It’s not inconceivable that the Patriots will end up with the A.F.C.’s fifth seed.
O.K., time for a deep breath, especially for those who would welcome the Patriots’ downfall as the greatest holiday present of all time.
First, we’ve been through this so many times before. The Patriots’ demise was predicted in 2008, when they missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. It was also considered just around the corner in 2009, and then in 2013 (with a 7-3 record in late November). They were supposed to be toppling from their pedestal in 2016 and last year, too, when they surrendered the top playoff seed with back-to-back defeats in mid-December.
But everyone was wrong. Since 2008, the Patriots have doubled their Super Bowl victories from three to six, including championships in three of the last five seasons. So perhaps we need to backpedal on the decaying dynasty talk.
Or as Devin McCourty, New England’s brilliant defensive back since 2010, said at his locker after practice Thursday: “All anybody wants to talk about is the end. We’re in a business where nobody cares when you do well. But that’s meaningless to us as players. We have our own standards and expectations.”
A salient point. When the Patriots were 8-0 in October, did the football world, including writers, overrate them? Maybe, but the New England players had no role in that. Maybe the Patriots aren’t the least bit surprised their record is 10-2 after tough tests in Baltimore and Houston that turned out to be losses. They’re still tied for the best record in the N.F.L.
“We all know that at this time of the year, things get more intense around here,” New England wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said Wednesday when asked about the palpable worry in the voices on Boston-area sports talk radio this week. “That’s not our mentality. We focus on continuing to improve. That’s how you finish strong.”
If that sounds like a cliché, consider the Patriots’ extraordinary record at the close of recent seasons, and not just in the postseason. Since 2010, New England is 36-9 in December and January regular-season games and 20-3 at home, where the Patriots have not lost a December game since 2015.