Saturday, October 27, 2007

History Demonstrates That Patriots' Fans Should Root For a Loss

Next week the undefeated New England Patriots will play the undefeated Indianapolis Colts in one of the most anticipated regular season games in history. A lot of NFL fans and media act as if the Patriots are a shoo-in to win the Super Bowl, and some even believe Tom Brady & Co. will go undefeated.

While the Patriots are certainly the best team in football right now, it’s worth reminding folks that the best team doesn’t always reach the Super Bowl, much less win it.

One need look no further than recent history: Last year the Colts won the Super Bowl but the Chargers were clearly the class of the league. In 2005 the Colts were tops, yet the Steelers knocked them out in the divisional round en route to a Super Bowl title. In 2004, Pittsburgh posted a 15-1 regular season mark, but the Patriots walked away with the Super Bowl title.

This is a “tradition,” if you will, that goes back a long way. Many Steelers’ fans regard their 1976 team as the best in franchise history. That year Pittsburgh rolled into the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak in which the defense posted six shutouts and allowed an average of three--that’s right, three!--points per game. Yet, a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance proved to be elusive.

Of course, some will argue that this Patriots’ offense is so good that it makes New England unstoppable. Not so fast. Recall that the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (led by then-rookie Randy Moss) hold the record for most points (556) scored in a season, yet that team bowed out of the playoffs in its first playoff game. And it goes without saying that a major injury to Brady or several of New England’s key receivers could dramatically compromise the team’s effectiveness on offense.

While it might seem counterintuitive, New England’s chances of winning a Super Bowl would be greatly enhanced if it lost a game … and better sooner rather than later. (Preferably the loss shouldn't come against Indy, however, as that could have implications for home field advantage). Teams that are undefeated as late as December have to contend with additional scrutiny and media attention, neither of which is conducive to winning a championship. Plus, a loss would remind New England that it is not invincible.

Let’s assume for a second that the Patriots are 16-0 heading into the playoffs. What happens if New England falls behind early in its first playoff game? Will the team play “tight” knowing that an undefeated season could all be for naught? Will playoff opponents play like they have nothing to lose, since everyone will be expecting the Pats to romp?

That’s why the best thing that could happen to the Patriots is a loss. Recall that the 1984 San Francisco 49ers finished 18-1 en route to a Super Bowl title. One might argue that the key game was a Week 7 home loss to the Steelers, which took the undefeated season option off the table and enabled a much smoother ride to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots’ players can’t play to lose, but that shouldn’t stop New England fans from rooting for a single defeat.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I generally agree that history does not favor the early NFL front-runner, the Pats appears so incredibly dominant right now in every phase of the game that they may break the mold. Brady's on track to throw 60+ TDs. No one would have ever thought that possible until now.

5:32 PM  

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