The New England Patriots have had sky-high expectations every year thanks to the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady partnership that has produced six Super Bowls and counting. Year in and year out, it’s Super Bowl or bust with this team. And why shouldn’t it be? The Patriots have been in the Super Bowl the last three seasons, winning it in 2017 and 2019. But after Sunday’s wire-to-wire smackdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, considered one of the top challengers to the Patriots in the AFC again this season, the ceiling of expectations for this team is being pushed by some to a level not talked about since the fateful 18-1 Patriots team in 2007.
The U-word is not simply thrown about anymore, after New England came oh-so-close to perfection in the 2007 Super Bowl, falling in heartbreaking fashion to the New York Giants, to finish their season with a record of 18-1. In a 19-year stretch filled with Super Bowl victories, record accomplishments, and plenty of other good memories in between, the failure to complete a historic undefeated season in 2007 is perhaps the one bitter taste that this dynasty has yet to wash completely out of its mouth, 12 years after the fact.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are playing with house money at this point. They have nothing left to prove, having been firmly entrenched as the greatest quarterback and the greatest head coach of all time by now. The one accomplishment that has eluded them however, is that undefeated 19-0 season, and after Sunday’s performance, it’s hard not to dream about what this team could achieve come February 2020 in Miami.
The same ground attack that carried New England to a Super Bowl victory last postseason took a backseat on Sunday night to a passing game that suddenly looks poised to become one of the most lethal aerial attacks in the NFL this season. And the rich will only be getting richer, with the best wide receiver in the league joining New England this week, as Antonio Brown gets set to join the fold as a New England Patriot.
When was the last time the Patriots acquired the best wide receiver in the game at the time for pennies on the dollar? Oh yeah, that would be prior to the 2007 season, when Randy Moss was acquired from the Oakland Raiders via trade. Weird parallel, huh?
The Patriots offense looks unstoppable, and Josh McDaniels should be able to pick apart opposing defenses however he wants on a week-to-week basis, depending on the opponent’s strength and weaknesses. He has the running game and the passing game now to wear down defenses. Soon enough, he’ll be able to deploy a lineup of Julian Edelman-Josh Gordon-Antonio Brown at the wide receiver spots, and spin the dial at the running back position between Rex Burkhead (who looked healthy and spry against Pittsburgh), Sony Michel, and James White. Good luck stopping that.
And we haven’t even gotten to the defense, which was considered to be the strength of this team coming into this season, coming off of its stifling performance against the Rams offense in Super Bowl LIII. With perhaps the deepest and most talented secondary Bill Belichick has had since he began coaching in New England, an elite linebacking corps, and a deep rotation of pass rushers, New England boasts similar versatility and talent on defense as it now does on offense. The Patriots were missing one of their best playmakers on defense in Week 1, as linebacker Kyle Van Noy was scratched due to the birth of his newborn son, and they still didn’t miss a beat in keeping the Pittsburgh offense to just three points total. That’s how deep this unit is.
Pittsburgh was expected to contend for a playoff bye with the likes of New England and Kansas City. But after the Patriots wiped the floor with the Steelers, despite not being at full strength, it makes you wonder what can stop this team.
Injuries, of course, could always derail a season, as Pats fans saw on Sunday when Marcus Cannon suffered a shoulder injury in the second half and was taken out of the game.
In Josh Gordon, and now Antonio Brown, you have two supremely-talented wide receivers who are equally talented as they are unpredictable and volatile. Who knows if Gordon can go a full season without slipping up again? And can Brown check his ego at the door, get up to speed on the New England offense, and co-exist with everyone else on offense all while also fighting a civil lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault and rape? That too is a huge question mark that cannot be ignored.
But a look at the New England schedule gives hope for a 19-0 season. The Patriots’ next six games are as follows:
New England could well be looking at a perfect 7-0 record heading into a Week 8 matchup with the Cleveland Browns, before an early November Sunday night showdown on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, before a bye week in Week 10.
If New England can survive the stretch after that of: @ Philadelphia, vs. Dallas, @ Houston, vs. Chiefs, it then closes out the season with the Bengals on the road, and the Bills and Dolphins at home.
Will New England be an underdog in any of those matchups? It’s doubtful. As things stand right now after Week 1, if New England can go undefeated through the Dallas-Houston-Kansas City stretch, they could well be staring another undefeated regular season record right in the face.
This isn’t some hot take article predicting an undefeated season right now after one game. But this team has the ingredients to make some history, as Sunday night’s season opener showed us, and there are more key ingredients being added, with Brown set to join the team, and Kyle Van Noy returning in Week 2.
New England fans have every reason to believe that their team will once again reach the Super Bowl, for the fourth year in a row. But the game against Pittsburgh added a new element of intrigue to the 2019-2020 season. Can this Patriots team do what the 2007 team couldn’t, and complete an undefeated season? It’s time to start having that discussion.