Although many expected a classic heavyweight fight on Monday Night Football, if history is our guide, it should have come as no surprise to see the New England Patriots utterly dismantle the Houston Texans 42-14 in front of a national television audience, announcing to the world that they are ready for a run at a fourth Super Bowl title.
Under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have become a machine, especially late in the season.
They have now won 10 games in 10 consecutive seasons, posted 12 consecutive winning seasons, and once the season starts to change from fall to winter, the Patriots always play their best football.
Belichick and his players will often talk about how the real season starts after Thanksgiving—when the games start to matter more, when the men are separated from the boys.
That is also when the Patriots start to flex their muscle.
Over the past three seasons, the Patriots have won an incredible 15 consecutive games following Thanksgiving, and if they continue to play the way they did last night, there is reason to believe that streak can extend all the way to 18 games by the end of the 2012 season—giving New England a 13-3 record and a tremendous chance at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
At the start of the season, when New England was just 3-3, few would have thought the Pats were capable of pushing around the once-mighty Houston Texans, but that is exactly what they did, and did so by dominating every facet of the game.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady picked apart the vaunted Texans defense—even without all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski or speedy slot receiver Julian Edelman—throwing for 296 yards and four touchdowns.
The Pats also rushed for 130 yards compared to just 100 for the Texans, as Houston's star running back Arian Foster was held to just 46 yards on 15 carries.
Matt Schaub threw for 232 yards but was intercepted once, sacked twice and seemingly harassed all night by an improving defense that is starting to look capable of helping the defending AFC champs reach a second-straight Super Bowl.
After another awe-inspiring performance by the Patriots, the one thing we know is this: New England is the team to beat in the AFC.
And with all due respect to NFC, the Patriots are the team to beat in the entire NFL.