You'd think that I'd be allowed to relax a little bit this week; I have some time off, the New Year is almost upon us, and the Patriots are enjoying a first round bye of the playoffs as four teams battle it out in the Wild Card round this weekend. All the pieces are in place for some quiet, peaceful, pants-free downtime.
Of course, that's clearly too much to ask. Almost as soon as the Patriots backups finished losing to the Buffalo Bills this past Sunday, good old Hank was there screaming in my ear about all the things that are sure to go wrong between now and February. As usual, he completely overlooked the glaring merits staring him right in the face, and only focused on the negative. And as usual, I have no choice but to shut him up so I can get back to my mid-afternoon nap.
But Alec, the Patriots don't have an offensive line! Brady is getting sacked nineteen times a game! He's under duress! We all know what happens when Brady gets pressured, the offense falls apart!
Shut up, Hank. The offensive line is fine. I'll grant you that it hasn't looked as good over the past few weeks, but that was also against some extremely stout defensive lines and without Dan Connolly, who provides the necessary consistency that allowed the line to really shore things up once the Patriots established the Solder/Connolly/Stork/Wendell/Vollmer rotation. Good defensive lines are going to give good offensive lines trouble- that's just the way it is. But even then, the only times they have struggled this year when they have been forced to rotate linemen in and out and couldn't really get into a rhythm. And even despite all of this, Tommy B only took 21 sacks this year, good for 26th in the league and the least amount since 2009. Don't worry about the line.
But Alec, the Ravens are in the playoffs! They are immune to our homefield advantage! Joe Flacco is a postseason machine, and Haloti Ngata is back and rested just in time! We're screwed!
Shut up, Hank. Maybe we should watch the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers first before we push that panic button. The Ravens vs. Steelers matchup is always one where the coroner is on hand just in case, and seeing as how this one carries Super Bowl implications, that intensity is sure to be ramped up even more. So even if the Ravens do pull it out - which I agree with you that they will - they'll come into Foxboro banged up, emotionally drained, and not the same team they were when they won the Super Bowl - which, if you remember, is also the year they beat the Patriots, meaning it was a well-deserved win. The Patriots never look to the past as indicators of the future, so you shouldn't either.
But Alec, this team has had trouble getting going in the first half! They won't be able to generate a lead and they are going to keep inferior teams in it late!
Shut up, Hank. Why not? Why can't the Patriots start a little slow? I agree that it would be nice to see them come out swinging and get in the end zone right away, but they have still managed to put together an impressive set of victories even without lighting up the scoreboard in the first two quarters. This defense hasn't given up a 2nd half touchdown since the Colts game, and that includes last week when the bulk of the starters were benched. So even if the Patriots aren't able to generate any real first half momentum, their defense has proven time and again that they have what it takes to keep the team in it until those wonderful, wonderful halftime adjustments come into play. But I wouldn't be surprised if offensive efficiency and starting strong is a major point of emphasis at practice this week - a practice in which no game plan will be put into place and New England can just work on in-house issues.
But Alec, what if the Patriots lose in the divisional round?? FAILED SEASON!
Shut up, Hank. I'm not even going to bother with this one, because there is absolutely nothing I can do to convince you and those who think like you that anything short of a Super Bowl each and every year is an abject failure. The 49ers recently made it to three straight NFC Championship games and came within one play of losing a Super Bowl, and nobody considers Harbaugh's tenure with the team a disaster; it was simply time to move on. That the Patriots have to win each and every year or it's a failed season is a media-fabricated narrative that we as fans fall for hook, line, and sinker each and every year. So go ahead and pout if the Patriots get upset in the divisional round, I'm not going to be able to stop you. But I will say this: if given the choice between vying for a Super Bowl each and every year and celebrating a 9-7 season that came via a win over my division rival's scrub team during the last week of the season, I'm taking the former every time. And I do my damnedest not to lose sight of that.
But Alec, what about the Seahawks?? Their defense looks unstoppable! They can get pressure by rushing only three! Marshawn Lynch is an animal!!! What will the Patriots do??
Shut up, Hank. Are you kidding me right now? Did you really just ask how the Patriots are going to stop the Seahawks before the Wild Card games have even started? Are you suggesting we just bypass the entire playoffs and pit New England against Seattle in the Super Bowl before Terrell Suggs even has a chance to make an ass out of himself? Maybe - just maybe - we should win a few playoff games before we worry about one of the six possible teams in the NFC that might end up playing in the Super Bowl if things go their way. To worry about the Seahawks right now is not only unnecessary, but it's totally insane. Any one of the AFC playoff teams is capable of coming into Foxboro and knocking off the Patriots if they get a few bounces, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm not trembling in my boots over how the Patriots are going to deal with Seattle just yet.
But you know what? I'll humor you. Let's say it is in fact New England and Seattle in the Super Bowl, and Seattle does in fact win. Would that really be the end of the world? To lose a hard fought game against a team with an otherworldly defense that clearly belonged there and deserved to win? I don't know about you, but losing to a better opponent is significantly easier to swallow than losing to a slack-jawed yokel of a quarterback that is hands down the best in the NFL at closing his eyes, hucking the ball up in the air, and having it miraculously stick to a fourth string receiver's face. So relax there, tough guy.