As unfair as it is to ask the New England Patriots to do more than they already have, they could provide one very valuable gift to NFL fans everywhere if they do indeed go 19-0.
They would end all argument.
Don Shula already has conceded the Patriots would surpass his 17-0 Miami Dolphins as Greatest Team Ever. But that assumes everyone agrees with Shula's understandably high opinion of the only undefeated, untied championship team in NFL history. To Shula's consternation, not everybody equates perfection with best. Although the 17-0 Dolphins obviously have earned a special place in history, they didn't automatically eliminate dispute.
Going undefeated by itself isn't necessarily enough. The 17-0 Dolphins had so many doubters after their famous season that they had to write a book, "But We Were 17-0" just to try to put an end to the notion that despite their record, those Dolphins didn't shoot to the top of everybody's list. Perfect maybe, but never overwhelming and maybe not the greatest.
These perfect Patriots definitely and indisputably would be The Greatest. Already, they have been overwhelming, dominating in ways that will live in history, even if they do trip in the Super Bowl.
If they get to 19-0, they would climb to the top. The 1972 Dolphins would join the 1941 Bears, 1949 Eagles, 1950 Browns, 1958 Colts, 1975 Steelers, 1977 Cowboys, 1984 49ers, 1985 Bears, 1991 Redskins, 1992 Cowboys and probably a few other favorites in a spirited argument over who is runner-up.
But although a 14-2 or 15-1 season followed by a Super Bowl victory would have accomplished their most important goal, it also would only have added another team to the great debate of who's the greatest.
Consider the 1942 Chicago Bears. They went 11-0 in the regular season, but lost the title game 14-6 to the Washington Redskins. A 12-0 record would have put them on an even keel with the 17-0 Dolphins because of one remarkable fact: the 1942 Bears outscored regular season opponents by 292 points, the record to this day.
The Patriots outscored opponents in the regular season by 315 points. By contrast, the perfect 1972 Dolphins outscored opponents by 214 points. While any team that outscores opponents by 200 or more is by definition superior, the 1972 Dolphins rank behind the championship teams of the 1941 Bears, 1962 Packers, 1984 49ers, 1985 Bears, 1991 Redskins and 1996 Packers in point differential. That alone sparks discussion about how much the always-welcome element of luck played in the Dolphins' season.
The Patriots are leaving no such room for conversation, unless you think they really have been cheating their way to the pinnacle.
The per-game point differential of the 1941 Bears was 22.6, highest among all championship teams. The Patriots finished second, a shade under 20 points better per game.
Point differential isn't the sole tie-breaker in arguments about greatest teams. Nobody would dare suggest the 1941 Bears with their 10-1 record should share a pedestal with a 19-0 Patriots team. But point differential is a compelling indicator of dominance and so far, the Patriots would fly past every championship team of the Super Bowl era.
To compare to their own title teams of their current dynasty, the 2001 Patriots outscored opponents by only 99 points, the 2003 Patriots by 110 points, and the 2004 Patriots by 177.
The great balance of the 2007 Patriots has been demonstrated in other ways. By NFL statistics that measure yards, the Patriots rank first in offense and fourth in defense. By the Aikman ratings, they are even better — first in offense and third in defense by only a half point behind leader Minnesota.
Aikman ratings take into account by formula many considerations besides yardage. They are akin to the complicated passer ratings. Among coaches, the Aikman ratings serve as a more popular measure of strength than the NFL system. The Vikings' defense, for example, ranks 20th in yards allowed, but jumps to the top in the Aikman ratings when points and other statistics are factored.
The Patriots rank first in eight different offensive categories and in the top five in seven defensive categories. They rank first in turnover differential.
Tom Brady is enjoying an astonishing year for a quarterback and was the league MVP, of which there was no debate this season.
The arrival of Randy Moss gave the Patriots a pairing of two all-time greats at quarterback and receiver, and the arrival of underrated slot receiver Wes Welker made both Brady and Moss better.
Bill Belichick was a good coach before Brady, a great one since. The defense boasts an outstanding collection of talented veterans from Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green up front to Mike Vrabel and his linebacker friends to safety Rodney Harrison. Don't ever think this is a defense without Hall of Fame players.
A solid combination of quarterback-receiver-coach-defense almost guarantees success. Among the great dynasties, the Browns of the 1950s with Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli and Paul Brown helped usher in the modern era, followed by the Colts with Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and Weeb Ewbank, the Packers with Bart Starr, Boyd Dowler and Vince Lombardi, the Dolphins with Bob Griese, Paul Warfield and Don Shula, the Steelers with Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Chuck Noll, the Cowboys with Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson, and Tom Landry, the 49ers with Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Bill Walsh, and the Cowboys with Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Jimmy Johnson.
All had great defenses and running games, both necessary foundations in order for passing, catching and coaching to flourish.
But no team ever did it as well as the Patriots are doing it today.