Earlier this week I wrote about how the New England Patriots are “the team no one wants to play,” despite never actually having an article written in that fashion. I argued that the Patriots were always considered the “no one” in the phrase, and that writers are actually arguing over “what team does the Patriots want to avoid?”
Well, it turns out that the articles defining the Patriots as the league’s Death Star are a little more blatant. Almost every playoff team has an article with the topic “Why [playoff team] is the only team that can beat the Patriots.”
The Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins don’t have these articles because no one believes in the Texans and I’m sure people don’t want to cast a sports-jinx on the Patriots season finale against the Dolphins.
The other three teams have had their day in the sun.
“The Raiders were our last best hope to stop a Patriots' Super Bowl run,” according to Dragonfly Jonez, after Raiders QB Derek Carr broke his leg; “Steelers Might Be Only AFC Team That Has A Chance To Beat Patriots In Foxboro” according to CBS Sports and “Steelers stand strong as Patriots' only threat in AFC playoffs“ on Sporting News; “Kansas City Chiefs Are Only Ones Who Can Stop Patriots In AFC” over on Fox Sports.
Even the NFC is using the Patriots as a measuring stick.
“Can Anyone Stop the Pats? Don't Sleep on Dallas,” writes Mike Freeman over at Bleacher Report. Freeman has brought back the theme this week with another article titled, “Giants Are the Only Team That Can Beat Tom Brady's Patriots.” USA Today’s For the Win website named “Falcons only team that can beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.”
The Detroit Lions are currently considered the Texans of the NFC- an interesting team without Super Bowl hopes simply serving as a generic opponent for wild card weekend. The Seahawks are like the Raiders- a team that could have beaten the Patriots but are hopeless without their star player; the Seahawks vaunted pass defense has plummeted from 5th in the NFL to 26th since losing FS Early Thomas for the year with an injury.
And that leaves the Green Bay Packers who, until recently, weren’t considered a genuine threat. If the Lions are the Texans, the Packers are the NFC’s answer to the Dolphins; Green Bay held a 4-6 record through 11 weeks and ripped off five straight victories. They need to win in Detroit to clinch a playoff spot, or wait for another team to lose. The Packers are a hot, but obviously flawed, team.
These articles serve as a really nice benchmark for analyzing the contenders. Clearly the Patriots are the Super Bowl favorites, while the Steelers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Falcons, and Giants make up the next tier of competitors. The Raiders and Seahawks are dealing with insurmountable injuries; the Dolphins and Packers still have the stench of bad performances this year; and the Lions and Texans just aren’t given a chance to ever reach the Patriots.
Perhaps someone should write an article titled, “The Patriots are the only team that can beat the Patriots” and discuss how New England can avoid self-inflicted wounds like special teams turnovers and intentionally bad game plans. That might end up as the most honest version of this story.