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Not perfect yet

Although the 2007 season has ended for the majority of the NFL‘s 32 teams, for the New England Patroits the reality is that it is only just starting.

Such is the pressure and weight of expectation when you have just completed only the fourth ‘perfect’ (undefeated and untied) regular season in the 78-year history of the NFL, and the first ever to do so over a 16-game schedule.

The Patriots can certainly present a compelling case for themselves as the NFL’s best-ever team, having won three of the past six Super Bowls in a league which is specifically structured to encourage parity between teams, with its salary cap, its annual draft which gives the poorest teams priority in selecting the best college players, and a system which penalises stronger clubs by giving them tougher schedules the following season. The 2007 Patriots feature the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense, providing the platform for the league’s number one offense, which set a new scoring record with 589 points. Quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss both set new NFL single season marks, with 50 touchdown passes and 23 TD receptions respectively, while Wes Welker snared 112 catches, joint highest for the year. And they have already defeated both the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts (their most likely opponent in the AFC Championship Game) as well as the top-ranked NFC team, the Dallas Cowboys, this season.

(As an aside, things could have been very different for Welker, who had started just three games in the previous three seasons with the Miami Dolphins. While the organisation marked the 35th anniversary of the ‘perfect’ 1972 squad, the current team embarked on a near-imperfect season, losing their first 13 games and avoiding total ignominy only by virtue of an overtime victory against the Baltimore Ravens.)

Of course, the campaign as a whole will only be considered truly perfect if the Patriots go on to win the Super Bowl on February 3rd and be officially crowned as champions of the NFL, which can by no means be taken for granted. Of the three previous teams to boast a 100% record, only one, the ’72 Miami Dolphins, saw the job through to its conclusion. The Chicago Bears twice (1934 and 1942) managed perfect regular seasons, only to come up short in the NFL Championship Game (as it was known in the pre-Super Bowl era).

So it’s no small challenge which faces the Patriots over the next few weeks. Now that the regular season has ended, 16-0 no longer counts for anything. And while winning all 16 games so far has been a phenomenal and unique achievement, the pressure of knowing there are still three all-or-nothing games standing between them and sporting immortality must be suffocating. They’re not perfect yet, and the biggest struggles are yet to come.

For the next week or so, however, the Patriots can still be regarded as perfection-in-waiting. And the eyes of the sporting world will be waiting eagerly for the story to unfold.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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