By Jim Churchill
Never before has the path to a Super Bowl for the New England Patriots been paved as smoothly as the one to Houston in 2017.
You can never sneeze at 14-2. It is a long season in a physical game and the Patriots managed the regular season as well as anyone. They went 8-0 on the road.
New England has built the best organization in the NFL and one of the best in sports from top to bottom. No team was better suited to overcome the loss of their best player (who just happens to play the most important position in sports) for four games. The Pats also lost the best tight end in the game when Rob Gronkowski went on injured reserve with a back injury for the home stretch and the postseason.
So there were a few bumps in the road, but overall things have broken swimmingly for the Pats since the Deflategate conclusion was reached. Consider this:
– The Patriots played the weakest schedule in a league that even Roger Goodell has to feel is down. In fairness, it IS true. You can only play the schedule in front of you.
– As part of that weak schedule, the Pats played some of the worst offenses in the league. 12 of New England’s games were against teams with offenses in the bottom half of the league. And they played six games against five of the six worst offenses in the NFL (Rams, Browns, Jets, Texans and 49ers).
– Remember when people were thinking the Pats would be 0-1 after the opener against the Cardinals? Well, it turns out Arizona was pretty bad.
– When the Pats played on a short week without Tom Brady (week 3 v. Houston), they played in Foxboro.
– When Tom Brady came off his four-game suspension who was waiting for him? The Cleveland Browns.
– When the Patriots traveled to Pittsburgh for a game against the vaunted Steelers, Big Ben Roethlisberger was out with an injury.
– How many “proven” quarterbacks did the Patriots go up against this season? Two? Russell Wilson (loss) and Joe Flacco (win). Both games were in Foxboro.
– A couple of New England’s “better wins” were against Baltimore and Denver down the stretch. Congratulations. Neither made the playoffs.
– As the beneficiaries of the cushy regular season, the Pats parlayed it into a #1 seed and home field throughout the AFC postseason.
– Despite the Gronk injury, the Patriots have had a pretty healthy campaign and are looking to have everyone else rested and ready for the Texans.
Maybe the football gods are as interested as we are to see the Commish be forced to hand the trophy to Kraft, Belichick and Brady!
All this being said, the Patriots are now one of the 8 best teams in the league. They WILL be one of the four left standing and New England should be one of two in SB51. If they make it that far, and get past the Steelers or Chiefs at home in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots will have earned it. If they tee it off against the Packers or Cowboys in the Super Bowl, it will be the Pats toughest challenge of the season. As it should be.
The College Game
The best game of the football postseason may happen tonight. A rematch between Alabama and Clemson is on tap in the College Football National Championship game. I am not a fan of either program, but in a case of the lesser of two evils I will be pulling for the Tigers. And I like them in the game as well.
Prediction: Clemson 27 Alabama 23
Jim Churchill is the host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.