The New England Patriots did what they usually do this time of the year – they advanced to the AFC Championship.
By beating the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 on Sunday in Foxborough, the Pats earned their eighth straight trip to the conference title game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
Rookie running back Sony Michel powered the Pats to victory. He had three rushing touchdowns, all in the first half, to bury LA from jump street.
Michel, the former Georgia star, had 129 yards on 24 carries. For sure, an impressive playoff debut.
Most will fawn all over Pats’ QB Tom Brady, who played well, too. He, as usual, will get all the credit. It’s been a narrative for a long time no matter what the game details tell you.
Tom Brady tore apart the #Chargers defense. He completed 34 of 44 for 343 yards and 1 touchdown. He had a 106.5 passer rating and a 87.2 quarterback rating. The #Patriots have been invincible at home. They’re 9-0 at home this season. https://t.co/kGVV7PY04X
Under normal circumstances, the Pats’ feat would be a reason to celebrate, throw impressive big words around to capture the moment and their success.
But this organization has done some cheating, questionable stuff and been flat-out lucky that everyone in NFL America can’t fully embrace New England.
Not today. Not yesterday. Perhaps, not ever.
And this isn’t about jealousy and other fans being mad because they win too much.
There are a few things at hand that make it hard to simply look the other way and rant and rave about the Patriots.
Is it truly greatness or ineptness?
It’s kind of like how LeBron James went to the NBA Finals eight straight years in the (L)Eastern Conference. How great could it have been. There was no competition, no resistance.
Same for the Pats. They have feasted, gotten fat on the AFC (L)East. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins are just a shade better than the Washington Generals.
Sure, there were a couple of times when the Jets pushed back. Buffalo is known for chicken wings, not football. And the last time the Dolphins were good, sportswriters were using typewriters, not laptops.
Enter the AFC Divisional Playoffs, the Pats have had basically a cakewalk. The Chargers’ defense never got off the plane from LA and trailed 35-7 at the half. Ballgame.
In 2012, Pats won by 35.
In 2013, Pats scored 41 points en route to the win.
In 2014, Pats scored 43 points in a 21-point win.
In 2015, Pats beat Ravens, 35-31.
In 2016, Pats beat KC by seven.
In 2017, Pats beat Houston by 18.
Last season, N.E. beat Titans by 21.
Hardly impressive opponents, more like cupcakes.
Sure, the Boston faithful will proclaim that the Pats are just that good. And it’s not their fault that the opponents aren’t good enough.
It’s become clear that Sony Michel is the X-factor on this edition of the Patriots (by @CharlesPPierce) https://t.co/0fygbCXNpw
Part of that is true. But it does matter who you beat and the road traveled to get there. The Pats always need an easy opponent, an easy path and home cooking to get to the Super Bowl.
Strangely, the Patriots have never gone to a Super Bowl during their current run of eight straight AFC title games when they have had to travel. To their credit, they did win on the road in Pittsburgh in 2001-2002 and 2004-2005 seasons.
And is it really the Pats’ greatness or just a flawed playoff format. Since 1990, a team with a first-round bye accounted for 44 of the 56 Super Bowl spots. So it’s not just something the Pats do.
Basically, you just have to win two games to get to the Super Bowl. It’s not an impossible task, especially if the two games are at your crib.
No team has taken advantage of being in a weak division more than the Pats. That’s because of the NFL’s emphasis on division championships.
Every other division has had at least three champs in the last 10 years except the AFC East. The Pats have won 14 of the 15 division titles with ease.
The Pats’ dynasty has a lot to do with smoke and mirrors more than them just being a great franchise.
They live on first-round byes. They’ve gotten eight in a row, dating back to 2009.
Also, oftentimes lost in the Brady-Bill Belichick Era is that the Pats went 10 seasons without winning a championship.
They had a dynasty when they won three out of four Super Bowls, ending in 2005.
New England’s current run isn’t a dynasty. No matter what people tell you. They have won two of the last four, not back-to-back.
Hence, temper your Patriots’ celebration.