, including AFC top seed Kansas City. They were dominant at times – just ask the Vikings, or the Bears.

But they were also inconsistent enough to lose to five teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Yes, they lost on a once-in-a-lifetime last play in Miami. And yes, their game at Pittsburgh came down to the final play.

But Jacksonville? Detroit? Tennessee? They were dominated by each of those teams, losing by a combined score of 91-40.

Still, here they are: on the brink of another appearance in the conference championship game. All they need to do is play their best game of the season.

Will they? Stay tuned.