Can The New England Patriots Actually Go Undefeated?


The rumblings began about a month back and they’ve grown steadily every week since. Does this New England Patriots team actually have a legitimate shot at going undefeated and completing the first 19-0 season in NFL history? Halfway through the year, it’s probably too early to even consider this scenario. The Bengals and Panthers are still undefeated after all and no one’s expecting them to stay that way.

But these are the Patriots we’re talking about. They’ve sniffed perfection before and look dominant through their first eight games, outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 17 points. With a favorable schedule the rest of way, it’s becoming pretty tough to resist at least the consideration that running the table is a real possibility.

Five of Pats’ final eight games are on the road, including this Sunday when they face the Giants. New York has handed New England the two most devastating losses of the Brady/Belichick era. We all remember Eli’s great escape, David Tyree’s helmet, and 18-1, as well as the nearly-as-shocking defeat in the Super Bowl rematch. I don’t care that it’s been a few years, or that the Patriots have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy since. A matchup with the Giants still brings up bad memories and inspires a particular thirst for obliteration throughout New England.

New York is a solid team this season, 5-4 after a few bad breaks late in games. They could give the Patriots a much tougher time than the Dolphins and Redskins have the past couple weeks, but I don’t expect them to be the team to knock New England off. The Giants strength has been takeaways. They’re currently tied for the league lead with 20.

No one has taken care of the ball better than the Pats, however. They’ve turned it over an NFL-low 5 times and should be capable of continuing that trend even against New York. While the Giants are tops in forcing turnovers, they’re dead last in sacks, with just 9 on the year. The return of Jason Pierre-Paul may make a difference, but history shows that Tom Brady picks teams apart when given plenty of time to throw. As banged up as New England’s offensive line is, they should be able to get the job done against the league’s most futile pass rush.

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On to the Bills. In a Week 2 rematch, Rex Ryan’s squad comes to Foxborough for a Monday night game on November 23rd. The Patriots are 22-2 against Buffalo dating back to 2003. They put 40 on the Bills the first time they met this year and took a 37-13 lead into the 4th quarter before a late rally led to a 40-32 final. New England will be heavily favored heading into this one and should have no problems taking care of business once again at home.

A short week leads into what is on paper the toughest test remaining on the Patriots’ schedule. They head to Denver to face a Broncos team led not by Peyton Manning, but instead a relentless defensive that’s strong at every position and leads the league with 30 sacks. Before this weekend, Denver too was undefeated, giving up just 16 points per game, but the Colts put 27 on the board and handed them their first defeat on Sunday. Indianapolis ran the ball 28 times with Frank Gore, controlling the clock and neutralizing Denver’s pass rush to some extent. New England could very well try the same approach with LeGarrette Blount.

Manning may still be under center for the Broncos, but the focus of this game won’t be on his individual matchup with Brady. The Patriots’ offense as a whole has been the best in football this season and they’ll be lining up opposite a defense that claims the same distinction. It has all the makings of one of the year’s best showdowns. New England will be up against it going on the road with only six days off between games. As dominant as they’ve been thus far, a win in this one would still be a strong statement. It could also prove critical to the AFC playoff seedings.

Looking beyond at the rest of the schedule, the Patriots’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 17-23. The Eagles come to town in Week 13, followed by a trip to Houston to play the Texans, then back home for a game against Tennessee. The season concludes with two AFC East matchups on the road, against New York and Miami. The Jets loom as the best team of this bunch, and with a 5-3 record right now they may very well be fighting for a playoff spot when they face New England.

It’s tough to anticipate what the Patriots’ approach will be in the closing weeks of the season. At this point they’re still tied with the Bengals at the top of the conference, but let’s say Cincinnati falls back and New England locks up the top seed in Week 15 or so. Do they let off the gas and rest guys the last couple weeks or charge into the postseason with a full head of steam? Last year, having already clinched home-field advantage, Belichick sat Brady for most of final regular season game against the Bills. The Pats lost 17-9 and fell to 12-4, but would they have taken the same approach had they been 15-0 going into that game?

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My guess is if they do reach that position this year, Brady will have Belichick’s blessing to demolish the Dolphins. So much has to go right between now and then of course. This is the NFL, where one bad injury can derail an entire team’s season and crazy upsets happen every week. When you’re talking about perfection, a little bit of luck inevitably comes into play. The Patriots are fully capable of beating everyone remaining on their schedule, but that doesn’t mean that they will. Still, they haven’t been undefeated this late in the year since 2007 and that’s enough to get the conversation started. Eight games down, 11 to go.