There's a reason that a perfect regular season in the 16-game era has only been accomplished once, and that's why Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com is slightly off in predicting that the Patriots will run the table for the second time in the last six seasons in 2012.
That reason, of course, is luck. One needs only to look back at the seasons since the Patriots pulled off the perfect season in 2007 to see why.
The Colts looked primed to go 16-0 in 2009, but coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and many of the team's other starters in Week 16 against the Jets in an effort to guard their health. The Colts dropped their last two games — including that one — and went on to lose the Super Bowl to the Saints.
Last season's Packers, on the strength of Aaron Rodgers' record-setting MVP season, looked unbeatable for much of the year. That is, until they were beaten by the 5-8 Chiefs in Week 15 after starting the season 13-0. They lost in the divisional round to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.
Even the Patriots in that legendary season five years ago, when they systematically obliterated nearly the entire league and set the regular-season record for points scored on their way to a heart-breaking loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl, won a quarter of those games by four points or less.
No matter how dominant a team is, it needs a large amount of breaks to go its way over the course of the regular season to go 16-0. It's almost inconceivable that the Patriots, as good as they appear to be heading into the 2012 season, will make the near-impossible happen again.
To be fair to Prisco's projections, the Patriots do look extremely good and certainly capable of beating just about anyone in the league. If any team were to run the table this year, the Patriots would be right at the top of the list — along with the team Prisco says they will fall to in the Super Bowl, the Packers.
The "Summer of Gronk" may be over, but Rob Gronkowski is not likely to let that bother him in the least as he will again team up with Aaron Hernandez to form what may be the best one-two tight end combination in league history. Wes Welker, playing under the Patriots' franchise tag this year, will be back to once again wreak havoc in the slot.
The Patriots also added Brandon Lloyd, who will provide the deep threat they've been without since Randy Moss ran his mouth out of town. Lloyd was playing under new Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in Denver when he led the league in receiving yards in 2010, so he should feel right at home in New England's offense.
More important than the offense, however — which everyone knows will be good, it's just a matter of how good — is the health of the defensive backfield. Last year's secondary was a mess, as Bill Belichick threw everything but the kitchen sink on the field at safety and cornerback, including Julian Edelman doing his best Troy Brown imitation.
This year, the defensive backs look to be in better shape. One of the club's 2011 second-round draft picks, Ras-I Dowling, is healthy after hip surgery limited him to two games last year, while Patrick Chung has recovered after missing half of the regular season. Devin McCourty, meanwhile, literally cannot get any worse after the disappearing act he pulled in his second season. He looks to regain his Pro Bowl form.
Prisco may also be onto something in that the Patriots have by far the weakest schedule in the league. They play only four teams that made the playoffs in 2011, and their opponents were a combined 24 games under .500.
So, there is a fair amount of evidence that the stars do look to be aligned in favor of a potential perfect regular season.
But sports are not played out on paper or in projections — teams play the games for a reason. Any given team can beat any other team on any given day. Players can have a bad day or get injured. Conversely, opposing players can play out of their minds. A ref can make a bad call on a critical play. Any number of things can happen that are unexpected and lead to a result that nobody anticipated.
Consequently, the odds for all those things to break a team's way over four months and 16 games are incredibly stacked, which is why it's happened only once. Perhaps nothing better illustrates just how much luck a team needs than the closing minutes of the 2007 Patriots' 27-24 win over the Ravens to move to 12-0 — a game that, by all rights, they should have lost.
A more detailed account of the action can be read here, under Week 13 — but to summarize, it took an unfortunate timeout by the Ravens, five Baltimore penalties, an upheld official review and a completed Baltimore Hail Mary to the three-yard line, where the receiver was tackled short of the end zone, for the Patriots to eke out the three-point win. This improbable chain of events occurred after New England found itself down by four with 3:30 left and the ball on its own 27.
All of that had to occur simply for one of the greatest teams in NFL history — Super Bowl title or not — to beat what was then a 4-7 team.
When it comes to perfection, that old adage thus rings true: It's better to be lucky than good.
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