— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) July 24, 2017
Within two days, every NFL training camp will be open. Which makes today the unofficial opening day of Premature Prediction season. And no Prom Night ejaculation was ever more premature or came in hotter than USA Today‘s:
New England Patriots (16-0): Is it bold? Sure. Kinda. But it’s not like Tom Brady hasn’t gone 16-0 before … (and, really, wouldn’t he and Bill Belichick secretly love to add 19-0 to their otherwise incomparable resumes?). And from the FWIW department, Brady went 14-1 last season and appears to be surrounded by an even better cast now, especially if Rob Gronkowski is, in fact, back to 100%. The division should be a cakewalk, and even one of New England’s toughest road games — against the Raiders — will be at a neutral site (Mexico City). The most difficult stretch comes from Weeks 13-15, when the Pats play at Buffalo, at Miami (where they typically struggle) and at Pittsburgh coming off a short week Dec. 17.
And so it begins. Or I guess it began when Seth Meyers asked Dave about it. Regardless, the dreaded Undefeated Season talk is upon us. And while I know the rest of the world thinks every Patriots fan is an insufferable, paranoid, Dunkin-swilling meathead with an Irish nickname, a dog named Gronk, a homely girlfriend with a Lombardi trophy calf tattoo and delusions of grandeur (and you’re not far off, by the way), we’re also realists. Realists with very vivid memories.
I’m not saying 16-0 is completely out of the realm. Carolina was 15-1 two years ago. The Pats lost two games last year. One where Jacoby Brissett went straight from the locker room to the Emergency Throwing Hand Surgery room at Mass General, and the other was a loss to Seattle that was messier than my kid’s room. Take that team, add Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, David Harris and upgrade from Logan Ryan to Stephon Gilmore, and you can easily see them being favored in every game.
But I’m just not buying it. As much as they’ve dominated the AFC East for 16 years, they’ve only run the table in the division twice: 2012 and of course the 16-0 season. You can almost always count on one glitch and a 5-1 divisional record. Plus, for what feels like the 29th time in the last 30 years, they’re playing at Denver. A place where a weird, temporal anomaly exists that distorts spacetime, all known laws of physics cease to apply, and the Patriots do stupid shit to cost themselves games. Regardless of who’s quarterbacking the Broncos.
And while I admit this makes no logical sense, I don’t know of a Pats fan who can let himself even think about 16-0. That wound from 2007 is still way too fresh, even 10 years later. The Super Bowl That Shall Not Be Named is the worst loss in the history of a region that set standards for terrible losses that will never be duplicated. It might sound stupid to think that year could have any bearing on this year. Or to wish for a regular season loss just so history can’t repeat itself. Especially since half the Patriots roster was watching Phineas and Ferb when it happened. But for those of us who lived through it, it’s real. And no one’s gotten over it.
The day after watching perfection slip through Asante Samuel’s hands, I took the day off from my old crappy day job. And by the time I summoned the strength to get on the Stool and blog a Knee Jerk Reaction, everyone had been ending their posts with “P.S. I think Thornton is dead.” They weren’t wrong. The first time I went out in public after that was a Barstool Mardi Gras party, that featured models walking around in painted-on shirts. I spent most of the night talking to a Stoolie, just commiserating with the guy and wallowing in our own misery. And the fact the place was crawling with topless, professional smokeshows but we were too emotionally nutpunched to appreciate them was not lost on us.
So no to a 16-0 season. A hard no. Do. Not. Want. If it happens, I won’t turn it down. But I can’t repress the memories of how much harder those wins came as the ’07 grind went on. How tense the team looked during Super Bowl introductions. And how much more it sucked to lose perfection than any other loss ever could. Even though this definitely sounds like loser talk, we’ve got all the 16-0 banners we’ll ever need, thanks.