Time to Consider Perfection
All week, the talking TV hacks said that the champion is the champion until someone beats them. Well, someone beat them.
And now we can start talking about what many of us have been both reluctant and eager to discuss: The realistic prospects of attaining an undefeated season.
Let's do this systematically, like a Patriots offensive drive that takes a lot of time off the clock and wears down the defense. Let's look at the schedule.
Week 11: @ Buffalo Bills, Nov. 18, 8:15 p.m.
The more I think about it, the more I understand why the NFL wants this game in prime time. The Bills, assuming they get by Miami this weekend (I'm going to be doing a lot of uncharacteristic assuming in this post), will be 5-4 on the season, winning four of their last five -- the one loss being their 25-24 last-second loss to Dallas. (The last one before that was the loss to New England.)
The Bills are one a roll, and we're all well aware that the Patriots can have as tough a time up at Ralph Wilson as they usually do down in Miami. OK, so that worked out this year, but as financial analysis will tell you, past performance is not an indicator of future prospects. Also, the Patriots have never run the table in their own division. With home games against the Jets and Dolphins in December -- we'll get to them -- this looks like the best chance the AFC East has to pull one off.
Weather is bound to become a factor, for better or worse, sooner or later. The way extended forecast predicts high temperatures in the mid-40s for Nov. 18 with a good chance of rain or snow showers. Since it will probably be colder at 8:15 p.m., it could be rain changing to snow, making for really tough conditions.
But the Patriots have lost to Buffalo only once in the Tom Brady Era, so, we'll see.
Week 12: vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Nov. 25, 8:15 p.m.
Another prime time game (could be replaced by Giants at Detroit, Chargers at Jaguars or Cowboys at Redskins, but that's about it), this time at Gillette. The Eagles will likely be coming to town with a 4-6 record after losing to Washington and disposing of Miami.
New England has played Philly just twice in the Brady Era, two Patriots wins, including a 3-point victory at a neutral site in Super Bowl XXXIX. Both teams are a little different than they were in Jacksonville that day. The Eagles aren't quite as good as they were then. The Patriots, as good as was the 2004 team, is better.
Donovan McNabb didn't have a particularly good game then, and he's had some iffy games along the way in 2007. He's either very good or very bad. It could be just a matter of timing.
As for that timing: Coming to New England three days after Thanksgiving? Just doesn't seem right that the Pilgrims -- er, the Patriots -- could lose.
Week 13: @ Baltimore Ravens, Dec. 3, 8:30 p.m.
Three consecutive night games, this one on a Monday. This one had "50-50" written all over it in September. But now, especially after Monday night, I'm not so sure. It could be an interesting ride for 4-4 Baltimore. They play Cincinnati, Cleveland and San Diego before then.
But unless things change dramatically, I'm not too worried about Baltimore's pair of 76 passer rating QBs (Steve McNair and Kyle Boller). The Ravens will be talking loud with Adalius Thomas returning, but Ray Lewis was jumping around like an idiot while Baltimore was getting trounced by Pittsburgh, so loud doesn't mean prepared.
The Patriots task will be to stop Willis McGahee, and Brady will need to stay away from Ed Reed, who leads the league with 5 picks. And if the Ravens defense plays like they did against Pittsburgh, it will be a good road trip.
Week 14: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dec. 9, 4:15 p.m.
This is the game most people anticipate poses the biggest challenge, and they're probably not even considering the short week yet. I'm happy this one is in Foxboro.
The Steelers looked fantastic against Baltimore on Monday, vaulting themselves into the "AFC Top 3." Ben Roethlisberger is second in the league in passer rating (111.9) and touchdowns (20) behind Brady, and the Pittsburgh defense now leads the league.
The Steelers have an easy road with Cleveland, the Jets, Miami and Cincinnati on the slate. We'll be taking a much closer look at this one as the date approaches.
Week 15: vs. New York Jets, Dec. 16, 1 p.m.
Um. Yeah. .. NEXT!
Week 16: vs. Miami Dolphins, Dec. 23, 1 p.m.
Whether or not the Dolphins are 0-14 at this point, this will be a huge game, since it could be Miami's chance -- Do you think Don Shula will be in attendance? -- to prevent the Patriots from taking their place in history. The good news is that it will be the third straight game in Foxboro, and the Phins history here is less than stellar.
Week 17: @ New York Giants, Dec. 29, 8:15 p.m.
It's another short week, but for both teams. This prime timer is set for Saturday, while all 30 other teams play Sunday. And it's on NFL Network (though it will probably be broadcast on Channel 5 locally).
Wow. This could be a date with destiny. Even if the Patriots have wrapped up a top seed and the Giants are locked into an NFC seed, this could be a phenomenal game. Don't expect New Jersey to lay down, but do expect the NFL to pull out every ridiculous distraction they can find -- they'll probably pre-film a segment with James Gandolfini and Eric Mangini (that New Jersey teams season will be at the bottom of the Atlantic, and Mangini really won't seem to care by then).
Anyway, it's definitely possible. Nineteen and oh.
A Couple More Notes from Sunday
The Patriots and the Colts are clearly the two best teams in the league, but the Patriots are clearly the best. If they meet again in January, all Patriots fans ask for (they have yet to receive one in the last few years against Indy) is fair and competent officiating so the coaches and players on the field can decide the outcome.
Brady is right. Nine-and-oh isn't the goal. This doesn't matter. Well, it does matter. It matters in terms of earning the W and having the advantage in playoff seeding. But the game that does matter -- if it happens -- is the one in January.
But let's not underestimate how important this game is, much as Indy's regular-season win was last season. The Patriots would have to lose at least two games, and the Colts would have to win out, for the Patriots to relinquish the top seed in the AFC. That's assuming a lot, but at least in terms of Patriots vs. Colts, the Colts now need two wins more than New England.
Pittsburgh currently has two losses, and the Steelers come to town in a few weeks. Tennessee also has just two losses.
Classless or Clueless?
There was more loser talk after Sunday's game. Some people were upset that Belichick only briefly met Colts coach Tony Dungy on the field after the game. Apparently, Belichick was supposed to thank Dungy for questioning all his previous accomplishments and comparing the Patriots to Barry Bonds. Don't people understand when they make irrational statements? (The answer is: No, they don't.)
Some also claimed that the three mystery personal foul penalties called against New England were further evidence of the Patriots "evil" tendencies taught them by their coach. Some also said that the Colts are the better team. Pretty sure we've heard that before. Hasn't been true once yet.
And Now, Another Priceless Pep Talk
After the game, Manning said that the Colts had a lot of injuries, couching that with, "It's not an excuse."
Obviously, it is. Otherwise, he wouldn't have said anything. Do you remember Brady saying after the game last year that players had the flu? That the Patriots had injuries? That the officials were terrible?
Do you remember Brady ever saying anything like that?
Neither do I.
By the way, for those unaware, there's a penalty called "unsportsmanlike conduct." That rule covers a lot of different behavior. Scoring a lot of points by any manner at any point of the game with any given score is not covered by this penalty. Thus, by the league's definition, "running up the score" is not "unsportsmanlike conduct."
With the Patriots 9-0 after Week 9, they will finish ...
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