Is New England's mission impossible?

10/4/2007 - NFL

In demolishing their first four opponents, the New England Patriots have sent a message to the rest of the league that they will be very tough to beat this season. But just how tough? Can the 2007 Pats become the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to make it through the regular season unscathed? Matt Mosley certainly thinks so, but Mike Sando disagrees.

Mosley: Why Patriots will go 16-0

The biggest downside to Spygate for the rest of the NFL is that it gave the Patriots even more of a bunker mentality. While we sat around sharing a few laughs about coach Bill Belichick and the young Italian filmmaker, Estrella, the Patriots were vowing to teach the rest of the league a lesson.

Belichick, the most morose man in sports, may scoff at any talk of a perfect season, but if this team makes it to 8-0, I can assure you his players will start thinking about it.

In my mind, this roster has more talent top to bottom than any of the three teams that won Super Bowls earlier this decade.

And the scary thing is that safety Rodney Harrison, defensive end Richard Seymour and receivers Troy Brown and Chad Jackson are all set to return soon.

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• Scouts Inc. analyzes the "perfect" potential of each of the remaining 4-0 teams. StoryInsider

• Jeremy Green discusses the art of chasing perfection.

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I keep hearing about this brutal schedule the Patriots have, but playing the hapless Dolphins twice, hosting the Jets and traveling to Buffalo shouldn't scare anyone.

This week, the Patriots will host an improving Browns team before heading to Dallas for a possible Super Bowl preview that will feature two of the league's most prolific quarterbacks.

The Patriots could easily be 8-0 when they arrive in Indianapolis on Nov. 4. Right now, no one in the league is close to these two teams.

If the Patriots beat the Colts, then it's truly time to start talking about a perfect season. They'll go into their bye week with a 9-0 record. If they can get to 12-0 by beating the Ravens in Baltimore, they can look forward to three of their final four games being at home.

OK, I've convinced myself. The '72 Dolphins are in danger.
-- Matt Mosley

Sando: Why Patriots won't go 16-0

As New England breezes through the early portion of its schedule, we forget that four franchises have reached the Super Bowl since the Patriots last won it all.

The Patriots haven't won a title since Deion Branch, two seasons removed from New England, beat out Terrell Owens, two seasons removed from Philadelphia, for MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXIX. That was 32 months ago.

We watch Tom Brady complete nearly 80 percent of his passes and forget that three other teams are 4-0 this season. The list includes a halfway-decent Indianapolis squad that beat New England en route to Super Bowl glory in February.

In shooting down the admittedly tantalizing notion that 4-0 projects to 16-0 for these impressive Pats, we should not forget a basic truth about the NFL: The more games a team wins, the less incentive the team usually has to finish with a perfect record.

Regular-season outcomes become meaningless once a team has clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Patriots get past Indianapolis in the RCA Dome on Nov. 4, they would need no more than 15 victories to secure home-field advantage.

The Colts' rugged division schedule figures to leave them with a defeat or two, further reducing the importance of a 16-win season.

The Patriots and every other successful NFL operation care about winning championships. If teams cared about regular-season exploits, Marty Schottenheimer might still be standing on San Diego's sideline. The emphasis on postseason success explains why we've seen Jim Sorgi taking snaps for the Colts in December.

Bill Belichick has played the Patriots' starters late in the season, but usually there was playoff positioning at stake.

The 2003 Patriots won their final five games to finish 14-2, one game ahead of Kansas City in the AFC. Indianapolis and Tennessee were right behind at 12-4. That was a tight race.

The 2004 Patriots also won 14 games, but Pittsburgh defeated New England on its way to 15-1. New England had plenty of urgency to win every game that season, but the Patriots still suffered a December road loss to Miami. Upsets happen.

The Dolphins are struggling now, but they've beaten the Patriots in December or January for three seasons running. Which only underscores the improbability of New England or any team winning every game, week after week.

Sometimes the other team brings more emotion or a superior game plan. Sometimes blind luck shines upon the other guys. Sometimes a key injury intervenes, as when the Patriots lost Vince Wilfork late last season.

These Patriots are good enough to win every game, no doubt. That doesn't mean they'll do it.
-- Mike Sando