These days whenever the Patriots take the field for a playoff game you know that some type of history will be made. And this time around, even before kickoff, that’s already the case. There have actually been a few cases.
For instance this week marks the first time in NFL history that a back-up linebacker was suspected of lying about saving a woman from a car wreck in the week leading up to the conference championship. It was the first time in conference championship history that the league’s best tight end tweeted a sexual innuendo at the opposition’s secondary. This was also the first time in the Super Bowl era that the best quarterback of all time and his favorite receiver engaged in a public Facebook conversation like an annoying married couple — when it takes all your power not to jump into the comments and scream: “WHY ARE YOU GUYS TALKING TO EACH OTHER ON FACEBOOK?! JUST WALK INTO THE OTHER ROOM.’’
And then there was this: Last Sunday, the Patriots became only the fourth team in the last 30 years to open as a road favorite in the conference championship against the No. 1 seed. They were and still are favored by three points in Denver. Generally speaking, that means the Pats would be favored by six points if the game was being played at a neutral site, and nine if the game was scheduled for Gillette. But either way this is what we’re working with right now. The Pats are three-point favorites, but it feels like more than that. It feels like total confidence. It feels like absolute power. Everyone knows that anything — and often the craziest things — can happen, but the consensus around New England is that the Pats are in good shape, that three points aren’t enough.
I mean Peyton Manning looks like the worst quarterback in the league right now, and there are more than a few numbers to back that up. He couldn’t beat Bill Belichick when he had a laser beam for an arm, what chance does he have flinging around his 39-year-old noodle? As mere human beings, it’s difficult to look at this matchup and that point spread and prevent at least a portion of our brain from moving on to Santa Clara. It’s right there. One masterful Belichick game plan away.
And it’s pretty funny how we ended up here.
After all it was only a few weeks ago that the Pats dropped that horrible game in Miami, lost home-field advantage, and Patriots Nation was ready to collectively leap off the Gillette Stadium Lighthouse. I know a guy who owns a restaurant in downtown Boston, and he told me they had 10 dinner cancelations in the hours after that Miami game. He’s never seen anything like it and could only chalk it up to a region in utter football disgust. But at the same time, not all that much has changed since then. Julian Edelman came back, but we already knew that he would. Peyton reclaimed his job, which on the surface is huge, but really it had been weeks since Brock Osweiler was anything close to decent. Beyond that, the Patriots’ defense looks good and pretty healthy, but Denver’s D is still better. The game is still being played a mile high. There haven’t been any significant injuries on either side. Yet somehow that overwhelming doom and gloom of Week 17 has organically transformed into Mario Bros. star power mode.
Isn’t that crazy? It seems like at least one side of this equation HAS to be crazy. And really, if we’ve learned anything over the last 15 years of success and failure in Boston, it’s that there’s nothing crazier than assuming victory on any level, in any sport. Especially in the NFL. Especially with these Patriots. I mean why do you even want to do that to yourself? Why set yourself up to feel like you did after Glendale in 2008 or the Jets game 2011? Obviously last year exorcised some of those demons, and obviously DeflateGate ignited a downright angry brand of Patriots bravado not seen since the days of SpyGate — but life is still life. It can be cruel and random and the truth is that PATRIOTS FANS ARE PLAYING WITH FIRE.
Nah, I’m just kidding.
The real truth is that it doesn’t matter.
Hop on Twitter and guarantee victory every hour on the hour until kickoff. Book a non-refundable, round-trip ticket to San Francisco, and you know what? Splurge for that extra legroom. Do whatever you want because it really it doesn’t matter. You don’t matter. We don’t matter. Only this team matters and they aren’t overlooking a thing.
While we sit here on the outside going over every reason Manning is useless, you better believe that Belichick has dug up every second of footage that suggests differently. He’s probably paid to have footage altered to speed up the velocity and smooth out the rotation of his passes. He’s gone to every length to debunk every implication that this is the Pats game to lose. By Sunday afternoon, he’ll have this team believing that they’re about to face John Elway, Terrell Davis and the back-to-back champion Broncos. He’ll have this team ready to go.
So in that spirit he should probably block this last message from infiltrating the airspace:
Those three previous conference championship games where the road team was favored over the No. 1 seed?
The road teams are 3-0.
Every matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning