Geno Smith. Ryan Tannehill. EJ Manuel.
And Tom Brady.
These are the starting quarterbacks in the AFC East, which henceforth shall be known as the Andy Warhol (Tomato Can) Division.
I checked all the local and national rags Thursday to see if any fool dared pick a team other than the Patriots to win the Warhol.
Zero. Nada. Zilch. USA Today was 8 for 8 for the Pats. The New York Daily News also went eight men in. Here at the Globe, we were 6 for 6, and the vaunted folks at the Herald went 5 for 5. At ESPN, a whopping 64 of 64 prognosticators picked the Patriots to win the Warhol.
That’s 91 of 91 Nostradamuses picking the Patriots to finish first.
I don’t know about you, but that kind of sucks the drama out of the next four months for me. Sure, it’ll be a thrill to see New England’s revamped defense with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Big Vince Wilfork is back. And on the other side of the ball, we are led to believe that All-World Rob Gronkowski, who has missed 14 games the last two seasons, is going to be ready for contact Sunday in South Florida.
Swell. If the Patriots played in the NHL, they’d be a lock for the Presidents’ Trophy. More days in first place . . .
But the important story line is unchanged. We are not going to know a thing about the Patriots until Jan. 18, when they play the AFC Championship game against the Broncos, Colts, Ravens, Chargers, or Steelers (please, no love for the Bengals, ever). Regarding New England’s 2014 season, the only story between now and mid-January will be whether or not the Patriots can earn the right to play the AFC Championship game at Gillette.
No other team in professional sports gets to do this. It is the residue of vision, preparation, and performance from the trio of Brady, Bill Belichick, and Bob Kraft. But it is also part good fortune of playing in the Warhol, where the Patriots annually abuse sorry franchises housed in Miami Gardens, Fla., East Rutherford, N.J., and Orchard Park, N.Y.
It makes me long for the days of Don Shula in Miami, Bill Parcells in New York, and Jim Kelly in Buffalo — an earlier time when men were men and the Patriots were not handed a first-round bye just for showing up to play 16 regular-season games.
The Patriots are like a Newton T-ball team. Everybody gets a trophy. Every year.
They are prisoners of their own success, but ever-suspect until they win another championship. And they enjoy the nonstop worship of their sophisticated media cartel, despite the fact that they have a longer championship drought than any other Boston sports team.
You say you’ve read this before. You have. That’s the point. The story line doesn’t change with our Patriots. It is both a blessing and a curse.
The Patriots have won the Warhol five straight years and 10 of the last 11. They have won at least 10 games in each of the last 11 seasons. The Bills, meanwhile, haven’t been in a playoff game in this century. The Dolphins haven’t won a playoff game in 14 years. The Jets? They are the Jets. Their last great moment was the Mark Sanchez Butt Fumble.
Since their Super Bowl dominance 10 years ago, the Patriots have been artificially inflated by the abject incompetence of the Warhol. They are the old Bruins, who annually won the Adams Division, then went home in the playoffs.
Brady won his first 10 playoff games with the Patriots. But he is 8-8 since Jan. 14, 2006, when Champ Bailey jumped the route and the Broncos routed New England at Mile High, 27-13.
Since the historic 18-0 run in 2007-08 — starting with the Super Bowl loss in Glendale, Ariz. — the Patriots are 4-5 in the playoffs. They are 0-2 in Super Bowls and 0-3 in postseason games not played in Foxborough.
None of those four home wins was particularly impressive.
They beat the worst playoff team in NFL history in 2011, an 8-8 Broncos team quarterbacked by Tim Tebow. They beat the Ravens when Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard chip shot at the final gun. They beat the awful Houston Texans, 41-28. And last year they ran all over an Indianapolis team that could not stop any running game.
That’s it. While winning the Warhol annually, the Patriots have four playoff wins in six years, all of them at home, few of them impressive.
This is why I am waiting for January with this team. We know it’s going to be a fun and easy four months as the Patriots crush hapless division foes and the Mr. Softee NFC North.
Maybe they are the real deal.
Maybe this will be the Patriots team that finishes the job started by the take-no-prisoners edition of 2007.
Maybe these Patriots really are the best team in the NFL again.
Too bad we won’t know much of anything until the playoffs. The Warhol simply provides no measurement.
With the 2014 New England Patriots, these next four months are just an extension of the recently completed preseason. We are spoiled beyond belief. The 2014 Patriots are going to win their division.