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History in the Patriots' sights

The Providence Journal, R.I.

September 06. 2017 10:19PM
Tonight the Patriots will reveal their fifth Super Bowl championship banner, placed alongside the previous four, before the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. (USA TODAY Sports)
Chiefs at Patriots
When: Tonight, 8:30 p.m.

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

TV: NBC; Pregame show with banner-raising ceremony begins at 7:30 on NBC.

Tom Brady and the Patriots start their quest for a sixth Super Bowl championship tonight against the Chiefs. (USA TODAY SPORTs)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — A decade ago, the New England Patriots rolled through the NFL for the first undefeated regular season in 35 years.

Are we due for a historic repeat?

That’s the question that’s been floating around the Pats ever since spring rolled into summer. Now we’re on the edge of another kickoff to yet another season and the Patriots are slam-dunk favorites to win the AFC East, the AFC and a sixth Super Bowl title.

When training camp opened in July, Bill Belichick and the Patriots players dismissed any talk of an undefeated season as mere drivel. That’s called deflection. If you haven’t paid much attention over the last 17 years, the Pats could be better at turning aside red herrings like that than ripping through the softball division-rival Bills, Dolphins and Jets.

To review, last season the Patriots lost one game when Tom Brady was eligible to put on the pads. One. That came at home to Seattle, 31-24, on a night where the Seahawks played perfectly and the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to a major chest injury. The Pats finished 11-1 with Brady in the regular season. He later engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in the unforgettable, 34-28 win over the stunned Atlanta Falcons in Houston.

Then, in the offseason, Belichick somehow found a way to run roughshod over his fellow NFL executives. His biggest move came with trading the 32nd and 103rd picks in the draft to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks, a 23-year-old speedster receiver straight out of Tom Brady’s dreams. Add in versatile back Rex Burkhead, shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore and veteran linebacker David Harris and the Patriots appear primed for a championship repeat.

Betting houses across the country certainly think so. SportsBettingDime has the Pats at 5/1 favorites to win Super Bowl LII. The Packers are next at 19/2.

But the question the Patriots will live with until they lose a game this season is if they can win them all. The same tout service has the odds of an NFL team going 16-0 this season at 40/1. Obviously that’s a prop offering designed only to entice New England groupies.

So who can stop the Patriots? The schedule sets up nicely. By any of the assorted preseason measures, the strength of foes in 2017 is fair, at best. First off, the Pats have a 57-7 (89 percent) record at Gillette Stadium over the last eight years, easily the best home-field advantage in the NFL. Even so, the Pats have lost at least one home game in each of the last three seasons. The best candidates to win in Foxboro this time around will be Kansas City on opening night (good luck), Houston and its stingy defense in Week Three and the Falcons in a Super Bowl rematch on Oct. 22.

Things are a bit dicier on the road. Drew Brees (New Orleans) and Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay) are dangerous QBs and the prospect of winning in Denver and Pittsburgh is never easy. The most treacherous “road” game actually comes in Mexico City where waves of Patriots fans are bound to greet the Oakland Raiders.

That 16-0 is even a topic of discussion points out both how loaded the Pats are and the paucity of high-level teams in football these days. The only outfits in the AFC with legitimate Super Bowl hopes outside of New England are Oakland and Pittsburgh. The Raiders just signed quarterback Derek Carr to a $125-million contract and he leads an explosive offense that will rack up wins. The Steelers got disgruntled Le’Veon Bell signed and happy, and need to keep 35-year-old Ben Roethlisberger healthy, but they remain a tough out.


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