The talk of 19-0 isn’t stupid.
To assume the Patriots will go 19-0? Sure, that’s stupid. But Julian Edelman’s recent quip that talk of a perfect season is nonsense should come as nothing more than an intelligent athlete declining to publicly set historic goals.
The Patriots have three games on their schedule that should strike fans as potential losses right off the bat, one of which is before their bye and two of which are after it. The first is Week 7 against the Falcons at home, then there’s the Week 11 game against the Raiders in Mexico City and their Week 15 meeting with the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Without question, the Patriots are better than the Falcons, Raiders and Steelers. Since defeating two of them last postseason en route to a Super Bowl title, the Pats have made greater offseason improvements than any of them, with all due respect to 34-year-old Marshawn Lynch (made you look).
So, in what isn’t exactly a shocking conclusion in any given year, the Patriots should be the better team in each of what should be an anticipated 19 games this season. They aren’t just the best team in the NFL, but they’re the best team in the NFL by a wide margin.
This isn’t a “could this be the best Patriots team ever?” discussion, as the 2004 Pats will hold that distinction until otherwise is proven. Yet the 2007 team, one that was not perfect in its construction, was 35 seconds away from accomplishing that feat, even if it just barely escaped with victories against two non-playoff teams in the regular season.
But assuming health (which is silly to assume) and no major surprises (which is silly to assume), yes, 19-0 is in play. Of course it is.
In a season that saw a hobbled Rob Gronkowski manage just six starts, the Pats finished with the No. 4 passing offense, No. 4 overall offense and third-most points last season. To that they’ve added Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen (with the loss of Martellus Bennett), Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and something called James O’Shaughnessy.
Confusion awaits the team at cornerback in future seasons, but for this season’s purposes, it’s dandy. Because Stephon Gilmore was signed as an insurance policy for a potential Malcolm Butler departure that has yet to happen, all the team did was upgrade from Logan Ryan to Gilmore. The defense also kept Dont’a Hightower and took a flier on Kony Ealy for next to nothing.
So while 19-0 isn’t mathematically likely, it certainly is plausible. To rule it out is to be no fun, but then there’s the faction of fans who don’t want the Pats to go for a perfect season, which redefines “no fun” altogether.
With a perfect season comes a lot of hype, which is therefore accompanied by pressure not faced by other teams. Perhaps the mental aspect of attempting to run the table can in part explain why a team that starts off perfect eventually crash and burn, as the Chiefs did in 2003 (8-0 to start, 4-3 to end the season followed by a one-and-done in the playoffs), but here’s another explanation for that: It’s always hard for any team to win the Super Bowl.
Where that Chiefs team flamed out, the 2009 Colts (14-0 to start) went to the Super Bowl, losing to a Saints team that started off 13-0 before dropping its last three games. The 1998 Broncos also started 13-0 and won the Super Bowl.
So yes, Super Bowl XLII was like losing the worst game of Jenga ever, but it doesn't mean that the pursuit of a perfect season is some sort of death sentence. Think of it this way: People in Boston lose their minds at the smallest suggestion that Bill Belichick is imperfect, but they don’t believe he could motivate a team to block out its season’s accomplishments as the big games mount?
And on the subject of Belichick, wouldn't you rather the Pats run the risk of going balls to the wall this season if it means potentially holding the distinction of the best NFL season ever? A Super Bowl title next season would tie the Pats with the Steelers with six apiece. But if they win it with a perfect season, there will be no argument of the greatest franchise ever.
Winning the offseason doesn’t matter, but if you do it after you won the postseason, you’re in excellent standing. That’s where the Patriots find themselves, so they should get used to that 19-0 talk. It’s going to be in the back of everyone’s minds until that first loss, if it ever comes.