The New England Patriots are emerging as one of the most remarkable franchises in the history of sports. The level of consistent excellence Darth Belichick’s men have displayed for over a decade is all but impossible to attain. Simply, the Patriots defy the NFL model.
Professional football is built on uncertainty. Every competitive team is one injured quarterback away from becoming average, or worse. Injuries, free agency and the NFL Draft ensure that year-to-year roster continuity is impossible.
The Seattle Seahawks (my beloved Seahawks) are the most recent example of the league’s instituted regression to the mean. After winning the Super Bowl in dominant fashion, the team waved goodbye to standouts like Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Chris Maragos, Breno Giacomini and Golden Tate.
Zach Miller hasn’t played a down due to injury. Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, Brandon Mebane, Byron Maxwell, Russell Okung and Max Unger have all missed or will miss significant portions of the season, all casualties of football violence. Not to mention the Percy Harvin fiasco, and the dark cloud looming over Marshawn Lynch’s future in the Emerald City. Pete Carroll has done remarkably well to keep the team above water at 6-4 after 10 games.
Knowing how hard it is to win year after year, how do we explain the New England Patriots? Since 2001 the Patriots have won three Super Bowls, appeared in the big game on two other occasions, reached the AFC Conference Championship game three more times, and won their division a staggering 11 times. It’s been 13 seasons since the Patriots posted a losing record! The newest rendition sits at a tidy 8-2. In the last two weeks the team has dismantled AFC contenders, the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, by a combined 85-41 margin. All must kneel before Darth Belichick and his chowder-head army!
After an un-Patriotlike 7-7 mark last week the column’s record reached 88-72-1 for the year.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
@ Oakland Raiders +7.5
This is an ideal letdown game for Chiefs. Fresh off a thrilling 24-20 win over the defending Super Bowl champs, Kansas City has to travel to Oakland to face the predictably winless Raiders. With the way Jamaal Charles is rolling behind a behemoth Chiefs offensive line (having the big uglies live in the BBQ capital of the world is a clear advantage) I don’t see the Chiefs war party coming to an end. Chiefs win 35-16
@ Atlanta Falcons -3.5
The Brownies welcome the return of star receiver Josh Gordon this week when the team travels to Atlanta to fly with the Falcons. Cleveland has suffered numerous injuries along its defensive front seven but the Falcons lackluster rushing attack isn’t suited to take advantage. Atlanta will stubbornly throw into the strength of Cleveland’s defense resulting in a couple all-too-familiar Matt Ryan interceptions. Gordon’s return will only help an already strong Browns rush offense, and give Cleveland a play-action threat they’ve lacked all year. Browns win 28-27
@ Philadelphia Eagles -11
The Titans are still playing hard for first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt despite an unsightly record. Rookie QB Zach Mettenberger played well last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the young passer should have another opportunity to excel this Sunday against an Eagles defense that allowed 53 points to the Green Bay Packers a week ago. Philadelphia is still a mystery with Mark Sanchez under center. Eagles win 30-20
@ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -7
Tom Brady, plus Gronk, plus Darth Belichick, equals a resounding win for the New England Patriots. See column introduction for more reasoning if necessary. Patriots win 34-17
GREEN BAY PACKERS
@ Minnesota Vikings +10
Green Bay is playing like they think they’re the best team in the NFC. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has legendary figures (Magic Johnson) comparing his play to sporting icons. Running back Eddie Lacy is turning opposing defenses into road kill. The Packers defense has only been average, but average is good enough with Rodgers and Lacy leading the way. Poor Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater has the unenviable task of trying to match Green Bay on the scoreboard. Good luck. Packers win 38-17
@ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS -14
Andrew Luck and the Colts are reeling after last week’s debacle against the AFC favorite Brady Bunch. The Jungle Kittens provide the perfect remedy. The Colts defense has struggled against experienced offenses in Pittsburgh and New England. Jacksonville poses no such threat. Having already defeated the Jaguars 44-17 in Florida back in September there’s every reason to believe Indianapolis races to victory. Colts win 41-20
@ Houston Texans -1.5
Cincinnati traveled to New Orleans and got a much-needed win a week ago to improve to 6-3-1 and remain in the AFC North race. The Bengals will get an opportunity to exact some revenge against an old foe this Sunday. Houston has made a habit of ending Cincinnati’s season in recent years. The Texans may not be a playoff team in 2014, but as long as J.J. Watt wears the bull horns the Texans are dangerous. Experience at quarterback will be the deciding factor in a hotly contested affair. Bengals win 21-20
New York Jets
@ BUFFALO BILLS -4
I swore off siding with the Jets as long as Rex Ryan remained on the sidelines. With a snowstorm in western New York so severe that there’s been talk of postponing the game, it’s hard to justify laying more than a field goal, but policy is policy. Bills win 17-10
TAMPA BAY BUCS
@ Chicago Bears -6
Bucs coach Lovie Smith returning to Chicago to challenge his old team would be quite the storyline if both of these teams didn’t suck at football. The Bears are hardly watchable with Jay Cutler’s pouty face and a swiss cheese defense. Of course, Tampa Bay isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing. Bucs QB Josh McCown filled in admirably for Cutler in Chicago a year ago. Somehow it feels right that McCown will outplay his much wealthier counterpart this weekend. Bears fans expect this. Bucs win 30-27
@ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -6.5
This is a stunning line. The Super Bowl champs are still getting a lot of respect from Las Vegas oddsmakers, and I’m not convinced that makes any sense. The Seahawks have been completely decimated by injuries and extracurricular controversy. The Desert Bats are 9-1. Nobody over the age of 10 knows how that’s even possible but apparently it is. The Cardinals have benefited from a fair amount of luck and if fate stays on their side 6.5 will be an easy cover. Cardinals win 21-17 (Anti-jinx policy in full effect.)
St. Louis Rams
@ San Diego Chargers -4.5
There are a couple things at play here. The St. Louis Rams in less than a month’s time have defeated three of the four conference championship teams from a year ago. Most impressively the Rams crushed the Broncos 22-7 last Sunday finally proving once and for all that even-toed ungulates are superior to their odd-toed ungulate cousins. So are the Rams the best team in the NFL or does their success represent a football anomaly? The Chargers enter the contest from the other end of spectrum. Everyone thought San Diego was a Super Bowl contender before the Lightning Bolts lost three straight and squeaked by the Raiders last Sunday. I’m expecting both sides to return to form this weekend. Chargers win 27-20
@ Denver Broncos -7.5
Peyton Manning showed some kinks in his armor against the St. Louis Rams. The Dolphins are one of the few teams that can replicate the rediscovered pass rush of St. Louis. Everyone knows Manning is superhuman without facing pressure, but he quickly becomes mortal when a 280-pound defensive end is crashing into him. Adding to the intrigue, the Broncos’ Emmanuel Sanders will be out with a concussion and running back Monte Ball re-injured his private parts. Julius Thomas has been slowed by an ankle issue, and the ghost of Wes Welker looks ready for retirement. Suddenly the Broncos aren’t nearly as intimidating. I don’t think Ryan Tannehill is ready to win a game in Denver, but I think this game might be closer than the experts think. Broncos win 27-24
@ San Francisco 49ers -9
The Native Americans prepare to face Manifest Destiny one more time! Honestly, the Redskins should change their team name after embarrassing every Native American that ever lived and their ancestors with a pathetic home loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs last week. The Redskins name is one thing, but losing to Tampa Bay crosses all lines of acceptability. 49ers win 30-10
@ NEW YORK GIANTS +3.5
Eli Manning threw the football to the opposing team five times last week and the Giants only lost by six points. That’s amazing. I’m left wondering if Manning is color blind and simply unable to recognize who’s who out on the gridiron. The Dallas Cowboys should win this game but they’re one hard hit away from the Brandon Weeden experiment. A cold, possibly snowy night in New York is not good news for Tony Romo’s back. Cowboys win 23-20
@ New Orleans Saints -3
I keep insisting that the Saints aren’t terrible and they keep proving me wrong. I’m not making that mistake for a 12th straight week. These New Orleans Saints aren’t good at football. They can’t stop the run, they can’t stop the pass, and Drew Brees has been uncharacteristically turnover prone. Ravens win 31-27