Will the New England Patriots finish their season undefeated?

point counterpoint

Mike Woods
Mike Woods
Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz

The New England Patriots have emerged as the class of the National Football League this season. They have a 10-0 record and, other than the Indianapolis Colts, have beaten every team they’ve played by at least 14 points. Thanks to the Patriots, the most interesting question that has emerged out of this NFL season is: who can stop them?

The answer: nobody.

The Patriots are unlike any team that has come close to a perfect season since the Miami Dolphins accomplished the feat in 1972. They’ve mercilessly slaughtered their opposition in almost every game. The exception was Indianapolis, but the Patriots were able to sleepwalk through the first three quarters of that game before rallying behind quarterback Tom Brady, who excels in the fourth quarter.

Brady already ranks among the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks, and he won his three Super Bowls throwing to the likes of Deion Branch and David Givens. With a focused and disciplined Randy Moss as a target, Brady is only 11 touchdowns short of breaking Peyton Manning’s single-season mark of 49 set in 2004.

Moss has 16 touchdowns and is on pace to break Jerry Rice’s record of 22 touchdown catches in a season. Donte Stallworth, who busted in New Orleans, is a suitable second target who gives the Patriots arguably the best one-two punch at wide receiver in the NFL. Wes Welker has also emerged out of nowhere to provide timely scoring.

The Patriots’ veteran defence, especially their aging linebacking core of Junior Seau, Tedi Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, don’t spend very much time on the field because the offence is too busy scoring on practically every drive. Bruschi and Vrabel already have three Super Bowls, so what better to add to their resumés than an undefeated season?

This New England team is striving for perfection, not just a championship, and this sets them apart from other teams in their situation. And as good as the Dolphins of 1972 were, their statistics simply don’t compare to the Patriots.

The Patriots are first in the NFL with a staggering 41.1 points per game and 436.8 yards of offence per game. Their defence, meanwhile, have held opponents to a stingy 15.7 points per game.

Four of the Patriots’ final six games are against teams at or under .500. One of them is against Pittsburgh, sure to be their most challenging test yet, but the Patriots are home for that game and the Steelers are an inferior road team.

I generally dislike Chris Schultz’s columns on TSN, but he made a good point about the Patriots. He said, with respect to other teams watching game film, “95 per cent of the time it is effective. … The other five percent of the time … it creates an internal fear that transfers onto the playing field.”

The Patriots’ success this season ultimately comes down to Moss. Teams can plan all they want, but Moss has the ability to catch balls in double and triple coverage, thanks to Brady’s scarily accurate passes.

This year’s edition of the Patriots should go down as one of the best NFL teams to ever grace the field. Although there will be obstacles, they have all the ingredients to march, unstopped, to their fourth Super Bowl in seven years.

--Mike Woods

The New England Patriots have been on fire so far this year. They’ve stormed out to a 10-0 record and in the process have raised speculation that they may become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to have an undefeated regular season. While the Patriots have shown themselves to be the league’s best team this year, they won’t be able to complete their schedule without a loss.

There’s a good reason no team has gone undefeated since Miami’s 14-0 1972 regular season. Perfect regular season campaigns are incredibly rare: the Dolphins are the only NFL team to have ever achieved one. Several teams have come up only one win short, such as the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings and the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers. The crucial win has proven too much for all of these lineups, though, which is the reason why these games are still played.

On paper and based on the strength of their performances thus far, the Patriots are the best team in the league, and they certainly have a great shot to win the Super Bowl this year. Games aren’t decided on paper, though. As Al Pacino’s character famously said in the eponymous movie, “On any given Sunday, any team can win or lose.”

Over the grind of an NFL season, it’s exceptionally difficult to win every game. The problem has only increased in the modern era of salary cap-mandated parity. Also, it’s easy for a team to falter after getting the media spotlight that comes with a great start. Every other team psyches themselves up to play the league-leaders, reasoning that they will gain respect if they can beat the best. As famed football coach Jerry Glanville said, “Underdogs have more that they can achieve. They have more enjoyment if they’re able to climb to the mountain top.”

This is amplified even more if you have a chance to put an end to a winning streak. Ten teams since 1970 have started 10-0, but only the 1972 Dolphins were able to complete the run. Even respected football analyst John Madden said on Nov. 14 that he didn’t see New England going undefeated all year.

“I think someone is going to beat the Patriots,” he said.

Granted, it will be a tough task. New England is piling up the points at the moment, and their defence appears almost impregnable. One potential vulnerability is the age of some of their key linebackers: Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel are 38, 34 and 32 respectively. They’ve been solid so far, but they may wear down towards the end of the season. Other aging Patriots stars, such as 34-year-old safety Rodney Harrison and 31-year-old running back Kevin Faulk, may also run out of gas.

There are still some tough opponents New England will have to face, particularly the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants. Pittsburgh—led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Willie Parker and a terrific defence—appears to have the best chance to knock off the Patriots.

In order to beat New England, a team will have to play almost perfect football themselves while forcing the Patriots into mistakes. This is easier said than done, and it may be reasonably unlikely. However, to answer Cotton McKnight’s question from Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, yes, I believe in unlikelihoods.

--Andrew Bucholtz

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