The reign of parity in the NFL this season has crumbled with the New England Patriots led by MVP frontrunner Tom Brady emerging as a legitimate Super Bowl favorite off an ominous run of excellence.
As the winds of this month begin to howl, New England (11-2) have sent shudders through other contenders after back-to-back blowouts against teams that had combined records of 18-5.
New England followed a 45-3 demolition of their AFC East rivals the New York Jets by burying the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears 36-7 in a Windy City blizzard on Sunday for their fifth win in a row.
Hungry to return to the Super Bowl spotlight that brought them three Lombardi trophies in four years from 2001 to 2004, the Pats continued their December dominance by flouting a windchill of -minus-13oC and winds blowing more than 48kph to storm to a 33-0 halftime lead against the bewildered Bears.
“It’s one of those days where a lot of people would rather be cozied up near the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate,” Brady told reporters after throwing for a season-high 369 yards. “But we work on Sundays and, all of us, we’re pretty committed to coming out here and trying to play well and execute well in some pretty tough conditions.”
The Pats matched the NFC’s Atlanta Falcons for best record in the NFL, but no team is playing at their level.
In his last eight games, Brady has thrown 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Boasting a record of 35-5 in December since 2001, the Patriots are on the way to guaranteeing that the road to the Super Bowl travels through Foxborough, Massachusetts where Brady has won a record 26 successive home starts at quarterback.
Playing a precision, short-passing attack to perfection, the -Patriots have outscored opponents 102-10 in their last nine quarters of play and a young defense molded by defensive-minded head coach Bill Belichick has grown into a force itself.
Practice makes perfect and Brady said it was no coincidence that the tough-minded Pats had thrived in adverse conditions.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough enough to play in them,” Brady told reporters. “We don’t go in our [practice] bubble very often. If it’s windy, we practice out there. If it’s snowing, we practice in the snow. If it’s raining, we practice in the rain.”