Four weeks into the 2008 NFL season, it's time to catch our breath and give a 32Q shout-out to a very special team.
No, not the Cowboys, whose presumed status as the NFL's best was shattered by a 26-24 home loss to the Redskins on Sunday.
Not the Giants, who inherited the top spot in our tiered list of scintillating queries by sitting on their couches.
I'm talking about the Patriots. Not this year's 2-1 version, but the '07 group that put together the most dominant regular season in NFL history.
Annoyingly driven as they appeared at times, with a penchant for running up scores while playing the persecuted victim, last year's Pats were a once-in-a-generation marvel. As we watch this year's strongest teams succumb to early-season defeats – the Cowboys were the latest, with only the Giants, Titans and Bills remaining unblemished – we're reminded that the normal rhythms of pro football do not allow for four months' worth of stumble-free strides to the postseason.
For last year's Patriots to go 16-0, it required a rare convergence of factors: a team stung by a cheating scandal determined to take it out on the world; a gifted and humorless coach unwilling to take his foot off the wah-wah pedal; the greatest quarterback of his era enjoying his first-ever elite ensemble of receivers; and a decent amount of luck.
The luck turned in February when New England finished a defensive stand short of perfection. The dream died with the Pats' Super Bowl defeat to the Giants. Put it this way: We're not likely to see another near-miss like that until Matt Walsh is a very old golf pro.
This year, the '72 Dolphins will be toasting champagne before the leaves turn, the resulting lack of drama depriving the world of another Mercury Morris rap.
As a sign of respect, we start this week's list with the three teams mathematically capable of provoking Da Sequel:
1. New York Giants: Is backup running back Danny Ware more intimidated by onrushing defenders than he is by oncoming cars, or do those decals on his face have special protective powers?
2. Tennessee Titans: For which team will brainy defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz be a head coach in 2009?
3. Buffalo Bills: Once left tackle Jason Peters gets it together, how much better will this offense be?
4. Washington Redskins: Is there anyone Terrell Owens is less happy to see across the line of scrimmage than Shawn Springs?
5. Dallas Cowboys: Was Jason Garrett's fantasy team playing against a team that featured Marion Barber last weekend?
6. Jacksonville Jaguars: Is David Garrard ready to start carrying this team?
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: Is there any doubt that Ben Roethlisberger and the gang have turned winning ugly into an art form?
8. Carolina Panthers: After Sunday's Moose sighting, will future Panthers opponents be enlisting Sarah Palin as a defensive consultant?
9. San Diego Chargers: Has Darren Sproles been their most valuable running back this season?
10. Denver Broncos: Should we start calling their defense the Orange Slush?
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yo, Derrick Brooks – is 35 the new 25?
12. Green Bay Packers: In retrospect, should the Packers have tried to trade Brett Favre for Chad Pennington?
13. Chicago Bears: How much better is their defense when Mike Brown is healthy?
14. Philadelphia Eagles: How long can a team be regarded as elite when it keeps losing half its games?
15. Baltimore Ravens: How good could this team be with, you know, an offense?
16. New Orleans Saints: Where did Lance Moore come from, and can we please have some more players like him?
17. Indianapolis Colts: If Tony Dungy coached the Giants or Jets, would his gas bill be bigger than Roger Penske's?
18. New England Patriots: How many more touchdowns would Randy Moss have to catch to become the franchise's greatest receiver from Marshall?
19. Minnesota Vikings: Hey, Vikings fans – before we fire Brad Childress, how about we give him a chance to finish first in what suddenly looks like a very winnable division?
20. New York Jets: With 27 seconds left in Sunday's game and a 21-point lead, what the hell was Eric Smith thinking?
21. Arizona Cardinals: Did Kurt Warner's hands get smaller Sunday, or did he just have a bad Giants Stadium flashback?
22. Miami Dolphins: Given that the GM is publicly dissing him after three games, can we go ahead and call Ernest Wilford a free-agent bust?
23. San Francisco 49ers: Does J.T. stand for Just Throwitawayalready?
24. Seattle Seahawks: When is the "12th Man" the worst fan in America?
25. Cleveland Browns: If Braylon Edwards celebrated his first touchdown catch of the season by playing an air-guitar solo of Aerosmith's "Dream On," what would it take for him to play this?
26. Houston Texans: When a fullback lines up alone in the backfield on fourth-and-4, shouldn't someone on your punt-coverage team consider calling timeout?
27. Oakland Raiders: If JaMarcus Russell were as deliberate as his team's owner, would he not be sacked every single time he drops back to pass?
28. Atlanta Falcons: Can someone other than John Abraham please pressure the opposing quarterback?
29. Kansas City Chiefs: Did Larry Johnson drink some bad Coors in college, or does he have something else against the state of Colorado?
30. Cincinnati Bengals: Is Carson Palmer's elbow worse than they're letting on, and if so, how miserable will the next three months be?
31. Detroit Lions: Are you hearing voices, Rod Marinelli, or is The Turk lurking outside your office door?
32. St. Louis Rams: If the NFL's 31st-ranked defense improves in the coming weeks, will it be because Jim Haslett became the head coach or because Rick Venturi succeeded him as defensive coordinator?