The phrase “best of all-time” should not be used lightly in any situation. But that is the phrase being flung in the general direction of the New England Patriots these days.
Sporting an unblemished record in a 16-game season for the first time in league history, a feat nearly unimaginable, the Patriots have laid the groundwork to be put among the all-time elite teams in professional football.
If we dig deeper, however, we may see that the Patriots might not be as good as advertised.
New England plays in the AFC East, a division with teams that may not have reached the Arena Football League playoffs, let alone the NFL playoffs. In fact, the other three teams in the division won just 25 percent of their games, suffering through a dismal 12-36 combined record.
The Patriots played each of these teams twice during the season. The Cal Poly football team may have gone 6-0 against the AFC East. (If you thought Randy Moss had a great season, wait until you see Ramses Barden play in that division.)
‘So they had a weak division schedule, but what about the non-conference wins over Dallas and the New York Giants?’ you may ask.
Dallas has already proven to be a playoff pretender after its flop at home to New York. The Giants played the Patriots in a meaningless finale in which the Patriots had everything to gain and the Giants had nothing to gain or lose.
How about the dominating win over San Diego in week two of the regular season? That Chargers team was in the midst of a coaching transition to Norv Turner, and started the season 5-5 before reeling off seven straight wins to close out the year.
There is no denying the individual talents of the Patriots offense. Tom Brady had a statistical year that shattered most major offensive records. Randy Moss also had a year to remember, becoming the most prolifically-scoring wide receiver in single-season history.
But the Patriots have had their share of down moments in an undefeated season.
Everyone remembers the ‘Spygate’ incident in which New England videotaped signals from the New York Jets’ sideline. Why the Patriots decided they needed to use such tactics against an absolutely horrific Jets team is anyone’s guess.
New England head coach Bill Belichick, ironically known as the master of the halftime adjustment, was fined $500,000 and the Patriots lost their first-round draft pick due to the scandal.
And he’s not the only member of the Patriots this season to be fined for less-than-savory conduct.
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has quietly racked up more than $30,000 in fines stemming from three separate incidents during the year, the latest of which took place at the Meadowlands on Dec. 29 when he seemed to try to poke Giants running back Brandon Jacobs in the eye.
A more well known example of the Patriots’ arrogance was when Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a win over them earlier this season, and Tom Brady seemed to take the high road by saying, “I’ll let my play on the field do the talking.”
However, after Brady threw one of his four touchdown passes, he let his mouth do the talking by getting into Smith’s face and yelling at him.
But just when you thought it was smooth sailing from here on out with the Patriots, Randy Moss jumped back into the spotlight. Moss, who has had a slew of troubling off-field problems, has been slapped with a temporary restraining order following an incident a female acquaintance described as “battery causing serious injury.”
With all this going on during the season, it’s hard for a casual observer to be a fan of New England’s drive for perfection.
In 30 years, when you’re nearing retirement, do you want to be standing at the water cooler talking about this 2007 Patriots team as possibly the best of all time? I find it hard to consider them anywhere near that level.
So for the sake of break-room talk everywhere over the next millennia, pray for the Chargers to win this Sunday.
Scott Silvey is a Mustang Daily columnist and a journalism junior.