Beth: I read something in Sports Illustrated about the first five-game stretch for the Patriots:
Inside the NFL: Sched-ache
The Patriots gear up for arguably the toughest five-game regular-season stretch in the history of the NFL
By Peter King
If you know Bill Belichick, you can bet the Patriots' coach is going to stand up in front of his players this week, hold up the team's game schedule and say something like, "Can you believe what this league is doing to us? The NFL doesn't want us to win, and here's the proof."
Belichick will be talking about the five-game stretch that begins on Sunday at Carolina (7-9 last year) and continues through Oct. 16 with games at Pittsburgh (15-1), at home against San Diego (12-4), at Atlanta (11-5) and at Denver (10-6). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no other NFL team has ever had a five-game run in which four games were on the road and the five opponents averaged 11 wins or better in the previous season.
That brutal slate of games has some New England players thinking there's a conspiracy against them. "The league doesn't want us to threepeat," says safety Rodney Harrison. "What type of schedule has anyone ever had like that?"
"[The league] wants parity," adds linebacker Mike Vrabel, with a snicker. "We got the memo on that one. I think Paul Tagliabue delivered it himself."
The late NFL scheduling czar, Val Pinchbeck, liked to pit good teams against good teams and mediocre against mediocre early in the season, to keep as many clubs as possible in the playoff hunt. But that's not what happened this season, according to Howard Katz, the league's senior vice president of media operations, who oversees the team of NFL officials and computer consultants in charge of configuring the schedule. Katz describes a perfect storm of circumstances that led to the Pats' tough first two months.
"There was absolutely no conspiracy against the Patriots," he says. "Was there ever the sentiment, 'Let's make it tough for them'? I can promise you there was not."
For instance, the way divisions are rotated in the schedule formula, AFC West teams had the AFC East and NFC East as two scheduling partners this year, meaning those West Coast clubs have to make multiple cross-country trips. Teams want those trips spaced out over the season, and the best schedule Katz & Co. could devise sent AFC West champ San Diego to Foxborough on Oct. 2.
"I wish I could tell you it's an exact science," says Katz. "But the schedule is a huge jigsaw puzzle, with many solutions. How do we solve the puzzle by making a TV schedule that maximizes ratings and has competitive balance fair to the teams? That's what we try to do."
A difficult start to the 2002 season helped doom New England's first attempt to repeat as NFL champion. In the first six weeks the Patriots played teams with a combined '01 record of 57-39. New England struggled to a 3-3 start, finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. This year, at least, the Pats had a Week 1 breather, a 30-20 win over the Raiders at home last Thursday night. Still, if they want home field advantage in January, they likely will have to win at least three of the next five games.
After that, New England has only three games against teams that won 10 or more in 2004, one with the Colts and a pair against the Jets.
But, really, I don't understand why we're going to complain about the Pats schedule. If they're as good a team as they're supposed to be, it won't be a problem - just another challenge to overcome. But it's one thing for us to moan and groan about it and quite another for the players (RODNEY HARRISON) to do it. Just shut up and win the damn football game, man. I don't want to hear that whining. How un-Patriots-like. "The league doesn't want us to win". Buddy, the Pats I know don't give a fuck what anyone else wants.
Mer: I don't so much get around to reading most blogs anymore, but please tell me rodney harrison didn't say that the league doesn't want them to win.
Kristen: I'm kind of in that frame of mind right now where I want to be illogical and whiny and bitchy and I hate everyone and I don't want anyone to tell me I'm wrong because I want to take my ball and go home. Only part of it is sports-related. But that's just where it's manifesting itself.
Rodney Harrison says shit like that all the time. He uses it to motivate. I have no problem with him continuing to do that. Although, obviously, they're going to need to win the fucking games. He said that before last year's Super Bowl and EVERYONE thought they were going to win. It's his mind game. I have no problem with it. He's one of the only players on the team who I wouldn't have kicked squarely in the crotch after last Sunday's performance.
*Kristen and Beth proceed to fight with knives. It's all very loose and random and weird and owing much to bad moods in general, but things get testy.
What's funny about this is that, later, Beth will be discussing this with another acquaintance, and she will explain to him that she and her friend Kristen got irritable with each other due to a disagreement about the Patriots' schedule in the early part of the football season and comments about it made in the media by Rodney Harrison, and she is sure to also point out that "These are all chicks, the ones fighting about football. Nary a penis in the lot."
Kristen: ESPN is onto Rodney. Admittedly, this made me laugh:
How the Patriots Were Disrespected This Week ...
(Tracking the constant disrespect of the New England Patriots, who -- if my calculations are correct -- have been acknowledged as one of the greatest teams ever in any sport by only a mere 94.887% of the sports media and just 92.1148256% of the general population ... a slap in the face that will not stand!)
Uh ... hello! Isn't this week's disrespect obvious? The Panthers daring to finish a game with more points on the scoreboard than the greatest team ever was very, very, very disrespectful.
Look, the Patriots are trying to do something no team has ever done before -- win three straight Super Bowls. With so much on the line, it is unbelievably rude of other teams to expose their early-season weaknesses. Show a little respect for the champions and give them some time to work out their problems on defense and special teams.
Obviously, Carolina has no sense of decency or respect for its superiors. The least the Panthers can do is acknowledge they did not outplay New England, but that the Patriots simply beat themselves through penalties and mis-execution. But will the Panthers acknowledge this fact? Probably not.
Oh, and let the Steelers know they are on notice -- if they dare beat the greatest team ever on Sunday, the Patriots will file it away and exact revenge in the playoffs the likes of which the world has never seen.
(Either that, or Rodney Harrison will rip the helmets off their heads when he tackles them. And then he'll angrily protest that he is being unfairly called for a penalty. Like he always does.)
Oh, that's funny. I wish I'd written that first, dammit.