Believe it or not, folks, the NFL season is much closer than you can possibly imagine. So close, in fact, that, if we're going to fit in every NFL team preview by the start of the season, we have to go this early. So there you have it.
Last year, we asked some of our favorite writers to opine why Their Favorite Team Was Better Than Yours. Ultimately, we found this constrictive, and it also might have killed James Frey. So this time, we've just asked them to just run free, talk about their team, their experience as a fan, their hopes, their dreams, their desires for oral sex. All our teams are now assigned; if you sent us an email and we didn't get back to you, we're sorry, and we accept your scorn. But today: New England Patriots.
The People's Republic of China has the world's largest army, with 2.2 million troops ready for action, 1,400 fighter planes, 8,580 tanks and untold stockpiles of nuclear missiles. (In comparison, the United States, which spends more than 10 times what China spends on the military, has just 1.5 million troops and 7,650 tanks.) With a population of 1.3 billion people, a rapidly expanding economy, massive investments in American businesses and a government surplus of $180 billion, China is poised to kick some serious ass for a very long time.
And so are the New England Patriots, another mysterious dynasty with a completely foreign way of doing things, which also has a massive stockpile of talent entering this season. As everyone in the NFL is all too aware, the Patriots had the best offseason in franchise history, signing a once-unstoppable, big-ticket target (Randy Moss), the most versatile defensive player in the game (Adalius Thomas), an undersized possession receiver who gives the secondary fits (Wes Welker), and another wideout with solid hands (Donte Stallworth) who could emerge as a possible deep threat.
But the Patriots Republic of New England aren't like the New York Yankees — a stupid comparison some boneheaded sports commentators made over the summer. For one, football has a salary cap. And two, the Republic didn't have to throw around millions of dollars — players actively took pay cuts to be a part of their system, where everyone plays multiple positions, there is no I in team, and star bullshit is simply not tolerated. Compared to the NFL's capitalist swine, where "me first" players sign perfectly good contracts, only to suddenly decide they're underpaid two years later and hold out — the Patriots are a bunch of screaming Commies, with a defensive playbook that's the very embodiment of the Marxist adage, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." In China, people are nothing more than replaceable cogs in a vast machine — a mentality held by the Patriots management, which has no qualms about giving the boot to "stars" like Deion Branch.
There's a reason no one seemed all that concerned about Asante Samuel's hold out. There's a reason why Randy Moss threw away a two-year $20 million deal to make just $3 million for a single season. They understand that in the Patriots Republic, the individual player is not important, the system is. For every Ty Law New England loses, there's a Randall Gay waiting in the wings to step into the role. And the architect of this great leap forward is Bill Belichick, the Patriots' Chairman Mao, a man whose public statements invariably fall into one of the following three categories: Blatant propaganda, reverse psychology or out-and-out disinformation.
Belichick is a man whose separation from his wife was kept secret for a full year — he coached an entire football season! — until it became publicly known. This is a man who is known as "N.E. Coach" in Madden because he refuses to join the NFL Head Coaches Association. (He's the only coach who will not join.) This is a man who looks like he sleeps in (and chews on) the clothing he wears on game day. This is a divorced guy with nothing to lose and nothing left, a man so completely consumed by football, he is somewhere out there right now in a very dark room, watching film. Like an obsessive-compulsive in a Slinky factory, chronically restless, tinkering with his life's work, getting closer and closer to perfecting football's version of Socialism, an efficient, victorious machine that sublimates the individual for the greater good.
This idea of the greater good — a very Socialist notion — is what drives China as well. It's why businessman Zhang Shuhong killed himself after his toy company, Lee Der Industrial, was blamed for the recall of a million Mattel toys coated in lead paint. The notion of honor and public shame — not fines and suspensions — keep people in line in the Patriots Republic. (Those of you with Tivo and high-def — check out the Patriots assistants on the sidelines after a blown play. Zhang Shuhong didn't have anything on those dudes.)
And that's why this season is so compelling. The rest of the world isn't really afraid of China's economic might and military firepower — after all, the combined might of our European allies is just as powerful. It's the fact that the rest of the world doesn't have a fucking clue what they're going to do with it. So here's Bill Belichick. And he's adding an arsenal of explosive receivers and the best defensive free agent in the league to a core group of veterans who have won before and a quarterback entering his prime. What the hell is he going to do with all that?
That's why I'm not worried about the Colts, an already injury-plagued team that's going to have that classic post-Super Bowl 8-8 hangover season. I'm not worried about the Chargers, who will need a season to adjust to a new coach and a young quarterback. And I'm not worried about the NFC, where no one appears truly dominant yet. Honestly, I'm worried about injuries and a team whose shiny new parts might need a bit longer to become well-greased cogs in the machine.
With so many weapons and an entire country now rooting against the no-longer feel-good, no-longer underdog Patriots, the pressure on the Republic is palpable this season. Anything short of Total Victory will be a complete disappointment for the fans, for the organization and, most important, for Belicheck. There are no excuses. He has to win this season. Only one thing is certain:
If this team doesn't fucking win, he's going to run them all over with a tank.