Icy Issues: The new Evil Empire

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 12, 2007



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts sk8ter boy
 
If you want dip your pigskin piggies into the realm of opinion, watch "The View." If you want to immerse yourself in the harsh, inalterable reality of raw numbers, study the Cold, Hard Football Facts and our weekly Icy Issues.
 
Icy Issue: When did New England become the Evil Empire?
Icier Response: Seconds after it lost the AFC title game last season at Indy.
 
From 2001 to 2006, the Patriots ripped off a 12-1 postseason record. It was one of the most remarkable runs in NFL history, highlighted by a record 10-straight playoff wins.
 
Then came last season's epic AFC title game meltdown at Indianapolis. The Patriots sported a nifty 21-3 first-half lead over the mighty Colts. They seemed destined for their fourth Super Bowl appearance – and fourth Super Bowl victory – in six years.
 
But New England ended up on the wrong end of the greatest comeback in conference-title game history, losing to Indy 38-34.
 
The team responded with a page out of the N.Y. Yankees rulebook, grabbing the biggest free agents available on both sides of the ball, including the mercurial and controversial Randy Moss.
 
The Patriots were instantly pegged as pre-season favorites to win the Super Bowl. But with the acclaim has come the ire of Planet Pigskin and the animosity of rivals looking to knock the Patriots down a peg.
 
Two weeks ago, the New England safety Rodney Harrison, a player routinely named the dirtiest in football, was suspended for taking human growth hormones. This week, a media firestorm blew up around "camera-gate." The Patriots were busted breaking NFL rules by filming the signals of the N.Y. Jets last week. In the realm of rule-breaking, it's akin to jay walking.
 
But these are the Patriots, the new Evil Empire of North American sports. Whether right or wrong, it's now seen a franchise that will do anything needed to win – including cheat.
 
Icy Issue: What division champ is most likely to start out 0-2?
Icier response: The Eagles.
 
Philadelphia has been the unquestioned ruler of the NFC in the 21st century, as evidenced by its six winning seasons, five division titles, four title game appearances and one conference championship.
 
But the defending NFC East champs stumbled out of the gate here in 2007, throwing away a very winnable game against the Packers in Week 1. Philly is one of four defending division champs who lost their opener. The others are Chicago, New Orleans and Baltimore.
 
But the Eagles face the toughest obstacle in Week 2: a Monday Night Football showdown at home game against the 1-0 Redskins.
 
Teams that start out 0-2 rarely turn into playoff performers. If the Eagles want to reassert themselves as NFC contenders, they'll have to perform better than they did in Week 1 and beat a heated division rival, one led by the only active Hall of Fame coach in football, Joe Gibbs.
 
It won't be easy. And it won't be a shock if the Eagles find themselves staring at an 0-2 record on Tuesday morning.
 
Icy Issue: What division chump is most like to start out 2-0?
Icier response: The sad-sack Cincinnati Bungles.
 
In one of the truly futile streaks in modern NFL history, the Bengals have fielded just one winning team since 1990. Seven of their teams since 1990 have won four or fewer games.
 
Cincinnati held on for a hard-fought 27-20 win over Baltimore in Week 1. They needed six turnovers and a couple lucky, controversial breaks at the goal line in the final seconds of the game. Still, they knocked off a division rival that went 13-3 last year.
 
They Bengals face a much easier challenge in Week 2: a Cleveland team that was smoked by 27 points last week and that hasn't won anything since returning to the NFL in 1999.
 
So the Bengals have a very good chance of starting out 2-0, with both the wins in the division. Of course, these are still the Bungles and 2-0 may not mean much. Last year, Cincinnati won its first three games, including a victory over defending Super Bowl champ and division rival Pittsburgh, before stumbling to an 8-8 finish.

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