The New England Patriots are back atop the NFL - at least when it comes to this week's NFL Power Rankings. We've brought back our "Darth Belichick" illustration last seen on these pages a day before Super Bowl XLVI to celebrate.
They've been around for 50-something years, but New England's AFL/NFL team hasn't been any better than it is right now, or at least since Rodney Harrison was flapping his wings and running up field at what used to be called All-tel Stadium in Jacksonville back in February 2005. That was seven years ago.
Sometimes hard to believe that was the last time this team won a Super Bowl. New England has gone a mind-bogggling 96-29 in the regular season with seven AFC titles since that 24-21 victory over the Eagles. And Patriots fans have only booed Adam Vinatieri twice - still can't figure out that one.
Now there are three events that have occurred since that Super Bowl win that, on their own, have prevented the Patriots from winning three more NFL titles. Every school child in New England knows them like he/she knows the Pledge of Allegiance or the fact that Paul Revere warned our ancestors that the British were coming and Bernie and Phyl's was having a blowout Patriots Day sale.
- The 38-34 loss to the Colts in the 2006 AFC title game after the Pats had a 21-3 lead. That game was lowlighted by an infamous three-and-out that gave the Colts the ball back with 2:17 to play trailing 34-31 and Brady's final pass on a first-and-10 with 24 seconds to play from the Colts' 45, which was intercepted by Marlin Jackson.
- David Tyree's catch in Super Bowl in XLII.
- Wes Welker's non-catch in Super Bowl XLVI.
Reverse them and the Patriots are - at least in 99% likelihood - five-time NFL champions in the span of 11 seasons. That's Ruth-DiMaggio-Mantle Yankees territory, Russell-Celtics territory, Wooden-UCLA territory, Richard-Béliveau Canadiens or Nick Saban-Alabama territory. The January 2007 loss in Indianapolis - the same city but different venue that brought us Super Bowl XLVI - literally did not cost the Patriots a Lombardi Trophy, but there's little doubt the Patriots would have anihilated the Bears in the rain and slop of Jimmy Buffett Stadium in South Florida during the snoozefest that was Super Bowl XLI.
Debate continues to rage over whether or not it was more a Welker non-catch or a Brady bad pass. Still, Welker could have caught therefore he should have caught the ball. It remains in many minds a major reason why he was not given that long-term deal he sought in the offseason. When Manning had connected with Mario Manningham to ignite the Giants' final scoring drive, Patriots' fans everywhere knew this one was already slipping away because there was no faith in the defense. That M&M catch, as spectacular as it was in compared the craptacular Welker-Brady miss, was after-the-fact when it came to determining Super Bowl XLVI's outcome.
Those losses are all that stand between Bill Belichick and complete intergalactic domination not seen since the days of the Lord Vader's mastery of the Dark Side.
Unfortunately, Obi-Wan Coughlin and Eli Skywalker blew up the Death Star twice.
Emperor Robert Palpatine didn't take it well:
Who knew he liked Cherry Coke?
This fact was reintroduced to us Monday night as the Patriots castrated the longhorns from Houston during the "Tom Brady Video Passing Clinic" which was broadcast on ESPN. Houston indeed did have a problem - namely Brady and the Patriots' defense. It was the Patriots' defense that actually ran up the score in Monday's 42-14 beatdown. While the Patriots' offense slowed down in the second and fourth quarters, the defense never let up and continued to pressure and pound anyone who dared touch the ball for the Texans.
The defensive domination started early as the Patriots forced the Texans to go for it on two fourth-down chances in the second quarter - stopping them on both tries thanks to a Kevin Walter drop and an errant pass thrown by Matt Schaub courtesy of Jerod Mayo.
”Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders, everyone talking about the Houston Texans," Mayo said after Monday's victory. Meanwhile the Texans were turned into a pile of cow chips.
What else would expect from Brady and Belichick in the month of December? There is not a nine-year-old kid in New England who has seen the Patriots lose a home game in the 12th month of the year unless he was playing Madden 2012 on his Xbox.
The 49ers are supposed to offer the Patriots a real challenge this week. After hearing a week of how much pressure the Texans were going to put on Brady and how their high-powered Andre Johnson/Arian Foster offense was going to rumble through the Patriots' defense. What makes this year's version of the Patriots so formidable is that their defense shut down and shut up the Texans, a very legitimate offensive threat. The Texans rank sixth overall in the NFL (384.5 yards) and fourth in points (28.1 per game) after Monday's mauling. These were not cupcakes or the 2011 Indianapolis Colts, Redskins, Dolphins, Broncos or Bills - all teams last year's Super Bowl losers beat down the stretch heading into the playoffs.
Watching Monday night, once came to the realization the Belichick acquired Aqib Talib, Adderall and all, for the simple task of shutting down Johnson in Week 14 (and possibly the playoffs). The fact that Talib will be around to go one-on-one against the likes of Randy Moss this week and possibly Denver's Demaryius Thomas in the playoffs is an added bonus.
Colin Kaepernick allegedly presents a more dynamic threat than Schaub by the simple fact he can run the ball. To wit his 50-yard touchdown dash against the Dolphins in the closing moments last week. The 49ers are coached by a Harbaugh. John's Ravens beat the Patriots in Week 3 of the season. Certainly he gave Jim some tips on how to get the refs - regular and not replacement this time - to call 24 penalties on the Patriots and get them to call a last-second field goal "good" even if it missed the right upright.
The 49ers are good, but they're not the Giants, who have beaten the 49ers three times in the past 13 months. And the simple solution of "pressuring Brady to beat the Patriots" becomes more and more complicated as the running game grows on the legs of Stevan Ridley (1,082 yards on 243 carries this season and 10 TDs), Shane Vereen, and everybody's favorite Hobbit - Danny Woodhead, who seems to have his two or three carries a game at the most important times. Every time he touches the ball it's an unexpected journey.
If Andrew Luck and the Colts can continue their winning ways against the Texans this week, the Patriots will have an open door into the top seed in the AFC and home field throughout the playoffs.
Von Miller, Peyton Manning and the Broncos are formidable and are playing as well as the Patriots. But John Fox is no Belichick (see Super Bowl XXXVIII) and these ponies would likely have to gallop to Foxborough in the postseason. Manning's record in Foxborough during the month January is not worth two free Papa John's pizzas.
Unless they run into the Giants again in New Orleans in February, it appears the Patriots and Belichick will not have any rebels standing in their way on the road back to imperial dominance.
God bless the children everywhere and everyone in Newtown affected by Friday's shooting. The NFL will have a moment of silence before each game this week in honor of the victims. We will take one here as well ...
Time for this week's rankings. Teams are listed with their current records and ranking last week.
1. Patriots (10-3; 3): It's all downhill after Sunday night. Just wait until Rob Gronkowski returns the offense can really get things going.
2. Giants (8-5; 9): Scariest 8-5 team in the NFL. They are just where they want to be. Hoping for the best but fearing the worst - seeing them again in the Super Bowl.
3. Broncos (10-3; 7): There are about 28 quarterbacks in the NFL that might want to have the same surgery as Peyton Manning just to improve their game.
4. Texans (11-2; 2): Still wondering WTF happened?
5. Falcons (12-2; 3): The Giants are coming to town this week. The Falcons will learn first-hand what a hot team is like in December. The Aluminum Falcon posed a much greater threat.
6. 49ers: (9-3-1; 6): Belichick said this week Moss was the "greatest deep-ball receiver that's ever played." That means Moss is toast this week.
7. Packers (9-4; 9): Green Bay visits Chcago this week in the league's most bitter rivalry this side of Patriots-Jets and Brian Urlacher is out. Packers tight end Jermichael Finley said that actually might be a good thing for Chicago. "Urlacher is at the end of his career right now; he's playing a little slow out there," Finley told Fox Sports Wisconsin. "I don't think they're losing too much if he's out. Putting another guy in might help them a little." Urlacher's response: "Just like a couple of years ago, I think, he (Finley) tore his ACL and the Packers were actually better without him. You know, they won the Super Bowl," Urlacher told SiriusXM NFL Radio. Ouch.
8. Bears (8-5; 7): Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall kept up the intense dislike. "I'm not going to use the word hate. But I really dislike the Green Bay Packers and their players," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel "I've never felt this strong in sports versus any team or any players. ... Like I said, this is personal." Exactly the same way I feel about the Yankees and their new third baseman.
9. Ravens (9-4; 5): Rookie Asa Jackson became the latest NFL player suspended after testing positive for a banned substance. The reported culprit...wait for it...Adderall. The unofficial count is 27 PED suspensions this season in the NFL and three (if we count Kasandra Perkins - and we do) deaths related to drug/alcohol abuse. That person turning blue in the corner is you if you're holding your breath waiting for the NFL to get serious about its drug problem.
10. Colts (9-4; 10): Texans play host to the Colts this week in what could be the the biggest game in the history of their franchise - at least Manning left town.
11. Steelers (7-6; 11): Pittsburgh Dan Rooney is stepping down from his post as Ambassador to Ireland. Maybe Bob Kraft can be named Ambassador to Awesome.
12. Bengals (8-6; 12): These cool cats scored 24 points in less than four minutes against the hapless in Eagles in Thursday's 34-13 victory. The good news is that they pushed the Jets one game further away from the sixth playoff spot in the AFC.
13. Seahawks (8-5; 15): The Seahawks will sport their new "Wolf Grey" uniforms Sunday. According to NFL.com, the Seahawks' official website indicates merchandise sales are up 274 percent at the team's two retail locations and online. The uniforms look something like this:
TED wants to play football, what y'all think of his gear? instagr.am/p/TLrCnQkY3S/— Kameron (@Kam_Chancellor) December 13, 2012
From @kam_Chancellor via Twitter.
14. Vikings (7-6; 15): Eric Dicerkson told CBSSports.com this week that he does not want Adrian Peterson to break his single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, Peterson needs 168 yards per game over the next three weeks to set a new mark and Dickerson is rooting hard for him to fail. "I don't want him to break it. I'll be honest. I don't want to see it. If anyone ever broke it, and if my son played football, I'd want my son to break it. But that's it. No one else," Dickerson said. "Again, he's a phenomenal player and seems like a good dude. If a player was to break it, I'd probably want it to be Adrian, but I like having the record. I don't think it's going to be broken." Dickerson got really upset when when he was told no one realized he set the record in the first place.
15. Redskins (7-6; 16): RGIII is listed as questionable this week. Rob Parker has been placed on mentally-injured reserve.
16. Cowboys (7-6; 17): The Cowboys will be wearing a No. 53 decal to honor Jerry Brown, Jr., who was killed when teammate Josh Brent was allegedly driving drunk and crashed his car. The NFL, meanwhile, will continue to stick its head in the sand.
17. Buccaneers (6-7; 14): Last week's loss to Philadelphia might have been a fatal blow to the Bucs' playoff hopes, but they still have this:
18. Jets (6-7; 26): Rex Ryan turned 50 on Friday. Jay Leno said he needed wanted a quarterback for his birthday. That and a gift certificate to Lady Foot Locker.
19. Saints (5-8; 21): ....ahhhhh, never mind.
20. Rams (6-6-1; 23): Beat Buffalo 15-12 last week in a game no one noticed.
21. Lions (4-9; 18): Speaking of records, Calvin Johnson is just 303 yards short of the single-season record set by Jerry Rice (1,848) set in 1995 with the San Francisco 49ers. No word from Rice on whether or not he wants Johnson to break the record as he was too busy counting his Super Bowl rings.
22. Dolphins (5-8; 19): They were competitive this season when the Red Sox were still mathematically alive in the playoff race.
23. Chargers (4-8; 20): Twinkies. cockroaches and Norv Turner. One down, two to go. Still keeping it.
24. Cardinals (4-9; 23): They beat the Patriots in Foxborough this season. Yes, that really happened.
25. Bills (5-8; 24): Bills playing in Toronto this week and might not be let back into the country.
26. Titans (4-9; 25): They did not beat the Patriots earlier this season.
27. Eagles (4-10; 27): Eventually Andy Reid will get around to firing himself.
28. Raiders (3-10; 28): Rolando McClain is back after serving a two-game suspension for not listening to his coaches. His punishment is having to play for the Raiders.
29. Panthers (4-9; 29): Cam Newton delivered against the Falcons last week, throwing for 287 yards and ran 72 yards for touchdown in Carolina's upset 30-20 victory. Too much but way too late.
30. Chiefs (2-11; 30): Jovan Belcher's funeral was held in Long Island Wednesday. Another sad day for everyone associated with this team.
31. Browns (5-8; 31): Brandon Weeden and RGIII meet this week in the NFL's biggest mismatch of rookie QBs since the Colts and Andrew Luck beat the Browns in October.
32. Jaguars (2-11; 32): All they want for Christmas is Tim Tebow. The Jaguars sold out Waffle House Stadium last week against the Jets and Tebow didn't take a snap. Imagine if he was starting for the home team.
As always, let us know what you think. Join our in-game Patriots-49ers fan chat on Sunday at 8:20 p.m. Bring your own tats. Post your thoughts here, on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page or e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @realOBF.
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