It takes an awful lot to impress a Patriots fan. But if you can look at this season and act like it's business as usual, you're doing this ride an incredible disservice.
The Super Bowl is often the Patriots' birthright -- they've now reached the Super Bowl in more than half their seasons with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback -- but it wasn't their birthright entering this postseason. They weren't obvious favorites expected to punch down until they got to Georgia. They were just contenders who executed their asses off for two weeks, which should be considered one of the most awe-inspiring feats of the Belichick era.
This is not an all-time Patriots team. You should be proud of what you're watching without feeling like you Doubted The Boys™️.
Of the eight previous Belichick-led Super Bowl teams, all but two (one winner, one loser) finished top-three in either offense or defense (or both) during the regular season. This group finished top-10 in both (fourth and seventh, respectively), but paled in comparison to groups like the 2004 or 2016 squads.
But even top-10 finishes in offense and defense and earning a first-round bye felt like a miracle given some of what we saw all season: the play on the road, the awful run defense, an either unavailable or ineffective Rob Gronkowski, a presumably hurt Tom Brady over the second half of the year.
And with the season on the line in overtime against the No. 1 seed in the conference, you had Brady throwing passes on real routes -- not gadgety stuff -- to Cordarrelle Patterson.
You don't often get to stop and ask how the hell Brady and Belichick are doing it, because you often know: It's because they're the best and they've got the best group. This is one of those rare moments where you can still be an obnoxious Boston sports fans while legitimately feeling the excitement of any other city's fans seeing their team make a run.
Raise your hand if you thought the Patriots were going to shut out Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the first half Sunday at Arrowhead. Now that you have both hands free, ask whether you thought the horrible-on-the-road Patriots would be able to beat the No. 1 offense in Kansas City if Tom Brady threw one touchdown and two picks.
This is better -- so much better in certain areas -- than what we've seen from this team. The offensive line has kept Brady clean. Sony Michel is putting together one of the best postseasons by an individual player in team history. That ghastly run defense has given up a total of 60 yards through two postseason games. Gronkowski is having a tear-jerking resurgence in what could be the final games of his career. Gifts from the Chargers aside, the Patriots are winning battles left and right.
So now, the group that was rightfully doubted and questioned has fought its way to the Super Bowl. I think they're going to win because Jared Goff still seems a little green, even if he did have a better regular season than Brady (look it up if you must, but he did).
The game makes for an exciting matchup. A Patriots offensive line that's probably feeling pretty good about itself is going to have its hands full with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. A seemingly healthier Brady will be throwing against Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. A run defense that has yet to be torched this offseason will go up against either the highest-paid back in the league (Todd Gurley) or C.J. Anderson, whose performance in the divisional round was as big as . . .C.J. Anderson.
I didn't think we'd be talking about a third straight Super Bowl appearance for the Patriots right now, not because I'm a "troll" or a "hater" or whatever else, but because this team had so much more than usual to overcome. We're allowed to be pleasantly surprised that it did.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.