By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by Comdoctor.net
December 28, 2006

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The reset button has been pushed.

Throughout the up-and-down 2006 NFL season, the New England Patriots have looked at times like also-rans and then world beaters. Maddening performances against the Colts, Jets, Dolphins and Lions sobered even the most toadie Pats fans' expectations. But wins like the ones against the Bengals, Vikings, Bears and Jaguars buoyed thoughts that a fourth Vince Lombardi trophy was slightly visible through the fog of the NFL playoffs.

Over the coming weeks, the real 2006 Patriots will finally stand up. Will it be the team with a championship defense and an efficient offense that can get the job done? Or will it be the team that turns the ball over at awful spots on the field and doesn't make as many game-changing plays on defense as it used to?

Given the one-and-done nature of the NFL playoffs, at this time of the year all you can really ask for out of your team is for it to have a chance. Teams like the Giants, Seahawks and Cowboys don't have one. Conversely, a case could be made for the Chargers, Ravens, Patriots, Bears or Saints.

On the way back up to Maine on Wednesday, we passed by Gillette Stadium. I said out loud to my two-year old Jake "A fourth one is right around the corner." After he didn't reply with much more than "a traaan", my wife chimed in "Just a few weeks ago you were all down in the dumps saying this team was no good. You're all over the place."

Guilty as charged, your honor.

For the Patriots to reach Super Bowl XLI, they will have to win three consecutive games (one at home and two on the road). Realistically, they will have scores to settle at home in the Wild Card round against a Broncos team that isn't so tough away from Mile High and a Jets team that embarrassed the Patriots in November. I think they'll win either match up based mostly on their defensive performance.

If the road to the Super Bowl is going to come to an end, it will likely be in the Divisional round against the Ravens or Chargers. Even though it has become recently fashionable to discount the value of a first-round bye, I'm not buying it. Every team is banged up at this time of the year and a week to rest and self-scout--if used properly-can be immensely useful. Both stadiums are not the most intimidating venues say like the RCA dome in Indianapolis or Invesco Field at Mile High but there is a reason that these two teams are seeded at the top of the heap in arguably one of the strongest AFC fields in recent memory.

If the Patriots can cause opportunistic turnovers on defense, hold onto the ball on offense and not have a kicking game meltdown, they'll have a chance under any Divisional playoff scenario. If they make it through to the AFC Championship game, I don't care who the team is playing under what circumstances, I'm being a toadie and taking the Pats.

As Tedy Bruschi is fond of saying, when a free t-shirt and hat are on the line the Patriots play their best. If it takes one game to get to a Super Bowl, I want the experience of the Patriots veterans on defense, the game planning of Belichick and the coolest operator at quarterback on the planet on my side.

If you're like most Patriots fans, you are bi-polar when it comes to this team. One minute you're up. The next you're down. Generally, that's not a very good sign because the bad habits will usually rear their ugly heads at some point as they did a year ago in the Denver loss in the Divisional round.

But with a single elimination format that favors experience, coolness and preparation, the 2006 New England Patriots could sneak up and plant themselves on South Beach in February without anyone looking.

Need a recent example? Order up a copy of the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals World Series DVD.

This one won't be pretty. But all I ever wanted was a chance.

And we've got one.

Idle Zinger thoughts while thinking there is no better time to be on Cape Cod than in the dead of winter:

I don't know what kind of deal Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe cut with Stacey James and the Patriots PR department. But the access to Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels after Sunday's win and the Wednesday piece on creating depth could be a shot across the bow at the Boston Herald for diving into the Patriots' personal lives.

Then again, nobody gets the scoops and appears to work the beat as hard as Reiss.

Bill Belichick has agreed to appear on MTV's "Next" when punter Todd Sauerbrun inevitably ends up on injured reserve in the coming days.

"No way. The NFL intruded on my Christmas," was my wife's reaction when I asked if it would be okay to listen to some sports radio on the drive back home to Maine.

I received the new Charlie Pierce book on Tom Brady "Moving the Chains" for Christmas from my mom. If you're a Pats toadie, you'll finish it in two nights, max. As a writer, whenever I read anything by Pierce I feel like a kindergartner learning to put sentences together while he is a seasoned university English professor. What a gift this man has.


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