Sunday, November 11, 2007


Can the Patriots go undefeated? Can the Patriots go undefeated? Can the Patriots go undefeated?

That’s the question of the day every week regarding the NFL. Though there are plenty more questions worth asking, it’s the single question that starts a football conversation these days. So to start this post, let’s just get it out of the way.

While it’s going to be extremely difficult for the New England Patriots to run the table, doing so would hold much more significance than even fellow media types and fans could imagine… right now.

The potential unblemished season has yet to be put in perspective because 1) it’s not as guaranteed as it seems and 2) there are still the playoffs to think about. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are invoked every year a team gets past the middle of October without a loss, yet with the physical changes of the game as well as the changes in the playoff format throughout the last thirty-five years, the concept of going undefeated takes on new meaning.

After losing Super Bowl VI to the Dallas Cowboys, Don Shula sent a message to his team leading into the fall of 1972. He demanded that his team be perfect, to not only win every single game, but to leave no doubt that their loss was an aberration of how great they should be. When the Dolphins went undefeated during the 1972 regular season with a 14-0 record, they were three games ahead of the second-best team in AFC that season, the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3). The Washington Redskins, the team that Miami would defeat in Super Bowl VII, also finished 11-3, having the NFC’s best mark. Within the AFC East, the Dolphins made the competition look amateurish, as the New York Jets were the division’s second-best at 7-7. Every other team in the league has already lost at least once by Week 3! Unlike the 2007 Patriots, the 1972 Dolphins didn’t have anyone chasing them into November. They also didn’t have free agency to fix any flaws. Shula demanded perfection through execution by essentially the same personnel. Bill Belichick demanded perfection through acquisition (Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker). Yet, like these Pats, the Dolphins wanted to wipe out the taste of a sour finale the year before.

Okay, there’s that Spygate thing, too.

When this was originally drafted, the Indianapolis Colts hadn't played yet. Adam Vinatieri hadn't missed two crucial field goals on a slippery Qualcomm Stadium field yet. Peyton Manning hadn't thrown five interceptions just yet. The Colts didn't lose two offensive linemen and Dwight Freeney yet. So with their loss to the San Diego Chargers tonight, the prospect of New England going undefeated may have lost a little shine, at least in this scribe's eyes. As hard as that is to believe, just imagine if the Colts ran the table until the Patriots come to play the New York Giants on December 29th? It would have left the champs with a 14-1 record going into their last game of the season; a showdown in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans the next day. The Patriots may have already won, but if Peyton Manning & Co. defeated the Titans, which would have kept only last week’s loss as the deciding factor between the first and second seed. In context, the Patriots would have needed to go undefeated in order to take home-field advantage outright. With the loss in San Diego, there is much more certainty that New England will play at home in the playoffs. A cold Foxboro in late January may be as intimidating as it gets in the league, but how cool would it have been for the Patriots to have to fight to have that edge?

If there is a team that may be able to threaten to slow down, it’s the Steelers. The Steelers have gotten little play nationally because of the dominance of the Pats and Colts, the not-so-surprising fall from grace of the Chargers and the surprise of the Lions, Browns and the defensive unit of the Giants. Yet, Pittsburgh has a top notch defense that can shut down the run and plays pretty well against the pass. With their offense able to score through the air as well as on the ground, this will be another tough test for New England. Yes, they have already faced a potent offense from Indianapolis, but this is a team that also knows what to expect from Belichick over the past few years.

At the end of it all, whether the Patriots finish the 2007 campaign undefeated or not, the only way that the record could even be discussed is if this team wins Super Bowl XLIII. Yet, they will belong in the conversation as one of the greatest teams to ever play the game if they do win the championship. Being that the Boston area is the center of the American sporting universe, do you think they’d really be upset if they lose just once during the season?

Say What?!?!: There is only one person happier about Ohio State’s loss to Illinois than anyone in the states of Michigan, Oregon, Louisiana, West Virginia and Oklahoma… Chris Fowler. Oh, he may not exactly wear the grin on his face this coming Saturday, but being one of the most consistently vocal critics of the Bowl Championship Series, Fowler might now want to embellish. He knows, as well as college football fans all over the country, that those computers – and the BCS brain trust – may find a way to keep the Buckeyes in the national title picture, regardless of their loss. There are going to be two one-loss teams in the plus-one game, whether Kansas or even Hawaii (a non- BCS school) likes it or not.
By the way, check the replay of the Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley fight when you’re done watching DVR’ed episodes of ‘I Love New York’.

No comments: