Be aggressive late: It's the fourth quarter and you're still in the game. Congratulations. Now the bad news: The Patriots will still beat you. Back when New England won back-to-back Super Bowls and 21 straight games, there were few blowouts of the kind we've seen this season. The hallmark of the Brady-and-Belichick-era Pats is the knack for making key plays in the fourth quarter. This team has that trait, too: a third-down pass killed the game against Philly, and the Pats got innumerable late offensive conversions and defensive stops against the Ravens. (Forget the Sturm und Drang over the refs: Baltimore still had chance after chance to win.) While it's best to stick to the "keep it simple" mantra for the first three quarters, it's vital not to get conservative if you hold a late lead. The Ravens had several opportunities to ice the game and weren't aggressive or creative enough with their play-calling to get it done.
Pray for rain (and wind): Unlike previous Pats teams, this one isn't built for slogging through the muck. Considering that opposing teams play them to pass first, second, and last, New England doesn't run it particularly well. It's almost as though the Pats have switched roles with longtime bête noireIndianapolis—now it's New England that's reliant on throwing the ball and having good conditions under which to do it. The more the wind howls and the rain slicks up the balls, the more likely it is that Brady will lose his uncanny accuracy.
And that's it—an easy eight-point plan. That shouldn't be so difficult, right?
Can any team pull it off? The Steelers clearly have the best shot in the regular season. Miami and the Jets simply don't have the players. A Giants team at full strength might have a chance, but they are injury-riddled right now. Besides, the thought of Eli Manning taking down Tom Terrific with history on the line is difficult to fathom.
That leaves the playoffs. As a devout Pats hater, I could live with a 16-0 season that ends with a postseason defeat—indeed, I find the thought delicious. New England could have to survive rematches with three out of the NFL's other four best teams: San Diego, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Dallas. Of these teams, Dallas is best equipped to end New England's tyranny, with its gigantic offensive line and improving defense. But unlike Anthony Smith, I won't be making any guarantees.