It amuses me that the football world is talking about coin flips, deferrals, arrogance, hubris, amazing luck, insulting the opposition, and the Patriots' chances to win Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara Feb. 7.
Welcome to my world. I've been writing about this stuff for years. Finally, everyone is paying attention.
Let's start with the pregame coin flip. The Patriots long ago figured out a strategy for this, and only recently have folks started to catch up with Ernie Adams and the diabolical Bill Belichick.
The Patriots want you to take the ball at the start of the game. Their plan is to get you into a three-and-out, then navigate the clock so that they score in the final minute of the first half.
Armed with their knowledge of your operation after two quarters, they huddle in their locker room, figure out your weaknesses, then score again at the start of the second half. It's the soul-crushing double score, and it has led to seven consecutive division titles and 12 of 13 in the Tomato Can AFC East.
So the Patriots almost never opt to take the ball to start the game. You can look it up. They agreed to take the football at the start of their opener against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. That was the day Tom Brady got hurt. Since that day, the Patriots almost never willfully agree to start the game with the football.
More recently, they have somehow fortified this practice by managing to "win" the coin toss almost every week. It's staggering. By my calculations, the Patriots have won the coin toss on 27 of the last 35 flips. That's a winning percentage of 77.1 — in a contest that, by definition, is 50/50 for the rest of the world.
Ted Wells may need to look into this. It is, at best, a statistical improbability. I dare you to flip a coin 35 times and have it come up heads (or tails) 27 times. It must be Patriot preparation. As Belichick likes to say, "We work on that on Fridays.''
After the Patriots won the toss in overtime Sunday, it was therefore no surprise when Matthew Slater said, "We want to kick the ball.'' This is not exactly a morale booster for Tom Brady (Superman said he was "not offended,'' but it's astounding that the Patriots could lose in OT without the greatest QB of all time touching the football), and it is wildly insulting to the other team, but Belichick has done it at least three other times in overtimes. Twice it resulted in victory.
It was fun to watch the social media reactions of Patriot fans and the formidable Patriots Media Cartel in the moments after the Jets' subsequent game-winning touchdown. The early reviews featured typical fanboy outrage. You know: "The Patriots got screwed by the refs. This is more more Patriot Hate by the NFL.''
A few minutes later, after Belichick and Slater told the world that the Patriots intentionally gave the Jets the ball, the narrative shifted to, "Maybe Bill was just covering for his special teams captain. Slater is a revered teammate.''
That didn't hold for long, and then we arrived at, "The Patriots knew what they were doing all along. Great job by Bill. He was going for a three-and-out, a crummy punt, and a short field for Brady & Co. to get into position for an easy game-winning field goal.''
Finally, we got to my personal favorite explanation: The Patriots actually wanted to lose this game to get the Steelers out of the playoffs. Everybody knows that Ben Roethlisberger is the only AFC quarterback who can beat the Patriots in New England. Allowing the Jets to win Sunday bumped New York ahead of the Steelers. If the Jets beat the Bills Sunday, the Steelers are powerless to get into the tournament.
For the Patriots, losing to the Jets Sunday was a lot like losing to the Dolphins on the final Sunday of 2005. That 28-26 loss (Patriots backup QB Matt Cassel threw a 2-point conversion pass to the cheerleaders to seal the defeat) guaranteed that the Patriots would play the pushover Jaguars instead of the Steelers in their first playoff game. The strategy worked: The Patriots routed the Jaguars, 28-3. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.
It's no different now. Despite the fact that the Patriots have a ton of injuries and have lost three of their last five games, they are still a lock to get to the Super Bowl. The Patriots are going to be at Gillette Stadium throughout the playoffs (you know they'll beat the Dolphins Sunday), which means the quarterbacks they are likely to face in the AFC tournament are: Brandon Weeden, A.J. McCarron, Alex Smith, Brock Osweiler, and Ryan Fitzpatrick (who is 2-7 lifetime against the Patriots).
It's done, people. In a year in which the Patriots have perhaps two wins against quality opponents (Jets? the non-playoff Steelers?), they are going to the Super Bowl.
And I am betting they will win the coin flip at Levi Stadium.
Because the Patriots are smarter than you are.
Heads they win.
Tails you lose.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.