Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Sessler examines the New England Patriots.
1) The greatest coach in the Milky Way
Perhaps, many billions of light years away, professional football exists on some distant star. In some outer-rim netherworld beyond our imagination, that mirror-league houses a coach who is just a bit more forward-thinking and prone to genius than Bill Belichick. That's how far you'd have to travel to find a superior version of New England's iconic, once-in-a-lifetime leader.
Sure, he's a bit of a grump with the media, but Bill isn't here to bicker with journos. Haters might be tired of the Patriots consistently shredding the AFC, but the day will come when Belichick disappears. No longer roaming the sideline, nestled in that size-XL gray hoodie and scowling at events on the field. Everyone who loves the sport will feel the void. We have witnessed the evolution of a master strategist.
Yet, it goes beyond his own smarts. Belichick takes players who fail on other teams and morphs them into productive assets. His weekly graduate-level sessions around in-game-planning set New England apart from the huddled masses. The Pats will hammer you with 50 rushes in one game before scattering the next team seven days later with a waterfall of screen passes to a second-stringer who hasn't seen the field in a month.
Belichick has created a culture that demands individual and team flexibility. Total buy-in is required. He grows craftier with each season, doubling as a wizard of surprise and smarter-than-you seer who shares no equal.
It's been a long offseason for the Patriots. Belichick took flak for benching Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII, while whispers of tension with Tom Brady linger. This team will eventually be pulled apart, but Bill has seen it all since taking his first NFL job as a special assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975.
We can all focus on the supposed drama behind the scenes in Foxborough. While we gossip and cling to breathless innuendo, Belichick sits in his war room, drawing up a game plan to scatter the Houston Texans into a thousand cowed pieces come Week 1.
2) The finest quarterback of our lifetime
Yes, the specialized diet and robotic self-perfection are a bit much, but the results cannot be denied. Set to turn 41 in August, Brady was last seen throwing for 500-plus yards in the Super Bowl. That loss to Philly haunts him. It's easy to wonder how many more of those black-magic defeats Tom can stomach before turning his attention to fatherhood and the great beyond -- but he isn't gone yet.
With Michael Jordan-like determination and focus, Brady waltzes into September as football's loftiest talent and a player with total command over the most challenging position in sports. Having outlasted all his rivals, Brady returns to do it one more time like before. You know the drill: (1) Drop a nuclear bomb on the lukewarm AFC East; (2) Carve up two AFC hobby horses in the playoffs; and (3) Write the script to one more -- one final -- Super Bowl championship for New England.
Apologies to everyone who sits up at 3:27 a.m. waiting for Brady to shift quietly into a post-playing career on the moonlit shores of Massachusetts (read: Dan Hanzus). Your wishes have been delayed.
There's one more miracle left in the greatest player of our time.
3) An eternally milquetoast division comprehensively ripe for the picking
We don't need to spend too much time on this one. The rest of the AFC East has shown zero ability to get out of its own way. Pitch the Dolphins, Bills and Jets until you're blue in the face, but this three-pack of half-baked rivals has yet to prove a thing. For two decades, they've floated on the waves like a drunken boat.
CUT TO: The shores beyond, where a raging dynasty goes undisturbed.
4) Always seven steps ahead of the competition
You get it by now. The combination of Belichick and Brady -- and, by extension, play-caller Josh McDaniels and everyone else involved -- has proven too much for the rest of the NFL. Can they be had? Of course. New England isn't a perfect operation, but good luck outsmarting them, Joan of Arc.
5) A real possibility this could be the last go round
Dangerously robotic and tight-lipped as always, the franchise will acknowledge none of this -- but it's in the hemisphere.
Yes or no, Belichick and Brady know the window is tightening on future Super Bowl glory. It's Atlanta or bust for the mightiest team in the land.