All posts by Patrick R. Diggins

Do you trust Jimmy Garoppolo?

“He is going to go 4-0, no question about it.”

“My guess is he will go at least 3-1; all the other games are at home against beatable teams. “

“He will probably break even at 2-2, what more can you ask of a fist time starter?”

“1-3, God I hope not but I wouldn’t be that surprised.”

“If he goes 0-4 we will be lucky to get a bag of footballs for that.”

           With New England’s star quarterback Tom Brady suspended due to the farce known as Deflategate, its seems everybody has an opinion about  the chances of their favorite back up turned four week starting Quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. While some may longingly wish for a more seasoned replacement for Brady, the Patriots head coach seems to trust his drafting skills. Coach Belichick does not usually take a backup quarterback in the 2nd round, in fact former Patriot, Ryan Mallett was previously the highest quarterback chosen by Belichick in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Perhaps it’s the fact that 3-time Super Bowl MVP Quarterback Tom Brady is far closer to the end of his career than the magical beginning which occurred a little over 15 years ago. It could be that Bill saw something in Jimmy while playing in Eastern Illinois which compelled him to leave his comfort zone and seemingly prepare for the heir apparent.  No matter the reason, Jimmy Garoppolo is the chosen individual to lead the 2016 New England Patriots into their first four games.

From a spectators point of view, given the amount of time that Brady’s suspension has been in play, the choice to gamble the first four games (two being division games) on a relative unknown commodity seems a little unusual for a team that prides itself on preparation.  Granted, Tom Brady will be returning in week five’s match up against the Browns but if he walks into a 0-4 deficit, he will have to play near perfect to not only make it to the playoffs but possibly win the AFC East. Garoppolo has almost three pre-seasons under his belt and a few quarters of “garbage time” in the regular season but can all that training and practice really prepare this young man to not only run Bill Belichick’s complicated and vast playbook but also replace the greatest Quarterback to ever put on a pair of shoulder pads?

To put it bluntly, no, Jimmy Garoppolo was never intended to replace Tom Brady, the reason being that no one ever really could.  Tom Brady was a diamond in the rough, which nobody ever expected to turn into the greatest quarterback in the history of football. To look at Garoppolo and expect him to replace a player the caliber of Tom Brady is not only insane but grossly unfair. New England Patriot fans have been spoiled during Brady’s tenure and deservedly so. After years of being the laughing stock of the NFL, Tom Brady took the Patriots to a height that such impressive quarterbacks as Steve Grogan and Drew Bledsoe could only ever hope to do.

Now Jimmy does have a list of positives that instantly create a bit of buzz about him. As a Walter Peyton Award winner and a Division 1-AA Heisman award winner, it’s easy to see that Garoppolo has some raw talent. The big question is what about Jimmy causes need for concern? Garoppolo’s draft analysis made it clear that his decision making isn’t always acute. While playing at Eastern Illinois, Jimmy showed a tendency to throw the ball under pressure to heavily covered receivers. A great pass rush has been known to cause Garoppolo fits and with the Patriot’s uncertainty on the offensive line, New England fans could be in for a long four games. Jimmy has had a few years with the Patriot coaching staff so; it is possible that these tendencies may have receded significantly.

To ask for and expect Jimmy Garoppolo to be the second coming of Brady may be unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean he will be a bust either. Garoppolo has shown that when paired with the New England Patriot’s dominating roster talents such as tight end Rob Gronkowski and slot receiver Julian Edelman, that he is more than capable of taking advantage of their talents. To the joy of fans, who have watched Garoppolo during the first two 2016 pre-season games, he seems to have built a significant rapport with New England’s recently acquired  star tight end, Martellus Bennett, which only increases his potential weapons. Ultimately, Garoppolo has shown that he can in fact chuck the pigskin fairly accurately which may place some fans initial fears of disaster to rest. With the devastating news that last year’s surprise star running back, Dion Lewis will be on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time, and it’s a relief to know that when called upon Jimmy Garoppolo is more than capable of rushing in for a touchdown. Jimmy may not be Tom Brady but much to the reprieve of Patriot fans, he does have some decent legs and offensive weapons that he knows how to take advantage of.

Fans looking for a bit of perspective on the entire Jimmy Garoppolo situation should circle back no further than to Head Coach Bill Belichick. During New England’s 2008 campaign, many thought the loss of Brady to injury would spell the end of the season. Belichick was able to take back up Matt Cassel and make him look like a perfectly competent quarterback, even with a defense that was headed for a steep decline. Had it not been an unusual year, the 11-5 record the 2008 Patriot squad had procured would have been more than enough to get them to the playoffs.

Bill has a proven track record of evaluating players and hates to lose football games. If Belichick honestly feels that Jimmy Garoppolo fits his system well, then the real question isn’t do we trust Jimmy Garoppolo, its do we trust Bill Belichick?

 

Seeing the Forest through the Trees

In the very long aftermath of the never ending joke that has been labeled Deflategate, we finally have a victor, of sorts. The National Football League (more importantly Commissioner Roger Goodell) has triumphed over the New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has denied Brady of a rehearing. Now barring a very small chance of the case being heard by the Supreme Court, this ridiculous sideshow has come to a very unfathomable conclusion for New England football fans.

Last summer, Tom Brady and his legal counsel were able to convincingly expose Deflategate as the sham, which for those who do not have a vendetta against Brady and the New England Patriots could always clearly see. Judge Richard Berman decided to overturn Roger Goodell’s “impartial” ruling as arbitrator in Brady’s appeal of his four game suspension. Tom Brady was allowed to take the field and celebrate his 2014-15 Super Bowl victory with his teammates as they opened the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  As the season progressed, Brady and company went on a 10 game winning streak using the fuel from the Deflategate fiasco to further their goal of winning back to back Super Bowls.

Sadly, due to a virtual cavalcade of injuries towards the end of the season, the 2015-16 Patriots season came to an end in the AFC Championship game against the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the Denver Broncos.  The bitter sting and disappointment of that loss carried over to the offseason as Tom Brady and his legal team went to battle with the NFL yet again, this time in Second Circuit Court of Appeals over Judge Berman’s favorable Brady ruling.  Unfortunately, the end result was that Tom Brady’s four game suspension was reinstated due a to a 2-1 decision.  Brady and the NFLPA (National Football Players’ Association) were determined to right this wrong, not just for Brady but for the entire roster of NFL players.

The NFLPA’s interest in this case stems from their own regret over how they handled the last CBA (collective bargaining agreement), as they gave the NFL and their commissioner more or less carte’ Blanche to make whatever decisions he’d like in regards to player discipline.  Essentially, they allowed the evil Emperor from the Star Wars movies to exist in the NFL, unchecked.  Now like most people in this world, NFL players don’t particularly care if someone successful is getting knocked down a few rungs from the top. It’s that short sightedness that will be their downfall. Sure, this time it’s Tom Brady, with the Super Model wife and four Super Bowl rings, whose legacy is being crushed and dragged through the gutter, but what about next time the NFL decides to flex their power?

Tune into the NFL network today and you will likely hear a bevy of former players talking about how Tom Brady should drop this fight now, because bigger, worldly situations such as the horrifying events in Dallas are occurring. Not discounting the horrible events transpiring in Dallas but what does that have to do with Tom Brady’s case? Horrible events have occurred throughout history and still less meaningful events have transpired simultaneously. To use the dastardly events in Dallas to push your own agenda is both disrespectful to those who have lost their lives and callous to the remaining victims of such tragedies.

Now, with the immediate NFL future of the New England Patriots clearer than it has been in many months, what do New England fans have to be excited about? Sure, the New England Patriots have seemingly lost the greatest Quarterback of this generation for the first four games but let’s be honest, the Patriots have routinely persevered with the next man up mentality. Let’s not forget that the Patriots have a pretty stellar roster to contend with this season aside from Tom Brady. The time will come when Tom Brady is permanently on the sidelines, as he is far closer to the end of his Hall of Fame career than he is to the beginning. Regardless of the fact that it has become rather old hat to say, but wouldn’t it be nice to see what Jimmy Garoppolo is capable of? If this man is truly New England’s future, why not see what he has in the tank?

The Patriots have ruled the AFC East for the better part of 15 years, sacrificing the first four games of the season is now seemingly inevitable but what if it turns out that Brady’s successor is up for the challenge?  Sure, New England could possibly lose all four Garoppolo games but does anyone really believe that Tom Brady is the only reason the Patriots are successful? Bill Belichick is an amazing coach, the Patriots defense is quite impressive and on paper their offense is practically an All-star team.  The first four games of the Patriots 2016-17 season will no doubt take years off many New England fan’s lives and possibly place this year’s playoffs in doubt but I think it’s safe to say it won’t be any less exciting.

Beat Denver, in Denver

Brady vs. Manning XVII, Belichick vs. Kubiak, New England’s High Powered Offense vs. Denver’s #1 Defense. Could this be “The Sheriff’s” last stand? Can Brady win in Denver? Whichever headline you choose, there is no denying that when the Patriots play the Broncos in the AFC Championship at Sports Authority Field, the world will be watching.

Earlier this season the Patriots entered Sports Authority Field a bruised and beaten team. After Ten straight victories, New England was hurting badly. Star slot receiver Julian Edelman went down with a broken foot in week 10 against the New York Giants, leaving complimentary slot receiver Danny Amendola to pick up the slack in week 11. Amendola a great slot receiver in his own right just isn’t the same dynamic player that Edelman has shown to be. None of that would matter as in week 11 against the Buffalo Bills, Amendola went down with an injury and would be on the shelf for the following week. The next game on the schedule was of course, the Denver Broncos.

To be fair, the Denver Broncos were not without injury during week 12, although some wonder if it was addition by subtraction in some respects. Peyton Manning (with a tear in the plantar fascia near his left heel) and DeMarcus Ware (bad lower back) were both on the injured list for the Nov. 29th game. Ware, a pass rushing force despite his advanced age, was sorely missed. Peyton Manning, the greatest regular season quarterback of all time, was another story completely. Despite a relatively high football acumen, Father Time has been kicking the snot out of Peyton Manning since the middle of the 2014 season, leaving him the worst rated Quarterback in the NFL. With Peyton’s injury the timing could not be better to unleash back up Quarterback, Brock Osweiler on the NFL.  Brocks handled himself well a week prior against the Chicago Bears and look to be a possible upgrade over the declining Manning.

Needless to say neither team that played on Nov. 29th was at their best but Brady particularly was hampered by the loss of both Edelman and Amendola. During the game the Patriots eventually lost Dont’a Hightower and Rob Gronkowski. Due to a dropped punt, the momentum shifted and the Denver Broncos ended up outplaying the New England Patriots. Denver came away with not just the victory but ultimately the #1 seed in the AFC.

Over the season, the Broncos defense bulked back up to full force with DeMarcus Ware’s return. Due to a poor performance coupled with a low-grade strain to the medial collateral ligament of his right knee, Brock Osweiler was replaced with Peyton Manning in the second half of week 17’s game against the San Diego Chargers. Manning proved to be serviceable and Broncos nation quickly welcomed him back with open arms and abandoned the Brock Osweiler experiment.

As the playoffs began, the reigning, defending Super Bowl Champions were excited to have back Julian Edelman who finally took the field again for the first time since his week 10 injury. With Edelman back and much of the banged up defense looking healthy once again, the Patriots regained their winning ways by defeating Kansas City in the Divisional Championship. After the victory over the Chiefs, New England truly looked whole again.

On January 24th, the New England Patriots led by Tom Brady will take on the Denver Broncos in Denver’s own backyard. The Patriots have a 2-6 record in Denver, only defeating teams led by Danny Kanell and Tim Tebow. Rest assured, the loss from November 29th still stings both Tom Brady and the rest of his brood. Not only did that loss come from dropping a two score lead, not only did the Broncos end their undefeated streak but this was the game that ultimately decided where the AFC championship would be played.

Comparing this game to any other meeting is a short sighted attempt at siphoning past glory. Whereas Tom Brady is still at the top of his game, Peyton Manning could be suiting up for his last game. Manning is a shell of the great quarterback that he once was. Gone are the days of the long concise pass as he is now content handing the ball off and the occasional short passes. That is why whatever silly superlative you give this game is meaningless. This isn’t Brady vs. Manning XVII; this is the New England Patriots vs. The Denver Broncos.

Many feel the Denver Broncos are the underdogs going into this game, a fact that can’t be argued. The New England Patriots are the better balanced team and have more momentum on their side due to a far more impressive victory last weekend over a healthier opponent. The Denver Broncos do, however, have their home fans in their back pocket, an advantage that can’t be overlooked or denied. The Broncos have even gone as far as to only sell AFC Championship tickets to customers living in Denver. It’s a smart tactic that reeks of cowardice.

Denver will try every possible angle to stop the New England Patriots from reaching their goal of Super Bowl 50 and becoming the first back to back Super Bowl Champions since they accomplished the same feat in 2003/2004. In the end, it won’t be enough. The New England Patriots are laser focused and plan to right a wrong that happened more than two months ago; Beat Denver, in Denver.

Patriots vs. Chiefs: Divisional Déjà Vu

Tom Brady

The last time the Patriots played them, New England came out on the losing end. They weren’t supposed to be the Patriot’s opponents in the divisional round. Out of every possible outcome, this match up was the one that was least favorable. New England can’t sleep on this team. The Patriots have had a bye week but their opponents are still looked at as the scrappy team that will possibly rid the playoffs of the “hated” New England franchise.

Do you recognize these statements? These were things said by many NFL analysts and pundits during the 2015 playoff run, but obviously instead of referencing the Kansas City Chiefs they were clearly talking about the Baltimore Ravens. Both the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City style of play is very different. Last year Baltimore’s quarterback Joe Flacco, although capable of the run was mostly known as a deep ball, pocket passer.  The somewhat reliable but inconsistent Alex Smith went all of last season without a passing touchdown and can be a running threat. Kansas City has more of a complete defense where as last year’s Ravens had a subpar secondary. What makes both playoff scenarios so completely different yet so similar? Beyond the obvious, lose and your season is done, the Kansas City Chiefs are the team that the Patriots NEED to face in order to be successful in the postseason.

In football, statistics and past performance often mean little when a team can pull it together and play a balanced game. Last year’s Ravens team was a tough and gritty team which constantly stayed ahead of the Patriots and for most of the divisional playoff game, seemed unstoppable. Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, was able to battle back and help bring his team to victory, after two fourteen point deficits. Beating a team like the Ravens showed that the Patriots were ready for the Super Bowl regardless of the opponent. It was that particular show of determination and resiliency that gave insight to the Championship team the 2014 New England Patriots would eventually rise up to become.

This Saturday, the reigning, defending Super Bowl Champions must rise to the occasion once more. The Kansas City Chiefs, as previously stated, are not the Baltimore Ravens of last year. The Chiefs are currently riding high on an 11 game winning streak leaving their five game losing streak feeling as though it were another season entirely. The last time these two teams met seems like a life time ago but rest assured it wasn’t. The famed Arrowhead loss of last year allowed the 2014 Patriots to hit rock bottom. The New England Patriots were beaten, humiliated and left for dead. No matter how special winning last year’s Super Bowl was it doesn’t erase the events of September 29th, 2014 and the horrible fit of despair that day left in each player on that roster. If this year was meant to be the “Revenge Tour” of sorts for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots this is the team they must defeat.  The Chiefs annihilation of the 2014 Patriots is an albatross from last year much like the joke that became Deflategate. Call it destiny or coincidence but for things to have played out like they have thus far one thing’s for certain, this is where the Patriots need to be.

Had New England gained the first seed they would be challenging a bruised, broken and battered Steelers Team. No this is not the same Pittsburgh team from week one, it would have left no real way to find out what the Patriots were truly made of.  The Bengals and the Texans both showed that they were begging for a reason to meltdown. Playing “tomato cans” does not enrich your chances for further offseason success, playing legitimate contenders does. Kansas City is the only AFC team that presents a real significant challenge and a chance to show just how resilient the 2015 Patriots can be. Yes, if the Patriots make it past the Chiefs they still (more than likely) have Denver at their home field to deal with; on paper that is no easy task. Let’s be honest, if the Patriots have both their health and were able to display the resolve to hold off a team steamrolling along like the Kansas City Chiefs, do the inconsistent Denver Broncos truly present that big of a hurdle?

Like last year, this game means something much more than just advancement in the playoffs. With Kansas City’s star wide receiver Jeremy Maclin injured, the Patriot’s front seven have the chance to be the difference maker. The Patriot’s offense, if healthier than we are led to believe, can make a statement this Saturday. How the Patriots handle the Kansas City Chiefs will tell us everything we need to know about this team. Other than a potential Super Bowl, this divisional playoff game is the most important game of the Patriot’s season, there is no doubt in the mind of Patriot Nation that they will prevail.

Return of the Gronk

via bleacherreport.com
via bleacherreport.com

“There goes the season”, unfortunately that is a statement New England Patriot fans have had to utter more than they would ever thought possible. What can bring forth such dismay in the New England fan base that they are willing to conclude that their chance at a Championship is all but gone? The Patriots have possibly the greatest Quarterback to ever play the game, along with a head coach that has a thirst for winning like no other. Yet, over the past six years it’s been the occasional loss of Superstar Tight End, Rob Gronkowski which has thrown a virtual javelin into the heart of Patriot nation.

Gronkowski was drafted by the Patriots with the 42nd pick in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. At the time, although thought of highly by draft pundits, Gronkowski’s stock dropped considerably due to a 2009 back surgery. The Patriots were already three time Super Bowl Champions and consistent playoff front runners who already had a 16-0 season in their rear view mirror. So how is it possible that a man who had no previous involvement in the first half of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots masterpiece and had been  passed over by all NFL teams (including the Patriots) became the lynch pin for post season success? Rob Gronkowski is not only exceptionally good at his position but is a match up nightmare for most teams that play the Patriots.

Standing at 6’6’’ and roughly 258lbs, Gronkowski traditionally takes up two defenders and is widely considered a severe red zone threat. Having considerable chemistry with a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Tom Brady no doubt helps Gronkowski flourish, but one would imagine that the star tight end would be successful no matter where he plays. Gronkowski’s mere presence on the Patriot’s offense allows Brady’s other weapons such as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon Lafell a chance to run their routes with success due to the attention the tight end receives. With his sheer size and solid catching ability, Brady only has to throw a capable pass in Gronkowski’s vicinity and more often than not he will come down with it. When running backs such as Dion Lewis, LaGarrette Blount and James White need to work their magic, Gronkowski blocks better than most linemen, giving the backs every opportunity for success. The level of trust that Tom Brady admittedly has in Rob Gronkowski cannot be underplayed or undervalued.

The reason why so many Patriot fans were ready to throw away the entire 2015 season a few weeks back in Denver is quite simple, Gronkowski is THAT much of a difference maker. In 2011 during Gronkowski’s second season, the Patriots were riding an impressive offense with the likes of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as their Tight End double threat. During an AFC Championship win against the Baltimore Ravens, Gronkowski suffered a high ankle sprain on a tackle by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. Granted Gronkowski still played in the Super Bowl loss but was merely a decoy for the Giants, as Rob was too injured to be effective. In 2012 during a week 11 game against the Indianapolis Colts the star tight end broke his left forearm in the fourth quarter during an extra point attempt. Rob was able to return later that season during week 15 but reinjured his arm in a divisional playoff win against the Houston Texans ending his season. The Patriots would fail to beat the Ravens in the AFC Championship the following week.

In the 2013 season, Gronkowski spent the first six weeks healing from forearm and back surgery he had done before the season. Once Gronkowski returned to the field in week 7, a Patriots offense filled with mostly new players began to hit its stride. Sadly in week 14, Cleveland Brown strong safety TJ Ward tackled Gronkowski tearing his ACL and MCL in his right knee. The Patriots limped to the AFC Championship ultimately losing to the Denver Broncos. In 2014 Rob Gronkowski stayed healthy the entire season and despite a slow start, by week 5 Gronkowski looked like his old self again as he helped lead the New England Patriots to their 4th Super Bowl victory in fourteen years.

It’s very easy to see why New Englanders and Patriot fans around the globe held their collective breaths as Rob Gronkowski writhed in pain during the week 12 game against the Denver Broncos. Post season success seems to hinge on Gronkowski’s availability and as noted his track record isn’t wonderful. Thankfully, the star tight end only suffered a very painful bone bruise, but the image on the field was horribly to vivid and familiar.

After an unexpected return last week, many a Patriot fan watched their team battle the Houston Texans, cringing every time Gronkowski was tackled. As much as fans love seeing “The Gronk” plow through the competition, injuries of yester year will always be front in center.  If Patriot Nation had it their way, Gronkowski would no doubt be cloaked in bubble wrap until the playoffs were upon them.

The Silver Linings Playbook:  Patriots Edition

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With a score of 24-30, the 2015 New England Patriots’ chance at a perfect season came to a screeching halt in Denver. There were many reasons for this crushing and untimely loss.

The officiating was absolutely dreadful on both sides of the ball but seemed to really needle the Patriots with a bunch of phantom calls during crucial moments in the 4th quarter. Most notably, Rob Gronkowski was called for an outrageous offensive pass interference penalty, costing the Patriots a first down and a chance to keep an important drive alive. The play clock fiasco during the Bronco’s injury timeout during the final drive was as confusing as it was accurate. Communication between the officials to the coaches and the players was downright pitiful.

The defending Super Bowl Champions entered the game with several notable star players missing, specifically offensive weapons Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola. Whereas both teams lost crucial players during the game, the losses of Dont’a Hightower and Rob Gronkowski seemed to derail the Patriots considerably. Losing Hightower opened up the run game for Denver, which on a night of snowy conditions was a godsend for their young Quarterback Brock Osweiler.  Gronkowski going out with a scary knee injury not only sucked the wind out of the Patriot’s collective sails but removed the final clutch superstar Tom Brady had left to throw to.

Finally and most importantly, Brock Osweiler played well in the 4th quarter, as did the entire Denver Broncos team. Although it is unpopular to say, the truth is given the cast and the set of circumstances The Denver Broncos made the most of their favorable circumstances. The tide turned drastically when Patriots’ rookie wide receiver Chris Harper fumbled the punt return and placed Denver in a scoring position. Did the Broncos take advantage of some slanted penalties and questionable play calls by the Patriots? Absolutely, and had the shoe been on the other foot Tom Brady and company would have done the same.

This game was a gut punch to Patriot Nation, leaving many fans irate that a winnable game and a perfect season had slipped away. Where it is true, the perfect season is no longer on the docket for the Patriots, this game is far more than just a sickening loss. In fact, this game told us more about the 2015 Patriots squad than the entire set of undefeated games played prior to it. With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner gone in free agency, NOBODY gave this Patriots defense, more importantly the secondary, much of a shot at even being average. Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty and especially Logan Ryan did a great job for the most part buttoning up Denver’s receivers Sunday night. Sure, Butler missed a few costly plays against Sanders but Logan Ryan all but eliminated Demaryius Thomas. Knowing that Logan Ryan is someone that can be counted on to remove a superstar receiver like Thomas from a game cannot be understated. This defense is formidable and an incredible asset, warts and all.

The Patriots offense has seen better days this year with the losses of Edelman, Amendola and Dion leaving unproven talents such as Chris Harper, Keshawn Martin and complimentary pieces like Scott Chandler and Brandon Lafell as primary targets. Still, even with this rag tag grouping (with the help of star Tight End Rob Gronkowski), the Patriots still scored 24 points over the best defense in the league. In fact, until Harper’s untimely fumble, the Patriots held on to a two score lead for considerable length of time. Rob Gronkowski’s role on Sunday can’t be understated, yet he still only one man and this offense stepped up when most teams would have crumbled to pieces.  The Offensive line, far from perfect was better than the Buffalo game and for the most part fairly sturdy as well. In the end, it took overtime to stop Sunday night’s bruised and beaten New England Patriots and that was impressive.

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Ultimately, Julian Edelman should be back for the playoffs, both Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Danny Amendola will be back sooner than later, Rob Gronkowski’s injury was not nearly as bad as it looked, and the Patriots (in their current incarnation) are a tough as nails team which should survive their schedule and persevere until most of the pieces are back in the puzzle box. The Denver loss on Sunday night will not define this Patriots’ season anymore than an undefeated streak was necessary for a Super Bowl Championship.

The Ghosts of Super Bowls Past

With a massive defensive force and a future Hall of Fame rival leading the charge, many Patriots fans are quick to turn their collective conscience toward the Denver Broncos match up, which will take place during week twelve at Sports Authority Field. To be quite honest, why wouldn’t they?

The New England Patriots have more or less dominated the first half of their season and Denver, despite Sunday’s loss, seems like the only team with enough firepower to present a considerable challenge. Why would, or should the Patriots fear any of their upcoming opponents prior to the battle in Denver?
In 2007, the New England Patriots were  part of a historically significant season. After holding strong in becoming the first team in the post expansion NFL to face and defeat 16 teams in a regular season, they seemed poised to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and celebrate the perfect season. What happened in the Super Bowl was quite possibly one of the darkest moments in Patriots on field history.

After an improbable “helmet catch”  by Giants receiver David Tyree, Eli Manning led the New York Giants to Super Bowl victory. The perfection that so many fans craved was destroyed by one, ridiculously fluky catch.
As if 2007 was not heartbreaking enough, the New England Patriots and New York Giants story was only on the very first chapter. Both teams were able to make it back to the big dance in 2011. The New York Giants had a 9-7 record and got very hot at just the right time making it to the Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots were steamrolling along, enjoying the rewards of their powerhouse tight end set of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Had it not been for Baltimore Raven’s Bernard Pollard crushing Gronkowski’s ankle in the AFC title game, this story might be heading in a different direction. As ridiculous as the 2007 game had been, the Giants were clearly the more balanced and complete team in 2011. The Patriots walked away on the losing end of Super Bowl 46 and many wondered if they’d ever make it back to their Super Bowl winning glory years.

Of course that was 2011, 2015 tells a much different story. The New York Giants haven’t even so much as sniffed a playoff berth since their last Super Bowl victory four years earlier. The Patriots on the other hand have advanced to the AFC Championship game every year since 2011 and came home with the Superbowl in 2014.

The Patriots are an impressive 8-0 this season, where as the New York Giants are barely above .500 at 5-4. New England defensive lineman Chandler Jones has 9.5 total sacks for the 2015 season, that is 1 sack more than the entire New York Giants defense. In both 2007 and 2011,Giants’ defensemen were dropping Brady left and right. Justin Tuck has long since gone, and both literally and figuratively Jason Pierre Paul is not the man he used to be.

Statistically, there is absolutely no reason that the New York Giants should have a prayer against the New England Patriots this Sunday. Football, however, lives off the concept that on any given Sunday any team can beat any other team. Another small but crucial point is that Tom Coughlin run teams have beaten Bill Belichick run teams, 5-1. Tom Coughlin coached the Jacksonville Jaguars to two victories over Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns and has only lost to Bill once while the latter has coached the Patriots.

It is entirely possible that Tom Coughlin knows Belichick rather well from their days as assistant coaches for the New York Giants back in the 1980s. Coughlin seems to understand Bill’s planning and execution better than most coaches do.

The New York Giants do have yet another ace up their sleeve. This Sunday’s game will be played at MetLife Stadium which of course puts the Patriots in the Giants’ backyard. The Giants have won three out of their four victories when playing at MetLife this season. Granted, those statistics can be a bit misleading as the Giants three victories were against subpar teams with losing records(Washington, Dallas, San Francisco). Still, home teams traditionally have the advantage.

Yet another factor which can’t be ignored is Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The three-time Super Bowl MVP is playing at an unbelievable level this year as he goes out of his way to ensure that all NFL fans recognize his amazing abilities are not based off of under inflated footballs.

Losing two Super Bowls to the Giants is not something a competitive player like Tom Brady will forget and although it may feel like decades ago it will no doubt add fuel to his vengeful fire.

Overall the New England Patriots biggest threat on Sunday will be the ghosts of Super Bowl past. Will a bit of doubt creep into the usually focused and steady minds of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? In short, unlikely. The 2015 New England Patriots are on a mission to shake the proverbial New York beanstalk to the ground. With one more win and a chance to avenge their history at stake, would you bet against the reigning, defending Super Bowl champions?