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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Brady will play. The Patriots will win. And the rest of America will keep hating

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at Thursday’s practice.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at Thursday’s practice.(Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

With Tom Brady . . . without Tom Brady . . . it doesn’t really matter. The Patriots are going to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and this will bother a good portion of America’s sports fans.

In the eyes of NFL America, we are the Evil Empire.

And we don’t particularly care.

Winning with a wounded Brady only means extra hatred for the Patriots as the Bill Belichick Express punches yet another ticket to the Super Bowl. We fully expect Brady to play Sunday and the Patriots to play in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis. It would be the Patriots’ eighth Super Bowl of this century.

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Brady is listed as questionable for Sunday, which is a whopper even by the Patriots’ lofty standards of disingenuousness. It is a tribute to Belichick, Brady, and the organization that there have been no significant leaks regarding the circumstance of Brady’s midweek injury and his status for the AFC Championship game. The 2017-18 Patriots would have been the greatest POWs in the history of modern warfare. They give up nothing. Ever.

Which is another reason America hates them.

No doubt there’s something wrong with Brady’s right hand. It’s been reported that he has a cut as a result of a clunky handoff during practice this past week. Brady has been wearing gloves and missed practice Thursday. He was limited on Wednesday and Friday, according to the injury report.

But it does not matter in this game. Brady will play, but we all know the Patriots could put Brian Hoyer, Scott Zolak, or Drew Bledsoe (Sunday’s honorary captain) at quarterback and still beat the Jaguars. When folks try to pump the tires of these Jaguars, remind yourself that Jacksonville lost to the terrible Titans twice this season. In 2016, the aptly named Jags went 3-13 and lost nine straight games. Even if the Patriots are forced to go with the proverbial one-armed man at quarterback, these Jaguars have no chance to win with a shaky quarterback named Blake Bortles.

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All of which contributes to the theme of the Patriots as the most hated team in America.

If you have friends or relatives living outside of New England, you no doubt are feeling the hate. It’s neither fair nor rational, but the majority of US sports fans who live beyond the range of WEEI and the SportsHub are eager to watch somebody — anybody — topple the big, bad Patriots.

Call it the Yankee Effect.

Baby Boomer New Englanders know what I am talking about. We grew up in a post-World War II America in which the Pinstripes annually kicked the Red Sox’ butts and appeared in the World Series just about every year. The Yanks had Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford, and it seemed like they were laughing at the Red Sox when they would bring their indomitable selves to feeble Fenway every summer. In October, we’d jealously watch the Yanks play assorted Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Braves. Every. Single. Year.

And now the Patriots dominate the National Football League in the same predictable fashion. Belichick’s guys have won their patsy division a hideous nine straight times and in 15 of the last 17 seasons. Sunday will mark New England’s seventh consecutive appearance in the conference championship game. The Patriots won the Super Bowl last year. They won it three years ago. If they win it again next month, they will own six Lombardi trophies, tying the vaunted Steelers for most Super Bowl titles.

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A poll conducted in September by FiveThirtyEight, the website of election stat whiz Nate Silver, identified the Patriots as the second-most hated team in the NFL, trailing (leading?) only the ever-despised Dallas Cowboys. In last year’s Super Bowl, polls showed that a vast majority of America’s fans wanted the Falcons to topple the Patriots.

This has not gone unnoticed in Foxborough. Patriots players wear shirts stenciled with “New England vs. Everybody.” Fans scream, “They hate us because they ain’t us.” We have reached a point in this region where questioning anything about Belichick, Brady, or the franchise is guaranteed to unleash a tsunami of sports talk insults and social media blowback.

But let’s acknowledge that the nation’s distaste for the Patriots is rooted in a few things other than jealousy.

Spygate and Deflategate get dismissed locally as witch hunts that unfairly targeted the Patriots for doing things that everybody else does. Fine. But after getting caught in two cheating scandals (the Patriots responded by going 16-0 in 2007 and by winning Super Bowl LI in the 2016 season, metaphorically flipping off NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) altered the franchise’s image and armed New England’s enemies with handy explanations for the team’s success. Smart folks know that the Patriots didn’t win because they taped coaches signals or deflated a few footballs, but it’s never good to give your opponent an easy way to cheapen your success.

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Similarly, Belichick unnecessarily darkens his profile with his over-the-top insistence on secrecy and obfuscation. Like Red Auerbach in the 1960s, Belichick is a sore loser and a sore winner. He gets away with playing the boor only because he wins and is possibly the greatest coach of all time. The act didn’t play in Cleveland when he was losing and it won’t play if he coaches long enough to return to the land of .500. His performance in the wake of Brady’s midweek injury was classic Hoodie.

The 40-year-old Brady, meanwhile, has fueled critics with his almost cult-like devotion to training guru Alex Guerrero, who has been sanctioned by the feds for posing as a doctor (he is not), and peddling products that he claimed prevent concussions and cure cancer. Guerrero is Brady’s TB12 business partner, and Tom’s hard sell of infinite product has been off-putting for some folks. Brady is universally lauded as the best quarterback of all time, but he was portrayed as petty and insecure in a recent ESPN piece authored by Seth Wickersham.

Now it is time for the AFC Championship game, and the secretive, paranoid Patriots have planted doubt regarding Brady’s availability for the big game.

The uncertainty generates no sympathy, alarming only gamblers, fantasy geeks, and television executives.

For all the hate the Patriots generate, television loves them. The Patriots are a necessary evil for the NFL. If you work for NBC (network of the Super Bowl) you may hate the Patriots but you need them on that wall. In a year of bad football headlines and slumping TV ratings, the networks need a Patriot presence to make the NFL great again.

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Brady will play.

The Patriots will win.

And we’ll do it all over again in two weeks in Super Bowl LII.

Bring on the hate.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.