With the Patriots off to a 7-0 start, the media strategy this year seems to involve talking up that week’s opponent (at least one that looks more than half-decent on paper), point out their strengths, and speculate on how they can beat New England. The more exuberant the prediction, the funnier it gets.
Much like Daffy Duck as Robin Hood, the prognosticators keep calling, “Yoiks, and away!” and ending up with a tree trunk in the face.
The Patriots open their season against Pittsburgh, a perennial contender featuring that gritty defense and Big Ben!
Yup. Pats give up a late touchdown, but hold on for a 28-21 win.
Well, Rex Ryan has the fans in a frenzy up in Buffalo as he works on building a bully. Tom Brady has always had trouble with Ryan’s defenses. With the Bills adding running back LeSean McCoy –
Patriots win 40-32 in a game they lead 37-13 after three quarters.
Really? Forty points? Hunh. So, anyway, the, uh, Jaguars are looking solid with Blake Bortles …
All right, fine. Give it to me.
Yeesh. Okay, the Cowboys, in Dallas. They’ve got pass-rusher/rage-aholic Greg Hardy back, and with Tony Romo under center –
Beg your pardon?
Romo’s hurt. Weeden starts vs. the Pats, and that helps New England to a 30-6 win.
Yes, but, here come the Colts! Looking for vengeance for their AFC Championship setback, Indianapolis, led by Andrew Luck, will do whatever it takes to deal the Patriots their first defeat.
Colts lose, 34-27, but they do try whatever it takes, including one of the most poorly conceived fake punts ever.
Oh, wow. Look at that. Why did they snap the – you know what? Let’s move on. We’re in a New York state of mind, as the J-E-T-S will challenge the Pats for dominance in the AFC East!
They will challenge. And they will lose, 30-23. Brady will throw for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and lead the team in rushing.
Well, he – sorry, say that last part again?
New England hands off the ball five times all game. Brady, despite double-digit drops by his receivers, completes 34 of 54 passes for 355 yards.
That is impressive. But, hold on, the Dolphins, though! Most-heralded defensive line in football! Undefeated under interim coach Dan Campbell! Two straight blowout wins!
All true. Pats 36, Dolphins 7.
Oof. Did not see that coming. Ah, but this week: the Redskins! Kirk Cousins in on fire!
Yeah. He sure is. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Despite the doggedly incorrect predictions, it’s a constant of the NFL that any team could knock New England into the loss column. Just look at the schedule. After Cousins and his well-rested arm visit Foxboro, Eli Manning could have another savant moment and put his Giants over the top. Trips to Denver (Nov. 29), New York (Dec. 27), and Miami (Jan. 3) are never easy. Hell, maybe the Eagles can pull it off Dec. 6. You never know.
We’ve heard some talk about fans wanting to avoid an undefeated regular season. After how the last one ended, that makes sense, but the thing is, this season isn’t like 2007. We’ve been there, and as Bruce Allen so eloquently put it in February 2008, that was The Most Miserable 18-1 Season in History. Part of that frustration stemmed from NFL fallout with the previous ‘gate, but most of it arose out of their loss in the 2006 AFC Championship and the desperate desire to get another chance.
Now, to this year. New England won the Super Bowl (their fourth) in thrilling, exhaustive fashion. While last winter’s playoff foes have stumbled early this year, your Patriots have come storming back in late-season form. They will try to win every single week. To think that they lessen their chances of advancing in the playoffs due to regular-season success doesn’t give the players or staff much credit. Certainly not as much as they deserve.
This all reminds me of what my father said on a bitter, windy March night at our kitchen table after we had watched Larry Bird score 60 points for our beloved Celtics. “We should appreciate what we have here,” he said, speaking of the man and his team. “This doesn’t happen very often.”
In Pete Carroll’s last year in Foxboro, New England went 8-8. In 2000, new coach Bill Belichick went 5-11. Since 2001, the Patriots have won. They have been to six Super Bowls. They have been to nine AFC Championships. They have had only one season with fewer than 10 wins (9-7 in 2002). Let’s appreciate what we have, here. Sit back and watch the show.
A Comment On Each AFC East Opponent
The Jets could contend, but they’ve had a bad couple of weeks. New York built their defense on a stout, impressive line while bringing back a strong DB tandem. Their loss to the Raiders this week demonstrated that New England, to some extent, exposed them. If you can pass with consistency, you can move the ball. New York also seemed to lose their one QB who did not consistently crush their dreams when Ryan Fitzpatrick left the game with a thumb injury and got replaced by Geno “Jekyll/Hyde” Smith.
On a positive note for them, the Jets got a coach who focuses on game-plan details rather than trash talk and bluster. Now at 4-3, they have games with the Jags, Bills, and Texans coming up, which could get them back on the winning track.
The Dolphins need to figure out how good they are. Miami began 1-3, but a coaching change and an AFC South doubleheader appeared to cure all of their ills. They traveled to Foxboro feeling strong at .500 and got a long look at a football team in contention. Ryan Tannehill’s TD drive to open the second half demonstrated why South Beach fans hold out hope: it was consistent and at times spectacular, though Tannehill has shown too little of each. Miami could contend for a playoff spot, but they’ve got to get past their 3-4 record, their 0-3 division record, and the loss of their best pass-rusher (Cameron Wake, out with an achilles injury.)
Can they find stability? Next week’s divisional tilt up in Buffalo will tell us a lot.
The Bills are indeed “building a bully.” Funny how new Bills coach (and former Jets coach) Rex Ryan said this on his preseason victory tour of Buffalo. Yes, a bully pushes people around. He picks on smaller, weaker targets. But doesn’t he always back down when confronted by a peer? Now at 3-4, interesting to see if the Bills can reevaluate themselves and focus on winning actual games rather than mid-week press conferences. They lost to the Jaguars in England (where they pronounce it JAG-ooh-AHS) but have had a bye week to prep for their biggest five days of the season: Dolphins Sunday, November 8, Jets Thursday, November 12.
Anyway, the Patriots are on to Washington. We’ll give them a mid-season report next week.
Chris Warner has a Twitter account and uses it more frequently than he should: @cwarn89