By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
January 08, 2007

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As the Patriots continue to easily play their most consistent football of the season as they head into the AFC Divisional playoff round, one historical thought rings true.

The Team of the Decade has once again acquitted itself this season.

I hope you are not taking this run over the last five years for granted or becoming an arrogant fan. My wish is for you to be grateful for what you have and will continue to see on a consistent basis. Please be aware that it can go away in an instant.

In my view (and in many others including Gil Santos), a successful season is one where the team advances to the Divisional round of the playoffs. From that point on, funny bounces, an inch or two here or there or a questionable officiating call can be the difference between a spot on a future Super Bowl DVD and a whole bunch of "coulda, woulda, shoulda" disclaimers when you are sitting around sports bar in the coming years.

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday night's colossal tilt with the Chargers, the one thing you can be sure will be remembered about this 2006 Patriots team is that they never mailed it in and they squeezed as much talent out of that squad as was possible. It remains to be seen whether that squeeze will produce enough juice to bring a fourth Vince Lombardi trophy for a ride up Tremont St. on a duck boat in early February. Personally, I think they have as good of a chance as any of the three other remaining AFC teams. You could probably put them all into a hat and pick out an AFC Champion; that's how tight this year is in the conference.

Suffice to say, there are reasons why the Pats can win it all and there are some factors that could spell a fatal end to this season. So let's take a look at some of the issues that will likely be a determining factor in whether you have to call in sick to work on Tuesday, February 6th in order to give the Charlie Card a twirl on your way into town for the celebration.

It's an old, tired and a cliché. But it's still true. Anytime Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in a playoff game you have to like their chances for success. Witness two glaring examples of why the Patriots beat the Jets on Sunday and you'll begin to see my point. Brady and his offense were a staggering 11-for-16 on 3rd down. Then Vince Wilfork's heads up play to pick up a fumble that looked to the world to be an incomplete pass didn't just happen by accident. It was the result of being coached up to have your head in the situation.

Second, experience does matter. Winning 11-out-of-12 "do or die" single elimination games since the 2001 season builds a quiet confidence, a lack of panic, and also a feeling heading into the game that their season isn't going to end on that night. Suddenly, big games don't give you the heebie jeebies. It's just another day at the office. Don't believe me? Hook Peyton Manning or Marty Schottenheimer up to a Jack Bauer-style lie detector and you'll see their blood pressure rise when it comes down to crunch time in the playoffs.

The last reason the Patriots could win the Super Bowl is that what were once glaring weaknesses at the receiving and safety positions have become just adequate enough to get the job done. For sure, you won't have to get the anointing oil out for Artrell Hawkins but the fact that you hardly know he's back in coverage most of the time is an attribute to both him and his coaching staff.

Conversely, we could be done talking until the April draft after one of the next few Sunday nights if a few issues take precedent. Let's face it: The Patriots haven't beaten the iron of the AFC in quite a while. Sure beating up on the Jaguars, Titans and Jets is cute but they are a few steps below the Ravens, Colts or Chargers. Maybe--to quote the Tuna--"They are what they are" which is the fourth best team in the conference.

At this time of the year, an injury to a key cog in the wheel such as Tom Brady, Asante Samuel or Laurence Maroney could be just enough to throw the Pats off stride and send them home early. More likely than not, the healthiest team from here on out will be trying on some new t-shirts and hats after Super Bowl XLI.

Given the valleys of the 2006 season such as the losses to the Dolphins and Colts and then the peaks such as the MNF blowout against the Vikings or the win in Jacksonville, as a Patriots fan you have to be grateful that they have made it this far. Even a loss to San Diego would mean the Patriots have not regressed in the last year. And there's no reason to think that no matter what goes down the next few weeks, the good times will continue to roll on for the Team of the Decade in the coming years.

Enjoy the ride and don't take them for granted. I sure don't.

Idle Zinger thoughts while being convinced that the public bathroom hand dryer is the single worst invention of the 20th century:

For the most part, getting elected to the Pro Bowl is a lot like winning a seat in Congress. Once you're in, you're in for life.

The last regular season game in the previous two seasons has seen both a Doug Flutie dropkick and a Vinny Testaverde garbage-time, record setting touchdown pass. In a related story, the Patriots have announced that Steve Grogan will attempt an onside kick in the 2007 season finale.

The Colts have a banner hanging up in the RCA Dome that reads "1995 AFC Finalist." This is the modern day equivalent of hoisting an Adams Division banner to the rafters. My buddy Tom wonders if they had a ceremony to celebrate losing that game to the Steelers.

I'm pretty sure that I never once uttered the phrase "Please don't put mac and cheese into the dog's fur" before I had kids.

The officiating crew for Sunday's Pats-Jets game looked like they were warming up for a FIFA soccer match with their snazzy new shirts and black soccer warm-up pants.

A friend of mine is moving to southern Indiana for a new job. I wished him well but told him to be careful because, in my view, anywhere west of Chicopee is the open frontier. "Keep an eye out for Lewis and Clark on your way out there," I said when he told me the news. It's called a New Englander's view of the world, folks.