In a season that has not only teetered on the edge of boredom, but forcefully plunged into its very depths, the New England Patriots – the 10-0 New England Patriots – presented Exhibit J last night as to why they the rest of the NFL should have a hopeless outlook.
Six regular season games remain for the Patriots, and not one scheduled opponent has any realistic chance of derailing the express of perfection. None. Philadelphia? Baltimore? Miami? The Jets? Right.The spread could be 43 on that game, and you’d be a fool not to lay a few bucks down on New England.
Prevalent thought says that the only two teams standing in the way of 16-0 are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants. The Steelers got embarrassed by the Jets yesterday, losing on an OT field goal. The Giants might have everything to play for in the season finale on Dec. 29 (a game half of New England won’t see thanks to the nifty NFL Network-cable battles) but they might want to start padding their win total prior to that game if they want to keep their wild card aspirations alive. Because if it comes down to that night, sorry, Eli. Better luck next year.
Oh, somebody may indeed come along and beat these mighty Patriots.
But it won’t be until 2008.
Three months ago, talk of an undefeated season was greeted with a hush and moan from suspicious Pats fans. Today, you’d sound silly for trying to rationalize why they won’t go 16-0, and eventually 19-0. It’s not a possibility any longer, but an inevitability that should wash away any excitement generated by other fan bases with teams in playoff contention. No matter how well your favorite team plays, it will eventually get pasted by the Patriots.
We’ve seen dominant teams in the NFL before, for sure: The ‘03 and ’04 Patriots, the Cowboys of the 90s, the 49ers of the 80s, and the Steelers and Dolphins of the 70s. But nothing like this.
Nobody else has any shot whatsoever against a team that is rewriting the book in the NFL, for better or worse. With this team, parity doesn’t exist. It’s “Every Given Sunday.”
Before Tom Brady even put the finishing touch on another ho-hum five touchdown performance in a 56-10 win over the inferior Bills, NBC color man John Madden had already made a statement that will no doubt call for his resignation from the Brett Favre for Deity board of governors: “I have never seen anyone play the position of quarterback better than Tom Brady right now.”
Better than Favre. Better than Joe Montana. Better than Bradshaw, Aikman, or Elway. Madden called Brady as close to perfect as one can be. This really had to cause a rift with Peter King in the halls of Favre headquarters.
The rest of the NFL can only dream of the days when the Patriots averaged 38 points for the first three games of the season. New England has now scored 48-plus in four of its last five games, and is averaging 41.1 points per game this season, an unheard of number. The next-highest average score in the NFL belongs to the 9-1 Dallas Cowboys, 32.4 points per game, almost a 10-point differential.
Not only is Brady due to shatter the single season record of 49 touchdown passes held by Peyton Manning (he needs only 11 to tie), but Randy Moss is on pace to bust Jerry Rice’s record for most touchdowns in a season, 22 in 1987. Moss, who holds the rookie mark of 17 set in 1998, caught four touchdown passes in Buffalo last night, and needs just seven more to call the mark his own.
The Patriots are going to become the first team since Don Shula’s* 1972 Dolphins to run the table, with Mercury Morris due to enter his local Men’s Wearhouse any day now to rent a tuxedo for the event. We wonder if Shula* is still backing down from his statement that there should an asterisk next to the 19-0, or if such talk might have hurt sales at his Providence steak house.
Oh, sure, not everything is perfect even in the pursuit of it. It seems at times as if Antowain Smith is still running the ball in New England, even though the Patriots boast the fifth-best rushing average in the NFL: 131.8 yards per game. And believe it or not, the Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have both allowed few points per game than the Patriots.
Also…well, actually, that is all.
As the rest of the NFL desperately watches and hopes to notice some fatal Death Star flaw in the Patriots’ approach, it becomes increasingly obvious that it’s not going to appear. The Patriots are not only the best team in the NFL, they are the best team in the history of the NFL. They are the best version of this Patriots dynasty, and do everything to hint that they’re going to dominate for years to come. They’re going to win in Arizona in 2008, and it’s just as likely in Tampa in 2009 and Miami in 2010.
As long as the Patriots have Brady, Moss, and Bill Belichick at the helm, this dominance will continue. The Patriots are going to have to franchise free agent Randy Moss next offseason, because other teams will want to pay him obscene amounts of money just to get him out of New England and level the playing field somewhat. I wouldn't be surprised if the rest of the AFC East pooled their millions together to award him a bonus, wherever he played. As long as it was out of New England. As long as he's here with Brady, and both are healthy, the light at the end for everybody might not be visible for another 3-4 years.
You thought a place like Oakland was a depressing NFL environment, where the local team had no realistic shot of competing against anyone? Well, guess what, everywhere is Oakland now, no matter if you’re the 2-8 Raiders, 0-10 Dolphins, or 9-1 Packers. Favre might make the Super Bowl this season, but he’ll retire with one title to his name. The rest of the NFL can thank Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy for making Belichick angry. Now the punishment is going to take a while.
Last week was the best the NFL could have hoped for. The Patriots were on their bye week. But it’s back to regularly scheduled programming, and it’s all about as suspenseful as the Blue’s Clues DVD your kid has watched 14,000 times. The Patriots are going to embarrass you, maybe shake your hand, and apologize to nobody. In the end, they’ll be the champions again at the end of a perfect season.
The 16-0 talk is no longer premature, and trying to argue why they won’t do it is impractical.