Patriots Insider: Never Been Top Seed Before

The New England Patriots find themselves navigating through uncharted territory. They have never been the league's No. 1 playoff seed.

They have never ascended to the 14-2 plateau reserved for the NFL's elite. They have never faced expectations that they should win a Super Bowl.

New Englanders have been conditioned for disappointment. Call it Red Sox-itis if you will, but before 2001, the Patriots contributed more than their fair share to the fans' ills. Bill Belichick's teams have been different, though.

In 2001, his 5-5 club rattled off six straight wins to finish the season, never suffering the inevitable letdown that could have dashed its playoff aspirations. Then Adam Vinatieri kicked it to a championship, an upset of Super Bowl III proportions without the guarantee.

The words "trap game" were brought up periodically throughout the year as if the hardly dominant Pats could afford a letdown against anybody. They suffered no such lull.

They are 14-2 and have won 12 straight, but until last week's 31-0 drubbing of the Bills, they hadn't won one of those 12 games by more than 14 points. They won close game after close game after close game, always teetering on the brink of defeat.

So while they enter the postseason as the AFC's top seed and with that remarkable 14-2 record that includes a 7-0 mark against teams that finished above .500, they don't seem to scare anybody. They don't seem to carry the swagger that goes with their lofty standing.

"It almost doesn't feel like it has been that way," quarterback Tom Brady said of his team's 12-game winning streak. We started off 2-2 and over the course of those 12 games, I mean we really didn't play great ball.

"I don't think anyone cares (that we're the top seed)," Brady added. "Every team that is in the playoffs has had a successful season and they really are the best teams. Tampa Bay won it last year without the home field. We won it two years ago and we didn't have home field. Baltimore won it three years ago and they didn't have home field. No matter where you play, if you play good football, you should go out there and win. Whether home or on the road, the team that plays the best is going to win."

Belichick couldn't have said it better himself. The Patriots understand that home field is only as good as the team playing at home on game day. The Patriots didn't care one iota that St. Louis was 16-2 when they met in Super Bowl XXXVI and they don't believe Denver, Baltimore or Tennessee will pay any mind to the Patriots record. Everybody is 0-0 at this point.

The Patriots didn't win 12 straight by looking back at their accomplishments. They did it with remarkable week-to-week focus that all teams talk about, but the Patriots truly practice. It's why Brady doesn't see the Patriots as the dominant 14-2 teams of yesteryear.

"I don't think we have grand illusions of ourselves," he said. "I don't think we put ourselves on a pedestal of being unbeatable or being great players. I think we pride ourselves on having a little bit of humility. Because of that, nobody is ever satisfied. I don't think we come in here and say we're the 1985 Bears of the 1972 Dolphins. We just enjoy playing ball and we like going out there and competing. It has been fun to be a part of team that doesn't have an ego."

Whatever they have individually seems to be checked at the Gillette Stadium door every day so that a humble 14-2 club can go about its business of preparing for the next game just as they have prepared for the last 16 -- no looking forward and no looking back.


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