Super Bowl Notes, Prop Bets and The MasturDeflator

brady

A quick note before I dive into my column: If you really want to read my thoughts on the deflated football confusion going on with the Patriots, please scroll all the way to the bottom of this post. I’m not going to dignify the ridiculousness of that story by leading with it. I’ve never had more people reach out to me begging for a blog than over the last few days with this non-story, so that’s the only reason I’m even mentioning it at all. I suspect that when the dust settles around this and the Patriots aren’t punished even one penny, all of you fools will think to yourselves, “Wow, we just wasted a week of our lives FREAKING OUT over whether the Patriots purposely made some footballs just a tiny bit softer.” And you’ll all feel pretty stupid, but none of you will admit it. You’ll just fall back on your irrational hatred for New England’s continued success. The funniest part about all this is that almost the entire football world, past players and present, has voiced its opinions that A) This really isn’t a big deal because in no way does it give a team an unfair advantage, and B) They have all doctored the balls themselves or have been with other players who have done so. Like I said, scroll to the bottom if you want more on this.

 On To Seattle

There’s this game that’s going to be played in just 10 days. It’s called the Super Bowl. The two best teams in the NFL are facing off to decide the league’s champion. Do you guys wanna talk about that at all? Or should we switch gears from deflated footballs to Seattle’s illegal six-man formation on the game-changing onside kick from the NFC Championship?

OK, I’ll decide for you. The Super Bowl it is.

So the Patriots and Seahawks come into this game having split 16 games against one another in their history. Wow. So on top of it being the Super Bowl, we also have the rubber match in this long, storied rivalry? Too much!

While the current coaches and players had nothing to do with most of those games, there is a regular season matchup between these two teams from week six of the 2012 season that can teach us a few things. I went back and watched the highlights and read through the game story so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Russell Wilson was a rookie quarterback who was already putting together a nice little resume.
  • Seattle’s 24-23 win at home against New England would get them off to a 4-2 start while the Patriots would fall to 3-3.
  • The problem is that one of those wins for Seattle was the Fail Mary game where they “beat” Green Bay on a botched game-ending catch/interception call by the replacement referees in week 3 (the NFL Network person doing the highlights in that link above makes sure to tell us that Golden Tate’s 4th quarter catch against the Patriots was not a controversial catch).
  • Tom Brady threw the ball 58 times, the Patriots racked up 85 total plays and held the ball for 36 minutes. But Brady threw two back-breaking interceptions on Seattle’s side of the field to take sure-thing points off the board.
  • There was also some end-of-1st-half mismanagement by New England that cost them three points. They tried to throw one more time with six seconds left (setting up for a field goal if they didn’t get a touchdown), but Brady was flagged for intentional grounding and the 10-second runoff ended the half. So even 27 months ago, Brady was starting to throw stupid interceptions at the wrong time and the Patriots were becoming sketchy in clock management situations at the end of the 2nd quarter.
  • Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker were Brady’s top receivers in this game.
  • Sidney Rice and Braylon Edwards each caught a touchdown for Seattle.
  • The Patriots held Marshawn Lynch to 41 rushing yards somehow.
  • The legend of Wilson gained momentum when he led Seattle back from a 13-point 4th quarter deficit to knock off a Super Bowl contender.
  • Rice’s game-winning 46-yard touchdown catch came with Patriots defenders Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson giving chase. This is potentially the biggest change since these two teams last met. While Ebner and Wilson are still on New England’s roster, they play sparingly and will not be responsible for covering Seattle’s top receivers with the game on the line next Sunday.
  • Of all the changes that have happened to both teams since this game, New England’s improved secondary is the X factor.
  • What hasn’t changed much is that New England entered that 2012 game with the league’s top offense and Seattle came into it with the best defense in the NFL. We’re still going to see that exact matchup at the Super Bowl. One of the most efficient offenses versus the best defense.

I’m fully expecting the Super Bowl to be similarly close as that 2012 matchup. And what’s really encouraging is that both teams seem to be healthy. Brian Stork, the Patriots’ rookie center, returned to practice on Thursday, and the banged up guys in Seattle (Sherman, Thomas) are seemingly on track to play. That’s all we can ask for. All hands on deck.

I’m still a long ways off from making my official predictions and handing out prop bet winners, but if I was forced to pick right now, I’d be going with the Patriots. The line is New England -2.

Considering I’m a Patriots fan and will probably find a reason to pick them no matter what, I’ll try to get the one Seattle fan I know to chime in with his justification for picking his team, just so my readers have contrasting takes on this game.

This really is going to be an outstanding football game. It just sucks that we have to wait another 10 days.

For now I’ll leave you with just a few prop bet notes that caught my eye so far:

  1. If you want to see just how crazy betting websites get when it comes to Super Bowl props, check out Bovada’s special props page: HERE. We’re talking bets like “Which coach will be mentioned first by name on TV after kickoff” and “What color will Katy Perry’s hair be when she begins the halftime show”.
  2. Actually, here’s the craziest one I’ve ever seen, and it’s live right now: “What will be higher – Russell Wilson Passing Yards or the US National Average Gas Price (in cents) on Monday, February 2nd?” Seriously. You can bet on that.
  3. One piece of advice that a wise gambling friend of mine always adheres to is this: If a bet on Bovada has the fine print of “Book Manager’s decision is final,” DO NOT WAGER ON THAT PROP. This is because those particular bets are subjective. They aren’t things that the boxscore or play on the field will tell you. Some guy gets to decide. For example, a current prop bet out there on Bovada states, “Will Bill Belichick smile during the game on camera?” Are you really going to make that bet and put your money in the hands of someone whose best interest is having the Bovada site win more money? You’re going to be pissed when you think you’ve seen a smile but they determine it was “only a smirk.”
  4. And finally, here is something I’ve never EVER seen in all my years of online gambling. In every prop that involves either both coaches or just Belichick, there is fine print that says, “Belichick must be coaching in the game.” That means if Belichick isn’t coaching, the bet is off and you get your money back. I have never seen a casino have to hedge by saying “only if the coach is coaching.” I guess they’re waiting to see if he gets suspended?

And that’s a perfect segue for my final thoughts about the accidental under-inflation of the footballs in New England.

So I’ve already established that this air-in-the-football thing is a lot of panicking about nothing. Every quarterback and kicker wants the football to be a certain way. It sounds like the majority of quarterbacks, current and former, do what they need to do to feel comfortable gripping the ball without giving a single thought to the NFL’s exact rules.

I have plenty of friends who aren’t New England fans, and in fact, hate the Patriots. What’s most telling to me over the last few days is that not one of them has come out of the woodwork to throw jabs at me about the Patriots or their cheating ways. Interestingly enough, none of them are Colts fans, Ravens fans or Jets fans. This is very telling. It seems like the people making a huge stink over all this are the fans of teams that the Patriots have consistently beaten each and every year for the past 14 years.

I get it. I’d do the same thing. But unfortunately for a completely innocent man like Bill Belichick, this forces him to be a “defendant” in a case where he hasn’t been charged with anything.

It’s also complete and utter bullshit that 53 players who have worked their asses off all year to get to this point are being dismissed in favor of “the Patriots only won because they cheated.” Picture yourself in that situation. You work harder and compete better than every opponent you face for a full year and then some jealous assholes chalk up your success to a cheating scandal that isn’t even a cheating scandal.

But let’s take a look at this story from a different angle before I retire these thoughts for good:

For the 14th consecutive season, there is a two-week break in the NFL’s schedule between Conference Championship Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday. And for the 14th consecutive season, the lead-up to the big game will be excruciating. It’s especially bad in the Twitter era where all media types, TV personalities and bloggers need something to talk about 24 hours a day.

This also happens to be the time of year where the NBA, NHL, and most importantly, college basketball are all hitting their late-season strides and fans start to really care.

Do you think the NFL wants to be relegated to third or fourth priority in the news cycles for the next five or six days? No way. They are a machine. And they stop at nothing to lead the sporting news daily.

So tell me…knowing the integrity of the NFL’s decision-makers and that money makes every decision for them, would you really put it past them to use a harmless inquiry by a team on ball inflation rules as a lightning rod for a huge controversy?

I’ve heard anecdotally in the past about lots of different requests/petitions/inquiries every team sends to the league office after certain games. (“We don’t think [fill in the blank] should be allowed and would like to see it addressed by the rules committee.”)

This ball deflation issue probably started out the same way. But what does the NFL want? Headlines! Controversy! A better reason to watch the Super Bowl! A villain everyone can root against!

And, boy, was that ever easy. Just leak out enough information that Indy doesn’t think the Patriots’ win was on the up & up, and boom, you have your scandal.

The NFL has literally said nothing about this investigation for close to 100 hours. Don’t you think if they wanted it to go away they would have come out with more information, assigned blame to someone, or handed down their punishment for those responsible? You don’t accidentally let a topic like this sit out there unattended unless you want it to.

Remember the Ray Lewis Deer Antler Spray in the weeks leading up to Baltimore vs San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII? That’s what this is all over again. Some stupid nugget of information that shouldn’t be at all scandalous or newsworthy but suddenly is because the timing of when it first came up (and, let’s face it, because everyone wants to peg the Patriots as true cheaters because their teams almost never win against them).

And I think New England should do the same thing Ray Lewis did leading up to the Super Bowl (twice, actually. He also had the murder allegations swirling around him at the Super Bowl in 2001). Say nothing. Give it no attention. Don’t answer questions about it. You only know about the Seattle Seahawks because that’s all you’re focusing on/thinking about this week.

And when the NFL decides that the Super Bowl is close enough for people to be talking a lot about the actual game, they will quietly rule that no one in the Patriots organization was found of any wrongdoing, but they will be overhauling the procedures around how the footballs are handled in the hours leading up to each game going forward.

If you know the NFL at all, you know this is exactly what they wanted and what I just said is exactly how it’s going to play out.

This Patriots fan will not be dragged into another discussion about something as bogus as air pressure inside a fucking football.

End of story.

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Hey, NFL, Welcome Back! …A Preseason Primer

nfl training cmap

We typically use the word addiction only in the context of a harmful substance like alcohol, drugs, nicotine and porn. But when I arranged my entire weekend around being in front of a TV for the NFL’s Hall of Fame game this past Sunday, I started to wonder if football addiction could be a real thing.

Meriam-Webster defines addiction as the “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

I would certainly say my love of all things NFL is an ongoing and irresistible urge, but do I know it’s harmful? Is it harmful?

Let’s see. With the way I watch football, there is usually a healthy decrease in my work productivity and the quality of my social life. Gambling losses are almost always part of football season for me (not to mention losing money on fantasy leagues, pick ’em leagues, suicide pools and more). Anger, sometimes taken out on a remote control, laptop or a wall, is consistent with my NFL viewing. There’s no situation where my fiancee rolls her eyes and storms into the other room more often than when I refuse to give up the good TV because football’s on. Sure, let’s go with harmful.

To put it another way, if instead of watching and reading about football these past 15 years, I had spent all that time studying medicine, I’m 100% sure I would have cured…[checks the internet for the latest “in” disease]…Ebola!

But, hey, if you’re going to have an addiction, probably better that it’s an addiction to watching football than doing heroin, crack or child pornography, right?

And why does this football obsession have to be so harmful anyway? I’ll have you know not only did I watch every snap of that riveting preseason game between the Bills and Giants, but I also placed a bet on it, and came away with my first gambling win of the 2014 season.

If nothing more, that Hall of Fame game at least launches us into the part of the NFL calendar where we might finally start reading on-field news. Even though the league does a great job dominating the headlines during the offseason, I get pretty sick of days like these (captured from espn.com’s headlines in early July):

nfl headlines

Concussions, stolen championship ring, accused murderer transferring jails, interventions through the media, contract dispute, same person on the receiving end of that intervention charged with DWI, 3rd overall pick from 2013 Draft suspended, lesser-known wide receiver banned at least one year, random offensive lineman suspended four games…and some story about a Redskins blogger hired to defend the Redskin name quitting (sorry, didn’t know how to be more concise on that one).

That’s a fuckload of bad news. Free agency and the Draft is always a fun time, but the June/July lull is killer.

And that’s why late July was so exciting…training camps officially arrived.  Suddenly we got the real football headlines. Let’s see there were…ACL tears, Achilles ruptures, Lisfranc injuries, guys getting suspended a full year for being stupid with pot while other guys get suspended two games for committing an actual crime…there was the daily report on how many squares of toilet paper Johnny Manziel used to wipe his ass, and of course we had those ground-breaking sound bytes about how every single player in the league came into camp this year in the best shape of his life.

But finally, FINALLY, the calendar turned to August and actual football has taken over. August marks the time where I transition from just dipping my toe in the water of football preparation to going in hard with a cannonball from a 20-foot diving board. It’s go time!

Let’s celebrate the official “LESS THAN ONE MONTH TIL OPENING NIGHT” milestone by running through some random thoughts about the upcoming season, shall we?

  1. I just want to begin by thanking DirecTV for giving its subscribers a special sort of “kickoff” to the NFL season in the form of the June 10th email reminder that they will begin taking an additional $40 from us for the next six months. I believe what DirecTV does to me every year with this NFL Package is the exact definition of “holding someone hostage.” But it’s still the best $240 I spend each year.
  2. I looked back on the past 20 years of the Hall of Fame game. Turns out neither team that plays in that opening preseason game has gone on to win the Super Bowl in that same year. Sorry Giants and Bills, you’re out.
  3. I’ve never been to any of the sports Hall of Fames, but the NFL totally has me by the balls. I am in on the whole Hall of Fame induction weekend whichever year Tom Brady gets in. Cost won’t be a consideration.
  4. If the NFL permanently moves the extra point attempt from a 19-yard try to a 32-yarder, what are we expecting to happen? The success rate drops from 99.5% to 98.5%? Sure, let’s spend more time thinking about that rule change though.
  5. Michele Tafoya told us during Sunday night’s broadcast that the refs are now equipped with wireless mics in order to better communicate with one another during the game and get the calls right. Sorry, not buying it. The quality of NFL refereeing has tanked big time over the past few years. In fact, I’m willing to bet all my winnings from Sunday’s game on there being a Twitter-exploding referee debacle at some point this season. In 2012 we got the fake hail mary in Seattle that royally screwed Green Bay out of a #2 seed in the playoffs. Last year it was the amazingly inept Clete Blakeman crew that singlehandedly boned the Patriots out of the #1 seed with the picked up flag on an obvious penalty in the final seconds of New England’s loss at Carolina. What will it be this year? My fingers are always crossed that the Super Bowl is decided on a blown call so that the NFL will finally review the state of officiating and do something about this obvious problem.
  6. The truth is the refs might not even be the ones to blame. They’re just trying to figure out the NFL’s mind-boggling rules like we are. Breathing heavily on the quarterback’s helmet is a big penalty. A defender who attempts to hit the ball carrier in the shoulder but then has the unfortunate luck of that ball carrier lowering his head—resulting in a helmet-to-helmet hit—gets slapped with a penalty & fine. It seems offensive pass interference no longer exists. Securing a catch may involve making a “football move” but don’t forget to keep the ball secure while you fall to the ground, but if the ball touches the ground and doesn’t move, it’s OK, but if the ball moves even slightly when it hits the ground, no catch. Nothing confusing going on here.
  7. Let’s go a little broader for a minute here…I tend to constantly write about the NFC vs AFC discrepancy (no doubt you’ll be seeing lots of this from me throughout the year), and it’s a very real thing. According to Bovada’s Super Bowl odds, eight of the nine worst teams in the NFL are from the AFC. To put it another way: The NFC’s second worst team would have a good chance of making the AFC playoffs.
  8. Peter King from theMMQB.com has the top four teams in the NFL all coming from the NFC. He also has two teams you don’t associate with being a contender, Arizona and St. Louis, ranked higher than the 4th best AFC team (San Diego, by the way).
  9. If the NFL had the same level of yawn-inducing predictability as the NBA, we’d be in for a pretty disappointing season in the AFC. It seems like it would take a borderline miracle for the Broncos, Patriots and Colts not to take the top three seeds in some order.
  10. The next tier down from those three just doesn’t stack up…San Diego and the entire AFC North, I guess is what makes up that second tier.
  11. Thankfully the NFL is chaotic and unstable. I’m guessing we’ll see some surprises in the boring AFC.
  12. Over in the NFC, there’s some real intrigue among the perceived elite: Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Green Bay and (possibly) Chicago. I can see any of those teams getting the #1 seed or the #5 seed, or possibly missing the playoffs all together.
  13. I’m going to wait until we’ve gotten through the first three preseason games to get deep into my predictions for division winners, playoff seedings and Super Bowl matchup, but right now I’m leaning towards the Saints earning the NFC’s top seed. They’ve got a top QB and coach combination. Their defense improved greatly last year and added some key pieces in the offseason. They can’t possibly be as bad on the road as they were in 2013. And they don’t have to play in the NFC West, which is a HUGE advantage over expected juggernaut and defending Super Bowl Champ Seattle.
  14. As for my totally random, not at all statistically-driven, call it a hunch prediction for who will win the Super Bowl this year: The Philadelphia Eagles. Seriously, I have no idea why I think this, but I always put my money where my mouth is. I have a betting slip in my wallet from the Aria in Vegas where I’m getting 12-to-1 odds on Philly winning it all.
  15. Problem is…I made that bet in March, when Desean Jackson was still on the team. Their current odds according to Bovada? 25-to-1. I apparently got robbed.
  16. Back to the AFC side of things…I’m trying my hardest not to predict the Patriots to go 16-0. If they had as easy of a schedule this year as they have the past few years, I’d probably go for it. The defense could be incredible (possibly seven or eight first rounders starting by midseason) while the offense will somehow reach their usual “top 5” status (amazingly, last year they ranked 3rd in points per game, but you probably just remember how awful the receivers were, how bad Stevan Ridley was holding onto the ball, and how Tom Brady set career worsts in several categories, including “amount of times staring daggers through his overmatched receivers). As a New England fan, I’m back to being my overly optimistic and giddy self.
  17. Gun to my head without doing all my research, if I have to pick five teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs to make this year’s playoffs (there are always five), I’d go with Chicago, Washington,  Houston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. That will likely change by the time I release my full 2014 predictions in a couple weeks.

That’ll do it for my broad preseason primer. Stay tuned later this week for an article breaking down Preseason “speak” and mythology. Then starting next week we’ll go division by division and look at the most important questions heading into the season. And finally, a couple weeks out, it’ll be time to lock in each team’s win total for the year along with the usual predictions for Super Bowl winner and individual awards.

Football’s Back!

Laying Out the Blog’s Grand Football Season Plans (And 10 Reasons the Patriots are Guaranteed a Spot in the Super Bowl)

Every August the same thing goes through my head as I get ready for the NFL season to begin: What else can I sign up for to further commit myself—financially and emotionally—to obsessing over football? It was only six or seven years ago that fantasy football was the only game/pool/gambling I was involved in when it came to following football. Then I added a “survivor” pool; then I did weekly picks against one person for $20 a week (somehow he won a car  off me in November 2005 just for winning a single week); then I joined a weekly pick ’em league with about 20 other guys; then I setup an account with an online gambling website to bet on individual games. And because that wasn’t enough, last year I tried to convince four other guys to buy into a $1,500 season-long pick ’em league through the Las Vegas Hilton with me (a pool that includes Las Vegas’s most notorious sports gambling professionals…a good idea for us to join obviously…fortunately my friends didn’t go for it). Two days ago I sent an email out to a couple friends asking if there were any pools or games they knew of that I could get in on.

What is it about football that gets me worked into such an irrational frenzy? I’m actually not going to bother trying to answer that question in this post. Is there even a simple answer as to why football is the greatest form of entertainment that exists in the world? We all have our reasons…and if you’re reading this, shaking your head and saying, “Football? The greatest? I don’t even understand the rules…why do they get four tries every time they get the ball?”…then there’s probably going to be a lot of blog posts over the next six months that just aren’t for you.

But for those of you who are as obsessed with the NFL as me, get ready for lots of WBFF football content over the coming months. Starting next week, I’ll be playing a game with everyone’s favorite guest blogger, Nkilla, where we argue about the total number of wins each NFL team is going to get this year. We’ll split it up into an NFC post and an AFC post, and then right before the regular season opener we’ll go through our projected playoff teams, Super Bowl winner and individual regular season awards winners.

You might wonder why the WBFF blog is trying to tackle (first football-related pun of the year!!) a topic that is exhaustively covered already by actual sports writers. That’s easy: because I’m funnier than them, I’m more knowledgeable about the NFL than them, and I’m more unemployed than them (meaning I’ll gladly waste an entire day scanning through the TV broadcasts of 16 different football games trying to count how many times all the commentators said the word “penetration” that particular week. Those are the type of stats you can expect from me that no one else will be discussing).

On a weekly basis during the NFL season, you can expect me to make predictions for each upcoming game, criticize any broadcaster, analyst or pre-game show host who dares make a mistake, give plenty of fantasy analysis (trying my hardest never to tell you stories about how badly my team got screwed since everyone hates other peoples’ fantasy football stories), and anything else that seems entertaining.

My calendar is clear for every game of the season (my calendar is actually clear from now to eternity as it turns out), and I’ve already bought my girlfriend a dog way sooner than she was expecting to get one so that she’ll have something to occupy her time for 12 hours each Sunday (and for three hours every Monday and Thursday).

In case you’re not convinced yet, just know that nobody on this planet is more committed than me to dissecting the 2012 NFL season.

Having said all that, let’s quickly get some thoughts on the Patriots out of the way now. I promise to give equal amounts of blog space to the other 31 teams over the course of the season (unless the Pats’ offense starts putting up record-breaking 2007-like numbers on offense, then I’m scrapping all other ideas to focus solely on how great they are).

I realize I’m not exactly going out on a limb saying that the Patriots are an absolute lock for getting to the Super Bowl. After all, they’re the odds-on favorite to win the AFC, and they’re tied with Green Bay as the favorite to win it all (according to Bovada’s sports betting website). But something funny happened in April that made me think sports fans outside of New England aren’t respecting this team as much as they should. Even though the Patriots had just come off consecutive years of winning 13 or more games in the regular season (and getting all the way to the Super Bowl in the most recent playoffs), a friend of mine from New York tried to discredit the entire 2011 Patriots season by simply saying, “they didn’t beat a team with a winning record until the AFC Championship Game.” I thought at first this was an isolated incident and chalked it up to jealousy…this guy is a fan of a San Francisco 49ers franchise that hadn’t been relevant in about 14 years prior to their overachieving 2011 season. But as that night wore on, more people started to agree with him that the Patriots weren’t very good in 2011; they were just lucky that they never had to play a decent team.

Whatever. Patriots fans have been dealing with jealous dumbass detractors for 11 years now. But in case you really believe the Patriots were overrated last year and won’t do shit this year, here are the top 10 reasons (out of something like 75 total reasons) the Patriots are a lock for a spot in Super Bowl XLVII:

10). Bill Belichick seems to finally have realized what we all realized three years ago: that Tom Brady isn’t gonna be around forever so stop constantly trading away draft picks for additional future draft picks and just load up on the immediate talent. Instead of trading first round picks for a boatload of future first, second and third round picks, Belichick actually traded up into a better first round position twice this year to get his guys: Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower (both play defense, where clearly the team needs the most help). He knows now is the time for another “three Super Bowls in four years” run.

9). We’ve never gotten to see Tom Brady play in a regular season immediately following a Super Bowl loss. How pissed off is he? How motivated is he? He’s now lost in the Super Bowl twice to Peyton’s dorky little brother. I can’t help but think he’s gonna be on a mission this year (I know, I know, when is he not on a mission?).

8). Another Brady motivator: He won his third Super Bowl in 2005, and only now does he finally have a couple guys nipping at his heels for most Championships among active Quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger). A fourth Super Bowl victory for Brady would pretty much assure that no current QB ever passes him (and would solidify his spot atop the all-time QB list).

7). As if the Patriots offense, which finished 2011 as the second-ranked passing offense and third-ranked overall offense in the league, needed any more help…they added a legit deep threat in Brandon Lloyd and get an even-more-experienced Tight End tandem that’s unmatched in football. Oh, and Wes Welker is playing for a contract (aka pissed off at the Patriots for not giving him a long term deal), which should mean about 150 catches over the course of 16 games. Is 40 points per game realistic for this team?

6). Have you seen the rest of the AFC this year? The weakest its been in a very long time. Outside of New England, the next best contenders are the Ravens, Texans, Broncos and Steelers, probably in that order. You could make the argument that the Ravens and Steelers are both due for a letdown because of their aging defenses and a brutal AFC North division where they’ll beat up on each other and have to deal with frisky Cincinnati and Cleveland teams. The Texans have Matt Schaub at QB, who’s never won anything significant, and their second-best offensive player, Andre Johnson, is one of the least durable Wide Receivers in the league. And finally, Denver has Peyton Manning, coming off three neck surgeries and no competitive football for about 20 months.

5). Because it’s been 15 months since a Boston team won a professional Championship…way too long in my opinion. And let’s go ahead and assume the Red Sox aren’t pulling off the most miraculous resurrection in sports history this year. We’re dying for that next title.

4). A young, healthy defense means the Patriots could be ranked in the top 10 defensively for the first time since 2008 (compared to 2011 where they were ranked 31st and 2010 where they came in at 25th). We all know about the rookies expected to make an immediate contribution, but the Patriots will also get a healthy Brandon Spikes, Ras I-Dowling, Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung. Those four, all projected starters last year, missed a combined 32 games. If we never see Julian Edelman lining up on defense this year, it means the Patriots will definitely be a top 15 defense, if not a top 10.

3). Did I already mention the other top contenders in the AFC?

2). Their schedule. If people bitched about the Pats not beating any good teams last year, wait until they see the schedule for 2012. They have the easiest strength of schedule in the entire league, playing only four teams that had a winning record last season. They get six games against the AFC East: they won’t lose to a terrible Dolphins team, they’re gonna be pissed off that Buffalo beat them once last year so they’re not losing to the Bills, and the Jets are gonna be so busy dealing with the Sanchez/Tebow platooning at QB I doubt they even get to seven wins this year. The NFC division the Patriots get to play is the West…the 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams. The one “decent” team from that division, San Francisco, plays in Foxboro, where the Patriots don’t lose games.

1). Do you realize that the Belichick-era Patriots are two plays short of having a Quarterback with five Super Bowl wins and a head coach with 7 Super Bowl wins? I realize plenty of teams could say they were “one play away” from some significant achievement, but if the Patriots just make an average defensive play towards the end of each of their last two Championship appearances, there’s no argument that Belichick and Brady are the greatest ever at each of their positions. No other team in the NFL can compete with that resume.