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:
2. Tennessee Titans: For which team will brainy defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz be a head coach in 2009?
10. Denver Broncos: Should we start calling their defense the Orange Slush?
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?
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?
23. San Francisco 49ers: Does J.T. stand for Just Throwitawayalready?
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?