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Road to the Big Game: Patriots Ready For Postseason Success

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[Editor's Note: I planned on publishing this as a regular post, but decided this would be an excellent article for my "Road to the Big Game" Coke-sponsored post. Enjoy. -Greg]

In 2009, the Patriots really seemed to collapse in their regular season finale against the Houston Texans. While the Patriots were rotating in the back-ups sort of like they did Sunday, they failed to shut the door on Houston, ultimately suffering yet another demoralizing loss. On Sunday, New England came out against a very hungry Miami Dolphins team, one that was playing to keep their coach, and really blew them out of the water in a game many dubbed as "meaningless."

Now, the Patriots are going into the playoffs peaking at exactly the right time. And based on Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's history with peaking at the right time, the Patriots are going to be a force to be reckoned with this year. Now, let's take a look at what the Patriots have done when closing out the regular season with a winning streak (2 or more games) under Bill Belichick:

Year

Win Streak (to close season)

Playoff Result

2001

6W

Beat Rams in SB XXXVI

2003

12W

Beat Panthers in SB XXXVIII

2004

2W

Beat Eagles in SB XXXIX

2006

3W

Advanced to AFC Championship

2007

16W

Advanced to Super Bowl

2008

4W

DNQ for Postseason

2010

8W

?

More after the jump!

Looking at that chart, obviously, the first three years jump out in particular, as they all ended in Super Bowl victories. 2001 was probably the best timing in terms of peaking at the right time. 2003 was probably the most similar in terms of winning streak (12 vs. 8), although the point differential in games hasn't been what it is in 2010. In terms of actual play on the field, 2004 might have been the most similar. Aside from a fluke loss to Miami late in the season, that Patriots team was playing it's best football in November/December and into the playoffs.

2006 was another year when the team seemed to peak at the right time. They when their final three games in dominating fashion (Houston and Tennessee games in particular), and translated the hot finish in the regular season, to a playoff run that could have easily turned into a Super Bowl had it not been for some unfortunate and unlikely events that transpired in the AFC Championship game.

I'll ignore 2007 for now, because despite the undefeated regular season finish and Super Bowl appearance, that team peaked much earlier in the season, which is likely why they didn't cap things off with a Super Bowl title and perfect season. The 2008 Patriots, on the other hand, played their best football in November and December, ending the season on a four game winning streak. Unfortunately for them, fate, and a favorable late-season schedule for the Miami Dolphins ended their playoff hopes despite finishing the season 11-5.

The bottom line with all of this is: when Bill Belichick football teams peak at the right time, they generally make some real noise in the playoffs. Under Belichick, the Patriots closed the regular season playing their best football five times ('01, '03, '04', '06', '08), with 2010 marking the sixth time. Of the previous five, the first three resulted in Super Bowl titles, the fourth (2006) came awfully close, and the fifth resulted in a fluke exclusion from the playoffs.

I don't think this is the best Bill Belichick coached Patriots team on paper. The reason I say on paper, is because this squad is a real team. They've grown together, and are playing more like a team, to the truest sense of the word than any other squad in the NFL. I don't think 2007 had the same sense of team, and I think that could be why the peaked at the wrong time and ultimately failed in the playoffs. Bill Belichick continually stresses, "just do your job" to each player, and that is exactly what's happening this time around.

With the Patriots peaking at the right time yet again: beware NFL.