The Patriots are not that good. Just as the Red Sox were not that good. Too much has happened to the New England football team. Too many subtractions. Too many injuries. Too many close games and comebacks generated by stupid and scared opponents. This New England team is artificially inflated by a terrible division and not built for playoff success.
Maybe the Patriots can ride these doubts all the way to the Meadowlands, all the way down Boylston Street in February.
Here are some takeaways from watching 15 hours (including pregame and postgame programming) of football Sunday . . .
■ If you want to see the Patriots advance to the AFC Championship game in Denver, you root for the Bengals to beat the Chargers in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon. OK, the Bengals are talented, they went 8-0 at home, and they beat the Patriots this season. But at the all-important positions of head coach and quarterback, they have the two individuals least-equipped to beat the Patriots at Gillette in a playoff game.
Say hello to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and QB Andy Dalton — twin tomato cans ripe for the kicking.
To beat any Patriot team in Foxborough in January, you need two things: You need a coach who is not afraid of Bill Belichick and you need an elite (or at least semi-elite) quarterback. Lewis and Dalton would be just what the doctor ordered for the Patriots.
The Bengals earned their place as the No. 3 seed in the wobbly AFC, but it’s safe to say that Cincinnati has the worst quarterback and worst coach still alive in the conference. Lewis is 0-4 in the playoffs in 11 seasons. He seems to have trouble keeping track of the game. Dalton has two career playoff starts — both losses to the Texans. In those two games, Dalton completed 56.9 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions with no touchdown passes. He was intercepted by the Ravens four times last weekend.
Belichick is busy scheming for Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, but deep down he has to be hoping it’s the Bengals. They have weapons, but they would lose their way at the sight of Belichick and Tom Brady. Nobody does easy paths to the conference championship like the Patriots, and the Bengals represent the easiest path.
■ It’s a shame Greg Schiano got fired in Tampa Monday. There goes Belichick’s favorite pigeon. New England’s abuse of Schiano was almost criminal. Buccaneers fans should petition the league to find out whether Schiano was an embedded Patriot during his time in Tampa Bay.
What a stooge. Belichick would invite him to Foxborough for joint training camps, then he would fleece him of Tampa’s talent. Schiano gave the Patriots Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount (along with a seventh-round pick) in exchange for Jeff Demps, a seventh-round pick, and a fourth-round pick. It was a latter-day version of Harry Frazee selling his best Red Sox players to his pals in New York.
Schiano went 11-21 in two years with the Bucs, including a 23-3 loss to the Patriots this year. That’s what friends are for.
■ The Patriots went 2-2 against playoff teams. New England was beaten at Cincinnati and Carolina, but beat the Broncos after trailing, 24-0, at halftime, and beat the Saints thanks to Sean Payton’s clock mismanagement. New England scored its winning touchdown against the Saints with five seconds to play.
■ Winning at Denver would not be easy for New England. The Patriots have won exactly one road playoff game since beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh in January of 2005. Because they take care of business during the regular season (four straight byes, eight in the Belichick era), the Patriots never have to play on the road in the playoffs. New England did not play a road game in any of its last five playoff runs.
Since the 2001 season, the Patriots have played 24 playoff games and all but five were either in Foxborough or at a neutral site. The Patriots won two AFC Championship games in Pittsburgh during the golden years, but New England’s last road playoff win was in January of 2006 at San Diego. That was the infamous Marlon McCree game. McCree appeared to clinch a victory for the Chargers when he intercepted Brady, but he tried to run the ball back and was stripped by Troy Brown. The Patriots then tied it, and won it after forcing a three-and-out on a 31-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Including the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., the Patriots have lost five of their last eight playoff games. The three wins? Two years ago, the Patriots beat the 8-8 Tim Tebow-quarterbacked Broncos, 45-10. The Broncos had been outscored during the regular season. A week later, the Patriots beat the worthy Ravens, 23-20, when the immortal Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Last year, the Patriots beat the Texans, 41-28, to advance to the AFC Championship. New England had beaten Houston, 42-14, a few weeks earlier. Those Texans went 2-14 this year.
■ The Patriots fumbled the ball four times Sunday and recovered all four fumbles. One of the fumbles gave them a first down. We’re pretty sure they put that play in on Friday.
Some would say this is not a sustainable formula. It could catch up with a team at some point. But why be negative?
■ We are ridiculously spoiled. The Patriots have had a winning record in 13 consecutive seasons. The second-best current streak is Green Bay’s five seasons. In the Belichick era, the Patriots have won 17 playoff games, five AFC Championships, and three Super Bowls. The Detroit Lions have won one playoff game since 1957.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com.