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The Patriots Are Crushing It. So Why Is It So Hard To Get Excited About Them?

In this photo, a man walks past a life-sized team photo of the New England Patriots at a National Football League publicity event held in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. The NFL has been aggressively promoting football in China hoping to take advantage of rising income and growing taste for exotic foreign sports. (Mark Schiefelbein/ AP)
In this photo, a man walks past a life-sized team photo of the New England Patriots at a National Football League publicity event held in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. The NFL has been aggressively promoting football in China hoping to take advantage of rising income and growing taste for exotic foreign sports. (Mark Schiefelbein/ AP)
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Let’s start with the obvious: The 2015 Patriots are a very good football team. They might even be a great one. They might even go undefeated and win Super Bowl 50. All of that is, as Ted Wells would suggest, “more probable than not” after watching them go 8-0 over the first half of the season.

But it is hard to get excited about the potential greatness of this team — I know, Just Win Baby — because it is playing a schedule that seems to have been drafted in Robert Kraft’s office. Or in Judge Richard Berman’s chambers. The 8-0 record speaks both to the ongoing excellence of the Patriots and the unending shoddiness of both their division and the rest of the National Football League.

The schedule is what it is, to quote some famous NFL coach. Fourteen of the 16 games are already set in stone before the schedule is even released. It’s not the Patriots’ fault that they’d get more competition playing a Southeastern Conference schedule.

The 8-0 record speaks both to the ongoing excellence of the Patriots and the unending shoddiness of both their division and the rest of the National Football League.

It’s just that this year, the Patriots have hit the Perfect Storm of Ineptitude. Richard III said he would offer his kingdom for his horse. I’d offer one for two or three worthy foes. I don’t see too many over the remaining eight games; one to be precise.

The Patriots started the year with the 22nd most difficult schedule in the NFL based on the winning percentages of their opponents in 2014. Halfway through 2015, they now have the 24th most difficult. (If 7-1 Denver wasn’t still on the schedule, they’d probably be much lower.)

Let’s start with the annual laughingstock known as the AFC East, the division the Patriots have owned for more than a decade. New England is again on track to win the division title, which surprises no one. What should be galling to the NFL and to the owners of the Bills, Jets and Dolphins is how terrible they have been and continue to be, year after year, coach after coach, pseudo-quarterback after pseudo-quarterback.

It’s borderline humiliating. This year, the Dolphins were going to challenge because of a beefed up defense. The Jets were going to challenge because they signed Darrelle Revis and had a new coach. The Bills were finally ready because they made a couple of trades and brought in loudmouth Rex Ryan.

All three teams are still awful. The Jets have what looks to be a respectable 5-3 record but they aren’t a threat. They needed a couple of breaks to beat a horrible Jacksonville team at home on Sunday. The Patriots beat the Jaguars 51-17.

Those three teams account for six of the Patriots’ 16 games. In the yearly rotation, the Patriots drew the Daily Double, getting eight games against the two worst divisions in the NFL — the AFC South and the NFC East.

New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden celebrates with guard Cameron Fleming after scoring a touchdown in against the Washington Redskins during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne/ AP)
New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden celebrates with guard Cameron Fleming after scoring a touchdown in against the Washington Redskins during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne/ AP)

The AFC South is the absolute pits, led by a 4-5 Indianapolis team that the Patriots toyed with a few weeks back. Through Week 9, the four teams in that division (Indy, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Houston) had a combined 11-22 record, by far the worst of any division. Houston and Tennessee remain on the Patriots schedule.

The Patriots were down to play the NFC East in 2015, just as they were in 2012. Every four years. Are they to blame for Tony Romo getting hurt and the Super Bowl-thinking Cowboys now sitting in the basement with a 2-6 record and six straight defeats? The 5-4 Giants, who host the Patriots next Sunday, lead a division that has an overall 14-19 record, worst in the NFC and second only to the lowly AFC South in the NFL.

New England still has the Giants and Eagles remaining from that quartet of leviathans. The Giants are one team that doesn’t go into shock at the sight of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They won’t need the equipment managers to pass out Depends before the game, like so many other Patriots’ opponents. Did you see the supposedly toughened-up Dolphins turn into mush on national television?

The two “at-large” games that the Patriots played this year featured opponents that made the playoffs in 2014, although both were one-and-done. The Steelers were the Opening Night fodder; they were without their best running back and their coach left Gillette Stadium complaining of headphone interference.

All I’m asking is for an honest-to-goodness competitive game on Sunday in MetLife Stadium where the Patriots’ mettle will be tested. Is that too much?

That leaves the Broncos. In the recent past, the mid-season New England-Denver games have been big occasions — and they’ve been played at Foxboro. This time around, the game is in Denver. The Broncos fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Sunday, but, unless the Giants shock the world on Sunday, Denver looks to be the only team capable of even making the Patriots break a sweat the rest of the way.

Which, of course, leads to the usual January scenario. The Patriots will have a bye week. Then a home game at Gillette Stadium. They more than likely will have two, which would mean a fifth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Would the Broncos still be viable by then? Would the Bengals, whose coach hasn’t won a playoff game (0-6) in his 12 years on the sidelines, be a worthy foe?

Everything has gone according to Hoyle for New England so far. Pittsburgh had players out. Dallas lost Romo. Indy had a sub-par Andrew Luck and a team which executed maybe the worst play in NFL history (the fake punt that fooled no one).

Giants coach Tom Coughlin has been a burr in Belichick’s saddle more than once. Eli Manning isn’t going to lose sleep over this one. Then again, neither is Brady or Gronk.

All I’m asking is for an honest-to-goodness competitive game on Sunday in MetLife Stadium where the Patriots’ mettle will be tested. Is that too much?

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Peter May Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Peter May was a sports writer at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades. He now teaches journalism at Brandeis University and is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

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