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Champagne will have to wait

Pigskin Pick 'Em

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2007

The 1972 Miami Dolphins need to look on the bright side.

At least they'll have an unopened, tastier bottle of champagne to crack sometime next year.

Led by quarterback Bob Griese and running backs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, the overconfident and cocky, yet undeniably prestigious fraternity can officially refrigerate their bottles of Dom and Cristal for at least another eight months.

The 2007 New England Patriots are about to make history.

A far superior version than that of the Dolphins, too.

Gathering every season to pop the bubbly and celebrate the last undefeated team's first loss of the year, the fabled '72 Fish are the architects behind the lone perfect season in modern NFL history, stringing together a 14-0 regular season before finishing up with a 17-0 mark and a Super Bowl title.

When the Patriots, favored only by two touchdowns, take on the New York Giants (10-5) at the Meadowlands on Saturday, history will be rewritten.

In more ways than one.

Already squashing Miami's mark of 14 consecutive victories to begin the regular season when they appropriately handled the '07 version of the Dolphins on Sunday, extending their streak to 15 in a row this year, the Patriots are now after one more thing, and one thing only.

Just another win.

It's pure happenstance that the victory will cap a 16-0 regular season, something never before accomplished since the league changed to a 16-game campaign in 1978.

Perhaps that's why quarterback Tom Brady, on the cusp of setting and helping top numerous records on Saturday, finally touched on the concept of perfection.

But as usual, when asked about personal glory, such as needing just two touchdown passes to set the new single-season standard with 50, one more than Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning threw for in 2004, Brady dodged the question like a pro.

Not much of a surprise, though, for a guy who's been a member of the Belichikian Regime for eight years now.

"We have a lot of records at stake, the most important one being the 16-0, and I hope we achieve that," Brady said on Wednesday. "It would be a great feat for the team. It would be great to go down as the only team to be 16-0. That's the goal I got in mind."

Finally!

If coach Bill Belichick had heard his poster boy utter those words just five days ago, there's a good chance Brady would have been benched.

Well, maybe not benched. But you catch the drift.

With just one game remaining before the Patriots take a well-deserved week off as the other playoff teams battle for their lives, it's obviously been condoned to talk about what everyone else has been discussing for the past two months.

"I think we all realize what a win would mean, but a win's always big," Brady said. "A win is always important for us and we've prepared pretty hard over the last four months, as every team prepares pretty hard.

"Being 16-0 would be a very special achievement, one that no other team has ever achieved and we're finally at that point."

Making the affair even more special (aside from a national audience finally being granted permission to tune in as the game will be simulcast on CBS and NBC, rather than being aired solely on the money-hungry NFL Network) are all of the other records waiting to be broken, on top of the 36 league marks already set or tied by New England this season.

With two more touchdown grabs, Randy Moss will set the single-season standard for TD receptions with 23, breaking Jerry Rice's total from 1987, achieved in only 12 games during a strike-shortened season. The resurrected receiver also needs just 99 more yards to dethrone Stanley Morgan as the team's owner for the most receiving yards in a season.

Wes Welker is one catch shy of breaking the team's record for most receptions in a season with 102 and Brady requires a mere 106 yards to pass Drew Bledsoe as the franchise leader for most passing yards in a year (4,556).

But as we learned in 2001, when the Patriots captured the first of three Super Bowls with a stunning three-point win over the St. Louis Rams after being introduced prior to the game as a group, rather than individually really just the origin of what's about to be accomplished New England is, first and foremost, a team.

So, it will be extra fitting on Saturday when they score their first touchdown, breaking the 1998 Vikings' record for most points in a season (Moss' rookie year in Minnesota), and then when they win, topping their old mark with 19 straight regular-season victories.

All of this will come a lot easier than it could have, however, had the Giants not clinched a wild-card berth with a win at Buffalo last weekend.

Banged up most of the year, there's little doubt now that New York will rest some of its key starters, such as receiver Plaxico Burress, running back Brandon Jacobs and defensive linemen Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, in hopes of making a strong run toward Super Bowl XLII.

And as uncharacteristic as it sounds, Brady is actually hoping for just that, more specifically, on the defensive side of the ball.

Which isn't a bad thing, considering the Giants lead the league with 52 sacks.

"They're very talented, definitely Strahan and Osi should take the weekend off," he joked. "I'd rest them, I know that, definitely would not play those two.

"I'm lobbying for that. Coach (Tom) Coughlin, if you're listening, definitely rest those guys."

Regardless of Couglin's decision, we know one team that ought to be getting plenty of rest.

The 1972 Dolphins.

Especially if they pop the tops in hopes of preserving their moment in history.

PATRIOTS, 42-21.

Tennessee (minus 6 1/2)

at Indianapolis

The spread says it all. Indianapolis will most likely be benching its offensive starters after a series or two in the final regular season game of the season Sunday night.

Tennessee, on the other hand, clinches a playoff berth with a win. Think Vince Young will be riding the pine? Not unless he breaks his leg.

A Titans' loss, though, means Cleveland begins its quest for a Super Bowl crown. The Browns' slim hopes clearly ride on the Colts' first offensive series of the game. If Peyton Manning doesn't hook up with Reggie Wayne for a TD or Joseph Addai isn't able to plunge into the end zone, Cleveland's season could be over. But regardless of who plays defense for the Colts, Tennessee's offense isn't much of a threat anyway.

COLTS, 21-14.

San Francisco (plus 10 1/2) at Cleveland

Cleveland certainly had its chances to control its own destiny. The Browns lost by two points at Oakland (4-11) in Week 3, at Arizona (7-8) four weeks ago and then at lowly Cincinnati (6-9) last Sunday. It sure would be nice to see them get in, though. The Browns, who are 6-1 at home, will do their part and then play the waiting game. BROWNS, 38-20.

Dallas (plus 9) at Washington

Once again, take a look at this spread. Dallas, at 13-2, is getting nine points? Even if the Cowboys, like Indianapolis, play their starters for just a couple of series, Washington still won't overwhelm them that much.

Granted, the Redskins are playing some of the most inspired football in the league. Once sitting at 5-7 and looking at yet another early offseason, they have strung together three wins in a row while struggling with safety Sean Taylor's untimely and tragic death. Perhaps that's why they're in this position, though. Needing just a victory to clinch their first postseason berth since 2005, when they finished the season with five straight wins, the Redskins appear to be in the driver's seat cruising toward the NFC's final wild-card berth.

REDSKINS, 28-24.

Minnesota (minus 3)

at Denver

The Vikings need help. And they can thank the team above for that. After falling at home to the Redskins, 32-21, last week, Minnesota now needs a win combined with a Washington loss to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2004. The game plan for that quest is simple: hand off to Adrian Peterson again and again and again. Facing the NFL's 30th-ranked rushing defense in the Broncos, who allow 140.7 yards per game on the ground, anything more than 15 passing attempts for Tarvaris Jackson is too many.

VIKINGS, 30-24.

New Orleans (minus 2)

at Chicago

The Saints have the longest shot of the eligible teams. And their "Thank You" cards can be sent to Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles, who went into New Orleans last week and left with a 28-23 victory. Somehow, though, they can sneak into the postseason with a win and losses by Washington and Minnesota. Highly unlikely, but possible. After starting the season 0-4 before running off four wins in a row, the Saints also had their opportunities to close in on the playoffs for the second straight year. But losses to St. Louis (3-12) and Houston (7-8) have put them in this quagmire. They will make it interesting, though, especially since they play at 9 a.m. and the Redskins and Vikings both kick off at 12:15 p.m. SAINTS, 31-17.

Detroit (plus 3 1/2)

at Green Bay

Favre will likely retain his role in the starting lineup, continuing his superhuman streak, before taking the remainder of the game off. Don't get too excited, Lions. Aaron Rodgers proved a formidable backup in a loss to Dallas earlier this year.

PACKERS, 28-24.

Jacksonville (plus 6)

at Houston

An 11-4 team in the AFC getting six points? Hmm. Must be resting their starters. Jacksonville's backups are just as capable. JAGUARS, 35-31.

Seattle (plus 2 1/2) at Atlanta

Patrick Kerney, who leads the league with 14 1/2 sacks, is probably loving his decision to sign with the Seahawks last offseason after spending eight years in Atlanta. He'll probably be limited on Sunday, though, like many other Seattle studs. FALCONS, 24-18.

Pittsburgh (minus 3 1/2)

at Baltimore

With a loss, Pittsburgh could earn a date with Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs. Then again, the Ravens have dropped nine straight.

STEELERS, 27-14.

San Diego (minus 8)

at Oakland

LaDainian Tomlinson hopes to win his second straight rushing title. Oakland hopes to win the rights to the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. CHARGERS, 38-21.

Carolina (minus 2 1/2)

at Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay will be resting some its starters for the playoffs. Carolina is preparing for next season. PANTHERS, 20-10.

Buffalo (plus 7 1/2)

at Philadelphia

A playoff contender two weeks ago, Buffalo is now nothing more than a playoff spectator. The Eagles, while also looking in from the outside, are playing some incredible football lately, knocking off Dallas and New Orleans the last two weeks. Not to mention McNabb is playing for his job next season.

EAGLES, 38-24.

Cincinnati (minus 2 1/2)

at Miami

Truly a disappointing season for the Bengals. Disappointing doesn't completely describe Miami's year. BENGALS, 45-24.

St. Louis (plus 6) at Arizona

Steven Jackson officially begins his campaign for MVP next season. RAMS, 41-31.

Kansas City (plus 6)

at New York Jets

These could be the two streakiest teams in the league. The Chiefs have lost eight straight, the Jets three. But New York did lose six in a row earlier this year. JETS, 7-0.

Comments and criticisms may be sent to sports reporter Matthew Carroll at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.

LAST WEEK: 6-8-1 (spread); 7-9 (straight up)

SEASON: 127-99-12 (spread); 149-91 (straight up)



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